This was a great year for bad news, whether you're a crime buff, a lover of disaster porn, or just a run-of-the-mill gawker. The stories came fast and frequently, and many left the news cycle with details un-reported or still unsolved. We're still thinking about those, and hoping for follow-up in 2012. Here's our list of the best unsolved mysteries.
What was in Haley Barbour's opposition research file? According The Right Fights Back, the first installment of Politico's e-book series about the 2012 election, the former Mississippi governor was all set to hop in to the Republican presidential primary. He even dropped twenty pounds in anticipation of the planned bid. Then in late April he announced he wouldn't be a candidate. Why the reversal? According to authors Mike Allen and Evan Thomas, the announcement came shortly after he was shown an opposition research file that his advisers had started assembling on their boss, a fairly standard procedure in the early stages of any campaign. It's still somewhat unclear what was in the file. Smith and Thomas say that "flashing red lights included foreign clients of Barbour's lobbying shop," but they also left the door open to further, more salacious speculation when they noted that "some of the material was so embarrassing that Barbour was briefed in private" by chief adviser Scott Reed.
What's going on with the Long Island serial killer(s)? The search for a missing New Jersey sex worker named Shannan Gilbert brought investigators to a remote stretch of coastline on a Long Island barrier island where they started turning up the bodies -- 10 in all. The bodies were clearly disposed of deliberately -- wrapped in burlap, some of them dismembered. Just a couple weeks ago, police found Gilbert's body and determined she'd died accidentally when she ran into a swamp in the middle of the night. So where does that leave the serial killer? Last spring investigators believed it might be two people, possibly even cops, but most recently they've said they believe it's just one guy. Who he is and how close police are to finding him, however, remains a mystery.
Who's that "mystery blonde" who accompanied Dominique Strauss-Kahn to his room the night before he was arrested? Lawyers for Nafissatou Diallo, the housekeeper who accused Strauss-Kahn of sexually assaulting her when she went to clean his room on May 14 said that on the night of the 13th, he took an elevator to his room with an unknown blonde woman. They think if they can find her, she can provide some crucial testimony to back up Diallo's civil lawsuit against the former International Monetary Fund director. Basically, if they can solve the problem of the missing blonde, attorneys hope they can prove their version of what happened between Diallo and Strauss-Kahn. But the search is difficult. All they've told us is that they're pretty sure she's French or Belgium -- and there are a lot of blondes in those countries!
Who killed those kids in West Memphis? In August, the West Memphis Three signed plea deals that said they acknowledged there was evidence to convict them of killing three young boys in a ritualistic murder. Then the three walked out of prison, all still insisting on their innocence. Officially, the case is closed. But as a GQ story earlier this month points out, a prosecutor who would have re-tried the case feared he would "ass handed to him" if the case went to trial anew. So who did the killing? John Mark Byers? Christopher Morgan? The guy from Mr. Bojangles restaurant? It's likely we'll never know for sure. But somebody knows.
Why is John Edwards too sick to go on trial? Days before Christmas, the former presidential candidate's lawyers filed a motion stating that Edwards "unexpectedly encountered a medical issue" and requested that the start date of his criminal trial be delayed by 60 days. Speculating about the nature of an undisclosed "medical issue" is never the best of ideas, but it's at least interesting that lawyers for the visibly healthy Edwards have already tried to get the trial's start date pushed back once before, and that the philandering son of a millworker recently asked number one squeeze Rielle Hunter to move in to his Chapel Hill compound. As if a cool lady like that would want to live with a sick guy!
Who made Margaret a good movie? Director Kenneth Lonergan shot his sweeping follow-up to You Can Count On Me in 2005, and it sat on the shelf for the better part of a decade. There was legal wrangling over the final cut, but a six year delay between filming and release is usually a sign that a movie just plain isn't very good. Yet Margaret has been a staple of year-end top ten lists. Whether the credit belongs to Fox Searchlight, Lonergan or his pal Martin Scorsese, who put together his own cut of the fiim that Fox Searchlight has also being accused of burying, is a point we think we'll be hearing debated in gossipy oral histories for years to come.
Who was behind LulzSec anyway? There have been a few arrests of the team of hackers that terrorized databases (especially Sony's) over the summer. The most high-profile of them, Anonymous veteran Topiary (known to police and his parents as Jake Davis), has been brought to account in Britain. But even though he allegedly wrote the hugely popular Lulz Security Twitter account, he didn't orchestrate the mayhem. That task fell to a shadowy figure who went by Sabu, and who has stubbornly eluded cops. Some hackers claimed in July to have identified Sabu as Hugo Carvalho, an IT professional from Portugal, but Carvalho denied that and Sabu taunted them online for following false leads. And police didn't bite either. Sabu's been quiet of late, and he (or she) well may slip out of memory without ever raising his or her flesh-and-blood head.
What happened in the cockpit of Air France flight 447? After the flight data recorder and black box of the doomed Airbus 330 that crashed on its way from Brazil to France were found this year, everyone hoped the mystery of why it crashed would be solved. Investigators used the recorders to determine that the plane lost its autopilot likely due to an iced-over speed sensor, and that pilots couldn't or didn't recover after it went into an aerodynamic stall. But enough questions remain about the pilots' final actions that the mystery remains far from solved. Why did they ignore stall warnings? Why didn't the lead pilot take the stick when they encountered trouble? Why did they continue to pull up when they should have pushed the control stick forward to gain speed? Aviation experts have plenty of theories, but no solid conclusions yet. And they may never reach one.
Just how much did Whitey Bulger travel during his 16 years on the lam? The fugitive Boston mobster told FBI agents after his arrest in June that he made multiple trips back to Massachusetts "armed to the teeth" and would also sneak off to Las Vegas to play the slots, which is tough to do when you're near the top of the Most Wanted Fugitives List. According to the Boston Globe, Bulger's longtime companion Catherine Greig told a friend that she and Whitey only left their adopted home of Santa Monica once, on a trip to San Francisco more than a decade ago. The question of whether Bulger really was making daring jaunts home probably won't be cleared up anytime soon, since it's doubtful any of the people he visited will volunteer that information. Bulger himself is 82 and in the early stages of Alzheimer's, which could make it tough for him to provide evidence supporting his alleged trips even if he wanted to.
What happened with the St. Louis Cardinals bullpen phone in the World Series? The Cardinals ended up defeating the Texas Rangers to win the World Series, but the memory of the team's dugout-to-bullpen communication breakdown in the eighth inning of game five lingers, if only because none of the parties involved have offered a semi-plausible explanation for how bullpen coach Derek Lilliquist misheard manager Tony La Russa twice and failed to get closer Jason Motte up and throwing prior to a pivotal at bat, forcing the team to stick with left-hander Marc Rzepczynski against Rangers catcher Mike Napoli, who promptly socked a go-ahead two-run double. Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci compared La Russa's dizzying post-game spin session to "being stuck in a gigantic corn maze. Blindfolded. At midnight." Did Lilliquist really mishear his boss twice? Did La Russa lose track of the situation, as Will Leitch suggested, and then come up with the faulty bullpen phone story after the fact to hide the blunder? The fact St. Louis won the series probably hurts the odds of anyone coming clean and explaining who exactly ordered what and when in the team's dugout.
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