Outside the Box: Solving Diverse Mysteries | Pocketmags.com

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Outside the Box: Solving Diverse Mysteries


Joe Nickell, PhD, is CSI’s senior research fellow. He is a former stage magician and mentalist, private detective, literary scholar, teacher, and author—among other personas.

In contrast to mystery mongers, I insist that mysteries should not be fostered but investigated with intent of solving them. I like them much I have never really cared whether some case could be pigeonholed into a specific category, let alone what that category might be. “Probing Paranormal, Historical, and Forensic Enigmas,” I offered in the subtitle to one book; in fact one chapter—“The Crashed-Saucer Documents” (relating to the 1947 “Roswell Incident”)— could be labeled all three.

I find that good mysteries of whatever category require much the same set of tools—a magnifying glass perhaps but also the ability to observe carefully and think critically, as well as to prioritize hypotheses and discover corroborative evidence—that is, to go well beyond rounding up the usual suspects and to think outside the proverbial box.

See what you make of these, some of my diverse and puzzling mysteries, all of them having gone unsolved for varying times—from as little as a four-year span to as much as some two and a half centuries. (Thanks to Eugenie Scott for encouraging me to write this article.)

Unsolved Homicide: Case of the Shrinking Bullet

One of the most challenging cases I have faced began on the afternoon of December 13, 1982, when a BMW was found ablaze beside a pasture in rural central Kentucky. Firemen called to the scene discovered a body, partially inside, and a .38 revolver lying on the ground near the victim’s feet. Lexington-Fayette County police secured the scene and began to uncover a mystery that would prove almost un- solvable. Although the victim was soon identified by dental records as a local horseman and the cause of his death as a bullet through the head, the mode of death became highly controversial: Was it suicide or homicide? The basic facts are these.

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