There is a light that never goes out. It is small, and you can only see it at a distance, hovering over a long straightaway on a country road outside of Oxford. It’s not always there—you can’t see it in the daytime. But if you drive out after dark, preferably around midnight, turn your car so that it’s pointed back down that straightaway, switch off the engine, and flash the headlights three times…you will see the light.
Cue the eerie monster mash music if you like, but I speak from experience. Twenty-plus years ago, when I was still in college, I made the trek up to Oxford on spring break to visit some friends. Somebody brought up the legend of the Oxford Ghost Light and suggested we head out of town to see if we could conjure it out of the cold night air. Before I saw it, I was more than a little skeptical. But after we flashed our headlights, the small, singular quavering beam appeared. It looked like the headlamp of a motorcycle, or a car with one light out, moving toward us. Except there was no engine noise. There was no sound at all. Just this white circle, rising and falling over the dips in the road—once, twice, maybe three times, before sinking into the last dip and disappearing.
Weird, huh? I couldn’t explain it then or now, but I know what I saw and it was strange and fascinating. A few months back we got talking about some of the still-unanswered questions and unclassifiable phenomena floating around Cincinnati and it dawned on us that there might be a larger story (or two…or three) to tell. Once we started digging, we realized there was an entire package we could put together on the subject. And so: You hold in your hands our first-ever Unsolved Mysteries issue. Every story in the feature well touches on a case, an event, a crime, a curiosity, or some other marvel that defies easy explanation. Some are fabulous (Bigfoot!), some are intriguing (George Remus’s buried treasure), and some are merely bewildering (an outbreak of UFO sightings in 1973). Julie Irwin Zimmerman takes us inside the overcrowded hallways, offices, and store rooms of the Hamilton County crime lab, a wonderful piece of reporting that lays out in depressing detail how far the televised ideal of CSI is from reality. And Jeff Wilson actually solves the mystery behind the creation of one of the most hallowed James Brown recordings of all time, The Grodeck Whipperjenny. But other mysteries are plainly grim, particularly those revealed in Ryan Kurtz’s stark photographs of pieces of evidence—some related to brutal unsolved crimes—that remain on the shelves of the Cincinnati Police Department’s property room, inanimate objects providing mute testimony to the vagary of justice.
Some things, it seems, can never be explained.
Originally published in the April 2013 issue.
Photograph by Ryan Kurtz