Imagine you’re walking through your home city or town, maybe in your own neighborhood on the way to your favorite nearby grocery market, when all of a sudden, you find yourself stopped, paralyzed with fear as you stare into the eyes of a dead person, staring your own mortality right in the face. Statistically speaking, two people die every single second, which means that bodies are found every single day by unsuspecting passersby who ended up getting a little dose of reality—that people really die, and the shells of what once housed a living person remain.
To make matters worse, people often stumble upon the pieces of a human body, parts of what used to be a whole, living individual, now reduced to a big, mysterious question: Who was this person? Even more terrifying are discoveries of severed heads, with eyes that once saw and mouths that once spoke. Here are ten instances where someone was having an ordinary day and stumbled upon a severed head and the stories surrounding them.
On a February day in 2010, a San Bernardino County, California, man was looking for cans to turn in to the recycling center for money. The man was scouring a desert road in Barstow when he came upon a backpack and wanted to explore it to see its contents. Much to both his shocked horror and absolute surprise, when he opened the bag, he discovered that it contained a severed head. The police were called to the scene to investigate the head, which was wrapped in plastic bags before being placed in the backpack.
Police launched an investigation into what was most obviously murder, but the trail lead to a dead end. Even after creating a photographic composite of what the woman would have looked like before she died, police were never able to identify the victim, and she has remained a San Bernardino County Jane Doe ever since.
At around 9:00 AM on June 10, 2017, another startling discovery was made when someone stumbled upon a severed head sitting on a front porch in Jackson, Mississippi. Police were called, rushed to the scene, and then took the severed head back to the medical examiner to be checked out to see what they could find about the man whose head was placed so casually on someone’s front porch. The medical examiner determined that decapitation was the cause of death, which means that the victim was alive when his head was removed. Police did not immediately know whose head they’d found.
A few hours later, the real twist in the story came: A few miles away in a wooded area, a burned, headless body was found by children, and police were again notified. Immediately, they knew that they’d found the body that matched the decapitated head. They were able to identify the victim as 30-year-old Jeremy Jerome Jackson. Police called in federal authorities and offered up a $20,000 reward for any information leading to the capture of Jackson’s killer.
A severed head was found in Economy, Pennsylvania, on December 12, 2014, and from there, one of the most unusual stories ever would unfold. Red balls had been placed in the elderly woman’s orbital sockets, from which the eyes had been removed, and the head was entirely embalmed, so much so that it looked like a “ruined Roman statue,” not a real person. Artists made their renditions of what they believed the woman looked like before the embalming had taken place, and the police received a bountiful amount of tips in their effort to figure out who this woman was . . . but as time went on, they could not.
The search was also on for the rest of the body as days turned into weeks, weeks into months, and months into years. They never found out who this woman was, but they were able to determine that her body parts were likely sold on the black market. There is a dark, macabre, and robust worldwide black market for human body parts, and this Jane Doe may have become a victim to it. She was buried in a grave with a headstone that read, “Jane Doe. Found Dec. 12, 2014,” approximately one year after the head was discovered.
In another unusual and bizarre story, the gruesome discovery of the severed head of an unidentified 27-year-old woman in Osaka, Japan, would lead to the arrest of a 26-year-old man from Long Island. On February 27, 2018, Yevgeniy Bayraktar was arrested for “confining” the woman in question, and upon the search of his apartment in Osaka, her severed head was found. Security footage from a CCTV camera showed the woman walking into Bayraktar’s apartment with him but never coming out.
They had met on a dating app and made plans to travel together before things went horrifically wrong. While the woman was never seen exiting his apartment, Bayraktar was later seen walking out with a large bag. The woman’s torso, arms, and legs were later found in the mountains of Osaka and Kyoto.
In March 1989, a woman named Susan Spencer was working as a prostitute in New York when she disappeared. Soon after that, a severed head of an unidentified woman was found on a golf course in New Jersey. Investigators determined that he victim had AIDS but were unable to identify the head, and the case quickly grew cold. The victim’s skull sat on an evidence shelf.
In 1996, seven years later, serial killer Joel Rifkin opened up about the fact that he had caught AIDS from a prostitute. He said this was the reason why he committed his crimes, though that claim wasn’t immediately confirmed. He also admitted to killing a woman named Susie.
In 2013, New Jersey police began to piece two and two together. They decided to knock and ask questions to an aunt who’d reported her niece missing. DNA evidence ultimately showed that the head belonged to a woman named Heidi Balch. Balch, when working as a prostitute, went by the name “Susan Spencer.” A cold case that had been 24 years in the making was finally solved.
In November 2016, Mexican government authorities uncovered a mass grave that had all of the hallmarks of the drug cartels. While 32 bodies were discovered in total, there were nine severed heads buried in the unmarked grave, and it was instantly believed that these were the victims of ransom kidnappings gone wrong. At first, the nine heads were found, then the bodies. The corpses showed visible signs of torture, the signature move of the drug cartels operating in the area at the time.
The extreme violence was but one incident among dozens of slayings that took place around that time, a problem which still plagues many places in Mexico to this day. The cartels were even targeting military soldiers, abducting two of them right around the same time as the discovery of the nine severed heads.
On a lovely January day in 2012, two women were walking their dogs in Griffith Park, in LA’s Hollywood area, when one of the dogs began to tear at a plastic bag that they had come upon. What was in the bag was nothing shy of shocking: the severed head of a 66-year-old man named Hervey Medellin. As the dog bit and shook the bag, the head spilled out onto the ground, and the women were terrified.
Police would launch an investigation, and soon, severed hands and feet were found at the scene. Investigators instantly turned to Medellin’s boyfriend, lover, and roommate, a man named Gabriel Campos-Martinez (pictured above), as a suspect. Police would ultimately bring Campos-Martinez up on charges, and he would be convicted for the murder of Hervey Medellin.
In a strange and bizarre turn of events, the severed head of a woman was found when volunteer cleaning crews were working around Lake Houston in Texas. Volunteer teams stumbled upon a plastic bag with the decapitated head in it in March 2018 and later found a pistol close by. Police released a sketch of what they believed the victim looked like before her head was cut off.
A few weeks earlier, another severed head was found in a similar fashion, wrapped in a plastic grocery bag, at a lake in Louisiana about 240 kilometers (150 mi) away. Police departments quickly contacted one another after seeing the news about the two closely related cases and began working in tandem. An image of what the Louisiana victim may have looked like was also rendered, and the two women were apparently similar in appearance.
At Lake Houston, a man driving a battered teal pickup truck was seen tossing a plastic bag near where the head was found. Police, wanting to question the man, released a description of him, but so far, they’ve turned up nothing.
In October 2018, as people in the United States were preparing for Halloween festivities, two people in Oakland called the police and then later came down to the station, claiming they had found a human head. The police were wise to this Halloween prank and laughed it off at first, until it turned out that it was no prank at all—the severed head was, in fact, real. Two people from the San Francisco Bay area were visiting an apartment complex in Oakland when they stumbled upon the head, which only had a little bit of flesh left, in the yard; the two then decided to actually bring it to the police station to turn it in.
Police later interviewed the residents of the apartment complex where the head was found, and no one seemed to have any clue how it got there—it just mysteriously showed up. In September, a partially mummified, decomposing torso had been discovered as well, so police believed immediately that they had a likely match.
In one of the most tragic and infamous cases of true crime history, a severed head was found. That head belonged to six-year-old Adam Walsh, the son of Joe Walsh, who, after the murder of his son, would go on to start up the television show America’s Most Wanted to put the monsters who lurk on our streets behind bars for a living. The date was August 10, 1981, when the worst fears of both the Walsh family and investigators came true: The severed head of young Adam Walsh was found in Florida, after he had disappeared from a shopping mall some two weeks prior.
It wouldn’t be until years later that a ravenous cannibal serial killer named Ottis Toole would confess to the killing of Walsh and give up the details of where the rest of the body was buried. There was only one problem: The police were unable to find the remains where Toole said they would be and, lacking that evidence, were unable to convict Toole for the murder of Adam Walsh. Toole later recanted his confession.
Toole was the partner in crime of another brutal serial killer, Henry Lee Lucas, and the two went on a deranged murder spree before splitting up. In 1996, on his deathbed, Toole would confess again to the murder of Walsh as he slowly died of liver failure. But it wouldn’t be until 2008 that the case would finally and officially be closed, when investigators were able to piece together the puzzle of Walsh’s severed head and Toole’s final confession that had taken place more than a decade beforehand.
The murder of Adam Walsh brought about the famous Code Adam drills, which are practiced in many places around the world. In these drills, exits are blocked off when a child goes missing in a public place.
I like to write about dark stuff, true crime, murder, history, and philosophy.