Anyone over the age of 25 was likely forever scarred by the combination of a creepy TV theme song and the voice of a classic film actor telling us about how one moment we could be living our normal lives, and then suddenly be abducted by aliens, shot by a stranger, or murdered by ghosts.
Once you join the military, you might think you’re safe from being a walking potential story on Unsolved Mysteries. But you’d be wrong. The best you can really hope for is a quicker “update” segment.
1. Paul Whipkey
In Season 3, Unsolved Mysteries showed the story of Lt. Paul Whipkey, a promising young officer whose health was affected by the atomic testing projects he worked on. One day, he decided to drive to Monterey, California, just one mile from his base at Fort Ord. He disappeared and was never seen again.
His car was found abandoned in the middle of Death Valley. The Army says he was stressed about his assignment so he left the car and walked into the desert, where he likely died. His family and friends obviously take exception to this theory for a number of reasons.
First, the Army declared him a deserter and didn’t even begin searching for him or his body for eight months. His commander remembered Lt. Whipkey talking with plainclothes officials. The men had IDs but did not show which agency they represented. Whipkey then alluded to a career move, where he would “make a name for himself,” just before he disappeared.
Just 11 days later, Whipkey’s best friend Lt. Charlie Guess disappeared while flying a plane. It would be over a year before the wreckage was discovered. Strangely, the crashed aircraft with which Guess's remains were found allegedly had a different serial number than the plane he took off in.
Locals report seeing Whipkey’s car in the days after his disappearance, but it was driven by a man in uniform. Whipkey was not wearing when he left the base. When his car finally resurfaced in Death Valley, investigators found cigarette butts near the vehicle. Paul Whipkey did not smoke.
His family and friends believe Paul was recruited by the CIA to go on secret operations and that he likely died in the CIA’s service.
2. Edward Zakrzewski
U.S. Air Force Technical Sergeant Edward Zakrzewski and his wife Sylvia were living in Fort Walton Beach, Florida when she was found murdered on June 13, 1994—according to the show, she was stabbed but newspapers say she was bludgeoned with a crowbar. Edward and Sylvia's two children were also murdered that night. The couple had been having marital problems and Sylvia was planning to leave.
This story was creepy as hell when it first aired, but …
UPDATE: Edward, who had fled to Hawaii, turned himself in to Hawaiian authorities soon after the family with which he was staying saw the Unsolved Mysteries episode about his case. As of 2016 he's been on death row for 20 years.
3. Justin Burgwinkel
In season 7, Unsolved Mysteries told us about Justin Burgwinkel, who went AWOL from the Army and was never seen again. He began language training for the Army Rangers, but washed out of the program before being sent to Fort Ord, California, where he became a cook.
He began dating a local student, Iolanda Antunes, and all seemed well. Until it wasn’t. He would drive to visit her but would randomly say he had to return to base. Other times, he would be bizarrely secretive about a briefcase he was always carrying.
Justin was soon transferred to Washington State, but would still come visit Iolanda. After Iolanda received a strange call telling Justin “the mission is off” he suddenly went back to his duty station. Things seemed to calm down. His parents were getting calls where he claimed to be doing well and that everything was fine. I think you can guess that things were not fine.
Burgwinkel purchased two handguns at this time, along with 100 rounds of ammunition. On Friday, June 4, 1993, he failed to report for duty at 0430. He was declared AWOL but was not hiding. He called his duty section from Iolanda’s apartment. He called his parents and told them he was working and not AWOL–he was doing something important.
Eight days later, he left Iolanda’s apartment and never came back. He only ever alluded to the movie White Sands, a film about gunrunning, and then disappeared. His car was discovered at a beachfront motel near Monterrey, where it had been for three months.
The briefcase with his wallet, car keys, and military ID were found in the trunk. He did not stay at the motel.
4. Chad Langford
The story of Spc. Langford was featured in Season 5. Langford was an MP stationed at the Redstone Arsenal in Alabama. One night, while on patrol of the base, Langford radioed for assistance—a motorist he had stopped turned violent. When backup arrived, they found Langford's radio, armband, and ID in the middle of the road. Down the street, Langford’s near-lifeless body was found outside his patrol car, shot in the head.
Langford’s sidearm lanyard was wrapped around his ankles, the radar cable around his neck, handcuffs on his left wrist, and his sidearm under his left shoulder. He died later that evening. The Army ruled it a suicide.
His family was outraged. Langford’s father Jim said he claimed to be doing undercover anti-drug stings for the Army. Fellow soldiers told Army criminal investigators that Langford was the ringleader of an attempt to rob the PX. The Army also maintained he was hurt about a recent breakup with his girlfriend and changed his lifestyle before taking his own life.
But his girlfriend says the breakup was initiated by Langford because his work was too much for him to share with her. When she last saw him, he was wearing different “gang-style” clothes and hanging with “unsavory” characters.
Langford's family believes the evidence at the scene doesn’t match the Army’s suicide story, and that certain clues—such as fingerprints discovered on Langford's handcuffs and radio—were not sufficiently scrutinized.
Though the Army reviewed the case after the broadcast, Chad Langford’s death remains officially a suicide.
5. Mark Dennis
In 1966, Corpsman Mark Dennis left Ohio for Vietnam. He thought it would be good for his future as a missionary. Dong Ha, Mark’s station, was a hotspot at the time. In July of that year, he was on a helicopter that was shot down with only three survivors. Mark was not one of them. The Navy suggested to Mark's family that they not view his remains due to the condition of his body.
On November 30, 1970, Newsweek published a photo of an unknown POW … one that looked just like Mark Dennis.
But the Navy determined it was someone else, a POW already documented. When the family requested his Navy death certificate, they found that Mark’s body was the only one not positively identified because it was burned beyond recognition. It was deemed Mark through the process of elimination.
That’s when Steve Wilcox, a Navy dental tech who was friends with Mark in boot camp, told the family of a friend from Mark’s unit. This friend told Wilcox that neither his corpsman material nor his dog tags were found in the crash and that 13 bodies were not recovered.
The Dennis family then exhumed the body. The remains were covered by his uniform, and then a blanket. Pinned to the blanket was his dog tags, as per regulation. When his brother (a fire expert) examined the dog tag, he found them to be brand new and the burn markings inconsistent with a crash burn.
A privately-funded forensic analysis of the remains show a man five inches shorter than Mark Dennis. Furthermore, the body in the coffin was not burned by JP-4 fuel, but with regular gasoline. Members of the Dennis family believe Mark never died that day.
In the years that followed, the military conducted multiple tests on the remains. Through DNA testing, they concluded that the remains indeed belonged to Mark Dennis. According to a 2017 Tampa Bay Times article, the Dennis family has come to terms with this conclusion, though doubts still linger.
6. David Cox
This one begins with PFC William Alvarado, a Marine who was nearly killed during a hazing incident while stationed at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba in 1986. You may recognize this story from A Few Good Men, because that movie is based on these events.
The squad leader, David Cox, who carried out the hazing along with fellow Marines, was convicted only of simple assault. Cox claimed he was following an “implied order” from a superior officer. When the movie came out, he felt he was maligned in the film–after all, in real life, no one died. He and other Marines filed a lawsuit against the filmmakers.
As time passed, David moved in with his girlfriend and was hoping to get a job at UPS. That’s when he disappeared. One day, his girlfriend came home to find all the doors open, an uncashed paycheck in his truck, keys in the ignition, and a gun in the glove box.
Four months later, his body was found five miles from his apartment, cash and credit cards in his wallet. He was shot four times, execution style, while wearing his Marine Corps jacket (which he never wore). Investigators believe he knew his killer and went along willingly.
David’s mother warned he was too outspoken about U.S. activities in Cuba, especially in his high-profile days following the release of A Few Good Men. His former defense attorney believes his murder was related to the military, given the proximity to hunting ranges (where gunshots would be normal), and his choice of military attire.
The murder remains unsolved.
7. Joe O’Brien
Season 8 brought us the story of Joe O’Brien, who had a vivid dream about being held prisoner in a cold cell, with only a striped blanket. His wrists were in terrible pain and even when he woke up, he found his hands sore and red.
Joe was worried about his friend Mohammed “Sammy” Mubarak, a Kuwaiti fighter pilot who was fighting in Operation Desert Storm. In the weeks following his vivid dream, Iraq surrendered.
Sammy came to visit Joe over Christmas the following year. Joe told Sammy of his strange dream and how the pain stayed with him for so long. Sammy told Joe his dream was Sammy’s reality–Sammy was held prisoner by the Iraqis on the same day.
Details Joe remembered from his dream, from the hand pain to the pattern of the blanket, matched those of Sammy's experience as a POW.
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This article originally appeared on We Are The Mighty.