22 True Crime Stories Black Folks Will Never Forget [Update]

Photo:  Fer Gregory (Shutterstock)
Photo: Fer Gregory (Shutterstock)

Updated as of 11/23/2022 at 4:00 p.m. ET

Most documentaries about a missing person or serial killer are overwhelmingly white. However, we Black folk do consider American history as a crime story in itself. Alas, we have seen and witnessed some shocking events in history that give us the same unsettling feeling as the Dahmer or Manson TV series.

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Historically, we’ve witnessed horrific lynchings of our innocent Black family members and murders or disappearances that have gone unsolved because the police simply didn’t care enough (or might have had something to do with it).

But also to our surprise, Black serial killers have terrorized the country as well.

For the true crime junkies, here are some unforgettable crime stories from our neck of the woods.

Harrison Graham

Harrison “Marty” Graham is pictured in an undated police handout photograph. On Monday, Nov. 13, 1995, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge signed a death warrant for Graham who was convicted in 1988 of seven counts of murder after police found the remians of seven people in his apartment.
Harrison “Marty” Graham is pictured in an undated police handout photograph. On Monday, Nov. 13, 1995, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge signed a death warrant for Graham who was convicted in 1988 of seven counts of murder after police found the remians of seven people in his apartment.

In 1987, Harrison “Marty” Graham was ordered to vacate his home due to a foul odor wreaking from his unit. The smell came from the bodies of seven women who were found among trash and mattresses in Graham’s apartment, per the Philly Voice. More skeletal remains were found in his closet and a green duffel bag full of bones on his roof.

Just around Temple University, the report says Graham strangled the women to death after luring them back to his home - which was the origin of his nickname: “House of Death” killer. He was convicted on manslaughter and abuse of corpse charges and fully admitted his guilt.

He escaped death row under mental disability. He’s currently serving life in prison.

Samuel Little

This Sept. 24, 2018, booking photo provided by the California Department of Corrections shows Samuel Little. A new documentary series that explores the 35-year killing spree of a prolific serial killer has connections to Houma. The STARZ series, “Confronting a Serial Killer,” tells the story of Samuel Little, a serial killer whose victims stretched across more than a dozen states, including Louisiana, between 1970 to 2005.
This Sept. 24, 2018, booking photo provided by the California Department of Corrections shows Samuel Little. A new documentary series that explores the 35-year killing spree of a prolific serial killer has connections to Houma. The STARZ series, “Confronting a Serial Killer,” tells the story of Samuel Little, a serial killer whose victims stretched across more than a dozen states, including Louisiana, between 1970 to 2005.

Between 1970 and 2005, Samuel Little admitted to murdering 93 women.

He confessed to the killings in an exclusive interview with a Texas ranger in 2018, per the Texas Department of Public Safety. Little allegedly had a photographic memory, recalling every victim, where they met and where he left their bodies.

DPS Director Steven McCraw was eager to use the information supplied by Little’s confession to bring closure to over a dozen unsolved murders. His statements matched up to at least 60 victims through DNA evidence. The FBI labeled him as the most prolific serial killer in US history.

Before his death, he was serving a life sentence at a state prison in Los Angeles County. He died there of natural causes at 80 years old in 2020, per The New York Times.

Mississippi Burning Killings

James Chaney headshot, civil rights worker killed in Mississippi in 1964, B&W photo
James Chaney headshot, civil rights worker killed in Mississippi in 1964, B&W photo

June 21, 1964, James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman has been in Neshoba County to look into the burning of the CORE Freedom School site, reports say.

The three were volunteering to help people register to vote as a part of the Mississippi Summer Project, per PBS. However, they hadn’t known the burned down site they went to visit was a product of the KKK, who didn’t plan on stopping their trail of arsons.

On the drive back, the three were stopped by a sheriff and arrested. However, they disappeared. After an investigation opened into their vanishing, their remains were found in the swamps of the Mississippi. They had been tortured and killed by seven members of KKK - all of which were found guilty of the killings.

Controversial Death of Sam Cooke

Rock and roll singer Sam Cooke performs at a concert in New York’s Copacabana night club in this undated photo.
Rock and roll singer Sam Cooke performs at a concert in New York’s Copacabana night club in this undated photo.

Soul, gospel and rock legend Sam Cooke was only 33 when he was shot and killed. According to PEOPLE, he spent his last night at a chic restaurant in LA. Cooke left there with Elisa Boyer and headed to his hotel. Boyer said once the two got to a room, she feared Cooke was going rape her. When he went into the bathroom she fled and called the police.

Cooke allegedly assaulted the motel manager, Bertha Franklin, demanding to know where Boyer had went. Franklin said she grabbed her pistol and shot him three times. Some believe there’s more to the story.

One theory suggests Boyer and Franklin conspired to lure Cooke to the hotel and rob him of his money. Another detail found that the bullet that killed Cooke didn’t match to Franklin’s firearm. Others believe Cooke’s turn from love-song singer to civil rights activist had made him another target for the Feds.

Assassination of Malcolm X

Malcolm X speaks to reporters in Washington on May 16, 1963. The city of New York is settling lawsuits filed on behalf of two men who were exonerated in 2021 for the 1965 assassination of Malcolm X, agreeing to pay $26 million for the wrongful convictions which led to both men spending decades behind bars, according to attorneys for the men Sunday, Oct. 30, 2022.
Malcolm X speaks to reporters in Washington on May 16, 1963. The city of New York is settling lawsuits filed on behalf of two men who were exonerated in 2021 for the 1965 assassination of Malcolm X, agreeing to pay $26 million for the wrongful convictions which led to both men spending decades behind bars, according to attorneys for the men Sunday, Oct. 30, 2022.

Feb. 21, 1965, civil rights activist Malcolm X was about to give a speech at the Audubon Ballroom in Manhattan. When he stepped on the podium, someone threw a makeshift bomb into the audience, causing the two security guards in front of the stage to leave their post, per WashPo. As Malcolm tried to calm the crowd, a man charged toward him and shot him in the chest with a shotgun. Two other men shot him in the ankle and legs from the side of the stage.

One gunman, Talmadge Hayer, confessed to the shooting and was convicted. Two other members of the National of Islam were convicted as well, but were recently exonerated. The public conspired about what really happened and who plotted against the civil rights leader.

Certainly, many pointed to the NYPD and FBI as having a hand in it. However, documentaries about Malcolm suggest he knew the government was after him because of his “radical” views on what achieving freedom entailed.

Mysterious Death of Kendrick Johnson

Screenshot:  Fox5Atlanta (Fair Use)
Screenshot: Fox5Atlanta (Fair Use)

This story may go down in modern day history as one of the eeriest crimes. In 2013, 17-year-old Kendrick Johnson was found dead inside a rolled up wrestling mat in the Lowndes High School gymnasium in Valdosta, Georgia. Officials ruled his death just a freak accident, suggesting he suffered “positional asphyxia” by getting himself stuck in the mat, reports say. However, his family insisted foul play was involved.

A documentary on his death revealed some stunning details that led to a second investigation of his case. First, his autopsy found he suffered blunt force trauma to the neck and ruled his death as a homicide. Secondly, a few of his internal organs were missing. Lastly, two of Johnson’s peers, who were brothers, were named persons of interest in the case but never charged.

The Lowndes County Sheriff Ashley Paulk offered a $1 million of his own money for tips about the case after closing the second investigation, per NBC News.

Lynching of Emmett Till

Photo:  AP File (AP)
Photo: AP File (AP)

A true American horror story. Emmett Louis Till was only 15 when he was kidnapped and brutally murdered. Till, who was from Chicago, had gone to Mississippi to visit family in August 1955. A young city boy, he had no idea how danger the Delta could be. Eventually, he was accused of whistling at a white woman in a store. That woman, Carolyn Bryant Donham, told her husband and his brother that Till had assaulted her.

The two men tracked down Till, snatched him from his bed, tortured and mutilated him and left his body in the river. He was barely recognizable when his body was recovered. His mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, held an open casket funeral which sparked a new wave behind the Civil Rights Movement and against the senseless violence racism had brewed.

Alleged Lynching of Quawan Charles

Screenshot:  ABC News (Fair Use)
Screenshot: ABC News (Fair Use)

Quawan “Bobby” Charles was also 15 when he died. He was reported missing in October 2020 to the Baldwin Police Department in Louisiana, per ABC News. However, they failed to release an Amber Alert or report his disappearance to the media. Instead, he was classified as a runaway.

The last place Charles was seen was getting into a car with a woman named Janet Irvin. She admitted to picking up Charles to take him back to her home without permission. She claimed he ran away from her home.

Charles’ body was found just a mile from her house in a sugar cane field. His cause of death was ruled as a drowning though the ditch only had two feet of water. The mutilated images of his body which circulated social media told a different story. Irvin was arrested over 100 days after Charles was found.

Disputed Death of Tamla Horsford

Screenshot:  11Alive News (Fair Use)
Screenshot: 11Alive News (Fair Use)

Three years ago, Tamla Horsford was found dead in a friend’s backyard. She was invited to a slumber party where she’d been drinking, according to 11Alive News. Witnesses claimed Horsford went out on the balcony for a cigarette. She allegedly fell over the balcony to her death. However, the position of her body at the crime scene and independent autopsy found inconsistencies in what led to her death.

Investigators suspected Horsford sustained injuries before she had fallen. There’s speculation whether she had fallen at all due to the absence of skull fractures and broken bones. After the story of her death went viral, many in the cyber world suspected it was a murder given Horsford was the only Black woman at the party, but that’s never been confirmed,

Death of Kenneka Jenkins

Screenshot:  Chicago Tribune via Facebook
Screenshot: Chicago Tribune via Facebook

Jenkins, 19, was found dead inside a freezer at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Rosemont, Illinois in 2017, per ABC 7 Chicago. Jenkins had been in a hotel party with friends when a surveillance video picked up footage of her walking in the hallway by herself. That’s it. Somehow, she ended up in the hotel’s kitchen freezer where she was locked inside.

Social media videos of the party flooded the internet as spectators tried to piece together the moments leading up to her death. Officials ruled her death as an accident - hypothermia. Despite the online conspiracies, officials didn’t find foul play as a part of Jenkins’ death.

Disappearance and Death of Jelani Day

Screenshot:  Bloomington Illinois Police
Screenshot: Bloomington Illinois Police

Illinois State graduate student Jelani Day was found dead in the Illinois River, according to NBC News. Day was only 25 when he went missing August 24 where he was last seen at a dispensary. His car was found later a mile away from his body. Inside the car? The clothes he was last seen wearing.

The county coroner ruled Day’s death as a drowning. Though, Day’s family insisted he was an avid swimmer, nor did he show any suicidal symptoms that would lead him to drown himself. It’s unknown how he ended up in the river.

His family demanded a federal investigation into his death and believe foul play was involved. The FBI offered a $10,000 for tips.

Disappearance of the Millbrook Twins

Screenshot:  MEAWW (Fair Use)
Screenshot: MEAWW (Fair Use)

Dannette and Jeanette Millbrook, 15, have been missing since March 18, 1990. According to WJBF, their case was opened back up in 2013 when their case went viral after a documentary on their disappearance aired. The police initially wrote off the mystery as a case of runaways. The last time they were seen was a Pump-N-Shop store, per the family. Their younger sister recalled walking with her mother to find them the night they vanished.

True crime spectators wonder if they’d been abducted by serial killer Joseph Patrick Washington, who lived in their neighborhood. Their father was also reported to be sexually abusive and some question if he may have abducted them himself. The most frustrating part of the case if that there was no investigation to begin with. So, where does one start?

The family put up two billboards, asking the public to help them find any information on their loved one. A $50,000 reward has been offered for any information.

Birmingham Church Bombing

Firefighters and ambulance attendants remove a covered body from the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., after a deadly explosion detonated by members of the Ku Klux Klan during services on Sept. 15, 1963. Threats against Black institutions are deeply rooted in U.S. history and leaders say the history of violence against people of color should be passed on to new generations so the lessons of the past can be applied to the present.
Firefighters and ambulance attendants remove a covered body from the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., after a deadly explosion detonated by members of the Ku Klux Klan during services on Sept. 15, 1963. Threats against Black institutions are deeply rooted in U.S. history and leaders say the history of violence against people of color should be passed on to new generations so the lessons of the past can be applied to the present.

September 15, 1963, the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama was targeted by the Klu Klux Klan. The church had been a staple in the Black community and force behind the civil rights movement. That morning, a bomb exploded from under the steps of the church. The impact caused severe injuries to congregation members and claimed the lives of four innocent girls.

Addie Mae (14), Denise McNair (14), Carole Robertson (14) and 11-year-old Cynthia Wesley were killed. Addie’s sister Sarah survived but lost her right eye due to her injuries.

The public outrage at the incident caused the FBI to launch an investigation. After finding a few suspects, no one was indicted due to lack of evidence, per the National Park Service. However, Alabama Attorney General Bill Baxley reopened the case and investigators found the FBI hid the evidence. Robert Chambliss, Thomas Blanton and Bobby Frank Cherry were convicted of murder.

Murder of Erica ‘Precious Doe’ Green

Photo:  AP File (AP)
Photo: AP File (AP)

Green was only three years old when she was brutally murdered, per CBS News. Her stepfather, Harrell Johnson, was reported to beat her for crying, peeing on herself and refusing to eat. Johnson’s cousin, Lawanda Driskell said she heard him tell Green’s mother, Michelle to get a hold of her daughter before he “does something bad.”

A week later, Harrell gave a fatal blow to Erica’s head by kicking her. The door was kept closed and the couple alleged the toddler was just sick. Erica wasn’t moved from the room for two days. However, police later found her body at an intersection in Kansas City. Days later, they found her head which authorities said was cut off with a pair of hedge clippers. Before identifying the body as Green’s, they named her “Precious Doe.”

Michelle and Harrell Johnson, who both had outstanding warrants, were convicted of second-degree felony murder and endangering the welfare of a child.

Murder of Jeffrey Dahmer

Photo:  AP File (AP)
Photo: AP File (AP)

After a slew of merciless killings, Jeffrey Dahmer met his fate by the hands of a fellow inmate. Dahmer had been sentenced to fifteen life sentences, serving time beside Christopher Scarver in 1992.

Scarver told the New York Post this year that Dahmer would play with his food and cut it up into body parts, smearing ketchup across them to look bloodied. However, he previously told reporters back in the 90s that he had a hit list of people he deemed unworthy to live, per the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Critics suspect Scarver was aided in Dahmer’s execution because the cannibal was left without his special guards, isolated for an attack. Scarver said the guards helped him but didn’t elaborate further.

The DC Snipers

Lee Boyd Malvo listens to court proceedings during the trial of fellow sniper suspect John Allen Muhammad in Virginia Beach, Va., Oct. 20, 2003. Virginia has denied parole to convicted sniper killer Malvo, ruling that he is still a risk to the community two decades after he and his partner terrorized the Washington, D.C., region with a series of random shootings. The Virginia Parole Board rejected his request on Aug. 30, 2022.
Lee Boyd Malvo listens to court proceedings during the trial of fellow sniper suspect John Allen Muhammad in Virginia Beach, Va., Oct. 20, 2003. Virginia has denied parole to convicted sniper killer Malvo, ruling that he is still a risk to the community two decades after he and his partner terrorized the Washington, D.C., region with a series of random shootings. The Virginia Parole Board rejected his request on Aug. 30, 2022.

John Allen Muhammad (41) and Lee Boyd Malvo (17) went on a killing spree around the DMV in 2002, per CNN. Most of their shootings targeted civilians in public places like shopping center parking lots, gas stations or school zones. Then, one day they left a clue at the scene of one of their crimes: a “Death” tarot card reading “Call me God.”

Their motives were never clear. Some suspected Muhammad wanted revenge after his ex-wife and children left him. Others believed they were involved with Al Qaeda given the fresh wound of the 9/11 attacks.

The killings began earlier that year then became more frequent during the month of October. A total of 17 people died and shot another ten who survived their gunshot wounds. Then, the two were arrested. Muhammad was sentenced to death and executed in 2009. Malvo remains in prison on a life sentence though he’s been ordered for a resentencing now that he is an adult, per WUSA9 News.

OJ Simpson Murder Trial

O.J. Simpson, center, with defense attorneys F. Lee Bailey, left, and Johnnie Cochran after Simpson was found not guilty of murdering his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman at the Criminal Courts Building in Los Angeles on Oct. 3, 1995.
O.J. Simpson, center, with defense attorneys F. Lee Bailey, left, and Johnnie Cochran after Simpson was found not guilty of murdering his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman at the Criminal Courts Building in Los Angeles on Oct. 3, 1995.

Former NFL star and actor Orenthal James (O.J.) Simpson was accused murdering his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman. Reports say the two were found dead outside Nicole’s condo.

Simpson’s trial was around the same time the Black LA community rioted against police brutality and racism following the brutal beating of Rodney King. With racial tensions high, the people believed O.J. was being set up by the system. Public pressure led to the jury to acquit Simpson of his charges.

Everything was put into question, DNA samples, the intentions of police: DNA samples including blood, hair follicles and material from Simpson’s vehicle. Not to mention, a glove was found on Simpson’s property which matched the DNA to himself and the two victims, however Simpson’s brilliant attorneys...uh showed the world it didn’t fit and asked the jurors to acquit, which they did.

The world watched the drama unfold on mostly live television.

Murder of Tupac Shakur

In this Aug. 15, 1996, file photo, rapper Tupac Shakur attends a voter registration event in South Central Los Angeles. Snoop Dogg will induct the late rapper Tupac Shakur into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, while Pharrell Williams will induct Nile Rodgers during the ceremony in Brooklyn. The Rock & Roll Hall announced Wednesday, March 29, 2017 additional guests who’ll be on hand April 7 at the Barclays Center to induct this year’s newest class.
In this Aug. 15, 1996, file photo, rapper Tupac Shakur attends a voter registration event in South Central Los Angeles. Snoop Dogg will induct the late rapper Tupac Shakur into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, while Pharrell Williams will induct Nile Rodgers during the ceremony in Brooklyn. The Rock & Roll Hall announced Wednesday, March 29, 2017 additional guests who’ll be on hand April 7 at the Barclays Center to induct this year’s newest class.

The murder of Tupac Shakur is one of the most heated debates next to whether he’s alive, hiding in Cuba or not. In September of 1996, Shakur had been in Las Vegas, reports say. While walking through a hotel, he ran into a mutual enemy, Orlando Anderson. After the two squabbled in the lobby, Anderson was left beaten on the floor.

The last we ever saw of the rapper was on the security camera footage, furiously walking through the lobby, per Las Vegas Review Journal. Two hours later, Shakur was sitting at a red light with his Death Row posse, Suge Knight beside him, on Flamingo Road and Koval Lane when a car pulled up to his BMW and rained fire. He suffered two bullets to the chest, one to the thigh and one to the arm. His succumbed to his injuries six days later.

Because his shooter was never captured, many began to speculate who was involved. Given the coast-to-coast rap beef with Bad Boy Records, many music fans and living room sleuths theorized Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs may have put a hit out on Pac. Others believed Suge Knight was to blame. LA residents settled on plain ol’ gang violence between the Bloods and the Crips. None of these theories have been proven to be true.

Murder of The Notorious B.I.G.

This Dec. 6, 1995, file photo shows Notorious B.I.G accepting rap artist and rap single of the year during the Billboard Music Awards in New York. The late rap icon, born Christopher Wallace, will be honored at the ASCAP Rhythm & Soul Awards on June 22, 2017.
This Dec. 6, 1995, file photo shows Notorious B.I.G accepting rap artist and rap single of the year during the Billboard Music Awards in New York. The late rap icon, born Christopher Wallace, will be honored at the ASCAP Rhythm & Soul Awards on June 22, 2017.

Christopher Wallace aka Biggie Smalls aka The Notorious B.I.G. died in an eerily similar way as his Hip-Hop competitor, Tupac Shakur. According to Fox 5 New York, Wallace was leaving a party in Los Angeles when he was fatally shot in a drive-by March of 1997. Given Shakur had died just the year before, the public believed the tensions between Death Row and Bad Boy Records had finally boiled over.

For years, authorities couldn’t pinpoint who Wallace’s killer was, leading to another cold case. However, the conspiracy of Suge Knight being an evil mastermind became justifiable after the reveal of sealed federal records. An FBI agent told The New York Post that the shooter was Amir Muhammad, a member of the Nation of Islam, who was hired by Knight as a hitman. Despite the agents claim, none of this has been officially confirmed and the case is still opened and a mystery.

Central Park Jogger Case

Screenshot:  Twitter (Fair Use)
Screenshot: Twitter (Fair Use)

Though the group of teens did not commit the crime they were convicted of, this story goes down in history as a horrid example of racial bias in the criminal justice system.

In 1989, Korey Wise, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, Antron McCray and Yusef Salaam were just teens when they were arrested in connection to the rape and assault of a white woman jogger in Central Park. After being intimidated and manipulated by the crooked NY police, they gave false confessions to crime landing them between six and 13 years in prison, per the New York Times. The woman, who survived the attack, provided was unable helpful details in identifying who her attacker was.

The media slammed their name, making them out to be animals, gang members and monstrous criminals. Wise, who was serving time in an adult facility, encountered the real culprit, Matias Reyes, who later confessed to the crime in 2002. Reyes was a convicted murderer and serial rapist at the time.

The five were exonerated and given $41 million in a settlement while the NYPD denied their role in the wrongful conviction.

Death of Kalief Browder

A demonstrator holds an image of Kalief Browder at a protest near City Hall in New York City, NY, USA to demand that it close the long-controversial Rikers Island Corrections facility, on February 23, 2016.
A demonstrator holds an image of Kalief Browder at a protest near City Hall in New York City, NY, USA to demand that it close the long-controversial Rikers Island Corrections facility, on February 23, 2016.

In 2010, Browder was accused of minor theft and sent to Rikers Island for three years at the ripe age of 16. He maintained his innocence the whole time and eventually, his case was dropped and he was released. However, his experiences at the jail drove him into a dark mental state, per The New Yorker.

Two of the years he spent detained were in solitary confinement. He recalled being targeted and abused by officers. Surveillance footage of him in the jail showed him being randomly bum rushed by guards and other inmates. He had made multiple suicide attempts inside Rikers Island. Three moths after his release, he made another attempt and was sent to a psychiatric hospital where he was reported to experience paranoia.

Browder’s case caught the attention of Jay Z, The View’s Rosie O’Donnell and Rand Paul. Though, as the horrors of the jail system were being exposed to the public, Browder was deteriorating mentally. In 2015, he died by suicide. New York City paid his estate $3.3 million in a lawsuit settlement.

The Chicago Strangler

Screenshot:  Unforgotten 51 (Fair Use)
Screenshot: Unforgotten 51 (Fair Use)

Over a span of 27 years, Black women in Chicago have been found beaten or strangled to death and their killer was never found. According to Fox 32 Chicago, their bodies were often found discarded in buildings, dumpsters or even dismembered.

Between 1999 and 2018, 75 women were found strangled to death, reports say. Police have only solved 24 of the cases. One case was fairly recent. A woman was found chained up inside an abandoned building by a man she said sexually assaulted her. A passerby heard her cries for help and was able to get the police to rescue her. Joel Cammon was arrested and charged, however, it’s unclear if he’s connected to the pattern of strangulation murders.

The Murder Accountability Project began tracking these cases alongside activists who called out the Chicago Police Department for their inability to catch this assumed serial killer. The families of the missing and murdered women have held multiple rallies calling for greater action to be taken to bring their loved ones home.

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