10 more unsolved Arkansas mysteries

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) - We've shared with you 10 unexplained mysteries of Arkansas, but don't think it stops there. Here are 10 more mysteries to explore.

Thank you to Brandon Howard with Highlands Today for the story.

10. Fire in the sky

On the evening of March 9, 2000, a litany of Arkansans reported seeing "balls of fire" falling from the sky. Later that night, a large fire sprung up in parts of Pulaski, Lonoke, and Jefferson Counties. The blaze scorched a path one mile long and 150-feet wide.

The question on many residents' minds: were the two incidents linked?

On the night of the fire, local authorities were besieged by reports of the fireballs in the sky. One caller even told the Jefferson County sheriff's department that he saw a mushroom cloud-like explosion in the vicinity of the fire.

The Democrat-Gazette ran a follow-up story about a week later. The paper reported that authorities hadn't yet found the precise cause of the fire, but were convinced it wasn't connected to the "meteors." The story did little to dispel the rumors, though.

Still the curious account from a local TV reporter lingers more than a decade later.

9.Arkansas' role in a global internet enigma

It's been described as the world's most complex internet puzzle.

Cicada 3301 is the name of a group that has annually – for the past three years at least –created what's essentially an online scavenger hunt for the technologically savvy.

Little is known about the puzzle's creator(s). Cicada 3301 appears to be interested in candidates that have in-depth knowledge of cryptography and a passion for privacy, both online and off. Clues have been hidden in digital images, spread physically across the globe, and often reference the work of famous philosophers and complex mathematical theorems.

So what's all this got to do with Arkansas?

Well, two of the clues were posted in Fayetteville and Little Rock.

Why these two cities were chosen among some of the more exotic locations, which include Seattle, New Orleans, London, Tokyo, and Paris, is unclear.

In early January 2014, Cicada 3301 released another message in its three year journey. The puzzle is still currently ongoing and its progress can be followed here.

8. E.T. visits the Natural State. Maybe.

Andy Taylor and Barney Fife meet Spock and Captain Kirk?

Not quite.

But in 1897, two Arkansas lawmen allegedly had a face-to-face encounter with a UFO and its pilot.

Constable John J. Sumpter, Jr. and Deputy Sheriff John McLemore were investigating reports of "cattle rustling" in Hot Springs when they watched a bright light descend behind some trees. After trekking through the woods, they eventually found the source of the light.

Approaching with their guns drawn, a bearded man emerged from the forest and told them that he and his crew were travelling the country in an "airship". The stranger then showed Sumpter and McLemore his vessel: a cigar-shaped amalgamation of blimp and balloon that was nearly 60 feet long The pilot even offered them a ride, but the officers refused.

Bidding farewell to their new acquaintance – who said he was on his way to, of all places, Nashville – the two officers left. Forty minutes later, they returned, but found no trace of the pilot or his mysterious airship.

Sumpter and McLemore's account isn't without precedent. It was one of many reported "airship" sightings that swept the country in the late 19th century.

7. The mysterious Woodson Lateral Road

Mention "Woodson Lateral Road" to most Arkansans over 40 and you're bound to hear the Natural State's version of the vanishing hitchhiker legend.

The telling of the story varies wildly. Some say it involves a motorcycle headlight, the remnant of a rider killed by a carload of drunk drivers. Others describe a girl in a white dress, draped in a motorcycle jacket, who forever wanders the highway in search of her deceased prom date.

And yet another account says drivers pick up a young girl asking for a ride home. Mysteriously, she vanishes before they reach the destination, where her parents tell the driver that their daughter perished in a car accident many years ago.

While most of the stories share similar motifs, the legend seems to have emanated from a report published in 1980.

According to Arkansas State Trooper Robert Roten, his office had two separate reports of drivers picking up a "clean-cut, well-dressed" man who frightened them with his claims of the Second Coming.

Roten checked in with other districts all across the state, but the only two incidents appeared to come from Little Rock. While the authorities' search for the "highway apostle" yielded no tangible evidence, the story permeated Little Rock by word of mouth.

However, due to an ever-expanding Pulaski County, the once rural highway is slowly being overrun by suburbia.

6. Who was El Dorado's Jane Doe?

When police found a 21-year-old female brutally murdered in her hotel room, the mystery was just beginning.

The victim was a young blonde, and she had been savagely beaten before being shot in the head by her boyfriend. Police were able to track down the man responsible, James Roy McAlphin, and he's now in prison.

But while the murder was an open and shut case, figuring out the victim's true identity has been impossible.

Her possessions gave investigators little to work with. She had an Arkansas ID with the name "Cheryl Ann Wick," a Bible with various names scribbled inside, and a litany of items from a handful of restaurants in Virginia Beach.

From the name on the ID, authorities found that the deceased had stolen the identity of a Cheryl Ann Wick in Minnesota. The real Wick claimed she didn't know the victim.

Authorities also discovered that the names in the Bible belonged to a family the victim stayed with while living in Dallas. She had also been arrested in Texas under the aliases "Cheryl Wick," "Kelly Carr/Karr," "Sharon Wiley," and "Mercedes."

These names were given to the FBI, and authorities later discovered that the victim was also wanted for bank robbery in various states on the East Coast.

Other evidence revealed that the victim briefly lived in Shreveport, La. as well as Little Rock. According to Arkansas investigators, she told her friends she was originally from Florida.

Despite a handful of photos scattered across the internet, along with unsolicited help from members of the web, the victim's identity is still shrouded in mystery.

5. The Morgan Nick abduction

Easily the state's most infamous missing persons case, 6-year-old Morgan Nick was abducted from a little league baseball game in Alma in June of 1995. She was last seen chasing fireflies with her friends on the outskirts of the ball fields.

When her mother, Colleen Nick, came to get Morgan to go home, she found no trace of her daughter. Morgan's friends told police that they saw her talking to a "creepy" man. Investigators have exhausted nearly every lead in the case, yet Morgan's current whereabouts and condition remain unknown.

In the nearly 20 years since her disappearance, Morgan's story has gained national attention. Her case received assistance from the FBI, was the subject of several television specials, and inspired her mother to establish the Morgan Nick Foundation. The organization's primary goals are to comfort parents of missing children, while also helping law enforcement find missing youngsters.

In 2001, the AMBER Alert – itself an acronym tied the abduction of a young girl in Texas, was renamed in Arkansas to the Morgan Nick AMBER Alert.

4. A brutal lynching leaves unanswered questions

For much of the 20th century, the South was an inhospitable place for African Americans. Arkansas was no different.

Isadore Banks grew up in that era of oppression. Born in 1895, Banks lived through Arkansas' ugliest years of racial bloodshe. After serving in World War I, he returned home to Marion and began working at a utility plant. By the late 1940s, he had amassed a small fortune. He owned several businesses, along with nearly 1,000 acres of land.

But on June 4, 1954, Banks vanished.

Days later, his truck was found in the woods just outside Marion. Authorities found Banks' body not far from his vehicle, mutilated and tied to a tree. His large, 300-pound frame had been set on fire and burned beyond recognition.

Despite the heinous crime, a formal investigation was never performed. A local black coalition offered a $1,000 reward to anyone with information, but no one came forward.

A litany of theories emerged as motives for the murder. They ranged from punishing Banks for an alleged affair with a white woman to sending a grim warning to the few successful black citizens of Crittenden County.

The FBI maintains that Banks' case is one of many unsolved civil rights-era cases that it is still investigating. Inexplicably, though, Banks' case file was destroyed in 1992.

3. Just what was on those computers?

In January 2007, outgoing Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee made a peculiar request of his staff: destroy the office computers.

Huckabee's staff obliged, wiping the memory of more than 100 computers before smashing their hard drives beyond repair.

The reason behind the frenzied housecleaning has never been fully explained. Huckabee briefly addressed the issue in 2007, saying the hard drives were destroyed to "protect the privacy" of people whose information was stored in the data.

But Jim Parsons is determined to solve the mystery. His research unearthed a memo that refers to potential backups of the destroyed drives. The memo also says the backups were supposed to be delivered to a Huckabee aide.

As of this writing, however, the latest mention of this story dates back to late 2011.

2. Clinton associate murdered execution style

A well known, quasi-political figure around Arkansas in the late 1980s and early 90s, Luther Gerald "Jerry" Parks, Jr. oversaw Bill Clinton's security detail while Clinton was governor. Parks' security firm was later contracted to guard Clinton's presidential campaign headquarters in 1992.

But only nine months after Clinton won the White House, Parks was gunned down in West Little Rock. Parks was leaving El Chico when he was ambushed by two men in a white Chevrolet Caprice at the intersection of Chenal and Highway 10, where witnesses say the men shot Parks to death before speeding away. The only evidence left behind were 10 9-mm bullet casings scattered on the pavement.

Clinton's far-right critics pounced on the murder. They said it had political overtones, pointing to the untimely suicide of Vincent Foster – a childhood friend of Clinton's and one of his closest allies – only months earlier as evidence of a connection.

Parks' son, Gary, also tried to link Clinton to the murders. He claimed that his father had collected a file on Clinton's salacious activities and that he was subsequently executed because of its contents. The Little Rock Police Department dismissed such claims as "unsubstantiated".

Adding another twist in the case, Gary was recently charged with the murder of his mother's new husband, David Millstein. Police in Baxter County think Gary had help, and they believe that the unnamed suspect might also have ties to Jerry's murder.

Despite the passing of two decades, LRPD's investigation into the elder Parks' murder is ongoing.

1. Does a killer still roam free in Arkansas?

Damien Echols was the lead suspect in the murders of three West Memphis boys in 1993. After serving 18 years in prison, Echols, along with the two other suspects, Jessie Miskelley, Jr. and Jason Baldwin – subsequently dubbed the West Memphis Three – were released per the controversial Alford Plea in 2011.

In one of Echols' many interviews while in prison, he issued a sobering notion to filmmakers of the West of Memphis documentary: "The person who killed those three kids is still out there walking on the street."

Investigators never found any physical evidence linking the WM3 to the crime scene. Moreover, witnesses who originally testified against the trio later said they were pressured by law enforcement officials to do so. And thanks to improving forensic science, investigators uncovered a strand of DNA from one of the shoelaces used to subdue the victims that did not match any of the WM3.

Further complicating the case was the mysterious "Mr. Bojangles." On the evening of the murders a "disoriented" African American man, covered in blood and mud, entered a Bojangles restaurant not far from where the bodies were found.

Police were summoned to the scene, but officers took the report via the drive-thru window and never entered the building to interview the suspect. Blood samples taken from the bathroom were later lost by WMPD investigators before the WM3 went to trial.

The suspect's race was an important factor in the case, as the hair of black male was discovered in one of the sheets used to wrap the victims.

Other advocates of the WM3's innocence point to one of the victim's stepfather, Terry Hobbs, as the real assailant. Hobbs had a history of child abuse and was reportedly the last person seen with three boys.

Sadly, after more than 20 years, it appears that the deaths of Stevie Branch, Michael Moore, and Chris Byers will forever remain unsolved.

All of the links in this post refer back to the author's references.


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