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Unsolved Mysteries: More Than Just a Creepy Theme Song

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Unsolved Mysteries was ahead of its time. It was one of the first reality television shows, and it was also interactive - viewers had the chance to call in with tips to help solve real-life mysteries. The show introduced host Robert Stack to a whole new generation of fans, caused more than one sleepless night with its creepy theme song, helped put lots of crooks behind bars, and reunited about 100 “Lost Loves” that had been disconnected by fate and time. So come along as we dig a little deeper and try to uncover the true story behind Unsolved Mysteries.

A History of Mystery

Most people remember long-time host Robert Stack walking through the fog, often illuminated by a car's headlights, armed with his signature trench coat and unmistakable raspy voice. But Stack was not the only person to ever host the show. In fact, he wasn't even the first.

The first host of Unsolved Mysteries was none other than Raymond Burr, star of the classic TV series Perry Mason. The first episode was only slated to be a one-hour special broadcast on NBC on January 20, 1987. But because it was such a huge hit, the network ordered additional specials. When Burr demanded too much money to return, the producers tapped Karl Marlden, a well-known film and television actor, whose role as a grizzled police lieutenant on the popular 1970s show, The Streets of San Francisco, helped solidify UM's crime-solving theme. After two more specials in 1987, Malden also asked for a bigger paycheck, and he was replaced by another TV cop, Robert Stack, who played Elliott Ness on The Untouchables. Stack's authoritative voice and stern demeanor became synonymous with the show, and to many people, it came to define his career.

But even Stack shared the stage during his tenure. From 1995-1997, Keely Shaye Smith, who would later marry James Bond (Pierce Brosnan), became an on-air correspondent for the show. After it was canceled, CBS picked it up in 1997. They added Virginia Madsen (pictured with Stack), future Oscar nominee for her role in Sideways, as a co-host to try to boost ratings. However, the show was canceled again in 1999, only to be resurrected by The Lifetime Network in 2001, this time with Stack as the lone host. He remained the voice of Unsolved Mysteries until it was once again canceled in 2002.

Stack passed away in 2003 at the age of 84, so when the show was brought back again in 2008 by SPIKE TV, Dennis Farina — best-known for playing mobsters and police officers in films like Get Shorty and Out of Sight — was brought on board. With Farina in tow, Unsolved Mysteries has is part of the Lifetime Network's daily afternoon line-up, proving that you just can't keep a good show down. These new episodes are little more than re-cut segments from the Stack-era with new voice overs and updated information on the cases shown.

That Song

For many fans, the theme song was either their favorite or the most terrifying part of the show. The music was composed and performed by Michael Boyd and Gary Remal Malkin, who also wrote the score for the 1984 classic cheese film, Breakin', which introduced much of America to breakdancing. The theme song won back-to-back American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) Film and Television Music Awards for Top TV Series in both 1992 and 1993. If you'd like to relive the memories (or maybe prevent yourself from falling asleep tonight), check out the theme song on YouTube:

Before They Were Stars

One of the highlights of Unsolved Mysteries was the dramatic reenactments. Many people wonder if any of the actors involved were ever wrongfully accused of being the actual wanted fugitive. While there's no evidence this ever happened, that doesn't mean the actors never got noticed. In fact, a handful of people who appeared on the show went on to bigger and better things.

One such actress is Stephnie Weir, who played a nondescript resident at a hotel in a May 1992 episode. In 2000, Weir joined MADtv and stayed there for six seasons, becoming one of the longest-running members of the cast. Another funny lady, Cheryl Hines, who would later star as Larry David's wife on Curb Your Enthusiasm, played a nurse in a 1997 episode. Fans of Lost will recognize a familiar face if they catch the 1991 segment on the murder of Su-Ya Kim. A friend of the victim's husband is played by Daniel Dae Kim, the actor that played Jin on the island, and is currently co-starring on the reboot of Hawaii Five-O. Perhaps the biggest name to have been featured on UM, though, is heartthrob Matthew McConaughey. McConaughey appeared in a 1992 episode as Larry Dickens, a man murdered in cold blood by Edward Howard Bell in 1978. As a precursor to the rest of his career (and personal life for that matter), McConaughey runs around with his shirt unbuttoned in the recreation. (Skip to 3:30 below.)

Not-So-Unsolved Mysteries

According to the official Unsolved Mysteries website, 47% of the wanted fugitive cases featured on the show have been solved thanks to tips reported by viewers. During that time, some pretty amazing stories have centered around the show and its successes.

The first case closed thanks to Unsolved Mysteries was the apprehension of Robert Weeks. Weeks was suspected of murdering three women, including his wife Patricia, and had become a fugitive before a solid case could be made against him. The night his segment aired, the woman Weeks was currently dating while living under an assumed name, called the 800 number to report him. The next day, Weeks was picked up and later convicted of all three murders.
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Cheryl Holland holds the record for the shortest time from her television debut until her capture. Holland was accused of killing her aunt and uncle in Tennessee, and stealing money from them to partially pay off her debt to drug dealers. After the segment appeared on TV, she was arrested in Texas just 45 minutes later thanks to a viewer who called into the show.
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Jerry Strickland and Missy Mundy were wanted for armed robbery, kidnapping and murder when their segment aired in February 1988. They watched the episode they were featured on at home—Unsolved Mysteries was one of Jerry's favorite shows. Afterwards, the couple went over to a friend's house and waited patiently until the police tracked them down the next morning.
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Louis Carlucci has the honor of having been featured on the show twice. The first time was because he was on the run for committing fraud. After he got caught thanks to viewer tips, he jumped bail and disappeared again. UM ran another segment a year later and, once again, thanks to viewer tips, he was apprehended shortly afterwards.
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A friend told Alexander Graham he was featured on America's Most Wanted earlier that night. When Graham confirmed that Most Wanted hadn't even been on, he figured the person was just fooling around. The next morning, he went into work as usual, but the federal authorities were waiting for him. Graham, whose real name was Gregory Barker, was wanted in connection with as many as 16 murders. A woman at the office building where he worked recognized him from the episode of Unsolved Mysteries (not America's Most Wanted) that she'd watched the night before, and called-into the show.
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Perhaps the most astonishing story on Unsolved Mysteries was their 150th solved case – the case of Tony Miller. Miller had been eating at a restaurant with friends in Toledo, OH, in December 1983. Moments after they left, a man entered the restaurant and robbed it at gunpoint, then, during his escape, shot and wounded a police officer. The employees fingered Miller as the crook and the prosecution found a witness who said he saw a man who looked like Miller leaving the scene. A month later, police arrested another man, Joseph Clark, for an unrelated crime, who confessed to the robbery. But when pressed for details, he recanted his story. Instead, Miller was arrested, tried, and sentenced to serve 20 - 40 years in prison for the crime.

Eight years later, Miller was featured on Final Appeal: From the Files of Unsolved Mysteries, a spin-off attempt that lasted only six episodes in 1992. The short-lived show, also hosted by Stack, focused on people who claimed to have been wrongly convicted. Among the audience watching that night was the witness for the prosecution who said he saw Miller running from the scene. During the program, mug shots of Miller and Clark were shown side-by-side, giving the witness the first opportunity he'd ever had to see the two men together. He called the 800 number to say that his testimony had been wrong – the man he saw running away that night was actually Joseph Clark. Because the witness had changed his story, Tony Miller was released from jail just a few weeks later – almost nine years after he was convicted of a crime he didn't commit.
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What were some of your favorite memories of Unsolved Mysteries?? Did the theme music keep you awake at night? Did you ever call into the show with a hot tip? Tell us about it in the comments below!

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The Elements
9 Diamond-Like Facts About Carbon
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How well do you know the periodic table? Our series The Elements explores the fundamental building blocks of the observable universe—and their relevance to your life—one by one.
 
 
It can be glittering and hard. It can be soft and flaky. It can look like a soccer ball. Carbon is the backbone of every living thing—and yet it just might cause the end of life on Earth as we know it. How can a lump of coal and a shining diamond be composed of the same material? Here are eight things you probably didn't know about carbon.

1. IT'S THE "DUCT TAPE OF LIFE."

It's in every living thing, and in quite a few dead ones. "Water may be the solvent of the universe," writes Natalie Angier in her classic introduction to science, The Canon, "but carbon is the duct tape of life." Not only is carbon duct tape, it's one hell of a duct tape. It binds atoms to one another, forming humans, animals, plants and rocks. If we play around with it, we can coax it into plastics, paints, and all kinds of chemicals.

2. IT'S ONE OF THE MOST ABUNDANT ELEMENTS IN THE UNIVERSE.

It sits right at the top of the periodic table, wedged in between boron and nitrogen. Atomic number 6, chemical sign C. Six protons, six neutrons, six electrons. It is the fourth most abundant element in the universe after hydrogen, helium, and oxygen, and 15th in the Earth's crust. While its older cousins hydrogen and helium are believed to have been formed during the tumult of the Big Bang, carbon is thought to stem from a buildup of alpha particles in supernova explosions, a process called supernova nucleosynthesis.

3. IT'S NAMED AFTER COAL.

While humans have known carbon as coal and—after burning—soot for thousands of years, it was Antoine Lavoisier who, in 1772, showed that it was in fact a unique chemical entity. Lavoisier used an instrument that focused the Sun's rays using lenses which had a diameter of about four feet. He used the apparatus, called a solar furnace, to burn a diamond in a glass jar. By analyzing the residue found in the jar, he was able to show that diamond was comprised solely of carbon. Lavoisier first listed it as an element in his textbook Traité Élémentaire de Chimie, published in 1789. The name carbon derives from the French charbon, or coal.

4. IT LOVES TO BOND.

It can form four bonds, which it does with many other elements, creating hundreds of thousands of compounds, some of which we use daily. (Plastics! Drugs! Gasoline!) More importantly, those bonds are both strong and flexible.

5. NEARLY 20 PERCENT OF YOUR BODY IS CARBON.

May Nyman, a professor of inorganic chemistry at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon tells Mental Floss that carbon has an almost unbelievable range. "It makes up all life forms, and in the number of substances it makes, the fats, the sugars, there is a huge diversity," she says. It forms chains and rings, in a process chemists call catenation. Every living thing is built on a backbone of carbon (with nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, and other elements). So animals, plants, every living cell, and of course humans are a product of catenation. Our bodies are 18.5 percent carbon, by weight.

And yet it can be inorganic as well, Nyman says. It teams up with oxygen and other substances to form large parts of the inanimate world, like rocks and minerals.

6. WE DISCOVERED TWO NEW FORMS OF IT ONLY RECENTLY.

Carbon is found in four major forms: graphite, diamonds, fullerenes, and graphene. "Structure controls carbon's properties," says Nyman.  Graphite ("the writing stone") is made up of loosely connected sheets of carbon formed like chicken wire. Penciling something in actually is just scratching layers of graphite onto paper. Diamonds, in contrast, are linked three-dimensionally. These exceptionally strong bonds can only be broken by a huge amount of energy. Because diamonds have many of these bonds, it makes them the hardest substance on Earth.

Fullerenes were discovered in 1985 when a group of scientists blasted graphite with a laser and the resulting carbon gas condensed to previously unknown spherical molecules with 60 and 70 atoms. They were named in honor of Buckminster Fuller, the eccentric inventor who famously created geodesic domes with this soccer ball–like composition. Robert Curl, Harold Kroto, and Richard Smalley won the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for discovering this new form of carbon.

The youngest member of the carbon family is graphene, found by chance in 2004 by Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov in an impromptu research jam. The scientists used scotch tape—yes, really—to lift carbon sheets one atom thick from a lump of graphite. The new material is extremely thin and strong. The result: the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010.

7. DIAMONDS AREN'T CALLED "ICE" BECAUSE OF THEIR APPEARANCE.

Diamonds are called "ice" because their ability to transport heat makes them cool to the touch—not because of their look. This makes them ideal for use as heat sinks in microchips. (Synthethic diamonds are mostly used.) Again, diamonds' three-dimensional lattice structure comes into play. Heat is turned into lattice vibrations, which are responsible for diamonds' very high thermal conductivity.

8. IT HELPS US DETERMINE THE AGE OF ARTIFACTS—AND PROVE SOME OF THEM FAKE.

American scientist Willard F. Libby won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1960 for developing a method for dating relics by analyzing the amount of a radioactive subspecies of carbon contained in them. Radiocarbon or C14 dating measures the decay of a radioactive form of carbon, C14, that accumulates in living things. It can be used for objects that are as much as 50,000 years old. Carbon dating help determine the age of Ötzi the Iceman, a 5300-year-old corpse found frozen in the Alps. It also established that Lancelot's Round Table in Winchester Cathedral was made hundreds of years after the supposed Arthurian Age.

9. TOO MUCH OF IT IS CHANGING OUR WORLD.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is an important part of a gaseous blanket that is wrapped around our planet, making it warm enough to sustain life. But burning fossil fuels—which are built on a carbon backbone—releases more carbon dioxide, which is directly linked to global warming. A number of ways to remove and store carbon dioxide have been proposed, including bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, which involves planting large stands of trees, harvesting and burning them to create electricity, and capturing the CO2 created in the process and storing it underground. Yet another approach that is being discussed is to artificially make oceans more alkaline in order to let them to bind more CO2. Forests are natural carbon sinks, because trees capture CO2 during photosynthesis, but human activity in these forests counteracts and surpasses whatever CO2 capture gains we might get. In short, we don't have a solution yet to the overabundance of C02 we've created in the atmosphere.

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Big Questions
Why Don't We Eat Turkey Tails?
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Turkey sandwiches. Turkey soup. Roasted turkey. This year, Americans will consume roughly 245 million birds, with 46 million being prepared and presented on Thanksgiving. What we don’t eat will be repurposed into leftovers.

But there’s one part of the turkey that virtually no family will have on their table: the tail.

Despite our country’s obsession with fattening, dissecting, and searing turkeys, we almost inevitably pass up the fat-infused rear portion. According to Michael Carolan, professor of sociology and associate dean for research at the College for Liberal Arts at Colorado State University, that may have something to do with how Americans have traditionally perceived turkeys. Consumption was rare prior to World War II. When the birds were readily available, there was no demand for the tail because it had never been offered in the first place.

"Tails did and do not fit into what has become our culinary fascination with white meat," Carolan tells Mental Floss. "But also from a marketing [and] processor standpoint, if the consumer was just going to throw the tail away, or will not miss it if it was omitted, [suppliers] saw an opportunity to make additional money."

Indeed, the fact that Americans didn't have a taste for tail didn't prevent the poultry industry from moving on. Tails were being routed to Pacific Island consumers in the 1950s. Rich in protein and fat—a turkey tail is really a gland that produces oil used for grooming—suppliers were able to make use of the unwanted portion. And once consumers were exposed to it, they couldn't get enough.

“By 2007,” according to Carolan, “the average Samoan was consuming more than 44 pounds of turkey tails every year.” Perhaps not coincidentally, Samoans also have alarmingly high obesity rates of 75 percent. In an effort to stave off contributing factors, importing tails to the Islands was banned from 2007 until 2013, when it was argued that doing so violated World Trade Organization rules.

With tradition going hand-in-hand with commerce, poultry suppliers don’t really have a reason to try and change domestic consumer appetites for the tails. In preparing his research into the missing treat, Carolan says he had to search high and low before finally finding a source of tails at a Whole Foods that was about to discard them. "[You] can't expect the food to be accepted if people can't even find the piece!"

Unless the meat industry mounts a major campaign to shift American tastes, Thanksgiving will once again be filled with turkeys missing one of their juicier body parts.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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