An Enigma Inside A Question Inside A Book Part 2

The problem with researching real life mysteries is that there are just so many of them.  Too many for one blog post, so here is a second installment, with even more conundrums from the annals of history.  Enjoy!

DB Cooper

Christina:  When it comes to unsolved mysteries, DB Cooper is the king. To this day, no one is really sure of what really happened to Cooper, but there’s been no shortage of people who claimed to be the missing hijacker (or to have known where he stashed the stolen loot).

Cooper’s story isn’t that old. In late November in 1971, he hijacked a 727, demanded a ransom and threatened to blow up the plane, and parachuted before he could be captured. The story stands out for a number of reasons; Cooper’s real identity was never revealed, he was described as “friendly” and “calm” by those he held hostage, none of the hostages were killed or even injured, and no one knows if he survived.

What sounds like something out of a James Bond movie actually happened, and details of the hijacking are laid out here.  His legacy is one of mystery, with occasional clues. In 1980, an eight year old boy was digging around the Columbia River and found deteriorating bills that the FBI confirmed was part of Cooper’s ransom.

Not sure that the vending machine will take these bills.

Not sure that the vending machine will take these bills.

Another question that looms over the case is that the rest of Cooper’s money was never spent. The FBI recorded the serial numbers of all of the ransom bills, but since the hijacking, none of the money was ever circulated. Not one bill. Which leads to speculation: If Cooper didn’t survive the fall, where is his body? And where is the missing cash?

This is one of those mysteries that might never be solved, and therefore Cooper has become an almost mythical creature, reaching anti-hero status and the subject of obsessive speculation.

Have you seen this man?  If you do ask him for a loan.

Have you seen this man? If you do ask him for a loan.

D.B. : a novel / Elwood Reid

Skyjack : the hunt for D.B. Cooper / Geoffrey Gray


Amelia Earhart

Chris:  Here is a truly enduring mystery. Earhart was a very accomplished flyer back when airplanes were still pretty new. Her feats would have been notable even for a man! Ah, different times those were. She was the first woman to solo a transatlantic flight. She was awarded the U.S. Distinguished Flying Cross, an honor limited now to military personnel.

In 1936 she started planning a flight around the world. While others had already done this, her route would have been the longest, at 29,000 miles. After a first attempt was foiled by mechanical issues, she took off from Miami with navigator Fred Noonan. They had covered 22,000 miles, over South America, Africa, India, and southeast Asia, and had only the cross the Pacific to complete the historic trip, when tragedy struck.

Ready to go!

Ready to go!

Or something happened. On their approach to tiny Howland Island, the plane disappeared. No definitive trace was found of the plane or the occupants. The prevailing theory is that they ran short of fuel and crashed into the ocean. As we know from the recent Malaysian 517 incident the ocean is a big place. We can understand how the wreckage might never be found.

But we don’t know for sure that is what happened. There are plenty of other theories, like that they landed on another island and lived on for some years, or were captured and executed by the Japanese, or that Amelia never crashed at all, but finished the flight, changed her name, and moved to New Jersey.

In the end we can only wonder and surmise what really befell a pioneer of both aviation and women’s rights. Well, we can only wonder, but others do more than that. To this day there are expeditions to that area of the Pacific looking to solve the mystery.

I was Amelia Earhart / a novel by Jane Mendelsohn

The sound of wings : the life of Amelia Earhart / Mary S. Lovell


Princes in the Tower

Christina:  History is full of tragic stories, but ones of neglected or abused children are especially heartbreaking. The story of the Princes in the Tower is a notable example.

Nice hair.

Nice hair.

Edward IV of England died an unexpected death in 1483, leaving two sons (Edward V and Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York) and a brother (Richard, Duke of Gloucester, later Richard the III). Before the eldest son, Edward V, could return home from a trip, the royal party was intercepted by his uncle and two of his protectors were beheaded. Richard later claimed both boys were illegitimate, and therefore unsuitable for the throne, and sent them to the Tower of London. After about a month, the boys disappeared.

The general assumption is that both princes were murdered, with their uncle (and the subsequent king) Richard III as the prime suspect. Some popular theories have the king’s allies as the culprits, with no shortage of possible assassins.  To be fair, there is no proof that the princes were in fact murdered, but it is true that no one had seen the royal boys since.

Like most other tales of disappearance, there were people claiming to be one of the princes in the Tower long after it was generally accepted that the princes had died.  Ultimately, public fervor against the king after the treatment and death of his nephews lead to the Rebellion of 1483, and Richard the III’s eventual death in battle.

Sure, looks like a swell place to grow up.

Sure, looks like a swell place to grow up.

In 1674, two small skeletons were discovered when construction was being done on the Tower of London, and though they were unable to do forensic testing at the time, they were generally accepted as the remains of the princes and were buried in Westminster Abbey.  Both the royal family and Westminster Abbey spokespeople have refused DNA testing on the remains, believing that “the mortal remains of two small children…shall not be disturbed”.

The tale of the princes in the Tower has captivated many artists and writers, and there is no shortage of references to the doomed royal brothers in paintings, fiction, and nonfiction books.

Great tales from English history. Joan of Arc, the princes in the Tower, Bloody Mary, Oliver Cromwell, Sir Isaac Newton, and more / Robert Lacey

The white queen / Philippa Gregory


Crop Circles

Chris:  Take a look at this picture, and tell me how the pattern was created:


There are two opposing viewpoints as to how this was done. As you can see, they are very opposing:

Aliens did it!

Aliens did it!

Some dudes did it!

Some dudes did it!

Crop circles came to prominence in the 1970s, notably in England. Speculation as to who, or what, was creating them carried on into the 90s, when some gentleman revealed that they had made many crop circles using nothing more than boards and rope. No flying saucers required.

Indeed, it seems that hoaxters are behind the majority of crop circles. Many different people have explained how they create them. This also explains why so many circles are in unfenced, easily accessible fields close to roads. In some cases weather can create weird patterns in the field, and in Tasmania wallabies made some, after eating poppies and running about in crazed circles. Some of the largest and most elaborate circles were created as advertising.

Signs DVD

Round in circles : poltergeists, pranksters, and the secret history of cropwatchers / Jim Schnabel

Crop circles : signs, wonders and mysteries / Steve and Karen Alexander



Atlantis is sort of an underwater Shangri-La, a mystical palace that was doomed to sink under the ocean (like that guy from Titanic). Mention the mystical place at a party and you’ll find at least one person who will proclaim that “Atlantis is real, man, it’s real!”

Well, it’s not. And it never was.

A slightly inaccurate map.

A slightly inaccurate map.

Sadly, an awesome story like Atlantis’s is a mythical tale, full of fiction and embellishments. Plato made up Atlantis, having it act as his own example of a perfect place that ended up being destroyed because the gods were angry (But when WEREN’T the gods angry? Seriously.). Plato’s utopia caught the imagination of Francis Bacon and Thomas More, who expanded on the idea until someone eventually decided that Atlantis was in fact a real place. This thought is often credited to Plato’s student Crantor, who claimed to have seen references to Atlantis written in hieroglyphics on a column in Egypt.

The rumors of Atlantis snowballed with various people in history describing the riches and splendors of Atlantis, as well as the priceless artifacts from the doomed continent. Even recently, a series of lines spotted on Google Earth was deemed to be remnants of Atlantis.

Seems legit.

Seems legit.

But the public was dismayed to learn that those lines were, in fact, created by sonar boats. Conspiracy theorists hold out on this,  however, and insist that the government is in fact hiding evidence of the lost continent to the public. (…Why? Oh wait, aliens!)

Search for Atlantis now, and you’ll find tons of resorts and themed places, not an ancient underwater city. Bummer.

Mysteries of Atlantis / Edgar Evans Cayce, Gail Cayce Schwartzer, Douglas G. Richards

The lost empire of Atlantis : history’s greatest mystery revealed / Gavin Menzies


The Amityville Horror

Chris:  This was perhaps the first scary book I ever read. The tale of a family moving into a new house only to move out a month later after being terrorized by demons was spine tingling enough without that fact that it was true. Or was it?

My first edition copy.

My first edition copy.

I remember that when I first read it oh so many years ago, thinking that it was true since the cover said so, that it got over the top at the end. My suspicions were raised. Now years later with a more skeptical eye and the Internet to aid in research, they seem confirmed.

What we do know is that there was a mass killing in the house before the Lutz family moved in, that they did move out 28 days later, and that members of the family stick to the story to this day. We also know that with all the legal wranglings and lawsuits involved with the book and movies (11 films to date) that there are a lot of versions of what happened out there.

So I find it informative to look at some of the corroborating evidence. The damage to the house mentioned in the book was not evident to the next tenants. The tracks in the snow are problematical since there was no snow reported in Amityville during that time. In the book the police are called to the house, but there are no actual police reports backing this up. Oh, and that photo taken by the paranormal investigators of the “ghost boy”? Not a boy at all, but a camera man kneeling down.

An iconic house, which has since been remodeled to remove those "eye" windows.

An iconic house, which has since been remodeled to remove those “eye” windows.

In the end my advice to you if you are reading the book or watching one of the movies is not to worry about whether it is true or not, or if I think it is true, but to just enjoy a nice scary story.

The Amityville horror / Jay Anson

The Amityville horror DVD (original)


Area 51

Oh man. Area 51 can be a touchy, “don’t get me started” subject for some people, but it’s a treasure trove of secrecy. The U.S. government has had a field day denying evidence of Area 51, even denying its existence until last year.

Most conspiracy theories are convinced that Area 51 is a housing place for alien artifacts, most notably the UFO that crashed in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947. The fact that the site is off-limits to even military air traffic seems extreme, and the ominous, threatening signs plastered around Area 51 only add to its mysterious presence.


They are not kidding.

They are not kidding.

The most plausible theory is that Area 51 is in fact a hub for military aircraftwith the government encouraging the extraterrestrial rumors so that anyone who spotted top-secret aircraft sounded unreliable. Hey, the military’s allowed to have fun too.

Dreamland : travels inside the secret world of Roswell and Area 51 / Phil Patton

Area 51 : an uncensored history of America’s top secret military base / Annie Jacobsen


The Loch Ness Monster

Chris:  Is Nessie the most famous cryptid of all? It has to be either Nessie or Bigfoot, right? Besides popularity another thing they share is a wealth of sightings and anecdotes and a dearth of actual evidence.

Loch Ness certainly seems a good place for a sea monster to hide. The Scottish lake is 22 miles long and hundreds of feet deep, plenty of space for Nessie to hide. This adds to the seeming plausibility, until you start getting into the sciency stuff such as breeding populations.

Stories of a strange creature in the loch date back centuries, but it was a sighting in 1933 the spurred the current interest. Since then many people have reported seeing something, and many have taken photos and videos of, well, something. We know that many of these are hoaxes, which makes figuring out which might have some legitimacy even harder. Besides actual hoaxes there are many natural things that can be misidentified as Nessie, such as flocks of birds, logs, and the wakes of boats.

The famous Surgeon's Photograph.  some skeptics thought it might be a circus elephant bathing in the lake!  Now known to have been a hoax.

The famous Surgeon’s Photograph. Some skeptics thought it might be a circus elephant bathing in the lake! Now known to have been a hoax.

It certainly would be wonderful if Nessie was real. And maybe he is. Napoleon Dynamite thought so. But a lot of people have spent a lot of time, money, and expertise looking with no success to date, so I am not holding my breath.

Abominable science! : origins of the Yeti, Nessie, and other famous cryptids / Daniel Loxton and Donald R. Prothero

Mysteries unwrapped : mutants & monsters / written by Oliver Ho ; illustrated by Josh Cochran



Stonehenge, besides being a hilarious scene from This is Spinal Tap, is a collection of prehistoric stones that were arranged in a circle. The arrangement of the circle was no easy task, with the stones being dragged from 250 miles away from the site. Plus, there were almost 100 of them, each weighing about 4 tons. Experts aren’t even sure how the site was constructed (*cough* *cough* ALIENS!)

No words needed.

No words needed.

People still have ceremonies at Stonehenge, and even weddings.  There are some pretty cool-looking modern Druid ceremonies performed as well, complete with awesome costumes.

Stonehenge : a new understanding : solving the mysteries of the greatest stone age monument / by Mike Parker Pearson and the Stonehenge Riverside Project

Don’t know much about mythology : everything you need to know about the greatest stories in human history but never learned / Kenneth C. Davis


Oak Island (The Money Pit)

Chris:  This has always been one of my favorite mysteries. Buried pirate treasure? Booby trapped tunnels? A curse? What’s not to love?

An appealing story to youngsters.

An appealing story to youngsters.

Oak Island is just off the coast of Nova Scotia. It is a privately owned island about 140 acres in size. It was in 1795 that the treasure hunting began, with the discovery of what appeared to be a filled in pit. Over the years many expeditions have tried excavating the pit. The main problem is flooding. Inevitably after digging down so far the sea intrudes and progress is halted.

You can see here how close the pit is to the water.

You can see here how close the pit is to the water.


Different diggers have reported that at various intervals they find a layer of material other than dirt, including flagstones, logs, and coconut fiber. Hmm, no coconuts grow in Canada! This all gave credence to the idea of buried treasure. There was even a stone found that said two million pounds were below. Of course that stone disappeared and there is no proof that it is anything other than a fanciful story.

Six men have died on Oak Island hunting for treasure, giving rise to tales of the treasure being cursed. Some people will tell you that the pit is nothing more than a sinkhole, which are common in the area. The layers of logs and such are simply debris that washed into it. But I think you’ll find that the crew that is digging there now would disagree.

Oak Island gold : one of the world’s most baffling mysteries / William S. Crooker

The money pit mystery; the costliest treasure hunt ever / Rupert Furneaux


The curse on King Tut’s Tomb

I remember being in middle school and watching a video on Tut’s Tomb. Most of the videos we had to watch were torturously boring and badly made, but this one captured EVERYONE’S attention. Let’s face it, mummies are cool, and curses? Even cooler.

After class everyone was convinced that King Tut had a curse placed on those who might disturb his final resting place. I’ll admit, for a long time, I was one of them. Then, you know, I grew up, started reading more, and yeah, I don’t think the tomb of King Tut was cursed. If you’re not convinced, here’s a great site listing the epic rumors with the more mundane facts.

Speculation has been made that the more likely culprit in the tomb was germsbut the conclusion seems to be that it’s unlikely at best.

I'd wash my hands if I were you.

I’d wash my hands if I were you.

Pharaoh curses have been the stepping stone for plenty of horror movies and mysteries, but there doesn’t seem to be much fact behind them. Still, knowing that there are in fact pharaoh tombs with curses inscribed on them is rather harrowing. An example from the tomb of the ancient Egyptian ruler Khentika Ikhekhi:

“As for all men who shall enter this my tomb… impure… there will be judgment… an end shall be made for him… I shall seize his neck like a bird… I shall cast the fear of myself into him”

Okay, that’s scary. And seriously cool. If you’re looking for inspiration for writing song lyrics for a metal death band, look no further than pharaoh curses.

The murder of King Tut : the plot to kill the child king : a nonfiction thriller / James Patterson and Martin Dugard

The mummy’s curse : the true history of a dark fantasy / Roger Luckhurst


So there we are.  Ten more imagination kindling mysteries.  Let us know what you think about these, and what other ones keeping you wondering.

Find a list of the books and movies listed in this blog here:;page=0;locg=155;depth=0


D-Day, Part 2

My last blog ended at H-Hour off the Normandy beaches, with Allied forces getting ready to land at 6:30 AM (British double summer time), June 6, 1944.   While the landing craft were heading to the shore, a naval barrage was sending shells toward the German defenses and bombers were unloading their bombs, trying to reduce enemy ability to counter attack while the landings were taking place.

On one of the American beaches, Omaha ,  small arms and artillery fire  from the Germans on shore, along with rough seas, the rising tide, and smoke from the naval artillery and air force bombs caused chaos. Units were taken to the wrong locations.  Landing craft ramps were opened too early causing soldiers to drown trying to wade to shore with their heavy equipment  Machine gun fire from shore killed some before they left the landing craft and causing those that made it alive to shore to be trapped on the beach.  Destroyers were forced to go close to shore using their guns to support the troops trapped on the beach.  However, Rudder’s Rangers completed their mission on Pointe du Hoc, disabling the big Germany gun  and interdicting the road to the rear of the German position, hindering re-enforcements getting to Omaha Beach to oppose the landings.

Utah Beach had less opposition and therefore landing was easier.  One reason was the Germans had flooded the behind the beach, dispensing with the heavy casements protecting heavy guns, like soldiers faced on Omaha Beach. Major General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., over 56 years old, won a Medal of Honor for directing traffic on the beach under fire.  Unfortunately, he didn’t received  the award before he died of a heart attack two months later.

Landing on French soil was the easy part.   Moving inland was a different story.   That part of France was mainly agricultural with fields set off by thick hedgerows (bocage).  The German defenders made good use of the bocage to set up traps for the allied troops, who used tanks converted to bulldozers to open pathways through the hedgerows.  On 1 July (D+25), the beachhead was only six miles deep in some places and the Germans still occupied key cities of Caen and St.-Lô. On the other hand, the Americans had cut off the Germans on the Cotentin Peninsula.  Cherbourg, at the head of the Cotentin Peninsula, was captured on D+20.  The Allies undertook a variety of operations to push the Germans back:  EPSON (26 June-1 July);  GOODWOOD (18-20 July);  COBRA (25 June- July ).

By the end June, overwhelmed by the amount of Allied troops and equipment that came ashore after D-Day, German troops were retreating, despite Hitler’s orders to stand fast.   By 30 June (D+24) over 850,000 men, almost 150,000 vehicles, and nearly 600,000 tons of supplies had landed   Four days later one million men were in Normandy. By the time the Allies broke out they outnumbered the Germans seven to one in manpower and four to one in machines.   Besides,  Allied air power was interdicting the German transportation network, delaying reinforcements and supplies from getting to the front.

As well as running low on manpower and the machines of war, the Germans faced a bigger problem than the fact they were fighting a two-front war: their commander-in-Chief, Adolph Hitler.   The Fuhrer was a micro  manager and mistakenly thought himself a master strategist.  His generals couldn’t transfer units without  his approval and requests for retreat were met with a firm, “Nein!”

The Falaise pocket (August 8-17) was one example.  50,000 Germans were trapped in the town out flanked by the Allies.   A sizable number escaped, but Allies captured  more materiel  than Germans could afford  to lose.  The Allied victory here opened the road to Paris, which was liberated two days later.  Germans retreated north of the Seine River, ending Operation Overlord.  The books listed below tell the story in more detail.

The victory came at price.  The Allies suffered  37,000 deaths and 172,ooo wounded. 19 of the soldiers killed during the D-Day landings came from Bedford, Virginia, future  home of the National D-Day Memorial .  That was more per capita causalities than any other town on the United States.   On the other side, more than 40 German divisions were destroyed and 240,000 men killed or wounded.

Of course this was only the first step.  There was still was nine more months war in Europe before Germany surrendered and the citizens of western Europe were free from Nazi occupation.

For further reading:

Rick Atkinson,  The Guns at Last Light

Anthony Beevor,  D-Day: The Battle for Normandy

Max Hastings,  Overlord:  D-Day and the Battle for Normandy

John Keegan.  Six Armies in Normandy


Breakout and Pursuit:  Operation Cobra

Battle of Normandy


Military History Online




An Enigma Inside a Question Inside a Book

Some events capture the imagination and become legends, with fanciful (and often incorrect) anecdotes. Unsolved mysteries, disappearances, murders…society loves a good story, and there’s something about an unsolved case that seems to keep us hooked.

Mysteries are so beloved that some events considered “unsolved” are actually…solved. Or maybe sort of solved. such as the case with the Missing Roanoke colony or the Marie Celeste.  The truth can be stranger than fiction, and facts won’t keep us away from a good story.  Is that contradictory?  Perhaps, but it seems fitting for this collection of real life mysteries.

Jack The Ripper

Chris:  It has been 125 years and the Jack the Ripper killings still fascinate so many of us.  The murders themselves were brutal and gruesome enough to bring notoriety to the case, but with the added features of letters from the killer sent to the papers and a high profile investigation featuring early criminal profiling, this became the first example of media frenzy over a crime.

An unsavory letter

An unsavory letter

And now so many years later Jack the Ripper still draws interest.  The case remains unsolved, and likely will remain unsolved, though not for lack of trying by a wide assortment of people.  Even Sherlock Holmes gave it a shot.  The murders have inspired and/or been referenced by over a dozen films, as well as books, songs, video games, comics, and about anything else you can think of.

From hell : being a melodrama in sixteen parts

Portrait of a killer : Jack the Ripper– case closed 

Ripper Street


JFK Assassination Conspiracy Theory

Christina:  Catastrophic, tragic events will inevitably make people quite emotional, especially if questions remain unanswered years after the fact. The JFK assassination (which we mentioned in a previous blog) is still raw for those who lived through it, and it has served as a point of interest to conspiracy theorists and probably always will.


So much has been discussed about the possibility of a government cover-up and the potential use of multiple assassins that it’s easy to get overwhelmed by it all. Luckily, there are tons of books written about the subject (and of the Kennedy family itself), so anyone interested in learning more has quite a bit of material to go through.

Report of the President’s Commission on the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy

Case closed : Lee Harvey Oswald and the assassination of JFK

Who killed John F. Kennedy : a parody for grownups

The killing of a president : the complete photographic record of the JFK Assassination, the conspiracy and the cover-up



Chris: The Lost Colony of Roanoke was one of the first mysteries that engaged me as a child.  In the 1580s an English colony was founded on Roanoke Island, off the coast of what is now North Carolina.  The colony experienced a variety of problems.  Governor White returned to England for supplies, leaving behind 115 colonists, including baby Virginia Dare, the first English child born in the New World.

Various delays meant White was not able to return until three years later.  When he got back to Roanoke he found it deserted, with the only viable clue the word “Croatoan” carved into a fence post.  He was unable to conduct a search of nearby Croatoan Island at the time, and the English never managed to mount a true search expedition.

Where are Sam and Dean when you need them?

Where are Sam and Dean when you need them?

The ultimate fate of the colonists is unknown.  There are many theories, the most plausible being that the colonists integrated into the native population.  Research continues into the disappearance to this day, including a DNA project that is attempting to prove the integration theory.

Explorations, descriptions, and attempted settlements of Carolina, 1584-1590

A kingdom strange : the brief and tragic history of the lost colony of Roanoke  

Roanoke : the lost colony


Judge Crater

Christina:  On August 6, 1930, Judge Crater stepped out of a restaurant, went into a taxi, and was never seen or heard from again. His mistress, wife, and friends had no idea what had happened to him, and while shady business deals certainly led to speculation that he was murdered, no one has ever truly cracked the case. Crater had moved money around and destroyed business documents before he disappeared, but according to friends and witnesses, he was in a good mood on the night he went missing and he had plans for the future. He’s been dubbed “the missingest man in New York” and his disappearance made for fodder in popular culture for decades. In fact, Stephen King lends an explanation for the judge’s disappearance in the short story “The Reaper’s Image”, but of course it’s a rather…bizarre one.

Have you seen this man?

Have you seen this man?

Vanishing point : the disappearance of Judge Crater and the New York he left behind 

The man who never returned 


The Bermuda Triangle

Chris:  In 1974 Charles Berlitz’s book The Bermuda Triangle was released.  He didn’t coin the term, but he brought into the mainstream.  I got this book from the library as a child and was instantly smitten by the mystery of disappearing ships and planes.

Yup, that is a triangle alright!

Yup, that’s a triangle alright!

The largest non-combat loss of life in the US Navy occurred when the USS Cyclops vanished in 1918.  Flight 19, a Navy training flight in 1945 in which five torpedo bombers vanished is one of the more famous cases.  One of the search planes disappeared looking for them.  There are many other accounts of disappearances.

So what is happening?  Aliens?  Atlantis?  Something else?  Or maybe nothing at all?  Well, things are clearly happening.  Boats and planes have and do still disappear, and we get confirmation bias.  But they don’t disappear at a rate higher than anywhere else in the world.  In other words, there are some neat (and tragic) stories, but they are just stories.  Nothing to see here, folks.

The fog : a never before published theory of the Bermuda Triangle phenomenon 

Without a trace

The Triangle


Jimmy Hoffa

Christina:  “Where’s Jimmy Hoffa buried?” is one of the biggest mysteries of the twentieth century. Growing up in New Jersey, I’d hear a lot of jokes about where he might be buried (Giants stadium was a popular guess). Officially, no one knows what happened to Jimmy Hoffa or where his remains are, although it’s safe to assume that the Mob got to him. The notorious Mafia assassin Richard Kuklinski (aka “The Iceman”) confessed in an autobiography that he was behind Hoffa’s murder and handling of his remains. With no evidence, however, people still speculate and probably always will.

The search continues.

The search continues.

The Ice man : confessions of a mafia contract killer 

Hoffa : the real story 

“I heard you paint houses” : Frank “the Irishman” Sheeran and the inside story of the Mafia, the Teamsters, and the last ride of Jimmy Hoffa 


The Voynich Manuscript

Chris:  The Voynich Manuscript is a mystery that I only heard about a few years back.  Dated to the early 15th century, it came to modern attention in 1912 when Wilfrid Voynich, a Polish book dealer, purchased it.  Voynich uncovered evidence that points towards Roger Bacon once owned the book.

The manuscript is about 240 vellum pages, containing text and a variety of illustrations.  What makes this interesting is that it is written in an unknown language.  Additionally, many of the illustrations are of unidentified plants.

Many professionals (and amateurs) have taken a crack at deciphering the tome, including military code breakers and modern cryptographers with sophisticated computer programs.  To date no one has come close to translating it.  The “word” patterns don’t seem to fit that of a constructed language.

I think it says to give all your money to the nice librarians.

I think it says to give all your money to the nice librarians.

The first thought that comes to mind then is hoax.  If so it would be a hoax of astounding complexity, especially for the time that is believed to have been written.  Perhaps a cipher is needed to translate it, or it is a code.  A recent theory is that it is a long dead Mexican dialect, and that the plants drawn within are not European, leading to confusion.  This theory hasn’t proven to be any more viable than the rest, and at this point the best answer to the Voynich Manuscript is: we haven’t got a clue what it is.

The friar and the cipher : Roger Bacon and the unsolved mystery of the most unusual manuscript in the world 

The book of God and physics : a novel of the Voynich 


The Zodiac Killer

Christina:  What makes it so terrifying to know that a serial killer hasn’t been identified in decades is the idea that he will strike again. The public is safe from Charles Manson, David Berkowitz, and countless others, but what about the Zodiac Killer? To this day, the murderer remains unidentified.

Like the Ripper, the Zodiac Killer sent letters to the police, taunting them with confessions and threats of further violence. What makes the case fascinating, however, is the killer’s use of a cipher and his manipulation of the media as well as the police department.

Not quite as sophisticated as the Voynich manuscript.

Not quite as sophisticated as the Voynich manuscript.

Recently Gary L. Stewart released a book titled “The Most Dangerous Animal of All: Searching for My Father… and finding the Zodiac Killer” claiming that he has evidence that his biological father was the notorious serial killer. The police are looking into it, and maybe we’ll finally see this case solved soon.

The most dangerous animal of all : searching for my father … and finding the Zodiac Killer 

Zodiac unmasked : the identity of America’s most elusive serial killer revealed



Marie Celeste

Chris:  Ah, ghost ships!  From the Flying Dutchman to the Black Pearl, literature and film is filled with them.  But there are many, many examples of real life ghost ships, abandoned vessels found with their crews gone missing.  Perhaps the most famous of these is the Mary Celeste (fictionally called the Marie Celeste by Arthur Conan Doyle and others).

They were in for more than a three hour cruise.

They were in for more than a three hour cruise.

The Mary Celeste departed Staten Island in 1872, bound for Genoa, Italy.  Almost a month later she was discovered some 600 miles off the coast of Portugal.  All ten people on board (including the captain’s wife and young daughter) were missing.  She was still perfectly seaworthy.  Her lifeboat was missing, as were most of the ship’s papers and navigational equipment.  Food supplies were still abundant, and many of the crew’s valuables were still on board.

An inquiry failed to discover what had befallen the crew.  There were no signs of piracy or foul play, and no trace of the crew was ever found.  The ship herself was put back into service, and lived an unhappy life before finally burning and sinking in 1885 in a failed insurance fraud scheme.

So what happened to the crew?  No one knows for sure, and again there are many theories, but the leading one is that alcohol is to blame.  A drunken revelry gone awry?  Hardly.  There were 1701 barrels of alcohol in the cargo hold of the Mary Celeste.  Nine of those were found to be empty, and those nine were made of red oak, which is more porous than the white oak normally used.  The thought here is that those barrels leaked, and the resultant fumes caused the crew, fearing an explosion, to evacuate to the lifeboat while the ship was aired out.  Something went wrong and the line connecting the lifeboat to the Mary Celeste failed, and the crew was unable to regain the ship, condemned to a slow death on the high seas.  We’ll never know for sure, and there are some flaws in this theory, but it seems it is the best answer we will ever get.

Ghost ship : the mysterious true story of the Mary Celeste and her missing crew 

The ghost of the Mary Celeste


The Lindbergh Baby

Christina:  You’d be hard-pressed to find a story quite as tragic as the kidnapping and subsequent murder of the Lindbergh Baby in 1932. While his parents and their friends had a party downstairs, someone abducted 18-month old Charles Augustus Lindbergh, Jr. using a ladder to get to his nursery on the second floor. A frantic search ensued, but tragically, the baby’s body was found two months later.


While Bruno Richard Hauptmann was found guilty and was subsequently executed for the crime, some doubts still linger as to whether he was truly the culprit. Another strange aspect of the case is that various people have claimed to be the deceased toddler, insisting that the body found was not in fact that of the Lindbergh baby.

The trial

Kidnap : the story of the Lindbergh case

The airman and the carpenter : the Lindbergh kidnapping and the framing of Richard Hauptmann

Lindbergh : the crime

The Lindbergh baby kidnapping in American history


Ten mysteries from the pages of history.  We only gave you a brief glimpse into.  You’ll have to do your own investigating to find out more.  Tell us what you uncover, and let us know what other mysteries you would like us to explore!


See all of the books and DVDs mentioned in this blog in our library ctalog here:;page=0;locg=155;depth=0


Summertime in the Mountains

Hi, guys! It’s June, which means… Summertime!

There are so many GREAT activities to do in the mountains in the summertime, so that’s what we’re going to focus on today. I’m going to give you some links to some websites, as well as some really helpful books in our Catalog.

First up we’ve got the online resources.

Go HERE if you’re interested in Whitewater Rafting.

Go HERE if you’re interested in Horseback Riding.

Go HERE if you’re interested in Zip-lining/Canopy Tours.

Go HERE if you’re interested in Fishing.

Go HERE if you’re interested in Camping.

Go HERE if you’re interesting in Mountain Biking.

Go HERE or HERE if you’re interested in Waterfalls.

And now, for our bookies out there, here’s a list of books in our system that will guide you along in finding fun summertime outdoor activities:

HERE are books on Mountain Biking.

HERE is a book titled Natural Adventures in the Mountains of Western North Carolina by Mary Ellen Hammond and Jim Parham.

HERE is a book titled Highland Trials: a Guide to Scenic Trails: Northeast Tennessee, Western North Carolina, Southwest Virginia by Kenneth Murray.

HERE is a book titled Waterfalls of the Southern Appalachians: a Viewer’s Guide to 40 Waterfalls of Northern Georgia, Western North Carolina & Western South Carolina by Brian Boyd.

HERE is a book titled Farms, Gardens, and Countryside Trails of Western North Carolina by Jan J. Love.

HERE are our books on fishing.

HERE and/or HERE are some books on wildflowers.

If you go hiking (or even fishing or other activities as well), don’t forget to take the pup along with you! Here is my Sammy boy on top of Black Rock after a long day of hiking:

Enjoy your time this Summer, you guys, and don’t forget about awesome local places like Jack the Dipper, where they have warm waffle cones and over 40 hand-dipped flavors of ice cream. YUM.

There’s an app for that

Google-apps-ne-besplatenI love playing with apps- you can always find something you never knew you needed!

There’s a few that help you make the most of your library – OverDrive and OneclickDigital help you load your device with ebooks or audiobooks (visit NCLive for even more information and sources for eBooks). Worldcat, the world’s largest library catalog, has a mobile webapp that will let you search catalogs from libraries all over the world.

Other apps just help you organize your life- or help you get away from it! Here are some of my favorite apps:

Duolingo_logoDuoLingo - DuoLingo is a language learning app. You translate phrases, words, or sentences between your language and the language you’d like to learn. There are also recorded exercises to practice speaking. It’s a neat app for when you’ve got time to kill and want to feel productive!



ChoreMonster – This is an app my daughter loves (most days!) that helps you organize chores for you child. You can schedule chores and include pictures and notes to help remind your kids what they should  be doing. Children earn points for completing chores assigned by parents and also get a chance to spin the monster wheel for each chore completed. The monster wheel offers the chance to win a digital monster for your monster collection.

myfitnesspalMyFitnessPal – integrates with other fitness apps to help you track your exercise, what you’ve eaten, and your health goals.  There are tons of features built right into the MyFitnessPal app, so even if you don’t tie it into all the other fitness trackers the app still provides valuable feedback and tracking capabilities.



mangoMango Health – is a medication management app. You can input all your medications, when you take them, and how many are in the bottle and Mango Health will send you reminders to take and refill your medications. The app will also display information about your medicines or supplements and will warn you of any cross reactions. You earn points for taking your medications, which can be spent on rewards like a $1 donation to the American Cancer Society or ASPCA, a 1-Night Redbox DVD rental, or gift cards at popular retailers.


ifttt-logo-largeIFTTT – If This Then That lets you set up relationships between apps and functions. “IFTTT lets you create powerful connections with one simple statement — if this then that.” You can have IFTTT remind you to go defrost your car if the temperature outside drops to a specific temperature or remind you to grab your umbrella if the weather reports calls for rain. You can have it save all your tweets to a google spreadsheet, email you when your kids post to instagram, text your wife when you leave work, or practically anything you can think of!


So what are your favorite apps? Is there an app you find yourself lost without?

D-Day, Part One

Early in June 1944, seventy years ago, Southern England saw thousands of Allied troops gathering in preparation for the invasion of Europe.  Over 400 miles to the north I was a Scottish schoolboy approaching my sixth birthday in Aberdeen.  I don’t remember, but I am sure I heard reports  on the progress of the war from the BBC on the wireless (radio). By June, 1944, we felt safer on the north-east coast of Scotland,  because Aberdeen had not been bombed in over a year, after having attacked 25 times from late 1939 until April 1943.  A year later, preparations for the invasion of Europe was going forth far to the south.*

Ever since the United States entered the war in December 1941, Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minster, was trying to convince President Roosevelt to agree to a cross-channel invasion as early as 1943 to help take the pressure of the Soviet Union.  However, he had to settle for American troops landing in North Africa in late 1942.   After driving the Germans out, from there the Allies, under the command Gen. Dwight David Eisenhower invaded Sicily and Italy. Eisenhower was then promoted to the Supreme Commander, Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF).

On the other side of the English Channel, German intelligence was trying to determine where enemy troops were going to land.  In the meantime the German army were building formidable  defenses to block Allied landing where ever they planned to invade. These defenses were under the command of the “Desert Fox,”  Erwin Rommel. Once the decision was made to invade and the site selected, the SHAEF intelligence did everything possible to mislead the Germans as to where the landings would take place.     The Allies were trying to get the Germans to believe the invasion would take place in either Norway or Pas de Calais on the English Channel.   Actually, the landings were to take place on Normandy coast in northwest France.

Initially, June 5, was the date picked for the invasion, but the weather worsened, postponing the operation for twenty-four hours.  In  the greatest armada ever assembled, 5, 000 vessels  set sail for the coast of Normandy, carrying ammunition, transportation, food and other supplies for the 160,000 troops that were landing.  In the darkness before dawn, Allied soldiers and machines were loaded onto landing craft, which circled in rough seas 13 miles off the coast of Normandy, before heading to the beaches.

There were five landing zones in Normandy,  east to west:  Sword, Juno,  Gold, Omaha and Utah.  The first three were British and Canadian and the last two American. Allied paratroopers were dropped a few miles inland before the landings started.  From the skies, Allied bombers were dropping heavy explosives on the German defenses.  Behind the invading forces, at sea, was a barrage of artillery coming from everything from battleships to destroyers.  Between Omaha and Utah Beaches was Pointe du Hoc,  a steep cliff that housed a large caliber German gun.   American Army Rangers had the task of silencing that weapon.

H hour was 6:30 A.M., June 6, 1944.

To be continued!

*Les Taylor, Luftwaffe Over Scotland, 2010.  (Not available on Cardinal)

For further reading:

Rick Atkinson,  The Guns at Last Light, Part One

Anthony Beevor,  D-Day: The Battle for Normandy

Max Hastings,  Overlord:  D-Day and the Battle for Normandy

John Keegan.  Six Armies in Normandy

Adrian R. Lewis, Omaha Beach: a Flawed Victory

Ben MacIntyre,  Double Cross:  The True Story of the D-Day Spies

Cornelius Ryan,  The Longest Day, June 6, 1944

Stephan Talty,  Agent Garbo

Military History Online

Offbeat Humor

Humor is mankind’s greatest blessing.  So said Mark Twain, and he is not someone we are inclined to argue with.  But when life gets too crazy, like snow in April, disappearing airplanes, and Bourbon Street after midnight, ordinary, run-of-the-mill humor doesn’t always cut it.  Sometimes you have to go offbeat.

So allow us to present to you a collection of books (and other things) that take humor for a ride that is not suitable for those with weak funny bones.  Some of these are aimed at kids, some are aimed at the kid inside all of us, and some you really need to pay attention to the content warnings on them.

And if you know of some other good offbeat humor items please let us know.  We can always use a good chuckle, or, snicker, or evil laugh.  Mwahahaha!

Chris:  Let’s start this off old school.  Or should that be preschool?  I’m talking about “The Monster at the End of This Book: Starring Lovable, Furry Old Grover, by Jon Stone, with illustrations by Michael Smollin.

This is a post-modern Little Golden Book (no, really) that served for many children as their first exposure to the breaking of the fourth wall.  The plot is pretty straightforward.  Grover, the star of the book, sees the title and becomes fearful of the monster waiting at the end.  He pleads with the reader not to keep turning pages, and tries various tactics to keep you from doing so, such as tying and cementing the pages together.  A read that may well appeal more to adult reading it than to the child being read to, it even features a plot twist at the end.  It is also the best selling Sesame Street book of all time.

This dress is made from Little Golden Books

This dress is made from Little Golden Books

Christina: Like a lot of people, I use humor as a coping mechanism. Some tragic and life-altering recent events have caused me to seek refuge in laughter, and this is the approach Allie Brosh uses in her insanely hilarious blog “Hyperbole and a Half”. Brosh’s crazed illustrations and clever ability to mock herself and the world around her has made her book debut one of the most anticipated books of last year. Her take on depression, growing up, and having a wild goose attack her and her boyfriend make this one of the funniest books I have ever read (and that is saying something).

Demetri Martin is another illustrator/humorist whose book “This Is A Book” (great title) is chock full of strange, amusing drawings and sly observations. He’s been compared to deadpan comic Steven Wright and the late great Mitch Hedberg. Add a boyish charm to that kind of humor as well as some flair/fridge-worthy art and you’ve got Demetri.

Demetri most likely was a fan of this guy:

Chris:  I was never much good at Joust, and nobody is much good at surviving Tomb of Horrors.  What do these have to do with anything?  Well, they are both plot elements in Ernest Cline’s 2011 debut novel “Ready Player One”.  In a slightly dystopian future people spend even more time online and playing video games than they do now.  When the creator of the biggest and most popular game dies, he leaves his wealth to whomever can solve the puzzles and challenges he left behind in the game.  Our hero Wade must beat virtually every player in the world, many sponsored and supported by evil mega-corporations, to claim both the prize and the girl.

Many of the puzzles center around 80s pop and geek culture.  And we aren’t talking about a few key references, we are talking about dozens and dozens of them.  You don’t have to be a child of the 80s to enjoy this fun read, but those of us who are will get a little something extra out of it.

Beware falling bears

Beware falling bears

Christina: I am not an expert on anything, and my memory is terrible. Still, I love trivia, and since my sense of humor tends to be dark, I frequent (not for the easily offended). Once I saw that Cracked had a book out called “You Might Be A Zombie (And Other Bad News)”, I got my hands on it as soon as I could. If you want to read articles like “Three Colors You Don’t Realize Are Controlling Your Mind”, “Five Fun Things That Will Kill You”, “The Four Most Insane Attempts To Turn Nature Into a Weapon”, you should too.

If you’re wanting your nonfiction to be a little less heavy on the trivia, I’d suggest “F in Exams”, which is a compilation of real test answers that are really…well, take a look:

8307553877_ac91ea65da_z FinExamsFindX300images (1)

Chris:  Gary Larsen.  The Far Side.  Do I even need to say anything else?

Christina: How-to books are all the rage these days, with people looking to take on projects and generally improve themselves. Alternative comic Eugene Mirman offers his interesting take on self-improvement in “The Will to Whatevs”, in which he guides the reader with sections like “Nine Steps to Being Comfortable at a Party”, “How to Make a Baby Cry More”, and “He Wants to Blah Blah and She Wants to Whah Blah Whah: Compromising in a Relationship”.

From the show of some of Mirman’s contemporaries:

Chris:  For me the creme de la creme of humorous literature is the five book Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy, by Douglas Adams.  Originally a radio comedy, Adams adapted it to book form and the rest is history.  The story follows the exploits of Arthur Dent, an ordinary and boring Englishman who wakes up one day to discover aliens are about to destroy the Earth and that his best friend is from a small planet somewhere in the vicinity of Betelgeuse.

Poor Arthur comes to rely upon the titular Hitchhiker’s Guide as stumbles from one zany spot of trouble to the next.  Oh, and the Guide’s entry on Earth?  That simply says “Mostly Harmless”, which is also the title of the fifth book of the trilogy.  (And you thought maybe that was a typo, didn’t you?  Technically, there are six books in the trilogy, since Eoin Colfer (of Artemis Fowl fame) wrote a 2008 installment that no one much talks about, although I think the Cthulhu job interview scene is wonderful.)

The series is very British with its humor, and is a quick, fun, laugh out loud read.  The movie version isn’t too shabby either, and Adams’ Dirk Gently books I also recommend.


Christina: I enjoy YA books, even though they tend to get a bad rap. One series I keep recommending to people is the Georgia Nicolson series by Louise Rennison. It follows the adventures of Georgia Nicolson, a British teenager who is like a combination of Regina George (Mean Girls) and Cher (Clueless). Georgia is rather immature (though she does show signs of growing up by the series’ conclusion), but her odd take on life (as well as her zest for it) is beyond infectious. These are the kind of books that you quote to your friends and family incessantly, mostly because of Georgia’s way with words:

“I feel that we have shared past lives together, and they have all been crap.”

“I can’t believe I am once more on the rack of romance. And also in the oven of luuurve. And possibly on my way to the bakery of pain. And maybe even going to stop along the way to get a little cake at the cakeshoppe of agony.”

“He took my face in both his hands (I don’t mean he ripped it off my neck) and he leaned down and kissed me.”

Even if you don’t like YA, you should check out this series. The titles alone are hilarious, and I think that “Stop in the Name of Pants!” is always going to make my list of best titles ever.


Chris:  Movie time!  Let’s not forget our fave offbeat films.  Monty Python and the Holy Grail is, do I dare?, the holy grail of funny movies.  As in it is the funniest movie ever.  Of all time.  Doubt me and I shall taunt you a second time.

Shaun of the Dead is a romantic zombie comedy.  It is a full on zombie movie, plenty of blood and gore, but sweet and funny as well.  Sorry, a bit of an understatement.  The dual scenes early on when Shaun goes to the corner store before and after the zombie outbreak are brilliant filmmaking.  Shaun of the Dead is arguably the funniest movie of the modern era.

Mel Brooks made many a slapstick masterpiece, but I think his best is Young Frankenstein, starring (and co written by) an incomparable Gene Wilder.  (Before you ask, no relation.  His birth name was Jerome Silberman.)  A parody of classic horror movies, it is in black and white, which almost helps to hide just how silly it gets.  Obligatory zombie reference:  Mel’s son Max wrote World War Z.

A more recent offbeat comedy we quite enjoyed was 2013s This Is The End, which tells the tale of party goers trapped in a house as the apocalypse begins.  It doesn’t just star actors such as Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Emma Watson, and more, but they all play…themselves.  Clever and outrageous, it also was the very last film rented from a brick and mortar Blockbuster.

Have we left anything off our list, or do you have any suggestions? Comment and let us know what makes you laugh!

A list of titles mentioned in this blog can be found here:;page=0;locg=155;depth=0