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!
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.
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.
D.B. : a novel / Elwood Reid
Skyjack : the hunt for D.B. Cooper / Geoffrey Gray
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.
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.
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.
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.
The white queen / Philippa Gregory
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:
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.
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.
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.
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 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?
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.
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)
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.
The most plausible theory is that Area 51 is in fact a hub for military aircraft, with 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.
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.
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!)
Stonehenge : a new understanding : solving the mysteries of the greatest stone age monument / by Mike Parker Pearson and the Stonehenge Riverside Project
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?
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.
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 germs, but the conclusion seems to be that it’s unlikely at best.
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:
(Edited 12/5/14 to fix/replace broken links and to correct typos.)