19 of the Strangest Unsolved Mysteries of All Time
Get ready to have the hair on the back of your neck stand on end because these unsolved mysteries are among the most chilling we’ve ever heard.
The Incident at Dyatlov Pass
On the first night of February 1959, nine ski-hikers died mysteriously in the mountains of what is now Russia. The night of the incident, the group had set up camp on a slope, enjoyed dinner, and prepared for sleep—but something went catastrophically wrong because the group never returned.
On February 26, searchers found the hikers’ abandoned tent, which had been ripped open from the inside. Surrounding the area were footprints left by the group, some wearing socks, some wearing a single shoe, some barefoot, all of which continued to the edge of a nearby wood. That’s where the first two bodies were found, shoeless and wearing only underwear. The scene bore marks of death by hypothermia, but as medical examiners inventoried the bodies, as well as the other seven that were discovered over the months that followed, hypothermia no longer made sense. In fact, the evidence made no sense at all. One body had evidence of a blunt force trauma consistent with a brutal assault; another had third-degree burns; one had been vomiting blood; one was missing a tongue, and some of their clothing was found to be radioactive.
Theories floated include KGB-interference, drug overdose, UFO, gravity anomalies, and the Russian version of the Yeti. Recently, a documentary filmmaker presented a theory involving a terrifying but real phenomenon called “infrasound,” in which the wind interacts with the topography to create a barely audible hum that can nevertheless induce powerful feelings of nausea, panic, dread, chills, nervousness, raised heartbeat rate, and breathing difficulties. The only consensus remains that whatever happened involved an overwhelming and possibly “inhuman force.” If you want even more unsolved mysteries, get a look at the strangest in every state.
In December 2016, a CIA officer checked in to the American Embassy’s health office in Havana suffering from nausea, headache, and dizziness. Days later, two more CIA officers reported similar ailments. By late 2018, the number grew to 26 Americans and 13 Canadians experiencing nausea, hearing loss, vertigo, nosebleeds, and focusing issues. In all the cases, victims claimed that the symptoms were triggered by a strange noise they’d heard at their homes or hotel rooms. One person said the noise was high-pitched. Another described “a beam of sound, pointed into their rooms.” Some insisted that the noise more closely resembled marbles rolling along the floor.
The illnesses confounded medical experts. Doctors at the University of Pennsylvania who examined some of the victims diagnosed concussion-like symptoms but found no signs they’d suffered concussions.
We know what you must be thinking: The Cuban government is up to something, right? The Cubans vehemently deny they’re responsible, and many American investigators believe them. That’s because they still don’t know who or what made the victims sick. Was it a new type of weapon? The CIA claims it doesn’t know of any weaponry that could cause these symptoms. What about ultrasound? One theory holds that a pair of covert eavesdropping devices placed too close to each other by Cuban agents may have inadvertently produced such a reaction, like the kind of feedback you hear when someone stands too close to a microphone. But the FBI has found no evidence to substantiate that argument. In fact, ultrasound is above the range of human hearing.
Recordings of the sounds from some of the victims only added to the confusion. Two scientists who studied the recordings believe they captured the sound of lovelorn male crickets. One of the scientists, Alexander Stubbs of the University of California, Berkeley, says the insects are incredibly loud. “You can hear them from inside a diesel truck going 40 miles an hour on the highway.” Still, the scientists had no idea why the sounds might lead to illness in humans.
Maybe it was just nerves. “Cuba is a high-threat, high-stress post,” a former embassy official told propublica.org. Diplomats are warned that “there will be surveillance. There will be listening devices in your house, probably in your car. For some people, that puts them in a high-stress mentality, in a threat-anticipation mode.”
True—but then how to explain what happened in China? In May 2018, an American posted in the consulate in Guangzhou was diagnosed with the very same mystery illness. Ultimately, 15 Americans were evacuated.
While the seemingly airborne cause of these brain injuries is still a mystery, the fallout is clear. The Americans removed 60 percent of their diplomats from Cuba and expelled 15 Cuban diplomats from Washington, DC. The mysterious sounds may well be the opening shots in a new kind of cold war.
Ghost Ship: The Mary Celeste
On December 4, 1872, a British-American ship called “the Mary Celeste” was found empty and adrift in the Atlantic. It was found to be seaworthy and with its cargo fully intact, except for a lifeboat, which it appeared had been boarded in an orderly fashion. But why? We may never know because no one on board was ever heard from again.
In November 1872, the Mary Celeste set sail from New York bound for Genoa, Italy. She was manned by Captain Benjamin Briggs and seven crew members, including Briggs’ wife and their 2-year-old daughter. Supplies on board were ample enough for six months, and luxurious—including a sewing machine and an upright piano. Commentators generally agree that to precipitate the abandonment of a seaworthy ship, some extraordinary and alarming circumstance must have arisen. However, the last entry on the ship’s daily log reveals nothing unusual, and inside the ship, all appeared to be in order.
Theories over the years have included mutiny, pirate attack, and an assault by a giant octopus or sea monster. In recent years, scientists have posed the theory that fumes from alcohol on board caused an explosion that, as a result of a scientific anomaly, did not leave behind signs of burning—but was terrifying enough that Briggs ordered everyone into the lifeboat. Check out these other bizarre ghost ship mysteries no one can figure out.
Who (and where) is DB Cooper?
The next unsolved mystery: November 24, 1971. Dan Cooper was a passenger on Northwest Airlines Flight 305, from Portland to Seattle—a 30-minute flight. He was described by passengers and flight attendants as a man in his mid-40s, wearing a dark suit, black tie with a mother-of-pearl tie-clip, and a neatly-pressed white collared shirt. He took his seat, lit a cigarette, and politely ordered a bourbon and soda, for which he paid cash. Shortly after takeoff, he handed a note to a 23-year old flight attendant, who ignored it, assuming it was just the man’s phone number.
“Miss, you’d better look at that note,” Dan Cooper told her, “I have a bomb.”
The note’s exact wording is part of the mystery, since Cooper reclaimed it after the flight attendant read it, but his demands were for $200,000 in “negotiable American currency” (worth $1 million today), four parachutes, and a fuel truck standing by in Seattle to refuel the plane on arrival. The flight attendant brought the demands to the captain. The airline’s president authorized full cooperation. The other passengers had no idea what was happening, having been told that landing was delayed due to mechanical difficulties.
At 5:39 p.m., the plane landed, an airline employee delivered a cash-filled knapsack and parachutes, and Cooper allowed all passengers and two flight attendants to leave the plane. During refueling, Cooper outlined his plan to the crew: a southeasterly course toward Mexico with one further refueling stop in Nevada. Two hours later, the plane took off. When it landed in Reno, Cooper’s absence was noted. Cooper (whom the media mistakenly referred to as “DB Cooper”) was never seen or heard from again. No parachute was found, and the ransom money was never used.
In 1980, a young boy on vacation with his family in Oregon found several packets of the ransom money (identifiable by serial number), leading to an intense search of the area for Cooper or his remains. Nothing was ever found. For a time, it was speculated that Mad Men‘s (fictional) Don Draper was the man who would become Cooper. In the real world, a parachute strap was found in 2017 at one of Cooper’s possible landing sites. Stay tuned.
From 1917 to 1928, half a million people were afflicted with a ghastly condition that could be part of the plotline of a horror film. The victims—very much alive and conscious—found themselves in inexplicably frozen states, their static bodies prisons for their minds.
Encephalitis lethargica (EL), aka “the sleeping sickness,” first appeared in Europe and quickly spread around the world, reaching epidemic levels in North America, Europe, and India by 1919. About a third of those stricken with the illness died. Of the survivors, nearly half eventually found themselves unable to physically interact with the world around them, all the while fully aware of their surroundings. Though occasionally capable of limited speech, eye motion, and even laughter, they generally appeared as living statues—totally motionless for hours, days, weeks, or years.
The cause is unknown, but one theory is brain inflammation triggered by a rare strain of streptococcus, the bacteria responsible for many sore throats each year. Science’s best guess is that the bacteria mutated, provoking the immune system to attack the brain, leaving the victim helpless.
None of this explains why the illness disappeared only to resurface sporadically, be it in Europe in the 1950s or in China ten years ago when a 12-year-old girl was hospitalized for five weeks with the disease.
Are such occurrences the new normal, or are they signs that EL could be planning something bigger any day? A 2004 analysis of 20 patients with symptoms remarkably similar to EL concluded that whatever ailed them “is still prevalent.” As such, history’s so-called sleeping sickness remains the stuff of nightmares.
What is Area 51?
Area 51, in southern Nevada, is a U.S. military base the very existence of which was unconfirmed until 2013, when the CIA was obliged to respond to a Freedom of Information Act request from 2005. Based on historical evidence, it would appear that Area 51 supports the development and testing of experimental aircraft and weapons. Public satellite images, such as those available on Google Maps, don’t provide insight. Even those with security clearance to visit Area 51 are transported there from Las Vegas via an airline called “Janet,” whose planes are unmarked and which shrouds its windows upon descent.
The intense secrecy surrounding Area 51 has sparked rumors that the government uses it to house crashed UFOs and conduct lab tests on aliens. Other theories about what Area 51 is used for include: research on time travel, research on teleportation, meetings with extraterrestrials, development of a means for weather control, and activities related to a shadowy one-world government.
Where these theories come from is as much a mystery as Area 51, itself, but one thing is certain: people love a good conspiracy theory. At one point, conspiracy theorists believed the moon landing in 1969 had been faked. Hint: It wasn’t. For even more mysterious trivia about Area 51, check out the Area 51 secrets the government won’t tell you.
It’s not unusual to find junk in Brazil’s Guanabara Bay, but what Robert Marx unearthed there in 1982 was an unusual kind of foreign matter. In an underwater field the size of three tennis courts located 15 miles from shore lay the remains of some 200 Roman ceramic jars, a few fully intact. According to Marx, a professional treasure hunter, the jars appeared to be twin-handled amphorae that were used to transport goods such as grains and wine in the third century. But how did they get there? The first Europeans didn’t reach Brazil until 1500.
The Romans, who traded primarily in Mediterranean port cities and the Middle East, had little incentive to invest in ships that could cross oceans. However, they did sail as far as India. Perhaps some untrained navigator lost his way in a storm. Or maybe mutineers steered the ship westward?
We may never know, nor are we likely to uncover more evidence. Brazil closed the Bay of Jars to further research in 1983 in an effort to deter looters, it said. Marx claims the government didn’t want the area explored because finding Roman-era artifacts there would mean that, contrary to Brazil’s official history, the Portuguese were not the first Europeans to reach the country. And the truth? It’s resting 100 feet under the sea.
What is the Voynich Manuscript?
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The Voynich Manuscript is a roughly 250-page book written in an entirely unknown language/writing system. It’s been carbon-dated back to the 1400s and includes illustrations of plants that don’t resemble any known species. It’s named for the Polish book dealer who purchased it in 1912. It is believed to have been intended as a medical text. Its first confirmed owner was Georg Baresch (1585–1662), an alchemist from Prague, who discovered it “taking up space uselessly in his library.” Baresch tried to investigate the manuscript’s origins, to no avail.
The manuscript changed hands for centuries until it was purchased by Voynich, who posited that it was authored by Albertus Magnus (an alchemist) or Roger Bacon (an early scientist). However, some believe that Voynich fabricated the manuscript and its history all by himself. Various other hoaxes have been proposed over the years. Of course, that wouldn’t explain the carbon-dating of the paper and ink. Centuries after its first (alleged) discovery, the Voynich Manuscript remains as impenetrable and inexplicable as ever.
Do the Pollock Sisters prove reincarnation?
Today, 24 percent of Americans believe in reincarnation. Although scientists tend to pooh-pooh the possibility, every once in a while, an unsolved mystery comes around that is so compelling and otherwise unexplainable that it gives even scientists pause. That is what we have in the story of the Pollack sisters.
In 1957, two young English sisters, Joanna Pollock, 11, and Jacqueline Pollock, 6, died in a tragic car accident. One year later, their mother gave birth to twins, Gillian and Jennifer. When the twins were old enough to talk, they began identifying and requesting toys that had belonged to their dead sisters, pointing out landmarks only their dead sisters would have known (such as a school they’d attended), and sometimes panicking upon seeing cars idling (“That car is coming to get us!” they reportedly shrieked on one occasion).
After the twins turned five, these incidents became less frequent, and the girls went on to lead normal lives. Still, the story of the Pollock Sisters made its way to Dr. Ian Stevenson (1918–2007), a psychologist who studied reincarnation. After studying thousands of supposed cases, Dr. Stevenson wrote a book telling of 14 he believed to have been real, including that of the Pollock Sisters. If you want to be spooked out by more unsolved mysteries, read these science mysteries no one has figured out.
Where are the Sodder children?
The next unsolved mystery is similar to the Pollocks. George and Jennie Sodder of West Virginia were forced to cope not only with the immeasurable loss of their children but also with the mysterious circumstances surrounding that loss. After the Sodder home burned to the ground on the night before Christmas in 1945, five of the ten Sodder children were still alive and accounted for. But what about the other five? From all accounts, it would seem that they had vanished into thin air.
Notice how we don’t say “vanished into smoke”? That’s because, in the ruins of the fire, zero physical evidence of the children could be found, which is virtually impossible from a scientific standpoint. But that wasn’t all that smelled off about the events of that night. Apparently George tried to save the children who he believed were still trapped inside by using his coal truck, which strangely, was inoperable; the phone lines to the house were found to have been cut; a woman claimed to have seen all five missing children peering from a passing car while the fire was in progress; and a woman at a Charleston hotel who saw the children’s photos in a newspaper said she had seen four of the five a week after the fire. “The children were accompanied by two women and two men, all of the Italian extraction,” she said in a statement. “I tried to talk to the children in a friendly manner, but the men appeared hostile… and wouldn’t allow it.”
The Sodder family theorized that the children had been kidnapped, perhaps in an attempt to extort money, perhaps to coerce George into joining the local mafia (the Sodders were Italian immigrants), or perhaps in retaliation for George’s outspoken criticism of Mussolini and Italy’s fascist government. From the 1950s until Jennie Sodder’s death in the late 1980s, the Sodder family maintained a billboard on State Route 16, with pictures of the five vanished children and offering a reward for information. The last (known) surviving Sodder child, Sylvia, 69, still doesn’t believe her siblings perished in the fire.