There is nothing more fascinating than an unsolved mystery. It’s those small missing details — just out of reach — that draw us in. We start taking a second look at our surroundings, double-checking the things we know to be true, and beckoning our inner Sherlock Holmes. Plus, who doesn’t love a good horror story, one that sends a shiver up your spine?
Put on your deerstalker caps, ladies and gentlemen — it’s time for some sleuthing.
1The Mystery of the Somerton Man
A man was found dead on Somerton Beach in South Australia in December of 1948. The cause of death was deemed unknown, though poison was suspected in later investigations. The man was clean-shaven and dressed to the nines, but he was not identified by Australian authorities. The man’s image was sent out internationally, following a trail of clues which led to the conclusion that he may not have been Australian. The man was never identified.
In his pocket, police found a rolled scrap of paper that read “Tamum Shud,” the final words of Omar Ahayyám’s Rubáyát. The exact edition of the page’s source was identified, and the exact copy was located nearby after police issued a public appeal.
The man’s identity was never discovered, but some theorists believe he may have been a spy. When the exact copy of Rubáyát was located, police found indentations on its back pages. Investigating the indentations, a UV light message was revealed with a telephone number, an unknown number, and text that appears to be an encrypted message.
The telephone number was traced to a woman named Jo Thomson, who had been a nurse. She claimed she did not know the dead man, though in a 2012 interview with 60 Minutes, her daughter believed that she did. A plaster cast was made of the man’s shoulders and face, and when it was shown to Thomson, the police sergeant reported that she was “completely taken aback, to the point of giving the appearance that she was about to faint.”
No conclusion was ever derived from the case, and the man’s identity remains unknown. It is believed that an undetectable poison killed him, but it is not known whether he committed suicide or was murdered.
Multiple investigations have since been launched into the case, but have been limited by the little DNA evidence that remains. One forensic investigator discovered that both Jo Thomson’s son and the unknown man both possess a genetically rare trait that affects the appearance of their ears. The likeliness that this fact was a coincidence was placed at one in 10,000,000 and one in 20,000,000.
2The Dyatlov Pass Incident
On a February day in 1959, nine ski hikers set up camp on a slope in Russia’s Ural mountains. During the night, the campers mysteriously left their tent and fled the campsite without their snow gear. All nine were found dead. The Soviet investigation reported that six of the victims died of hypothermia, but the other three had gruesome physical trauma. One had a fractured skull, one had brain damage (but no signs of physical injury), and another had her tongue and eyes ripped out.
The investigation’s conclusion: “An unknown compelling force” was the cause of the deaths.
A group of hikers not far from the accident scene reported strange orange spheres in the sky that night, and various other independent witnesses reported those same spheres.
Some believe the group were the victims of an avalanche, an animal attack, or mere hypothermia. Others put forth more gruesome and odd explanations. Some believe a Russian Yeti was to blame, some assume military experimentation and testing, and others blame odd scientific phenomena. The conclusion: no conclusion.
3Ricky McCormick’s Encrypted Messages
Ricky McCormick was murdered in Missouri in June of 1999. His body was discovered in an open field, fifteen miles away from his home. His body was completely decomposed on discovery, and he had last been seen alive five days earlier.
The man had a criminal record, and had moved around the midwest a couple of times. The case was only revived twelve years later, when the FBI announced that the victim had two encrypted notes in his pocket. In a 2012 interview with his family, who hadn’t known of the notes until that year, they suggested that he wouldn’t have been able to write codes, and that he couldn’t spell, he only scribbled.
The police believe that the decryption of the notes could lead to the responsible parties, but despite the attempts by the FBI’s Cryptanalysis and Racketeering Records Unit and the American Cryptogram Association, no conclusion was reached.
4The Death of Elisa Lam
The body of Canadian student Elisa Lam was discovered in a water tank above The Cecil Hotel in L.A. in 2013. The body was discovered after guests complained of issues with the hotel’s water.
The last known footage of Lam, captured by an elevator camera, was released by police. In the video, she appears to be hiding in the elevator and gesturing to an unknown subject. The elevator appears to be malfunctioning. Some claim that the video has been edited, and others point toward paranormal activity or Lam’s struggle with bipolar disorder.
Similarities were noted by internet commenters between Lam’s death and the plot of the 2005 film, Dark Water, in which a young girl named Ceci drowns in an apartment rooftop water tank.
The death was ruled an accidental drowning, though the elevator footage remains a mystery. Some believed Lam was running from someone; others, that she became possessed; and others, that she was playing the “elevator game” — a supposed way to travel between dimensions.
Though the case has been closed, many are unsatisfied with its conclusion. Many are uncertain as to how Lam could have entered the water tank alone, and others still believe she was murdered.
5The Kryptos Sculpture
In 1990, a sculpture by the American artist Jim Sanborn was installed at the CIA Headquarters in Langley, Virginia. The sculpture contains four encrypted messages — only three of which have been solved. The fourth message is one of the most infamous unsolved codes in the world.
The artist has since given clues as to the message’s decryption, but there has not yet been a successful solution. The name Kryptos comes from the Greek for “hidden,” and the theme of the piece is “Intelligence Gathering.”
The first solution was proposed nine years after the sculpture’s installation, and was deciphered using a computer program.
Message I: BETWEEN SUBTLE SHADING AND THE ABSENCE OF LIGHT LIES THE NUANCE OF IQLUSION
Message II: IT WAS TOTALLY INVISIBLE HOWS THAT POSSIBLE ? THEY USED THE EARTHS MAGNETIC FIELD X THE INFORMATION WAS GATHERED AND TRANSMITTED UNDERGRUUND TO AN UNKNOWN LOCATION X DOES LANGLEY KNOW ABOUT THIS ? THEY SHOULD ITS BURIED OUT THERE SOMEWHERE X WHO KNOWS THE EXACT LOCATION ? ONLY WW THIS WAS HIS LAST MESSAGE X THIRTY EIGHT DEGREES FIFTY SEVEN MINUTES SIX POINT FIVE SECONDS NORTH SEVENTY SEVEN DEGREES EIGHT MINUTES FORTY FOUR SECONDS WEST X LAYER TWO
The coordinates revealed in this message point to a location 150 feet from the sculpture.
Message III: SLOWLY DESPARATLY SLOWLY THE REMAINS OF PASSAGE DEBRIS THAT ENCUMBERED THE LOWER PART OF THE DOORWAY WAS REMOVED WITH TREMBLING HANDS I MADE A TINY BREACH IN THE UPPER LEFT HAND CORNER AND THEN WIDENING THE HOLE A LITTLE I INSERTED THE CANDLE AND PEERED IN THE HOT AIR ESCAPING FROM THE CHAMBER CAUSED THE FLAME TO FLICKER BUT PRESENTLY DETAILS OF THE ROOM WITHIN EMERGED FROM THE MIST X CAN YOU SEE ANYTHING Q ?
This message is a paraphrased quote from Howard Carter’s book, The Tomb of Tutankhamun.
Message four remains unsolved, but clues point to a clock in Berlin as the key to the puzzle.