While the stories of history have enriched and benefited modern society in many ways, it has also left behind a few questions and mysteries. Of course, investigative tools that we take for granted today were not always at the disposal of our ancestors. They weren’t necessarily a priority when surviving harsh environments was most critical.
History’s mysteries are plentiful as many of them are forgotten. There were even instances where entire societies and people who disappeared without a trace. These ancient cold cases have certainly presented challenges for forensic historians.
Let us examine four of the biggest mysteries that have puzzled experts for many years. We do this while fully understanding that ‘biggest mystery’ is entirely subjective, and these top four could differ from one person to the next.
The disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa
After almost 50 years, no one has a clue about what happened to ex-Teamsters Union boss Jimmy Hoffa. The last time anyone saw him was on July 30, 1975, standing outside a Detroit restaurant.
His mysterious disappearance still triggers an occasional question or even a dig by the FBI, who look for his remains at the hint of any clue. One of the most recent digs came in June 2013, when an alleged mobster named Tony Zerilli claimed that Hoffa was struck down with a shovel and then buried alive in a field outside of Detroit. Three days of digging with a backhoe uncovered nothing.
At the time, the FBI thought that Hoffa was linked to efforts of regaining power with the Teamsters and the mob’s influence over pension funds of the union. Many believed that Hoffa was trying to get back his previous power and influence after getting out of prison.
He had been serving time for a 1967 jury tampering conviction and was pardoned by President Nixon in 1971.
Over the years, some popular stories about Hoffa’s whereabouts have been that he’s buried under the Giants football stadium in New Jersey, his body was fed to alligators in a Florida swamp, or he is buried at a horse farm in Michigan.
Identity of Jack the Ripper
When London police received a letter in 1888, they were informed that a ‘Jack the Ripper’ was responsible for the murder of five prostitutes.
Despite this information, his real identity has never been confirmed or proved. While all the stories about a serial killer running loose on the streets of Victorian London captured the attention of readers around the world – much like a compelling crime novel – there was never an ending to the story. Nonetheless, it spurred intense interest and speculation that has lasted over a century.
In 2002, renowned crime writer Patricia Cornwell added fuel to these theories by releasing her book entitled “Portrait of a Killer – Jack the Ripper: Case Closed.” Cornwell claimed that painter Walter Sickert was the real Jack the Ripper. Her conclusions are based on the watermarks found on the letter to police that closely matched Sickert’s personal writing paper. She also points out several of his paintings depict crime scenes from Jack the Ripper’s killings.
The Ghost Ship of Mary Celeste
A double-masted merchant ship named Mary Celeste went to sea on November 7, 1872, from New York. Its destination was Genoa, Italy.
However, the ten passengers it left with were nowhere to be found when the ship was discovered drifting in the Straits of Gibraltar some four weeks later. No signs of a struggle were present, and all cargo was intact and still on board. Its sole lifeboat was the only thing missing.
As one might imagine, there has been massive speculation attempting to explain this mystery over the past century. The most common explanations for the abandoned ship have been pirate attacks, crew mutinies, and even a sea monster attack. No one knows how this group of people disappeared.
A 2007 documentary entitled “The True Story of the Mary Celeste” did a nice job ruling out those possibilities but furnished no alternative explanation.
The disappearance of Amelia Earhart
In 1937, the famous aviator Amelia Earhart departed on her plane with navigator Fred Noonan in an attempt to fly around the globe. They have never been heard from since. And no evidence was ever found to explain what could have happened to them.
A few interesting theories have been shared about her fate. The first theory was that Earhart’s plane was forced to land by Japanese forces somewhere near the Marshall Islands. Another theory claims she was returned to the US in total secrecy and the federal government gave her a fresh new identity.
What is known is Earhart was flying on the final stretch of her world route and had left from Lae, Papua New Guinea. From this point, she was some 2,500 miles from her goal and was located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. If her aircraft plunged into the waters before reaching her next planned refueling location on Howland Island, then her wreckage is probably sitting on the ocean floor at a depth of 17,500 feet below the surface.
Until recently, there was no technology capable of exploring anything at those depths. With the newest underwater vehicles, expeditions that have scanned the bottom of the ocean have rendered compelling evidence that Earhart’s plane could possibly be located near Nikumaroro Island in the South Pacific.