Though centuries of scientific research have uncovered the reasoning behind many fascinating cases such as the Yeti samples—which actually appear to be from Himalayan bears—countless mysteries still leave enthusiasts and scientists scratching their heads in confusion. Whether an observed phenomenon or a chilling murder, here are some of the most interesting and (in)famous unsolved mysteries:
Starting off the list is one of the most recent cases: the missing Malaysian Airlines flight carrying 239 people that vanished on March 8, 2014. En route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur, the plane disappeared within an hour of taking off without any messages indicating something was amiss.
So what exactly happened on that fateful night?
Data collected by the Malaysian military on the plane’s whereabouts revealed that soon after the last exchange between the flight and air traffic control, the plane turned slightly to the right, then took a left U-turn back towards Malaysia. It flew all the around until Penang Island, where it turned slightly right and cruised forward until it went out of the radar’s range. Flight routes analyses done indicated that the most probable site of crash was somewhere in the Southern Indian Ocean.
16 months later, a piece of right flaperon (found on the wing), determined to have belonged to MH370, showed up on a beach in Réunion, an island near Madagascar. Following the confirmation of a crash, multiple theories surfaced surrounding the reason behind the flight’s deviation from the original route.
One theory was that a fire broke out during the flight, which would explain the return to Malaysia, especially since the plane was found to have carried lithium ion batteries, which have a chance of igniting a fire. However, the plane did not land at the nearest airport and instead kept on going over Malaysia, reducing the likelihood of this theory.
Another theory is that the captain deliberately crashed the plane in the ocean, a speculation supported by the captain’s flight simulator at home which contained coordinates closely related to the path MH370 had taken. Despite this, the coordinates could have come from routes from other practice simulated flight sessions, plus the captain exhibited no motive and no signs that would arouse suspicion of foul play. The only sign of abnormality was during his last transmission, during which he neglected to repeat the radio frequency of 120.9 and only replied, “good night, Malaysian three seven zero”.
In 2018, a group of French investigators proposed another theory that the plane took a curved route where it would have eventually landed near Christmas Island instead of straight downwards. Although the surface of this area was searched soon after the disappearance, the underwater expedition did not cover this far north.
Despite the fact that the wreckage has remained a mystery for over half a decade, advances in technology may one day uncover the much-awaited answer.
#2: Did Shakespeare Actually Write His Plays?
Many of you may have rolled your eyes at the absurdity of A Midsummer’s Night Dream and the melodrama of Hamlet, deeming Shakespeare as that guy with the odd plays, but have you considered… that the person who authored those works wasn’t actually Shakespeare?
This theory—which has been supported by notable people such as Mark Twain, Sigmund Freud, Helen Keller, and Charlie Chaplin—states that Shakespeare did not actually write his 37 plays and 154 sonnets. Some speculate that “Shakespeare” is merely a pseudonym to conceal the identity of the true author (who might not have wanted the public attention), or even a group of people. Others theorize that Shakespeare actually did exist, but was just an ordinary actor who was paid for usage of his name.
Many aspects make this case of Shakespeare’s authorship perplexing, including:
- The lack of handwritten manuscripts proven to be written by him despite the numerous plays under his name
- How the son of a glover attained the education needed to write such sophisticated works
- Shakespeare’s ever-changing signatures, with each of the six surviving signatures a different variant (and none of them appear as it is spelt today)
The very first proposed “true author” of the plays was Sir Francis Bacon, a well-known philosopher and a Lord Chancellor. Delia Bacon (they’re not related, I checked) presented this argument in one of her books, where she suggests that Bacon wrote the plays in collaboration with other people. She also theorizes that Bacon and his cowriters used the pseudonym “Shakespeare” to avoid backlash for their subtle political oppositions and the “stigma of print”— the idea that writing plays as upper-class politicians would bring a shameful end to their careers.
The most recent and popular candidate is Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford. Discussed in the 2011 film Anonymous, De Vere was well-educated as a lawyer and had journeyed to many locations depicted in Shakespeare’s plays. Many supporters of this theory point out the resemblances between Hamlet and de Vere’s life, such as the parallels between the characters in the play and Queen Elizabeth’s court in reality. In fact, it is thought that de Vere had to use a psudonym because of the autobiographical nature of Hamlet (which surely would’ve resulted with his head chopped off if Queen Elizabeth realized she was being compared to Queen Gertude). Despite this compelling case, there is evidence to indicate that de Vere wasn’t the author; namely, some of Shakespeare’s plays such as Macbeth and The Tempest were published after de Vere’s death in 1604.
Though this mystery may never be solved, one thing’s for sure: Shakespeare might not be the one to blame for your English class troubles!
#3: Mary Celeste
This next mystery involves a ghost ship… perfect for the Halloween vibe.
Mary Celeste was a ship that was due to arrive in Genoa, Italy from New York City, but was found abandoned by the crew of Dei Gratia on December 5th, 1872. The living quarters were found to still house the crew’s belongings and six months of food, but the only lifeboat was missing, and so were the ten members of its crew.
So what happened to the crew of Mary Celeste?
A variety of theories was proposed when the incident first occurred— some of which feature pirates, mutinies, and sea monsters. This case was revisited decades later, in the 2007 documentary The True Story of the Mary Celeste, which dismissed the sea monsters theory (obviously), pirates theory (the ship was in good condition), and the mutiny theory (found unlikely after an interview with the crew’s descendants). After examining ship logs of locations and the ship’s previous voyages, what the director of this film found to be the most plausible explanation was that the captain ordered evacuation of the ship following a busted pump (caused by coal dust and construction remains from the previous journey and a remodeling job) and a night of rough weather when he caught sight of land.
But if this theory is indeed, accurate, where did the crew land? And what happened to them? It appears that Mary Celeste will remain a mystery for the time being.
#4: Jack the Ripper
Having been featured in a variety of literature, TV shows, movies, and other media, it’s no wonder Jack the Ripper is one of the most notorious serial killers in history. Though murders in Whitechapel in London up until 1892 have been attributed to Jack the Ripper, the “original” kills that are undeniable his handiwork are the death of five female prostitutes over the span of three months in 1888.
The victims, in order, were:
- Mary Ann Nichols (August 31)
- Annie Chapman (September 8)
- Elizabeth Stride (September 8)
- Catherine Eddowes (September 30)
- Mary Jane Kelly (November 9)
All of them had slit throats and mutilated bodies that demonstrated an
adequate understanding of human anatomy. The killer is also believed to have taunted the police by mailing notes declaring his murders and identifying himself as “Jack the Ripper”, even mailing half a kidney (one that perhaps formerly resided in one of his victims) at some point— though modern research indicates these letters were likely a hoax (read more here).
Centuries later, many theories have surfaced surrounding the identity of this mysterious killer. One common theory is that he was either a doctor or a butcher, which would explain the anatomical knowledge permitting the mutilations.
Recent genetic testing has singled out a likely culprit: Aaron Kosminski, who was 23 years old during the killings. With its results published in the Journal of Forensic Science (which you can find here), DNA testing was done on blood and semen from a shawl (believed to have been Jack the Ripper’s) near Catherine Eddowes’ body at the crime scene. The mitochondrial DNA on the shawl was linked to both Eddowes and Kosminski. The shawl was speculated to have been made near St. Petersburg in Russia, drawing a close connection to a Kosminski, who once lived in a Polish area under Russian control (meaning Russian products were possibly shipped there).
Kosminski was actually a suspect during the time of the murderers, but there was insufficient concrete evidence to arrest him. An immigant from Poland, Kosminski was a barber and later in his life, entered an asylum after assaulting his sister with a knife.
Despite this evidence, many are still doubtful of the authenticity of this discovery. People have pointed out that the testing of mitochondrial DNA, may not be enough to solely identify Kosminski since multiple people can share similar mitochondrial DNA. There’s also a matter of possible contamination of the shawl over time.
Though progress in science has unearthed valuable information, it may be that Jack the Ripper’s true identity will never be known. At least this inconclusive answer will keep Ripperologists (people interested in this case) on their toes.
#5: City of Atlantis
Step right up, and take a trip to the Lost City of Atlantis… which may or may not actually exist.
First documented by Plato in his dialogues “Timaeus” and “Critias”, this mystery—namely, did it exist and if it did, where?—has baffled tons of scientists and enthusiasts alike. Though Atlantis is now perceived as a magnificient utopia, Plato’s words actually contradict this notion. He describes this civilization as one larger than Libya and Asia combined that contains immense wealth, advanced technology, and a strong military force, but has been corrupted by the very things it possesses. In fact, it’s speculated that if Atlantis is ever found, its inhabitants would probably attempt to murder or ensalve us all. The end to this civilization, as noted by Plato, was that it sank into the depths of the ocean.
Since the only mentions of Atlantis in history is by Plato, many people believe that the philosopher fabricated the city as a plot device. In fact, the myth of Atlantis was likely popularized through Congressman Ignatius Donnelly’s 1882 book The Antediluevian World. Donnelly included some of his own fabricated “facts” that people believed to be true, and other people followed suit by coming up with their own theories.
Even though the majority of scientists collectively agree on the nonexistence of Atlantis, this hasn’t stopped people from pointing out possible locations for this so-called utopia. Though Plato discloses the general whereabouts in his stories—somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean beyond “The Pillars of Hercules” (assumed to be one of the straits)— the specific location remains a mystery. People have speculated multiple places, from Germany and Spain to Bolivia and even Antarctica.
Today, mystery still surrounds the source of inspiration for this legendary society, and some fanatics are still adamant about finding the true location. Unfortunately, it appears that Atlantis won’t show up as the hottest travel destination any time soon!
What is it about mysteries that keep people spending decades pursuing leads and building elaborate theories? Personally, I believe the natural curiosity of humans and our desire to understand every nook and cranny of the universe are why unresolved situations appeal to us. This could be why millions of dollars have been spent on space exploration and other scientific research. Perhaps some answers may be unlocked in the following years (like how the Titanic wreckage was found 73 years after it sank), but some may never have a definite solution. Ultimately, there will always be mysteries waiting around to be dissected—old ones will be solved, and new ones will be created—for those passionate souls who love chasing after the unknown.