Who doesn’t love Unsolved Mysteries?
With his deep voice, stoic manner, and popular performance as the infamous Federal Agent Eliot Ness, Robert Stack was an ideal host for stories that were strange, criminal, and creepy. Sure, the mixture of interviews and reenactments could be hammy, but the mysteries themselves…
I like to think my fascination with the weird stems from childhood viewings of Unsolved Mysteries with my grandma. To this day, the distinctive theme music hits me directly in the nostalgic solar plexus.
Amazon has made the early seasons available on Prime streaming, and I highly recommend revisiting them. Meanwhile, here are a few of the most intriguing unsolved mysteries Stack never got the chance to narrate—some true campfire stories to tell this Halloween season:
The Tamam Shud Case
On December 1, 1948, the body of a man was found on a South Australian beach. Witnesses initially thought he was homeless and merely sleeping on the sand, but when the temperature began to climb and the man still hadn’t moved, police were called in about a dead body.
Things quickly became mystifying.
There was no obvious cause of death. Police surmised he may have been smothered or perhaps poisoned. The man was wearing good clothes, but the labels had been removed, and he carried no identification.
In his pocket was a page torn from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam with the Persian words “tamam shud” written on it.
The police managed to track down the book at a nearby library; inside was a local phone number and an encrypted message. The number led nowhere, the meager leads went cold, and to this day, the man remains unidentified, his message never decoded, with theories abounding that he was a spy.
The Dyatlov Pass Incident
In January of 1959, nine young Russians set off through the Ural Mountains, all experienced mountaineers.
By February 2nd, all nine were dead from hypothermia and “unexplained internal injuries” caused by a force greater than a human could muster. Their tent had been sliced from the inside, and the climbers had apparently run into the night barely dressed.
When the bodies were discovered, some were wearing pieces of clothing scavenged from the others. A couple were found within the tree-line where several branches had been snapped off at a very high level, leading to speculation that something very big and tall had chased them.
The last of the hikers were found weeks after the first, and their physical injuries were more than a little disquieting. One young woman was missing her tongue and eyes; while doctors suggested it was due to natural decomposition, when paired with the “unexplained internal injuries” and the government interest in the tragedy, many began to wonder if there was something out of the ordinary involved.
There had been no storms and no avalanches at the time, and the initial rescue team found no visible signs of an attack. Why such accomplished climbers would suddenly abandon their camp and die so strangely on a calm night still puzzles investigators.
The Voynich Manuscript
Created sometime in the early 15th century, this strange book has yet to be translated despite the efforts of a hundred years worth of linguists. Every few years, someone claims to have cracked it, but no one has yet.
Written in a mysterious language and filled with odd drawings of plants, animals, and people, many think it to be an elaborate hoax—a joke or art piece created hundreds of years ago. Some think it’s a book of witchcraft or a medical textbook; others believe it was penned by aliens. Naturally.
Regardless of the truth, it remains a beautiful enigma, fascinating in its construction with fold-out diagrams and colorful, fanciful art.
The Strange Death of Elisa Lam
The viral 2013 video of Elisa Lam, a 21-year-old student, shows her acting bizarrely in a hotel elevator. In the video, she seems to be hiding, talks to someone unseen, and makes strange movements with her hands. She exits the elevator only to rush back on and peer nervously around the doors.
Over the next three weeks, guests at the hotel continually called the front desk to complain about issues with the water, which had begun to taste and smell odd. The complaints grew in frequency until someone went up to check on the hotel’s rooftop water tanks—and found Elisa’s body inside.
Her death was ruled accidental, but many suspected foul play following evidence that the elevator video had been edited and her autopsy report altered. Yes, Elisa was bipolar, but she had been taking her medication as prescribed, as evidenced by the toxicology report, and family and friends insisted that she was not suicidal.
Was Elisa killed by someone just offscreen? We may never know, but the case’s similarities with the movie Dark Water are an eerie coincidence.
The Missing Lighthouse Keepers of Eilean Mor
This December marks the 117th anniversary of a most unusual disappearing act: in 1900, a ship came to Eilean Mor, a tiny island off the coast of Scotland, to bring a replacement lighthouse keeper.
But the three keepers—Thomas Marshall, Donald McArthur, and James Ducat—who should have been there to greet the Hesperus were nowhere to be found.
What the searching crew found instead was incredibly confusing. Plates of uneaten food sat on the table. Two of the three oilskin jackets were missing. The clock had stopped. The lighthouse itself was firmly shut up, the lamp waiting to be lit.
The logbook didn’t clarify anything; the unusual entries from Marshall only added a new tinge of bizarre to the event. December 12th’s entry reported severe winds and that McArthur—known to be a hard man—had been crying. Oddly, no storms had been reported in the area until the 17th, so why did Marshall make note of bad weather?
The next day’s report mentioned that all three men had been praying despite none of them being known to be all that religious, and the lighthouse itself was new and in very good repair. The last entry on December 15 was short and eerie: “Storm ended, sea calm. God is over all.”
The policy stated that at least one man was to remain in the lighthouse at all times in the event of an emergency, and the three keepers were experienced enough to abide by that—what on earth would have drawn all three outside at the same time?
The official report decided that the men had gone out to repair storm damage only to be swept away by an unusually high wave. But their bodies were never found, and Eilean Mor had always had a reputation as a magical place of otherworldly power…
A classic episode of Doctor Who from the Tom Baker era suggested that the three were killed by a marauding alien, but many of the locals believed the men had been spirited off by fairies. How else to account for three seasoned, strong men vanishing without a trace?
The Hinterkaifeck Murders
Here’s one straight from a horror movie: in 1922, an entire German family and their maid—who had just started work that day—were killed with a farm tool called a mattock.
Plenty awful, but it gets weirder.
There’s evidence that the murderer lingered on the remote farm for several days after the murders, tending to the livestock and eating meals at the kitchen table. He even slept in their beds while bodies lay in the next room and barn.
Even creepier: he may have been living in the attic for weeks prior to the killings. The previous maid had quit because she claimed the farm was haunted. You see, she kept hearing strange noises upstairs…
The family patriarch found footprints in the snow that lead to the house but never away, as well as a newspaper he had never purchased—he reported all of this to a neighbor mere days before the murders.
Thanks to a sloppy investigation and the loss of all evidence in the tumultuous years of WWII, the murderer will never be identified. Today, all that remains of Hinterkaifeck is a small monument to the family; the farm itself was razed to the ground within years of the massacre.
For some reason, no one else wanted to move in.
Angie Barry wrote her thesis on the socio-political commentary in zombie films. Meeting George Romero is high on her bucket list, and she has spent hours putting together her zombie apocalypse survival plan. She also writes horror and fantasy in her spare time, and watches far too much Doctor Who. Come find the angie bee at Tumblr.