Even if your interests tend toward the strange and unusual, most of us expect the real world to have a basis of rationality at the end of the day. So, when faced with something that defies logic at first glance — like, say, unexplained deaths from history — it's perhaps understandable that the average person typically makes like everyone's least favorite character in a horror movie and tries to come up with a way to explain the inexplicable.
The vast majority of the time, this totally works; most unsolved mysteries don't go unsolved forever. Amelia Earhart's plane crashed, Anastasia Nikolaevna's body was buried in a second grave close to the rest of her family, and the creepy cloaked figure terrorizing North Carolina playgrounds with piles of raw meat was just a bored college kid's "art project." These explanations aren't exactly sexy — there's nothing more annoying than someone bludgeoning your favorite urban legend to death with painstaking logic — but in the end, it's comforting to know that we're more likely to die from choking on a bottle cap than an encounter with a bloodthirsty apparition. (Although this doesn't change the fact that you'd be dead, it's still a nice thought.)
Then again, that just makes the real unsolved mysteries that much creepier. Every once in a while, the real world doesn't wrap up its mysteries at the end like an episode of Scooby Doo — and these are five of them. Read on for some spooky, unexplained deaths from history that are guaranteed to give you the shivers, because their circumstances are as real as they are terrifying.
1. The Somerton Man
In 1948, the body of an unidentified man was found on Somerton Beach in Adelaide, Australia. The case was full of contradictions: Despite his notably athletic physique, he had been somewhere between 40 and 45 years old; he was found in Australia, but signs pointed to him being an American; and although his body was found on a beach, the sand around him was unmarred, and the autopsy could only determine that he died of unnatural causes.
It only gets weirder from here — the labels on his clothes had been removed, and in his pocket, police found a slip of paper reading "Tamám Shud," or "ended" in Persian. Investigation showed that this slip of paper contained five lines of code that still mystify codebreakers. Theories about the circumstances of his death range from a man trying to visit his illegitimate son to possible ties to the Cold War, but his death remains a mystery today.
2. Gilbert Bogle and Margaret Chandler
Early in the morning on New Year's Day, 1963, two teenagers stumbled across the body of a mostly-naked man near the Lane Cove River in Australia. Police soon found the body of a woman covered by three flattened beer cartons nearby. Their identities weren't a mystery: The bodies were quickly identified as Dr. Gilbert Bogle, a brilliant scientist working for the Australian government, and Margaret Chandler, the wife of one of Bogle's coworkers.
The interesting part comes from the events that came beforehand. The couple's bodies were found surrounded by bodily fluids, but autopsies revealed no traces of poison. Furthermore, police were never able to determine who carefully covered up the two bodies after their deaths. You can read the details of the case, including the personal lives that transfixed Sydney for years, here.
3. Little Lord Fauntleroy
On March 8, 1921, the body of a young boy was discovered near a local quarry in Waukasha, Wisconsin. Although police determined that he had been hit on the head with a blunt instrument, details about the case were few, and he eventually came to be known as "Little Lord Fauntleroy," a reference to a famous series of children's novels, because he was found dressed in good-quality clothing.
Weeks prior to the discovery, an unidentified couple reportedly stopped by the quarry and asked an employee if they had seen a little boy, but the couple was never heard from again. Police investigated the possibility that the boy was Homer Lemay, but Lemay's father claimed his son had been kidnapped to South America by relatives and killed in a car accident. Despite the offer of a reward for information, the boy remained unidentified and is buried in a marked grave in town.
4. Mary Rogers
It's not often that reality is creepier than something Edgar Allen Poe could come up with, but the death of Mary Rogers fits the bill. The teenage daughter of the owner of a boarding house, Rogers was beautiful enough to entrance the writers who frequented the cigar shop where she worked and merit a mention in the New York Herald. In 1841, however, she disappeared without a trace... until her body washed up on the shore of the Hudson River.
Here's where it gets weird: After the area had already been combed over by police and onlookers, her clothes appeared near where she was found, and her fiance Daniel Payne committed suicide and died on a bench by the Hudson. In the end, her death was mysterious enough that Poe was inspired to write a story, "The Mystery of Mary Roget."
5. The Rock Island Railroad Wreck
Railroad wrecks weren't uncommon in the nineteenth century, but the 1894 Rock Island Railroad disaster was unique. On August 10, a train departed Fairbury, Nebraska, carrying 33 passengers and crew. Several miles south of Lincoln, the train's engine burst, setting fire to the wooden trestle and cars. Although three men managed to rescue many of those trapped in the flames, eleven died in the wreck.
It's horrifying enough on its own, but the wreck gets worse from there. Upon investigation, police found that the train had been deliberately tampered with, but the saboteurs were never found.
Images: Wikimedia Commons (4)