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Stock Unsolved Mysteries

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Mobius: I can't believe you were D.B. Cooper! Come on!
Loki: I was young, and I lost a bet to Thor.

The possibility to let your characters witness or even participate in events that actually happened, is probably one of the most appealing aspects of Historical Fiction, Flashbacks, Time Travel stories and the like. But sometimes it can be quite hard to shoehorn your characters in, if you don't want to sacrifice too much of historical accuracy. Especially if your character doesn't quite fit into the historical setting, because he is a Ninja Pirate Zombie Robot.

The solution: Take a famous historical event that is shrouded in mystery, an event of which not many details are publicly known. Then fill the gap of historical records with whatever you want, this way "revealing" what actually happened. This adds the bonus that everyone likes a good mystery (and its eventual solution).

Depending on the tone and genre of your work, your "explanation" can range from mundane, over humorous, to absolutely fantastic.

The Been There, Shaped History person likes to cause these events. Of course Historical Domain Characters as well as fictional Public Domain Characters may be involved too. Perhaps they did even use a Public Domain Artifact.

Anyway, in the end you can proudly claim that your story is Very Loosely Based on a True Story.

Closely related to Historical In-Joke. Can also overlap with Beethoven Was an Alien Spy, when the focus lies on specific historical individuals. Often happens at, and tightly involves, a Landmark of Lore through Alternate Landmark History. Also, at least one of this events is a must-have for any Conspiracy Kitchen Sink story worth its salt.

Note that sometimes mysteries get solved, or even debunked as not having been that mysterious in the first place. In this case the work either was written in a time before the solution/debunking, or the writer didn't get the memo, or he's just using Artistic License. For obvious reasons, solutions that are perceived as "boring" are the most likely to be disregarded by writers.

Stock Unsolved Mysteries that have their own pages:

Stock Unsolved Mysteries without their own pages, and examples thereof:

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    Mysterious Disappearances 
  • The case of Benjamin Bathurst, who disappeared from his hotel one day in 1809. (The actual truth is quite prosaic: Contemporary documents make it clear that he was almost certainly just mugged. Some of his personal belongings were even found during the search for him. It only became a mysterious mystery because of one particular account that made it sound like he'd disappeared into thin air in front of witnesses.)
  • The disappearance of Nana Saheb, who led the Siege of Cawnpore during the Indian Rebellion of 1857. What happened to him after he escaped British capture is still unclear.
    • Jules Verne, a lifelong sympathizer of the Indian fight against British colonisation, comes up with a fanciful explanation (complete with steam-powered elephant-shaped Cool Car) in The Steam House.
    • And speaking of Jules Verne: Captain Nemo, a 1975 Soviet TV adaptation of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, posited that Nana Saheb became Captain Nemo himself.
  • The unknown fate of author, journalist and satirist Ambrose Bierce, who vanished somewhere in Mexico in 1913 after time spent accompanying Pancho Villa's army as an observer.
    • In Dance in the Vampire Bund he turns up as a vampire, although the circumstances of his transformation and how he became a confidant of Mina Tepes remains unknown.
    • The third From Dusk Till Dawn film attributes his disappearance to a run-in with vampires.
    • Robert A. Heinlein's novella "Lost Legacy" has Bierce surviving into the future and participating in a war to control humanity's nascent psychic abilities.
    • Carlos Fuentes's novel The Old Gringo is a fictionalized account of Bierce's disappearance which was later adapted into the film Old Gringo (1989).
  • D.B. Cooper, also known as Dan Cooper, who vanished on November 24, 1971 with $200,000 after hijacking a 727 and parachuting from the stairs in the tail. The most likely hypothesis are a) he died in the parachuting attempt (which is the official opinion of the FBI, who suspended the investigation in 2016 after 45 years of searching), or b) he survived the jump and simply went back to his old job and old life as if nothing had happened—Cooper was certainly nondescript enough to escape notice. It should be noted that every single copycat attempt that made it as far as parachuting from the plane — often in very similar conditions to the Cooper jump — saw the hijacker survive. Over the decades, many have searched his projected landing site for traces of him. It is widely believed that the March 1980 eruption of nearby Mount St. Helens may have obliterated any remaining physical evidence, as none has been found since then. The most intriguing evidence is how some of the marked banknotes were found buried in the sand of a beach miles from the projected landing site just weeks before the eruption, by a young boy... but not only was the flow of many nearby rivers running in the opposite direction of the proposed landing site (making it unlikely they had simply floated on the waters to the beach before being buried in the sediment unless the FBI messed up the projected landing site), the rubber bands that bound them couldn't have lasted even a year in open air or water for the time it would sediment to build up over them naturally, suggesting they had been deliberately buried possibly only a few years earlier. In 2019, the FBI revealed that, three hours after Cooper jumped, a burglary was reported at a grocery store within the projected landing radius, with the only items stolen being survival gear such as beef jerky and gloves.
    • In an episode of Leverage, appropriately titled "The D.B. Cooper Job", a federal agent hires the team to solve the case. The agent's father, a retired agent himself, is dying of cancer, and the D.B. Cooper case is the only one of his career he was unable to solve.
    • Without a Paddle involves a group of friends who decide to fulfill their childhood fantasies of locating D.B. Cooper's loot after one of their number dies unexpectedly.
    • xkcd satirically suggests that he is none other than Tommy Wiseau, the maker of The Room.
      • Others have offered this theory, with varying degrees of seriousness. For the record, Wiseau denies that he is D.B. Cooper.
    • Another xkcd strip has Cooper stuck in a tree on Beret Guy's land. Every day, Beret Guy drops by to chat: Cooper demands help getting down, Beret Guy asks if he's going to return his loot, Cooper refuses, and Beret Guy shrugs and continues his daily walk.
    • In one Dilbert comic, Dogbert claims to have Cooper's remains. "He learned that you should never get your parachutes from the same people you're robbing."note 
    • The Far Side suggests in one strip that Cooper ended up parachuting into the midst of a rottweiler farm with predictable results.
    • In NewsRadio, it is heavily implied that millionaire Jimmy James may be Cooper—it is implied hard enough that a cold-case investigation of the heist forces him to go the run for the better part of a season, endangering the station's finances. Ultimately, Jimmy proves his innocence by identifying and eliciting a confession from the "real" Cooper: Adam West.
    • Prison Break: It turns out that D.B. Cooper was never found because he was arrested (and sentenced to life) for a different crime shortly afterwards in his real identity, elder Fox River convict Charles Westmoreland. An important sub-plot of the second season was the gang hunting down his buried loot in order to fund their getaway from the country.
    • One of the legends investigated in the "Heists" episode of White Rabbit Project.
    • In Kevin & Kell (which takes place in a Funny Animal parallel dimension to the human world), D.B. Cooper is the true identity of Douglas Squirrel, Dorothy's now husband. While for years he evaded being connected to the hijacking due to losing the money as he escaped (which was found by LD and used to create Herd Thinners), he was eventually discovered by a journalist. Douglas promptly sent his manuscript to every publisher in New York. By the time they caught him, the statute of limitations passed for most of the charges, so he only served a short time in prison (with Dorothy's ex-husband as a cellmate, to boot!).
    • In the Roland Smith book Sasquatch, Cooper is revealed to have been an alias for Buckley "Buck" Johnson; the hijacking was so Buck could get money to pay for his son's cancer treatments. Unfortunately, Buck broke his leg when he landed after jumping out of the plane and is unable to return home before his son dies; ever since then, he's lived alone and done his best to avoid FBI agent Steven Crow, who's convinced Buck is Cooper but has been unable to prove it.
    • In the monologue that opens Mystery Show Starlee mentions D.B. Cooper as a mystery that fascinates her, and one she hopes to "work [her] way up to."
    • Referenced in Twin Peaks, where the hero's name is Dale Bartholomew Cooper. Unsolved mysteries were a theme of that show; in one scene, for example, Cooper idly wonders "who really pulled the trigger on JFK".
    • In the first episode of Loki (2021), it turns out that the title character himself was Cooper, who collected the $200,000 due to losing a bet with Thor and used the Bifrost to return to Asgard and pay up.
    • In the Scandal Sheet webcomic, Phil, aka Bigfoot, reveals that he learned English from D.B. Cooper while nursing him back to health after finding him hanging from a tree with two broken legs.
    • A throwaway gag in 30 Rock implies that he is Kenneth's father.
    • The mystique of Cooper as an outlaw who apparently committed The Perfect Crime and how his disappearance attracts (both in jest and seriousness) the Conspiracy Theorist circle was explored in the 2022 Netflix documentary miniseries "D.B. Cooper, Where Are You?"
  • Colony collapse disorder. The sudden vanishing of worker bees from their hives across the world (leaving even their queens behind), first reported in 2006. No conclusive explanation has yet been found, and most scientists now believe that a combination of factors are at work.
    • Doctor Who used it as a running joke throughout New Who series 4. It ends with the revelation that the vanishing bees were actually aliens who became aware of what the Daleks planned to do to Earth.
    • The Secret World trailers contain the Arc Words "The Bees Are Returning" (among other things), which is currently believed to have to do with the CCD.
    • The X-Files: Fight the Future uses the bees as an integral part of the Government Conspiracy's Evil Plan (to spread the deadly alien virus), about a decade before the CCD was first reported. However, the feral bee population across the world has been rapidly diminishing since 1972... and incidentally, said Government Conspiracy was founded in 1973.
    • In The Simpsons episode "The Burns and the Bees", Lisa creates a bee sanctuary to combat CCD, which Groundskeeper Willie says is caused by loss of habitat.
    • In the Elementary episode "Absconded", a symposium on CCD is used as part of a really convoluted plot to kidnap a member of a royal family from the United Arab Emirates and ramsom him.
    • In the Black Mirror episode "Hated in the Nation", robotic bees who are exact duplicates of real bees are used after the general decrease in population of natural bees, which becomes a problem when someone is able to hack their system.
    • CSI: Entomologist and night shift lab supervisor Gil Grissom studies the phenomenon in season 7.
  • The disappearance of the American labor union leader Jimmy Hoffa in 1975. It's generally accepted that Hoffa was murdered by organized crime, but the location and precise circumstances of his death remain unknown, and his body was never found. The FBI are still looking for his body.
    • In The Adventures of Pete & Pete, when Little Pete is tunneling under his house to escape from being grounded, he finds a wallet, looks at it and exclaims, "Hoffa!"
    • In Bruce Almighty, Bruce uses his godlike powers to find the body in order to advance his journalistic career.
    • The movie Hoffa, starring Jack Nicholson, suggests that he was assassinated by one of his mob allies after Hoffa threatened to reveal their connections.
    • In Nothing but Trouble, it is discovered that Hoffa ended up in the town of Valkenvania, a likely victim of the rather cruel, unusual, and deadly punishments meted out by the local justice system there.
    • The Simpsons episode "Last Exit to Springfield" makes a nod to the mystery with Mr. Burns and Smithers mentioning that the previous head of the power plant's union "mysteriously disappeared" after vowing to clean up the union. A Cutaway Gag depicting a football player tripping over a man-shaped mound of dirt on the field references Hoffa's alleged burial under Giants Stadium (which MythBusters even tested and busted).
    • Elevated to a minor Running Gag in Piranha Club. In one storyline, Ernie gets lost in the Himalayan mountains and discovers that there is no such thing as a Yeti, it was just Jimmy Hoffa's frozen corpse all along. In a different storyline, Jimmy Hoffa's Shrunken Head is left in Uncle Sid's bed after some South American natives kidnapped Sid's pet piranha. Yet another storyline has Ernie and Arnold find Jimmy Hoffa frozen inside a glacier while scaling Mount Bayonne.
    • The Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode "Manos: The Hands of Fate" has Tom Servo quip "Jimmy Hoffa — the last known photo" towards of a shot of the film's protagonist laying unconscious.
    • In Mad About You whilst Paul and Ira are making a hole in the ground in Central Park:
      Ira: What if we find Hoffa?
      Paul: We bury again and tell no one.
    • The Irishman uses the claim that mob associate Frank Sheeran murdered Hoffa for threatening to reveal secrets about the Mafia. Unlike the more fantastic or conspiratorial stories, Hoffa's body is simply burned in a crematorium so he'll never be found.
    • Jokingly referenced in the movie Highway to Hell, with a Bad-Guy Bar in Hell called Hoffa's. Someone calls to ask for Jimmy, but is told that he "ain't here".
    • The Ray Stevens song "I Saw Elvis in a UFO" claims that Hoffa, among others, was abducted by aliens.
  • The disappearance of the so-called "Jewels of Helen" excavated from the ruins of Troy was the subject of the Elizabeth Peters novel Trojan Gold. (The mystery has since been solved, but that was after the novel's publication).
  • The disappearance of the British peer Lord Lucan in 1974, shortly after his children's nanny was murdered. The nanny wasn't supposed to be in the house that night but had changed her night off, and it's believed the intended victim was Lady Lucan, the nanny being attacked by mistake when she entered the darkened basement. The two most common theories are that he committed suicide following the murder or that he's still alive somewhere (although the 2013 TV miniseries starring Rory Kinnear posits that he was shot dead and dumped into the English Channel on the orders of John Aspinall). Nevertheless, in 2016 he was finally declared legally dead.
    • In Jake Arnott's The Long Firm, Harry Stark is strongly implied to have been involved, but no details are revealed.
    • Spitting Image has a puppet of Lord Lucan (whom some viewers confused with Freddie Mercury) have a cameo in almost every episode as a Running Gag.
  • The mystery of the sailing ship Mary Celeste, whose entire crew did vanish in 1872 somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean. The current favourite realistic theory involves an alcohol explosion. It is often listed as one of the stories from The Bermuda Triangle, despite having been discovered outside of the Triangle as it is normally defined.
    • The 1935 Mystery of the Mary Celeste with Bela Lugosi posits that the crew was murdered by a serial killer.
    • In the First Doctor Doctor Who serial "The Chase", the crew were killed by Daleks. In the novelization of the Third Doctor serial "Invasion of the Dinosaurs", the Doctor refers to the mystery of the Mary Celeste and states (with the confident finality that only a time-traveler who has seen the future can possess) "No one ever discovered what happened to the people on that ship, and they never will." In the Twelfth Doctor story "The Eaters of Light", Nardole claims that the crew were eaten by an alien ambassador, because that was how they communicated. The Expanded Universe has also claimed the crew were abducted by aliens and then killed by a sea serpent after the Doctor rescued them (the short story "The Mystery of the Marie Celeste" in the 1970 annual), they abandoned ship because they mistook the TARDIS for a time bomb (the comic strip "A Stitch in Time" in TV Comic) or they all became Cybermen somehow (Faction Paradox: The Book of the War).
    • In The Goon Show episode "The Mystery of the Marie Celeste (solved)", Neddy Seagoon investigates in order to claim a reward offered for the solution to the mystery, only for the man offering the reward to mysteriously disappear himself.
    • "J. Habakuk Jephson's Statement", a short story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, invented a number of details to make the event more mysterious which have subsequently been frequently included as fact in accounts of the real event (for instance, misspelling the name Marie Celeste). The story claims that the Celeste was hijacked by a group of black radicals who murdered the crew and sailed the ship to Africa, leaving one white survivor (the titular Jephson). The article, originally published pseudonymously by Doyle, was widely mistaken for a true account of the incident at the time, leading to denunciations from the ship's owner and investigators of the incident.
    • Sapphire and Steel referred to the Mary Celeste affair as a past assignment, in Assignment 1. Sapphire, Steel, and Lead were apparently involved.
    • In 1990, the Gibraltarian author Sam Benady published Sherlock Holmes in Gibraltar, a set of two short stories set in the pre-Watson days. In the first one, The Abandoned Brigantine, Sherlock Holmes solves the mystery of the Mary Celeste.
    • In "The Gypsies in the Wood", Diogenes Club agent Charles Beauregard tells a junior colleague that the Club has solved the mystery of the Mary Celeste but chose to keep quiet about it because revealing the truth would cause a major international diplomatic incident.
    • The Discworld novel Pyramids has a list of things that Nature abhors and therefore makes disappear which includes "ships called the Marie Celeste".
    • One of Ogden Nash's dreams in the poem "I Can Hardly Wait For the Sandman" involves finding a Mary Celeste life preserver in the middle of a desert. He firmly believes that if he hadn't woken up at that moment, he'd have solved the mystery.
  • The disappearance of "The Princes in the Tower", the children of Edward IV whose uncle and Lord Protector Richard III had them declared illegitimate to clear his way to the throne. (If you think you've spotted a likely suspect already, you're not alone, although "Ricardians" point the finger at his successor, Henry VII.)
    • Shakespeare's Richard III has them murdered by assassins sent by Richard.
    • In Kim Newman's Anno Dracula short story "Vampire Romance", Richard himself, who happens to be a vampire, emphatically denies having sent assassins to kill the Princes — he did the job personally.
    • The two boys show up in The Missing series by Margaret Peterson Haddix.
    • The plot of Elizabeth George's "I, Richard" revolves around the protagonist discovering proof that Richard sent the Princes away for their own safety.
    • In Philippa Gregory's Wars of the Roses novels, the Princes' mother sends the younger prince away disguised as a pauper. He later comes back as Perkin Warbeck.
    • In the Eighth Doctor Adventures novel Sometime Never..., they were kidnapped by the Arc Villains, the Council of Eight, to prevent them affecting history, then rescued by the Doctor and adopted by a 21st century archeologist.
    • In the Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama The Kingmaker, there never were any princes in the tower; there were princesses in the tower, who were locked there by Richard to prevent the scandal of the people learning that his brother had lied about having a male heir. They "disappeared" by leaving the tower and working at a tavern owned by their Uncle Clarrie (the former Duke of Clarance, whose own death was faked). It gets weirder...
    • The premise of the original season of The Black Adder, is that everything about this story is Tudor propaganda, and that in fact, the princes were never locked up, one of them grew up to become BRIAN BLESSED, had two sons of his own and reigned for several years as Richard IV following Richard III's death at Bosworth Hill, and then Henry reformed the calendar and pretended none of it had ever happened after Percy accidentally poisons the entire royal family, leaving Henry the only possible heir left.
    • Hark! A Vagrant discusses this here, in which Richard III is preparing to kill the princes with 'dagger cake', only for a modern day historian to point out there was no proof Richard actually did it, and that both the Duke of Buckingham and Henry Tudor had good motives too. Then they notice Richard of York already ate the dagger cake.
      Richard III: Tell you what, I'll go halvsies with Buckingham.
    • The Ricardian novel The Sunne in Splendour points the finger at Buckingham, with a furious Richard III knowing he'll be blamed for it.
    • The 2017 popular history book, The Survival of the Princes in the Tower by Matthew Lewis argues that the princes were likely spirited away by Richard and explores the idea that Perkin Warbeck was the genuine article.
    • The Lost King: As amateur historian Phillippa Langley searches for the body of Richard III, she thinks about the fate of the Princes in the Tower. As a Ricardian, she believes the princes were alive when Henry Tudor took the throne, but she asks Richard's ghost about it and he is offended by the question.
  • Michael Rockefeller, son of New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, disappeared in New Guinea in November 1961 after his rowboat capsized. After spending some time adrift on the wreckage with his partner, Rockefeller decided to try swimming to shore and was never seen again. Theories range from headhunters to crocodile or shark attack to simple drowning. There are even claims that Rockefeller survived and joined a local tribe. Most recently, a 2014 book claims that natives killed and cannibalized Rockefeller, but met with considerable controversy.
    • The 2007 found footage film Welcome to the Jungle is about a group of modern tourists in New Guinea investigating stories that Rockefeller is still alive. As is par for the genre, the search doesn't end well for them...
    • The novel The King of America is a Roman à Clef based on Rockefeller's disappearance.
  • The Jules Rimet Trophy, which was stolen twice. The first time was in the UK in 1966, where a dog named Pickles found it and became famous. The second time was in Brazil in 1983; this time, the trophy was never recovered and said to have been melted into gold bars. Ironically, a replica was in a safe, but the original was in public exhibition. There are non-fictional and fictional works about it, often showing the trophy still intact.
  • Judge Joseph Force Crater, an Associate Justice of the New York State Supreme Court, was last seen exiting a restaurant in Manhattan on August 6, 1930, stepping into a taxi cab and vanishing. Crater had recently been criticized for selling city property to a private investor for a fraction of its worth, leading to charges of corruption; he was also rumored to have several mistresses and ties to organized crime. Police suspected Robert Cook, a Dirty Cop connected with Murder, Inc. of killing Crater based on letters from Cook's wife, but investigations both then and later never corroborated her story. Crater's disappearance became a stock punchline in comedy routines and inspired several novels and short stories, though he's since been overshadowed by Jimmy Hoffa.
  • Harold Holt, Prime Minister of Australia from 26 January 1966 until 17 December 1967, when he went out for a swim at Cheviot Beach, Victoria... and was never seen again. The most widely-believed story (repeated by his biographer Tom Frame) is that he overestimated how good a swimmer he actually was and drowned after getting caught in a rip current in waters that was already known for being very dangerous to even the most experienced swimmer; other theories include suicide, a hit by the CIA, faking his death to run off with a mistress, or (most outlandishly) that he was a spy for Red China and was picked up by a Chinese submarine. Regardless, the disappearance of Howard Holt has become a legendary bit of Australian folklore, not least because few other modern nations can claim that their head of government one day simply disappeared without a trace.
  • The Dyatlov Pass incident was an event in which nine Russian hikers died in the northern Ural Mountains between 1st and 2nd February 1959, under uncertain circumstances.
    • It's a central theme in the Polish videogame Kholat.
    • Investigations between 2019 and 2021 concluded that an avalanche (probably a slab avalanche) caused the hikers to suddenly leave their camp in low visibility conditions with inadequate clothing.
  • In 1949, a young actress named Jean Spangler went missing in Los Angeles. She left her daughter with her sister in law one evening, saying she was going to meet her ex-husband to pick up a child support check then to work a night shoot. She was seen waiting on someone at the farmer’s market for several hours but the last time anyone spoke to her was later on that night when she called home to tell her daughter good night and her sister in law that she was going to work longer than expected and to not wait up on her. However, from there everything else becomes fuzzy. None of the studios even had movies filming that night and she was reportedly at a restaurant and a gas station later on that morning. 70 plus years on, no one has ever managed to find her body or even a prime suspect. Two days after she was reported missing, her ripped purse was found in Griffith Park with a note written to a Kirk about going to see a Dr. Scott for a procedure while her mother was out of town. Her family and friends didn’t know who Dr. Scott was but her mother said someone named Kirk had picked her up at home a few times but he’d stayed in the car. She’d been working on a movie with Kirk Douglas and when the police questioned him, he admitted that he’d talked to Spangler a few times on set but didn’t know her personally and they believed his story about being out of town when she disappeared. All doctors named Scott in Los Angeles county were questioned but none of them had seen her under her maiden name or married name. Her ex-husband became a suspect as well but he said they hadn’t met that day and his wife backed up an alibi. However, they’d been through a very contentious custody case in which she won custody from him before her disappearance and he later fled from authorities when he was ordered to go to jail for contempt of court when he refused to cooperate when her mother tried to get custody. The leading theory is that she may have died in a botched illegal abortion (she had told a friend she was pregnant right before she went missing) and her body was dumped in an undisclosed location but that theory also has some major holes in it. Other theories range from her being the victim of a serial killer to running away with the mob to being killed by a man she was dating.
  • Over in the Sinosphere, we have the disappearance of the Jianwen Emperor, after the successful coup by his uncle Zhu Di, the later Yongle Emperor. The official narrative during the Yongle era was that the Jianwen Emperor perished in a fire. However, during the second year of the Wanli era (about 150 years after Zhu Di's death), the young Wanli Emperor asked Zhang Juzheng (then the Senior Grand Secretary) about the Jianwen Emperor; Zhang then claimed that the Jianwen Emperor survived the coup, but became a monk, and even returned to the capital (Beijing) to have his identity verified when he was in his 70s or 80s, during the Zhengtong era note . Even so, the final fate of the Jianwen Emperor is still debated.
  • College student Maura Murray disappeared on February 9th, 2004 after leaving the University of Massachusetts at Amherst for what appeared to be an unplanned trip away and crashing her car in the small town of Woodsville, New Hampshire. According to witnesses, Murray was unhurt in the crash but declined aid, falsely claiming to have called AAA. Murray's history of of credit card fraud and erratic personal behavior became fodder for online sleuths, who created a cottage industry of books, podcasts and websites about the case. Theories rage from her having faked her disappearance to being the victim of a random attack to having wandered off into the woods and frozen to death.

    Mysterious Documents 
  • The Voynich manuscript, a manuscript dated to the 16th century, of unknown origin and written in an unknown script. There have been many claimed translations of it, all of which have been debunked.
    • Rather bizarrely, the writing from the manuscript appears in an obscure casual video game called Blood Oath. It seems to imply that whoever created the manuscript was a vampire, because in the game vampires write letters to one another with these letters, even though one might suspect it was used because the developers didn't want to create a new alphabet and borrowed one to which no one held the copyright.
    • In Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon, one of the characters deciphers the Voynich manuscript and promptly gets killed, since it contains the key to waking the Sleeping Dragon.
    • Codex Seraphinianus, created by Luigi Serafini in the 1970s, was inspired by the Voynich manuscript. Written in an indecipherable script, it appears to be an encyclopedia of an alien world. It was created in order to inspire in its readers the feeling of impenetrable mystery.
    • xkcd posits that the Voynich Manuscript is actually... the manual for a centuries-old tabletop RPG.
    • In Book 4 of Dreamfall Chapters, the Voynich alphabet makes an appearance in notes and books that belong to one of the secondary characters. Said character lives in the world of magic parallel to "our" world, world of science, so the implication may be that the manuscript somehow got across the divide.
    • Ancient Aliens, in its quest to link every mystery in human history ever to the so-called "ancient astronaut theory", claims that the Voynich Manuscript is in an alien language.
    • There are pages from this document in the archives of Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, but interestingly does NOT state outright that they are of Precursor origin.
    • In Koudelka and the Shadow Hearts trilogy, the Voynich Manuscript is actually a rework of a partially deciphered translation of the Émigré Manuscript, created by John Dee and Edward Kelley.
    • In Lupin the Third, the Dream of Italy (and the Story Arc centering around it) is connected to a highly encrypted book Rebecca had spent many years attempting to decrypt, whose pages highly resemble that of the Voynich Manuscript. After MI6 takes Rebecca away for interrogation regarding its contents, the book falls into Lupin's hands, who immediately starts working on cracking it himself.

    Mysterious Fires 

    Mysterious Monumental Damage 
  • How did the Great Sphinx of Gizeh lose its nose?
    • Asterix and Cleopatra has Obelix accidentally de-nosing The Sphinx while sightseeing. (In the movies, he goes on to deprive the Venus de Milo of her arms in The Twelve Tasks of Asterix and knock a great big hole in the Colosseum in Asterix Versus Caesar — the latter a particularly impressive feat considering that the Colosseum wasn't built until over a century after Caesar's reign.)
    • In Aladdin, the Sphinx's nose is knocked off when the sculptor applies his chisel too strongly, because he's surprised by Aladdin and Jasmine flying past on their date.
    • The Prince of Egypt shows the Sphinx getting its nose knocked off. In this case, it's caused when young princes Rameses and Moses hit a scaffolding during a chariot race that happens to be holding the sculptor working on the nose.
    • Injustice 2 posits that it was due to the Flash traveling back in time to smash an opponent's face into the Sphinx's nose, shattering it. Granted, he also goes back in time to slap a tyrannosaurus across the face with his opponent, so take the possibility with a considerable volume of salt.
    • DuckTales (1987) the nose is knocked off by the time-traveling ducks...only for the builder to decide it looks better that way.
  • What happened to the left eye of the Nefertiti Bust?
    • In Red River (1995), the bust of Nefertiti only has one eye because the eye was made out of a piece of jewelry that had sentimental value to Nefertiti, and there was only enough material for one eye. When the sculptor points this out, Nefertiti replies "Who cares? It's just a bust, it's not like it's very valuable anyway."
  • What happened to the rest of the Athenaeum portrait of George Washington?note 
    • In The Simpsons, Jebediah Springfield is responsible for damaging the portrait.

    Mysterious Murder Cases 
  • The Axeman of New Orleans, an unidentified serial killer present in New Orleans in the late 1910s.
  • Bible John, unidentified serial killer active in Glasgow in the late 1960s. Many people believe Bible John and the convicted serial killer Peter Tobin are one and the same, but it was never proven at trial and following Tobin's death in 2022, it never will be.
    • The Grant Morrison/Daniel Vallely comic book Bible John: A Forensic Meditation is a surreal, hallucinogenic speculation on the unidentified Serial Killer's possible motivations.
  • The death of Mary Rogers, found floating in the Hudson River in 1841.
  • There was some controversy between the police and coroner at the time, but five-year-old Elsie Paroubek was almost certainly murdered. Dredged from the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal a month after her disappearance in the spring of 1911, her killer was never found. Miss Paroubek's story, and her photo, published in the Chicago Daily News, were among the inspirations for Henry Darger's monumental amateur novel In the Realms of the Unreal.
  • The gruesome unsolved murder of Elizabeth Short, nicknamed "Black Dahlia", 1947 in Los Angeles.
    • The book The Black Dahlia, and the 2006 movie adaptation.
    • In the '90s adventure game Black Dahlia, it turned out to be part of an ancient magical ritual carried out by Nazis.
    • "The Black Dahlia", an episode of Hunter, has Hunter and McCall investigate after new evidence comes to light; it aired on the anniversary date of the original murder.
    • Is a major part of the plot in L.A. Noire. (It turns out that the killer was the half-brother of a very highly-placed politician, so after you find and kill him, the whole matter is sealed up and quieted down.)
    • In the ninth episode of American Horror Story: Murder House, Elizabeth Short is shown to be one of several victims of the "Murder House".
    • Used as part of the backstory in Best F(r)iends, where Harvey (played by Tommy Wiseau) is linked to the murder. We gradually learn that he was romantically involved with her before her death, the trauma of which drove him insane, but that he is not the killer. He may have had sex with her dead body though.
    • Referenced in Spider-Man: Far From Home: MJ was fascinated by the Black Dahlia case, and Peter Parker purchased a black glass flower necklace to give her.
  • The Zodiac Killer, unidentified serial killer active in northern California in the 1960s and 1970s; sent cryptogram messages to the press, some of which remain unsolved.
    • Dirty Harry was heavily inspired by the Zodiac Killer; its murderer is named Scorpio (and is never explicitly identified), and shares the real-life Zodiac's penchant for mailing newspapers and even copies some of his threats (eg., hijacking a school bus). Of course, the movie has a happier ending than real life.
    • David Fincher's film Zodiac strongly suggests that a real suspect in the officially unsolved Zodiac Killings was the guilty party.
    • Seven Psychopaths reveal that three serial killers who were never caught (the Zodiac Killer, the Phantom Killer and the Cleveland Torso Murderer) were in fact killed by a couple of Serial Killer Killers (one of whom is Tom Waits).
    • During Ted Cruz's unsuccessful 2016 presidential campaign, internet users opposed to the Texas senator jokingly accused him of being the Zodiac Killer, based on noted physical similarities between Cruz and a police sketch of the killer; the joke became popular enough to be referenced on the Daily Show and for Larry Wilmore to openly take part in it during the 2016 White House Correspondents' Dinner. Additionally, Donald Trump suggested (in all apparent seriousness) that Cruz' father might have been involved in the Kennedy assassination. Note 
    • The Zodiac Killer appears twice in American Horror Story. First in American Horror Story: Hotel where the ghost of the killer attends Devil's Night with the ghosts of several other infamous serial killers. Then in American Horror Story: Cult the murders are revealed as the work of Valerie Solanas and her radical feminist cult SCUM. Strangely the two contradict despite the stories supposedly taking place in a shared universe.
  • The death of King Charles XII of Sweden (a.k.a. Carolus Rex) from a sudden head wound at the Siege of Fredriksten in 1718 has been investigated multiple times, including three exhumations. He was probably killed by a musket ball or grapeshot from the Norwegian fortress he was besieging; however multiple conspiracy theories suggest he was murdered. Suspects have included his own war-weary soldiers,note  Swedish blue-bloods leery of a proposed tax increase, or his brother-in-law Frederick of Hesse-Kassel (who historically took the reins of power from his wife, Charles's younger sister Ulrika).
    • Sabaton's song "Long Live the King", which is about Charles's last battle, references the mystery surrounding his death with the lines:
      Killed by his own, or by his foe?
      Turned the tide
      Three hundred years, still no one knows
      The secret remains
  • The Tamam Shud Case. The body of a still unidentified man was found in the Somerton Park beach, South Australia in 1948. The name comes from the fact that a scrap of paper with the Persian phrase "tamám shud", meaning "ended" or "finished" was found in the back pocket of the man's trousers. Among the man's possession was also found a text that resembled an encrypted message which has yet to be deciphered or interpreted in a way that satisfies authorities on the case. In 2022, Adelaide University professor Derek Abbott who had been investigating the case since 2009 made a breakthrough using the man's hair DNA which possibly identified him as "Charles Webb", an electrical engineer.
    • The Colorado Kid, a mystery novel by Stephen King, makes reference to a case that mirrors the Tamám Shud case almost exactly, except it is set in Maine.
    • In the final series of Julian Simpson's The Lovecraft Investigations (based on "The Shadow Over Innsmouth"), the Somerton Man is revealed to be someone with the "Innsmouth look" (based on the post-mortem picture strongly resembling Lovecraft's description of the fishy Innsmouth folk) that was assassinated by The Men in Black.

    Mysterious SCIENCE! 
  • The Philadelphia Experiment, allegedly conducted by the US Navy in 1943, involving the destroyer escort USS Eldridge turning invisible and being teleported.
    • In the novel The Astounding, the Amazing and the Unknown by Paul Malmont, Pulp Magazine sci-fi writers are tasked by the US Government in World War II with creating Death Rays and other such miracle weapons. Robert A. Heinlein creates the experiment as an all-done-with-mirrors (and a model) illusion in order to get an Obstructive Bureaucrat off his back. Meanwhile the crew of the real Eldridge gets drunk, leading the bureaucrat to assume from their vomiting and odd behaviour on their return that the experiment has driven them mad. This gives Heinlein's team the excuse to say that further tests will be aborted until they've fixed the problem.
    • The appropriately titled movie The Philadelphia Experiment.
    • Part of the backstory of RASL.
    • In Command & Conquer: Red Alert, the Philadelphia Experiment is revealed in the Allied campaign to be a test run for the Chronosphere project.
    • The found footage horror film Devil's Pass connects the experiment with the Dyatlov Pass incident, as the cast finds photos relating to the ship's supposed failed teleportations inside a secret bunker found under the pass.
    • Discussed in the Sci Fi Channel miniseries The Triangle, which connects the events of the Philadelphia Experiment to The Bermuda Triangle; the strange events in the Experiment were a side-effect of an attempt, in the 21st century, to destroy the time-space distortions in the Bermuda Triangle. It's ultimately found that said attempt had actually caused a ripple effect going back centuries, resulting in the time-space distortions in the Triangle and during the Experiment; stopping the attempt results in a Cosmic Retcon that wipes the disappearances and the weird effects during the Experiment from history.
    • The ship appears in Episode 5 of Loki (2021), in which it appears in the void after it is pruned from the timeline.
    • Spriggan. In "The Forgotten Kingdom", ARCAM discover the wreck of the Eldridge among other wrecked ships from throughout history on the Island of Ghosts.

  • The recipe for Greek Fire. This likely precursor to napalm was an incendiary weapon used by the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire, and was invented around 670. It was lethal in naval battles, as it supposedly could stay lit while floating in water. Unfortunately, the recipe was such a jealously guarded secret that the Greeks never wrote it down or trusted one man with the whole recipe, and as a result, it seems lost forever, despite the efforts of numerous chemists to recreate it.
    • The problem is that there are several mixtures that match the description of the original Greek Fire, and it's very possible one of them is Greek Fire, but without any original document it's impossible to say which one it is.

Works dealing with more than one example of this trope:

Films — Live-Action


  • Matthew Reilly's Jack West series of novels do this quite a bit. For example, the plot of the first book revolves around the real life mystery of what happened to the missing capstone on the Great Pyramid of Gizeh.
  • Illuminatus! touches on several of these mysteries. Ambrose Bierce is encountered in a strange limbo-space in between worlds, complaining to an equally bemused passer-by that I only walked around the bloody horses! The shape of the Pentagon is explained as a geometric prison for an otherworldly entity which lives on the energies of death and destruction. Pyramids are meant to be flying machines based on principles of paracosmic science, but the secret of levitating them has been lost since the fall of Atlantis. And so on.
  • In The Missing series by Margaret Peterson Haddix, it turns out that future entrepreneurs went back in time to take many of the most famous missing children of history, such as Princess Anastasia, the Lindbergh baby, or Virginia Dare.
  • The Secret Histories series, as befits its secret agent sorcery-and-superscience setting, has this in spades- the being originally known as Jack the Ripper turns up in several books, while the third book The Spy Who Haunted Me challenges the protagonist to solve six classic unsolved mysteries: the Loch Ness Monster; Bigfoot; a Russian "science city", not far from Tunguska (although The Tunguska Event is covered in another book), in which everyone spontaneously killed each other and/or themselves; the Philadelphia Experiment; and Roswell.
  • The Doctor Who Universe Concordance Ahistory, dealing with the fact that the series and its expanded universe has at least three Jack the Rippers, two sinkings of Atlantis, two explanations for the princes in the tower, and five abandonments of the Mary Celeste, proposes that, in addition to "fixed points in time", the Whoniverse has unfixed points in time; history "wants" these mysteries to remain unsolved, and the timeline is therefore extremely mutable around them, just as long as they happen.

Live-Action TV

  • Ancient Aliens. Not a spoiler: everything will be aliens, somehow.
  • The various Star Trek incarnations did a few, be it Jack the Ripper (TOS, "Wolf in the Fold"), Roswell (DS9, "Little Green Men") or Amelia Earhart (VOY, "The 37's").
  • Doctor Who is intimately familiar with this trope. For example, the disappearance of Agatha Christie is given a supernatural explanation in "The Unicorn and the Wasp".
  • The X-Files, being an epic Conspiracy Kitchen Sink and all.
  • The In Search of... television series hosted by Leonard Nimoy deals with most if not all of the mysteries on this page.
  • The 4400: In "The Marked", Curtis Peck, who disappeared in 2001, started making films about famous unsolved mysteries and conspiracy theories after he returned. Many of his fans, including Marco and the other NTAC nerds P.J. and Brady, believe that making these films is his ability and that everything that happens in them is true. It turns out that they are correct. His ability manifests itself through his writing and he does not know the whole story until he has finished writing each script. Curtis' films include I Dismembered Jimmy Hoffa, which states that the remains of the former leader of the Teamsters' Union are buried in the Florida Everglades, and Dead. Completely Dead., which asserts that John F. Kennedy was assassinated by a Marine named Robert Shafto. Records indicate that Shafto was in Dallas on November 22, 1963. He also made films about Jack the Ripper and The Lost Colony of Roanoke, a period drama filmed in his backyard.
  • Eerie, Indiana:
    • In "The Lost Hour", Janet Donner tells Marshall that there was a nice man named Mr. Hoffa in the parallel dimension for a while but that he eventually left.
    • In "Tornado Days", Howard Raymer believes that the tornado Old Bob is responsible for the disappearance of Amelia Earhart. Marshall recalls that a Lockheed airliner was found in Deadwood Park and suspects that it may be her plane. Simon wonders whether the old lady whom they always see jogging around town is secretly Earhart.

Video Games

  • In Assassin's Creed, every weird event and person from Adam and Eve to Jesus to King Arthur to Rasputin the Mad Monk to Tunguska are explained by the Precursor technology left behind which inspired all the religions in the world. The exception is the aforementioned Manuscript.
  • Sam & Max Beyond Time and Space: Moai Better Blues: Sam and Max run into a number of famous missing persons on Easter Island, including D.B. Cooper, Amelia Earhart, and Glenn Miller... except they've all been turned into babies from drinking too much water from the Fountain of Youth.


  • xkcd had a strip dedicated to this trope, referencing Amelia Earhart, the Roanoke Colony, Franklin's lost expedition, and Jimmy Hoffa.
    • Both of the ships from Franklin's expedition were eventually located, one in September 2014, the other two years later.

Web Original

Western Animation

  • In the Animaniacs short "Space Probed", Yakko, while on an alien cruiser, stumbles on a room containing Elvis Presley, Amelia Earhart, Bigfoot, and Jimmy Hoffa.
    Yakko: Everyone's been looking for you guys!