There’s nothing like an intriguing mystery to pique the imagination. Nonetheless, it has to be said that even in the strangest of cases, there’s usually a rational explanation. But not always – and here we bring you 20 events that left scientists struggling to come up with an answer. From spontaneous human combustion to a ghost ship and an unruly poltergeist, there’s plenty here to marvel over.
20. Disappearing pilot
It was in March 2017 that Xin Rong, a 27-year-old Chinese student at the University of Michigan, hired a single-engine plane. His flight plan was to take off from Ann Arbor Municipal Airport and then land at Harbor Springs, also in Michigan. But Rong never arrived in Harbor Springs, and his crashed plane was later found some 15 miles from Manitouwadge, Ontario. Rong wasn’t in the plane, however, and a body has never been found.
19. The Tunguska event
A massive explosion, said to be over 150 times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb, leveled almost 800 square miles of remote Siberian forest in June 1908. Incredibly, the blast apparently resulted in just one human casualty – a deer herder – although a large number of reindeer were incinerated. Many have claimed that the explosion was caused by a meteor or comet, yet no crater was found, nor any pieces of meteoric rock. Other explanations have included everything from a UFO crash to a nuclear explosion.
18. The mysterious Arctic ping
In 2016 the Canadian military was given an unusual mission – to try to find the source of a mysterious pinging noise. The ping, reported by hunters and also described as a beep, was apparently emanating from the seabed of the Fury and Hecla Strait in the Canadian Arctic. Theories about what was making the weird noise included the operations of a mining survey or Greenpeace campaigners trying to disrupt hunting, but no convincing explanation has yet been found.
17. Lake Superior ghost ship
The image that you see here is from footage shot by Jason Asselin looking across Lake Superior in Michigan. Asselin was in the process of making a music video when he spotted the strange apparition shimmering on the lake’s rough waters. He described it as resembling a ghost ship and said that it remained in sight for almost 30 minutes. Since there have been more than 200 ships wrecked in that part of Lake Superior, perhaps his description wasn’t entirely implausible…
16. Russian teleportation
This blurry picture is a screen grab taken from a 2012 video that has done the rounds on social media. The film, shot in Russia, is from a dashcam. The lorry has just veered across the road and the figure in the light coat right beside it appears to have come from nowhere. This has led to speculation that the individual had been teleported. Or did they just narrowly miss being run over when this truck took evasive action? It seems that we’ll never know.
15. UFO over Chile
In 2014 a Chilean navy chopper took off on a regular patrol. The flight was routine until an on-board technician spotted an unidentified object in the sky. He was operating a high-tech infra-red camera and consequently recorded what he saw. After dismissing theories that it was a commercial airplane, a weather balloons or falling space debris, the Chilean committee charged with investigating the incident concluded that it could not be explained.
14. A French poltergeist
In January 2017 the CIA published more than 900,000 previously classified documents online. One of them described the intriguing case of a French family who had been plagued by a poltergeist. The CIA report stated, “The poltergeist manifested itself over the years in well-known uniform patterns: beds were moved about, pillows and covers were pulled off … sounds were mimicked, penetration phenomena occurred and so on.” However, the CIA’s plans to further investigate the phenomenon were stymied by the fact that the fearful family fled to Guadeloupe.
13. The Man in the Iron Mask
The Man in the Iron Mask lived from around 1640 to 1703 and spent the last three decades of his life imprisoned in a selection of French jails, including the infamous Bastille in Paris. The French author Voltaire suggested that the mystery man might have been the brother of King Louis XIV. A long list of other possible identities have been mooted over the years, but a definitive answer to this puzzle has never been found.
12. The human feet of the Salish Sea
In December 2017 a human foot washed up on the shores of British Columbia. A gruesome enough event in itself, but this was the 13th human foot that had come ashore from the Salish Sea since 2007. And all of them have been clad in training or running shoes. The Toronto Star speculated that the feet might be the result of “natural disasters, such as the tsunami of 2004, [or] the work of drug dealers, serial killers and human traffickers.”
11. The deadly dancers of Strasbourg
In July 1518 a certain Frau Troffea started dancing on a street in Strasbourg, France, apparently to the delight of the town’s citizenry. And soon others accompanied her in the frantic jigging – within a month, 400 Strasbourg residents were dancing along. But it soon began to take its toll – at one point, some 15 people were dying each day of exhaustion, cardiac arrests and strokes. And to this day, nobody really knows why.
10. Death at the Dyatlov Pass
In February 1959 nine experienced hikers, all from a local college, went trekking in a remote area of Russia’s Ural Mountains. The party made camp on a snowy hillside and settled down for the night. For reasons that remain unclear, the hikers suddenly abandoned their camp in the night, seemingly in a state of terror. There were no survivors – six of them died of hypothermia and three from physical injuries. Shockingly, one body had no eyes or tongue.
9. Human combustion in Florida
When Pansy Carpenter tried to deliver a telegram to her tenant Mary Reeser on July 2, 1951, she noticed that the door handle of the apartment was hot, so she called the cops. When they entered the St. Petersburg, Florida, apartment, all they found were ashes, part of Mary’s left foot, her spine and her skull. The FBI claimed that she’d set herself alight with a dropped cigarette. But Professor Wilton M. Krogman, a physical anthropologist who also investigated the incident, disagreed. “Were I living in the Middle Ages, I’d mutter something about black magic,” he later wrote.
8. Frozen alive in Minnesota
A 19-year-old named Jean Hilliard was involved in an automobile accident in December 1980. Surviving the crash, she headed for a friend’s house some two miles from her car. But temperatures dropped as low as -22° F on that winter’s night in rural Minnesota. When she was found the next morning, her skin was frozen hard, and her heart rate had slowed to 12 beats per minute. She went on to make a full recovery, but nobody is sure how.
7. Mystery of the Mary Celeste
The Mary Celeste is one of the most enduring – and baffling – maritime mysteries of the ages. This American merchant ship sailed from New York City, bound for Genoa in Italy in November 1872. When she was found drifting in the Atlantic on December 5, her log book had last been updated ten days earlier. The ship’s possessions were in order and there were ample supplies on-board, but the crew was never found.
6. The toxic patient
Gloria Ramirez was in the final stages of cervical cancer when she was admitted to the emergency room at California’s Riverside General Hospital in 1994. She was gravely ill and confused, so staff administered sedatives and attempted defibrillation. Nurses then noticed some strange odors, described variously as ammonia and garlic, and soon staff started to suffer ill effects. Eventually, a total of 23 fell ill, with five needing hospital treatment. Sadly, Gloria passed away that evening, and the cause of the mystery illnesses was never found.
5. The mystery of the Isdal Woman
In 1970 some hikers came across the partially burned body of a woman in the Isdalen Valley, Norway. A number of items were with the corpse including some sleeping tablets, an empty quart liquor bottle and a burnt passport. An autopsy found that she’d taken around 50 sleeping pills, but had also likely received a blow to the neck and, strangely, her fingerprints had been sanded off. Yet despite wide-ranging investigations, the woman’s real identity has never been discovered.
4. The bridge that kills dogs
Built in 1895 the 50-foot-high Overtoun Bridge is a handsome stone edifice near the Scottish town of Dumbarton. But this is no ordinary bridge – in the past five decades some 50 dogs have leaped from its parapets to their death. A psychic, a veterinarian behavioral specialist and a canine psychologist have all been called upon to help solve this tragic mystery. But so far, we’re no nearer to an explanation.
3. Vampires in New England
In 1990 Nick Bellantoni, Connecticut’s state archaeologist, investigated a farmer’s graveyard in Griswold. To his shock, the bones in one of the graves had been arranged in a kind of skull-and-crossbones pattern. Bellantoni’s subsequent research led him to discover that many bodies in the area had been exhumed in the mid-19th century to counter their alleged vampirism. But what made the good people of New England believe that they were being plagued by vampires 150 years ago?
2. The body that didn’t decompose
Catherine Labouré was an intensely pious Catholic nun who lived in France from 1806 until 1876. Some 57 years after her death, her mortal remains were exhumed and it was found that her body had undergone very little decomposition. This is something that the Catholic Church calls “incorruptibility,” and it’s said to show that an individual is of especially high virtue in the eyes of God. If you’re a devout Catholic, that explanation will suffice. If you’re not, then you may well find this to be a deeply puzzling phenomenon.
1. The medieval porpoise grave
Archaeologists were working on a site on a tiny island in the English Channel when they came across what they believed might be a 14th century grave. It was indeed a grave, but when they excavated it they were astonished to find that it was the last resting place not of a man but of a porpoise. “It’s very peculiar,” archaeologist Philip de Jersey told The Guardian. “I don’t know what to make of it. Why go to the trouble of burying a porpoise in what looks like a grave?”