Mysteries tap the imagination, fuel speculation and invite the attention of conspiracy theorists. While there are numerous ancient mysteries, they don’t excite us the same way these top 10 modern mysteries do; perhaps because we can relate to them easier if they’re closer to our own time. It is that ability to relate, to feel some connection, that not only feeds the mystery, but — accurately or not — also seems to hint that a solution is within reach.
Thus, our criteria for our top 10 modern mysteries does not necessarily concern unsolved mysteries, but the enduring public fascination with the mystery itself as well as the implications of the possible answers (even if conventional wisdom suggests the mystery has more than adequately been solved).
What happened to the Carroll A. Deering?
On January 31, 1921, the schooner Carroll A. Deering was spotted having run aground off the coast of North Carolina. When rescue ships finally reached her, they found nothing short of a ghost ship to rival the Mary Celeste, which suffered a similar fate 50 years earlier. The Deering’s entire crew was missing. Evidence in the galley suggested that food was being prepared for the following day, yet nothing was found of the crew; none of their personal effects and nothing relating to the schooner itself, such as the ship logs.
Speculation has pointed to the paranormal, notably to the fact that she was in the region that is today known as the Bermuda Triangle. Alternative theories have come forward as well, including one that is a sign of its times: that it was part of a communist plot spearheaded by Russia to seize U.S. ships.
How hard is it to dislike this guy? On November 21, 1971, in Portland, Oregon, a man calling himself Dan Cooper hijacked a Boeing 727 en route to Seattle by discreetly flashing a bomb to the stewardess and handing her a note. On landing, as the other passengers disembarked without any clue of Cooper’s intentions, authorities met his demands of $200,000 in cash and a set of parachutes. The 727 then took off following Cooper’s instructions and, shortly thereafter, he leapt from the plane into a stormy night.
Since then, few clues have surfaced concerning the crime. A boy found some of Cooper’s cash along a riverbank and, recently, the FBI thought his parachute had been found, but it turned out not to be the case. One man emerged as a suspect after he died, since on his death bed he told his wife, “I’m D.B. Cooper.” She told the Discovery Channel’s Unsolved History that his confession, true or not, had ruined her life. If Cooper died in the jump, which the FBI contends, his remains won’t be found as Mount St. Helens covered the region with ash in 1980.
Is the Riemann hypothesis true?
The Riemann hypothesis is not as well-known as other mysteries for at least one good reason: it has no catchy made-for-TV nickname. There’s so much to like about
“E = mc2,” no wonder it swept the world. Riemann, on the other hand, sounds like this: “The real part of any non-trivial zero of the Riemann zeta function is ½.”
The curious thing about this hypothesis is that not only do most mathematicians believe it to be fact despite the lack of a comprehensive solution, a number of other complex mathematical problems have been solved on the basis that the Riemann is true. Right now, $1 million awaits the person who can prove the hypothesis. While a proof would be tantalizing, the more fascinating outcome would be if it were proven to be false.
Who killed the Black Dahlia?
The discovery of the grossly mutilated body of 22-year-old Elizabeth Short in Los Angeles, on January 15, 1947, set off the biggest homicide investigation in the Southland, one that continues to baffle everyone who takes a look at the case even today. Short’s body had been drained of blood and cut in two, and her killer had morbidly given her the Glasgow smile: He cut her mouth from ear to ear.
The list of suspects is long, and any one of them can sound convincing; that is, if the argument is presented without a rebuttal, which is generally when they tend to fall apart. One notable suspect, Dr. George Hodel (now deceased like virtually all the suspects), has an unlikely man promoting his guilt: Hodel’s son and former LAPD homicide detective Steve Hodel. The case remains unsolved, and has inspired numerous books and movies, along with endless speculation. Physical evidence is scant, meaning this mystery is unlikely to ever be solved.
Where is Jimmy Hoffa’s body?
On July 30, 1975, Jimmy Hoffa, the former head of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, had been out of prison for about four years. President Nixon had commuted his original 13-year sentence on attempted bribery to time-served, provided he stay away from unions until his prison time would have ended in 1980.
On that late July day, Hoffa, who was in the process of regaining union control in spite of Nixon’s restriction, got into a car in the Machus Red Fox restaurant parking lot in Bloomfield Township, Michigan. He hasn’t been seen since. The mystery has less to do with who killed him — the mob seems like the safest bet — than the location of his body. It has become something of a cultural landmark, a metaphor for the best hiding spot of all time.
What causes the Taos Hum?
The Taos Hum is perhaps the best-known among a handful of very low-frequency “humming” sounds that people have reported hearing in various parts of the world, including the UK, North America and New Zealand. Questions persist about its origins, that maybe it’s paranormal or that it may be the sound of the universe expanding.
Curiously, the most sensitive acoustic devices — far more sensitive than the clumsy human ear — typically fail to pick up a note of humming. While local investigators have succeeded in tracing the source in some cases. For instance, the Kokomo Hum in Kokomo, Indiana, proved to be coming from a Chrysler plant. Could it be that it’s just all in our heads? After all, the regional “hums” and the symptoms reported by sufferers are so varied and often so contradictory that the source of the noise may be our imaginations.
Who was the Zodiac Killer?
America did not invent the serial killer, but she has perfected him. And nowhere is this frightening perfection better brought to fruition than with the Zodiac Killer, the scourge of Bay Area detectives since the 1960s.
Remarkably, all confirmed Zodiac killings occurred in a 10-month span, between December 1968 and October 1969, yet his ability to outfox the police — as well as countless armchair detectives –has inspired movies, TV shows, novels, music, and practically his own shelf in the true-crime section at book stores. One of the ciphers he sent to police over three decades ago has still not been solved. Most recently, DNA evidence retrieved from licked envelopes sent by the Zodiac only heightened the mystery, when results ruled out a long-time favorite suspect in the case.
What is pulling the universe apart?
Credible cosmologists and astrophysicists tell us that there is conclusive evidence that the universe is expanding — but they can not say why. The most prominent explanation for this theory is that there is a force at work that seems to be operating contrary to the force of gravity. Lacking a definitive explanation, they nonetheless gave it a tantalizing name: dark energy.
Dark energy, they believe, is the dominating force in our universe, representing a shocking two-thirds of its entire composition. In fact, they go a step further and suggest that another 30% of the universe is composed of dark matter, a concept as poorly understood as dark energy. Not quite getting this? It’s OK. Even those who proposed this don’t get it any better than you.
What really happened at Area 51?
UFO buffs have gathered at the edges of Area 51 in Nevada for years, hoping to catch a glimpse of the alien spacecraft alleged to be docked at the sprawling, secretive government site. No one has done more to fuel speculation — as well as to remind people to consider individual credibility — than Bob Lazar.
As Bob told it in 1989, the U.S. government had nine UFO spacecraft at Area 51, and they needed some brilliant physicists to come in and “reverse engineer” them (read: figure out how they work). Lazar, a self-proclaimed physicist who by day ran a one-hour photo lab, got the nod and a top-level security clearance. Unfortunately, he had to show off the UFO to friends and got caught.
While it is well-known that the government developed top secret military technology there — including the likes of the F-117 Stealth Fighter and the B-2 Spirit Stealth Bomber — it is supremely unlikely that Area 51 ever held a UFO. Nonetheless, a cottage industry was born around Area 51, much of it thanks to conspiracy theorists with no concern for the government’s official line on the incident.
Was the JFK assassination a conspiracy?
The assassination of President Kennedy lands at No. 1 not because it is one of the great unsolved mysteries of our time, but because of its unmatched cultural impact. For many people — who were alive at the time and who were not born yet — President Kennedy represented something truly larger than life. Consequently it was, and still remains, nearly impossible for them to imagine a giant like JFK being killed by a loser with a scope and a view.
Among the many testaments to this is the remarkably desperate diligence of conspiracy theorists, who can ignore 2,999 pages of declassified CIA documents and focus on a single line from page 3,000, and build a complicated theory of a mob hit or a Cuban connection.
The inability to accept the theory of a lone gunman, and the ability to believe in any other scenario despite the lack of even a trace of conclusive evidence, is the greater mystery here because it hints at something mysterious, remarkably fragile and even endearing about the human psyche.