The World's Most Mysterious People & Their Unsolved Legacies

By Gareth Bellamy
July 11, 2017 7:15 AM ‐ Time TravelLong Reads

This article is more than six years old.

Every now and then someone appears in the world who seems out of place. No, we're not talking about Noel Edmonds. Here are three great examples of people whose existence has never been fully explained.

Tamam Shud: The Mystery Of The Somerton Man

Somerton Man Code

A body found on an Australian beach one morning, lacking any form of identification except a scrap of paper torn from a collection of 12th century poems found in his pocket. These are pretty much the only facts in a case which is still unsolved.

How did he die, was he murdered? Was he a spy? An alien? Your guess is good as ours!
The Body
December 1st, 1948 6:30am. The police were called after the body of a man was found on Somerton beach, about seven miles southwest of Adelaide in Southern Australia. A body was found lying on the sand with his head resting on the seawall. An unlit cigarette resting on the collar of his coat added weight to the idea he had died while sleeping. A search of the clothes on the body revealed a bus ticket, a comb, chewing gum, cigarettes and matches, but nothing from which would help with identification.
The Autopsy
The pathologist estimated the man to be aged 40-45, 5ft 11 in tall, hazel eyes and fair to ginger coloured hair and in top physical condition - apart from being dead, obviously.

At the autopsy the pathologist estimated the time of death as 2am on 1st December, and that his last meal had been a pasty eaten four hours before death, but no foreign substance was found in the body. He concluded, "I am quite convinced the death could not have been natural… the poison I suggested was a barbiturate or a soluble hypnotic." With the pasty ruled out as innocent of all crime, great news for Gregg's fans, the pathologist couldn't say how the man had been poisoned.

There was little else of significance, but the fact he wasn't in possession of a hat was noted. Apparently hat wearing was a lot more popular in 1948 than it is now.
His Suitcase
A couple of months later a suitcase at Adelaide train station cloakroom was linked to the man on the beach. In the case was an assortment of clothes - but no socks, a screwdriver, a knife, pair of scissors and some orange thread and a coat from the USA, but little else.
The Inquest
At the coroner's inquest the following June, the pathologist re-examined the body and made a number of new observations. The man's shoes were suspiciously clean for someone who'd been walking around a beach before he'd died, adding weight to the theory he'd been carried to the beach once dead. This might also explain why there was no evidence of vomiting, which would be expected if he'd been poisoned.
The Tamam Shud Mystery
A small rolled-up piece of paper was found in a small pocket in the dead man's trousers. Written in an unusual script, it simply read 'Tamam Shud.' Librarians identified this as coming from the last page of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, a collection of Arabic verses. The phrase means 'finished' or 'ended.' The police launched a nationwide search to find the book from which the phrase had been ripped, and luckily enough an anonymous source came forward with a book that matched. The source had found it in his car at about the same time the body was found. Inside the back cover, police found indentations from writing. 

The copy appears to be part of an encrypted message...


Attempts both then, and more recently, to decrypt the message have met with failure. A phone number also found in the book, belonged to a former army nurse. She denied knowing him, but a recent investigation in 2009 turned up a couple of items of interest. On examining photos and the autopsy report of the body, he noted the very rare the man's ear was shaped, along with a very rare dental condition. So far, so random. But on examining photos of the former army nurse's son, who appears to have the same two rare conditions, the chances of which are apparently one in ten million. Requests to exhume the body to gain DNA to confirm the connection have so far been denied. But even if that link were proved, it still wouldn't tell us who he was, or how he came to lie poisoned on an empty beach, or why nobody reported him missing.

Spy, lunatic, or victim of a murder? Your guess is as good as ours.

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D B Cooper: The Man Who Disappeared Into Thin Air

D B Cooper

The early 1870s, a hijacked plane, a man in a suit who gets a ransom and parachutes into a stormy night... why the hell hasn't this been turned into a film?
The Hijacking
On the 24th November 1971, a smartly dressed man wearing a suit, using the alias Dan Cooper, hijacked an Boeing 727 whilst it was travelling across North America between Portland and Seattle.

Once airborne, Cooper passed a note to a stewardess announcing he had a bomb on board and a demand to be flown to Seattle where the plane would be refuelled, and loaded with $200,000 in cash and four parachutes.

After arriving at Seattle and pocketing the cash Cooper demanded the plane be flown on a course to Mexico City, but at minimum speed, approximately 120mph at a height of 3000m.
Set Course For Mexico
At 7:40 that evening, the plane took off with only the flight crew and one stewardess on board who were all ordered to stay in the cockpit. However, it was being tailed by two F-106 fighters.

About 20 minutes later, the crew noticed the rear 'airstep', an internal staircase built into the plane to allow passengers to enter the rear of the aircraft, had been opened.

At 8:13, the crew observed a slight upward movement of the rear of the plane, but flew on, landing at Reno, as agreed, at 10:15 that night.

As the plane taxied to a halt, it was surrounded by armed police and FBI agents, who were convinced that the mysterious D B Cooper might still be on board, but all they found of him were 66 fingerprints.

It looked like Mr Cooper had bailed out, but where exactly?
Into Thin Air
The trailing fighters had spotted nothing. The variables involving the exact flight path of the plane, local windspeed, altitude at which Cooper may have pulled his ripcord and not least the exact position when he jumped from the plane meant that his potential landing area could have been huge.

Re-enactments of the flight path and the suspected jumping time and altitude lead investigators to suspect he may have landed towards the Southern area of Mount St. Helens, famous a few years later as the scene of an enormous volcanic eruption.

Months of ground searches by hundreds of police and army troops found no clues, as did extensive aerial surveys along the route flown.

Seven years later a sign from the rear air stairs of the plane was found by a hunter along the line of the flight path of the plane. And that was all, until...
Cash Washes Up
In 1980, an eight year old on holiday, uncovered three packets of the ransom money as he was digging on a sandbank. The theories about how the money got there include the money being washed downstream, or perhaps the mysterious Mr Cooper has buried the money here, planning to return at a later date. Numerous other lines of enquiry were followed up in an investigation that was only suspended in July 2016.

Despite investigating over a thousand suspects, and a number of people who even confessed to being D B Cooper, the FBI have concluded that they think it's most likely Cooper didn't survive the parachute jump. Jumping at night, into freezing temperatures, wearing a suit, into countryside without knowing exactly where he was. Even if he made it to the ground, they believe it unlikely he could have made it back to civilisation.

The big questions as far as we're concerned. Why go to these lengths for the cash, wouldn't you be better off robbing a bank? And how come nobody reported anyone matching the description of D B Cooper missing after the hijacking. Surely someone would have missed this man if he didn't come home, or turn up for a work a few days later? So did he make it back and blend back into everyday life?

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John Titor: Time Traveller From The Year 2036

John Titor's Time Machine

At last, someone from the future travels back in time to show us that time travel is possible! Well, possibly...

Can you think back to the early days of the web, before we spent all out time Facebooking and Snap-Chatting, and Sexting? Yahoo! was the biggest web company around, and if you wanted to get really nerdy you could talk to people on newsgroups and bulletin boards. Once you're parents had got off the phone and your 14.4k modem had connected? If you're that ancient, you might recall the story of John Titor.

John Titor was the name of a man who posted several messages on bulletin boards during 2000 and 2001 alleging that he was a time traveller who had journeyed back from the future, 2036, to be precise.
How Did He Travel In Time?
He used a General Electric stationary mass, temporal displacement unit powered by two top-spin dual-positive singularities producing a standard off-set Tipler sinusoid. Apparently.

What did he want?
He was after some spare parts for an IBM 5100 mainframe computer which apparently the future world needed. Apparently he was part of a military unit who would travel back in time to retrieve items to help America rebuild itself after a nuclear war in 2015. The more observant of you may have started to see where the evidence for this story is starting to sound dodgier than a discounted tuna sandwich left out in the sun.

What was the future like?
American live had reverted to a family and religious based society, where people spent time farming, and talking to each other! Crazy eh? Oh, they also had the internet.

Was John Titor Really A Time Traveller?
Most people felt John Titor was just someone have a web prank. Perhaps the only form of time travelling he had done was to have invented trolling well before anyone else. But when John Titor revealed a feature of the processor used in the 5100 computer which wasn't public knowledge, that the processor could emulate programs running in older languages, people starting to think he might be the real deal. One of the designers of the system confirmed that Titor knew what he was talking about.

So, It Was All A Prank?
It turns out quite a few people knew about this feature of the 5100 processor, so it wasn't some incredible secret. A lesson in not believing everything you see on the web, folks. A bit of digging around by a private investigator in 2009 indicated a Florida lawyer named John Haber, and his computer scientist brother as the men behind the story.

Just one more thing...

The nuclear war that John Titor said would happen with Russia in 2015 didn't actually happen, did it? Well, no, but his believers say that if he hadn't travelled back, it would have happened. Simple physics, (is there such a thing?) tells us that we're living in a different timeline to the one with the war thanks to Mr Titor's selfless actions. So, actually, we should all be grateful he went to this effort.

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