The Compelling Unknown

If you’ve been reading the blog at all, apologies for the lack of updates recently, exams, then a radio show, then the start of a new college term have all conspired to keep me from writing. Now I have a class magazine to work on, so here’s my article for that. The general theme is 2012 and the end of the world, so I tried to stick to that as best I could. It was a fun piece to work on, spent hours researching and so much more could have been included. 

The Compelling Unkown

James Keating

Legend tells of a means by which we might avert whatever awaits on December 21st, 2012, the end of the Mayan calendar. By finding and bringing together thirteen crystal skulls which possess mystical, paranormal or even extraterrestrial properties, we can survive the end of days.

The skulls represent an opportunity, for those who believe the legend, to unlock the knowledge of ancient inhabitants of the planet, and to solve life’s great mysteries. Of course, that’s just for the few and the slightly unhinged who believe that sort of thing.

For the rest of us some things are never likely to be solved. Before we return to the crystal skulls, consider if you will the many more cases which occupy that space between reality and dreams known as The Twilight Zone…

The year is 1966, the place: Rio de Janeiro. A boy discovers a pair of bodies on a hill near his home, two men. Both wearing lead masks which cover the upper part of their faces. A note found at the scene reads “16:30 be at the agreed place. 18:30 swallow capsules, after effect protect metals wait for mask signal”.

The men were television technicians, and no clues beyond the note were found to their deaths. They had no injuries and there were no signs of a struggle. An empty water bottle was also found at the scene. A later autopsy was inconclusive regarding the cause of death.

Why did two men climb a hill wearing masks ostensibly to protect against radiation, take a mystery capsule each, and die? The note implied they were waiting for a signal, but from whom? Bizarre, but at least there were clues and the men were identified. The case of the Somerton Man offers no such explanation.

In December 1948 a man was found dead at Somerton Beach in Adelaide, Australia. He had no identification, his dental records had no match and the labels of his clothes had been removed. A suitcase discovered the following January contained a coat which suggested the man had come from America.

He remains unidentified, but that’s far from the strangest aspect of the case. An autopsy revealed consistencies with poisoning, but no trace of any poison could be found. Even stranger, a piece of paper with the words ‘tamam shud’, meaning ‘finished’ in Persian, printed on it was found in his pocket. The paper came from a rare edition of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, a book of poetry about living life with no regrets. The police suspected suicide.

The book from which the words were removed was found in an unlocked car. Inside was a series of letters, which could be a code, leading to speculation that the deceased was a spy. They have never been deciphered. Three years before the death of the Somerton man, a Singaporean man was found dead in Sydney with a copy of the Rubaiyat on his chest.

Even stranger, another man, Clive Mangnoson, was found unconscious, and his two year-old son dead, near Somerton in 1949. The man’s wife claimed to have been harassed by a masked man who almost ran her down, before telling her to stay away from the police. Mangnoson believed he knew who the Somerton man was and had been attempting to identify him.

The Somerton Man continues to arouse the interest of the Australian public, but surely more modern mysteries would be easier to unravel, with a wealth of technological and medical advancement at the disposal of investigators.

Not exactly. In August 2007 the first of twelve human feet was found on the coast of the Salish Sea in Canada. The others were found over the following four years on both British Columbia and Washington’s coastlines. The feet were usually inside a running shoe, and totally detached from the body.

Five of the feet have been identified as belonging to residents of British Columbia who had been reported missing, one of whom had been missing since 1987. Feet can become detached from the body in decomposition, but their sudden appearance has proven difficult to explain.

The 2004 tsunami and ocean currents have been put forward as possible explanations, but why now, and why were those identified locals? Foul play hasn’t been ruled out, and one of the feet was found along with a leg bone in a black plastic bag. Which is more than a little unsettling.

This isn’t the only contemporary mystery to defy easy explanation, but first, a little history. In 1872 the cargo ship Mary Celeste was discovered abandoned in the Atlantic Ocean. One lifeboat was missing, but otherwise the ship and her cargo were intact with enough food to last six months. The only damage was to the ship’s clock, which had stopped working, and her compass, which had been destroyed.

Another ship, the Carroll A. Deering, lost her crew and ran aground on the return voyage from Rio de Janeiro to Virginia. The ship sailed through the notorious ‘Bermuda Triangle’ between Florida and the Caribbean, where an extraordinary number of aeroplanes and boats have vanished.

This time some personal effects were taken aboard a pair of lifeboats, but food was left in mid-preparation. Mutiny was the most accepted cause of the abandonment, but the crew were never seen or heard from again.

Today’s sailors have access to GPS and radio communication, but in 2007 the Kaz II suffered a similar fate to that of the Mary Celeste when her three-man crew vanished. Again, the boat was perfectly intact with no evidence of damage or that anyone other than the crew was aboard.

A video recorded by the crew on the morning of their disappearance, April 15, adds, rather than answers questions. They were close to islands, fishing, with the engine off. The boat was spotted with no crew aboard a day after their last radio contact.

Explanations range from the men drowning after trying to remove a fishing lure from the rudder to their getting stuck on a sandbar and trying to push the boat off, only for it to be blown away, leaving them stranded.

Most likely, one of the explanations put forth for the Kaz II disappearance is the right one, but even on dry land some incidents defy any attempt at explanation. One such incident occurred in an isolated part of Russia, on a mountain pass high in the Ural Mountains.

When the case was investigated the explanation was that “a compelling unknown force” caused the deaths of nine experienced skiers. Their bodies were found half a kilometre from their tent. The same tent had been ripped open from the inside, leaving a hole large enough for a person to fit through.

The skiers were only partially dressed as they fled from their tent, some barefoot or wearing only one shoe in temperatures close to -30°C. Two of the bodies had internal injuries consistent with those of a car crash. Another had a crushed skull and one of the women was without her tongue.

No evidence was found to suggest the local indigenous tribe were involved, only the footprints of the group were present. Those who survived longest had removed the clothes of those who died first. They had burned hands and there were remains of a fire where the bodies were first found.

Most worrying was the discovery of radiation on the clothes of the dead. One funeral attendee claimed they had orange-brown ‘tans’. Other hikers and the meteorological service reported orange spheres in the sky at the time of the incident. The area was also filled with scrap metal, giving some cause to believe the Russian military were involved. In fact, the pass was closed off for three years following the deaths.

The area has since been renamed the Dyatlov Pass, in honour of the leader of the ill-fated expedition, Igor Dyatlov. The incident which occurred on the aptly named ‘Kholat Syakhl’ or ‘Mountain of the Dead’ remains a source of intrigue today, but documents related to it disappeared with the Soviet Union, leaving the truth buried.

Returning then, to the crystal skulls. There are a few amongst a huge number of fakes which are thought to be of genuine Mesoamerican origin. There are also mere months to find them before December 21st. Of all the unsolved mysteries, this one is perhaps the one most urgently in need of solving; the human race depends on it. Remember, the truth is out there.

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