Humans are endlessly fascinated by what we donít understand ó all the more so when the topics are macabre in nature. Maybe thatís why we keep circling round and round the numerous unexplained mysteries weíll probably never solve that exist out in the world; we want so badly to understand them that weíll just endlessly seek out possible explanations, even when answers to our questions will likely never be forthcoming.
4-year-old Bobby Dunbar went missing during a family fishing trip to Swayze Lake, Louisiana, on Aug. 23, 1912. No one knows exactly what happened; according to one news report from the time (via Mental Floss), a family friend who had joined the Dunbars on the trip had told Bobby to get out of the way as they all made their way to the lunch table, to which Bobby laughed and made a smart comment. Then he just ìdisappeared like magic.î
An eight-month search commenced ó and at first, it seemed to be a success: A boy identified as Bobby was located and returned to parents Percy and Lessie Dunbar. Trouble was, the boy wasnít Bobby Dunbar.
It wasnít conclusively determined that ìBobbyî wasnít actually Bobby until 2004, when DNA testing confirmed that samples taken from ìBobbyísî descendants didnít match samples taken from the descendants of Bobbyís brother. The Dunbars, who were wealthy and privileged, won custody of the boy over Anderson, who was not ó but now, it seems likely that the boy who was raised as Bobby Dunbar really was Charles Bruce Anderson. Itís believed he was the offspring of Waltersí brother and Anderson.
We donít know what his life would have been like had he not been placed with the Dunbars ó and we still donít know what happened to the original Bobby Dunbar.
The Roanoke Colony :
In 1587, a group of colonists from England led by John White arrived in North America and established a colony on Roanoke Island just a few miles off the coast of what is now North Carolina. The colonists were not, of course, the first to set foot on the land; archeological excavations performed in recent decades has found indications of occupancy by native peoples dating back as far as 8000 BCE. They were, however, responsible for bringing with them a pregnant woman ó Whiteís daughter, Eleanor Dare ó who gave birth shortly after the colonistsí arrival to Virginia Dare, the first child of English parents born in what they termed ìthe New Worldî (despite the fact that there was nothing ìnewî about it).
White sailed back to England in late 1587 ó but when he returned three years later in 1590, he found the colony to have vanished, with only a single word carved on a tree, ìCROATOAN,î leaving any indication they had ever been there at all.
In the centuries since, numerous theories have been proposed about what may have happened to the ìlostî colony: Had they been killed? Kidnapped? Had they attempted to sail back to England and become lost at sea? Had they fled, or simply moved? We still donít know ó and we probably never will. Indeed, weíre not even sure that what little we do think we know is even accurate, as evinced by a ìgoldî ring found on the site several decades ago and thought to be linked to the Kendall family who lived at the colony recently being determined to be simply brass and of no significance at all.
The Sodder Children After The Fire:
In December of 1945, Jennie and George Sodder had 10 children: Sylvia, Betty, Jennie (who shared a name with her mother), Louis, Martha, Maurice, George Jr., Marion, Joe, and John. At 2 years old, Sylvia was the youngest, while John, 23, was the oldest. That Christmas Eve, nine of the children were home with the family in Fayetteville, West Virginia ó Joe being the absent one; the second oldest Sodder child was away in the Army.
In the wee hours of the morning on Christmas Day, a fire broke out in the Sodder home. The two parents, Sylvia, Marion, John, and George Jr. all made it out safely.
The mystery, though, isnít just about the fire itself, although itís true that whatever caused it has never been satisfactorily identified. The official ruling was ìfaulty wiring,î although questions about why the familyís Christmas lights stayed on throughout the fire if wiring was the blame remain ó as do a wide variety of other questions surrounding oddities from that night.
Officials eventually ruled the missing children to have died in the fire, with the assumption being that the blaze cremated them, accounting for the lack of remains ó but the Sodders were never convinced that was what happened. They suspected their children were still alive ó that they had somehow been removed from the house prior to the fire starting. Whatís more, many years later, Jennie Sodder received a photograph in the mail of a young man along with a puzzling note suggesting the photograph was of Louis as an adult.
But nothing came of it. Nothing came of any investigations at all. We still donít know what happened to the Sodder children ó whether they survived or not. And we probably never will.
All These Serial Killers:
There are so many serial killers that were never caught ó or even unmasked. Jack the Ripper is the big one, of course; he (she? They? We donít know!) killed at least five sex workers in Londonís Whitechapel neighborhood in 1888 ó and possibly many others, too.
But thereís also the Servant Girl Annihilator, who terrorized Austin, Texas between 1884 and 1885 and remains similarly unidentified ó although interestingly, some have theorized that after these killings stopped, the perpetrator moved across the ocean and actually became Jack the Ripper. The Axeman of New Orleans targeted immigrants and killed at least six and injured at least six more between 1918 and 1919; his weapon of choice was ó you guessed it ó an axe. Atlanta had a Ripper, too; in 1911, he killed at least 15 black women and women of color by slashing their throats.
More recently, we have the Zodiac, who operated in California during the 1960s and ë70; the Doodler, who preyed on gay men in San Francisco in the ë70s; the perpetrator(s) of the Family Murders in Adelaide, Australia in the ë70s and ë80s; and so very many more.
Although there are a lot of reasons serial killers might evade capture, including ìlinkage blindness.î According to Live Science, since each case is usually covered by individual homicide detectives, a lot of the time, links between cases go unidentified ó that’s what we man by “linkage blindness.î Additionally, only about 59 percent of murders in the United States results in an arrest, let alone a conviction, per the FBIís clearance statistics.
But many of these unsolved cases will remain unsolved for one reason, and one reason alone: Theyíre just too old. In the case of centuries-old killers like Jack the Ripper and the Servant Girl Annihilator, thereís also so little usable forensic evidence that we just lack what we need to fill in the blanks.
The Mad Gasser of Mattoon :
In 1944, the town of Mattoon in Illinois was struck by a horrible set of gas attacks. More than 20 reports rolled in over the course of the late summer and early fall; victims said that they had suddenly smelled something sweet in their homes, then fallen prey to vomiting or temporary paralysis. Few had spotted the perpetrator, but a small number of victims said they had seen someone fleeing the scene they believed to be responsible: A tall, thin man or perhaps a woman dressed in menís clothing. A lack of evidence made it difficult to investigate the gassings, and no other crimes ó robbery, assault, nothing ó occurred at the times the gassings happened. The ìMad Gasser of Mattoon,î as the perpetrator became known, was never caught.
But thatís not the weirdest thing about the whole case. The weirdest thing is the fact that weíve never even figured out whether there was actually a ìMad Gasserî at all.
There are arguments that there was, of course. Town outcast Farley Llewellyn was pointed to by some residents who had lived through the events that unfolded in Mattoon in 1944 as a likely suspect in a 2003 book; he matched the physical description some victims said their assailant had had, and he had both a chemistry degree and a home lab.
Was he really responsible, though? Or was the ìidentificationî of Llewellyn an example of prejudice (and is there even any evidence of a Farley Llewellyn living in Mattoon at the time of the attacks at all)? Because according to other researchers, itís more likely that the ìgassing attacksî were actually the result of pollution ó or even simply a collective anxiety attack. Who knows. We sure donít. And we probably never will.
A lot of unexplained mysteries remain so because of time: Too much has passed between then and now. A lack of evidence, a loss of evidence, and less rigorous record keeping often means that there are holes in each story weíll simply never be able to fill. But even today, a shocking number of crimes happen that go unsolved; for example, as recently as 2015, one in three murders that occur each year are never solved.