Photo: Wikimedia / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 4.0

17 Historical Mysteries People Would Really Like Answers To

Voting Rules
Vote up the historical mysteries you most want solved.

From prehistory through modern-day occurrences, history offers some pretty fascinating stories and information. It also, as often as not, leaves observers wanting more. Simply put, history is full of questions - and Redditors want answers.

In a recent Reddit thread, individuals chimed in on which historical mysteries they wondered about and really wanted to be solved. Their contributions ran the gamut from political conspiracies to secret identities to some fascinating "what-could-have-beens" through the ages.

Though we've found definitive answers to many purported mysteries over the years, there remain a number of enigmas that continue to pique imaginations, sometimes opening up more lines of inquiry just when it seems an explanation has been found. Historians do find answers, and you might find a few of those below, but this list doesn't make any grand assertions about history. Rather, here's your chance to explore its wonders and enduring questions, with some additional insight into the efforts taken to find answers.

Photo: Wikimedia / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 4.0

  • Who Was Jack The Ripper?
    Photo: R. Taylor (R. & E. Taylor (Firm))The Illustrated London News / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Jack the Ripper took the lives of an untold number of women in London in 1888, but his identity remains a mystery. Active in poor areas of the city, Jack the Ripper, also called the "Whitechapel Butcher," not only took the lives of five prostitutes, but he also mutilated their bodies with a technique that suggested anatomical knowledge and an utter hatred for women

    His first target, Mary Ann Nicholls, was slain on August 31, 1888, although an earlier slaying, that of Martha Tabram, has also been attributed to him. The murders of Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddoweson, and Mary Jane Kelly all took place between September and November. The name "Jack the Ripper" comes from a letter sent to the media during the spree by the purported culprit.  

    Additional letters were sent to Scotland Yard, but none of them provided any substantive leads. The spree came to an end in November 1888, with no further activity ever attributed to the Ripper. More than 100 suspects have been investigated since 1888, including a Polish immigrant named Aaron Kosminski (also spelled Kominski). In 2019, DNA evidence from a garment worn by one of the Ripper's targets matched closely with one of Kosminski's living descendent. Other researchers have found problems with the data, leaving the question about Jack the Ripper's identity unanswered. 

    3,141 votes
  • Who Was The Zodiac Killer?
    Photo: San Francisco Police Department / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Known as the Zodiac Killer, an unidentified serial murderer claimed at least five lives in Northern California during the 1960s and early 1970s. With potential unknown crimes and claims by the slayer himself, it's possible the Zodiac Killer took as many as 37 lives. The 1963 deaths of Robert Domingos and Linda Edwards in Lompoc, California, have been connected with the Zodiac Killer, as has the slaying of Cheri Jo Bates in 1966.

    While the Zodiac Killer's identity isn't known, he was in contact with the media and authorities during his period of activity. It wasn't until 1969 that the first letter from the Zodiac Killer reached the San Francisco Chronicle. The unidentified slayer took credit for some misdeeds and offered up part of a cipher he claimed was the key to his identity

    In the year between the David Faraday and Betty Lou Jenson murders, the Zodiac Killer attacked Michael Mageau and Darlene Ferrin. The latter perished, as did Cecilia Shepard when she was attacked in September 1969. Shepard's companion, Bryan Hartnell, was also stabbed but survived. More letters and ciphers made their way to California newspapers, one of which took credit for the slaying of yet another target, taxi driver Paul Stine. The Zodiac Killer included details only the perpetrator could have known, as well as a piece of Stine's bloody shirt - affirming his involvement in the act. 

    Alongside letters and ciphers, the Zodiac Killer also contacted the police by phone, but all communication stopped in 1974. The arrival of letters in 1978 and beyond, written by individuals claiming to be the Zodiac Killer, were never authenticated, and investigations into more than 2,500 suspects never led a definitive identification. To this day, no one knows who the Zodiac Killer was, but the investigation continues through DNA testing and sleuthing by authorities and curiosity-seekers alike. 

    2,306 votes
  • What Happened At Dyatlov Pass?
    Photo: Anonymous / Soviet investigators / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
    2,464 VOTES

    What Happened At Dyatlov Pass?

    The demise of nine Russian skiers in February 1959 has remained an enduring mystery, only recently "solved" by Russian authorities. At some point during the night of February 1, 1959, the skiers set up camp in the Ural Mountains at Kholat Syakhyl - a pass now named for Igor Dyatlov, the leader of the group. Something prompted the nine men and women to flee from their campsite, leading to their unexplained demise.

    When the bodies of the hikers were found (it took months for all nine bodies to emerge from the frozen landscape), they were devoid of proper clothing and many of them had traumatic injuries. It was determined that the hikers perished of hypothermia and frostbite, but many of the bodies also showed signs of more grisly injuries. Theories about what happened to the group ranged from an avalanche to an animal attack to some supernatural (or alien) occurrence - all notions that continued to perpetuate the mystery surrounding the event. Because the initial investigation into the fatal event were deemed "secret," there was also speculation about government involvement

    In 2019, Russia reopened the inquiry into what happened at Dyatlov Pass, determining the hikers perished as a result of an avalanche. The findings indicated an avalanche sent the group from their tent, retreating to a ridge for safety. From there, low visibility prevented them from returning to camp. According to the report, "It was a heroic struggle. There was no panic. But they had no chance to save themselves under the circumstances." 

    In January 2021, scientists at the Snow and Avalanche Simulation Laboratory at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne revealed they'd proved the avalanche theory of what happened at Dyatlov Pass was, in fact, plausible. This hasn't stopped fascination with the event, however.

    The following month, a group of curious tourists made a trip to the famed Dyatlov Pass but none of the eight individuals returned. According to authorities, "They were supposed to leave at eight o'clock this morning. But they have not returned yet and there is no contact with them," an eerie report reminiscent of events more than 60 years earlier. 

    2,464 votes
  • 4
    2,812 VOTES

    What's Inside The Vatican Secret Archives?

    Long shrouded in mystery and literally called the Vatican Secret Archives, the contents of the Vatican's extensive holdings have sparked conspiracy theories for centuries. Now named the Vatican Apostolic Archive, the institution's holdings include millions of letters, official writings, papal bulls, and related materials. Not as secret as the previous moniker indicates, the contents of the archives span 53 miles of shelves - and an underground vault - used by researchers and scholars.

    The archives weren't opened for research until 1881, and not all documents have become available for viewing in a timely manner. In 2020, the Vatican released information from the pontificate of Pope Pius XII (d. 1958), decades after events of WWII and the Holocaust. Jewish scholars will spend countless hours combing through the materials to explore why the pope was so reluctant to condemn the Nazis

    With 12 centuries of material at issue, skeptics believe the Vatican Archives contain information the Church simply doesn't want the world to know. This ranges from insight into its own involvement in secular affairs to investigations into demonic possession. 

    2,812 votes
  • What Happened To The Sodder Children?
    Photo: Sodder Family / Wikipedia / Fair Use
    2,209 VOTES

    What Happened To The Sodder Children?

    After a fire broke out on December 24, 1945, George and Jennie Sodder escaped, as did four of their nine children. A neighbor rang the operator to contact the Fayetteville, West Virginia, fire department, who didn't arrive at the house until the next morning. Once the fire department was on the scene, they told the surviving members of the Sodder family that, in the ashes of their former home, there were no bodies, and no indications that the five children trapped in the house during the fire the previous night had perished.

    George, who had run back into the burning building to try to save the children, and his wife were told that the fire may have been hot enough to cremate the bodies. Their children, all between the ages of 5 and 14, were declared deceased and George turned the site of the house into a memorial. 

    Over the subsequent years, George and Jennie Sodder began to believe their children had survived the fire. They hired private detectives, put up billboards, and offered a reward for any information about the whereabouts of the children, perpetuating both hope for a happy conclusion and rumors about the fire itself.

    There were numerous unexplained occurrences contributing to the latter. On the night of the fire, a mysterious figure was seen outside the Sodder home, allegedly throwing "balls of fire" at the house.  Another stranger in the neighborhood stole a car and was accused of cutting phone lines. Theories about revenge against Sodder - by a local mafioso or would-be extortionist - abounded. Similarly, there were numerous reports of seeing the Sodder children, opening up the possibility of kidnapping.

    George Sodder visited cities across the United States to investigate rumors that his children were alive, holding out hope until his passing in 1968. Whether or not the children survived remains unknown, but, according to the authorities, they perished in the fire.

    2,209 votes
  • 6
    2,523 VOTES

    What Was The Fate Of The Colonists At Roanoke?

    Called the Lost Colony of Roanoke, the settlement founded by a group of British colonists in 1587 was deserted within three years. Located on Roanoke Island off the coast of North Carolina, the Roanoke Colony was governed by John White, who returned to England soon after arriving in the New World. White - who left his wife, daughter, and granddaughter behind - ventured across the Atlantic for supplies, but found no signs of human life when he returned in 1590.

    Questions about what happened at Roanoke abound. One theory is that the colonists were attacked and slain by native tribes, while other, less violent possibilities include assimilation into local populations. It's possible the colonists were faced with such hard times that they attempted to sail back to Europe or moved inland in the hopes of finding better conditions. The only clue the colonists left behind was the word "CROATOAN" carved into the wall around the settlement, perhaps indicating the settlers moved to a nearby island occupied by the Croatan Indians. Historians continue to assert that the colonists relocated, focusing their assertions on Hatteras Island. 

    In the centuries since the Roanoke Colony vanished, researchers have determined that widespread crop failure and drought in 1587 and 1589 may have contributed to the settlers' fate. This provides no answers as to if they perished, took refuge with a native tribe, or attempted to find a new location, however. Items found during excavations have yielded mixed results, never fully providing a clear link to Roanoke, while DNA evidence from individuals living in the region has been collected to determine potential ancestral ties to the colonists. Unfortunately, finding a way to match current DNA with anything from Roanoke settlers or their descendants remains challenging

    2,523 votes