The Strangest Solved Mysteries

The phrase "unsolved mystery" brings up connotations of dedicated research, dangerous archeology, and that TV show from the '80s. But sometimes, these "unsolved mysteries" actually get solved—in fact, some of them were explained a long time ago. While the explanations for these crazy mysteries are often much less salacious than the mysteries themselves, they're no less interesting.

Whether they're phenomenon thought to be ancient or extraterrestrial, or crazy detective stories that ended tragically, a solved mystery is worth reading about, especially since they offer that "creep factor" generally sought-after in these types of narratives. They can involve centuries-old building techniques, natural occurrences, or the disappearances of people. And they bedeviled professional and amateur investigators for years or decades, only to be cracked.

Here are some of the strangest solved mysteries, and what really happened in these cases.

  • The Bloop

    The Bloop
    Photo: NOAA / via YouTube

    "The Bloop" was the name given to an extremely powerful underwater sound detected by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in 1997. Detected in a remote part of the Pacific Ocean off the southern tip of South America, the Bloop was an ultra-low frequency burst of noise that could be heard through hydrophones almost 3,000 miles away. Scientists had no idea what it was, and theorized everything from calving ice in Antarctica, to an iceberg dragging along the ocean floor, to a whale, and even to some unknown sea cryptid.

    It wasn't until 2012 that scientists agreed upon an explanation for the Bloop. The sound was matched to a known icequake, and it was eventually narrowed down to the crash of disintegrating icebergs somewhere between Bransfield Straits and the Ross Sea in Antarctica.

  • Raining Frogs and Fish

    Raining Frogs and Fish
    Photo: Public Domain

    For hundreds of years, both scholars and bystanders have written of hordes of frogs and fish falling out of the sky. Incidents date as far back as the first century CE, when Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder documented storms of frogs and fish raining down. In modern times, an incident was recorded in January 2016 in Ethiopia.

    Explanations for the animal rains traditionally involved waterspouts picking up the creatures from oceans or lakes and dumping them inland. Despite a number of scientific factors that make such a rain improbable, this was the accepted explanation. However, recent investigations has attributed the frogs on the ground to seasonal migrations that came out after a hard rainstorm (the same way worms do), and the fish have been determined to be any number of walking fish, of which there are dozens.

    Combine that with a healthy dose of confirmation bias and exaggeration, and you've got a solved mystery.

  • The Death of Bill Sparkman

    In September, 2009, the body of teacher and US Census field rep Bill Sparkman was found tied to a tree in rural Kentucky, naked save for his socks, his hands, feet, and mouth bound with duct tape. Most mysteriously, the word "fed" was written on his chest in felt-tip marker. The death was immediately blamed on local residents with an anti-authoritarian bent, especially given the controversy about political activism group ACORN being involved with the census.

    While media and pop culture speculation centered on lurid anti-Obama and anti-government conspiracies, the Kentucky State Police came out with a much more believable explanation. Sparkman was a cancer survivor, but likely believed his cancer had returned. He committed suicide and staged it to look like a homicide, in order to collect a $600,000 life insurance policy, which would go to his family.
  • The Blood Rain of Kerala

    The Blood Rain of Kerala
    Photo: YouTube

    Over two months in the summer of 2001, the state of Kerala in India was deluged by a mysterious, red-colored rain. Over a hundred thousand pounds of red particles fell, coating everything in the area. While the red rain phenomenon had happened before (documented cases go back to 1818) and would happen again, the blood rain over Kerala grabbed the imagination of scientists and pseudo-scientists alike when two researchers published a paper claiming the red particles were alien spores from an exploding, life-seeding comet.

    While the paper quickly became an accepted explanation for the rain, the actual cause was identified almost immediately, albeit with far less fanfare: airborne spores from local green algae. While such spores are commonly found in the atmosphere, and have been found in the other red rains around the world, there's still no explanation for why so many rained down for so long. 
  • The Death of Anastasia

    The horror of the October Revolution hit home in 1918, when Russia's Tsar Nicholas II and his entire family were executed by Bolshevik secret police. Among them was 17-year-old Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna— better known simply as Anastasia. Because the bodies of the Tsar and his family were never found, rumors abounded that Anastasia had somehow escaped—rumors fanned by nearly a dozen women who claimed to be missing duchess.

    The most prominent was Anna Anderson, a German woman who claimed to be Anastasia in 1921, while living in an asylum. She claimed to have no memory of her escape. While Anderson managed to fool some people, survivors of the Romanov dynasty rejected her. Still, the story was made all the more intriguing by the fact that Anastasia's body was never found.

    The plot thickened in 1991,when a grave site was unearthed that contained the skeletons of nine of the eleven executed Romanovs, but not Anastasia. However, in 2007, two burned skeletons were found in a pit near the same site, and DNA testing confirmed that one was the Grand Duchess. She died in 1918, as had been suspected all along.

  • Why the Mayans Vanished

    It's one of the most prominent societal collapses in human history. The Mayans seemingly abandoned their complex civilization and disappeared into the Central American jungle. For centuries, people puzzled over the disappearance, theorizing everything from an internal peasant revolt, to conquest by an outside and unknown people, to a UFO holocaust.

    It wasn't until 2005 that a legitimate theory was put forward to explain what happened, a theory confirmed in 2012. The Mayan civilization collapsed due to a self-created environmental disaster. The Mayans chopped down too many trees, which reduced the land's ability to absorb solar radiation. This made rainfall more scarce, which caused a crippling drought. The Mayans abandoned their land not due to aliens or revolt, but to find food.