Cold Cases

The following is an article from the book History's Lists from Uncle John's Bathroom Reader.

Rumor has it that Amelia Earhart and the grassy-knoll gunman have been found in a bar in Atlantis. Whew -three mysteries solved. Now, on to these.

1. THE BABUSHKA LADY




The Mystery: President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963. Many people lined the motorcade route, filming the event with still and video cameras. In the days after the shooting, police and the FBI confiscated a lot of the footage, and someone interesting shows up in many of the images -a woman wearing what looks like a traditional Russian headscarf called a babushka tied underneath her chin. Her back is to the camera, but it looks like she is also filming the event, and even as the people around her run for cover or hit the ground when the president is shot, the woman stands her ground and continues to film. Who is she?

Solved? No. In 1970, a woman named Beverly Oliver came forward, claiming to be the babushka lady. She said that all the hoopla and conspiracy theories around Kennedy's assassination scared her into silence. She also claimed to have handed over her video footage to some mysterious men who identified themselves as FBI and CIA agents.

Most investigators, though, think Oliver's story is a hoax. Her account of the day contradicts those of other people there, and the model of a movie camera she claimed to have used wasn't on the market in 1963. No one else has come forward.

2. NEW JERSEY SHARK ATTACKS OF 1916

Mystery: You did not want to be a swimmer along the New Jersey coast in July 1916. Over 11 days that summer, five people were mauled by sharks in three different seaside towns -four victims died. Then, like now, shark attacks were rare; fatal attacks even more so. But newspapers sensationalized the story -nicknaming the shark the "Jersey Maneater"- and rumors about the type of shark and number of sharks terrified vacationers into staying away from the beach towns... which ended up costing businesses along the coast more than $200,000.



Solved? No one is sure. On July 14, a fisherman named Michael Schleisser produced a 325-pound great white shark that he said he'd caught near the town of Matawan, where the last three victims were attacked. When he gutted the animal, Schleisser found human bones in its stomach.

Most people were satisfied that the Jersey Maneater had been caught, and indeed the attacks stopped after that. But as often happens, later research said "Not so fast." In 2002, the National Geographic Society released a report that questioned the species of shark implicated in at least three of the 1916 attacks. Two people were killed in the open ocean, but the three victims in Matawan were attacked in a creek fed by the ocean. According to National Geographic researchers, it's unlikely that the creek would have a high enough salt content to support a great white shark. Most sharks need to keep a constant level of salt in their bodies at all times, and a mixture of fresh creek water and salt water wouldn't do the trick. So these scientists think that an unidentified bull shark was actually the culprit (bull sharks are unique in that they can move easily from saltwater to freshwater environments). Whatever the species, the Jersey Maneater remains part of American lore, and it inspired one of the most successful movies of all time: Jaws.

3. RONGORONGO

The Mystery: Spanish explorers first visited Easter Island in the South Pacific in the 1770s. After they left, the indigenous people who lived there developed a type of picture writing now called rongorongo (which means "to recite" in the native language). They carved this "text" onto hundreds of wooden tablets, but by the 1860s, their descendants had lost the ability to read the rongorongo writing. Only a few dozen of the tablets are left today.

Solved? No. Scientists have been unable to decipher the writing.

4. THE MARFA LIGHTS

Mystery: Unidentified glowing orbs in the desert might sound like something out of the X Files, but they're very real to people in the town of Marfa, Texas. The fist recorded sightings of the lights came in 1883 when a ranch hand noticed them and thought they were Indian fires. On further investigation, though, he found no ash from any fires or evidence that anyone had been there at all. And the story has been like that ever since. The lights glow red, orange, and yellow, appear on most clear nights, and bounce like balls in the sky near where Highway 67 and Highway 90 meet. But no one can actually identify where they're coming from.

Solved? Not really. People with an interest in ghosts and ghost stories claim that the Marfa lights are supernatural spirits (both friendly and harmful), while others claim that they are aliens. But the most likely explanation is that they are some kind of mirage produced when warm and cold layers of air meet and bend light. The fact is, though, that no one really knows. You can't see the lights up close, only from far away, so no one have ever been able to truly identify what they are. Texas considers them a tourist attraction, and the highway department built a viewing area off Highway 90 so that curious visitors could see the Marfa lights for themselves.

(Image credit: Flickr user BrtinBoston)

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The article above was reprinted with permission from Uncle John's Bathroom Reader History's Lists.

Since 1988, the Bathroom Reader Institute had published a series of popular books containing irresistible bits of trivia and obscure yet fascinating facts.

If you like Neatorama, you'll love the Bathroom Reader Institute's books - go ahead and check 'em out!




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I call BS on the Marfa lights. It's a fascinating phenomena, and I wouldn't blame Texas for building a viewing area. But Fata Morgana inversion layer mirages (a superior mirage type) are easily replicated and fairly easily tested, and even though there are some reports of lights that wouldn't follow that kind of phenomena, there are no credible photos or videos of non-compliant visages.

Anyway, the SPS from UTexas did a lot of work on this a couple years back, and some of it is published here:

http://ajp.aapt.org/resource/1/ajpias/v77/i8/p697_s1?isAuthorized=no

It explains well why they can't be seen close-up. Personally, I'd love to see them if I were in the area...meteorological phenomena are awesome!
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In 1963, no one lining the parade route was using a 'video camera'. They used 8mm and possibly 16mm film camera to shoot movies. The video camera wouldn't come into common usage outside a studio setting for another 15 years.
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The JFK assassination has an obvious, partial solution. It involves not Lee Harvey Oswald, but the mob and the John Birch Society -- who are connected through Clint Murchison, J. Edgar Hoover, and the CIA. For the details see my webpage at:
http://home.roadrunner.com/~markwrede/NonFic/PerennialMystery.html
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