Missing Pieces: The Allure of the Unexplained

At approximately 6:30 AM on December 1st. 1948, the body of a man was discovered..  He was found dressed in a suit and tie, with his head resting against the seawall.  There was an unlit cigarette was on the right collar of his coat.  When his pockets were searched by police they found the following: an unused second-class rail ticket, a bus ticket from the nearby city, an aluminum comb, a half-empty pack of gum, a cigarette packet, and a box of matches.

At first it was believed that he might have simply died in his sleep or committed suicide.  But then things started to get weird.

All the labels on his clothing had been cut off.  He had no hat or wallet, which was unusual for the 1940s.  His teeth matched no known dental records.  An autopsy found no cause of death, but the presence of several enlarged organs meant that his death was most likely not natural.

Later on, a piece of paper was discovered inside a fob pocket on his pants (a fob pocket was typically for something like a pocket watch).  The paper had two words printed on it: tamám shud.  The words are Persian in origin, and when translated mean “ended” or “finished”.  The paper was traced back to a book of twelfth century poems originally written in Persian known as The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám.  On the back of the paper was a code that remains undecipherable to this day and provided more fuel for the theory that the unknown man was some kind of Cold War era spy.

Despite the wide attention the story got and the circulation of the man’s photo, he was never identified and the case of the Somerton Man remains unsolved.


The code found on the back of the book page.

The code found on the back of the book page.


Interesting story isn’t it?  People are still fascinated by it today, and just in the last decade a university professor even attempted his own investigation into the matter.  But why?  Why do we want to know what happened to this man?  Why, even despite the fact that over fifty years have passed, do we still try to understand who this man was and what happened to him?  There are other unsolved mysteries that go back even further.  Have you ever heard of the word “Croatoan”?  It was found carved into a tree after the settlers of a late 16th century settlement in North America simply vanished.  No fully conclusive explanation was found for that case either.  And people still talk about it today.  The wealth of unsolved mysteries in our world is vast, and inspires many fictional stories in television shows, movies, books, and so on.  We even have a modern example in the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, an airplane that still hasn’t been found as of this writing.

But let’s get back to that all-important question: why?  Why do these mysteries fascinate us so?

Human nature is a quandary.  We have tried for so long to explain why we behave the way we do, why good can exist alongside bad.  This paradoxical truth extends itself to our interest in the unexplained and the unknown.  It fascinates, yet also frightens us.  It intrigues, but also irritates us.  Because we want to know, we have to know, but we are also fascinated by the very thought of not knowing.

Last week, I talked about ghosts.  And despite the fact that I am not a believer in ghosts, I still find the subject matter interesting, the stories riveting.  It’s the same with these unsolved mysteries.  I know that there’s most likely a logical and realistic explanation for all of them, but it is the mystery itself that I find so alluring.  It’s like when a story leaves us with unanswered questions.  Sure, many of us get frustrated with it (myself included at times), but it is this lack of explanations that keeps us coming back, that keeps the tale floating around in our minds days, even weeks after we finish it.  We keep coming back to those things left unexplained because we want to explain them.

Some would call this “morbid curiosity”, and while there is a certain truth to that statement (especially where stories about murders or disappearances are concerned), I think it’s a little more innate than that.  We delve into the unknown because we want to make it known.  We want to be the ones that find something others missed.  We want to find closure, to bring an end to a story left unfinished.  We strive for these things, even though the sad fact of life is that sometimes things just happen and we never find out why.  People just disappear and we never find out where they went.  Someone is killed and their murderer is never uncovered.  We’ll have some strange personal experience and will never be able to truly explain what it was.

But we never stop trying.  The story of humanity is one of an endless quest for knowledge.


That’s all I have for you this time.  Tune in next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week.


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