Today, in this modern age, the ability to completely drop off the grid, to disappear, is very hard to do. There are cameras on every other block, in businesses, on the highways, and people snapping selfies everywhere you look; chances are you have been captured on some camera, somewhere, numerous times just today.
It seems inconceivable to think that anyone could remain unseen, or even anonymous, for very long. However, throughout history there have been people – not quiet folk living in seclusion – but people at the center of public and media attention who actually remained quite mysterious; their true identity unknown or shrouded in secrecy.
Some people like this you’ve undoubtedly heard of, or have had their real identities finally revealed, such as the notorious Deep Throat of Watergate fame. But others remain shrouded in mystery. Some have become historical and cultural icons. Some were famous, others infamous; spies, serial killers, mobsters, assassins. Almost all have made some sort of impact on history and died leaving many unanswered questions regarding their secretive lives.
In the absence of hard facts, wild accusations and bizarre stories have sprung up regarding the backgrounds and lives of some of these people. Are any of those stories true? We don’t know. Some have been around so long that they are accepted as truth. However, when it comes down to it, we just don’t know enough about many of these secretive individuals that were well-known enough to be famous, yet were able to hide their personal details from the public consciousness. Here we examine the lives of 15 of the most mysterious people in history.
15. Prince John Charles Francis
He was the youngest son of King George V and Queen Mary of the United Kingdom. He was born on July 12, 1905, with the newspapers heralding the birth of a new member of the British royal family. His older brothers were destined to be King George VI and Kind Edward VIII, but young Prince John was never in serious contention for the throne. This didn’t stop the very strict etiquette that governed his every public appearance. He led the life of a perfect young nobleman until around the age of four, when he collapsed to the floor in a seizure and was subsequently diagnosed with epilepsy. Drastic steps were taken to ensure that Prince John was never witnessed having a seizure in public, as that would show weakness in the royal family. Prince John and a small staff were relocated to Wood Farm, near the royal residence of Sandringham. It was here that the Prince’s life became shrouded in secrecy. Some say he was kept on a leash, so as not to hurt himself during a seizure, of course.
To maintain the semblance of a strong family, he was included in family portraits and postcards. As he grew older, the epileptic seizures occurred more frequently and he died after a more violent one on the morning of January 18, 1919. Rumors are that his mother visited him often, his father not so much. After his funeral, he was rarely mentioned in conversation. He is barely remembered today and in many official royal family trees, he doesn’t even appear. One of the few testaments to his forgotten life is his lonely grave on the grounds of Sandringham Estate.
14. Mary Pearcey
Not much is known about Mary. We know she was born Mary Eleanor Wheeler, in England around 1866. She was involved with John Pearcey, and, though never married, began using his surname. After that relationship ended, she moved into the lodgings of Frank Hogg. At first, her relationship with Frank was good, but soon Frank admitted that he got a woman named Phoebe Styles pregnant and that the pair was going to be married. This devastated Mary but Frank assured her that their sexual relationship would remain unchanged. Soon after Phoebe gave birth, Mary decided she no longer could share Frank. She lured Phoebe and viciously stabbed her and smothered her young baby. She discarded the bodies near a rubbish heap where they were quickly found. The trail led back to Mary’s house where police found undeniable evidence of the crime. She was quickly arrested, convicted and executed in December 1890.
While awaiting execution, Mary asked that an ad be placed in a Madrid newspaper that said: “MECP last wish of MEW, have not betrayed. MEW.” She never explained the meaning of the message nor why it had to be in a Spanish newspaper, since there’s no evidence that Mary ever left England in her life. Years later, a writer named William Stewart began to draw comparisons between Mary and the mysterious killer, Jack the Ripper. He pointed out the striking similarities between the wounds Mary inflicted on Phoebe and those of the Ripper victims. Many might have considered the whole theory ridiculous until DNA testing was conducted on the saliva on the back of stamps used on some of the Ripper letters. Shockingly, the evidence indicated that the stamps were actually affixed to the letters by a woman.
13. Aleister Crowley, The Most Wicked Man in the World
He was one of the most infamous occultists in history. He excelled in black magic, proclaimed himself a prophet, performed satanic rites, and sacrificed animals. Born Edward A. Crowley on October 12, 1875, in Warwickshire, England, he came from a wealthy family of strict Puritans. He rebelled against the stringent beliefs of his parents with his own mother believing he was the antichrist. He changed his name to Aleister to distance himself from his father. Aleister was sent to religious boarding schools, but was kicked out for engaging in homosexual behavior, and then another when he caught gonorrhea from a prostitute. He inherited his father’s money at 21, quit college and spent the rest of his life travelling the world.
In 1898, Aleister joined his first magical society but was thrown out for duelling. He then went on an expedition in the Himalayas, which resulted in the deaths of many of his companions. Shortly after, he founded the magical order of Argentium Astrum. He began experimenting with ritual sex to strengthen his magic and, despite his fading looks, men and women were sexually drawn to him. In his later years, he became addicted to heroin and died in December 1947. There were many claims about this enigmatic man. He claimed his body bore three marks of Buddha and that he was the reincarnation of several famous occultists. Many believe he was a British spy during World War I. It is known he spent the war years overseas spreading anti-British propaganda, which was probably a cover, as many close to him say he was actually very pro-British. Whether you believe the claims or not, he made quite an impression on all those who encountered him.
12. Sergei Tretyakov
Sergei Tretyakov was born in Moscow, in October 1956. Called “Comrade J” by American intelligence officers, he was officially first secretary of the Russian mission in New York and senior aide to the Russian ambassador to the United Nations. In fact, he was a colonel in the Russian intelligence service (SVR), which replaced the old Soviet KGB. Tretyakov was responsible for all covert operations in New York City and at the United Nations. In 1997, he volunteered to become a double agent for the United States and eventually defected in 2000, with his wife and daughter. He was paid $2 million and placed in the Witness Protection Program.
Tretyakov later began living openly and gave interviews about his intelligence work. He warned that Russian intelligence gathering is still very active in the United States. He has also recounted a conversation where some privately owned nuclear weapons were discussed. He’s exposed the misinformation and hoax program called Active Measures used to influence world events and discredit the U.S., speculating it was even used to facilitate the Edward Snowden media leak. He emphasized that his defection had nothing to do with money, in fact by leaving he gave up substantial assets and real estate in Russia. He claims he defected so that his daughter might have a better life. He has admitted to turning high-ranking U.S. and Canadian government officials as well steering U.N programs into financially benefiting Russia. Shockingly, in June 2010, Tretyakov was found dead in his Florida home, reportedly of cardiac arrest. Rumors persist that he was actually assassinated by the SVR. His widow and daughter are now American citizens.
11. Jerome of Novia Scotia
1863 Novia Scotia, a Canadian province, was relatively remote. The main industry was fishing. One cold morning, two fishermen in Digby County went down to the shore and sighted a man sitting in the sand. He had a loaf of bread and jug next to him but appeared to be quite cold as if he had been sitting out all night. The approached him and saw that he was missing the lower half of both of his legs. They carried the stranger back to their village to get medical aid. The fisherman questioned the man but though he appeared to understand he would not respond, only mumbling something that sounded like “Jerome,” which ended up being what the villagers dubbed the man. A doctor noted that Jerome’s legs had to have been skillfully amputated recently, but it was unknown by whom, why, where, or even how he came to be left on the shoreline. Jerome sure wasn’t saying.
Over the next fifty years, Jerome remained in the village, moving from one house to another living off the kindness of others. The government even allocated a $2 a week stipend to the family that housed him. Jerome never bonded with anyone and his past remained an enigma. His hands were soft, indicating he had never done manual labor. When he was found, his clothes were nice and his hair neatly kept. He never spoke and sometimes would even growl at people when they approached him. After Jerome’s death on April 15, 1912, his legend grew and became exaggerated, with stories being passed around new generations of locals. Ultimately, no one really knew anything about who Jerome was, where he came from or why he had been abandoned on that beach all those years ago.
10. The Leatherman
He was a man that everybody knew, yet knew nothing about. His arrival, lock clockwork, every 35 days, was anticipated by many in the small towns along the Hudson and Connecticut rivers. He would appear, strolling down Main Street, with his familiar walking stick and unique clothes. He was “the Leatherman.” No one knew his real name; he was only referred to by his appearance. He wore an entire outfit hand-stitched together of scraps of leather. He was well-liked and treated the locals with kindness and respect. He was fluent in French and English, but most often communicated with grunts. For decades, he would visit the same homes in each town. Each household would always prepare extra food pending his arrival and the local schools would even close early to herald his passage. Children would leave out pennies for him only to return and find that he had replaced them with newer coins.
Very little was learned about the man but many surmised that he was French-Canadian, or possibly a naturalized Frenchman. He disliked being photographed and very few were eve taken of him. In 1889, after refusing medical treatment for a sore seen on his lip he died. The sore was actually cancerous and his body was found inside a cave near Ossining, New York. A funeral was held and he was buried under the name of Jules Bourglay, though no one knows where that name came from. Since the dates of his life and death were unknown, the dates of his known travels were engraved on his headstone. In 2011, historians hoping for answers, tried to exhume his body. When they opened his casket, it was empty. It was re-interred and even to this day, children leave pennies at his grave site.
9. Who Really Was Jeffrey Alan Lash?
On July 17, 2015, Los Angeles Police discovered the lifeless body of a man inside a parked car. The man was Jeffrey Alan Lash, a 60-year-old area resident. Lash had been dead for some time, approximately two weeks. He lived with his long-time partner Catherine Nebron, yet he was never reported missing. Police questioning of Nebron led to astonishing revelations. Nebron stated that Lash collapsed on July 4th and refused medical attention, and passed away shortly after. Lash had asked to be left in his vehicle and the government would retrieve his body.
Further investigation revealed a huge stockpile of weapons in Lash’s home, approximately $1 million worth of pistols, rifles, and even bows and arrow. Investigators then found a stash of $230,000 in cash, along with registration documents for 14 vehicles. A check of the vehicles revealed that they had all been modified for combat-use. Neighbors and friends were questioned and they all reported that Lash claimed he was a secret government operative, and had an alias of Bob Smith. He dressed all in black and would never enter a room without first checking it out. Police were unable to ascertain the origins of Lash’s wealth and there were no signs of employment or any criminal activity uncovered. They know he attended UCLA, but his records were sealed. There was no immediate cause of death but it was known by some that Lash suffered from late-stage cancer, which he attributed to chemical exposure while on a government op. Just who was this secretive man? We may never know.
8. Robert Johnson’s Deal With The Devil
Robert Johnson is proclaimed by many as being one of the finest Blues musicians that ever lived. Yet, despite his musical legacy, his life is full of mystery. Johnson was born in Hazlehurst, Mississippi, in May 1911. His family moved from town to town throughout the South. He was interested in music at an early age and was a skillful harmonica player. However, he possessed no known talent for the guitar. As a young adult, he left home and wandered for several months. Upon his return, he possessed guitar-playing skills beyond any that had been seen before. Skills no one could believe he learned in such a short time. Rumors spread that he had made a deal with the Devil to gain his talent. They say Johnson came across the Devil at a crossroads. The Devil tuned-up a guitar and handed it to Johnson to play, with the rest being history. Johnson only furthered the rumors when he wrote the song, “Me and the Devil.”
For all his talent, however, Johnson never found fame and fortune in his lifetime. He recorded some records, but made little money from them, instead earning a living as a traveling Blues guitarist. In August 1938, Johnson was playing a show in Greenwood, Mississippi, when he was given a bottle of whiskey. The whiskey was poisoned and Johnson died. It was unknown who poisoned him or why. The final mystery is that no one is sure where Johnson is buried. In recent years, several locations have laid claim to possessing his interred remains, but none have been definitively verified. Did Johnson sell his soul for his guitar skill? How exactly did he die? Where is his final resting place? We may never know.
7. Alexander Solonik, the Superkiller
Solonik was a former police officer and marksman famous for his ability to shoot accurately with either hand. He was born in 1960, in Kurgan, Russia. In the late 1980s, he was arrested for rape and imprisoned. As a former policeman, he was targeted for death. However, he was able to fend off multiple attacks and eventually earned his fellow inmates’ respect. In 1990, he escaped prison and began a career as the most infamous Russian contract killer of all time. He was given many nicknames, the most famous being “Superkiller,” and “Alexander the Great.” In 1994, police officers cornered Solonik and he shot several policemen before being captured in Moscow. He was imprisoned in Moscow’s impregnable Detention Center 1, but Solonik did the impossible and escaped, again. He fled to Greece where he set up a new base of operations.
In 1997, Greek authorities reported that a Russian mob boss had been found dead near Athens. Many concluded that the body was that of Solonik, despite the matching fingerprints on file with Interpol being incorrect. The Greek authorities were familiar with Solonik and insisted it was not him, but Russia nevertheless declared him dead. Regardless, Solonik has never been heard from since. While in custody, Solonik admitted to killing numerous Russian crime bosses, but never gave up his employers. The exact number of murders he committed is a mystery. Also, the vastness of his criminal network in Russia and Greece, as well as his real estate holdings, is unknown. Is he still out there, living a luxurious retirement as some suggest? Possibly.
6. The Babushka Lady
November 22, 1963, was a day full of tragedy, confusion, and mystery. In the days following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, investigators were busy taking statements and combing through photographs, trying to make sense of what had transpired. They relied heavily on those who might have filmed or photographed the procession when the shots were fired. In the mayhem that followed the shooting, bystanders fled for cover in all directions, as it was not clear from where the shots came from.
Eventually, as the photographs and films were reviewed, another mystery began to unfold. Several photographs depict a mysterious woman apparently holding a camera in front of her face, pointing at the president’s motorcade when the shots were being fired. She is standing close to the street, with a very good view of the events as they unfolded. Her features are partially obscured by a light brown scarf she is wearing over her hair, hence the nickname “Babushka Lady,” in reference to the similar Russian scarf. If this mystery woman had indeed taken photos, police were very eager to see them. Also, they were intrigued as to why, while others were running away from the gunshots, the lady remained in place and continued taking photographs. Other photos show that as the motorcade left the area, the lady did leave, crossing the street towards the Grassy Knoll and disappearing into the crowd. The FBI made it publicly known that they were keen on speaking to this mystery woman and seeing what photos she might have taken. She never came forward and her identity still remains a mystery.
5. Who Was Prisoner X?
Prisoner X is a term used by the Israeli government that refers to a prisoner that they have only recently admitted they held. All they will release is that they were holding a Prisoner X, he was a dual citizen and that he committed suicide on February 13, 2013. They would not give his true identity. They refuse to comment on the crimes for which he was being held, or whether he was ever even tried or convicted. Australian journalist Trevor Bormann has theorized that the mysterious prisoner was actually Israeli-Australian man, Ben Zygier. As a young adult, he moved to Israel but visited Australia frequently. He became an attorney and travelled extensively. Interestingly enough, Australia began investigating Zygier as possibly being a Mossad agent and an Israeli spy.
Then, in 2010, Israel notified Australia that they had taken into custody a man with dual-citizenship, name withheld, and that he was charged with severe crimes. At the same time, a lawyer reported that Zygier had been arrested in Israel and that the charges were not major. Zygier’s lawyer visited him in prison, found him to be in good spirits, and claimed that a plea bargain was being negotiated that would result in a minimal sentence. On December 15, 2010, Zygier went into his cell’s bathroom and hung himself. The prison has cameras and no one was seen around the bathroom except Zygier. With Zygier’s arrest and death being widely reported, and the circumstances being eerily similar to those of Prisoner X, it is odd that Israel still refused to confirm his identity. What could he have done for Israel to take his name and seal all details of the case?
4. Kaspar Hauser
In May 1828, a teenage boy was found wandering the streets of Nürnberg, Germany, alone and mumbling. Taken to the local police station, the boy wrote his name, Kaspar Hauser, and said only that his father was once a cavalry officer and he wanted to be one too. Later, he explained that he had been held alone in a small cell for as long as he could remember, by an unknown person. All he was given was some bread and water, a blanket and a few toys. The local schoolmaster took Hauser in and tried to educate him.
Hauser was in town for about a year when he was supposedly attacked inside the schoolmaster’s home. Hauser claimed his former captor broke in and slashed him with a razor. Several months later, Hauser accidentally shot himself with a pistol. Some believed Hauser was committing these acts to himself in order to gain sympathy. Finally, in December 1833, Hauser was found with a serious stab wound. He reported that a stranger walked up to him, gave him a bag and then stabbed him in the chest before fleeing. Inside the bag was a note with cryptic clues that would lead to the identity of the assailant. Hauser died from this wound three days later. Again, many believed Hauser’s wound was self-inflicted but worse than he had intended. The strange note was believed to have been written by Hauser himself, as it was in mirror writing and then folded in a triangular shape, similar to Hauser’s own writings, with the same spelling and grammatical errors common to Hauser. To this day, his origins remain a mystery. His tombstone in Germany reads, “Here lies Kaspar Hauser, enigma of his time… mysterious his death.”
3. The Green Children of Woolpit
It was 12th century England, possibly during the reign of King Stephen or King Henry II, when two children appeared on the edge of a field in the village of Woolpit, in Suffok, England. The area was agriculturally rich and densely populated at this point in Middle Ages. The children were found by reapers working the fields at harvest time near some ditches that had been excavated to trap wolves. The young boy and girl had skin with a green tint and spoke an unknown language. Their clothes were made from unfamiliar materials and no one knew from where they came. They children were taken into the village, where they were eventually taken in by a local landowner named Sir Richard de Caine of Wilkes. The children were sick and ultimately the boy died. However, the girl recovered and over the years learned to speak English. She began to tell the story of their origins. According to her, they came from a place called St. Martin’s Land, which existed underground, in permanent twilight.
Many believed the whole story, even the children’s entire existence to be nothing but a folk tale, or the product of a pair of children’s vivid imaginations. Others accept it as real and the story was even chronicled by two 12th century historians, Ralph of Coggestall, an abbot of a Cistercian monastery, and William of Newburgh, an English historian and canon at the Augustinian Newburgh Priory. There are many theories, logical ones, on where the green children came from and why their skin was green-hued, but none can be proved. It’s a mystery that has endured for over 800 years.
2. The Man in the Iron Mask
I’m not talking about Leonardo DiCaprio, but the real story has been around for centuries and has been portrayed in books and movies. What is astonishing is that the Man in the Iron Mask is no work of fiction. He was a real prisoner of King Louis XIV of France, who was imprisoned for years in the infamous Bastille. There has been so much conjecture and rumors about him that historians may never be able to discover his true identity. Here is what we do know about him. He was a prisoner held elsewhere in France until his transfer to the Bastille in 1698 and held there until his death on November 19, 1703. A death certificate was issued under the name Monsieur de Marchiel, but this is strongly believed to be an alias. His age unknown, some saying he was in his 40’s, others that he was in his 60’s, at the time of his death.
Some of the legends have the mystery man being royalty, based on clues regarding his treatment. The letters of one princess indicate that he was treated favorably, but heavily guarded, and that he had to always wear the mask under penalty of death. Voltaire, from his time in the Bastille, said he learned that the man was tall, handsome and allowed to play the guitar. Another former prisoner wrote that he once heard the governor of Sainte-Marguerite refer to the prisoner as “my prince.” The popular theory is that the mystery prisoner was the twin brother of King Louis, or possibly an illegitimate or older brother with claim to the throne. Verifiable documents don’t give much information other than his existence.
1. Tamam Shud
The Tamam Shud Case is an unsolved mystery, sometimes referred to as the Somerton Man, involving the corpse of an unidentified man that was found on the morning of December 1, 1948, on Somerton Beach, just south of Adelaide, in South Australia. The body was found on the Somerton beach, lying in the sand with his head resting on the seawall, his legs extended and his feet crossed. He had a half-smoked cigarette resting on the right collar of his coat, held in position by his cheek. The case is so-called for the phrase, tamámshud, meaning “ended” or “finished” in Persian, which was printed on a scrap of paper found in a hidden pocket of the deceased man’s pants. This phrase was recognized as being the final words of the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, a popular book of the time.
Six weeks later, a suitcase with evidence linking it to the man was found in the Adelaide Railway Station, where it had been left the morning before his death. Some items were found bearing the names, “Kean,” “Keane,” and “T. Keane;” however, there is no record of anyone matching the names being missing. Some months after that, a copy of the Rubáiyát was found which was missing the “Tamam Shud” portion of its final page. The person who found it claimed that someone threw the book into his parked car near Somerton Beach, where the body was found. The mystery has been the subject of intense speculation and amateur investigation regarding the identity of the unidentified man, the events leading up to his death, as well as the cause of death, which all remain unknown.