There are some historical mysteries that may never be solved. Sometimes, that’s because the relevant excavated material has been lost or an archaeological site has been destroyed. Other times, it’s because new evidence is unlikely to come forward or the surviving evidence is too vague to lead scholars to a consensus.
The lack of answers only makes these enigmas more intriguing. Here, Live Science takes a look at 10 of these historical questions that may never have definitive explanations.
Who was Jack the Ripper?
In 1888, Jack the Ripper killed at least five women in London, mutilating their bodies. A number of letters, supposedly from the Ripper, were sent to police taunting officers’ efforts to find the Ripper. (Whether any of them were actually written by the Ripper is a matter of debate among scholars.) The name “Jack the Ripper” comes from these letters.
Needless to say, the Ripper was never found, and over the years, dozens of people have been brought up as possible candidates. A recent book suggested that a woman named Lizzie Williams was the Ripper, although other Ripper experts cast doubt on it. It appears unlikely that the true identity of the Ripper will ever be known for sure.
Where is Jimmy Hoffa?
The teamster union leader known for his involvement in organized crime disappeared in Oakland County, Michigan, on July 30, 1975, and is now presumed to be dead. The identity of his killer(s) and the location of his body are ongoing mysteries. Police and forensic anthropologists have searched a number of sites in Detroit and Oakland County to no avail.
One popular theory was that Hoffa’s body was buried beneath Giants Stadium in New Jersey. However, this theory has been debunked. The identity of his killer is also unclear. Before his death in 2006, Richard “The Iceman” Kuklinski, a hit man, claimed to have killed Hoffa and dumped his body in a scrap yard. An author named Philip Carlo visited Kuklinski in prison before he died and wrote a book on Kuklinski’s confessions. After the book came out a number of police officers cast doubt on the confession in media interviews. As the years go by, it appears increasingly unlikely that Hoffa’s remains will ever be found.
Where is Cleopatra’s tomb?
Ancient writers claim that Cleopatra VIIand her lover, Mark Antony, were buried together in a tomb after their deaths in 30 B.C. The writer Plutarch (A.D. 45-120) wrote that the tomb was located near a temple of Isis, an Egyptian goddess, and was a “lofty and beautiful” monument containing treasures made of gold, silver, emeralds, pearls, ebony and ivory.
The location of the tomb remains a mystery. In 2010, Zahi Hawass, Egypt’s former antiquities minister, conducted excavations at a site near Alexandria now called Taposiris Magna, which contains a number of tombs dating to the era when Cleopatra VII ruled Egypt. While many interesting archaeological discoveries were made, Cleopatra VII’s tomb was not among them Hawass reported in a series of news releases. Archaeologists have noted that even if Cleopatra’s tomb does survive to this day, it may be heavily plundered and unidentifiable.
Who killed JFK?
This is probably the biggest mystery in American history that will never be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction. On Nov. 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was shot in Dallas by Lee Harvey Oswald (although some speculate that he wasn’t the only one shooting). On Nov. 24, 1963, before Oswald could stand trial, Oswald was fatally shot by nightclub owner Jack Ruby. Ruby died of lung cancer on Jan. 3, 1967. [10 Persistent Kennedy Assassination Theories]
The most widely accepted explanation is that Oswald killed JFK on his own and Ruby killed Oswald, on his own volition. Ruby’s stated motivation was to spare Jacqueline Kennedy “the discomfiture of [Oswald] coming back to trial.” However there are still a significant number of professional historians, along with many amateurs, who do not agree with this explanation and since JFK’s death, numerous alternative explanationshave been brought forward by historians and amateurs. Given that significant new evidence is unlikely to appear, a firm consensus will probably never be reached.
Oak Island money pit
For more than two centuries, stories have circulated that Oak Island, located off Nova Scotia, Canada, held a money pit of buried treasure — supposedly left by the pirateCapt. William Kidd(1645-1701). Over that time, numerous expeditions costing millions of dollars have traveled to the island searching for the lost treasure, to no avail. [The 10 Most Notorious Pirates Ever]
Despite centuries of searching no treasure has been found on Oak Island. Nevertheless that doesn’t stop people from trying to find it. A History Channel show called the “Curse of Oak Island” follows a modern-day expedition; the show was just renewed for a fourth season in 2016.