By Tim Binnall
As is seemingly the case every year, 2019 featured a bevy of new developments when it comes to longstanding and iconic mysteries. Often touted as potential breakthroughs or tantalizing bombshells, in many instances these updates are something of a testament to the tireless researchers who plug away at particularly old and often peripheral cases that, without their attention, might have gone cold long ago. In other respects, these stories also serve as a fine example of how a truly baffling mystery has a way of capturing our collective imagination and leave us wondering year after year.
The search for Amelia Earhart continued in earnest in 2019 with one of the most promising expeditions in quite some time as National Geographic enlisted the help of Robert Ballard, who famously discovered the wreck of the Titanic, to possible locate the pilot's submerged plane. Although it appears that the oceanographer's work on the project did not specifically yield any substantial clues, researchers on the team were able to locate some long-lost skull fragments that just might have been the remains of the lost aviatrix. One hopes that we'll find out the DNA test results from those bone pieces sometime in 2020.
Meanwhile, in keeping with the confounding nature of the case, an entirely different set of researchers made waves in early 2019 when they argued that they had found the Earhart crash site near Papua New Guinea. While the location and investigation into the site have fairly secretive, an intriguing news item later in the year seemed to indicate that some human remains were found at the location. As with the potential Earhart skull, DNA tests are presumably still pending.
With 2019 being the 60th anniversary of the infamous Dyatlov Pass incident, it was expected that the case received a fairly substantial amount of attention this year. However, no one could have predicted the rather stunning news, announced on the anniversary of the event, that Russian authorities were re-opening the case and conducting a new investigation into what killed nine hikers in the country's Ural mountains back in 1959. To date there has been no word on any findings from the inquiry, suggesting that we will have to wait until 2020 to know what, if anything, was determined. Be that as it may, the renewed attention afforded to the story did yield some amazing drone footage of the notorious Dyatlov Pass as well as an awesome interactive website that retraced the steps of the doomed hikers in tremendous detail.
A quintessential American mystery, the identity and fate of notorious skyjacker D.B. Cooper maintained its vice-like grip on the minds of independent researchers trying to get to the bottom of the puzzling case. 2019 saw a new theory put forward by an investigator who postulated that the parachute used in the caper could be found at a remote location in Washington state known as Bachelor Island. Beyond that, this past year also saw one of the prime suspects in the case, Robert Rackstraw, pass away. It remains to be seen if his death will allow for some kind of definitive resolution as to whether or not he truly was the skyjacker. And, in an additional development that surprised longtime students of the case, a first-hand witness to the case broke his silence after nearly 50 years.
It's hard to imagine how the classic enigma of crop circles could surprise us in 2019, but the odd formations did just that when they became the centerpiece of a flap in, of all places, France. Beginning with the first design discovered at the start of June, crop circles suddenly began appearing throughout the country at a remarkable pace over the next few weeks. Drawing sizeable crowds and more than a few copycats, the formations were something of a sensation in France this summer which was unlike any other past crop circle season wherein perhaps just one or two designs would appear in the country.
Miscellaneous Mysteries and Longstanding Legends
Among the many other developments surrounding well-known cases, there was a British academic who claimed to have solved the Voynich Manuscript, a DNA study that heralded the 'unmasking' of Jack the Ripper, and a research project looking at the Shroud of Turin which cast doubt on previous landmark radiocarbon testing of the cloth. Based on past history, it's a safe bet that we'll see similar 'breakthrough' stories regarding these longstanding mysteries in 2020. To that end, this past year saw yet another treasure hunter declare that they may have found the legendary Amber Room only for the search to come up short.
That's not to say that 2019 did not provide some closure for a few cases such as a DNA test which debunked a decades-old conspiracy theory that notorious Nazi Rudolph Hess had been replaced by a doppelganger while in prison. Additionally, the weird question of why novelty Garfield phones had been washing ashore on a beach in France since the 1980s was finally answered when the proverbial kitty litter was traced back to a shipping container that had somehow gotten stuck in a cave and went unnoticed until this year. And, lastly, Russian officials announced that they had solved the mystery of what made a tiny hole in the ISS back in the fall of 2018. Alas, for some strange reason, they refused to tell anyone what was behind the damage, leaving the case in limbo as we head into the new year.