Mysteries in American History

Mysterious and Unexplained People & Events:

Dahlgren Affair – An incident in the Civil War, which involved a failed Union raid on the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia on March 2, 1864. According to mysterious papers found on the body of the raid’s commanding officer, Colonel Ulric Dahlgren, one of their mission objectives was to assassinate Confederate President Jefferson Davis and his cabinet.

Did the Romans explore America? – Evidence of contacts with the civilizations of Classical Antiquity, including the Roman Empire, have been found across the Americas, including coins, pottery, inscriptions and more.

Flight 19 Mystery – On December 5, 1945, five U.S. bombers took off from a U.S. Naval Air Base in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and subsequently disappeared. Neither the 14 men of Flight 19 nor the 13-man crew of a PBM Mariner sent out to search for them were ever to return.

The Knights of the Golden Circle – A secretive organization created in 1854, proposed to establish a slaveholding empire encompassing the southern United States, the West Indies, Mexico, and parts of Central America.

Livestock Mutilations – Reports of mutilated cattle first surfaced in the United States in the early 1960’s. Killed under mysterious circumstances, sheep and horses have also been victims.

Little People & the Pedro Mountain Mummy – Oral traditions of many Native American tribes, including the Arapaho, Sioux, Cheyenne, and Crow, tell of “little people” who stand from just 20 inches to three feet tall.

Missing Ships Through the Decades – Dozens of American boats and ships have gone missing through the decades, with no sign of the ship or crew ever found.

Spontaneous Human Combustion – Reported for some 300 years, there have been some 200 reported cases worldwide of of people who have burned without an apparent external source of ignition.

TWA Flight 800 Tragedy – On July 17, 1996 TWA Flight 800 exploded and crashed into the Atlantic Ocean near East Moriches, New York, 12 minutes after takeoff from John F. Kennedy International Airport, killing all 230 people on board. Evidence recovered led credibility to the claim that explosives brought down TWA Flight 800. It still remains a mystery.

Unsolved Crimes:

The Axeman of New Orleans – A serial killer who killed at least 11 people in New Orleans, Louisiana and surrounding communities in 1918-1919, he was never caught.

Lizzie Borden – Killer of Fall River, Massachusetts? – Lizzie Borden, the only suspect in the ax murders of Andrew and Abby Borden, in 1892, was arrested, tried, and acquitted in Fall River, Massachusetts. No one else was ever investigated for the crime, and the case remains “officially” unsolved.

D.B. Cooper –  This unidentified man hijacked a Boeing 727 aircraft between Portland, Oregon, and Seattle, Washington, on November 24, 1971, extorted $200,000 in ransom and parachuted to an uncertain fate. Despite an extensive manhunt and protracted FBI investigation, the perpetrator has never been located or identified.

Gypsy Hill Killings – A group of five unsolved homicides of young women and girls in San Mateo County, California, during early 1976. The killer became known in the media as “the San Mateo slasher.”

Mad Gassers of Virginia and Illinois – In the 1930s and 1940s there were two accounts of a “Mad Gasser” operating in two locations. The first occurred in Botetourt County, Virginia in 1933-1934. The second in Mattoon, Illinois in 1944. Also known as the “Anesthetic Prowler” and the “Phantom Anesthetist,” these names were given to the person or people believed to be responsible for a series of gas attacks that were perpetrated against area residents.

Servant Girl Annihilator – In 1884 and 1885, an unknown serial killer preyed upon the city of Austin, Texas. The murderer killed seven women and one man, and seriously injured six more women and two men, attacking them in their beds at night. He was never caught.

Texas Killing Fields – Described as a perfect place for killing somebody and getting away with it, the Texas Killing Fields is an area bordering the Calder Oil Field, a 25-acre patch of land situated a mile from the stretch of Interstate 45 in southeast Texas.

The Zodiac Killer – One of the great unsolved serial killer mysteries of all time, taking only second place to Jack the Ripper. Even though police investigated over 2,500 potential suspects, the case was never officially solved.

Vanished Colonies and Civilizations:

Wupatki National Monument near Flagstaff, Arizona

Wupatki National Monument near Flagstaff, Arizona

The Lost Clovis Culture – The Clovis were a prehistoric Paleo-Indian people that were thought to have been the first human inhabitants of North America, dating back some 13,500 years.

Mysterious Mound Builders – These indigenuos people of the United States built mounds in a large area from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico and from the Mississippi River to the Appalachian Mountains.

The Vanished Anasazi – In about 700 BC the Anasazi Indians (Ancient Puebloans) established numerous large settlements in the Southwest. However, by the time European explorers arrived, the people were gone.

What happened to the Roanoke Island Colony of North Carolina? Roanoke Island was the site of the 16th-century Roanoke Colony. Three years later, every man, woman and child was gone.


Compiled by Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated July 2018.


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