Bizarre Nature: Earthquake Lights

Alleged earthquake lights
Photo by Doug Aghassi
Earthquake lights are strange aurora borealis-like lights that sometimes appear in the sky before, during and/or after earthquakes. Like so many appearances of lights in the sky, earthquake lights are a mystery. No one knows exactly how or why they appear, but there is hope that understanding the process that causes these lights may help us learn how to predict earthquakes.

Earthquake lights appear multi-colored, like aurora borealis, or bluish-white. They are brighter during earthquakes than they are before or after earthquakes. They were thought to be little more than a myth until about the 1960s, when people photographed them during an earthquake in Matsushiro, Japan.

Earthquake lights almost certainly exist and have existed for quite some time. Unlike other phenomena, there is little possibility that earthquake lights are a hoax or mistaken identity. In 373 BC, a massive earthquake destroyed the Greek cities of Helice and Buris. When Greek historian Callisthenes wrote of the disaster, he described "immense columns of fire" marking the event in the sky. There was no volcano involved with this massive earthquake, so this is taken as the first written example of earthquake lights. More were to come after. Therefore, it is hard to write earthquake lights off as myth or mistaken identity. There is photographic evidence of earthquake lights as well. Coupled, this written and photographic evidence leave little doubt.

Eyewitness accounts that clearly reference earthquake lights were absent until roughly 1930. At that time, there was an earthquake in the Idi Peninsula in Japan. More than 1500 people reported seeing strange lights in the sky. As mentioned above, they were still regarded as myth after this event. However, numerous examples have been recorded in writing and in photographs since.

NASA and the USGS acknowledge earthquake lights as a true phenomenon, though they have been unable to describe the cause of them. It has been suggested that earthquake lights are caused by gases released during the earthquake or by the force of the earthquake itself. These are just hypotheses. There is not enough data regarding earthquake lights to say for sure what mechanism is at work.

Some people have suggested that earthquake lights are caused by HAARP (High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program). This is unlikely, given that HAARP did not exist two-thousand, or even one hundred, years ago. Of course, there are also those who attribute the lights to aliens and other such unexplainable causes. Hopefully, we will know what causes these lights soon. If scientists could figure out how to predict earthquakes by understanding these lights, countless lives could be saved.


NASA, retrieved 11/10/10,

Palmer, Sean B., Earthquake Lights, retrieved 11/10/10,

Bizarre Behavior: Dancing Mania

Dancing mania
Depiction of the dancing mania
Dancing mania is an unexplained phenomenon that was first recorded during the medieval period in Europe. It is a somehow contagious affliction that leaves its victims uncontrollably dancing, shouting, hallucinating and foaming at the mouth. It has been known to spread through towns and countries, while those who are not afflicted are powerless to control it. Some have tried to control it with methods such as praying or playing music, but apparently nothing can stop it. The victims will either stop on their own or continue until they drop from exhaustion. Sometimes they continue to “dance” while they are on the ground.

One of the first and largest outbreaks of dancing mania was reported in July of 1374 in Aachen, Germany. This outbreak of dancing mania spread as far as France and lasted for several years. Another famous outbreak was known as “The Dancing Plague of 1518.” It occurred in Strasbourg, France and affected an estimated 400 people. Dancing mania still occurs to this day. However, it comes in various forms and typically not in the same fashion as it once did. For example, it sometimes occurs during religious ceremonies and does not spread to the outside population.

The cause of dancing mania is unknown. However, there are several theories that seem likely. The first of these is mass hysteria. This is the likeliest explanation for dancing mania that occurs during religious events. Another possible explanation is known as mass psychogenic illness, which is a form of mass hysteria. Mass psychogenic illness occurs when groups of people mistakenly believe that are afflicted with a common illness. Victims may convincingly display symptoms of said illness.

The spread of dancing mania during the medieval period in Europe may not be so easily explained, even though people may have been more susceptible to mass hysteria given the living conditions of the period and location. There is another explanation that may be more likely, however. It is known as ergotism or ergot poisoning. Ergotism is contracted from a fungus that is able to grow on many grains, such as corn and rye. The symptoms of ergotism are very similar to those of dancing mania. It is possible that this fungus infected food supplies of the afflicted areas.

Scientists may never be able to figure out exactly what caused the dancing mania outbreaks in medieval Europe. However, they may be able to come up with more conclusive theories through the study of modern outbreaks. Then again, modern outbreaks may have different causes. This disease, hysteria or whatever it is, is quite as strange as the symptoms it produces.


10 Weird Science Facts You Didn’t Know, 11/8/06, retrieved 2/3/10,

O’Neill, David, Etiology of the Dancing Plague, retrieved 2/3/10, dancing plague.pdf

Bizarre Places: The Chase Vault in Barbados

The Chase Vault is a mysterious burial vault that is located in the Christ Church Parish Cemetery in Oistins, Barbados. The vault was in use in the early 1800s, but it was abandoned because of reported strange occurrences within.

The first coffin that was placed in the Chase Vault did not belong to a member of the Chase family. The wooden coffin contained the remains of a woman named Thomasina Goddard. Her coffin was placed in the vault in 1807. The second coffin that was placed in the vault contained the remains of a two-year-old named Mary-Ann Chase. The second coffin was lead and was placed there in 1808. In 1812 another lead coffin was placed in the vault. It was that of Dorcas Chase, Mary-Ann’s older sister.

In August of 1812 the marble slab that covers the vault was removed so that the coffin of Thomas Chase (the father of the two Chase girls) could be put in. It is important to note that the slab was sealed with cement after each burial. When the slab was removed, it was noticed that all of the lead coffins inside of the vault were moved; they had been placed neatly in a row and now they were all about the vault. The coffin of Mary-Ann was actually standing upside down. The coffins were simply rearranged in their original positions, Thomas’ lead coffin was added and the vault was sealed shut again.

In September and November of 1816, the Chase Vault was opened to receive Charles Brewster Ames and Samuel Brewster, respectively. Each time the vault was opened, the coffins had been strewn about. Some say that it was only the lead coffins that were moved from their original position, but this is uncertain. Both times, the coffins were put back in place and the vault was resealed. The mysterious movement of the coffins was noted by the Governor of Barbados, Lord Cumbermere, in July of 1819 and he decided to investigate.

Cumbermere had the vault checked for secret passages (there were none), he laid sand on the floor so that he may see tracks if anyone entered the vault secretly and he also made an imprint of his seal in the cement when the slab was moved into place and cemented shut again. On April 18, 1820, the vault was opened for inspection. There were reportedly hundreds of people there to see the opening of the Chase Vault. The seal was still visible and whole when the slab was removed. Inside the vault, the coffins were once again strewn about and oddly, the sand on the floor looked exactly as it had when Lord Cumbermere put it there.

After that, Lord Cumbermere gave up and simply had the coffins moved to another location; the vault was left empty and no one has been buried there since. The vault is still there for any curious people who would like to view it. It has been more than 100 years since the first coffin was placed in the Chase Vault. One has to wonder if the mystery will ever be solved.


The Chase Crypt of Barbados, retrieved 10/29/09,

The Chase Vault, retrieved 10/29/09,

Bizarre Stories: The Green Children of Woolpit

Woolpit village sign
Green Children on the Woolpit Sign
Courtesy of Rod Bacon
The Green Children of Woolpit were a young girl and a young boy found in a Suffolk, England village called, you guessed it, Woolpit. Their supposed appearance dates back roughly 900 years. These were no ordinary children. What makes them so memorable is the fact that they were reportedly, you guessed it again, green. Well, that and they may have been from a mythical underground land or outer space.

The story of the Green Children of Woolpit emerged in English history during the 12th century CE. The events in the story are said to have occurred in the same century, possibly less than one lifetime before the story was first penned. That lends some credence to the story because often legend is either ambiguous about time, dates far before documentation or does not mention time at all. The first written account of the Green Children of Woolpit dates to 1189. The next known account dates to 1220 CE and states that the events took place sometime between 1135 and 1154.

The story (both early versions) has it that the villagers in Woolpit found the Green Children near some wolf pits. The children had a green tinge to their skin, wore strange clothes and spoke a language that the locals did not recognize. When brought back to Sir Richard de Calne's home, the children refused to eat. It took days before the villagers could find food the children would accept -- green beans. They eventually developed a taste for other foods and lost their green coloring. After a time, the children were christened, but the boy was unhealthy from the moment he was found. He died soon after his christening.

Depending on which version you read, either the girl or both the boy and the girl learned English. In the version where just the girl learned -- as the boy was dead -- she told the villagers that the boy was her brother and that they were from "The Land of St. Martin" where twilight is perpetual and there is a big river separating them from another land. All the people there are green. She and her brother were tending the family herds one day and went into a cave that led them to Woolpit. In the version where both learn English, the boy corroborates this story. The girl supposedly grew up, took the name Agnes and married, though she was "wanton."

There are a few possible natural explanations for the children and the ordeal they described. There are also supernatural ones. Supernatural suggestions include that the children are extraterrestrial or that their supposed story is true, though no cave to the underworld has been found in Woolpit. Natural suggestions for their skin color include malnourishment, which is known to cause a green tinge to the skin, arsenic, also known to turn the skin green, and diet. As for what happened to them, without superstition, one must conclude that the children got lost, -- on the Earth, not beneath it -- were abandoned, lost their parents or were abused. There is no mention of their age, so it is hard to tell just how young they were when they told their story, but they may have been young enough to interpret memories incorrectly or to fabricate a story to suppress trauma. Whatever the case, there was a town by the name of Fornham St. Martin near Woolpit. It is possible that is "The Land of St. Martin."

The Green Children of Woolpit are a part of England's history and a part of Woolpit's culture. People have been trying to track down Agnes' descendants, if any, for centuries just to show that the green girl lived. It is not certain that the story is true, but it is so explainable that it is difficult not to separate it from folklore, which typically has obvious deviations from reality that cannot be explained away. Thusfar, Agnes' descendants elude us, making it impossible to prove anything and effectively keeping the story of the Green Children of Woolpit in the realm of mystery.


Haughton, Brian, The Green Children of Woolpit, retrieved 9/4/11,

Bizarre Medical Crisis: The Reston Ebola Outbreak

Artificially colored photograph
of the Reston Ebola virus
Courtesy of CSIRO
The Ebola virus is a filovirus, making it one of the most terrifying viruses in the world. Filoviruses are highly lethal -- some having near total mortality rates -- and the illnesses they create are horrible. Symptoms range from fever to internal and external hemorrhaging. Among these viruses and the Ebola group is a virus known as Reston ebolavirus or "Ebola Reston." According to the Stanford University page on Ebola breakouts, it is thus named because it was discovered during a breakout in Reston, Virginia, just outside of the capital of the United States.

Ebola has a nasty history in Africa. According to the CDC, these viruses -- of which there are 5 known types -- have a mortality rate that ranges from 0 to 100 %, depending on the size of the breakout. That would not be so alarming and would be similar to the rates of less virulent diseases were it not for the fact that it has had mortality rates around 80 percent during breakouts that involved hundreds of people. There is no known cure and saving victims is a matter of chance. It is possible to give some supportive treatment, but it cannot reverse the course of Ebola. Therefore, the Reston Ebola outbreak was a shock to USAMRID and the CDC. Ebola in the United States is one of the scariest things an American expert in disease can hear.

Ebola viruses spread through contact with bodily fluids. Typically, that would mean it has some difficulty spreading. However, when it comes to Ebola virus, fluid is a huge concern. A person who is going through hemorrhaging leaves quite a trail of fluid in his or her wake. Nonetheless, it is still containable, given decent circumstances. The fear is that Ebola could go airborne, which would make it a potential pandemic agent. After reading "The Hot Zone" by Richard Preston, a non-fiction novel written in story form, this particularly interested me. The reason for this is that "The Hot Zone," which spends a lot of time on the Reston Ebola outbreak, mentioned that Reston ebolavirus was airborne.

The Ebola outbreak in Reston started with monkeys shipped from the Philippines. These particular monkeys were being held in a quarantine facility in Reston, awaiting shipment to labs in the U.S. It is standard procedure to lock up primates from other countries until researchers can be sure they carry no illness. Such was not the case with these monkeys. They started crashing and bleeding out. The man handling the monkeys did further quarantine measures, separating sick monkeys from seemingly healthy monkeys. Eventually, the illness started to scare him, so he sent a sample of blood to USAMRID. Researchers at USAMRID found the unthinkable in the blood -- Ebola virus.

Once it was ascertained that it was Ebola in the monkeys, USAMRID took over the quarantine facility. When it was discovered that Ebola was working its way through the air ducts to other rooms in the facility, euthanization of the entire population of monkeys was necessary. Another problem was that the monkey workers in the facility had been handling the monkeys with Level 4 biosafety precautions, which are necessary for the Ebola virus, according to the CDC. Participants in the euthanization and cleaning of the quarantine facility interviewed for "The Hot Zone" universally expressed a fear that they would catch the disease or it would spread. So close to an urban area, that was a real threat to the entire country.

Eventually the clean up was complete with no human infections that caused illness. This was odd, considering that human exposure was much higher than safety would dictate. The Reston ebolavirus was traced back to the Philippines, where monkey workers were found to have evidence of the virus in their blood. However, none of them was sick. It has since been assumed that Reston ebolavirus is somehow not dangerous to humans. It would be the first of the Ebola viruses to be such, though it is devastating to monkeys.

Reston ebolavirus is still a threat to humans. There have been more outbreaks in monkey facilities in the U.S. with no human illness. However, nearly all experts agree that there is not enough evidence to support the idea that humans cannot get sick from the virus. Furthermore, there is always reason to fear the evolution of any filovirus. If the Reston ebolavirus was able to harm humans and the evidence that suggested it was airborne is correct, that is a huge problem for the human race.


"The Hot Zone" by Richard Preston

World Health Organization, Ebola Reston Found in Domestic Pigs in the Philippines, retrieved 12/5/11, UPDATE:

The Dropa Stones: Bizarre Artifacts

Dropa Stones
Dropa Stones
*Note: The information contained in this article is up against intense scrutiny. I do not necessarily believe the stories of the Dropa Stones. I simply find the tale bizarre enough, even if it is just folklore or scam, to be included here. You can decide for yourself what to believe.

Some of the strangest mysterious artifacts in history were discovered among the graves of what appear to be a humanoid race buried in a cave. To some, they tell a tale of aliens crashing in the Himalayas, only to die and bury their possessions, the Dropa Stones, with them. Unfortunately, study of the Dropa Stones has been made impossible by China, which supposedly has ownership of them, but denies it. The mystery is no closer to being solved than the day the Dropa and their stones were discovered.

In 1938, a team of archaeologists found the graves of what they would call the Dropa while exploring a cave system in the Baian Kara Ula Mountains in the Himalayas. The discovery was made in China, close to Tibet. There were several rows of graves, all containing the remains of humans or humanoids that averaged about four feet in height. Their arms and legs were reportedly very long in relation to their bodies. They also had large heads. The archaeologists first assumed that they had found an ape graveyard. The problem is that apes are not known to bury their dead.

Another interesting discovery in the caves were cave drawings of the sky. There are some claims that carbon dating done of the pictures shows that they are between 10 and 12 thousand years old. This has not been confirmed. Further dating has not been attempted to the public's knowledge.

The bodies of the Dropas did not reveal their secrets. For all we know, they were merely a pigmy race or the remains of deformed humans, but they did give us one more thing to ponder–the Dropa Stones. The Dropa Stones are not round stones, as you would imagine. They are actually disc shaped objects that are from a few inches to several feet in size. Over the course of exploration, a total of 716 Dropa Stones have been found. Some of them, including the first one discovered, have holes through the center of them. Some sources say that these holes and discs show a perfection of artisanship. Only extensive study of the stones could tell.

As if the stones themselves were not mysterious enough, researchers found another aspect of them that baffled them even more. There are reportedly very thin spirals of text written on the Dropa Stones. The text is so small that it looked like grooves initially. The language is indecipherable, not because it is impossible to see, but because it is written in an unknown language.

For more than twenty years, the Dropa Stones sat in the basement of Beijing University. No new discoveries were made with them. Then, in 1962, Dr. Tsum Um Nui announced that he could read the language on the Dropa Stones. He said that a story was written on them, a story about a group of aliens crashing in the Himalayas. The aliens then met and learned to live with the people of the Ham tribe of the local area. They all lived amongst each other until the aliens died.

Strangely, there are (or were) tribes called the Ham and the Dropa in the area during recent times. The location of these people is something of a mystery in itself, but we do know that they are roughly 4 feet tall and have large heads in proportion to their bodies. The average weight of the people in these tribes is 38-52 pounds. It seems as if they could be ancestors of the beings whose remains were found in the graves. If so, either their ancestors believed that they were descended from aliens or they really were descended from aliens. That is of course, if the discs were translated correctly. It could also simply be that these people are short and so were the people who came before them. If they are aliens, it seems a little too coincidental that they are simply short humans. Of all the potential aliens out there, the ones we find are small people. Unlikely?

Another mystery surrounding the Dropa Stones is their age. If they were made at the time of the cave drawings and the carbon dating was really done and done appropriately, it would mean that the discs are roughly 11,000 years old. While experts are certain that the discs are very old, it has not been determined if they are as old as the paintings. At this point in time, we have no way of knowing who made them, if the translation of the text is correct or when they were made. The Dropa Stones remain a mystery of the most intriguing sort.


Dropa Stones, retrieved 11/05/09,

Clemens, Martin J., The Chinese Dropa Stones Conspiracy, retrieved 11/05/09,

The Bizarre Phenomenon of Cattle Mutilation

Ken Rommel taking about cattle mutilation
FBI Agent Ken Rommel speaks
about cattle mutilations
Courtesy of Robert Sheaffer
Cattle mutilations, also referred to as bovine excisions, are disturbing phenomena that involve evisceration and/or disfiguring of livestock. They appear to have begun in the latter half of the 20th century, mainly in the western United States. However, since the initial surge of cattle mutilations in the 60's and 70's, cattle mutilations have allegedly occurred in other parts of the world. It is important to note that the type of mutilation described in bovine excisions is not exclusive to cattle. In fact, one of the first heavily publicized mutilations involved a horse.

The horrors of cattle mutilations are plentiful. Though not all cases are the same, there are some common findings. The reproductive organs appear to be targeted, as are the lips, eyes and ears. Some of them have incisions in their flesh that appear surgical in nature. In some cases, witnesses say there is no blood in the animals, the wounds and the areas in which the animals are discovered. There are also some cases where large chunks of muscle tissue are missing all the way to the bone.

There are other mysteries regarding cattle mutilations that do not involve the corpses themselves. For example, there has been at least one report of a military-style helicopter being in the area at the time of a cattle mutilation. There is also a suspicious lack of prints on the ground around the deceased animals, including those the animals themselves would have made in their last moments. Perhaps the most extraordinary findings have been circular impressions outside of the area that is devoid of marks. There are typically three of these impressions in a tripod shape. This is similar to supposed UFO sightings, such as the tripod marks seen during the Rendlesham Forest Incident.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation conducted an inquiry into the cattle mutilations more than 30 years ago. The bulk of the information that has since been made public is newspaper clippings and correspondence between the FBI and politicians. Some far-fetched potential theories, such as satanic cults, military/government involvement and extraterrestrial involvement are mentioned in the FBI files. However, none of them is corroborated by the investigators. There is not much of interest in the file that does not point to a natural explanation. However, sci-fi and conspiracy theory buffs may find it amusing that a letter addressed to then Director of the FBI--Clarence Kelly--regarding cattle mutilations had the closing "Thanking You, I am." Perhaps the Jedi Council is in on the investigation and it really does involve extraterrestrials.

At the time of the investigation, cults and Satanism were creating storms of hysteria in the United States. Explanations such as these were favorites of the media. However, veterinarians whose conclusions were included in the report thought that sharp-toothed predators and natural decomposition were to blame for the cattle mutilations. They said that bloating from gases after death could cause the "incisions." The missing eyes, lips and genitals could be explained by predator affinities for soft flesh. There were also missing anuses, for which some thought maggots were responsible. The FBI concluded that there were some aspects of the issue that were unexplainable at the time, but that it was most likely natural death and predators causing the cattle mutilations.

There are still some facts about cattle mutilations that are unnerving. There is the lack of footprints, the tripod impressions and the fact that decomposition cannot explain cases where farmers were only gone for minutes or an hour. There were also more than 130 cases in Colorado alone by the time of the investigation. How could that many experienced cattle owners not recognize the symptoms of predation? Furthermore, why did alleged cattle mutilations become so widespread so quickly that they warranted federal investigation? Was it, or is it, a form of mass hysteria or does something have it in for the livestock of the world? At this point, it is hard to tell.


Federal Bureau of Investigation, retrieved 7/5/11, Mutilation

Bizarre Disappearances: Vermont's Bennington Triangle

Location of Bennington, VT
The Bennington Triangle is reportedly a place in Vermont, near the Glastonbury Mountain, in which at least five or as many as ten people have disappeared. Most of these disappearances occurred without a single clue being left behind. The victims were people of varying age and of both sexes. Ninety-percent of all the victims were lost within a five-year period between 1945 and 1950. All of the disappearances happened in the months of October, November and December. Apart from those differences and similarities, there is very little else known about the nature of the disappearances in the Bennington Triangle.

The first disappearance in the Bennington Triangle was reportedly that of a man named Henry MacDowell. Henry was placed in a lunatic asylum after he murdered a man named Jim Crowley. He subsequently escaped from the lunatic asylum and vanished. Of course, it is heard of for a man who has been convicted of a crime and has managed to escape his captors to vanish on purpose. Nonetheless, this is often cited as one of the Bennington Triangle disappearances.

The most well-known Bennington Triangle disappearances began in 1945 with a man named Middie Rivers. Middie was serving as a mountain guide in the area on November 12, 1945. When he was guiding his group back to their camp, he got ahead of the bunch and was never seen again. The event happened near the Long Trail Road, an area that 75-year-old Middie was presumably familiar with. Police and volunteers searched for him, but no clue to his fate was ever found.

A little over a year later, on December 1, 1946, an 18-year-old student named Paula Welden went hiking on Long Trail. She received a ride there, but was alone on her hike. She was never seen again and no trace of her has ever been found.

There are also reports that three hunters went missing in the area in 1949, but very little can be found about these supposed disappearances. More is known about another disappearance that happened that year on December 1. A man named James E. Tetford vanished on a moving bus. He got on the bus in St. Alband. Witnesses saw him on the bus before its stop in Bennington, where James would have disembarked. However, by the time the bus reached Bennington, James was gone. This is perhaps the strangest disappearance that has occurred in the Bennington Triangle.

The following year, on October 12, an eight-year-old boy went missing. His name was Paul Jepson. Paul’s mother had been doing some chores and had left him for a short period. When she got back, her son was gone. Dogs followed his scent, but it was lost on a highway. Because of this, it is thought possible that the boy was abducted.

The last known disappearance in the Bennington Triangle was that of a woman named Frieda Langer. However, it probably shouldn’t be dubbed a disappearance. Frieda was hiking with her cousin on October 28, 1950 when she decided to head back to camp to change, after falling in some water. Her cousin stayed behind. Frieda never made it back to camp or her cousin. A massive search was mounted on the ground and from the air. Police, volunteers, firemen and military sought the woman, but nothing turned up until the following May. Oddly, her body was found in a field that had been searched extensively in the previous months. Supposedly, her cause of death was unable to be determined because of the condition of the body, which had obviously been left to the mercy of the elements.

There are several theories as to the nature of the Bennington Triangle disappearances, but none of them hold up very well. The first is that there was a serial killer on the loose. Well, that is possible, but it would have had to be a very indiscriminate serial killer. It is not often that you find a serial killer who kills people of all ages and both sexes without leaving a single trace. Another theory is that the disappearances all happened in the fall and winter because there was more leaf litter on the ground, which may have hidden some wells that the victims simply fell in. However, this could not possibly explain the Frieda and James’ disappearances. Also, no wells were found in the searches and no one heard someone crying out from within a well. In reality, the whole thing could just be a coincidence with each case having its own unique cause.

The Bizarre Tale of the Burke Hare Murder Dolls

The story of the Burke Hare Murder Dolls starts with a series of murders committed in Edinburgh, Scotland in the late 1820s. The mystery of the murder dolls begins around the same time and continues until this day. It is a strange tale that may have some connection to the guilt or sadistic obsessions of one of the killers.

Not long after a series of murders took place in Edinburgh, Scotland, a boy found an interesting group of dolls in coffins. They found the dolls in a cave on Arthur's Seat at Holyrood Park in Edinburgh. Initially, the dolls appeared odd, but did not seem to have any significance beyond their oddness and the location in which they were found. Over time, it became obvious that they were very similar in number and appearance to the victims of the recent killing spree.

William Burke and William Hare were two Irishmen who met in Scotland and became friends sometime in the 1820s. Hare ran a boarding house with his wife. There, in 1828, one of the tenants died of natural causes. Burke and Hare sold the body of the man to a doctor at Edinburgh University to be used as a medical school cadaver.

At the time, the medical schools had a shortage of bodies to use for dissection. They were only allowed to use executed criminals and criminals were being executed less frequently. Doctors were sometimes resorting to purchasing bodies from so-called body snatchers or, more accurately, grave robbers. It appears that one Dr. Knox of the University of Edinburgh was not averse to purchasing the bodies of murder victims, either, though it is not absolutely certain that he was aware of the fact when he started doing it.

After selling the body of the deceased tenant, Burke and Hare realized that they could make a living off selling the bodies of the dead. They were making less than the equivalent of 1,500 USD in modern currency per body, but that was enough to compel them to kill 16 individuals. Many were killed by smothering, though one was given a medication overdose and a little boy had his back broken. Eventually, a tenant found a body underneath a bed at the boarding house and turned the pair into the police. The body was gone by the time the police got there. However, Hare made a deal and told all in exchange for his freedom. Burke was executed and dissected publicly and several of his body parts, included a death mask of his face, were saved.

The dolls discovered in the cave numbered 17. They also appeared to represent each of the bodies sold to Dr. Knox -- who was not charged with any crime. The dolls are roughly 4 inches long each and have their own individual coffins. Dating puts them around the same time as the murders and many assume that one of the killers is responsible for carving the dolls. Modern DNA testing conducted on the body of the Burke and on the dolls found no connection, but that is because there was nothing to find on the dolls after all this time.

If indeed the dolls were made during the killings, only a handful of people could have done the carving. There was Dr. Knox, who likely knew the cadavers he was purchasing were murder victims. There were Burke and Hare, Hare's mistress and Burke's wife. Dr. Knox's brother possibly knew as well, but there were almost certainly no more people who could have made the dolls. One of these people could have made the dolls out of guilt. Of course, one of the killers could have made the dolls as souvenirs and stashed them in the cave when the murders were discovered. Hare could have made them after Burke's murder trial and stashed them as well. If they were made after the murders were discovered, it could have been anybody.

There are currently only 8 of the original 17 murder dolls left. They are kept at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. The dissected remains of one of the men who killed the people the dolls reportedly represent -- Burke -- are kept at the University of Edinburgh.

The Mysterious Disappearance of Bobby Dunbar

The fake Bobby Dunbar (1913)
The mystery of Bobby Dunbar is one that is almost more terrifying than a murder mystery. It is the story of a child lost and another likely taken from its mother and guardian to replace the lost boy. In that way, it is the story of two boys lost, one seemingly gone forever and one taken and raised as another child. The story begins on August 23, 1912, when Percy and Lessie Dunbar took their sons Bobby and Alonzo on a trip to Swayze Lake in Louisiana. The family was from Opelousas, Louisiana. That day, 4-year-old Bobby Dunbar disappeared.

The disappearance of Bobby Dunbar made headlines and searches were conducted for either months before police found a boy they believed was little Bobby Dunbar. They found the child in Mississippi with William Cantwell Walters. Police arrested Walters and took Bobby, despite Walters claims that the boy was not Bobby Dunbar. He said the boy was in face Charles Bruce Anderson and that the boy, known as Bruce, was in his custody with the boy's mother Julia Anderson's permission.

Not long after obtaining the child, police sent for Bobby Dunbar's parents. Julia Anderson also made her way to Mississippi to plead her case. Depending on which reports from the time are to be believed, the Dunbars and their younger son Alonzo recognized Bobby immediately or took him in overnight and confirmed he was their son after giving the boy a bath. Julia was also given a chance to identify the boy. She had not seen the child in 13 months, though she said she only gave him to Walters for a two-day trip. She defended Walters, though either side of the story was sounding like kidnapping.

Julia Anderson did eventually identify the child as her son Bruce. However, a judge found that the child was Bobby Dunbar and gave custody to Percy and Lessie. Julia Anderson had three children out of wedlock, which looked bad in that day and age. Her story was also that she allowed William Cantwell Walters to take her child for two days and then had done nothing when the boy was gone for 13 months. That could not have looked good, either. There was also some suspicion that Walters was Bruce's uncle, meaning that Julia, a servant in the Walters household, had become pregnant by her boss. After the trial, she maintained that the child was her Bruce and the Anderson family considered the boy kidnapped by the Dunbars.

William Cantwell Walters was found guilty of kidnapping and spent two years in jail before being released rather than being given another trial. The boy who may have been Bobby Dunbar was raised as Bobby Dunbar and grew to be a man and have children of his own as a Dunbar. Some stories say that he visited the Andersons and even brought his own children to see them. He passed away in 1966.

In 2004, curiosity got the better of the Dunbars. Bobby's son, Robert Dunbar Jr. consented to a DNA test, as did his "cousin," the child of Alonzo Dunbar. The results were shocking to the family. The two men were not related. They should have been first cousins, had Percy and Lessie been honest about his identity. It appears they were not. Now, the question is what happened to the real Bobby Dunbar on August 23, 1912. Had his parents did something neglectful or horrible and latched onto Bruce Anderson to cover up their mistake? Had the boy drowned? Had he been kidnapped by someone other than William Cantwell Walters? There is no way of knowing.


USA Today, Breed, Allen G., DNA clears man of 1914 kidnapping conviction, retrieved 3/17/12,

The Ghost of Bobby Dunbar, retrieved 3/17/12,