These 5 Bizarre Cases Are Stranger Than Fiction

Welcome to True Crime Tuesday where we review, recommend and generally obsess over everything crime-related.

Tom Clancy famously said, “the difference between reality and fiction? Fiction has to make sense.” Made up stories have to follow a logical sequence of events, or readers won’t be able to take it seriously. Still, thousands of people are fascinated with true crime even though the narratives in unsolved cases are full of plot holes and unanswered questions. People love to speculate about the possibilities based on the evidence available, but a neatly wrapped up ending like we get in fiction, usually never happens.

Detectives base their investigations on logic, physical evidence, and information from eye witnesses. They can follow hunches and test their theories, but in the end, they have to be able to prove what they think happened. These cases are so bizarre that it’s unlikely we’ll ever know what really happened, at least not for sure.

Dyatlov Pass Incident
On February 1, 1959, nine experienced hikers set out on a skiing expedition across the northern Urals in Sverdlovsk Oblast, Soviet Union. When the group did no reach their destination on schedule, a search and rescue team was sent out to look for them. On February 26th, the search team found the hikers’ abandoned campsite. Their tent appeared to have been cut open from the inside and all the hikers’ belongings, including shoes and gear, were left behind. Following footprints in the snow, the search party located the bodies of five of the hikers.

It took another two months to find the four remaining hikers. While autopsies on the first five indicated that they all died from hypothermia, three of the remaining hikers had suffered major injuries such as skull damage and chest fractures. One of the hikers was even missing her tongue, eyes, and parts of her facial tissue. Theories surrounding what happened to the nine hikers range from an avalanche, infrasound generated by the wind causing panic attacks, military testing gone wrong, hypothermia causing paradoxical undressing, and an animal attack, but what really happened up in the mountains, we’ll probably never know.

Frederic Bourdin
13-year-old Nicholas Barclay disappeared from his hometown of San Antonio, Texas on June 13th, 1994. Three years later, Frederic Bourdin, a 23-year-old man with a French accent surfaced claiming to be Barclay. He managed to convince the Barclay family that he was actually their 17-year-old son and that he had been held hostage by a child prostitution ring. His kidnappers even went so hard as to change the colour of his eyes from blue to brown. Bourdin lived with the Barclay family for five months before a private investigator grew suspicious and the FBI eventually tested Bourdins fingerprints and DNA, revealing he was not Nicholas Barclay.

In the documentary The Imposter, through interviews with Bourdin and the Barclay family, audiences can see how Bourdin managed to fool a family who was desperate to believe their son was alive. Although Bourdin went to prison for six years for impersonating Barclay, he went on to attempt to steal the identities of at least three more missing teenaged boys claiming that he was looking for the love and affection he never received as a child.

The Somerton Man
On December 1, 1949, the body of an unidentified man was found on Somerton Beach just south of Adelaide, South Australia. The man’s body was found with his head leaning against the sea wall with his legs outstretched and crossed at the ankles. An autopsy determined that he may have died from poisoning but the type of poison could not be identified. In one of his pant pockets, there was a scrap of paper with the Persian phrase tamám shud, meaning “ending” or “finished”, written on it. Authorities determined that the scrap of paper was from the final page of a copy of Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, authored by 12th-century poet Omar Khayyám and police managed to track down the exact book the page had been torn from. Inside the book, they found what looked like a local phone number and an encrypted message.

Because the Somerton man was found during the beginning stages of the Cold War, the mystery surrounding his identity and cause of death led to intense public scrutiny. Some believe he could have been a spy. International law enforcement have been called in to help identify the man over the yeas, but the investigation is still ongoing.

Sherri Papini
34-year-old Sherri Papini went missing on November 2, 2016 while out for a jog. She was found alive on the side of the road at 4:30 am, three weeks later, 240 km south of where she was last seen, still wearing restraints. Sherri claimed that she had been kidnapped and held captive by two Hispanic women who always wore masks. During her three week captivity, Sherri was branded, physically abused, and starved. She weighed only 87 pounds when she was found, her nose with broken, and her hair had been cut off.

The bizarre case attracted national media attention for its lack of leads, suspects, or apparent motive. Sherri’s husband Keith has been ruled out as a suspect in her kidnapping and assault, but authorities don’t seem to have any other leads. Some theories include the possibility that Sherri was kidnapped for the purpose of sex trafficking, or that she faked the entire thing to go on a bender or run away with a lover. The investigation is still ongoing.

The disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370
Malaysian Airlines flight 370 was scheduled to land in Beijing on March 8, 2014 but 38 minutes after takeoff the plane lost contact with air traffic control and vanished from from the sky. The ensuing search for the missing plane and its 227 passengers and 12 crew members has become the most costly in aviation history. A three year search spanning 120,000 square km of ocean failed to locate the plane and the disappearance is still considered one of the greatest aviation mysteries of all time.

Some debris thought to belong to the plane has surfaced but the majority of the aircraft has never been found which has of course, led to a number of conspiracy theories. Some people think the plane was “electronically hijacked” or was the target of a terrorist attack. Others think the pilot purposely crashed the plane just to end his own life, or the plane was shot down. The most recent search efforts were concluded earlier this month with no more success than previous searches. Most likely, the wreckage has sunk so deep, that it will never be found.

Courtney Hardwick

Courtney Hardwick

Courtney Hardwick is a freelance writer based in Toronto. Her work has appeared on AmongMen.com, 29secrets.com, therichest.com, and ELLECanada.com.  When she isn’t writing about relationships, and the best TV shows and books you should really already know about, she is working on her novel. She hopes to have it published by 2025. You can follow her on Twitter @Courtooo.

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