List of unsolved deaths (before 1900)
This article may present fringe theories, without giving appropriate weight to the mainstream view, and explaining the responses to the fringe theories.August 2015) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)(
This list of unsolved deaths before 1900 includes notable cases where victims have been murdered or have died under unknown circumstances, including murders committed by unknown serial killers. The mysteriously deceased are listed chronologically by year. For serial killer cases that span multiple years, entries are listed under the year the first murder took place.
- Ötzi, also called the Iceman, is the well-preserved natural mummy of a man who lived between 3400 and 3100 BCE. The mummy was found in September 1991 in the Ötztal Alps. The cause of death remained uncertain until 10 years after the discovery of the body. It was initially believed that Ötzi died from exposure during a winter storm. Later it was speculated that Ötzi might have been a victim of a ritual sacrifice, perhaps for being a chieftain. This explanation was inspired by theories previously advanced for the first millennium BCE bodies recovered from peat bogs such as the Tollund Man and the Lindow Man. In 2001, X-rays and a CT scan revealed that Ötzi had an arrowhead lodged in his left shoulder when he died and a matching small tear on his coat. The discovery of the arrowhead prompted researchers to theorize Ötzi died of blood loss from the wound, which would probably have been fatal even if modern medical techniques had been available. Further research found that the arrow's shaft had been removed before death, and close examination of the body found bruises and cuts to the hands, wrists and chest and cerebral trauma indicative of a blow to the head. One of the cuts was to the base of his thumb that reached down to the bone but had no time to heal before his death. Currently, it is believed that Ötzi bled to death after the arrow shattered the scapula and damaged nerves and blood vessels before lodging near the lung.
- Caesarion (17), (Ptolemy XV Philopator Philometor Caesar), 30 BC; the son of Cleopatra by Caesar, and as such the last king of the Ptolemaic dynasty of Egypt, ruling alone for eleven days, whose death at the orders of Augustus (while still Octavian) is accepted in 30 BC, and yet the exact circumstances of his death and the location of his body are not documented.
- The Emperor Valentinian II, 15/05/392; he was found hanged in his residence in Vienne in Gaul. Frankish General Arbogast claimed it was suicide, although some sources suggest that, having been dismissed by the emperor, the general had murdered him.
- Dagobert II, 679; he was one of the last Merovingian kings, murdered by persons unknown in the Ardennes Forest on 23 December.
- Momia Juanita, also known as the Inca Ice Maiden and Lady of Ampato, is the well-preserved frozen body of an Inca girl, who was murdered as an offering to the Inca gods, sometime between 1450 and 1480 when she was about 12–15 years old, by persons unknown. She was discovered on Mount Ampato (part of the Andes cordillera) in southern Peru in September 1995 by anthropologist Johan Reinhard and his Peruvian climbing partner, Miguel Zárate.
- The Holy Child of La Guardia is a folk saint in Spanish Roman Catholicism and the subject of a medieval blood libel in the town of La Guardia in the central Spanish province of Toledo (Castile–La Mancha). On 16 November 1491, an auto-da-fé was held outside of Ávila that ended in the public execution of several Jews and conversos. The suspects "had confessed" under torture to murdering a child. Among the executed were Benito Garcia, the converso who initially confessed to the murder. However, no body was ever found and there is no evidence that a child disappeared or was killed. Because of contradictory confessions, the court had trouble coherently depicting how events possibly took place. The child's true identity is unknown as well.
- Giovanni Borgia, 2nd Duke of Gandia, 1497; his body was recovered in the Tiber with his throat slit and about nine stab wounds on his torso. His father, Pope Alexander VI, launched an investigation only for it to end abruptly a week later. Theories range from the Orsini family to his own brothers, Cesare Borgia and Gioffre Borgia, having committed the crime.
- Moctezuma II, 1520, Aztec emperor; according to Spanish accounts he was killed by his own people; according to Aztec accounts he was murdered by the Spanish.
- Robert Pakington (46–47), 1536, likely to have been the first person murdered with a handgun in London.
- Plomo Mummy (also known as Boy of El Plomo, El Plomo Mumm, or La Momia del Cerro El Plomo in Spanish) is the well preserved remains of an Incan child who is said to have lived about 500 years ago, murdered by persons unknown discovered on Cerro El Plomo near Santiago, Chile in 1954.
- Expatriate English Royalists are believed to have ambushed and murdered Isaac Dorislaus in 1649, then a diplomat representing the interests of the Commonwealth to the Dutch government at The Hague, in retaliation for his role in the trial and execution of Charles I. But no suspects were ever identified, although some Royalists later boasted of having taken part.
- Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey (56), in 1678; he was found impaled on his own sword and strangled at Primrose Hill, London. Three men were hanged, but later the witness' statement was found to be perjured.
- Alessandro Stradella (38), 1682, composer; he was stabbed to death at the Piazza Banchi of Genoa. His infidelities were well known, and a nobleman of the Lomellini family may have hired the killer; but this was never proven and the identity of the killer was never discovered.
- Jean-Marie Leclair (67), 1764, violinist and composer; he was found stabbed in his Paris home. Although the murder remains a mystery, his nephew, Guillaume-François Vial, and Leclair's ex-wife were considered main suspects at the time.
- Although the colonial authorities in Pennsylvania at the time investigated the two December 1764 Paxton Boys massacres of defenseless Conestoga communities near present-day Millersville as a criminal mass murder, they were never able to identify the perpetrators, and historians have not been able to, either.
- Mary Rogers (21–22), also known as the "Beautiful Cigar Girl"; her body was found in the Hudson River on 28 July 1841. The story became a national sensation and inspired Edgar Allan Poe to write "The Mystery of Marie Rogêt" (1842).
- Fanny de Choiseul-Praslin, wife of French duke Charles de Choiseul-Praslin; she died shortly after a beating and stabbing in the family's Paris apartment on 17 August 1847. Her husband was arrested, but committed suicide during trial, protesting his innocence all along. No other suspect has ever been identified. The scandal caused by the case helped to provoke the French Revolution of 1848.
- Sakamoto Ryōma (31), was a Japanese samurai and a prominent figure in the movement to overthrow the Tokugawa shogunate who was assassinated at the Ōmiya Inn in Kyoto, not long before the Meiji Restoration took place. On the night of 10 December 1867, assassins gathered at the door of the inn and one approached and knocked, acting as an ordinary caller. The door was answered by Ryōma's bodyguard and manservant, a former sumo wrestler who told the stranger he would see if Ryōma was accepting callers at that hour of the evening. When the bodyguard turned his back, the visitor at the door drew his sword and slashed his back, which became a fatal wound. His killer remains unknown.
- Nakaoka Shintarō (29), a samurai in Bakumatsu period Japan, and a close associate of Sakamoto Ryōma in the movement to overthrow the Tokugawa shogunate. was killed on 12 December 1867 by persons unknown. His murder remains unsolved.
- Thomas C. Hindman (40), an American politician assassinated by one or more unknown assailants on 27 September 1868. The assassins fired through his parlor window while he was reading his newspaper with his children in Helena, Arkansas, United States.
- Alexander Boyd was the county solicitor of Greene County, Alabama, who was lynched by the Ku Klux Klan on 31 March 1870. His murderers were never brought to justice.
- Robert V. Richardson (49), an ex-Confederate General officer was killed in 1870 by a shotgun blast outside a tavern he was staying in at Clarkton, Missouri. He died the next day and is buried in Elmwood Cemetery in Memphis. The identity of his assailant and motive are unknown.
- Benjamin Nathan (56), a financier turned philanthropist; he was found beaten to death in his New York City home on 28 July 1870. Several suspects were identified, including Nathan's profligate son Washington, who discovered the body along with his brother. None were ever indicted, and the case remains unsolved.
- Juan Prim (56), a Spanish general and statesman; in December 1870, he was shot through the windows of his carriage by several unknown assailants and died two days later. In 2012, his body was exhumed; the ensuing autopsy showed he may have been strangled in his deathbed, but results were deemed inconclusive.
- Sharon Tyndale (65), former Illinois Secretary of State, was robbed and shot fatally as he walked from his house in Springfield to the train station nearby early on the morning of 29 April 1871. No suspect was ever found.
- Henry Weston Smith (49), a minister, was found dead on the road between his home in Crook City, South Dakota, and Deadwood, where he was going to give a sermon, on 20 August 1876. While he was not robbed, it has never been established who was responsible for his death, and what their motives were.
- George Colvocoresses (55), Greek American naval commander and explorer, died of a gunshot wound while returning to a ferryboat on 3 June 1872, in Bridgeport, Connecticut. The insurance company claimed it was suicide, and while it eventually settled with his family the case has never been solved.
- Martin DeFoor (73), an early settler of Atlanta, Georgia, was along with his wife the victim of an unsolved axe murder on their farm on 25 July 1879.
- Two trials in Canada's Black Donnellys massacre, in which five members of a family of Irish immigrants were found murdered in the ashes of their Ontario farm after an angry mob attacked it on 4 February 1880, allegedly as a result of feuds with their neighbors, resulted in all the suspects being acquitted.
- John Henry Blake (74), agent for one of Ireland's more despised British landlords, was shot and killed along with his driver on their way to Mass outside Loughrea on 29 June 1882. The case received considerable attention at the time because Blake's boss, Hubert de Burgh-Canning, 2nd Marquess of Clanricarde, was a nobleman. Although his wife survived the attack, she was unable to help identify any suspects, and the case remains unsolved.
- The Whitehall Mystery In 1888, the dismembered remains of a woman were discovered at three different sites in the centre of London, including the future site of Scotland Yard.
- Print Matthews (43), a Reconstruction-era supporter of civil rights and former sheriff of Copiah County, Mississippi, was shot and killed by a neighbor as he attempted to vote on 6 November 1883, in defiance of threats against his life. The neighbor was subsequently acquitted by an all-white jury.
- The Rahway murder of 1887 also known as Unknown Woman and Rahway Jane Doe is the murder of an unidentified young woman whose body was found in Rahway, New Jersey on 25 March 1887. Four brothers traveling to work at the felt mills by Bloodgood's Pond in Clark, New Jersey early one morning found the young woman lying off Central Avenue near Jefferson Avenue several hundred feet from the Central Avenue Bridge over the Rahway River. Her body was very bloody and had administered a beating. Her case remains unsolved.
- John M. Clayton (48), American politician, shot and killed instantly by an unknown assailant on the evening of 29 January 1889 in Plumerville, Arkansas, after starting an investigation into the possible fraud of an election he took part in. After his death he was declared the winner of the election, but his assassin was never found.
- Andrew Jackson Borden and Abby Durfee Borden, father and stepmother of Lizzie Borden, both killed in their family house in Fall River, Massachusetts on the morning of 4 August 1892, by blows from a hatchet. In the case of Andrew Borden, the hatchet blows not only crushed his skull but cleanly split his left eyeball. Lizzie was later arrested and charged for the murders. She was the only one in the house at the time of the killing of Mrs. Borden. Lizzie and the maid, Bridget Sullivan, were the only ones in the home when Mr. Borden was killed. She was acquitted by a jury in the following year of 1893 and the case remains unsolved.
- The Gatton murders occurred 1.5 miles (2.4 km) from the rural Australian town of Gatton, Queensland, on 26 December 1898. Siblings Michael, Norah and Ellen Murphy were found deceased the morning after they left home to attend a dance in the town hall which had been cancelled. The bodies were arranged with the feet pointing west and both women had their hands tied with handkerchiefs. This signature aspect has never been repeated in Australian crime and to date remains a mystery.
Unsolved serial killer murders
- Servant Girl Annihilator (a.k.a. Austin Axe Murderer), Austin, Texas, USA, 1884–85.
- Thames Torso murders, London, England, 1887–89.
- Whitechapel murders by Jack the Ripper, London, England, 1888.
Other unsolved deaths
- Zoroaster (77), also known as Zarathustra Zaraθuštra, Zarathushtra Spitama or Ashu Zarathushtra was an ancient Iranian-speaking spiritual leader who founded what is now known as Zoroastrianism who lived during 1500 BC – 1000 BC, and was said to have been able to perform miracles. There are different ideas to how he died one being stated by later Pahlavi sources like Shahnameh, claim that an obscure conflict with Tuiryas people led to his death, murdered by a karapan (a priest of the old religion) named Brādrēs, yet his exact death date and death cause remain uncertain.
- Cleopatra (39), the last ruler of Ptolemaic Egypt, died on either 10 or 12 August 30 BC in Alexandria. According to popular belief, Cleopatra committed suicide by allowing an asp (Egyptian cobra) to bite her. According to Greek and Roman historians, Cleopatra poisoned herself using either a toxic ointment or sharp implement such as a hairpin. Primary source accounts are derived mainly from the works of the ancient Roman historians Strabo, Plutarch, and Cassius Dio. Modern scholars debate the validity of ancient reports involving snakebites as the cause of death and whether she was murdered. Some academics hypothesize that her Roman political rival Octavian forced her to commit suicide in the manner of her choosing. The location of Cleopatra's tomb is unknown.
- The Younger Lady, who had lived during the Eighteenth Dynasty of Egypt is the informal name given to a mummy whose death cause is unknown who was discovered in the Egyptian Valley of the Kings, in tomb KV35 by archaeologist Victor Loret in 1898. Her identity remains unknown as well.
- A mummified man found high in the Alps at the Austrian-Italian border in 1991, later named Ötzi, is believed to have died in the 31st–32nd centuries B.C. For ten years after the discovery, his death was attributed to hypothermia; however, later X-rays found an arrowhead lodged in his shoulder, matching a small tear on his coat. The wound would likely have been fatal even today, but the body shows evidence of other blunt force trauma, including a blow to the head which most likely killed him. The blood of four other individuals was also found on his effects. Theories of his death now include murder, battle, or a mercy killing when his injuries proved untreatable. It has also been suggested that his body was moved there after his death, or after the injuries.
- Alexander the Great (32), died in 323 B.C. after a short illness. Exactly what the illness was is a subject of debate; some[weasel words] historians believe there is a possibility he was poisoned.
- Orgetorix, 58 BC, who was a wealthy aristocrat among the Helvetii, a Celtic-speaking people residing in what is now Switzerland during the consulship of Julius Caesar of the Roman Republic was trying to seize Gaul, and for this was put on trial. After this his death cause is disputed.
- Apollonius of Tyana (100), 100 AD, a Greek Neopythagorean philosopher from the town of Tyana in the Roman province of Cappadocia in Anatolia. It was said that he was able to disappear and immediately reappear in another place. The circumstances of his death remain a mystery.
- King William II of England (43–44), 1100, was killed by an arrow while hunting; it may not have been an accident.
- Margaret Hanmer (49–50), 1420, was the wife of Owain Glyndŵr is said to have died, yet her death was never recorded and her body was never found.
- Princes in the Tower used to refer to Edward V, King of England and Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York who disappeared in the summer of 1483. In 1674, workmen at the Tower dug up a wooden box containing two small human skeletons. The bones were found in a box under the staircase in the Tower of London. The bones were widely accepted at the time as those of the princes, but this has not been proven and is far from certain. King Charles II had the bones buried in Westminster Abbey, where they remain.
- Amy Dudley (28), 1560, was the first wife of Lord Robert Dudley, favourite of Elizabeth I of England. She is primarily known for her death by falling down a flight of stairs, the circumstances of which have often been regarded as suspicious.
- Laurens de Graaf (51), was last known to be near Louisiana on 24 May 1704 where he was to help set up a French colony near present-day Biloxi, Mississippi. Some sources claim he died there, while others claim he died at different locations in Alabama. His cause of death is unknown.
- Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (35), composer, died on 5 December 1791. The circumstances of his death have attracted much research and speculation as it remains unclear whether he died from disease or poisoning. There have also been outlandish conspiracy theories.
- The Female Stranger (23) refers to an unnamed individual who died in 1816 and was elevated to national intrigue by the mysterious headstone and romanticized tale. Accounts of the stranger increase in oddity over time and help to incite further speculation as to the identity of the person buried in the grave. The reported location of the woman's death, Room 8 at Gadsby's Tavern, is also a tourist destination, and supposedly her ghostly visage can be seen standing at the window.
- A boat with three skeletons of sailors was discovered that washed up on Ducie Island. during the 1820s–1830s, who are thought to be Obed Hendricks, William Bond and Joseph West from the whaler Essex. Although it was suspected to be Hendricks' missing boat, and the remains those of Hendricks, Bond, and West, the remains have never been positively identified.
- Paul Johann Anselm Ritter von Feuerbach (57), German legal scholar, died on 29 May 1833. The circumstances remain unclear – his family as well as he himself shortly before his death believed that he had been poisoned due to his protection of and research work on Kaspar Hauser, who himself died the same year under suspicious circumstances (see below).
- The events that led to the death of German youth Kaspar Hauser (21), remain a mystery, just like many other points regarding his life and identity. On 14 December 1833, he came home with a deep stab wound in his chest of which he died three days later. While he had claimed to have been attacked, the court of enquiry doubted this due to inconsistencies in his claims and speculated that he wounded himself to seek attention and revive the fading public interest in him, a theory that is also supported by some historians today.
- Thomas Simpson (31), was a Scottish Arctic explorer, Hudson's Bay Company agent and cousin of Company Governor Sir George Simpson. His violent death in what is now the state of Minnesota allegedly by suicide after gunning down two traveling companions in the wilderness on 6 June 1840 has long been a subject of controversy and has never been solved.
- Edgar Allan Poe (40), American writer, editor, and literary critic, died on 7 October 1849, under circumstances that remained mysterious. The circumstances leading up to it are uncertain and the cause of death is disputed. On 3 October 1849 he was found delirious in Baltimore, Maryland, "in great distress, and ... in need of immediate assistance", according to the man who found him, Joseph W. Walker. He was taken to the Washington College Hospital, where he died days later.
- Zachary Taylor (65), was the 12th president of the United States, serving from March 1849 until his death in July 1850. Almost immediately after his death, rumors began to circulate that Taylor was poisoned by pro-slavery Southerners, and similar theories persisted into the 21st century. In 1978, Hamilton Smith based his assassination theory on the timing of drugs, the lack of confirmed cholera outbreaks, and other material. In the late 1980s, Clara Rising, a former professor at University of Florida, persuaded Taylor's closest living relative to agree to an exhumation so that his remains could be tested. His death cause remains unknown.
- Solomon Northup (48–49), American author who during the summer of 1857, Northup was in Canada for a series of lectures. It was widely reported that Northup was in Streetsville, Ontario, but that a hostile Canadian crowd prevented him from speaking. There is no contemporaneous documentation of his whereabouts after that time. The location and circumstances of his death are unknown.
- Zeng Guofan (60), a Chinese statesman, military general, and Confucian scholar of the late Qing dynasty. He is best known for raising and organizing the Xiang Army to aid the Qing military in suppressing the Taiping Rebellion and restoring the stability of the Qing Empire. Along with other prominent figures such as Zuo Zongtang and Li Hongzhang of his time, Zeng set the scene for the Tongzhi Restoration, an attempt to arrest the decline of the Qing dynasty, who died in 1872 of mysterious reasons.
- L'Inconnue de la Seine was the name given to an unidentified young woman who according to an often-repeated story, was pulled out of the River Seine at the Quai du Louvre in Paris around the late 1880s. Since the body showed no signs of violence, suicide was suspected.
- Colorado rancher Gottlieb Fluhmann (55), was last seen alive in 1892. His disappearance was not resolved until his bones were found in a secluded Park County cave in 1944; the cause of his death could not be determined.
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- "The Strange Death of Zachary Taylor", by Tony Seybert, The Daily Kos
- Hamilton Smith, "The Interpretation of the Arsenic Content of Human Hair," Journal of the Forensic Science Society, vol. 4, summarized in Sten Forshufvud and Ben Weider, Assassination at St. Helena (Vancouver, Canada: Mitchell Press, 1978).
- McLeod, Michael (25 July 1993). "Clara Rising, Ex-uf Prof Who Got Zachary Taylor Exhumed". Orlando Sentinel.
- "Freedom in Canada". Boston Herald. 25 August 1857. p. 2.
- Lo Wang, Hansi. "'12 Years' Is The Story of a Slave Whose End Is A Mystery". NPR. Retrieved 7 January 2014.
- "Death of Solomon Northup, author of 12 Years A Slave, still a mystery". The National. Retrieved 6 May 2019.
- Franklin Ng (1995). The Asian American encyclopedia, Volume 5. Marshall Cavendish. p. 1457. ISBN 1-85435-684-4. Search this book on
- Elizabeth Bronfen, Over her Dead Body: Death, Femininity and the Aesthetic, MUP, 1992, p. 207
- Grange, Jeremy (16 October 2013). "Mystery of the world's most-kissed woman". BBC.
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