ByMark Newton, writer at
Movie Pilot Associate Editor. Email: [email protected]
Mark Newton

Whether it's the Mary Celeste, Bigfoot, or strange lights in the sky, we all love a good mystery - especially if that mystery is hiding something absolutely terrifying.

The annals of history are filled with well-known and creepy mysteries. Many of them have already been snapped up by movie producers to form the basis of their 'based on a true story' horrors, but here are five more lesser known horrific mysteries that could inspire big screen scare-fests.

1. The Hinterkaifeck Murders

The Hinterkaifeck Murders are so horrific not because we do not know what happened, but because of the exact opposite. The police have been able to create quite a detailed series of events, the only mystery is who carried out the terrible crime.

Hinterkaifeck is the unofficial name for a small homestead that was originally located near Munich, Germany. In 1922, it was home to the Gruber family and their maid - all of whom were brutally murdered in terrifying circumstances. On April 4th, 1922 all five members of the family, and their maid (who had only just started working for the family hours before) were found bludgeoned to death with a mattock.

Several days before the crime, the father of the family, Andreas Gruber, had told other townfolk he had found footsteps leading to the farm from the woods, but none leading back. He also mentioned hearing footsteps in the attic and an unfamiliar newspaper on the farm.

On Friday 31st March, police believe the older couple, Andreas and his wife Cäzilia, were lured to the barn and killed. Later their daughter, Viktoria and her seven year old daughter Cäzilia were also suffered the same fate. It is believed the younger Cäzilia survived the first assault, and now laying next to the bodies of her dead family, pulled out her own hair in tufts.

Following this, the murderer entered the house and killed the two year old Josef and the maid, Maria Baumgartner, in their bedrooms.

Their bodies were not found for four days, and there is even suggestion the killer stayed at the house. The cows were fed, food from the house had been eaten and neighbors had seen smoke from the chimney on the weekend. However, some of this activity has been attributed to neighbors who remained at the house after the bodies had been found.

So, who did it? Well, despite interviewing hundreds of suspects police have never been able to solve the murders. In 2007, they did establish a prime suspect who had already passed away. They never released the name out of respect for the living relatives.

The room of Maria Baumgartner.
The room of Maria Baumgartner.

However, one possible explanation is that the murderer could have been the vengeful husband of Viktoria - who killed the family due to rumors Viktoria was in an incestuous relationship with her own father. The only problem with this theory is that Viktoria's husband was believed to have been killed in the First World War - although his body was never found and others have claimed he survived.

2. The Tamun Shud Case

Somerton beach - the X marks the bodies location.
Somerton beach - the X marks the bodies location.

The Taman Shud Case, or the Mystery of the Somerton Man, is the unsolved case of a mysterious dead body which was found on a beach in Adelaide, South Australia in 1948.

What makes this case even weirder is that the phrase 'tamun shud,' meaning 'ended' or 'finished' in Persian, (which was taken from the final page of the The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam) was found in a secret pocket in the dead man's pants.

There are many facets to the Tamun Shud case, and many of them are rather enigmatic. The man had placed a briefcase into the local train station and, similar to his secret pocket, it contained some odd artifacts. Inside the suitcase were clothes with their labels removed, a pair of trousers with sand in the cuffs, an electrician's screwdriver, a table knife cut down into a short sharp instrument, a pair of scissors with sharpened points, and a stenciling brush.

Police released an image of the Taman Shud phrase - and its distinctive font - to the public, hoping to find the edition of the The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam it was taken from. They did one better and got the actual book. An anonymous man handed it into the police after he had found it in the back of his unlocked car two weeks before the Somerton Man's death. Found in the back of the book were pencil notes appearing to refer to some kind of code.

The code found in the book.
The code found in the book.

The case is still officially open with the Australian authorities, although it is unlikely to be solved anytime soon. One major theory concerns the mysterious man working as a spy for a national agency. This would explain his odd assortment of objects, the code, and why no one could identify him in official records. It might also explain why someone might kill him - perhaps with a cigarette laced with an untraceable poison.

Another theory links the man to a former army nurse. Her unlisted telephone number was also found in the book while his body was also located 400 meters from her house. She also had a connection to the The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, as she revealed she gave it to an army lieutenant named Alfred Boxall during the war.

The Somerton Man.
The Somerton Man.

However, Boxall was later found alive and well, still with his copy of the book. Although seeming to work for the Water Transportation Unit of the army, it has been suggested Boxall actually worked for military intelligence during the war, and The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam could have been the basis for some kind of code or communication. Indeed, when shown the bust of the dead man, the former nurse was reportedly "completely taken aback, to the point of giving the appearance that she was about to faint."

All in all, it's one rather incredible mystery.

3. The Gatton Murders

Let's stick around in Australia for a bit, but this time go back to December 26 1898.

This was the night three members of the Murphy family were found murdered and left in a bizarre arrangement on the side of a lengthy Queensland road. The trio, which consisted of Michael Murphy (29) and his two sisters Norah (27) and Ellen (18), had headed off the night before to a dance in the nearby town of Gatton. However, after finding the dance cancelled, they planned to return home in their horse and carriage.

But they never arrived. The following day, another member of the Murphy family headed out find them in Gatton. On the way he recognized the distinctive trail of their carriage (it had a wobbly wheel) and followed it off the road. In the bush we found the bodies of his three family members arranged in a strange triangle shape - one of them on a perfectly laid out blanket. No one has ever been able to explain the odd symbolism of their bodies.

An autopsy revealed Michael had been shot and bludgeoned in the head, while Ellen had her skull fractured in several places. Norah was found with a harness strap tied around her neck, which likely killed her. Investigators believe Michael and Ellen were sitting back-to-back when they were struck.

To add to the mystery, it seems the bodies were tampered with after the deaths. In particular, an open purse which was placed in Michael's hand, was moved between the time the first witnesses arrived and the bodies were removed from the scene. 15 shillings - equatable to about $100 - had also been removed.

A suspect for the murder was never found, although the police investigation drew much controversy at the time. It was believed evidence was deliberately tampered with or not investigated fully, while there were also accusations of cover-ups concerning incestuous relationships in the Murphy family.

4. Isdal Woman

The composite sketch.
The composite sketch.

The Isdal Woman is one of Norway's greatest and most bizarre mysteries. Similar to the Taman Shud case, it involves the discovery of a dead body in odd circumstances.

On November 29, 1970, a body of a partially burned and naked unidentified woman was found in Isdalen Valley in Bergen, Norway. Next to her body was found a burnt out passport, a dozen sleeping pills, a packed lunch, an empty bottle of liqueur and two empty plastic bottles that smelt of gasoline. A full scale murder investigation was launched, with the police arriving at the conclusion she had committed suicide. However, this has always been debated.

An autopsy stated she had died through a combination of burns, carbon monoxide poisoning and blunt force trauma applied to the back of her head.

Isdalen Valley - where the woman was discovered.
Isdalen Valley - where the woman was discovered.

The Isdal Woman also left some suitcases in a nearby train station. They were perplexed to discover the labels had also been removed from all clothes, that any finger prints had been removed and that 500 Deutsche Marks were hidden within the suitcase lining. A diary was also found which included several cryptic entries. Police stated these were coded entries linking to dates and European cities she had visited.

Police released a composite sketch of the woman, and several members of the public came forward to say they had seen her. Some claimed she spoke various languages including French, German, English and Dutch, while it also appears she changed hotel rooms regularly and only wanted rooms with a balcony. One witness also claimed she heard the Isdal Woman talking to a man across the hall, and stated "Ich komme bald", German for "I am coming soon."

The Isdal Woman was last seen in the area she was eventually found dead. A 26-year-old local man was hiking in the area when he crossed paths with a woman dressed elegantly and not at all suited for hiking. He claimed her face was distorted with fear, and appeared to look as if she was about to say something before walking on. He also claimed two black-coated men of foreign appearance were also following her.

5. The Ourang Medan

Not the actual Ourang Medan - purely for creepy illustrative purposes
Not the actual Ourang Medan - purely for creepy illustrative purposes

The S.S. Ourang Medan is a supposed ghost ship, which according to some, was found adrift near the Marshall Islands. When it was boarded by two American vessels navigating the Strait of Malacca, the entire crew was found on board dead.

The story first emerged in a Dutch-Indonesian newspaper De locomotief: Samarangsch handels- en advertentie-blad in 1948. According to the story, the Ourang Medan was heading from a small unnamed Chinese port to Costa Rica and was deliberately avoiding the authorities. Before being found adrift, two American vessels, the City of Baltimore and Silver Star, picked up distress signals from a Dutch merchant ship identifying itself as the Ourang Medan. The morse code message read as: "S.O.S. from Ourang Medan * * * we float. All officers including the Captain, dead in chartroom and on the bridge. Probably whole of crew dead * * *." The message was followed by a few confused dots, before two words came through clearly: "I die."

When the Silver Star found the Ourang Medan they found the deck littered with corpses, with a witness stating they were "[s]prawled on their backs, the frozen faces upturned to the sun with mouths gaping open and eyes staring, the dead bodies resembled horrible caricatures." Later a fire broke out on the Ourang Medan as it was being towed, ultimately it exploded and sank.

Unverified picture claiming to be from Ourang Medan
Unverified picture claiming to be from Ourang Medan

But the mystery doesn't end there. Later versions of the story claim a sole survivor from the ship was found by a missionary and natives on Toangi atoll in the Marshall Islands. Before dying, the missionary claimed the survivor, who was German, stated the Ourang Medan was carrying dangerous cargo, such as sulphuric acid, and that most of the crew perished from noxious fumes escaping the containers.

Ships certainly were smuggling such goods around the area - especially after the war, and sea water mixing with such agents as potassium cyanide and nitroglycerin could have resulted in poisoning, fires and the ultimately the explosion of the vessel. Some even claim the ship could have been transporting experimental Japanese nerve agents - perhaps even to the US who wanted to avoid a paper trail by using an unlicensed ship.

However, there is, of course, some who point to a paranormal solution to the mystery. They cite an apparent lack of natural causes of death, the terrified faces of the dead, and rumors they were "pointing" towards an unknown enemy.

Of course, there are also those who claim the entire story is fabricated. There is certainly no official record of the Ourang Medan, although there is for other ships involved, namely the Silver Star.


Which of these mysteries do you think would make a good horror movie?


Latest from our Creators