The Internet is littered with stories that seem completely insane when you read the headline, but turn out to have fairly straightforward explanations once you get a few links deep. And then there are the stories that get weirder the more research you do. One question leads to another, and soon you're down a rabbit hole where the world isn't even trying to make sense anymore. We found 10 of them, because we'd hate for you to actually put in a productive day at the office ...
#10. Mystery Boy Emerges from the Woods
In September 2011, a mysterious teenage boy suddenly appeared, like a wild Pokemon, from a German forest.
He claimed to have wandered the woods for five years with his father, living off the land, after his mother, Doreen, had died in a car accident. He said his father had just died, and had told the boy to turn himself in to authorities if that should happen. The boy did as he was told: He put his father in the ground, turned toward Berlin and walked two weeks until he got there.
The boy, who called himself Ray, couldn't remember anything that had happened earlier than five years ago, and spoke terrible German but impeccable English. Imaginations ran wild, with mental images of an English family getting into a car accident in Germany and the father and son bolting into the wilderness to spend the rest of their lives in the woods. Were they secretly spies, like in that movie Hannah? What had Ray's father been hiding him from for five years? Will he lead us against the robots when they eventually rise? Or is this more of a parenting by Jungle Book type of deal?
"I tried living with the wolves, but the ass-sniffing just got to be too much."
That's what was so great about the story. There was just enough to get you intrigued, but so many gaps in the information that you could fill in your own details. But this is the sort of story you see all the time on News of the Weird that turns out to have a simple explanation -- Ray would end up being a meth head from Florida visiting his sister or something.
And while police have since suggested that Ray's story doesn't quite add up, the holes they've shot in it only deepen the mystery. For instance, linguistics experts determined that English was probably his second language -- not because he had a thick Serbian accent or anything, but because he spoke it too perfectly. Nobody who was from England would speak it without any trace of a regional accent. Then there was his adamant refusal to let them publish his photograph. Authorities pointed out that this would be the best way to find any relatives who might be looking for him. No dice. Is Ray secretly a vampire? Is there someone out there looking for him? If so, why go to the authorities with an elaborate back story? Does the person who's looking for you only check pictures in the newspaper?
Artist's approximation of "Ray."
Their forensics team also concluded from looking at the tent he carried with him and the clothes he had on his back that Ray hadn't lived in the woods very long, and police were unable to find records of any car crashes that killed a woman named Doreen.
Some speculate that Ray was a really desperate immigrant hoping to get in on some of the EU's sweet, sweet social services. But how is his English so impeccable if he's just some kid looking for a free handout? Why such a convoluted and high-publicity plot with unnecessary dramatic flourishes like his mother's car accident? Why say his amnesia started five years ago when he could have said he just got amnesia and saved himself from having to make up five extra years of story?
Calling it now: He's a Hitler clone.
Perhaps the most curious detail is how the story ends. Despite the fact that they're paying 7,000 euros a month to keep the kid in custody, authorities in Berlin have told the media, "We have nothing more to say on this subject ... There will be no more information forthcoming on this case." The tone suggests that the authorities are also frustrated by the confusing movie premise nobody can quite untangle, or maybe it's just another sign that there's some strange coverup going on, and that's just how severe German bureaucrats say, "Move along, people. Nothing to see here."
#9. The Palm Tree Murderer of Galveston
In May of 2009, someone declared war on the palm trees of Galveston, Texas. Over three months, this mysterious tree-hater burned 34 palm trees in the city, one at a time. One witness reported seeing a man actually laughing under one of the burning palm trees, like some kind of tree-destroying mastermind.
"AT LAST! SWEET REVENGE!"
Things go from creepy to "OK, David Lynch is officially directing the news" when you learn that the victims may have been targeted by species: All 34 trees were specifically Washingtonia robusta or Mexican fan palms. Like many victims in these stories, they were struck with tragedy just as they had overcome great odds -- they were among the only tree species to survive a recent rash of hurricanes. They had probably just gotten back on their feet and were all set to start tree families and go to tree college when it was all torn away from them. The police began looking into the possibility that hurricanes Ike and Rita had hired a hit man to finish the job they started, but soon realized that was ridiculous, and suggested that all this anthropomorphizing was maybe getting a bit out of hand.
I heard one of them had a full scholarship from Stanford to start at mascot.
But those 34 trees would be remembered, and life would go on for the other Mexican fan palms. And as one year, then two passed, it seemed like tragedy was far behind them. And then somebody started torching trees again.
They still don't know who it is.
#8. France's Mission Impossible Fun Team
In 2004, Paris police officers went on a training exercise in the catacombs beneath their city's streets -- not the most common exercise in most cities, but routine enough in Paris -- and stumbled upon a mystery. They found a tarp that said, "Building site -- no access" and pushed it aside, finding a tunnel with a desk and a closed-circuit camera pointed at them, as guard dogs started barking ferociously.
Why do dogs always try to scare you away with the loud barking? Why not a creepy stare?
The dogs turned out to be a tape recording, designed to scare people away from an elaborate and fully functional underground movie theater, with a full-sized movie screen, chairs and terraces carved out of the rock and a quality film collection of classics and recent thrillers.
They also found swastikas, Celtic crosses and Stars of David painted on the ceiling, and this whole bizarre mix understandably led them to call in the bomb squad and evacuate the area when they found a fat metal object covered with wires, which of course turned out to be a couscous maker.
Whoever was behind this had done a very sophisticated job of tapping into the city's electricity system so that the police could not make heads or tails of it and had to bring in experts from the utility company to trace it. By the time they returned with the experts, the wiring had been disconnected and everything was gone, except a note saying "Ne cherchez pas," or "Do not search."
It would have remained a mystery if the group involved hadn't spoken up, which they presumably did because they realized that the truth was much stranger than any of the explanations a non-crazy person could have constructed for himself. They call themselves UX, and they not only build secret cinemas for film festivals in the least convenient places possible, but also liked to secretly restore historical landmarks behind the authorities' backs.
Speaking of which, maybe someone should get around to this sometime.
For instance, the UX decided the historic clock at the heavily guarded Paris Pantheon had been broken for too long, and so they undertook a ridiculously complex Ocean's Eleven style scheme to steal it ... wait, sorry, that was logic taking over. They designed an elaborate scheme to repair the clock over the course of a year, which involved constantly breaking into the museum undetected and setting up an entire secret workshop and lounge with chairs, worktables, an electrical system secretly wired to the city grid and a computer with an Internet connection.
Most people don't have living rooms this nice.
Organizations from Boy Scout troops to historical societies are always putting in volunteer time to restore cultural stuff, but for some reason, UX (specifically, UX's restoration branch, Untergunther) has no interest in it unless it involves sneaking around.
And they might have a point, because once UX proudly let the authorities know the clock was fixed, officials fired the Pantheon's administrator for not catching them and broke the clock again, taking away a vital component and locking it up in the office so no one could ever fix the clock again.
One of these parts ... somewhere in there.
One big question is why a sophisticated band with enough expertise to rob a bank or steal state secrets has decided to focus their efforts on doing clock restorations and film festivals behind people's backs, but maybe the bigger question is whether someone could really be so cartoonishly villainous as to rebreak a beautifully restored historical landmark out of spite.
#7. The Two Madeleines
At first it appeared to be an open and shut case of identity theft, and then the bottom dropped out and the world began spinning around anyone who was following it. A lot of people like to pretend to be someone else -- usually someone rich, or influential, or prestigious, like a doctor, or professor, or porn star. Not a lot of elderly women aspire to reinvent themselves in the form of an almost identical elderly woman, which is why the Madeleine Mores story was so odd.
The case centered around two 83-year-old Frenchwomen claiming to be the same person, a certain Madeleine Mores, born in 1924 to Albert and Anna Mores in Tellancourt, and given away at age 7. From that point, both claimed to have been given to foster families and lived hardscrabble, uninteresting lives (one worked in a jam factory and one worked in a bolt factory) up until age 83.
Left: The glamour of a jam factory. Right: The glamour of a bolt factory.
Madeleine 1 ended up moving to Algeria with her husband for 40 years, and returned to France in 2004, after he died. She went to the pension office to fill out her forms and start collecting her pension, only to be told she'd already been collecting it for 20 years. By the time she came face-to-face with Madeleine 2, who was collecting the pension, she was pretty pissed off.
"It took 83 years of not dying to earn that money!"
And for good reason. DNA tests later showed that Madeleine 1 was the "real" Madeleine Mores. The most obvious explanation would be identity theft for the pension money. They even found a photo of the two women together, giving them a plausible time and place where Madeleine 2 could have swiped Madeleine 1's identity.
But the more the authorities looked into the seemingly straightforward case, the less it looked like identity theft. Why didn't Madeleine 2 flee when the real person showed up, or at least when it came time for the DNA test? Madeleine 2 showed every sign of really believing she was the real Madeleine Mores, and stood her ground just as stubbornly as Madeleine 1. And what about that sweet, sweet pension? First of all, Madeleine 2 had ample documentation of her work history in her adult years, which proved that she would have been eligible for a similar pension on her own merits, without having to steal someone else's.
"I'm not leaving until I get my jam/bolt money!"
Perhaps strangest of all is the photo of the two women together in their 40s, when Madeleine 2 was supposed to be stealing Madeleine 1's identity. Neither woman remembers the photo being taken, and both swear they had never met the other woman.
The authorities are now digging up orphanage records to see if there was some kind of administrative mix-up, on the off chance that they're able to find accurate paperwork from pre-WWII. Even if it does turn out that the two ladies were given one identity as children, they'll still have to explain how those same two women ended up in the same photograph and managed to completely forget about that time they met someone with the same first and last names and identical background. But seriously, good luck with that, guys!
It'd be easier to just blame the Nazis and write two checks.
#6. The Piggyback Bandit
We've all had discussions about which superpowers we'd pick, but we're pretty sure nobody's list has ever contained the ability to convince high school athletes to give you a piggyback ride. However, that would appear to be Sherwin Shayegan's power.
Shayegan is a 28-year-old man who has repeatedly shown up to high school sports games in multiple U.S. states for the sole purpose of getting piggyback rides from players.
AP Photo Via ESPN
He's in the Cats uniform, blending in like a champ.
He isn't mentally disabled, although he sometimes pretends to be to get people's guards down. But that's just one of the tools in his bizarrely effective tool kit. He consistently manages to con his way into locker rooms and other restricted areas, and has actually talked a number of players -- these are high school jocks here -- into voluntarily hoisting his 240-pound frame onto their backs and letting him ride them around like donkeys.
The athletic director of a league he's hit warns that, "He's very smart. He knows how to play the system. He just knows what to say and how to say it." That quote implies that there's a system in place to prevent unearned piggyback rides at high school athletic events, which there isn't, because, and we can't stress this enough, people don't give each other piggyback rides after high school athletic events. It's just not a thing that happens. And yet, where we see a bunch of sweaty kids lining up to shake hands or getting post-game pep talks from their coaches, he sees a bunch of people who should be carrying him around like a baby chimp.
"Yeah, I was just walking back to the locker room at halftime, when ..."
He's passed himself off as a visiting team manager, a student interviewing athletes for a term paper and countless other fake identities that get him into the locker room, but don't make it any less strange that he's asking to ride people. And that's what's so strange about Shayegan, and why all the stories about him are so goddamn surreal. It's like he's tapped into a weird alternate version of logic where the universal rules of cause and effect have crossed wires, and being a visiting team manager at a high school basketball game causes the players on the home team to let you be physically intimate with them. There's no way for a journalist to write a news story about his universe without being completely sucked into a world where all of this makes sense.
It's safe to assume he is not making this face when he manages to convince people.
Since he's a giant man, and occasionally just goes ahead and jumps right onto the athletes' backs, he's been banned from attending sporting events in five states and even arrested on assault charges, although he always manages to make bail. He's allegedly been doing this since he was in high school himself, so it looks like he's pretty set on making newspapers write baffling piggyback stories until the laws of reason flip upside down and devour themselves.