6 Famous People Whose Identities We Still Don't Know
We live in a culture that doesn't exactly value anonymity. It's difficult to grab lunch at a drive-through without having to check in on at least three social media sites, for example.
To get an idea of how much things have changed, there are some people who have become world-famous icons, but whose names no one knows. We only know them as ...
The Tiananmen Square Guy
In June 1989, the world was cleaning up the Exxon Valdez spill, waiting for the Berlin Wall to fall down, getting ready for the career of M.C. Hammer to start and watching China protest communism. The protests for democracy started in April in Beijing and went on until early June, when Chinese authorities realized, "Wait, aren't we China? We don't tolerate this shit."
"Holy balls, we have an army? Guys, I know what to do about those protests."
Thus, authorities immediately ordered an end to the protests, and China cracked down firmly on all the protesters, with troops and tanks storming Beijing and its focal point, Tiananmen Square. Protesters fled from the carnage. Except for one lone bystander.
This man is either an enduring symbol of the human spirit or tragically nearsighted.
The bystander, holding shopping bags, blocked a line of tanks heading into the square, and then climbed onto a tank and started talking to the crew. This happened for a few minutes until two random people ran up and dragged him away before the tank crew could contemplate how they would clean their tank treads of protester.
That man, who briefly stopped the government tanks all by himself and appeared in one of the most iconic photos and pieces of video in world history, was never heard from again.
So Who Was He?
After the incident, reports were incomplete and contradictory. British newspapers reported that the man was possibly a 19-year-old student named Wang Weilin. Others said he wasn't. The paper went on to claim he was arrested for trying to subvert communism and for "hooliganism" (China apparently having a completely different idea of what "hooliganism" is). However, no man by the name of Wang Weilin, outside of a number of Guitar Hero avatars, is known to exist.
"I don't care about politics, I just want to be known as Tank Man."
When the Communist Party of China checked his name out, they claimed to find no records of him ever existing. Many Western officials have maintained that the man was executed a few weeks after the incident, while people who were at the protests claim that he is alive and well somewhere in China.
In 1990, during an interview with Barbara Walters, the General Secretary of the Communist Party said he didn't know whether the man was arrested, but he reassuringly said, "I think never killed."
"Plus I forgot my wallet today. I'm just so flaky!"
We may never know who he was, but the man did what many others could not: walk up to a column of moving tanks and live to tell about it. For a while, at least.
The Kissers on V-J Day in Times Square
V-J Day, or Victory over Japan Day, brought worldwide joy (well, except in Japan) and signaled the end of World War II in 1945. Many images of V-J Day are downright iconic, such as the "Dancing Man of V-J Day in Sydney" picture.
Seconds before the rest of town joined him in an unrehearsed yet weirdly well-choreographed performance.
The best known, though, is Alfred Eisenstaedt's picture of a sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square. Since the photo was taken in 1945, the identity of the kissers in one of the most iconic photographs of all time has remained huge in public debate.
So Who Were They?
The lengths to which people went to prove they were the couple in the photo were so over-the-top ridiculous you'd think there was some kind of major cash prize involved.
"That giant plaster G.I. Joe was me, dammit!"
The real controversy is about the male sailor -- the woman in the photo is generally agreed to be a former nurse named Edith Shain, who claimed that she had been working and heard on the news that the war was over. She ran out into the street and a sailor embraced her and kissed her. Feeling gratitude for the services rendered by the U.S. armed forces, she let him do it. Plus, he was trained to kill people, so there's that. There's still some debate about this, but not nearly as much as the debate surrounding the guy.
For example: How much pepper spray is appropriately patriotic?
At least a dozen men have made prominent claims to being the sailor in the photograph, and they've gone to great lengths to prove it. One gentleman had a distinctive birthmark that apparently matched up with the man in the picture, and he and Shain actually briefly dated after a "reunion" set them up with each other afterward. Another man named Glen McDuffie took and passed 10 polygraph tests to prove his identity. McDuffie also posed while kissing a pillow for 100 photos taken by a criminal consultant who specialized in facial recognition techniques.
"I don't care what creepy fetish you have, just please stop pocketing those photos."
The one with the best story, however, has to be George Mendonsa, who had his picture analyzed by the Mitsubishi Electric Research Lab (MERL) in Cambridge, Mass., to prove his identity. He claimed to have been drinking fairly generously on V-J Day and was on a date with the woman he would later marry. They left a movie and saw crowds of people in the street screaming that the war had ended. He saw a nurse walking by, and he kissed her. The kicker: according to Mendonsa, his wife is actually in one of the pictures in the background. And she's apparently into "open relationships," because she's smiling pretty broadly.
"Look honey, we're on camera! Feel her up!"
The Zodiac Killer
In the late 1960s, California had two plagues: hippies and the Zodiac Killer. Named after the pseudonym he used in letters he sent to area police, he is one of the most notorious serial killers in modern history. His victims were couples in areas outside of San Francisco in 1968 and 1969; authorities were able to confirm at least five people killed and two people injured, but Zodiac claimed to have killed dozens more. He also left a series of cryptic notes and was seen twice -- once wearing a strange hood, and once without it.
He ran out of evil-looking clothing after the hood and the sunglasses.
Since the killings ended, the Zodiac murders have become one of the best-known not only in the U.S., but around the world. Zodiac's use of cryptic letters and his penchant for leaving bizarre, encrypted clues have inspired many movie and TV serial killers' modus operandi.
As long as their M.O.s consist of wandering around wearing silly glasses and old bed sheets.
So Who Was He?
To this day, the Zodiac Killer has never been caught. A prime suspect wasn't even found until 1991, when one Arthur Leigh Allen was arrested. He was a match for the appearance of the killer, and even owned the same type of typewriter used for the infamous notes. Also, he had conversations with coworkers at a gas station about an idea for a book about a killer called Zodiac who would murder couples on lovers' lane, just like the real Zodiac did. And he had numerous bombs and weapons in his basement. And a survivor identified Allen as the killer.
Well, shit, why is this a mystery? There's your man.
Actually, no. Allen's fingerprints did not match Zodiac's. The man was never even charged. In case you think the cops just blew it, in 2002, his DNA was tested against that collected in 1968, with a soundly negative match. Despite all those weird connections, he's not the guy. And while a few others have come forward, they have been cleared as well.
Clearly the culprit was Jack Skellington.
Now, to be clear, lots of people get away with murder. Hell, there are other serial killers who were never caught. But this guy not only was the subject of a nationwide obsession and a furious, expensive investigation, but he also wrote numerous letters to the police. How long do you think you'd evade capture for jaywalking if you did such a thing? You've got potential DNA, fingerprints, writing style analysis, psychological profiling from your letter content, witnesses watching you mail it, tracking on the letter-writing equipment and supplies, tracking back to places your letters were mailed from, DNA and fingerprints at those locations ... need we go on? You'd think the guy would have been booked that same freaking afternoon.
"Hi, is this the Zodiac Killer? It is? Cool. Hold for a moment, please."
Instead, the case is still open, but the police are no closer to finding the killer than they were over 40 years ago.
The Woman Who Could Prove or Disprove all JFK Conspiracy Theories
For those of you who failed basic history, well-known playboy (and American president) John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, TX, in November of 1963.
There's probably a movie about it somewhere.
Kennedy was shot by a local communist named Lee Harvey Oswald from a building across the street from Kennedy's passing motorcade, but there are a number of major conspiracy theories that postulate that either the actual killer, or least a second shooter, was positioned on a small embankment now known as "the grassy knoll."
People present at the assassination saw what happened -- some a little better than others. Among these, probably the best-known person never to be identified is the "babushka lady." While wearing said babushka, she is seen in the Zapruder film (the only recording of the assassination) standing directly across the street from the motorcade when the car was fired upon. Even more, she was taking pictures of it ... pointing her camera right at the grassy knoll.
"Wow, I have a great view of all those Cubans and mafia members with those rifles!"
Essentially, if the conspiracy theories are true and there was a secret shooter over on the grassy knoll, it's pretty likely that, unless she had her lens cap on the whole time, the babushka lady took several pictures of him.
So Who Was She?
Amazingly, despite numerous clear photos of the woman that day, no one has yet been identified. Only one person has really even come forward. In 1970, a late night dancer (i.e., stripper) named Beverly Oliver came forward as the babushka lady. She even wrote a book, claiming federal agents came and took her film, never to give it back. Convincing, until you look at the little things like the fact she doesn't have proof she was even there, or that she claimed to use a camera model not made until the late 1960s, or how video experts say the woman was clearly middle-aged, while Oliver was just 17 at the time.
Well, maybe 17 in Russia.
Of course, what makes the JFK assassination conspiracy so fascinating to people is the idea that someone could actually have gotten away with killing a world leader. From John Wilkes Booth to Gavrilo Princip, assassins usually wind up with their names in the pages of history books. But not ...
The Killer of Sweden's Prime Minister
In 1986, the Prime Minister of Sweden, Olof Palme, was on his way home from a movie with his wife in downtown Stockholm. A man holding a handgun leaped out of the shadows and pointed the gun at him. But Palme's bodyguards quickly overpowered him, right? Well, no, as Palme did not really believe in bodyguards, because Sweden is safe and everything. Kind of a mistake, because he was shot and soon died.
Something tells us Cancer Man is behind all of this.
The killing raised several questions about Prime Minister security, gun control in Sweden and, probably most urgent, who the hell did it. Assassins are always out for the spotlight, right? To promote whatever insane cause turned them into assassins? And even if not, it's not like they could survive a nationwide manhunt. Right?
Unless he hid in the cinema at a time where there would be no other witnesses,
like during a showing of Police Academy 2.
So Who Was He?
It would be more than two years before a suspect was even arrested. Palme's wife picked a junkie named Christer Pettersson out of a lineup, but he was let go because the weapon wasn't found, he had no real motive to commit the crime and Mrs. Palme doubted herself in picking him.
Apparently looking like a criminal isn't an offense.
With no suspect, Swedish authorities have gone international. Numerous theories have been put forth, ranging from German terrorist groups to Yugoslavian hitmen. But perhaps most convincing is the argument for apartheid-era South Africa ordering the hit.
Or according to the film, a random British guy, which is the go-to bad guy for all films everywhere.
Palme was known to speak out against apartheid, and one week before he was killed had said, "Apartheid cannot be reformed, it has to be eliminated." Palme was also working on getting an early release for Nelson Mandela, who could have been president much earlier than his election in 1994. Former South African police have even given Swedish authorities the names of the men who they claim ordered it and did the shooting. But, as of now, the assassin remains the only killer of a Western prime minister or president in history to ever escape unknown.
Jack the Ripper
When the words "serial killer" and "Victorian era" are combined, chances are you land on pretty much the best-known serial killer of all time: Jack the Ripper. Terrorizing London's prostitutes in 1888, Saucy Jack managed to kill five prostitutes while leaving London all aflutter on who it was, thinking up insane theories, calling for blood and criticizing the police.
So pretty much like today, except their political drawings were comprehensible.
The London police did all they could: going door to door asking about the murders, investigating suspects, erasing vital clues written on city buildings and pretty much doing the equivalent of a 19th century CSI team. Yet nobody brought in Jack or came forward claiming to be him, and by 1890 the hysteria had died down.
English authorities got back to what they did best: harassing the Irish.
So Who Was He?
Despite being a cold case pretty much from 1888, we still have no idea who the guy was. Pretty much any detail about the case is disputed. For example, police thought, due to the way the killings occurred, that the Ripper could be a surgeon or a butcher. Others said it was impossible, as the killings required almost no skill. The press and the police at the time also did not agree on the suspects. The police mainly favored immigrants and eccentric citizens, while the press suspected anyone from doctors to mental patients with syphilis. Even today's researchers can't agree, with new suspects including members of the royal family and Alice in Wonderland author Lewis Carroll.
"Oh dear," Alice said, "my experiences with prostitutes seem to always end the same way."
Like the Zodiac Killer, Jack also left a number of clues. At one murder scene he scrawled, "The Juwes will not be blamed" on the wall. And as Cracked has noted elsewhere, he actually mailed a letter to the police, with a half-cannibalized human kidney enclosed. Unfortunately, the police actually lost all evidence of the letter and kidney, thus ensuring that modern day DNA, fingerprinting, handwriting and paper-type analysis would have no chance of revealing the identity over a century later.
We are still no closer to finding the killer than we were over 100 years ago, and it will probably stay that way.
But seriously, how hard is it to find a ghoul with "CRIME" written on his forehead?
For more secret identities (that we eventually found out about), check out 6 Real People With Secret Identities Nobody Saw Coming and 11 Celebrities Who Were Secretly Total Badasses.
And stop by LinkSTORM to discover who the real master of the Internet is.
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