4 Mysterious Deaths With Bizarre Possible Explanations
I don't always go in for conspiracy theories. I'm about 90% sure that the moon is real, and I never wear a tinfoil hat (since tinfoil actually conducts communication signals, rather than blocking them). But then there are those times when someone dies and it seems pretty damn certain that there's something going on beyond the reported explanation. Take, for instance, how ...
Charles Manson's Lawyer Died During His Trial, And Nobody Was Charged
When Charles Manson was charged for facilitating all those murders his "family" committed in 1969, his lawyer was a guy named Ronald Hughes. Hughes had never tried a case before, and it had reportedly taken him four attempts to pass the bar exam. He was known as the "hippie lawyer," because he knew a lot of hippies (he knew people in the Manson family before they were ever charged) and looked like a hippie, blond hair long in the back but balding on top. Soon after joining the case, he shifted from representing Manson to representing another defendant, Leslie Van Houten, and his planned strategy involved blaming Manson for everything. Manson, as you can imagine, was not pleased.
When the prosecution rested its case, Hughes rested as well. Van Houten and others yelled that they wanted to testify, but Hughes refused, suspecting Manson had convinced them to accept full responsibility. The judge called for a ten-day recess, and the last thing Manson said to Hughes was "I don't want to see you in the courtroom again." He got his wish.
Hughes embarked on a camping trip -- a pretty bizarre thing to do when he was supposed to be drafting his first ever closing argument as a trial lawyer -- and supposedly got caught in a flash flood. The last anyone saw of him, he wasn't in the exact spot where the flooding was, but it seemed possible that he'd died out there, so they abandoned the search. The judge assigned a new lawyer to close the defense's case.
Manson was sentenced to death, as was Van Houten (both sentences would be commuted when the nation temporarily halted all executions). She later got a retrial, because her lawyer dying should probably have resulted in a mistrial the first time. Hughes' body eventually turned up in a gorge. By this point, declaring a cause of death was impossible. Maybe it was in fact a flood. Or maybe it was the Manson family, dozens of whom remained free (and some of whom would go on to commit more murders).
During the filming of the Oscar-nominated documentary Manson, one of the Manson Girls claimed the family had in fact killed 35-40 people, and that "Hughes was the first of the retaliatory murders." After a prosecutor publicized this claim in a book, another family member got in touch with him to affirm that yeah, that was a family kill, no question about it. That's not exactly proof -- people like this love to take credit for every unsolved murder in the vicinity -- but as explanations go, it seems less weird than "Happened to die in a freak unrelated accident immediately after enraging a murder cult."
Related: 4 Famous Crimes Everybody Gets Wrong
A Future Vice President's Son Was Evidently Eaten By Cannibals
Michael Rockefeller was one of the heirs to the Rockefeller fortune and son of Nelson Rockefeller, governor of New York at the time and later Gerald Ford's vice president. In 1961, Michael and an anthropologist were sailing off the coast of New Guinea. Then their boat overturned, and the pair drifted for two days on a raft that occasionally capsized before Michael figured he'd strike out for the shore. This turned out to be a bad idea, as the raft would be rescued the very next day, the famous heir nowhere to be found. A major search effort followed, but the body never turned up. Michael was officially declared dead three years later, with drowning the presumed cause. It appears the actual cause was much more gruesome.
On one hand, it certainly seems likely that someone who tried to swim 12 miles, already in a state of exhaustion, would never make it to dry land. But reporters then went to New Guinea and talked to locals, the Asmat, on the off chance that Rockefeller really had turned up. The Asmat not only said that a man had in fact made it ashore, but they were able to describe him. They were even able to describe what underwear he'd been wearing, despite having no familiarity with American-style undergarments. They had seen the underwear, they said, before killing and eating him.
They had done this, they said, in retaliation for the killings of several of their own by the Dutch government, who had jurisdiction over the island. Asked, the Asmat produced their victim's bones (they used tibias as fishing spears) along with the underwear and some glasses, all carefully preserved. The journalists of course informed Dutch authorities, but their investigation into the matter stalled. It didn't help that New Guinea had formed its own government just a few months earlier in preparation for the Netherlands getting the hell out of there the following year.
Other reporters have visited that village over the years and heard enough to believe that Rockefeller really was eaten, and not by sharks. The Smithsonian sent a guy over there in 2014 and found it was apparently common knowledge there that they'd killed Rockefeller, and they'd just hoped the reporter wouldn't bring the matter up. Knowing the USA's reputation for responding to international incidents by introducing "democracy" at the rate of 600 rounds per minute, it's a little weird that the government kind of took this in stride. Though it was probably best for everyone involved.
A Girl Disappeared, And A Creepy Dude Swore Bigfoot Did It
43-year-old Russell Welch took 16-year-old Theresa Ann Bier camping with him, and their ages alone might be foreshadowing that this was going to end horribly. The year was 1987, the campsite was in the forests of California's Sierra County, and when the trip was done, Welch returned to the city without Theresa. Questioned, he said she'd run away from him. Then, perhaps realizing he'd admitted to holding a minor against her will, he changed his story and said that Bigfoot had taken her.
He stuck to this story. He was a Bigfoot enthusiast, he said, and the two had been searching for the cryptid during the trip. Authorities, weirdly enough, did not believe him, and arrested him immediately. They charged him with child abduction, but they really wanted to charge him with murder, as few people believed Theresa was still alive and well out there. A murder trial wouldn't get very far, however, considering they hadn't found a body and had no proof she was dead at all.
In fact, without the body providing evidence that Welch had harmed Theresa in some way, there seemed a good chance their suspect might beat the kidnapping charge as well. The district attorney offered Welch a reduced one-year sentence for abduction if he agreed to leave open the possibility of being tried for murder if a body turned up. Welch turned the deal down. So the county released him, hoping to arrest him again if they ever did find Theresa's body ... which they never did, leaving her case still open today. So either this guy went free despite being guilty, or Bigfoot really did take Theresa and himself managed to escape justice. Or maybe Bigfoot and Welch were in on it together. There are no non-terrible options, is my point.
The Scientist Who Came Up With Nuclear Winter Disappeared At A Nuclear Conference
The '80s, I'm told, were terrifying times to be alive, with the threat of nuclear Armageddon ruining most otherwise-enjoyable activities. Experts made it clear that even if you escaped the actual direct strikes that would surely land sooner or later, you would have to face global freezing and famine as the smoke from planetwide fires blocked out the sun.
The Russian scientist who put together a mathematical model for nuclear winter was named Vladimir Alexandrov. He made this model using a computer in Colorado, having been granted temporary access, making him the only Soviet scientist to ever receive this honor. He was also, as you can imagine, a controversial figure. Not everyone liked hearing that a nuclear war actually couldn't be won.
In March 1985, Alexandrov was in Madrid for a conference for "Nuclear Free Zones Local Authorities." Alexandrov himself didn't represent any kind of nuclear zone, but he did know a whole lot about why all zones should be nuclear-free, maybe, and he had a speech ready about his specialty, nuclear winter. But things got weird as the conference went on. Alexandrov suddenly started drinking heavily, and when he was escorted to the Soviet embassy at one point, he resisted and tried to escape ... according to some sources, while others say he did nothing of the kind. Then, when Soviet officials, who had been following him, came to collect him from his hotel, they found his room empty. He's not been seen since.
Some say that the Soviets spirited him away and executed him, suspecting he was planning to defect to the West. And yet the Soviets asked the Madrid police to search for him, while also asking them to keep the investigation quiet. Another theory is that Alexandrov did in fact defect to the West, right under the Soviets' red noses. His own colleagues suspected this, which was why they didn't raise the alarm about his disappearance initially. But decades after the Soviet Union's fall, the man still has never surfaced, and those colleagues ended up regretting their inaction.
What really makes the whole story suspicious is that it's entirely possible that "nuclear winter" isn't a real thing at all. Some believe the USSR spread the theory widely as a means to foster anti-nuclear sentiment in America. So Alexandrov might have been both a Soviet plant who used the U.S.'s own technology to undermine its morale with lies, and a defector about to blow the lid on a secret disinformation campaign. Everyone had a reason to want him, and to want him dead. Or maybe he was just mugged and his body was dumped in a sewer.
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