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The Suicide Forest

15 Apr

At the base of Mt. Fuji, Japan, there is a forest called ‘Aokigahara’, which is also known as Jukai (the sea of trees). It is a popular tourist attraction due to the presence of icy caverns; however, it is also a popular destination for something much more disturbing. Aokigahara is one of the most popular suicide destinations in the entire world, second only to San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge.

The forest as seen from a distance. (Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Alpsdake)

The forest as seen from a distance. (Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Alpsdake)

On average, approximately 100 suicides occur every year in the forest. Many of the suicides happen right at the end of the financial year, and most are drug overdoses or hangings. Throughout the forest (and also at its entrances), there are signs written in Japanese and English urging suicidal people to get help and think of their families and other loved ones.

A sign urging visitors to think of their loves ones and seek help. (Source: http://studio360.wordpress.com/2008/11/14/your-life-is-a-precious-gift-from-your-parents/)

A sign urging visitors to think of their loves ones and seek help. (Source: http://studio360.wordpress.com/2008/11/14/your-life-is-a-precious-gift-from-your-parents/)

There is an annual body hunt to recover dead bodies, but it is not uncommon to wander through the forest and come across bones, old clothes, nooses hanging from trees, suicide notes nailed to trees, and sometimes even creepier things. There are dolls nailed upside-down to trees in certain parts of the forest, which is allegedly an expression of hatred for society in the form of a curse. To add to the weirdness of the forest, it is also eerily quiet. This is due to the lack of wildlife and the density of the trees, which blocks the wind.

A place in the forest where a noose was found, along with a bag and cut-up credit cards. (Source: http://lookingforalosea.blogspot.com.au/2010/11/aokigahara-forest-suicide-forest-japan.html)

A place in the forest where a noose was found, along with clothes, a bag, and cut-up credit cards. (Source: http://lookingforalosea.blogspot.com.au/2010/11/aokigahara-forest-suicide-forest-japan.html)

So, how did this awful suicide tradition begin? No one is entirely sure, but many think that a book called ‘Tower of Waves’ may have inspired people to think of Aokigahara as a place for suicides. However, its reputation as a suicide destination predates this novel, and Japanese people have associated the forest with death for a long time. The practice of ‘ubasute’ was allegedly carried out in the forest in the past; this was the practice of taking the elderly or sick into remote areas such as mountains or forests and leaving them to die of exposure or starvation. Thus, many believe that the forest is haunted by the spirits of the dead, and it also has an association with demons in Japanese folklore.

Would you visit this forest, or go camping in it? Any other thoughts? Let us know in a comment below.

To find out more about Aokigahara, watch this documentary:

The Mystery of the Flannan Isles

10 Apr

In the Outer Hebrides (a group of islands near Scotland), there is a small island chain known as the Flannan Isles. There are two main islands in this chain; Eilean Mòr and Eilean Taighe, and from 1895-1899, construction on a lighthouse took place on Eilean Mòr. No permanent residents have lived on the Isles since the lighthouse became automated in 1971. Overall, the island chain would be quite unremarkable if it hadn’t been for the mysterious and still-unexplained event that occurred only one year after construction on the lighthouse was finished.

Location of the Flannan Isles

Location of the Flannan Isles

After it was built, the lighthouse was operated by three men; Thomas Marshall, James Ducat and Donald Macarthur. Late in 1900, crew members of a passing ship noticed that something was amiss. The light was not on, which was especially strange given the poor weather conditions. They reported it to the authorities when they arrived at their destination, and a team was sent to the Flannan Isles to investigate. The team immediately realized that something was wrong when no one was there to greet them. All three of the lighthouse keepers had vanished.

The lighthouse on Eilean Mòr. Credit: Marc Calhoun (geograph.org.uk)

The lighthouse on Eilean Mòr. Credit: Marc Calhoun (geograph.org.uk)

The only other seemingly out-of-place thing was a chair that had been overturned in the lighthouse kitchen. Further investigation of the lighthouse and the island showed extensive storm damage to the west landing on the island, so at first, investigators thought that the men may have been washed away in the storm. However, they had kept logs of their activity right up until the morning that they disappeared (15th December), and the storm damage had apparently occurred sometime before this date.

The men were never seen again, and no bodies ever turned up.

Naturally, this strange occurrence led to wild speculation about what may have happened to the three men. Some alleged that one of the men had murdered the others, and then drowned himself out of guilt. It was also claimed that an enormous sea monster had taken them, while others blamed their disappearance on abduction by foreign spies. Some people also claimed that it was the work of malevolent ghosts, and modern theories mention alien abduction.

Some think that a giant sea monster took the men

Some think that a giant sea monster took the men

After an official investigation, the Northern Lighthouse Board came to the conclusion that the men must have been swept away by a freak wave while they were attempting to secure a box of equipment on the west landing, which was damaged in the previous storm (as recorded in their logs).

A more recent theory claims that a kind of geological formation known as ‘geos’ may have been to blame for the disappearance. A geo is an inlet or cleft in the face of a cliff, caused by wave erosion, and sea caves can form at their heads.

Eilean Mòr has many geos along its coastline, and the west landing of the island is actually situated in a geo. This geo terminates in a sea cave. In stormy weather, water could rush into the cave and explode out again. The theory holds that two of the men may have been securing the box on the west landing, while the other kept watch from the lighthouse. Noticing approaching waves, the watcher raced down to warn his colleagues of the impending danger, knocking a chair over in his haste to get out. Upon getting down to the west landing to warn them, he could have been washed out to sea by the water that exploded out of the sea cave, along with his two colleagues.

An example of a sea cave

An example of a sea cave

A very similar theory claims that one man may have been washed out to sea, and the other ran back to the lighthouse to get help. Upon attempting to rescue the man, both remaining men were washed out to sea by a second freak wave.

So, was the disappearance simply a combination of poor weather and bad luck, or did something far more sinister occur? We do know that when the men disappeared, the weather conditions were very poor, so I think that either one of the freak wave/geo theories would make sense. However, we will probably never know exactly what happened, so the mystery remains open to speculation.

What was the Tunguska Event?

28 Mar

Early in the morning of June 17th, 1908, an enormous explosion rocked a remote Siberian area of Russia known as Krasnoyask Krai. The explosion was so massive that it leveled an entire forest of 80 million trees, and it is estimated that it was more than 1000 times more powerful than the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima during World War II. The epicenter of the explosion was in a swamp near the Podkamennaya Tunguska River, so the event became known as the Tunguska Event.

Location of the explosion's epicenter in Russia

Location of the explosion’s epicenter in Russia

Luckily, despite the size of the event, it is thought that only one person was killed by the blast (although, not so lucky for the poor man who was killed). This was due to the sheer remoteness of the area that was hit. A lot of people did see it happen, though. Witnesses from areas much farther south claimed that they saw something extremely bright and pale blue moving across the sky, and a few minutes later there was a bright flash accompanied by a thunderous sound. A shockwave, which would have registered at 5.0 on the Richter scale, caused people to be knocked off their feet hundreds of kilometers away.

Fallen trees after the explosion, taken in 1927 by Leonid Kulik's expedition to the area

Fallen trees after the explosion, taken in 1927 by Leonid Kulik’s expedition to the area

So, what actually caused this massive explosion? There are several theories. Some have claimed that it may have been caused by the release of natural gases from the Earth’s crust, and others proposed that the explosion may have been a nuclear one; caused by deuterium in a comet undergoing nuclear fusion as it entered the Earth’s atmosphere. Another theory claimed that it was caused by a black hole passing through Earth. And, of course, a lot of people have brought up theories involving UFOs and aliens, especially since as the event is referenced in pop-culture quite a lot.

However, the most widely-accepted explanation is that a large meteoroid or comet caused it, exploding just above the Earth’s surface. This would explain the lack of an impact crater in the area. If this is true, then it was the largest impact event on or near the Earth in modern history. Chemical analysis of soils in the region showed that parts of it contained materials of extraterrestrial origin, further supporting this impact theory.

Meteor. Credit: Navicore

Meteor falling to Earth. Credit: Navicore

Despite the fact that the Tunguska Event is still technically unexplained, I would agree that the impact event theory seems to be the most likely. I think it would be even more interesting if there were a more mysterious explanation, though! It’s also very fortunate that it happened in such a remote area, because if it hit a populated area, then the aftermath would have been far worse.

The Devil’s Triangle

27 Mar

Almost everyone knows stories about the Bermuda Triangle; the sea between the three points of Bermuda, Florida, and Puerto Rico which is apparently responsible for the demise of many ships and planes due to ‘mysterious circumstances’. However, hardly anyone has heard of the allegedly equally-dangerous Devil’s Triangle (otherwise known as the Devil’s Sea or the Dragon’s Triangle).

This particular ‘triangle’ has apparently claimed the lives of many people over the years, and stories hold that some supernatural force causes ships to disappear. There have been claims that other paranormal events occur in this region too, like time lapses and electronic malfunction. Some people also believe they have seen UFOs in the area. Also, the ‘Dragon’s Triangle’ name apparently originates from ancient tales of fire-breathing dragons being in the area.

Japanese dragon painting by Ogato Gekko. Credit: Adam Cuerden

Japanese dragon painting by Ogato Gekko. Credit: Adam Cuerden

So, where exactly is the Devil’s Triangle? The location differs depending on who you ask, but it is thought to be somewhere in the Pacific Ocean, anywhere between 100 – 1300 km from Japan. That’s not exactly specific… however, most believe that the Devil’s Triangle is close to the Izu Islands, a chain of islands not too far south of Tokyo.

Map of the Izu Islands

Map of the Izu Islands

I wasn’t able to find any sources as to where the legend first definitively arose, aside from the ancient dragon legends, but a lot of it had to do with a book written by Charles Berlitz, called ‘The Dragon’s Triangle’. In this book, Berlitz claimed that Japan had officially declared the area a danger zone after they lost 700 people from military ships during 1952-1954. The ships apparently vanished into thin air, at which point Berlitz claims the Japanese government sent a research ship with 100 people to investigate. This research vessel promptly vanished too.

Now, this legend would be very spooky… if there were actually any truth to it. The oceans around Japan are known for their seismic and volcanic activity, so disappearances of ships/boats isn’t exactly an abnormal occurrence. The ‘fire-breathing dragons’ of the ancient legends could have just been volcanoes.

Credit: Oliver Spalt

Credit: Oliver Spalt

Also, it seems that Berlitz sensationalized the whole issue, along with simply making stuff up. The research ship, the Kaiyo Maru No. 5, actually only had 31 people aboard, and was found to have been destroyed by a volcanic eruption while it was investigating an underwater volcano. The military vessels that Berlitz referred to were actually just fishing vessels, and he conveniently ignored the fact that hundreds of fishing vessels are lost over the years in all different regions of the Pacific, not just the Izu Islands region.

I love reading about weird and creepy things, so it would be great if the stories surrounding the Devil’s Triangle were true. But, unfortunately, it seems like it is just another story that was made up to entertain people, or perhaps warn them about the real (seismic/volcanic) dangers of the area.

The Mysterious Hinterkaifeck Murders

26 Mar

In Germany, 1922, the murders of six people at the Hinterkaifeck farmstead shocked the nation. This wasn’t just because of the gruesome nature of the case, but also because the case was so incredibly weird, and it remains unsolved to this day.

Here is a photo of how the farm appeared back then (it has since been demolished):

hinterkaifeck

Photo credit to Andreas Biegleder

Now, for some background to the case; the Gruber family, consisting of Andreas and Cäzilia Gruber, their daughter Viktoria, and her two children Cäzilia (7) and Josef (2), and their maid, Maria Baumgartner, lived permanently at Hinterkaifeck, which was situated next to a forest. Maria was new to the farm, having only just arrived that day as a replacement for another maid. Interestingly, the previous maid had left claiming that she thought the farm was haunted.

Whilst no one is certain as to exactly what happened, it appears that on the night of March 31st, 1922, someone managed to lure all of the family members (except Josef and the maid, Maria) into the barn, one by one, and murdered them all with an axe. Horrifyingly, the autopsy showed that young Cäzilia had been alive for quite some time after being attacked, tearing her own hair out as she lay dying in the barn. The killer then went into the house and killed Josef and Maria in their beds.

The family was noticed as missing several days later when none of them had been seen for a few days, and young Cäzilia had not attended school.  Neighbors went to check on them and discovered the bodies. After extensive police investigations, a viable suspect was not found. And, as if the situation wasn’t already horrible enough, it actually gets worse.

Neighbors recalled that just a few days before the murders, Andreas Gruber had mentioned a strange occurrence to them. He claimed that he had found footprints in the snow, leading from the forest’s edge to the house, but there were no footprints leading back. He also thought he had heard strange sounds coming from the attic. A particularly terrifying theory that stems from this is that someone may have sneaked into the house, lived undiscovered up in the attic for a few days, and then come out to murder the house’s occupants. To further add to this theory, in the days that the bodies were certainly lying dead in the barn, neighbors reported that they had seen smoke rising from the chimneys. Also, someone had been feeding the farm’s cattle. So, if someone had done this, it also seemed as if they had stayed for several days after the murders to take care of the place.

This theory leads to many questions.  Was it just one person, or more? Why did this person (or people) want to kill the family? How did they sneak into the house? How did they lure the family into the barn, one by one? Why would they stay for several days later, and take care of the farm?

Overall, taking these questions into account, the case of the Hinterkaifeck murders is terrifying to comprehend, and it remains as one of Germany’s most mysterious unsolved cases. It is unlikely that we will ever really know what happened, which seems to make it even scarier.

For more reading on this case, check out http://armchairdetective.wordpress.com/2009/11/23/hinterkaifeck/

The Disappearance of Harold Holt

26 Mar

Harold Holt was the Prime Minister of Australia for nearly two years from January of 1966, up until his disappearance in December of 1967.

The strange thing about Holt’s disappearance is that his body was never recovered, and this has led to different theories surrounding what actually happened.

Harold Holt, the 17th Prime Minister of Australia. Photo taken during the 1966 elections.

Harold Holt, the 17th Prime Minister of Australia. Photo taken during the 1966 elections.

First of all, what do we know?

On Sunday the 17th of December, 1967, Holt and a group of friends, along with two bodyguards, made a trip from Melbourne to Port Phillip Heads to watch part of a solo circumnavigation of the globe, by Alec Rose in his yacht the ‘Lively Lady’. Around midday, the party made their way to Cheviot Beach, which lies on the eastern arm of Port Phillip Bay. This was one of Holt’s favorite swimming and snorkeling locations despite its reputation for strong rips and currents. Holt was described by his biographer Tom Frame as having “incredible powers of endurance underwater”, most likely due to Holt’s experience as a scuba diver. Despite pleas from the rest of the party, Holt made his way into the water. Not long after entering the water, the party lost sight of Holt. His friends raised the alarm, and a search began with a large group of police, Royal Australian Navy divers, helicopters from the Royal Australian Airforce, army personnel and local volunteers.

Two days later, on the 19th of December, the Australian Government made an announcement that Harold Holt was presumed dead. From here on in is where the theories start.

For the most part, it is generally accepted that Holt fell victim to the strong currents and rips in the area and his body was dragged out to sea before anyone could notice. There are no real ‘loose ends’ with this theory. Holt had recently suffered a flare up of a recurring shoulder injury that caused him a lot of pain. It is quite likely that he was not up to his usual levels of fitness and grew tired fighting the currents or rips. The main issue people have with this idea is that with such a large scale search, it is surprising that his body was not recovered.

Other theories start to speculate on the idea that he committed suicide. This theory has been rejected by  Holt’s own son Sam, his biographer Tom Frame (mentioned before), and  Malcolm Fraser, Holt’s Cabinet Minister at the time. This theory arose after reports that Holt was suffering from depression prior to his disappearance.

Some theories started bordering on conspiracy. There is the idea that he faked his own death to run away with a mistress,  was abducted by a UFO, or kidnapped/rescued by a Chinese submarine, depending on whether or not you think he was a Chinese spy.

Although it seems most likely that the strong rips and currents were  to blame for Holt’s disappearance, the idea that this was an Australian Prime Minister who may have been involved with something more sinister has piqued the curiosity of imaginative minds for many years. Unfortunately, it is doubtful that we will ever know exactly what happened in this tragic case.

Dudley Town

24 Mar

In a forested area near Cornwall, a small town located in the picturesque Litchfield County, Connecticut, there is an abandoned old settlement known to locals as Dudley Town. Although it was never officially considered to be a town, several families lived there in the past. The area was first settled by a Thomas Griffis in the 1740’s, closely followed by several members of the Dudley family, whom the settlement was named for.  Locals claim that Dudley Town is now one of the most haunted abandoned towns in all of New England. Furthermore, it is actually illegal to visit the place, which adds to the mysteriousness of the case.

Location of Dudley Town in Connecticut

Location of Dudley Town in Connecticut

So, what’s with all the legends and secrecy surrounding Dudley Town? It all began when the town was completely abandoned by 1899, and the surrounding forest started to creep back in, leaving the settlement in ruins. Local legend has it that the inhabitants succumbed to some type of ‘madness’, while others died horrible, violent deaths. Also, according to hikers who have visited the place, the woods around the settlement are allegedly eerily silent, with birds and animals refusing to go anywhere near it. Hikers have also reported seeing strange orbs floating around the area.

The road to Dudley Town now

The road to Dudley Town now – By Jeff Belanger

While all of this makes for a good ghost story, historical researchers have found that most accounts of Dudley Town’s ‘haunting’ were simply made up for entertainment. Other less-imaginative hikers have claimed that the forest near the area is perfectly normal, and there are plenty of birds and other wildlife around. The land was most likely abandoned due to the land’s poor location and soil fertility compared with areas much further west. But, why is it illegal to visit the site?

Some of the Dudley Town ruins

Some of the Dudley Town ruins

Trespassers are heavily fined if they are discovered by the police that patrol the area. This makes it seem even more mysterious; why go to so much effort to guard an abandoned town? What are they hiding? The answer is actually simple enough. The land where the settlement ruins stand is now private property belonging to the Dark Entry Forest Association, who have planted many trees in an attempt to create a necessary ecosystem for wildlife, and do not want visitors encroaching on the land and disturbing this ecosystem.

As I said before, the idea that Dudley Town is haunted, with all its previous occupants cursed by some evil spirits, makes for a very good creepy story for people to tell others around a campfire. While there isn’t really any truth to it, I would certainly still like to be able to visit it myself… just to make sure.

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