12 Historical Figures Whose Bodies Have Never Been Found
History contains figures who led armies into deadly battles, fought off invading forces, saved thousands of lives, and changed the course of the world. Some of these historical figures died as conquering heroes, while others died in infamy. Many famous burial sites, graves, and tombs contain the body or ashes of these historical figures.
The body of the first President of the United States, George Washington, lies in a crypt at Mount Vernon. Another of history’s great leaders, Julius Caesar’s funeral pyre took place at the present-day Temple of Caesar. Then there is the iconic President Abraham Lincoln, whose body lies in the tomb at the famous Lincoln Memorial. Unfortunately, not all of history’s significant figures have a final resting place. Some historical figures disappeared, while other burial sites remain unknown, as you will discover below.
1. Amelia Earhart
On May 20, 1932, Amelia Earhart became the first female to fly solo across the Atlantic. She became an inspiration and symbol of feminism. However, Earhart’s also known for her mysterious disappearance.
In 1937, Earhart attempted to become the first female to circumnavigate the globe. The last leg of the flight had Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan flying from Lae, New Guinea, to Howland Island in the Pacific Ocean. The pair left on the morning of July 2 but never reached Howland Island.
Earhart radioed the nearby USCGC Itasca as they approached the island for guidance on landing, but the ship didn’t have the right frequency, with Earhart and Noonan disappearing into the night. An extensive search failed to turn up the bodies or any wreckage. Several theories ran rampant, including they were castaways on a nearby island, captured by the Japanese, drowned in the Pacific Ocean, or faked their deaths.
2. Bison Dele
In 1997, Bison Dele won an NBA Championship as a member of the legendary Chicago Bulls. A few years later his life would end in mysterious circumstances. On July 6, 2002, Dele’s catamaran Hakuna Matata left Tahiti with Dele, his girlfriend Serena Karlan, Dele’s estranged brother Miles Dabord, and skipper Bertrand Saldo aboard. On July 20, Dabord returned on the boat to Tahiti without Dele, Karlan, or Saldo. Additionally, it appeared Daboad attempted to cover up bullet holes in the vessel.
Authorities, friends, and family soon suspected that Dabord had killed the other three and disposed of the bodies in the Pacific Ocean. Dabord attempted to spin the story, but his behavior indicated he was guilty. Before Dabord could answer any questions, he intentionally overdosed on insulin. He slipped into a coma and died in September 2002, with the whereabouts of Dele, Karlan, and Saldo still unknown.
3. Alexander the Great
The Egyptian government has made more than 140 attempts to discover the elusive tomb of Alexander The Great. Alexander became one of history’s most outstanding military leaders as the King of Macedon. Alexander died around 323 BC in Babylon. After a grand funeral, Alexander’s body spent a brief time buried in Memphis, Egypt. Later, Ptolemy I Soter moved the body to Alexandria and reburied the body in a tomb.
Evidence suggests Cleopatra and Julius Caesar, among others, visited the tomb. At that point, the location of Alexander’s tomb became a mystery. There’s a possibility various factions destroyed the grave site around the 4th or 5th centuries. Archeologists continue to search Egypt for Alexander’s famous tomb without much luck.
4. Jimmy Hoffa
The mysterious disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa and the location of his body has baffled the greatest minds. Hoffa rose to power as the President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters in the 60s. Around that time, Hoffa developed connections with the mafia. This led to Hoffa going to prison in the late 60s for fraud and jury tampering. After his early release in 1971, Hoffa intended to become President of the IBT again.
In 1975, Hoffa disappeared from the Machus Red Fox restaurant parking lot. The leading theory implies the mafia likely kidnapped and killed Hoffa. The location of his body remains a mystery too. Several areas are the supposed Hoffa burial site, including Giant Stadium, a Detroit driveway, a shallow grave in an empty field, and a landfill. After thorough investigations, authorities failed to find Hoffa’s body.
5. Genghis Khan
The gravesite of Genghis Khan is one of history’s greatest mysteries. Khan, the founder and first khagan of the Mongol Empire, united the various tribes and began invading nearby lands, amassing one the greatest empires. Since Khan died in 1227, the location of his burial site remains unknown. According to Marco Polo, not even the Mongols knew the grave’s location. Khan requested his body return to Mongolia in an unmarked grave.
Polo claimed soldiers killed the 2,000 slaves that attended the funeral and burial. Another group of soldiers then killed the first group before committing suicide. Another famous story claims Khan’s grave included a baby camel. The mother camel would guide the Khan family to the site to mourn over their child. In modern times evidence suggests the grave is somewhere in the holy mountain of Burkhan Khaldun in the Khentii mountain range.
6. Solomon Northup
The life of Solomon Northup was a heartbreaking journey of freedom. Sadly, his death remains a mystery, and the location of his grave or body is unknown. A free-born African American, Northup was the son of a free black woman and a formerly enslaved person. Northup was a violinist and farmer when he was drugged, kidnapped, and sold into slavery in 1841. After spending 12 years enslaved, Norhtup got word to his family in New York and soon went free.
After returning to New York, Northup dedicated himself to abolishing slavery and lecturing at universities. He also wrote 12 Years a Slave, later adapted into the movie of the same name. Sometime in 1857, Northup disappeared from the face of the Earth. Some believe he lived a quiet life alone, while others speculate he was sold back into slavery or murdered while traveling to Canada. His burial site remains unknown.
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7. Oscar Zeta Acosta
Lawyer and writer Oscar Zeta Acosta is best known for his friendship with iconic writer Hunter S. Thompson. In 1971, Thompson and Acosta went on an epic trip to Las Vegas full of drugs, drugs, and more drugs. Thompson wrote a fictionalized version of the journey in the critically acclaimed novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
Acosta suddenly disappeared in May of 1974. His supposed last conversation was with his son, implying he was going on a boat ride full of drugs. After the disappearance, his family assumed Acosta got into an argument with the wrong people who killed him and dumped his body into the ocean. Acosta’s whereabouts remain a mystery. Benicio Del Toro portrayed a fictional version of Acosta, Dr. Gonzo, in the 1998 cult classic Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
8. Oliver Cromwell
The location of politician and soldier Oliver Cromwell’s body and head remains a hotly debated subject. After pushing for the execution of King Charles I in 1649, Oliver Cromwell became the Lord Protector of the English Commonwealth. He died in 1658 due to illness, having an elaborate funeral worthy of a king.
King Charles II returned from exile 12 years later, reclaiming his throne. He ordered Cromwell’s body exhumed from Westminster Abbey for posthumous execution in 1661. The body went on display for several days before the beheading.
Charles II had Cromwell’s head placed on a spike at Westminster Hall, where it sat for 30 years before falling off the roof. His head went on a mysterious journey, ending up in the hands of private collectors until its burial beneath Sidney Sussex College in 1960. However, historians have questioned the authenticity of the location of Cromwell’s head and body.
9. Harold Holt
Harold Holt rose to power through Australian politics to become the country’s 17th Prime Minister in 1966. On December 17, 1967, Holt disappeared while swimming in rough waters at Cheviot Beach in Victoria. Despite a massive search, rescuers never recovered Holt’s body, presuming he drowned.
His strange disappearance resulted in a long list of conspiracy theories, becoming one of Australia’s greatest mysteries. One leading theory speculated that Holt was a secret spy for China, who sent a submarine to pick up Holt. Others think he faked his own death to live a solitary life away from the spotlight. Holt was presumed dead and never seen again.
10. Mark Antony and Cleopatra
Archeologists have searched the Earth for decades for Mark Antony and Cleopatra’s famous tomb. In 44 BC, the assassination of Julius Caesar resulted in Mark Antony, Octavian, and Marcus Aemilius Lepidus forming a triple-threat dictatorship dubbed the Second Triumvirate. Tensions rose between the three rulers, so Antony married Octavian’s sister Octavia to avoid a civil war.
Around the time of the marriage, Antony had an affair with the ruler of Egypt, Cleopatra. This angered Octavian who declared war on Antony, Cleopatra, and Egypt. With defeat looming, Antony and Cleopatra committed suicide before their capture. Since 2005, archeologist Kathleen Martínez has dedicated her career to discovering the famous tomb and the bodies of Mark Antony and Cleopatra.
11. The Disappeared
In the mid-1970s, the Argentina military took control of the government. Soon, they began targeting political dissidents, students, left-wing activists, writers, journalists, and those they declared opposition to state terrorism. Known as the Disappeared, the military caused roughly 9,000 to 30,000 people to vanish.
As Argentina’s Dirty War continued, the army established 500 secret detention centers, mainly in Buenos Aires, Argentina. After their arrests, the army beat and tortured the victims. Called “death flights,” the army drugged the prisoners, loaded them onto a plane, and tossed the bodies into the Atlantic Ocean. The bodies of those who disappeared remain lost at sea forever.
12. Christopher Columbus
Christopher Columbus attempted to circumnavigate the Earth in 1492 to find a faster route to Asia. Instead, Columbus stumbled upon the present-day Bahamas, leading to the discovery of South America and North America.
Columbus died in Valladolid on May 20, 1506, with his remains buried at a convent and then moved to a monastery in Spain. In 1513, his remains were exhumed and transferred to the Seville Cathedral. However, Columbus wished for the Dominican Republic to be his final resting place. So Columbus’ family sent the body to the Dominican to remain for an eternity, but parts of his body found their way to several different locations across the globe.
In 1898, some of the remains went back to the Seville Cathedral. DNA testing confirmed the remains belonged to Columbus. The rest of the body appeared lost someplace in South America. In 1877, a priest discovered a box supposedly containing the arm and leg of Columbus in the Dominican. These remains are held at the Columbus Lighthouse, but the owners refuse DNA testing to confirm a match.
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