Check out what we've covered in our first five episodes of our new podcast, GONE. Join in on the search for fascinating people, places, and items that have disappeared over time by subscribing today!
E1: D.B. Cooper
D.B. Cooper orchestrated one of the most daring hijackings of all time when he successfully held his fellow passengers ransom for $200,000 in 1971, before parachuting to an unknown fate. Though some clues have surfaced over time, no definitive answers exist explaining what happened to Cooper, leaving the FBI and all else to wonder: what happened to Cooper, and how did he seemingly vanish into thin air?
If D.B. Cooper had survived the jump and made it back to civilization, he likely would have spent the ransom money, and those bills would have been spotted in circulation. If he died on impact, his body and the parachute would likely have been found. At the time of his jump, it was cold and rainy with high winds. He was dressed in a business suit and had no survival equipment or supplies with him. Most likely, D.B. Cooper survived his jump from the plane, but died of exposure in the forest where he landed.
E2: "The Eighth Wonder of the World" - The Amber Room
The Amber Room wasn't actually a room, but a set of towering amber gold and jewel-encrusted wall panels that could be moved to various rooms. Construction on the panels began in 1701 to impress Frederick I of Prussia, but the construction was never completed. In 1716, Frederick I of Prussia's son, Frederick William I, gave the panels to the Czar of Russia, Peter the Great. In 1770, Catherine the Great refurbished and finished The Amber Room at Catherine Palace, where it dazzled visitors from around the world for more than 170 years until the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941.
The most valuable treasures were supposed to be evacuated before the Nazi soldiers closed in on St. Petersburg, Russia, but when a curator tried to remove one of the Amber Room panels, it crumbled. Not wanting to destroy more panels, the curator put up fake cloth walls over the panels to hide them. When Nazi soldiers seized Catherine Palace in September 1941, they quickly discovered the jewel-encrusted panels anyway. It took six Nazi soldiers only 36 hours to completely disassemble the panels and ship them to Königsberg, Prussia. The Nazis put the Amber Room on display at Königsberg Castle in the Knights Hall until April 1945 when Soviet forces fought the Nazis for control of Königsberg. On April 9th, the Nazis surrendered, but the Amber Room's panels were gone.
Some believe the Nazis were able to smuggle the Amber Room out of Königsberg on to the Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship that sunk in January 1945. But nothing was found in the wreckage.
Others believe the Nazis hid the Amber Room in a secret bunker code-named BSCH. After many years of trying to locate the mine, it was finally excavated, with no evidence of the Amber Room inside.
Still others believe it’s all a Soviet government conspiracy. During World War 2, the Soviets created Trophy Brigades to seize as much valuable European art as possible. They viewed it as a small compensation for the Nazi invasion that cost over 20 million Russian lives. As the war ended, Americans and Europeans realized the Soviets were hoarding priceless artwork from all over Europe. To keep attention away from their Trophy Brigades, the Soviets focused their story on the loss of the Amber Room to the Nazis. Nobody bothered to investigate the Soviet soldiers or the Trophy Brigade, who easily had enough time to smuggle the Amber Room out of Königsberg Castle and back to Russia, where it could still be hidden to this day.
E3: Oliver Cromwell’s Missing Head
Oliver Cromwell was the leader of Britain’s first republic following a bloody civil war. After his death in 1658, King Charles the II had Cromwell’s corpse dug up, decapitated, and his head placed on a pike atop Westminster Abbey. During a storm in the late 1700s, Oliver Cromwell’s rotting head fell off the roof of Westminster Abbey. And it was gone for over 300 years.
The Likely Route of Oliver Cromwell's head:
Late 17th century: Embalmed head of Oliver Cromwell falls off a pike on the roof of Westminster Abbey. It's picked up by a security guard who takes it to his home and puts it in his chimney.
On his deathbed, the security guard confessed to his daughter that he had Oliver Cromwell's head hidden in his chimney and that she was now in charge of it. Not wanting to keep it, she sold it to Claudius Du Puy, a Swiss-French collector of rare curiosities.
Du Puy kept the head until his death in 1738. In the 1740s, Du Puy's estate sold the head to Samuel Russell. Russell would take the head to parties and pass it around. But when Russell fell into deep debt, he sold the head to James Cox
Cox was a renowned goldsmith, toyman, and clock worker. He simply bought the head so he could resell it at a higher price. And he did that, selling it to a trio of brothers by the name of Hughes.
The Hughes brothers purchased the head in 1799 to put it on exhibition, but the public didn't come to see it. Nobody believed it was actually Oliver Cromwell's head. The head fell back into obscurity and one of the Hughes daughters kept it safe.
After tiring of holding on to the head and with no museums wanting it, the Hughes daughter sold it to Josiah Henry Wilkinson in 1815. It was with the Wilkinson family for more than 140 years, so the head would eventually take on the name, "The Wilkinson Head."
In 1875, another party came forward and claimed to have Oliver Cromwell's head. After analysis by a famed zoologist and physician, it was determined that Wilkinson's head was not only authentic but much closer to the description of Cromwell’s head than the other skull.
The skull went back into obscurity until the Eugenicist Karl Pearson and Anthropologist Geoffrey Morant examined the skull in 1935. They observed that the skull had gone through an embalming process very similar to what Cromwell’s corpse would have gone through. They also noted that the head was of a man around the age of 60, who had been decapitated with an ax, which was both the age Cromwell was when he died, and how his head was severed after death.
During the 1950s, the head underwent an X-ray examination. While they couldn’t give a concrete yes, the exam supported much of Morant and Pearson's observations. For all intents and purposes, this was Oliver Cromwell’s head.
On March 25, 1960, working with the Sidney Sussex College, Horace Wilkinson had "The Wilkinson Head" buried in secret near the antechapel. The burial was witnessed by a few key college representatives and descendants of Oliver Cromwell. Two years later, in 1962, they announced the burial publically, and even erected a plaque near the burial site to commemorate the final resting place of Oliver Cromwell. Thus ended the saga of The Wilkinson Head, formerly known as Oliver Cromwell's head.
E4: “Portrait of a Young Man” - Raphael’s Lost Artwork
Many of the world’s most priceless paintings were stolen by the Nazis. Most were either recovered or eventually resurfaced. But Raphael's "Portrait of a Young Man" has never been found. Was it left behind in a cave or cellar for safe keeping? Is it floating on the black market? Or was it destroyed entirely?
The painting is 28 inches by 22 inches and is oil on wood. This means that during Nazi looting, it couldn’t have been rolled up and transported like canvas artworks. It was was fairly large and bulky and would be difficult to transport undetected, which makes it hard to fathom how such a bulky and noteworthy painting could simply disappear.
When Nazi Leader Hans Frank moved to a residence in Bavaria on January 25, 1945, he selected numerous pieces of stolen art to accompany him. Among them were “Lady with an Ermine” by Leonardo da Vinci and “Landscape with the Good Samaritan” by Rembrandt. But due to its size, “Portrait of a Young Man” would be sent for later. Dr. Wilhelm Ernst von Palézieux, Frank’s personal art adviser and an interior designer for the Governor’s residences, was in charge of overseeing the artwork and its relocation with Frank.
Frank received another shipment a month later, but “Portrait of a Young Man” was not among it. Four months later, Hans Frank was captured by American forces in southern Bavaria, but the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives division of the Allied Forces were unable to locate Raphael’s work.
Palézieux was the last to see “Portrait of a Young Man” but was never taken seriously as a suspect. He easily could have hidden the painting or sold it. And as long as whoever has it realizes that international programs are still trying to recover lost and looted art, they will likely stay in hiding. Will anybody ever see “Portrait of a Young Man” again? Only time will tell.
E5: “Lost Civilization of Túcume”
Túcume was founded around 1100 AD and thrived for over four centuries. Located in the Lambayeque Valley in Northern Peru, it contains ruins of dozens of mud-brick pyramids. Around 1530, thousands of people of Túcume simply vanished. All that was left were the burnt remains of their pyramids. Where did these people go?
Instead of excavating deeper, 1-meter squares, archaeologists decided to dig shallower 100-meter squares. Since they didn’t find anything, that was a clue that Túcume had been willingly abandoned. Otherwise, there would be bones, cups, or utensils of some sort. So archaeologists could rule out a natural disaster or outside invaders.
Later on in the dig, archaeologists found burial niches filled in with sand and ash storing broken ceramics, rags, shells, bone and carbon. This meant the inhabitants of Túcume were actively hiding the artifacts. But from who? They couldn’t be certain.
They were able to determine that Túcume was likely a political and religious center that was conquered by the Chimu around 1375, and then by the Inca around 1470.
It is likely that in Túcume’s final days, a series of human sacrifices took place in an attempt to convince the gods to prevent the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores. And when that didn’t work, it was willingly burned and abandoned.
With the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors, came the arrival of smallpox. After Túcume’s population was decimated by the disease, it’s thought that its remaining citizens dispersed across the Lambayeque Valley in an effort to escape Spanish conquest.