Thursday, January 5, 2012

Mysteries Among Us #6

Diana Renn: Sometimes mysteries brush up against us and feel uncomfortably close. Two years ago, a colleague of mine in the textbook writing business went missing. She boarded a Washington State Ferry and never got off the boat. Her car was found unoccupied on the ferry dock, her purse, wallet and keys on a table in the dining area of the ferry. They searched the cold waters of Puget Sound, but a body was never recovered. Foul play was initially suspected, but then a note was found sometime later, and signs pointed to suicide. Yet many people who met or knew this cheerful, ambitious, high-achiever -- who was also a wife and a mother of two -- and an accomplished swimmer, oddly enough -- were left with questions about the circumstances of her demise. I wasn't close to this person, but had met her several times at conferences and received professional advice from her over the years, and we'd worked together briefly on a publishing project. So when I see her name on book spines, I still feel that jolt, and that simple question zings back at me: why? I don't feel compelled to write about this mystery in fiction. But thinking of that glaring why? guides my mystery writing. Why? is like a blinking neon sign above my head when I work. It compels me to ponder motives and causes, to carefully consider the reasons behind my characters' puzzling behaviors.

Kristen Kittscher:  Legends of ghost ships such as The Flying Dutchman or the Mary Celeste have gripped imaginations for generations, but the more modern mystery of the S.S. Ourang Medan intrigues me even more. Allegedly, in 1947 the Dutch cargo ship sailing the Strait of Malacca near Sumatra, Indonesia sent out a series of distress signals reporting the deaths of several of the ships' officers, ending with the radio operator's simple declaration, "I die." When two nearby American ships rushed to the Ourang Medan's aid, they found everyone aboard dead -- including the ship captain's dog. Almost every corpse they found was wide-eyed in terror, arms outstretched as if fighting off invisible assailants. Shortly after the American crews headed back to their own ship, the Ourang Medan exploded with such force that it "lifted itself from the water and swiftly sank," a U.S. Coast Guard publication later reported. Oddly, though, no records of the Ourang Medan could be found later. Some people believe the story is a hoax. Others think that the boat may have been carrying top secret, dangerous cargo such as wartime stocks of nerve agents that somehow reacted with sea water entering the ship's hold, releasing toxic gases that poisoned or asphyxiated the crew. Still others maintain that the crewmen must have been battling paranormal phenomena. Whatever the truth, it sure makes for a fascinating mystery.

Talia Vance:  I'm intrigued by the disappearance of Peter Winston, a junior chess champion, who was never seen again after leaving a tournament in early 1978.  He had suffered a string of losses, losing 9 of 9 matches in one tournament in 1977.  Those losses prompted the sponsoring organization to determine that Winston must have thrown the matches, since it was statistically improbable that a player of his caliber would lose all 9 matches.  Winston is rumored to have suffered from depression, and there is speculation that Winston committed suicide, but no body was ever found.  Just before turning twenty, Peter Winston disappeared from the world of chess and the world as a whole.  Did he kill himself?  Was there foul play?  Or did he reinvent himself, creating a new identity?  Where is Peter Winston?


  1. I love real life mysteries - they are so inspiring for fiction!

    For me it's the mystery behind the Gardner Museum Heist - the largest unsolved art heist which of course prompted me to write a book about it with a fictional reason behind it. :)

  2. Fascinating! I'd never heard of that heist. I've got heists on the mind today after the one in Greece yesterday.


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