The most bizarre unsolved mysteries of 2018 so far

Another year, another litany of messed-up things happening all over the world, some of which can be classified as real, bona-fide mysteries. And while we'd love to be able to present to you a list of nothing but anonymous celebrities biting other celebrities at parties, that's not the world we live in. Mysterious attacks on American diplomats, disappearances, deaths, and, yes, bags of severed hands are some of the other horrible things that have happened so far in 2018, and what's worse — these are all questions that we still don't have answers to. So if you prefer the sorts of mysteries that have a neat, tidy conclusion, maybe go stream all 273 episodes of Murder, She Wrote (and all four made-for-TV movies). Otherwise, check out this list of some of the more bizarre unsolved crimes, strange pranks, and other bizarre incidents that have happened so far in 2018.

Why was a car hanging from a Toronto bridge?

Back in 2001, some engineering students from the University of British Columbia suspended a Canadian flag-bearing red Volkswagen Beetle from the Golden Gate Bridge because that's how Canadian engineering students declare themselves to the rest of the world. Not to be outdone, some anonymous person in Toronto did the same thing, except he/she was totally outdone because the bridge was just basically some random overpass, the car was much lamer than a Volkswagen Beetle, and there was no Canadian flag or even a note to let puzzled officials know the awesomeness of the perpetrator.

According to The Guardian, the car was a "hollowed-out Honda Civic," which had all its identifying marks removed and was dangling by a cable. At first, officials thought it was a movie prop, but there weren't actually any movies shooting in the area at the time. What's more, no one seemed to recall seeing a bunch of suspicious-looking people either pushing the car over the edge or lifting it up, both of which would have been difficult to miss.

Police got the car down without incident, but to date no one has actually confessed to the prank. Perhaps police ought to stake out a few college pubs because no one hangs a car off the side of a bridge and then doesn't brag about it over a couple beers.

Who dumped a bag of severed hands at a popular Russian fishing spot?

Let's say you're fishing and you reach into your bag to get some bait, but oops, it isn't actually your bag it's some other bag, and double oops, it's full of severed human hands.

Now, that's not exactly how the whole thing went down, but still, a bag of 54 severed human hands was found in Russia at a popular fishing spot, so presumably where it might have been discovered by some kids angling with Grandpa, thus scarring them horribly for the rest of their lives.

First, someone found a single hand, which led to the discovery of the bag on an island in the Amur River, about 20 miles from China. According to the Siberian Times, police were unable to determine who any of the hands belonged to, though they were evidently complete sets (27 pairs) and at least one of them had usable fingerprints, even though that didn't seem to help police figure out who-what-where-why.

Local media did say that some medical supplies were found nearby, including bandages and hospital shoe covers, so perhaps the hands were removed from cadavers for … some reason? So far, no double hand amputees have come forward to claim the missing appendages. The Russian government did say they believed the hands were illegally disposed of by a local medical examiner's office, where it's evidently a weirdly common practice to cut off corpses' hands for "future identification." Gross.

Why did an entire family plunge off the side of a cliff in their SUV?

Friends knew the Hart family as "beautiful examples of opening arms to strangers, helping youth, supporting racial equality," but investigators think the parents might have intentionally killed themselves and all their children.

In March, the family's SUV plunged off a 70-foot cliff into the Pacific Ocean. All six family members — two adults and four children — were either confirmed dead or missing and presumed dead. According to NBC News, authorities said the driver, Jennifer Hart, had a blood alcohol content of .102, while several other family members had high levels of an over-the-counter medication that can cause drowsiness. Especially chilling: There were no skid marks at the scene, and the on-board computer indicated the vehicle stopped and then accelerated suddenly before plunging off the side of the cliff, possibly suggesting the act was intentional.

But there was no suicide note, and friends and family were adamant that the couple would never have done such a thing intentionally. On the flip side, neighbors recently reported the family to state social services because one of the boys kept coming over to ask for food and reportedly said his parents would sometimes stop feeding the kids as a form of punishment. And in 2011 Sarah Hart had been charged with domestic assault against her 6-year-old daughter, so it's likely that all was not as well as it seemed.

Who is still producing the banned ozone-destroying chemical CFC-11?

Back in the '80s, the giant hole in the ozone layer was big news. After all, those huge hairstyles required copious amounts of aerosol hairspray made with ozone-destroying CFCs, and that was starting to take its toll on the Earth's atmosphere. According to NASA, the ozone hole — which still forms annually over Antarctica — was 10.9 million square miles in 2015, but the following year only reached 8.9 million square miles. That was optimistic news that the ozone hole might finally be recovering from the Duran Duran years, even if the rest of us are not.

But because somewhere in the world at any point in time is a government, business, or person who really does not give a crap about the ozone layer or anything else that doesn't have a dollar sign attached to it, scientists have learned that the ozone layer's recovery might not be 100 percent assured because someone out there is still using CFCs. On May 16, 2018, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported a rise in CFC emissions, which can be tracked in global wind patterns. The lead of the NOAA study told the Boulder Weekly that the chemical is probably being produced in eastern Asia, but no one knows exactly who might be producing and using it. The story becomes even weirder when you consider that no one really needs to use CFCs anymore — some of the alternatives are actually cheaper.

SOLVED: In July 2018, investigators from the non-governmental Environmental Investigation Agency finally identified Chinese insulating foam manufacturers as the source of the CFCs. Investigators told the Guardian that out of 21 manufacturers, 18 admitted to using CFC-11, despite knowing the chemical was illegal. Their reason? Everyone else does it.

What caused a mysterious illness in U.S. government workers in China?

No one is sure why American government workers in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou suddenly started falling mysteriously ill, but the incident was eerily reminiscent of the unexplained illness that affected U.S. government workers in Cuba in the fall of 2017. Time described those incidents as "sonic attacks" that left victims with a strange assortment of symptoms, including "fatigue, insomnia, and 'cognitive issues.'"

The first person to be affected in China was an employee at the U.S. Consulate, who reported "subtle and vague, but abnormal, sensations of sound and pressure." In April, the employee was diagnosed with a mild traumatic brain injury and sent back to the United States. Then in June, officials reported that more Americans were being screened for similar health concerns, and many were being evacuated.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the "medical indications are very similar and entirely consistent with the medical indications that have taken place to Americans working in Cuba," which the government also called "specific attacks" on Americans, so it's pretty clear that someone is allegedly out to get us. Exactly who, though, no one really knows.

Why was there a monocled albino cobra loose on the streets of College Station, Texas?

If you live in the southern United States, you already know there's a very real possibility you might get bitten by a venomous snake while on some innocent hike through the wilderness or while picking tomatoes or after you've decapitated a snake with a shovel. Most of us find solace in knowing that people hardly ever die from the bite of an American rattlesnake. Cobras, on the other hand — cobras are some of the deadliest snakes in the world, and they don't even have rattles to warn you away before they strike. So thank goodness cobras mostly don't live in the West, right?

Well, there was the albino monocled cobra someone found roaming the neighborhoods of College Station, Texas. According to a local news station, this particular cobra terrorized residents in the backyard of their apartment complex when it crawled through a fence. Animal control retrieved the snake, but police say there really isn't anything they can do "unless someone comes forward," and since it's against city ordinances to own a venomous snake, good luck with that one. Besides, the snake "behaved aggressively and is now deceased."

What caused a series of strange explosions 4 billion light-years away?

In the spring, scientists saw something really strange in the night sky: A large number of bright, flashing explosions that were happening an estimated 4 billion light-years away. According to the Royal Astronomical Society, there were 72 explosions in total, and they were as bright as supernovas, but shorter lived — a supernova is typically visible for months, while these lights disappeared somewhere between a week and a month after they appeared. Scientists estimated that each explosion was between 10,000 and 30,000 degrees Celsius.

Some scientists have proposed that the explosions actually are supernovas, but perhaps the supernova illuminated a cloud of dust surrounding the star, and that's what the scientists were seeing. Or maybe they're an entirely new astronomical phenomenon. What is known is that Stephen Hawking died just a few weeks before all this research was presented, so, coincidence? Maybe he's out there in the cosmos somewhere, just trying to keep scientists on their toes.

How did a CDC employee end up dead in a river?

The CDC is the only thing that stands between us and flesh-eating H1N3000 Zikabola. (Just kidding, that's not a thing.) But still, when there's mysterious tragedy at the CDC, we kind of feel a little like there's a chip in our armor.

Timothy Cunningham was 35 years old, Harvard-educated, and a commander in the U.S. Public Health Service. According to Time, on February 12, he told coworkers he felt ill and went home, and then he vanished.

His dog, wallet, car, and cell phone were all in their places at his residence. He'd also left a couple of windows open, which his family said was out of character since he was known to be very environmentally conscious. And his mother told police he'd recently been passed up for a promotion, so he might not have been in a great place emotionally.

Two months after Cunningham's disappearance, his body was found in the Chattahoochee River. Police said there was no evidence of foul play. Still, why did a guy who was energy-conscious and never left his dog unattended leave his windows open and his dog at home so he could go for a stroll along the river in February without his wallet or phone? "Barring new information coming forward, we may never be able to tell you how he got into the river," said an Atlanta police officer.

SOLVED: After a six-week investigation, during which they spoke to Cunningham's family and close friends, the Fulton County Medical Examiner's office concluded that Cunningham had tragically committed suicide. If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

What is sickening hundreds of dogs in the eastern USA?

We spend a lot of time freaking out about mystery illnesses in humans because the media has done a pretty good job convincing us that a global pandemic is forthcoming and we'd better stock up on respirators and canned beans just in case. But what we do tend to forget is that human viruses aren't the only ones that mutate and humans aren't the only animals that get sick. Since early August a strange outbreak of respiratory illness has been sickening dogs in the eastern United States — and the illness doesn't correspond with any of 11 common canine viruses and bacteria that cause similar symptoms.

A veterinarian in Hilton Head, South Carolina, says the dogs are all suffering from mild to severe coughing and sometimes vomiting, fever, and lethargy. So far there haven't been any fatalities, but the fact that tests for common respiratory illnesses are all coming back negative is particularly concerning and could be an indication that the virus is either a mutated form or something completely new. As of the middle of August, the illness still had not been named, even though People magazine estimates as many as 1,000 dogs have been sickened in the area around Charlottesville alone. Reports of similar illness have come from as far away as Louisiana and Texas, although officials aren't sure if it's the same illness or if veterinarians are just being especially cautious. 

What happened to Seattle's 'Mystery Machine'?

A soda machine in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle was a mystery for many years. First, why were its sodas only 75 cents, when vending machine sodas all over the rest of the nation have cost at least $1.25 for at least a decade? But there's more: The machine was seriously old, and it featured a "mystery" button, for those who like to live dangerously. According to Atlas Obscura, it wasn't just the question of what soda you'd get that made the machine such an enigma, it was also its entire existence — no one knew who owned it, who stocked it, and therefore who was not getting very rich off all those 75-cent sodas.

Then, without warning, all the buttons became "mystery" buttons, and the price went up to 1 dollar. And then the machine just disappeared altogether, leaving behind a note that simply said "went for a walk."

On the machine's Facebook page (because it has one), the explanation for its sudden disappearance was elaborated to "Going for a walk, need to find myself. Maybe take a shower even." Beyond that, no one knows what became of the iconic vending machine, though it doesn't seem like a stretch to speculate that after so many years, it was probably due for service.

UPDATE: As of the end of October, the Mystery Machine still hadn't returned, but its Facebook page has been pretty busy, featuring images of the intrepid soda machine traveling the globe, hanging out with bears, and Photoshopp … err … posing next to famous landmarks. Sort of like a traveling gnome, except totally fake.

Why was this New Mexico observatory evacuated?

If television has taught us anything, it's that evacuations are always very bad. In fact we don't even really need television to tell us that, because generally speaking, any time you say the words "Everyone get out of here, we're evacuating!" then people usually get the hint that things are very bad.

According to multiple reports, on September 6 the Sunspot Solar Observatory in New Mexico, where one of the world's largest solar telescopes lives, was shut down and evacuated without warning or explanation. Then, because the whole story wasn't conspiracy-ish enough, the FBI showed up and started crawling all over the place like Mulder and Scully in Season 2, Episode 1, only without the Illuminati theme song. And to make the mystery even more mysterious, the FBI wouldn't tell anyone what was going on, even though the FBI is usually so candid and forthcoming about everything.

Anyway the observatory stayed closed for 11 days, and then it opened back up again and employees probably weren't at all anxious about returning to a workplace that had recently been evacuated for mysterious reasons having to do with the FBI. The only thing authorities would say was that there was a "suspect" who "potentially posed a threat," but they failed to elaborate on whether it was a human suspect or a gray alien suspect, so clearly they're hiding something. Because you know, New Mexico. Right?

SOLVED: As it turned out, the real explanation for the observatory's shutdown was much more horrific than an X-Files style alien conspiracy. According to NPR, the FBI believed someone at the observatory was using the WiFi to download and distribute child pornography. Let's just pretend it was aliens instead, though.

What is causing a mysterious polio-like illness in the United States?

Polio was officially eradicated from the United States in 1979. If you're too young to remember a time when the disease terrorized children and their parents, here's why polio eradication was a priority: It was highly infectious, it caused 15,000 cases of paralysis every year at its height, and it really sucked. We take our polio-free society for granted, because there's hardly anyone left who remembers how much it sucked.

Then, nature decided to send us a little reminder about how much polio sucked by inventing a disease that looks an awful lot like polio. According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, a mysterious polio-like illness recently sickened three children in Pittsburgh and a handful of others in Minnesota and Illinois.

The disease is called acute flaccid myelitis, or AFM, and symptoms include muscle weakness, facial and eyelid drooping, and some other terrifying things like slurred speech, trouble swallowing or moving the eyes, and respiratory failure. But AFM isn't a specific virus. Rather, it's triggered by something else like a toxin in the environment or an enterovirus, which is a common virus that causes minor cold-like symptoms. AFM isn't new (the CDC has been tracking a spike in cases since 2014), but the fact that there are clusters of cases implies there's a particularly insidious contagion floating around this year, and the CDC still isn't sure what it is.

What happened to journalist Jamal Khashoggi?

Journalist Jamal Khashoggi fled Saudi Arabia in 2017, when the kingdom became increasingly hostile toward people who were openly critical of the royal family. Then he wrote some stuff for the Washington Post that was sort of extra-critical of the royal family, and the royal family was not impressed.

 According to USA Today, on October 2, Khashoggi was visiting the Saudi consulate in Turkey, where he intended to obtain some paperwork he needed for his upcoming marriage to a Turkish citizen. That was the last time anyone reported seeing him.

Turkey blamed the disappearance on a hit squad — a team of 15 guys who were flown in from Saudi Arabia just for the occasion. But Saudi authorities denied they'd had anything to do with the incident, and to prove it, they joined with Turkey to launch a joint investigation into the disappearance, which seems pretty odd when you consider that Turkey had just got done telling everyone it was a Saudi hit squad.

In the days that followed Khashoggi's disappearance, the Saudi explanation finally boiled down to an interrogation that turned into a brawl that somehow also involved a bone saw and a body double. It does seem pretty unlikely that the Saudis will ever own up to the whole truth, but in the meantime, here's some advice: If you have to flee your country because the royal family doesn't like the things you're saying, it's probably a good idea to keep at least an ocean between you and the people you upset from that moment forward.