A Tale of Two Towers

I can’t believe the Twin Towers have been gone for twenty years.

Formerly a part of New York’s skyline, the buildings are now considered relics of a bygone era. One before global surveillance, strict airport security, and Internet-ruled lives. An era when children would play outside past the hour of darkness and when TV was in its golden age.

It may sound crazy now, but we believed that the Twin Towers would stand long after our time was over. Strong, aloof, confident, and dominating, they embodied the very ideals of capitalism and globalization.

Sadly, the Towers have now become tragic icons of one of the West’s bloodiest and most harrowing days. Before, however, they were seen as status symbols of worldwide commerce – in fact, they were seen the exclamation point on the most famous city on Earth.

In the 27 years they were standing, the charismatic Twin Towers lived a complicated life. Seen as unwanted behemoths at first, the underdog buildings soon charmed their way into our hearts and became two of the most iconic buildings in the Western hemisphere. Fighting criticism, fire, and tragedy on the way, the Towers were a lot more resilient than people gave them credit for.

It Took Time for the Towers to Grow on us

Described as ”ugly and utilitarian” when they were first constructed, the Twin Towers were considered superfluous and ugly when they first went up. Making matters worse was the fact that the Towers were built on a much-loved area of town called Radio Row – where small buisness thirved and where people weren’t afraid to get their hands dirty.

The idea that a monstrous, 16-acre buisness complex (where industry fat cats and overpaid, arguing bureaucrats would work) rubbed many people they wrong way.

Despite their enormous heights, the Twin Towers were underdogs in their first few years of life. New York wasn’t sold on them yet, and they had a lot to prove before they could even be considered in the same ballpark as the beloved Empire State Building and Chrysler Building.

Philippe Petit Reaches the Clouds

The morning of August 7, 1974, proved to be a turning point in the World Trade Center’s young life.

After six years of planning, 24-year-old Phillipe Petit pulled off his audcaious coup of stringing a high-wire across the two towers (with the help of some buddies of his) and walking across it, unsupported, for 45 minutes. As dazzled spectators looked above, Petit performed his mesmerising routine without a care, or fear, in the world. In the midst of the Watergate scandal, Petit gave the city a brief escape to the childlike wonder that the world had lost in the 1970s.

Petit’s walk got people talking about the Towers. People began to realise that, perhaps, they were more than ”oversized filing cabinets” and that they finally had a place in the City of New York.

February 13, 1975

The Twin Towers’s first brush with danger occured when a three-alarm fire broke out in the North Tower on February 13, 1975.

It was like fighting a blow torch” – a fire chief said. The necks and ears of his men were grazed by the flames as they ascended to the epicenter of the blaze on the 11th floor.

Though the lower area of the North Tower was heavily damaged, the fireproof insulation protected the building from the worst of the heat. Thankfully, nobody died or suffered serious injuries in the blaze.

“I’d sleep a lot better at night if the World Trade Center had sprinklers”– Fire Commissioner John T. O’Hagan proclaimed.

The Towers Slowly Become Accepted

New York was a more optimistic place in the 80s. Crime was down, investment was made, and large corporations indulged in legendary hedonism in Downtown Manhattan. (American Psycho, anyone?)

The construction of the World Financial Center brought some much-needed balance to the Twin Towers’ appearance. Before, the lack of buildings around them made them stick out like a sore thumb, but the new buildings helped give the impression they were a grand crescendo on the orchestra of architecture in Battery Park City.

The World Trade Center Towers began to thrive. The South Tower’s observation deck became one of the most-visited tourist attraction in the United States and offered views for miles. Fifty-thousand people worked in them on any given day. Thousands more shopped in the mall underground. The crown jewel, however, was the Windows on the World Restaurant.

Windows on the World. Photo: User:Raphael.concorde

The intimate Windows on the World became the highest-grossing restaurant in the United States. In 2000, it generated $37 million in revenue and was considered one of the most exclusive spots in the city.

Tragedy Strikes

The Twin Towers were struck by tragedy on February 26, 1993. A van, parked in the basement of the North Tower, exploded after being loaded by explosives. Seven people died in the blast at bedlam erupted on the upper floors of the building.

Ramzi Yousef and Eyad Ismoil were arrested for the attacks and were each sentenced to hundreds of years in prison. Ismoli is scheduled for release in the year 2208.

The bombing left a deep scar on the World Trade Center. Though they were resilient, they were vulnerable to future attacks and special care was made to ensure public safety. Guards were implemented. All incoming vehicles were subject to checks. Surveillance cameras were installed across the complex. A memorial to the victims was later dedicated in the Austin Tobin Plaza.

1993 Memorial Fountain.. Photo: 9/11 Memorial

The wound of the 1993 bombing remained raw but the Twin Towers’ life continued. By the mid 90s, they had become the de facto icons of Manhattan. Almost thirty years after their controversial construction, they were finally reaching their potential as world-famous landmarks.

The sun set on the Twin Towers for the final time on September 10, 2001. A storm rolled into New York Harbour that evening, and the Twin Towers, as they so often did, stood valiantly and unshakeably for one final time. After a life of hardship, derision, and eventual acceptance, their 27-year story was coming to a close.

A storm rips through Lower Manhattan in 1999. Photo: Gregor Smith

How John List Almost Got Away With Murder

On March 21, 2008, John List died in prison. 

It had been a long life for Mr. List. One that saw him fight for his country amid the Korean War as a young man before realizing his skills as an accountant. During his 82 years, List wore many hats – he was a soldier, a husband, a father, an accountant, and a multiple murderer. 

The Background

After getting married to Helen Morris Taylor in 1951, John List soon found himself at the very top of a successful accounting company. 

A mansion in Westfield, New Jersey, became the permanent home of the Lists in 1965. By then, the family empire had grown to include sons Frederick and John Jr. along with a daughter, Patricia. John’s 84-year-old mother, Alma, resided in the converted attic on the upper floors.

Breeze Knoll Mansion, home of the List family (pinterest.com)

On the surface, John List had everything going for him. The beautiful Victorian mansion he owned, known as Breeze Knoll, had nineteen bedrooms and supported a quintessentially suburban American family. 

As was so often the case in John List’s life, however, the apparent tranquility was only surface-level. 

The Motive

By November 1971, List’s financial state was in tatters. 

He had been made redundant from his accounting job and was now faced with the embarrassing task of telling his family that Christmas in the List household was going to a light one. 

The layoff tortured List. Having grown up in a family that preached self-sufficiency over all else, List viewed himself as an abject failure. 

So humiliated he was that instead of telling his family about his unemployment, List bided his time reading newspapers at the local train station until it was time to come home under the illusion that he had been at work. 

He also skimmed money from his mother’s bank account to keep his home from being repossessed. List knew that this facade couldn’t last forever and that he was going to have to face the proverbial music at some point. Making matters worse was the fact that his marriage was failing. 

Helen had become an alcoholic. To John, she was a shell of the vibrant, compassionate woman he had fallen in love with some two decades before. 

The List family, c.1970 (mycentraljersey.com)

The already insecure John was on the receiving end of Helen’s constant negative comparison to him and her previous husband – saying that both his attitude to life and sexual prowess was nothing in comparison to her ex. 

A battle with cerebral atrophy had left Helen perpetually bedridden by late 1971. This, combined with her volatile demeanor, had shattered their marriage along with John’s patience. 

Unemployed, embarrassed, and unhappy, John List formulated a plan:

He would kill his family, send their souls to heaven, and escape with a new life. 

The Murder

On November 9, 1971, John List’s plan got underway. 

As Helen sat at the kitchen table partaking in her morning coffee, her husband fatally shot her in the back of the head. 

He then ascended to the upper floor and did the same to his mother, Alma. 

As the List children returned home from school, they suffered the same fate. After making himself a sandwich, John then drove to watch his youngest son, John Jr., play in a soccer game. 

Despite a brief fightback, he was shot, too. John Sr. then closed both his and Alma’s bank account, placed a sleeping bag over his family’s bodies, wrote a five-page note to his pastor, and then departed into the night. 

An 18-year manhunt was now underway. 

News clipping of the List murders shortly after the fact, 1971. (pinterest.com)

The Escape 

John had done a meticulous job covering his tracks after the slayings. He ceased all mail and milk deliveries to Breeze Knoll, wrote to his children’s schools to say they were to be absent for several weeks, and had left the lights on in his home to give the impression it was occupied. 

After neighbors noticed that the house lights had been on constantly for over a month, they called the police. 

John’s obsessive track-covering meant that the bodies of his family weren’t found until December 7. By this time, List was long gone. He had painstakingly removed himself from every photo in the house meaning that police had no contemporary photos of their prime suspect. 

In a red herring, List had parked his car at John F. Kennedy International Airport to convince investigators he had boarded a flight. After a grueling search, they found no evidence he had done so. 

Whilst the police were busy looking, List had boarded a bus to Denver, Colorado, where his new life began.

The Capture

By 1989, the hunt for John List had gone ice-cold. 

With no useful forensic evidence or modern photographs to go on, it seemed like the murders would never be solved. John List could, as far as investigators were concerned, be anywhere in the world – if he was alive at all. 

With investigators at a loss, they turned to television to help bring new eyeballs to the List case and see if its inclusion on America’s Most Wanted would jog the memories of a select few. There was, however, one major caveat: nobody was sure what a now 64-year-old List would even look like. 

Assistance came in the form of forensic artist Frank Bender. Using old photographs of List, Bender created an age-progressed, clay bust of how a current John List might appear.

Frank Bender’s depiction of a 1989 John List, (filmdaily.co)

The bust featured a receding hairline and sagging jowls as the stress of carrying around such a dark secret for so many years was likely to secretly ravage List on the inside. To help remind him of simpler times, List may have worn glasses that were in fashion in his heyday. 

The bust was featured on America’s Most Wanted. Against all odds, Bender’s hypothetical depiction quickly lead to a breakthrough. 

A family in Richmond, Virginia, who lived next to an account named ‘Bob Clark’ noticed that the bust bore a striking resemblance to their neighbor. 

John ‘Bob Clark’ List, 1989, (pinterest.com)

Like List, Clark was a mild-mannered accountant with a receding hairline, sagging jowls, and most notably, outdated glasses. 

Just two weeks after the program aired, ‘Bob Clark’ was arrested in Richmond. 

The 18-year saga of John List had finally come to a close. 

This Pilot Killed Over 150 People

It doesn’t take much for something to stand out in the sleepy, insular commune of Prads-Haute-Bléone, located in the very heart of the French Alps. 

It was this familiarity that made an explosion on March 24, 2015, a rare day of predicament for Prads-Haute-Bléone’s residents. The blast emanated from the nearby mountain range and assaulted the eardrums of everyone in the vicinity. 

First responders arrived at the blast site and found a smorgasbord of debris strewn about the mountainside. The smell of kerosene was abundant and served as a telling clue regarding the source of the explosion.

Just minutes before, air traffic control in Lyon had radioed the responders telling them that an airplane was missing, and that its last known location had been close to Prads-Haute-Bléone. As the seriousness of the situation dawned on the responders, the macabre jigsaw was beginning to fall into place.

An Airbus A320 had crashed into the mountainside at over 440mph, fragmenting itself, and all of its passengers, on impact. Within an hour, the flight was identified as Germanwings Flight 9525 – which had departed Barcelona only 90 minutes before.

The Genesis

Flight 9525 was carrying 144 passengers and six crew on its 90 minute journey from Barcelona to Dusseldorf. At the helm was captain Patrick Sodenheimer, a vertran with over 6,00 flight hours, and co-pilot Andreas Lubitz (27), who had logged 630 flight hours. 

Flight 9525 was only two hours long. By every metric, this was a standard journey, one that Captain Sodenheimer was more than familiar with. Lubitz, too, was no stranger to this journey despite comparative lack of flying hours. 

Piloting had always been Lubitz’s dream. During his youth, his bedroom walls were plastered with posters and artwork from various airlines. Model airplanes and aviation books were another common sight. As soon as he was old enough, Lubitz joined a gliding club in his hometown of Montabaur, Germany, and possessed a tremendous knack for the observation, focus, and decisiveness needed for the pursuit. Lubitz, as he had long suspected, was a natural pilot.

Andreas Lubitz applied to Lufthansa Airways immediately after high school. His strong natural acumen was swiftly noticed at the academy and he placed in the top percentile of all of the aspiring pilots. 

As bright as Lubitz’s aviation career seemed on the surface, there were secret demons to his psyche that he kept well-obscured from those closest to him. He flunked out of the Lufthansa Flight Program just eight weeks after starting due to extreme depressive episodes. So profound was this depression that he spent an extended period of time in psychiatric care and was given a laundry-list of antidepressant drugs to help suppress his darkest thoughts.

‘’Flight 9525, prepare for take off…’’

Twenty-six minutes passed between Flight 9525’s scheduled take off and its eventual ascent into Spanish airspace. The sounds of shuffled in-flight magazines and twiddling of passengers’ thumbs likely reverberated around the cabin in an unremarkable soundtrack.

In the cockpit, Captain Sodenheimer was flying the Airbus A320 to its cruising altitude of 38,000 feet. As the usual radio correspondence filled his headset, he turned to Lubitz and explained that, in his haste, he had forgotten to use the bathroom.

‘’If you need to go, now’s your chance.’’ Luditz stated.

‘’Good idea’’, replied the Captain, ‘’I’ll think I’ll go now.’’

Sodenheimer unbuckled his safety harness and departed for the lavatory at 10:30am. Lubitz now had the entire cockpit to himself.

‘’Which Poison Kills Without Pain?”

Andrea Lubitz’s plan had been in the making for some time. Unbeknownst from even those closest to him, he had been harbouring suicidal thoughts and psychopathic tendencies for several months. Despite regular visits to psychiatrists, his mental health never reached a state of equilibrium. A vision disorder, thought to be psychosomatic, had riddled him for the past two years and Lubitz knew that his flying career was over if his superiors found out about it. 

The double-whammy of Lubitz’s suicidal tendencies combined with the paranoia surrounding his job were the main catalysts behind his mental erosion. His computer search history was littered with disturbing research such as ‘’drinking gasoline’’ and the morbid question ‘’which poison kills without pain’’? The young co-pilot was a ticking time bomb and the true extent of his decline was a secret that he felt no choice but to hide. 

A simple Google search on the night of March 20, 2015, showed the graduation of Lubitz’s suicide plan. An  inqiury into the locking mechanism of an Airbus A320 provided telling evidence of a man who, as well as committing suicide, was well within the planning stage of comitting mass murder. 

‘’For the love of God, open this door!’’

Captain Sodenheimer only needed to be absent for a few minutes before the plan began. Lubitz promptly lowered the plane’s autopilot altitude to 100ft, its lowest setting, and plunged the plane into a rapid descent.

At 10:34, Sodenheimer returned from the bathroom and found himself unable to get in. Perhaps Lubitz was talking to ATC and was unable to hear the knocking over his headset. There was no need to panic just yet, all the Captain had to do was knock louder. 

Lubitz didn’t answer. Nor did he answer air traffic control’s calls regarding Flight 9525’s unauthorized descent. Sodenheimer banged on the door loudly, yelling ‘’let me in!’’, but was, again, met with radio silence. 

Passengers in the nose of the cabin had a front-row seat to the unfolding drama. Sodenheimer used his emergency keycard to gain access to the cockpit, but his entry was easily overridden from the controls. The Captain’s increasingly volatile language, recorded on the cockpit voice recorder, was ample evidence that profound panic was beginning to manifest. 

Sodenheimer could have bashed at the cockpit door all day and it still wouldn’t have budged an inch. Since the 9/11 attacks, the doors have been designed to withstand even the most extreme batterings. The cockpit voice recorder captured sounds of what is believed to be the aircraft’s crash-axe against the door – along with the screams and wails of the flight’s doomed passengers.

Andreas Lubitz deliberately crashed Flight 9525 at 10:41. The rescue team quickly deduced that there were no survivors. 

The aftermath of Flight 9525’s crash, (ibtimes.com)

The ghost of Germanwings 9525 still haunts those who were involved in the disaster. families were torn apart and some were lost entirely. Careers were cut short and life experiences were senselessly robbed. For what? 

We’ll never know what compelled Andreas Lubtiz to take 149 souls to the grave with him. His motive and rationale behind mass murder were, like everything else on-board, lost in a pile of wreckage.

The Complicated Story of Al Jolson and the First Talking Picture

We take movies for granted. These days, audiences have been spoilt by multi-million film budgets and cutting edge CGI as studios constantly figure out ways to impress us. Before all that, though, movies were silent. Although sound effects and musical scores had existed in film for some time, a true talking picture had yet to be seen.

The Challenge of Talking Pictures

Sound on film was definitely possible. In fact, the concept dates back to the late 1880s, when W.K.L. Dickson created the kinetophone – a device which (primitively) synchronised sound and film via a complex system of pulleys. Although functional in theory, the device was a nightmare to align, and the slightest jitter or mistake would render it useless. During this time, however, inventors across the globe were busy working towards smoother means of synchronous sound.

The breakthrough eventually came on April 15, 1923, when inventor Lee De Forest unveiled his state-of-the-art invention, sound-on-film. Using an a vacuum tube to amplify natural sound, the creation was both hassle-free and cheap to use. Realising he may have something to offer Hollywood, De Forest began testing his invention by recording vaudeville performances, musical scores, and general crowd noise.

New York’s Rivoli Theatre held the premier of the first 18 phonofilms produced by De Forest. Though these films were brief and lacked narrative structure, they at least showcased some form of sound in film. As the technology grew, theatres around the country began wiring their halls for sound. Talking pictures, it seemed, were inevitable.

But Hollywood weren’t convinced. Believing ‘talkies’ would only be a passing fad, studio execs maintained a ”don’t fuck with the formula” approach and continued churning out silent movies. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it – right?

Well, kinda. As the 1926 film Don Juan proved, there was a big market for sound (or, in this case, partially sound) films. Produced by up-and-coming studio Warner Brothers, the film featured a full musical soundtrack and sound effects via the brand new Vitaphone technology. Before screening began, audiences were treated to a video message by Will H. Hays, the President of the Motion Pictures and Distributors of America:

Don Juan was a massive hit. After the film’s success, Warner Brothers began their next project – to produce the first ever talking picture.

Al Jolson

Before Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley there was Al Jolson. Dubbed the World’s Greatest Entertainer and, perhaps regrettably, the king of blackface – Jolson’s charisma and singing ability were adored by contemporary audiences. Knowing he was a bankable star, Warner Brothers approached him to be the face of what was at the time the biggest film ever made.

Growing up in poverty, Jolson moved to the U.S. as a youth and decided to pursue a career in show business, despite objections from his stern and deeply religious father. After years of hustling on the cold streets of New York City, his big break came in the form of the 1911 musical comedy La Belle Paree. Wowed by his energy and singing talent, the play launched Jolson in superstardom and made him a true bankable star.

This was why Jolson was chosen to star in the upcoming Jazz Singer – a story loosely based on his life anyway. After signing a huge (for the time) $75,000 contract, work began on the film that was to change the motion picture industry forever. After close friend and fellow star George Jessel pulled out of the picture, Al Jolson was braced to make history – he was going to be the first man to talk on film.

Although The Jazz Singer was featured musical performances early on (Jolson performed Dirty Hands, Dirty Face fifteen minutes into the film) and featured crowd noise from Jolson’s adoring spectators, it was Jolson’s quickfire banter that got the audience starstruck:

His ”wait a minute, you ain’t heard nothin’ yet” line was, according to contemporary reports, met with universal applause and cheers from spectators. The public had never heard dialogue before, and so impressed were they that they initially missed the double entendre.

Though The Jazz Singer showcased less than two minutes of actual speaking, it left a permanent mark on cinema, and cemented Al Jolson as an international superstar.

Jolson’ signature song, Mammy, performed in blackface

Jolson’s use of blackface has tarnished his legacy. Though completely unacceptable nowadays, it’d be unfair to call Al Jolson a racist. In fact, he was held in high regard by the contemporary African-American community. After singer Noble Sissle was denied service at a restuarant, Jolson was quick to reprimand the owners and promised to punch anyone who tried to remove Sissle in the future.

Of course, one act of kindness doesn’t necessarily mean Jolson was a saint. Though he had his faults, racial prejudice doesn’t seem to be a theme in his career. Though we look at blackface as a grotesque reminder of the Jim Crow days, Jolson’s rationale for donning the makeup was certainly not rooted in racial hatred. Rather, the facade helped him overcome his nerves and felt as if he was ‘hidden’ behind it.

Though Al Jolson’s pasty looks, unglamourous age (41 in 1927) and receding hairline aren’t exactly traits one would associate with a Hollywood star, his mere stage presence and command over his audience are evident on film. His wild gesticulations and happy-go-lucky voice is apparent almost 100 years later, though his acting ability is somewhat mediocre. Jolson’s schtick was definitely more suited to theatre.

Jolson’s star faded in the following decades. World War Two and its aftermath changed popular culture – and Jolson wasn’t able to keep up. A rigorous schedule and a strong, New York work ethic kept him busy, however, and he remained a hit with the armed forces. In 1950, Jolson died of a massive heart attack whilst playing cards in a San Francisco hotel suite. He was 64.

Jolson’s legacy is complicated so say the least. Though he was a great entertainer for his day, his music has hardly stood the test of time and his use of blackface serves as a reminder of a past world. He is, however, the man who took cinema into the Talking Age – something that can never be taken away from him.

Why are We So Obsessed With: Celebrities?

Reading about the lives of ‘Great Men’ became a popular pastime during the 19th century.

Most worked soul-crushing hours at miserable, backbreaking jobs, so immersing themselves in exciting, dangerous tales provided a much-needed form of escapism. Fueling this new hobby was the advent of modern technology and increasing literacy rates across society.

Stories of great Napoleonic battles and the fierce, unforgiving lives of Roman gladiators injected some much-needed adrenaline into the factory-like repetitiveness of life during the Industrial Revolution. Thinkers such as Voltaire and Byron rose to prominence, Mozart had his legions of adoring fans, and Franz Liszt concerts often caused mass hysteria amongst his female spectators.

The enduring fascination with Great Men sowed the seeds for what we’d now refer to as celebrity culture. The weathered hardback books of our Victorian ancestors may be long gone, but our obsession with famous (or infamous) people is more alive than ever.

From Plato to Presley

In fact, celebrity worship is a billion-dollar industry. Every year, millions of us tune in to the Oscars to watch our favorite actors, directors, and animators receive a pat on the back from Hollywood’s elite. Celebs’ outfits are scrutinized, their performances analyzed, and their acceptance speeches often go viral.

To analyze how we became such unapologetic celebrity worshippers requires us to explore a behavioral trait endemic to the human race – the state of reverence.

Historical studies show us that human societies have always had a need to ‘worship’ things — and sure enough this was often special people in society — the best hunters, athletes, the most beautiful, the smartest, the most spiritual.”

James Houran, clinical psychologist.

Even the earliest human societies had celebrities. A master hunter-gatherer would’ve used his skills to illicit his share of respect, adulation, and female attention. Other males would’ve envied him, whilst others would have liked to have been him.

Ancient Greece cherished their great thinkers. Plato, Aristotle, and Socrates seemingly possessed the solutions to all of life’s problems, and would’ve had a flock of admirers themselves. Despite our technological advancements, humans haven’t changed a lot since then.

What Makes Celebrities so Alluring?

History shows that humans are no strangers to putting people on pedestals. A big component behind our celeb-obsessed culture is good old fashioned envy. Whilst this is hardly a groundbreaking observation, it remains true whether we like it or not.

Celebrities have, undeservedly, taken the place of Greek philosophers and Neolithic hunter-gatherers. They’re presented as society’s most talented, most interesting, and most beautiful, and we gladly lap it up.

However, the jealously that we feel towards our celebrity overlords can quickly sour – sometimes with even fatal consequences. Take Mark Chapman for example. His adulation of John Lennon took a dark turn after the singer’s ”bigger than Jesus” remark was one of the driving forces behind Chapman’s mission to kill Lennon.

We develop deep bonds with celebrities. We watch them grow up, we become immersed in their love lives, we emulate their fashion senses, and we see their mistakes and mishaps. Whether or not we know them personally is irrelevant. There’s a bond with our favorite stars that is built on envy, admiration, and, sometimes, borderline obsession.

Sometimes we even use our all-encompassing knowledge of celebrities as a coping mechanism. promoting in people the illusion that we can actually know and develop a relationship with celebrities. ”In essence, people seem to confuse having a lot of information about a celebrity with genuine intimacy,” states James Houran.

Real-life relationships can be scary, hurtful, and plain disappointing. Therefore, developing a far-away infatuation with a movie star or rock musician provides a low-risk alternative. The fantasy relationship can never hurt us due to the simple fact that it’s not real in the first place.

I think the biggest reason why we become so enamoured with the rich and famous, however, is because they help us escape our often-monotonous lives. As Hunter S. Thompson said:

Myths and legends die hard in America. We love them for the extra dimension they provide, the illusion of near-infinite possibility to erase the narrow confines of most men’s reality.”

It’s one of my favorite quotes because it is so true. Perhaps we’re not so different from our 19th-century ancestors. We’re still reading about Great Men as they give us the license to escape the office cubicles, gridlocked traffic, and obnoxious fluorescent lights that are such big parts of our lives.

Though the Great Men of yesteryear have been replaced by actors, socialites, and billionaire app developers, our obsession with celebrities remains.

3 Unsolved Disappearances From London

London is the most watched city in the world. With its Orwellian CCTV cameras and constant media circus, the notion that someone could vanish off its streets is borderline incomprehensible.

However, London still manages to house its fair share of secrets. If you’ve read my post covering the disappearances of Andrew Gosden and Alexander Sloley, you’ll know that is certainly possible to slip through the nooks and crannies of England’s capital without anybody noticing.

Here are three more unsolved London disappearances, each more confusing and enduring as the last. As with all the missing people featured on this blog, this article is written to help raise awareness of the cases and help keep the memory of them alive.

Martin Allen

On November 5, 1979, 15-year-old Martin Allen vanished from the London Underground. After finishing school, Allen intended to visit his brother, Bob, at nearby Holloway Road.

However, Martin had to make a brief detour first, as he needed to go home in order some extra money for the journey back (this was long before Railcards and contactless payments). At 3:50pm, he said goodbye to his friends and jumped on the Piccadilly Line from King’s Cross Station.

Martin never showed. He did not reach his brother’s home, and his parents were not made aware of Martin’s disappearance until 7pm the next evening. It wasn’t uncommon for Martin to stay overnight at his brother’s, so his parents assumed that he was merely staying there. When it became apparent that Martin had not even gone to school the next day, he was officially reported missing.

A task force was formed to help uncover the mystery of Martin’s disappearance. Photos were released, officers began questioning people, and the Allen family began campaigning for answers. Despite the high-location where Martin went missing, no concrete clues were found. Days and weeks began to race by, and the complexity of Martin’s disappearance only became more and more pronounced.

The ‘Gloucester Road’ Man

There was, however, a breakthrough in the case when a witness came forward to report a suspicious interaction on the London Underground. Speaking several weeks after Martin’s disappearance, the witness described seeing a man in his 30s with his arm around a boy who looked like Martin. The man, who was 6ft tall and very well-built, allegedly told the boy not to run when the pair exited the train at Earl’s Court Station. Both parties appeared nervous, but special emphasis was placed on the boy as his body language seemed to connote a feeling of severe uncertainty and panic.

Artist’s impression of the Gloucester Road sighting

The alleged sighting prompted a massive door-to-door search. Every property in Earl’s Court was visited, and hundreds of suspects were questioned. Unfortunately, the promising lead went nowhere and Martin’s disappearance remains as much of a mystery in 2021 than it did in 1979.

Both of Martin’s parents have since died without learning anything about their son’s fate. To make matters worse, the original files on the case were obliterated in a flood.

Martin Allen’s brother Jeffery claimed that the original detective who worked on the case said that there was ”high up people involved” in the disappearance and that the family should cease searching for their son before ”someone got hurt.”

More than 40 years have since passed since Martin went missing. No trace of the boy has ever been found.

Lee Boxell

Lee Boxell in 1987

Lee Boxell (15) disappeared from the London borough of Sutton on September 10, 1988. After spending the early part of the day meandering about town with some friends, Boxell stated that he wished to attend an afternoon football game at Selhurst Park between Charlton and F.C. and Millwall. After parting company with his friends, Boxell headed in the direction of the stadium.

He hasn’t been seen since. Nobody who attended the game (which ended in a 3-0 Millwall win) recalled seeing Boxell at Selhurst Park – leading the police to believe he never made it to the stadium altogether.

A witness came forward to state that they had seen a boy resembling Boxell outside a Tesco store on Sutton High Street at around 2pm on the day he went missing. This made it extremely unlikely that he would’ve been at Selhurst Park in time for the usual 3pm kick-off.

The Shed

After it became apparent that there was little chance Boxell attended the match, investigators began to consider the possibility that Boxell attended an unofficial youth club named The Shed on the day he went missing.

A 2012 tip from an unknown source came forward to say that they had seen Boxell at The Shed (located in a church annexe in the nearby village of Cheam) on September 10, 1988. Police later discovered that The Shed was, in fact, ran by a network of peadophiles and that there had been several alleged stories of sexual abuse there.

Investigators then began to develop a theory that Lee Boxell may have tried to intervene on an episode of sexual assault and was subsequently silenced in the process. If this is the case, then the young man must be commended and recognised for his bravery and it’s a true shame that his disappearance has not received the headlines that it deserves.

Lee Boxell may have been buried in the graveyard that surrounds St Dunstan’s Church in Cheam. However, an excavation of the land yielded no results, and his ultimate fate still remains unknown.

Suzy Lamplugh

Suzy Lamplugh’s disappearance has remained unsolved for almost 35 years.

The 25-year-old worked as an estate agent in Fulham, London, and attended an appointment on July 28, 1986, with a man known simply as Mr. Kipper. The name was not recognised by any of Suzy’s co-workers and may very well have been an alias.

Lamplugh’s diary confirmed that she had made the appointment, and she left her office in time for the 12:45 meeting outside a property in Fulham, only a few minutes away from the estate agency.

Sketch of the ‘Mr. Kipper’ suspect

Witnesses recalled seeing a woman matching Suzy’s appearance outside the property conversing with a man resembling the sketch above. The two conversed for a while before getting into a car and speeding off. Suzy has not been seen since.

Her car was discovered a few hours later. Parked less than a mile from the property, Suzy’s purse was found inside and the position of the drivers’ seat indicated that someone other than Lamplugh had driven it there. However, the vehicle’s interior failed to produce any clues.

John Cannan

Convicted murderer John Cannan is the only noteworthy suspect in Lamplugh’s disappearance. Not only does he resemble the aforementioned witness sketch, but it has been suggested that he was involved in a relationship with Suzy during the summer of 1986.

Sadly, no concrete evidence has surfaced linking him to the crime – but he remains the prime suspect in her disappearance, and has given multiple recanted confessions over the years.

Cannan will eligible for parole in 2023, and still protests his innocence. The lack of a ‘smoking gun’ piece of evidence means that the fate of Suzy Lamplugh remains unsolved.

D.B. Cooper – Robin Hood, or Dumb Fantasist?

Myths and legends die hard in America. We love them for the extra dimension they provide, the illusion of near-infinite possibility to erase the narrow confines of most men’s reality.”

Hunter S. Thompson

On November 24, 1971, a man in his forties bought himself a plane ticket.

I’m guessing you know the rest of this story.

Now, over 49 years since the man who called himself Dan Cooper jumped out of Northwest Airlines Flight 305 and into the pantheon of American folklore, his legacy as a cult figure remains foggy.

For some, D.B. Cooper’s skyjacking represents the ultimate victory for the American ‘little man”. Average in both height and looks, dressed in a cheap suit, and cursed with a hairline in heavy retreat, the non-descript, middle-aged Cooper is an everyday Robin Hood – bundling out of Flight 305 with a new fortune to enjoy his twilight years with.

Cooper was described as being almost pleasant. He never used crass or vulgar language and even paid for the drinks of all the passengers on board prior to their release in the exchange for the ransom money. For Cooper-lovers, his heist wasn’t about ego, bravado, or fragile machismo – it was about ‘sticking it to the man’ and defying corporate greed right under their noses. In an era dominated by unpopular, bumbling bureaucrats, Cooper’s heist was his interpretation of the American Dream. Work hard, come up with a plan, and escape to the countryside with 200 grand.

Two-hundred grand of ”negotiable American currency” as Cooper called it – leading some to conclude that Cooper wasn’t American himself. Once the parachutes and the money were dropped off, Cooper requested the plane take off once again. This time, Mexico City was the destination.

I think one of the reasons why D.B. Cooper has endured in our minds for so long is that he challenged the archetype of what a 1970s aircraft hijacker could be. He wasn’t a long-haired, bandana-wearing Cuban shouting pro-Castro rhetoric, nor was he a frizzy-haired mental patient armed with more bullets than sense. Cooper was, by all accounts, a James Bond-esque type of hijacker who calmly handed a note to flight attendant Tina Mucklow containing his threat to blow the plane up. Aside from his ”no funny business or I’ll do the job” comment later on, his demeanour on Flight 305 remained calm and personable.

Cooper’s loot is almost laughable by today’s standards however $200k was a sizeable bounty in 1971 in certainly would have been enough to provide the hijacker with a comfortable existence considering he was estimated to be in his forties at the time.

Well, that’s if he lived.

This is where the other camp in Cooper case come in.

Facing sub-zero temperatures with a 135mph wind in his face, Cooper launched himself off of Flight 305’s aft airstairs dressed in only a suit and loafers. His reserve parachute was not functional (something he failed to spot prior to jumping) and he failed to request a helmet. None of the money given to him has turned up anywhere in the world (aside from Brian Ingram’s 1980 discovery of $5,200 in Tina Bar) and there was no indication Cooper had any idea where he was when he jumped.

The FBI has always maintained that Cooper’s daring feat was one of stupidity and one that he certainly didn’t survive.

 “Diving into the wilderness without a plan, without the right equipment, in such terrible conditions, he probably never even got his chute open’

Special Agent Larry Carr

Some argue that Cooper’s theft was as pointless as it was stupid. Even if he survived the jump he could not spend any of the money and I am certain Cooper knew this. He was familiar with the Lindbergh baby abduction case – whose perpetrator was caught after investigators tracked both the serial numbers of the ransom bills and then brought in additional handwriting evidence to seal the abductor’s fate. This is why Cooper took back the handwritten note given to Tina Mucklow and why he certainly knew that all of the money he had received was essentially useless.

So why do it? Was Cooper a desperate outlaw with nothing to lose, or was he a bored, directionless man going through the ultimate mid-life crisis? Did he hijack Flight 305 because he felt he had to or did he do so just to prove it could be done and inject some much-needed adrenaline back into his life?

We’ll never know for sure. Aside from a placard and a small percentage of the ransom money, no evidence of Cooper’s fate has materialized anywhere on Earth. Numerous people, from L.D. Cooper to Kenny Christiansen to William J. Smith, have been investigated as suspects but no hard evidence has ever linked any of these men to the crime. Nor has it legitimised any of the deathbed confessions made over the years by men claiming to have been Cooper.

It’s up to you to decide whether D.B. Cooper’s hijacking was an act of heroism or a moronic display of suicide. I prefer to think he did survive the jump. It was 200k. The world would only get darker and aircraft hijackings would only get more barbaric over the years. For me, D.B. Cooper’s crime is just not that big of a deal. He beat the machine at their own game and has infuriated the FBI by doing so. They knew that Cooper got the better of them and whether he died in the jump or not – his heist still represents a victory of some sort.

In 2016, the Cooper case was finally closed and, rightfully so – there are just bigger things to worry about these days. It’s entirely possible D.B. Cooper lived the rest of his life walking around with an expression on his face that was telling of man who knew something we didn’t. It’s also possible that his skeleton still resides in the Hoh Rainforest.

Either way, his name and legacy live on. Isn’t that what the American Dream is really about?

The Mysterious Death Of Edgar Allan Poe.

October 7, 1849

Edgar Allen Poe, the patron-saint of Gothic prose, dies.

A far-cry from the talented, eloquent writer we all all know him to be – Poe dies a haggard, frail shell of a man.

Four days before, he had been seen at Ryan’s Tavern in Balitmore, crashing into furniture in an apparently-drunken stupor – one observer noted his ”beastly state of intoxication.”

Dear Sir—There is a gentleman, rather the worse for wear, at Ryan’s 4th ward polls, who goes under the cognomen of Edgar A. Poe, and who appears in great distress, & he says he is acquainted with you, and I assure you, he is in need of immediate assistance. Yours, in haste, Jos. W. Walker

Printer Joseph W. Walker

Poe’s condition was shocking – one observer noted his ”lusterless and vacant eyes” whilst making note of his ”haggard, unwashed face”. It seemed baffling how he ended up in this condition, and Poe himself was in no shape to answer any questions about his plight. With the rain in Baltimore cascading down in a blitz, Poe stumbled its streets mumbling incoherent gibberish.

But Edgar had not always been like this. Just days before, he had left Richmond, Virginia, bound for Philadelphia to undertake some editing work for an up-and-coming writer. Still only forty, Poe was robust, energised, and working regularly. Although hampered by an alchol problem, his career showed no signs of slowing down.

From embarrassing pleas for money to nationwide recognition following The Raven, Poe’s life echoed the archetypal American Dream native of his homeland – somewhat. Despite the immediate success of The Raven, Poe was only paid $9 (around $300 in 2020) for its publication. Although no longer a pauper, Poe’s life was hardly that of luxury.

It had been turbulent since the death of his wife, Virginia Clemm, in 1847 from tuberculosis. Thirteen years his junior, Clemm was also Poe’s first cousin. A bizarre arragement, no doubt, but her death only worsened the poet’s already burgeoning alchohol problem.

He seemed completely out of it at Ryan’s Tavern. Rambling and incoherent, the mystery of Poe’s condition only deepened – nobody was sure why he was even in Baltimore in the first place, or how he ended up so far off-route from Philadelphia. Even the clothes on his back didn’t belong to him. Overpowered by delusions and hallucinations, Poe’s dreadful showing seemed like the kind of gritty mystery found in his own works.

A large figure in the Poe mystery of the identity of the person simply known as ‘Reynolds’. As Poe meandered through the streets, he was heard repeatedly shouting this name – albeit in a slurred fashion. Nobody could verify who ‘Reynolds’ was, or if this person was responsible for Poe’s sudden steep decline. Poe was not conscious enough to answer questions, so the identity of this person has been cast in a dark shadow for over a hundred years. Was ‘Reynolds’ Jeremiah N. Reynolds? The newspaper editor whose presence may have inspired a Poe novel? Only Poe knew the answer to this – and the person’s identity rests with him.

As his condition worsened, Poe was taken to a windowless, cell-like room at the Washington College Hospital. It was here that the severity of Poe’s hallucinations began to accelerate as he repeatedly mentioned wife in Virginia. He could have been delusional enough to think that his original wife, Virginia Clemm, was still alive – or he could have been talking about his fiance – Sarah Elmira Royster – to whom he had offered his hand in marriage. Once again, the name ”Reynolds” was shouted by Poe who was now close to death.

Confused, delirious, and without any of the possessions he took with him, Edgar Allen Poe succumbed on October 7, 1849. Less than a week had passed since his appearance at Ryan’s Tavern, and the relatively young poet died a shell of his former self. A humiliating end for a man of his talents, Poe’s death certificate, if listed, has never been found.

Edgar Allen Poe was buried in an unmarked grave with nothing but a cheap casket for his body to lay in. Few people attended his service, so few that a sermon was not even conducted. Although moved to a nicer gravesite in 1875, Poe’s death did little to gain headlines, and he was quickly forgotten by the contemporary American public.

Only Edgar Allen Poe could have made death such a mystery. Rumours continue to surface regarding the cause of his demise – from alcoholism, to a brain tumour, to rabies, to even a murder plot known as ”cooping”, where a person is abducted by a political party, poisoned, forced to vote, and then thrown out in to the streets. His demise continues to echo the kind of detective mystery so often found in his works, and the curious death of Edgar Allen Poe continues to haunt, intrigue, and fascinate us.

The death of Edgar Allen Poe will remain a mystery – forevermore.

Knowledge is Power: The Tilly Smith Story

The seawater on Maikhao beach was beginning to froth.

Like a fresh pint of beer, the bubbles in the ocean formed a white, cream-like foam on the top of the surface.

Tilly Smith was ten years old at the time. She was on a Christmas holiday with her parents – for once, Christmas day was going to be spent on a golden, sunny beach instead of rainy England.

The young girl noticed something peculiar.

The sea.

Not only was it frothy, it had receded all the way back from the sand and was now several metres away from its usual location.

She had seen this before – in geography class, Smith learned that these were the warning signs of an impending tsunami.

She told her father – who brushed off the warning. After all, if the lifeguards weren’t worried, why should he be? Smith was only a kid who didn’t know what she was talking about.

Tilly told her father again and again. Still, he didn’t listen.

Mr. Smith found himself in a tricky predicament.

He could either ignore his daughter, upsetting her, or he could mooch over to the lifeguards and risk embarrassing himself in front of them about this alleged ‘tsunami’ that was apparently just about to happen.

He chose the latter option – a father’s love, right?

Rather than tell the lifeguards, however, he told the security guards about the supposed danger.

The security guards then informed the lifeguards who evacuated the beach.

Shortly after, the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami arrived and devastated the whole country.

Two-hundred and twenty thousand lives were lost. Millions of homes were lost. Billions of dollars’ worth of damage occured.

Nobody on Maikhao beach died.

Because one ten year-old girl was listening in class.

Because one ten year-old girl wouldn’t change her mind.

Because one father gave in to his parental instincts.

If I was a better writer I’d think of a profound, insightful lesson to write here.

I’ll try my best:

Perhaps we should listen to our gut feeling more and not give in regardless of what others might think – the result could literally mean the difference between life and death.

Actually that wasn’t too bad.

The Man Who Saved the World

Stanislav Petrov was a Russian military officer whose career parallelled with the peak of the Cold War.

There was major beef unfolding between the USSR and the United States – both sides were involved in a perpetual dick-measuring contest to see who was the true dominant force in the world.

By 1983, things were getting heated.

The Soviet Union shot down Korean Airlines Flight 007 over Moneron Island which caused the deaths of all 269 passengers and crew.

Three weeks later, Petrov was at the helm of the state-of-the-art missile detection system, Oko.

Oko can detect incoming foreign missiles milliseconds after they are launched. Even by today’s standards, the speed and effiency of Oko is impressive.

So impressive it was thought to be foolproof.

On September 26, Oko’s alarm was raised – a missile had been launched by the United States.

Then, two missiles were launched.

Then three.

Then four.

Then five.

The Cold War had finally graduated in to all-out battle and by the looks of things, most of The Soviet Union was seconds away from being blasted in to smithereens.

Millions of people were going to be killed by the incoming missiles, and the Soviet Union had no choice but to retaliate. They had weapons capable not only of destroying the United States, but most of Europe as well.

Except Petrov was suspicious.

Why, after 20 years of muscle-flexing and chest pounding, would America only launch 5 missiles in their ”all-out” attack?

Something wasn’t right.

Petrov did the unthinkable – he ignored his training and did not report the incident.

He questioned the ‘foolproof’ technology of Oko.

Oko may be sophisticated but it lacks a human touch.

Petrov’s civilian training equipped him with strong reasoning skills.

Something Oko, and its military subjects, didn’t have.

Now, the sweat-ridden Petrov was in quite a predicament.

He had the lives of millions of people in his hands – the Soviet missile strikes could wipe out the lives of 90 million people. The U.S. counterstrikes could wipe out another 100 million. If he got this wrong, almost 200 million people would die.

So it was a good thing he was completely right.

A freak reflection of the North Dakota sun on the clouds was mistaken by Oko as a missile launch.

There was to be no nuclear war, no widespread destruction, and no incomprehensible death toll.

Petrov’s actions weren’t recognised by the Soviet Union at the time, but he was subsequently awarded with a host of honours such as the World Citizen Award courtesy of the United Nations.

All because he ignored blind loyalty and followed his gut instinct.

And you thought your day was stressful.