9 Historic People Whose Bodies May Be Missing


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I have a somewhat strange obsession with visiting cemeteries when I travel, typically ones with people of interest resting within their hallowed walls. But there are some rather important figures whose graves I will never get to visit—not because they were cremated, but because we simply don't know what happened to their bodies.

1. Davy Crockett.

Almost everyone knows Crockett died defending the Alamo. But what no one really knows is what happened to him after that. Santa Anna had the Alamo defenders' bodies burned until they were nothing but ashes, and although there's a marble box at the Cathedral of San Fernando that purportedly contains the ashes of Crockett, Jim Bowie, and William B. Travis, most historians believe it's unlikely the dust inside is actually theirs.

2. Vlad the Impaler.

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This might be one grave best left unknown. The Wallachian ruler's head was displayed on a stake for some time after his death to prove the tyrant was no more, but the whereabouts of his body is a topic that's up for discussion. It's generally agreed that it's probably buried in one of two monasteries: Comana or Snagov.

3. Genghis Khan.

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Speaking of tyrants, here's another one who has gone missing. Unlike Vlad, Genghis has disappeared at his own request. He asked to be buried in an unmarked grave, and even in death, Genghis got what he wanted. Legend has it that slaves buried the body somewhere in Mongolia, possibly Khentii Aimag, Khan's birthplace. After the body was buried, the slaves were killed. And then the soldiers who killed the slaves were killed. Another tale has an entire river being diverted to cover the grave. Whatever trick Khan's pallbearers used, it was effective--nearly 800 years later, we still don't know where he is.

4. and 5. Cleopatra and Mark Antony.

Cleopatra may be lost in the sands of Egypt forever. Ancient historian Plutarch wrote that she was buried with Mark Antony in an undisclosed location, and if we didn't have that vague piece of information, the scavenger hunt for the Queen of the Nile would be even more impossible. Some evidence suggests that she had a tomb built for herself prior to her death by asp, and that tomb is now resting on the ocean floor with the rest of ancient Alexandria. On the other hand, recent excavations at the Taposiris Magna temple in Abusir, Egypt, may point to the famous couple being buried there.

6. Mozart.

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It is generally accepted that after his 1791 death Mozart was buried in a mass grave, as was common at the time. In 1801, a gravedigger unearthed a skull he claimed belonged to the famous composer. The man claimed he had helped dig the grave and that he knew for a fact the head was Mozart's. Tests on the skull have been inconclusive, with some even finding the skull was that of a woman. Should you want to visit the bones that may or may not belong to Mozart, you can visit the International Mozarteum Foundation in Salzburg.

7. Alexander the Great.

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When Alexander died, he was buried in a tomb made of pure gold. As you can imagine, a final resting place like that was pretty much destined to be looted. The real surprise is that the looters may have been notable figures like Roman emperor Caligula and Egyptian king Ptolemy IX Lathros. Caligula was said to have taken Alexander's breastplate, while Ptolemy allegedly melted the coffin down for coinage. Because of the disrespect to Alexander, Roman emperor Septimus Severus had the tomb closed sometime around 200 CE, and it's been missing ever since. Theories have speculated the missing ruler could be anywhere from Australia to Venice.

8. Leonardo da Vinci.

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Leonardo has a grave marker, but nobody is completely positive that it's the artist himself who is buried under it. There are records that show da Vinci was buried in a church called Saint-Florentin, part of the Chateau Amboise in France's Loire Valley. But the church fell to ruin sometime during the French Revolution and it was decided that demolishing it and starting over was the best bet. It was more than 60 years later that excavations turned up some bones and a bit of stone that contained a couple of letters in da Vinci's name. This was apparently enough to declare that the remains belonged to the great artist and he has been a tourist attraction ever since. Guidebooks and the notice at the Chateau Amboise refer to them as the "presumed" remains of da Vinci.

9. Hitler.

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For many years, the location of the corpses of Hitler and Eva Braun were kept top secret for fear the site would become a Neo-Nazi place of worship. It wasn't until 1970 that what was left of the dictator was burned, then dumped into the Biederitz River. The Russian State Archives allegedly still contain a fragment of his jawbone that the archive says it keeps as evidence that Hitler really did die. Other historians and researchers question the authenticity of the jawbone, however.