Murder, Theft, & Secret Codes: Eleven Unsolved Literary Mysteries

Rohonc Codex

1. Who Really Wrote “The Night Before Christmas?”

Clement Clarke Moore was the first to claim authorship of the classic poem. But the family of Henry Livingston Jr. begs to differ. Poetic forensics, a house fire, and a link to Washington Irving deepen the mystery. Stacy Conradt, writing for Mental Floss, takes on the mystery.

2. Who Stole Chess Master Anatoly Karpov’s Manuscript in Broad Daylight?

He’s a chess master by day. But did you know that Anatoly Karpov is also a philatelist and numismatist? His stamp and coin collection has been valued at $15 million, and while writing a book about his collection, his manuscript was stolen in broad daylight. Blogging for “Chess in Translation: Russian Chess News and Interviews in English,” a poster identified as MISHANP translates Karpov’s interview with Alexander Kotchetkov of Novye Izvestia about the alarming theft.

3. Did Mystery Writer Agatha Christie Try to Frame Her Husband for Murder?

In December 1936, unhappily married Agatha Christie suddenly disappeared, leaving behind a trail of confusing clues, and setting off a massive nationwide search. Was she trying to frame her unfaithful spouse for murder? Elizabeth Kerri Mahon delves into the mystery on

4. Is the Rohonc Codex a Hoax, or Can it Be Deciphered?

A mysterious un-deciphered codex is found in the Library of the Hungarian Academy of Science. It originated from the library of Graf Gusztáv Batthyány, located in Rohonc, which is now called Rechnitz, in Austria. Theoretical attribution of the script, which includes hundreds of “letters,” includes Hungarian runes, Brahmi, Cyrillic, Greek or Dacian. The pages are elaborately illustrated with drawings, symbols, and inscriptions. Romanian (English-language) blogger Delia Huegel writes that she “grew fond of the ugly little book.” (We disagree- at least from our view, it’s rather pretty.) Feeling a bit out of her depth, she nonetheless created a very comprehensive blog in the hope that others will help her decipher “the strange little cypher manuscript that withstood almost two centuries attempts to make sense of it.”  Maybe you can help.

5. Will Shakespeare’s Lost Plays Cardenio and Love’s Labor’s Won ever be Found?

Shakespeare’s friends and colleagues Heminges and Condell might not have bothered to publish his works in the First Folio, except for the fact that Thomas Pavier was preparing to print an unauthorized edition. Most of the works we know are in this collection, but two plays have been lost: Cardenio and Love’s Labor’s Won. Stefanie Peters explains here.

6. Why Was Dying Edgar Allen Poe Found in a Stranger’s Clothes?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, macabre mystery surrounds the death of Edgar Allen Poe. But one of the most confounding facts of his death relates to the clothes he was discovered in near the time of his death, which were not his own. The Edgar Allen Poe Society of Baltimore has compiled the evidence, awaiting your theories.

7. Was Emile Zola Murdered, or Was it Simply An Accident?

Emile Zola, embroiled in the Dreyfus Affair, had received death threats. He also was engaged in a longtime extramarital affair. A deathbed confession, gunshots at a funeral, and guinea pigs figure in Richard Cavendish’s article about the famed author’s death for History Today.

8. Was Pablo Neruda Murdered?

On a judge’s order, Chilean poet Pablo Neruda’s body was exhumed in April 2013, to try discover the cause of his death. Suspicions abound that he was murdered as he was about to flee into exile, shortly after General Pinochet took power in 1973. The poet’s assistant Manuel Araya claimed that Neruda, a friend of ousted President Salvador Allende, may have been poisoned. Recent tests have been inconclusive, but skeptics are demanding further examination. The Poetry Foundation’s Harriet Staff brings you the latest updates.

9. Who Writes Richard Castle’s Nikki Heat Books?

Richard (“Rick”) Castle is a fictional character on a television crime series. Portrayed by actor Nathan Fillion, ABC’s Castle is a (fictional) crime novelist who helps the police to solve mysteries. However, there is an actual book series, centered on a fictional character, Nikki Heat, supposedly written by the (fictional) Rick Castle. Confused? has an article, and a twitter account @CastleWetpaint, to help you separate fact from fictive fiction.

10. Who was the Author of the Green Ray Couplet?

Green rays are optical phenomena that are visible just before sunrise, or right after sunset. As the name implies, it’s a green ray that appears over the cusp of the sun in certain conditions. Jules Verne’s book The Green Ray is named for the phenomena. Andrew T. Young, an astronomer, is investigating the science and lore of green flashes, and seeking help in identifying the source of this couplet referencing the green ray:

 Glimpse you e’er the green ray,
count the morrow a fine day,

which first appeared in a novel. He also needs help with other literary references, and his intriguing questions are compiled here.

11. Who wrote “The Diary of a Public Man?”

An anonymously-published diary includes behind-the-scenes accounts of Washington, DC, in the days leading up to the civil war. Historians disagree on whether the “Diary” is an actual diary or memoir, and there is also dispute about the author. Jacques Barzun and Henry F. Graff, writing in The Modern Researcher, describe the mystery of the author the “most gigantic” problem in American historical writing. Here’s a comprehensive Wikipedia page devoted to the question.



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