Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Greg Jordan

March 27, 2014

Some of the nation’s unsolved mysteries have become part of our folklore

— — For the last several days, my morning routine has included getting up, going to the living room, turning on the television and hearing the latest about missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Two weeks ago, that airliner took off for a routine flight to China when it suddenly disappeared. Yes, the evidence now suggests the jet suddenly turned west and then south into the Indian Ocean, but it’s only a theory until searchers find wreckage. And even then we may never know exactly why this jet went missing.

Theories have ranged from terrorist action, hijacking for ransom, pilot error, pilot madness, tourists in the cockpit, catastrophic equipment failure, and I wouldn’t be surprised if time/space vortex and alien abduction is on some lists, too. The 24-hour news channels have had endless coverage of the mystery, showering viewers with the latest details and expert opinion.

In this age of search engines, advanced technology and quick answers, people expect quick resolutions to their mysteries. This isn’t always the case, so unsolved disappearances and crimes keep fascinating us.

Some of these mysteries have become part of our folklore. Almost everyone knows the name Amelia Earhart. She was popular already when she disappeared in 1937 while on a round the world flight. Earhart’s records included being the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, and she was looking for one more major flight. Her route was supposed to take her from New Guinea to tiny Howland Island in the Pacific Ocean, but she never arrived.

A huge search effort was launched, but Earhart was never found. Theories have ranged from Earhart being captured by the Japanese, who were fortifying Pacific island chains prior to World War II, to simply running out of fuel and crashing into the ocean. The mystery of Amelia Earhart has generated hundreds of books, television shows and at least one movie. There is even an official website dedicated to her.

Then there is the case of former Teamsters president Jimmy Hoffa, who disappeared July 30, 1975. Hoffa had lost the Teamsters presidency, but he hoped to regain it. Some conspiracy theorists believe the Mafia, the CIA or the FBI — in some cases, all three and more working in concert — eliminated Hoffa to make sure he never led the Teamsters again.

I remember when Hoffa vanished. The story was all over the news and a prominent feature in major magazines. Everyone was searching for Hoffa or his body. Some people believed he vanished willingly, but most folks were sure he was the victim of a Mafia or government rub out. Theorists put his grave everywhere from a baseball stadium to under a concrete swimming pool at a Huntington hotel. I think the enduring mystery keeps Hoffa’s memory alive today. If his body has been found or he turned up living under a false name, the whole mess would be forgotten.

Today, we’re fascinated by the idea that there are still things we cannot learn quickly. Last year, I helped write a series of cold case stories. There are still unsolved murders and disappearances in our region. Human nature does not like the idea of an unanswered question, but the lack of a resolution is also interesting. That’s why the mystery of Flight 370 is so gripping. If the aircraft isn’t found, we can expect to see conspiracy theory website, books, documentaries and more than likely a movie or two. The interest will remain strong as long as the mystery endures.

I expect to do more cold case stories some day. They may not have the drama of Flight 370, but they are still important to people who lost loved ones. That is the primary reason we work with law enforcement agencies to help find new leads. There is always the chance a story might jog somebody’s memory. Somebody might remember seeing a car or person near the crime scene years ago, or remember a drunken confession they didn’t take seriously until they read the cold case story and see how the facts match what the person said.

Until that time, I’ll follow the fate of Flight 370 and wonder what caused it to swing away from its course to China and into the Indian Ocean — if that’s what really happened. We won’t know anything for certain until that jet and its black box flight recorders are found, and I doubt we will have all of our questions answered.

We might learn the route the plane took and other important factors, but not why it arrived at its final destination. If the wreckage has to be dredged from the ocean floor and then examined, the truth about Flight 370 will be months or even years away.

Despite the wait, the world will keep watching and continue to speculate. As long as even one question goes unanswered, the fascination of a mystery will grab our attention and keep it always.

Greg Jordan is the Daily Telegraph’s senior reporter. Contact him at gjordan@bdtonline.com

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