Eerie Last Known Photos That Reveal A Darker Side Of History
By | September 13, 2022
The "Lost Patrol" shortly before their test flight through the Bahamas
These look like normal pictures, but what happened after they were taken is shocking. Many photos from history show a glimpse into a world that we’re not ready to see...but for some reason we can’t tear our eyes away from them. This set of disturbingly beautiful photographs will give you goosebumps and make you want to show everyone you know. Beware, some of these photos are truly chilling, others will hit you in the gut, and others are so poignant that they’ll instill a new sense of wonder within you.
These rarely seen photos of moments before things went wrong might fill you with dread, others will astonish, but each of these fascinating moments provide insight into our past, no matter how dark it can be.
For mature audiences only. Viewer discretion advised.
Flight 19 on December 5, 1945 was supposed to be a routine training mission off of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. The six aircraft and 27 crewmen were supposed to train in a three-hour exercise known as “Navigation Problem Number One,” where they’d practice bombing runs - it was nothing out of the ordinary. Shortly after 2:30 p.m. that day the flight’s leader Lieutenant Charles C. Taylor radioed back to the base to say that he didn’t know where he was and that his plane’s compass wasn’t working.
The rule of thumb for pilots in the Atlantic Ocean is that they should fly west towards the setting sun, but rather than do that Taylor lead his planes east because he believed he was hundreds of miles away in the Florida Keys. The planes went down shortly after 6 p.m., but when the Navy sent planes out to find the missing men and their crafts they couldn’t find anything. Navy Lieutenant David White later recalled:
They just vanished. We had hundreds of planes out looking, and we searched over land and water for days, and nobody ever found the bodies or any debris.
Marilyn Monroe and Buddy Greco reconnect during the final weekend of her life
The final weekend of Marilyn Monroe’s life has never been discussed as much as the way she was found on Sunday, August 5, 1962; naked, face down in her bed with her phone in her hand. Just days before she was hanging out at Cal-Neva with Frank Sinatra and pianist Buddy Greco after being unceremoniously dumped by Robert Kennedy. Despondent and heartbroken, she did her best to have a good time with her hosts and to keep them from realizing she was depressed. Greco told the Daily Mail:
When she arrived that Saturday, you'd never believe that she had a care in the world. I was sitting with Frank [Sinatra], Peter Lawford and a bunch of other people, outside Frank's bungalow, when a limousine pulls up and this gorgeous woman in dark glasses steps out. We'd said hello a few times, but were never properly introduced. When Frank introduced us, I said: ‘You won't remember me, but I was the piano player when you auditioned for the Benny Goodman band in 1948.’ She got emotional at that and hugged me. She had such warmth - and I was moved. Somebody took some wonderful shots of that moment, of us hugging.
According to Greco, Monroe drank throughout the day until she was blisteringly drunk by the evening and fighting with Sinatra. The trip, her last, was a disaster. He said that she left the next morning and that was the last time anyone saw her alive.
Last photo of the Titanic afloat
On April 10, 1912 the Titanic set sail on its maiden and only voyage from South Hampton, England to New York City. There were approximately 2,220 passengers and crew on board for the trip that left at noon. Before attempting to cross the Atlantic the ship stopped in Cherbourg, France, before going to Queenstown, Ireland to pick up a few more members of the crew and start its fated trip to New York. It’s not clear where this photo was taken, but it looks to be very early in the trip. If anyone can place this part of the Atlantic let us know.
Michael and Sean McQuilken moments before they were struck by lightning
Look at any photo of an electric current traveling through someone and you’ll see something eerily similar. Forks of hair rising into the air as the electrons change around someone. Michael and Sean McQuilken were climbing Moro Rock in California’s Sequoia National Park when this photo was taken. Both boys survived the lightning strike, but Sean, the younger brother, was directly hit by a triple-pronged bolt and suffered third degree burns across his back. Decades later, Michael told NBC:
At the time, we thought this was humorous. I took a photo of Mary [his sister] and Mary took a photo of Sean and me. I raised my right hand into the air and the ring I had on began to buzz so loudly that everyone could hear it. [Then] I found myself on the ground with the others. Sean was collapsed and huddled on his knees. Smoke was pouring from his back.
Jimi Hendrix enjoying a cup of tea with "Black Betty" less than 24 hours before he passed away
It’s an understatement to say that Jimi Hendrix is one of the most profound musicians to ever walk the face of the Earth. To say that he simply played guitar is to take away from his genius, which makes this photo so upsetting. September 17, 1970, one day before his death, he and his girlfriend, Monika Dannemann, were staying at a hotel in the Notting Hill area of London when they took a day off to walk through Kensington Market.
Later that day they had tea in the garden where Dannemann took photos of Hendrix walking through the greenery and sitting with one of his prized Fender Stratocasters. Less than 24 hours later Hendrix’s body would be found face down after choking on his own vomit.
Mark Twain, waiting to go out with Hailey's Comet
An inveterate lovers of arts and sciences, Mark Twain, Samuel Clemens, or Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass if that’s the pen name you prefer, spent the final years of his life attempting to pay back his creditors, in spite of the fact that he’d filed for bankruptcy following a series of bad investments and was no longer on the hook for his debts.
Aside from taking care of his money woes he formed a club for young women whom he viewed as surrogate granddaughters that accompanied him to concerts and to the theater. He later called the club his “life's chief delight.” Leading up to his final months Twain noted that as he was born two weeks later Halley's Comet's closest approach in 1835 he was likely to go out upon its return. In 1909 he said:
I came in with Halley's Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don't go out with Halley's Comet. The Almighty has said, no doubt: ‘Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together.’
Twain died of a heart attack on April 21, 1910, one day after Hailey’s Comet made its closest approach to Earth.
A photo of JFK moments before he was assassinated in Dallas, 1963
On November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was campaigning in Texas in the lead up to his re-election campaign. With the fist lady by his side and a series of guards at his behest the President’s motorcade lurched through Dallas on the way to the Trade Mart where the President was scheduled to speak at a luncheon. This photo was taken in the middle of that procession, right around 12:30 p.m. when the motorcade turned off Main Street at Dealey Plaza.
As the car passed the book depository shots rang out and bullets struck Kennedy in the neck and the head, but what would have happened had Kennedy opted to ride in something less stylish? Would he still be here? Or would fate have found a similar way to take him away from the American people? With this photo there's still a kind of fantasy at play; that the President could have survived, that the world isn't such a scary place.
Taken moments before the crash of the test of the CG-4A military troop and cargo transport glider 1943
One of the most dangerous aircrafts of World War II was the Waco CG-4A combat glider. These are the crafts that quietly made their way to the beaches of Normandy on D-Day with no engines and no weapons. Before they soared across the beaches of France, the gliders were tested in America, but one accident nearly stopped the whole glider program. After the gliders were constructed in St. Louis, the contractor asked the city’s mayor and a group of men from the community to test out the craft at a local airshow. In August 1943, 5,000 spectators watched as one of the glider’s wings snapped off at 2,000 feet and careened into the ground directly in front of the bandstand, killing everyone inside. It was ruled that a faulty bolt had done these men in.
A very pregnant Sharon Tate lounges by the pool on Cielo Drive
Described as a stunning, radiant light by everyone she met, Sharon Tate was not long for this world. After a brief acting career, Tate was married to director Roman Polanski and together the two moved into a beautiful house on Cielo Drive, she was quickly pregnant, and it was like she was living her dream. These photos, taken by Terry O’Neill on August 6, 1969, show a young woman who’s looking forward to being a mother, she has no idea of the horrors she’s about to experience. O’Neill told the Mirror:
Fifty years later these are still difficult photos to look at. Sharon was a beautiful young woman. Her ending is one of the most tragic stories of our generation.
Martin Luther King Jr. stands outside his motel unaware that he's a target
During Martin Luther King Jr.’s final hours he was the subject multiple death threats, something that he’d unfortunately grown used to throughout his time working to desegregate the south. It wasn’t the threats that got him down, according to the people who knew King it was the violence that broke out as he tried to lead peaceful protests. According to author Joseph Rosenbloom:
He was enormously distressed and despairing. Some of his aides said that they've never seen him more depressed than he was at that time. He even thought for a moment that he should scrap the Poor People's Campaign altogether because it was so harmful to his credibility.
That last day he gave a speech in Memphis that’s known as "I've Been To The Mountaintop,” where King focuses on his own mortality and notes that he’d ike to live a long life, but that he doesn’t concern himself with those thoughts. A day later as King stood not he balcony of his motel preparing to go to dinner he was shot and killed.
Princess Diana hides in the back of a limo moments before it crashes on the streets of Paris
The final moments of Princess Diana is one of the most grim stories that’s ever occurred, and the fact that it happened to such a kind person is truly depressing. This photo shows Diana trying to hide in the back of the Mercedes limousine that was attempting to evade the paparazzi on the streets of Paris. The series of photos from that night show just how hounded Diana was by the press. She was brought into the royal life and never allowed to live, something that the paparazzi who followed her couldn’t seem to fathom. She was a woman trapped by her own success, something that must have had her reeling even on her best days.
Jim Morrison relaxes in Saint-Leu-d’Esserent a few days before his death
The final photos of Jim Morrison before his death in Paris, on July 3, 1971 are so strange because of how normal they are. The photos taken by Alain Ronay follow the Lizard King on his trip around Saint-Leu-d’Esserent with Pamela Courson less than a week before his death. The photos didn’t appear until 1991 when Ronay wrote about the story of his day for France’s Match magazine. In the photos Morrison looks happy, content with his life in France, and if it weren’t for his flowing hair and boyish smile it would be hard to tell Morrison from any guy on the street. He’s even bereft of the trademark leather pants and turquoise jewelry that he lived in while singing with The Doors.
The last photo of George Mallory And Sandy Irvine as they attempted to climb Mount Everest
Mount Everest poses a great number of dangers to anyone who tries to scale its peaks. There’s the frostbite, high altitude pulmonary edema, and you can just fall off the side of the mountain if you’re not careful. People die trying to climb the mountain quite often, but usually their bodies are found along the trails taking climbers to the summit. In 1924 George Leigh Mallory and Andrew “Sandy” Irvine attempted to reach the summit of the mountain, but on the morning of June 8, 1924 they disappeared. According to team member Noel Odell, the two men were last seen a few hundred feet below to the summit, but he never saw either of them again. 1999 Mallory’s body was discovered by a team of reconnaissance climbers and researchers, he was frozen and he’d hardly decayed. Irwin’s body has never been found.
The final photo taken of Dorothy Arnold before her mysterious disappearance
This fine lady of wealth and status is none other than Dorothy Harriet Camille Arnold, a young society woman who disappeared in the middle of the day outside of Brentano’s bookshop on Fifth Avenue and 27th Street in New York City on December 12, 1910. Her uncle was a United States Supreme Court justice, and her family was incredibly wealthy, she could do anything she wanted to with her life, however after she disappeared wild theories about her and her family came to light.
The night she disappeared her friend Elise Henry called her at home to see if she’d returned from the book store. Arnold’s mother said that Dorothy was home but that she wasn’t feeling well and that she’d gone to bed. The next morning, rather than call the police the family reached out to John S. Keith, a junior partner at a law firm that was friendly to the family. He searched Arnold’s things but came up empty handed. Once again, rather than going to the police, Keith and the family contacted the Pinkerton Detective Agency.
The Pinkertons listed Arnold as a disappearance and circulated her photo to police departments across the country with the information that a $1,000 reward was at stake for anyone with information. Upon receiving the photo from the Pinkertons, the NYPD refused to look for the girl until her family officially filed a report with them. The Arnold family finally reached out to the police six weeks after her disappearance on January 22, 1911. In that time anything could have happened to Dorothy, but the best that the police and amateur detectives were able to come up with was that she’d either hit her head on the concrete and suffered amnesia, or disappeared of her own volition. Of course the idea that she committed suicide was put out there, but there was a never a body that resembled Arnold’s. To this day no one knows what happened to her.
This may be the last photo of a Barbary lion
Barbary lions, otherwise known as Panthera leo leo lived in the coastal regions off North Africa from the Atlas Mountains to Egypt. As the use of firearms spread in the world of hunting the lion were hunted for sport and wiped out in the blink of an eye. This photo taken in 1925 during a flight on the Casablanca-Dakar air route shows what’s believed to be the last recorded instance of a Barbary lion before they went extinct.
There’s a theory that the lions lived until 1965 but hiding in the wilds of Algeria and Morocco, although that claim is impossible to truly prove because there’s rarely, if ever, a witness to an animal’s extinction.
President William McKinley walks towards his podium, unaware that an anarchist waits in the wings
President McKinley was an immensely popular president for the time. Sure, he didn’t appear on Between Two Ferns, but he did give multiple speeches at the Buffalo Expo in September 1901. On September 6, McKinley was due to give his final speech of the expo when 28-year-old Leon Czolgosz, a self described anarchist, approached the president and pulled out a pistol wrapped in a white handkerchief before firing two shots straight into the President. The New York Times later wrote:
There was an instant of almost complete silence, like the hush that follows a clap of thunder. The president stood stock still, a look of hesitancy, almost of bewilderment, on his face. Then he retreated a step while a pallor began to steal over his features. The multitude seemed only partially aware that something serious had happened.
Czolgosz was immediately trounced by locals and McKinley’s armed guards, and the President was taken to the Pan-American Exposition’s hospital where he was operated on, everything went well but one of the bullets was still missing. Days after the fact McKinley seemed to be on the mend, but his status quickly devolved as he fell victim to gangrene. At 2:15 a.m. on September 14 he passed away under the watchful eye of his wife, Ida.
Karl Wallenda moments before falling to his death attempting a high wire stunt
Karl Wallenda first shot to fame as the founder of the Great Wallendas, a circus acrobatic group that was popular for their three-man-high pyramid on the high wire. No stranger to dire performances, Wandella had his brush with death when his three man pyramid collapsed during a performance in 1962, killing two members of the troupe and paralyzing another.
The accident didn't stop Wandella, he continued to pursue greater heights and more dangerous situations. This photo, taken moments before Wandella fell to his death, shows the acrobat attempting to walk on a tightrope stretched 123 feet above the ground between two hotels in San Juan on March 22, 1978.
Babe Ruth is presented with a donation for his foundation a few weeks before his death
This photo, a publicity shot with Steve Broidy of Allied Artists movie studio for the Ruth Foundation for underprivileged children, was taken on July 29, 1948 shows the once towering giant Babe Ruth as a shell of his former self. He was suffering from throat cancer and his time was running out.
Just six weeks earlier Ruth made his last appearance at Yankee Stadium where he took part in the retirement ceremony for his number, 3, but by July he was emaciated beyond recognition with no hope for a cure. Ruth only lived for a few more weeks, and on August 16, 1948 he passed away at the age of 53.
Budd Dwyer, moments before committing suicide on live television
January 22, 1987 was a gruesome day for the people of Pennsylvania. People watching the press conference by acting Pennsylvania State Treasurer Budd Dwyer thought they were going to see him make an announcement about his impending sentencing over charges that he received a kickback from a government contract, but instead they saw a man take his own life. The Harrisburg press conference began with Dwyer making a statement that turned out to be a suicide note. He said in part:
I am going to die in office in an effort to ‘…see if the shame[-ful] facts, spread out in all their shame, will not burn through our civic shamelessness and set fire to American pride.’ Please tell my story on every radio and television station and in every newspaper and magazine in the U.S. Please leave immediately if you have a weak stomach or mind since I don’t want to cause physical or mental distress. Joanne, Rob, DeeDee [sic] – I love you! Thank you for making my life so happy. Goodbye to you all on the count of 3. Please make sure that the sacrifice of my life is not in vain.
Dwyer then removed an envelope from under his podium and pulled out a .357 Magnum revolver which he shoved in his mouth before pulling the trigger on live television.
Amelia Earhart filling up a lifeboat for her final journey
By 1937 Amelia Earhart was already a star. She was a crack aviator who’d broken records and navigated the globe, but in 1937 she was preparing for her most astounding flight yet, a trip around the globe. One of her last stops was to Howard Island, a tiny spot in the Pacific where she planned to set down on July 2, 1937. Her plane never reached the land.
The trip around the world was an intense 29,000 mile trip that would have made her the first woman to accomplish the feat if she hadn’t disappeared first. The last people to hear from her were the sailors aboard the USCGC Itasca, who never saw her following her communication.
A photo from inside Japan Airlines Flight 123 as it went down over Japan
On August 12, 1985, Japan Airlines Flight 123 departed from the Haneda Airport in Tokyo en route to Osaka on what should have been a routine trip. After 12 minutes it was clear that something was off when the plane suddenly decompressed and the plane’s vertical stabilizer was destroyed along with part of its tail. As the plane’s cabin depressurized oxygen masks dropped from the ceiling and the crew lost control of its hydraulics before crashing into two ridges of Mount Takamagahara. It’s unclear who took this photo as the plane went down, but it’s a chilling look at the deadliest single-aircraft accident in history. 505 passengers and 15 crew members were lost in the accident, and only four female passengers survived the devastating crash.
Howard Hughes poses for his last known photo... 15 years before his death
Howard Hughes didn’t pass away until April 5, 1976, when he was 70 years old, but due to his highly secretive and obsessive compulsive behavior, he locked himself away with no one but his doctors to keep him company until his addiction to prescription medication and old age took him. That’s what makes this last known photo of Hughes so fascinating, it was taken in 1961 - a solid 15 years before his death.
It’s not entirely clear why Hughes got himself cleaned up for this photo (previously he’d been living in a hotel and wearing nothing but a pink hotel napkin) but it likely had something to do with the creation of the Hughes Space and Communications Company, a combination of the Hughes Space and Communications Group and the Hughes Space Systems Division. Over the course of the next decade and a half, Hughes grew even more inward and saw his health decline at an astounding rate. He supposedly gobbled Asprin, codeine and Vicodin as well as chocolates and milk until he passed away.
A daguerreotype of Joseph Avery as he clung to a log before going over Niagara Falls
Imagine that you were holding on for dear life to a log in the middle of a raging waterfall that’s threatening to drag you over while people take photos of you, that’s exactly how Jospeh Avery spent the final 18 hours of his life before he was swept over the edge of Niagara Falls. On July 16, 1854 Avary was a part of a three man crew working on a dredging scow that was caught in the current of the water while trying to row back to shore. After one of their oars broke two of the men went over the edge, but Avery held on for dear life to a set of tree roots as tourists watched his plight and attempted to rescue him. Niagara Frontier writes:
With little strength left, Avery was able to climb into the boat but the boat immediately capsized throwing Avery back into the turbulent waters. Throwing his hands up in surrender, Avery let out a final scream, fell backwards into the water and was swept to his death over the American Falls.
James Dean gassing up before his final drive
James Dean had a thing for Porches. He like to push them to the limit and tear through the hills surrounding Los Angeles until he got to the desert, and then he truly opened his car up. The one Porsche that proved to be the undoing of Dean was his new 1955 Porsche Speedster. While driving to a race on September 30, 1955, Dean and his mechanic, Rolf Wütheric, stopped to gas up and get some snacks which is likely when this picture was taken.
At around 5:15 PM Dean gunned it down Route 466 toward Paso Robles, but when he took a sharp turn he came face to face with a 1950 Ford Tudor. He tried to avoid the crash but there wasn’t enough time and the two cars ended up in a head on collision. Wütherich was thrown from the car, but Dean had to be removed from the wreckage. Aside from mangling his left foot he suffered a broken neck and several internal and external injuries. He was pronounced dead on arrival at the Paso Robles War Memorial Hospital.
Archduke Ferdinand, shortly before he was gunned down in the streets of Sarajevo
June 28, 1914, was a wild final day for the Archduke Ferdinand. Throughout his trip to Sarajevo with Countess Sophie Chotek there were a series of assassination attempts made on his life until he was finally shot and killed by 19-year-old Bosnian Serb student Gavrilo Princip. The first attempt involved a black package that was tossed into the Archduke’s car. He tossed it out and the box exploded. The would be bomber, Nedjeliko Cabrinovitch, was captured shortly afterwards. The Archduke continued onto a Town Hall, but begged the Countess to go back to the palace where they were staying. She stayed with him and shortly after leaving the Town Hall they were gunned down.
Stowaway, Keith Sapsford drops from a plane's landing gear compartment
It’s not out of the ordinary for a teenage boy to want to see the world, to go on an adventure and try to figure things out for themselves. In 1970 Sapsford was just a 14-year-old boy with a lust for adventure. His parents had recently taken him on a trip around the world to satiate his desire to see the world, but they only made him want to hit the road again. Sapsford soon proved to be too rambunctious for his parents to handle so they enrolled him in Boys’ Town, a Roman Catholic Institution in Engadine, Australia.
After only a few weeks at the institution Sapsford ran away on February 21 and a few days later made his way to Kingsford Airport before climbing up a plane’s wheel and hiding in the landing gear. As the plane took off the compartment reopened and Sapsford wasn’t able to hold on before dropping to his doom.
The Hindenburg during its final flight over New York City in 1937
The Hindenburg was a extremely sumptuous German commercial passenger-carrying airship that was in use from March 1936 until its final flight on May 6, 1937. The Hindenburg’s final journey took it from Frankfurt, Germany, on May 3 to its final resting place in Lakehurst, New Jersey on May 6. When this photo was taken the Hindenburg was making its way to the Garden State. At 7:25 pm the Hindenburg caught fire, although no one’s sure exactly where the first sparks came from. The flames spread through the ship’s cells, causing the back of the structure to implode.
The tail end of the ship crumpled into the ground, 9 of the 12 crew members were killed, and as the rest of the Hindenburg hit the ground it burst into flame, burning for several hours. Of the 97 people on board only 35 people passed away during the crash or do to subsequent injuries. Most of the people who lived were lucky enough to be able to jump from the ship as it crashed to the ground.
Keith Moon wearing a wings shirt and dining with the McCartneys
The last night of Keith Moon’s life was spent the same as much of his adult life, at a party with other members of rock n roll society. On September 6. 1978 Moon and his girlfriend attended a party thrown by Paul McCartney in remembrance of Buddy Holly’s 42nd birthday. This photo shows Moon in high spirits as he chats with Paul and Linda McCartney while wearing a Wings shirt, however it would only be a few hours before the wild drummer for The Who took a handful of sleeping pills and accidentally overdosed at his home at 12 Curzon Place.
The final school photo Johnny Gosch taken before his kidnapping
It’s never good when a child is taken from their family, but the story of Johnny Gosch, a Des Moines, Iowa paper boy, is truly strange. On the morning of Sunday, September 5, 1982 as Gosch began his morning paper route. Around 6 a.m. his parents began receiving calls that they hadn’t received their papers, which tipped them off that something was wrong. After searching he neighborhood his father found Gosch’s wheelbarrow full of papers about two blocks from their home and immediately called the West Des Moines police department.
The police initially insisted that Gosch had run away, but they reclassified him as a kidnapping victim after a woman claimed to see him in Oklahoma. No one knows what happened to Gosch, but his mother claims that he visited her in March 1997 when he showed up at her apartment with a larger man and spoke to her for about an hour and a half. Her claims have yet to be substantiated.
The final portrait of President Lincoln, two months before his assassination
Taken on February 5, 1865 by photographer Alexander Gardner, two months before the President was assassinated while taking in a show at Ford’s theater. This shot is the last formal portrait of Lincoln before disaster struck on April 14, 1865. None of that was on Lincoln’s mind at the time, how could it be? Instead, he’s looking forward to the upcoming inauguration and the end of the Civil War. He looks truly relaxed in a way that he rarely shows in photos. Two months after sitting for this photo Lincoln arrived late to the Ford Theater and was set upon by John Wilkes Booth who fired a single .44-caliber shot at the Lincoln’s head, bringing an end to one of the most spectacular presidencies known to America.
The last photo of Chernobyl before its nuclear meltdown
April in Pripyat, Ukraine was meant to be a lovely time of year. An amusement park had just finished construction and was set to open for the families who lived near and worked at the Chernobyl power plant. But all was not well at the plant, on April 26, 1986 a test of the emergency water cooling system caused an uncontrolled reaction in reactor number four which lead to two explosions blowing its 1,000-ton roof to bits and releasing 400 times more radiation than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Two workers died instantly, and over the next few months 28 more people passed away from acute radiation exposure. Over the years people continued to suffer from the cancerous symptoms of radiation exposure.
The Challenger crew excitedly walks to their final mission
As far as chilling final photos go, this snapshot of the Challenger crew as they walk down the ramp to their demise takes the cake. The crew included Christa McAuliffe, a 37-year-old high school social studies instructor from New Hampshire who had earned a spot on the mission through NASA’s Teacher in Space Program, she trained for months to be the first non-military American citizen to go to space, but January 28, 1986 would be her first and only mission to the stars. 73 seconds after liftoff, two rubber O-rings failed due to the morning’s cold temperatures. The spacecraft broke apart on live television and plunged into the ocean, killing its entire crew.
German General Anton Dostler moments before he was executed by firing squad
When 15 U.S. Army soldiers landed on the Italian cost near La Spezia, 250 miles behind the enemy’s front line on March 22, 1944 they were attempting to destroy a tunnel at Framura. If the plan worked they would have destroyed a railroad line between La Spezia and Genoa, however they were captured by a joint group of Italian soldiers and German Heer.
When the soldiers were taken in they were interrogated and after the nature of their mission was revealed a message was sent to General Anton Dostler, the Germans wanted to know what to do with the Americans. After speaking with his superior, Dostler told his men to execute the soldiers rather than taking them as prisoners of war, something that was directly against the rules of war, but was in line with Hitler’s Commando Order of 1942 - the immediate execution without trial for foreign soldiers and saboteurs.
When Dostler was caught by American soldiers on May 8, 1945 he was put in front of a military tribunal on October 8 of that year and he was found guilty of carrying out an illegal order and sentenced to death by a 12 man firing squad on December 1, 1945.
Grame Thorne, photographed shortly before his kidnapping
Graeme Thorne was only eight-years-old when his parents won the Sydney Opera House Lottery, netting them £100,000. What should have been the beginning of a wonderful life ended in tragedy when he went on his way to school on the morning of July 7, 1960. After reading about the Thorne family’s good fortune in the paper, Stephen Bradley hatched a ransom plan. Initially he wanted to kidnap the family’s youngest daughter, but when he couldn’t get her alone he pivoted and snatched Graeme on his way to school.
Bradley wrapped Graeme in a blue blanket, taped his mouth shut and threw him in the trunk of his car. That night he called the Thorne household demanding £25,000 or else. Things were already bad but they were about to get worse. Bradley claims that he discovered Graeme dead in the trunk of his car, which put him into panic mode. After trying to get money out of the family again Bradley ditched the boy’s body on a vacant lot, but it was discovered by three school boys.
Using soil scrapings, the blanket, and rudimentary forensic evidence the police were able to track down Bradley’s house before chasing him as he attempted to escape the country. He was eventually tracked down in Colombo before standing trial for murder. He was sentenced to life in prison where he died of a heart attack.
Elvis leaves Graceland for a dentist's appointment
The King was only 42-years-old when he passed away in 1977. At the time his cause of death was pronounced as heart failure, but he had enough drugs in his system to kill an elephant - it’s a shock that he lived as long as he did. Even though people have this image of Elvis as a shut in during his last hours, he was actually prepping a for a tour that was to begin in Portland. This photo shows Elvis leaving Graceland to visit the dentist, something that people do every day, it’s so strange to think that someone so extraordinary would be photographed doing something so normal.
The 1961 U.S figure skating team poses before boarding the last flight they'll ever take
On February 14, 1961 the 18-member U.S. figure skating team hopped a plane for the 1961 World Figure Skating Championships in Prague, Czechoslovakia with their friends and family, but when Sabena Flight 548 attempted to make a scheduled layover at the Belgian National Airport in Brussels an unidentified mechanical failure occurred and the plane went crashing down into a field.
All in all, 38 passengers and crew perished aboard the flight, devastating the U.S. figure skating program and clearing out the country’s top skating talent. Shortly afterwards the U.S. Figure Skating Memorial Fund was established to offer financial assistance to underprivileged figure skaters.
A Miami Airlines C-46 before it crash landed in Elizabeth, New Jersey
This photo shows the Miami Airlines Curtiss C-46 Commando airliner shortly before takeoff for its final flight on December 16, 1951. The plane was set to fly from Newark to Tampa to 56 people on board. It was a simple flight meant to get some snowbirds out of the frozen wasteland of New Jersey and into the Florida sun, but it never made it farther than Elizabeth, New Jersey.
As the plane departed Newark a trail of smoke could be seen coming from the right side of the craft, after making numerous attempts to fix the problem flames erupted from the nacelle and sent the craft lurching into a 90-degree left bank. The pilot did his best to avoid populated areas as the plane came down, and finally the craft crashed nose-first brick storage building owned by Elizabeth Water Company.
The final Ford Edsel, a car no one bought
The Ford Edsel was supposed to be a huge success. This uniquely designed car was controversial from the jump for its "horse-collar" vertical grille and slim horizontal taillights that was actually fairly conservative for its time. As cool as the vertical grill looked, the cars undersold, and by 1959 the writing on the wall, the Edsel was going to be discontinued. Even though they were clearly on their way out a 1960 model was built, but there were only 75 models of the ragtop Ranger and even worse, there were only 59 of the nine-passenger Villager. After spending $250 million on the project, the Edsel was Ford’s biggest failure to date, but it’s disappearance from their slate left room for production of the 1960 Falcon, so it wasn’t all bad news for the car conglomerate.
David Monderer's photo of the Manhattan skyline 16 minutes before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001
There are no doubt many photos of the New York skyline and the Twin Towers prior to their destruction by a terrorist attack on September 11, 2001, but this photo captures the city at its most serene. The placid blue sky is paralleled by the waters below, and the towers are simply two pieces of an immensely beautiful puzzle.
On that dire morning no one knew what was going to happen in the skies above New York City, no one even dared to think that something so awful could happen, but just 16 minutes after this photo was taken, American Airlines Flight 11 hit the north tower of the World Trade Center and the most terrifying day in recent history was set into motion.
Dennis Dilda poses with his family before his execution
This might look like your standard family photo, and that’s what makes it so chilling. In 1885 Dilda murdered a man who was living on his farm in the Yavapai County, Arizona territory. He never gave a reason for committing the crime, and shortly after dispatching with Jenkins Dilda hid the body. When a group of officers investigated Dilda’s ranch he freaked out and ambushed them, killing Deputy Sheriff John Murphy in the process.
As was his M.O., Dilda buried Murphy’s body on the property before lighting out of there. He didn’t stay on the run for long and was captured by officers who were hot on his trail. Before he was sent to the gallows in Prescott on February 5, 1886 Dilda requested that he be allowed to take one final photo with his family.
Ian Curtis with his daughter, days before he hung himself in 1980
For many people growing up in the late ‘70s, Ian Curtis and Joy Division were a way to not only access emotions, but they provided a language for expressing the more disturbing feelings that someone might have. With songs like “Dead Souls” and “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” Curtis and Joy Division echoed the disaffection that their listeners felt. Outside of the group, Curtis had a small family that his work provided for and he was seemingly happy but underneath it all ran a torrent of sadness.
As the band was growing bigger and bigger, he and his wife Deborah had their daughter Natalie in 1979 even as Curtis’ epilepsy worsened and he was desperately seeking a way out of his marriage. After a suicide attempt in April 1980 things seemed to right themselves, but as the band was preparing to go on their first American tour, Curtis hung himself in the kitchen of his home on May 19, 1980. Bassist Peter Hook described Curtis’ death to the Independent as something that’s never left him. In 2007 he said:
Everything seems a blur after that. We just couldn't take it in. Since then, I've lived with his death every single day. He might have gone away physically, but he's never gone away musically or mentally.
Ettore Majorana, shortly before he disappeared from a boat bound for Palermo
This young and gifted theoretical physicist was considered to be on par with Galilei and Newton, and his work on atomic spectroscopy concerning the behavior of aligned atoms in time-varying magnetic fields led to important work in the field of atomic physics. He kept to himself and rarely sought credit for his work, which is why it’s so odd that he even had a photo taken of himself.
On March 25, 1938 he disappeared during a boat trip from Palermo to Naples and his body was never found. No one knows why he disappeared, but theories ranged from suicide to his unknown desire to live in a monastery. The case remained a mystery until March 2015 when Rome Attorney's Office stated that Majorana was alive between 1955–1959, living in Valencia, Venezuela. They don’t believe he was kidnapped, and that he was living in South America of his own volition.
President Grant passed away shortly after writing his memoirs
Former President Ulysses S. Grant led a fascinating life. A quixotic character, he rose through the ranks of the American army in spite of his drinking and mediocre grades at West Point. He helped bring an end to the Civil War (to put it succinctly), and was elected president shortly afterwards and served two scandal filled terms. After leaving office he lived through a series of business failures that left him broke as he dealt with throat cancer towards the end of his life.
In his final days, Grant’s good friend Mark Twain told him to write his memoirs as they could be a cash cow for his family after he passed away. Grant managed to finish his memoirs just days before he passed away at the age of 63.
Lee Harvey Oswald is shot by Jack Ruby as he's transferred by the police
Only two days after the assassination of President Kennedy, Lee Harvey Oswald was transferred to the basement of the Dallas police station in order to keep him secure. It’s ironic that this move would be the reason that Oswald lost his life. As Oswald was transferred in front of the police, the press, and live television cameras, club owner Jack Ruby stepped out of the crowd with a loaded .38 revolver and fired at Oswald from point blank range. After he was charged wth first-degree murder Ruby said that he acted out because he was upset about what Kennedy’s assassination, but many Kennedy conspiracists believe that Ruby took Oswald out in order to keep him from revealing who hired him to assassinate the President. What do you think really happened?
Mark Matays falling to his death, 1974
What is it about us where we have both the will to live and the capacity to allow ourselves to go to that dark, unspeakable place where anything is possible? Even in the worst of times so many of us persevere, but some people can’t find the strength to go another day, it’s not a failing, it’s just sad when a life comes to an end this way. There isn’t much known about 21-year old Mark Matays aside from the fact that he ended his life by jumping from a 23 story apartment building in Coney Island on May 15, 1974. One report said that police spoke to him for close to an hour, but in the end he broke away from the police and went out a window. This photo is startling and brilliant, a look at the final moments of a young life.
Pacific Southwest Airlines Flight 182 goes down over San Diego
Pacific Southwest Airlines Flight 182 flew from Sacramento to San Diego routinely; it was the model of regularity, but at 9 a.m. on September 25, 1978, everything changed. It was clear skies over San Diego so Captain McFeron should have had the landing down, but he couldn’t have guessed that a Cessna 172 would pop up under his plane while he tried to land at Lindbergh Field.
The two planes collided, completely ripping the Cessna to bits and destroying the right wing of PSA Flight 182. The planes fell from the sky over residential streets, destroying everything in their paths. Everyone aboard the plane died on impact, houses caught fire, and pedestrians were taken out by debris. It was easily the bloodiest day in San Diego history.
Robert Landsburg's final photo of Mount St. Helens
Robert Landsburg was a photographer who witnessed the awesome magnitude of Earth’s destructive power on May 18, 1980 when Mount St. Helens erupted in the Pacific Northwest. Landsburg had spent the weeks prior to the eruption documenting the volcano with stunning photographs, and although he’d managed to avoid getting burned by the rumbling volcano, on May 18 he became the unfortunate victim of Mother Nature. When Landsburg saw the eruption occur he realized that he couldn’t outrun its destructive force and instead continued to photograph the volcano until he was out of film. He then wrapped his things in their bags and used his body to cover the film from the elements. Landsburg didn’t survive, but the film did and so does his memory.
The Ghetto Swingers, an all Jewish jazz band forced to play for Nazi propaganda
The disparate group of jazz musicians known as the “Ghetto Swingers” were tasked with a peculiar lot during the Nazi occupation of World War II, they could play music for the officers of the SS or they could die. In many cases the musicians were sent to the gas chambers anyway, they were seen as disposable by the German military. Swing guitarist Coco Schumann says that after playing for the Nazis in a propaganda film every member of the group was sent to Auschwitz, with most of them going straight to the gas chamber. Only three of the sixteen musicians survived. While speaking with the Huffington Post in 2017 Schumann attempted to explain the atrocities he lived through:
The human is a peculiar creation. Unpredictable and merciless. What we saw in those days was unbearable, and yet we bore it. We played the tunes to it, for the sake of our bare survival. We played music in hell.
Members of an amateur rugby team aboard Uruguayan Flight 571 before crashing into the Andes
What would you do to survive? The 28 surviving members of Uruguayan Flight 571 had to ask themselves that when they crashed in the Andes on October 13, 1972. The craft was carrying 19 members of the Old Christians Club rugby union team from Montevideo, Uruguay who were set for a match against a team in Santiago, Chile. Due to cloud cover, the pilots descended too early and crashed on an unnamed glacier at an elevation of 11,710 ft.
33 of the 45 people on the flight survived the crash, but many of them were critically injured. Those who survived their injuries had to turn to cannibalism in order to survive before attempting to climb away from the crash site in order to find help. On December 22, 1972 search and rescue helicopters finally arrived to pick up half the team, two more helicopters arrived the next day to pick up the rest.
Vladimir Lenin's final days
By 1923 the man who was once a masterful orator and fierce leader had become little more than an invalid after suffering three strokes in two years. He was mostly paralyzed and completely mute. It’s believed that the stress of staging a revolution and governing a country brought on his health problems, and those weren’t helped by the several assassination attempts on his life.
After his third stroke on March 10, 1923 Lenin remained the official leader of the Communist party, but he was removed from all real power due his lack of cognitive abilities. He passed away on January 21, 1924. There were more than 900,000 mourners present to see his body at the Hall of Columns.
The USS Akron shortly before it crashed into the Atlantic
What is it with blimps and bad luck? The USS Akron took its first flight on September 25, 1931 and continued to stay in commission with 73 flights until April 4, 1933 when the Akron was caught by an updraft as it passed over Barnegat Light, New Jersey (why is it always New Jersey that has bad luck with blimps?) and was sent into the Atlantic Ocean. Multiple ships saw the Akron go down and they raced to the scene in order to save survivors, but it was no use. 73 members of the Akron’s crew died by drowning or hypothermia. Only three members of the Akron’s crew survived.