Mysteries and Disappearances for Explorers

From Top 10 Historical Disappearances With Modern Developments

Ludwig Leichhardt was a 19th-century naturalist born in Prussia who spent the last years of his life traveling and studying the Australian inland. In 1848, Leichhardt set out on an ambitious trek from the eastern to the western coast of Australia. He was never heard from again.

Every Imperial Scout knows: that’s just the way it is.

Rumors were that Leichhardt’s party was massacred by indigenous people or that everyone drowned during a river crossing. Every 5–10 years, another daring explorer set out to track down the lost expedition. Best they did was discovering some trees that had been marked with “L.”

Cryptic clues and enigmatic hints? Check!

And those daring explorers, trying to tack down the lost, had better watch their step. Those hungry and toothy things lurking in the Deep Dark might be in the mood for another snack…

The only tangible relic of the expedition was found by an Aboriginal rancher in 1900. It was a 15-centimeter-long (6 in) brass plate with the inscription “Ludwig Leichhardt 1848.” It was attached to a gun butt left in a boab tree with an “L” on it. However, it wasn’t until 2006 that historians were finally able to authenticate the nameplate as being genuine.[1]

Well, something is better than nothing.

If a tracker is lucky, he might detect a weird jump signature a scout ship left behind, when the crew decided to take a peek at an interesting anomaly on the star charts…


In 1935, Kingsford Smith was trying to break the speed record between England and Australia. Flying the Lady Southern Cross, Smithy and co-pilot John Thompson Pethybridge were headed to Singapore when they disappeared over the Andaman Sea near Myanmar. A year and a half later, a piece of airplane undercarriage and a wheel washed up on an island on the southern part of Myanmar. Lockheed Martin later confirmed it was part of the Lady Southern Cross. The rest of the wreckage was never found.

More of an adventurer/sportsman disappearance than a geeky, data-obsessed Classic Scout Vanishing. But those two are more closely related than they realize… or care to admit.


Back in the 18th century, England and France were in a constant struggle for maritime supremacy. After Captain Cook’s successful exploration of the Pacific, France had to play catchup, so Louis XVI ordered a scientific expedition around the world.

Make it an Imperial/Solomani competition, and you’re on!

Or, if you want to keep it in-house, two competing Noble Houses, or even a Corporate vs Noble vs Planetary government competition!

The man in charge was Comte Jean-Francois de Galaup de Laperouse, an experienced naval officer. Laperouse left in 1785 with 220 men aboard two ships: L’Astrolabe and La Boussole. Initially, the journey was successful. In less than three years, Laperouse journeyed to South America, the Hawaiian Islands, Alaska, Spanish California, Korea, Japan, Russia, and the Polynesian Islands.

At the beginning of 1788, Laperouse was in Australia. He set sail in March but not before sending a report to the naval ministry, which would be the last word anyone received from him.

A Navy-style explorer is a different animal than a Scout-style explorer, seeing the galaxy with different eyes and spotting different patterns… but there are enough things lurking in the deep-dark to eat all sorts of men and ships.

(And not all those things are material: bad equipment, obsolete information or a critical mistake will kill you just as fast as a nasty downgust while refuelling in a gas giant… or failing to inspect your engines carefully, just in case a local form of moss likes to munch on metal.)


Ettore Majorana was Enrico Fermi’s prized pupil. A gifted mathematician and physicist, Majorana is best remembered for his work on neutrino masses. On March 25, 1938, Majorana embarked on a boat trip to Naples and vanished.

There were several hypotheses regarding his disappearance. Some thought he committed suicide. Others claimed he was assassinated or kidnapped to prevent him from working on secret military projects. Some people believed Majorana merely wanted to leave his old life behind and start someplace new, perhaps even at a monastery, according to Italian writer Leonardo Sciascia.

People disappear all the time, in the vastness of the Third Imperium — never mind Charted Space! Usually, there is just a search or two, maybe an investigation by the local authorities.. and that’s the end of the matter.

But, if said sophont had a powerful ally or was a man of significance, more resources will be poured into the search. Perhaps a wider net will be cast, or dedicated investigators and detectives will be put on the case for years on end.

A PC team with a record of finding the lost… especially of finding them alive… isn’t ever going to go hungry.


For decades, the fate of Herschel Grynszpan was one of the most enduring mysteries coming out of World War II. On November 7, 1938, the 17-year-old Jewish refugee shot and killed Nazi diplomat Ernst vom Rath in Paris. Propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels seized the opportunity and used vom Rath’s assassination to orchestrate Kristallnacht, a pogrom occurring all over Nazi Germany that targeted Jews and Jewish businesses.

Know the lay of the land, before you make your move… or you will be used like a tool by your laughing enemies.

There is always some hothead PC who doesn’t understand this. It’s better that he discovers just how costly a mistake can be in a fictional universe, than in the real one.

Grynszpan was arrested by the Gestapo and sent to Germany. He spent the next few years being transferred between prisons and concentration camps in Germany and France. When the war broke out, his movements became less known until he simply disappeared. While some people speculated Grynszpan managed to escape and live in Paris in secret, most accepted that he perished at the hands of the Nazis, either killed by the Gestapo or dying in a concentration camp. He was declared legally dead in 1960, with his day of death listed as May 8, 1945.

Things changed last year thanks to a picture found in the archives of Vienna’s Jewish Museum. It appeared to show Hershel Grynszpan in 1946 in a German relocation camp. The snapshot was taken randomly along with dozens of others, but it clearly shows the face of one man who several historians have identified conclusively as Hershel Grynszpan. A facial recognition test also identified Grynszpan with a 95-percent likelihood.[5]

Now, this is an interesting Cold Case. I can see a historian, an investigator/interviewer, a sharp-eyed security man and a fixer whose good with bureaucratic procedures & paperwork getting involved here. Probably someone whose good with retrieving records, both paper and electronic.


In 1938, the United States Supreme Court made a landmark decision in the case of Gaines v. Canada. University of Missouri Law School registrar Cy Woodson Canada denied admission to Lloyd Lionel Gaines because he was black, instead offering to pay tuition to a law school in a nearby state according to state law. Gaines took the university to court and won. Missouri either had to admit him or create a separate university for black students.

Afterward, Gaines spent time giving speeches at NAACP chapters. On March 19, 1939, he left the fraternity he was staying at in Chicago to buy some stamps and was never seen again.

Now, that what I call ominous…

Gaines’s disappearance was never reported and, therefore, never officially investigated. The onset of World War II pushed the story to the background until public interest died down. Most popular hypotheses claimed he was assassinated by white supremacists or that he started a new life in Mexico, tired of his newfound fame.

Maybe. Maybe not.

There are people who would pay good money to find the truth, to find the Traveller equivalent. WHY they would pay so much, is for the Referee to know, and the PCs to guess.


Franklin’s lost expedition was lost no more when a research team finally found the wreck of the HMS Erebus in 2014. This was almost 170 years after the ship and its crew vanished in the Arctic while trying to uncover the Northwest Passage. Of course, there was still a matter of the location of the HMS Terror, the Erebus’s companion that, undoubtedly, shared a similar fate.

With renewed interest and funding, a new expedition was organized by the Arctic Research Foundation and, in 2016, they found the wreck of the HMS Terror in pristine condition. Conveniently, it was located in Terror Bay, which had already been named after the ship 100 years ago. However, experts thought the ship’s final resting place would be almost 100 kilometers (62 mi) north of its actual location, calling into question the previously accepted truth regarding the fate of the crew.[10]

When the mystery’s solved, most PCs are just happy to accept the cheque and move on. Only a few would be so intrigued as to work on the follow-up problems. Even if the money’s good, people get bored, and there are a LOT of mysteries to solve in the Traveller universe!

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About Alvin Plummer

I'm working to build a better world, a world that blesses Christ and is blessed by Him. I hope that you're doing the same!
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