Real Name: The Mary Celeste
Case: Mysterious Legends
Date: December 4, 1872
Location: Atlantic Ocean
Details: On the morning of November 5, 1872, Captain Benjamin Briggs, his family, and several crew members went on a voyage from New York to Europe on the ship the Mary Celeste. Stowed below deck were thousands of barrels of pure alcohol, highly prized in the Italian wine trade. The cargo was somewhat dangerous and flammable. Briggs set a course due east; he planned to pass by the Azores before landing in Genoa, Italy, in the Mediterranean. Ten days later, the ship was hit by a large storm. Winter winds whipped the ship for more than a week. On the tenth day, the weather cleared. Briggs placed the ship six miles off of the Azores. The date was November 25, 1872; this was the last entry by Briggs.
More than a week later, on December 4, the ship was found abandoned in the middle of the Atlantic, several hundred miles off the coast of Portugal. There was no sign of anyone on board. Captain David Morehouse, who had dined with the Briggs the day before they left, found the ship. He and several others from his ship took a small boat to the Mary Celeste and went on board. At first, they feared that everyone on the ship had gone ill. However, they could find no trace of anyone. They did discover that the ship's compass was shattered. There was also a long rope that went across the deck and off the side of the ship. In the cabins, personal possessions, including money and jewelry, were left undisturbed. It was as if everyone was on the ship for one moment and gone the next. The captain's navigation instruments and the ship's papers were missing. However, they found no evidence of foul play.
Morehouse had his first mate sail the Mary Celeste to Gibraltar. There, they made a salvage claim on the ship's alcohol. Rumors surfaced that Morehouse had committed fraud and conspiracy. The chief investigator in the case suspected foul play. Although he could find no evidence that Morehouse was responsible, he soon brought up another possibility of mutiny and murder. The entire ship was searched and it was discovered that nine of the alcohol barrels were empty. In Captain Briggs's cabin, a sword was found. The chief investigator proposed a wild theory: the crew of the Mary Celeste had broken into the alcohol barrels and killed the Briggs family in a drunken fury. They then fled in a lifeboat. A stain was found on the sword, which the investigator claimed was blood. However, tests later showed that it was actually rust. As a result, the mutiny theory collapsed.
The court eventually ruled that Morehouse should receive money for his salvage claim. They could also find no reason for the abandonment of the ship. Since then, several theories have came up to try to explain what happened to the missing crew. One plausible theory that has come up involves the alcohol barrels. The leaking barrels could cause a great amount of fumes. It is believed that on November 25, the weather cleared enough for the hatches to be opened. Briggs feared that the cargo would explode, so he put everyone into a lifeboat. He attached a rope to the ship and the lifeboat. However, at some point, the rope separated from the lifeboat and everyone was left adrift. This theory has yet to be confirmed.
Over a century later, the case remains a baffling mystery.
Extra Notes: The case was featured as a part of the December 2, 1994 episode.