Sealing documents and records is actually a fairly common practice. In many countries, birth, marriage and divorce records, just to name a few, are often sealed for a variety of reasons. However, when documents are sealed, or kept secret, in highly publicized cases it becomes very intriguing and mysterious with potential conspiracy implications. In this list I have gathered what I hope are 10 interesting unopened and opened documents that were sealed or not available to the public, for one reason or the other.
Dr. David Kelly’s Post Mortem
Sealed Until: 2073
David Kelly worked for the U.K Ministry of Defense as an expert in bio-weapons. He was also one of the key UN weapons inspectors in Iraq. In 2003, he became concerned about the US/UK claims of WMD in Iraq in the build-up to the Iraq war. The trouble started when Kelly became an anonymous source for a BBC journalist, who quoted his doubts about the existence of weapons of mass destruction. After Kelly’s identity was leaked, a Parliamentary committee, tasked with investigating the intelligence on Iraq, asked Kelly to testify, which he did. During his testimony Kelly denied any knowledge of the quotes. Several days after his testimony, he went for a walk, as he did almost every day. In a wooded area about a mile away from his home he ingested up to 29 tablets of painkillers then cut his left wrist. The British government announced that Lord Hutton would lead the Inquiry into Kelly’s death. The Hutton Inquiry reported, on the 28th of January, 2004, that Kelly had committed suicide. Although suicide was officially accepted as the cause of death, some medical experts have their doubts, suggesting that the evidence does not back this up. In January 2010, Lord Hutton ordered that all files relating to the post mortem remain sealed for 70 years from the date of his death, for reasons that have not been explained.
Interesting Fact: Most of the articles I came across concerning Dr. Kelly were pretty much agenda driven, with a lot of conspiracy theories. I do admit that the sealed post mortem does make it seem a little fishy. However, it should be pointed out that there are still many who believe that Kelly committed suicide. They explain that the killer, or killers, would have had to kidnap him and march him into the woods, then force tablets down his throat and make him cut his own wrist. All of this without leaving any trace of forensic evidence on Kelly. It is also said that just before he was found dead, he was seen alone by a friend on his way to the woods, where they exchanged pleasantries.
Shirley Ardell Mason Files
Sealed Until: Indefinitely
The life of Shirley Ardell Mason was chronicled by Arthur Flora Rheta Schreiber in the book “Sybil”. It was published in 1973 and then made into a television movie in 1976, starring Sally Field. Mason’s real name was not used in order to protect her identity. In the early 1950s, Mason was a student at Columbia University and had long suffered from blackouts and emotional breakdowns, and had started therapy with psychiatrist Cornelia B. Wilbur. It was their psychotherapy sessions together that was the basis of the book. Wilber diagnosed and treated her for multiple personality disorder, with, reportedly, up to 16 co-existing personalities. In 1998, Robert Rieber and John Jay of the College of Criminal Justice claimed Wilbur had manipulated Mason in order to secure a book deal. Neither Rieber nor Jay are psychologists, but the miss-diagnoses was also supported by Dr. Herbert Spiegel, who saw Mason for several sessions while Wilbur was on vacation. Spiegel argued that Sybil had disassociation disorder, not multiple personalities. Shirley Ardell Mason died of breast cancer in 1998, at the age of 75. The case still remains very controversial and, due to privacy laws, it is very unlikely that Mason’s therapy records will ever be released to the public.
Interesting Fact: Dr. Herbert Spiegel recalled that Wilbur came to him with author Flora Rheta Schreiber and asked him to co-author the book with them, and that they would be calling the book Sybil a “multiple personality.” Spiegel told them, “But she’s not a multiple personality!” When Spiegel told Wilbur and Schreiber that multiple personality would not be accurate, Schreiber got in a huff and said, “But if we don’t call it a multiple personality, we don’t have a book!”
Mark Twain’s Autobiography
Sealed Until: This Year
One of Mark Twain’s wishes before he died was that his autobiography not be published until 100 years after his death, which was April 21, 1910. Twain left behind thousands of unedited pages of memoirs, together with handwritten notes. Included in the memoirs are 400 pages detailing his relationship with Isabel Van Kleek Lyon, who became his secretary after his wife died in 1904. Twain says he was so close to Lyon that she once bought him an electric vibrating sex toy. However he later turns on her, saying she had seduced him and “hypnotized” him into giving her the power of attorney over his estate. Also included are his doubts about God, and questions the imperial mission of the U.S. in Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines. The first volume of the autobiography is to be published November 2010 by the University of California, where the manuscripts were sealed in a vault. The eventual trilogy will run close to half a million words.
Interesting Fact: No one really know for sure why Mark Twain wanted the first-hand account of his life kept under wraps for so long. Some scholars believe it was because he wanted to talk freely about issues such as religion and politics. Others argue that the time lag prevented him from having to worry about offending friends. I think it was probably both.
Sealed Until: 2066
In the 1960s and 70s renowned New York psychologist Viola Bernard and her colleague, Dr. Peter Neubauer, conducted a nature-nurture study. They persuaded an adoption agency to send twins to different homes, without telling the respective adoptive parents that the children were, in fact, twins. In 1963, Dr. Bernard wrote that the study “provides a natural laboratory situation for studying certain questions with respect to the nature-nurture issue, and of family dynamic interactions in relation to personality development.” She also believed that, if separated, identical twins would be better off with their individual identities. When the families adopted the children, they were told that their child was already part of an ongoing child study, but neglected to tell them the key element of the study. The adoptive families would travel separately to the center once a month for 12 years for IQ tests and speech analysis. They would also visit their homes and film the children playing. The study ended in 1980, and a year later, the state of New York began requiring adoption agencies to keep siblings together. Realizing that public opinion would be against this type of research, Dr. Neubauer decided not to publish it. Yale University gathered all the information from the study and sealed it until 2066, when most of the participants will likely be dead.
Interesting Fact: I know these twins were already featured in a twins list a while back, but I think they are worth another look. The two women pictured above, Elyse and Paula, were one of the sets of twins studied. When Elyse was 35 she registered with the Adoption Information Registry, and later received a call telling her she had a twin sister. She was also told about the controversial study. When the twins were reunited they started to investigate the details of their adoption. Dr. Bernard had already died, but the twins were able to track down Dr. Neubauer and, after many requests, he agreed to meet with them. The doctor showed no remorse and offered no apology. Of the 13 children involved in the study, three sets of twins and one set of triplets have discovered their siblings. There are still four people who don’t know that they have an identical twin. Efforts to have Yale University release the records by the sisters and other twins have failed. For those who want to know more about Elyse and Paula’s remarkable story, you can watch an interview of the two here.
France’s Secret UFO Files
Opened in: 2007
In 2007, France’s National Center for Space Studies made available over 1000 files on UFO cases, that have been researched by the French government for over 50 years. The archives were made available onto its Internet site for worldwide viewing. The files include pictures of possible UFOs, eyewitness accounts, field journals and inter-governmental documents on those sightings. Within three hours of posting the first cases, the French space agency’s Web server crashed because of the flood of viewers seeking the first glimpses of official government UFO files. Jacques Patenet, who heads the Group for the Study of Unidentified Aerospace Phenomena said “the data that we are releasing doesn’t demonstrate the presence of extraterrestrial beings, but it doesn’t demonstrate the impossibility of such presence either”. The French government is the first to release this type of information to the public. Great Britain then followed by releasing their files in 2008. You can go on the French website here and the UK site can be found here.
Interesting Fact: One of the more interesting cases included in the files happened on Aug. 29, 1967. A 13-year-old boy and his 9-year-old sister were watching over their family’s cows near the village of Cussac when the boy spotted “four small black beings” about 47 inches tall. Thinking they were other youngsters, he shouted to his sister, “Oh, there are black children!” But as they watched, the four beings became agitated and rose into the air, entering the top of what appeared to be a round spaceship, about 15 feet in diameter, which hovered over the field. Just as the sphere rose up, one of the passengers emerged from the top and returned to the ground to grab something, then flew back to the sphere. The sphere “became increasingly brilliant” before disappearing with a loud whistling sound and left “a strong sulfur odor after departure,” The children raced home in tears and their father summoned the local police, who “noted the sulfur odor and the dried grass at the reported place where the sphere took off.”
Kennedy’s Assassination Records
Sealed Until: 2017
In 1964, the Warren Commission submitted the unpublished portion of the assassination records to the National Archives, where it was to be sealed and locked away until 2039 (75 years later). This was to serve as protection for innocent persons who might be damaged because of their relationship with participants in the case. However, due to the popularity of Oliver Stone’s film, JFK, and because of the public outcry, it led to the passage of The President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992. This Act mandated that all assassination-related material be housed in a single collection in the National Archives and Records Administration. The Act also requires that each assassination record be publicly disclosed in full, and be available in the collection no later than 25 years after the date of enactment. From 1994 to 1998, almost all of all Warren Commission documents had been released to the public. The resulting collection consists of more than 5 million pages of assassination-related records, photographs, sound recordings, motion pictures and artifacts. By 2017, all existing assassination-related documents will be made public.
Interesting Fact: I guess I’m still in the minority to believe in the lone gunman theory but I do have an open mind about it. In a recent U.S. poll the following questions were asked: “Do you think Lee Harvey Oswald was the only gunman in the Kennedy assassination, do you think there was another gunman in addition to Oswald there that day, or do you think Oswald was not involved in the assassination at all?” Results are: Only Oswald 32%, Another Gunman 51%, Oswald Not Involved 7% No Opinion 10%. You can watch a recent digitized version of the famous Zapruder film here.
Trial Records of Mata Hari
Opened in: 1985
Mata Hari was the stage name of a highly successful Dutch exotic dancer, Gertrud Margarete Zelle. Because of her profession, she had many cross-border associations. During World War 1, the French Government convinced her to travel to neutral Spain. There she could develop relationships with the German navy and army and report any intelligence back to Paris. There are different accounts for reasons why she was accused of being a double spy. Several sources claim that, in January 1917, the German military transmitted a radio message to Berlin describing the helpful activities of a German spy, code-named H-21. French intelligence agents intercepted the messages and identified H-21 as Mata Hari. What makes this even more interesting is that the messages are said to be in a code that German intelligence knew had already been broken by the French. This leaves some historians to suspect that the messages were contrived and the French were using her as a propaganda boost. They claimed she had cost the lives of 50,000 French soldiers. Mat Hari was arrested, stood trail and was convicted of being a German Spy. On October 15th 1917, at the age of 41, Mata Hari was executed by firing squad. She went to her death with dignity, all the while proclaiming her innocence. The prosecutor wanted the trial to be in secret and the records were to be sealed for 100 years. However, in 1985, Biographer Russell Warren convinced the National defense Minister of France to open the sealed case file thirty two years early. In the opinion of many experts, it’s said to reveal that Mata Hari was innocent of the charges of which she was convicted.
Interesting Fact: The more I read about Mata Hari, the more fascinating I found her. I also found this interesting. Henry Wales, a British reporter and eye witness, wrote this incredibly detailed account about the day of her execution. You can read it here.
Martin Luther King Tapes
Sealed Until: 2027
Fearing that Martin Luther King Jr. had ties to Communist organizations, the FBI spied on him for several years. The FBI described King as “the most dangerous and effective Negro leader in the country”. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover filed a request with Attorney General Robert Kennedy to wiretap King and his associates. Kennedy gave the Bureau permission and tapped their phones and placed hidden microphones in homes, hotel rooms and offices. The FBI was unsuccessful in proving that he had ties to Communists; however they did have something that would reveal embarrassing details about King’s sex life. King refused to give in to the FBI’s threats, even after the FBI drafted a letter to him from an anonymous source detailing everything they knew about his sexual transgressions. Highlights of the letter include: “You are a colossal fraud and an evil, vicious one at that.” “The American public will know you for what you are, an evil, abnormal beast, and Satan could not do more” “King, there is only one thing left for you to do.” Some have theorized the intent of the letter was to drive King to commit suicide in order to avoid personal embarrassment. On January 31, 1977, district Judge John Lewis Smith, Jr., ordered all known copies of recorded audiotapes and written transcripts resulting from the FBI’s surveillance of King between 1963 and 1968 to be sealed in the National Archives and away from public access for 50 years.
Interesting Fact: Ralph Abernathy was a close associate of King’s in the civil rights movement. In his autobiography titled “And the Walls Came Tumbling Down”, he does mention that King was a “womanizer”. He also wrote this about the Surveillance Tapes: “I remember in particular a stay at the Willard Hotel in Washington, where they not only put in audio receivers, but video equipment as well. Then, after collecting enough of this ‘evidence’ to be useful, they began to distribute it to reporters, law officers, and other people in a position to hurt us.” Finally, when no one would do Hoover’s dirty work for him, someone in the FBI put together a tape of highly intimate moments and sent them to Martin. Unfortunately — and perhaps this was deliberate — [his wife] Coretta received the tape and played it first. But such accusations never seemed to touch her. She rose above all the petty attempts to damage their marriage by refusing to even entertain such thoughts.
Sinking of the RMS Lancastria
Sealed Until: 2040
On June 17th 1940, the Lancastria was evacuating British troops and civilian refugees, including women and children from France, which was then on the point of collapse. At 6:00am, Captain Rudolf Sharp received orders to load as many troops and refugees as possible, and to disregard international laws on passenger limits. By lunchtime, the decks were packed with anywhere between 6,000 to 9,000 troops and refugees. A nearby destroyer signaled the Lancastria to get under way, if she was full to capacity, but offered no escort. At 3.48pm, a German bomber appeared and dropped four bombs which ripped through the Lancastria. Within 20 minutes the, luxury liner went down, taking with her an estimated 4,000 to 7,000 victims. The official report of this terrible incident was sealed for 100 years under the Official Secrets Act. It has been argued that this might be because if it could be confirmed that the Ministry of Defense did indeed instruct Captain Sharp to ignore load restrictions, there would be grounds for compensation claims from relatives. In July 2007, another request for documents held by the Ministry of Defense related to the sinking was rejected by the British Government. This tragedy was the largest single-day loss of life to the British Army since the Battle of the Somme. To this day there has been no official British government recognition of the dead or the survivors.
Interesting Fact: Winston Churchill immediately hid the news from the public, thinking that to reveal the truth would have been too damaging for civilian morale. He said, ‘The newspapers have got quite enough disaster for today, at least.’ You can watch a tribute to the Lancastria here.
Worst Friendly-Fire Incident
Sealed Until: 2045
This is just a heart a wrenching tragedy with a great loss of life, but it remains just a little-known chapter of World War II history, and rarely appears in history books. It happened on May 3, 1945, four days after Hitler’s suicide, and four days before the unconditional German surrender. After enduring years of Nazi brutality, thousands of concentration camp prisoners were loaded on to two German ships in Lubeck Bay, the Cap Arcona and the Thielbek. The British Air Force commanders ordered a strike on the ships, thinking they carried escaping SS officers, possibly fleeing to German-controlled Norway. The British Typhoon fighter-bombers struck in several attack waves. The Thielbek, packed with 2,800 prisoners, sank in just 20 minutes, killing all but 50 prisoners. The Cap Arcona carrying 4,500 prisoners took longer to go under, and many inmates burned to death. In less than two hours, more than 7,000 concentration camp refugees were dead. Some believe the Nazis intended to sink the ships at sea, to kill everyone on board. Another unlikely scenario is the British intelligence may have known who was on the ships and it would explain why the Royal Air Force sealed the records for 100 years.
Interesting Fact: For weeks after the sinking, bodies of the victims were being washed ashore, and were collected and buried in a single mass grave at Neustadt in Holstein. For nearly thirty years, parts of skeletons were being washed ashore, until the last find, by a twelve-year-old boy, in 1971.