Coincidences can be a weird thing. Disparate things can display connections which one might have never even thought possible, and it can force us to question just what this reality of ours is trying to say, or if it is all pure randomness. Within the world of strangely connected events, which is often referred to as synchronicity, there can also be darker aspects, wherein death and suffering can hold odd and seemingly improbable connections. What is the meaning behind these macabre connections, and does it have any significance or is it just meaningless chance? It is hard to say, but here we will look at some particular cases of such phenomena.
Many coincidences tied to the specter of death involve siblings or other family members, whose deaths seem to perhaps be tied together by forces we do not yet understand. One recent case comes from Helsinki, Finland in 2002, when it was reported in the newspaper Helsingin Sanomat and also by the BBC that two twin brothers had died in quick succession in separate car accidents less than 1.5 km from each other, along the same stretch of highway just outside of the town of in Raahe, around 600 kilometres north of Helsinki. In the first accident, one of the brothers was reportedly riding his bicycle along highway 8 when he was struck down and killed by a passing vehicle. Just 2 hours later the second brother was also hit and killed by a car while trying to cross the highway just a stone’s throw away. At the time of the second accident, the victim supposedly had had no knowledge of what had just happened to his brother just hours before. One police officer at the scene, a Marja-Leena Huhtala, was quoted as saying:
This is simply a historic coincidence. Although the road is a busy one, accidents don't occur every day. It made my hair stand on end when I heard the two were brothers, and identical twins at that. It came to mind that perhaps someone from upstairs had a say in this.
Another bizarrely coincidental series of family deaths concerning road accidents appeared in Phenomena: A Book of Wonders, by John Michell and Robert J. M. Rickard, and happened in Bermuda in 1975, when a man was fatally hit by a taxi while riding his moped down a busy city street. Exactly one year later, the dead man’s brother was allegedly riding the exact same moped down the same street in the same general location when he too was hit and killed by a taxi. Spookily, it was the same taxi driver, and even more baffling was that the very same passenger happened to be riding in the cab at the time of both accidents.
Car accidents are not the only culprit in these mysterious deaths. In the book Chronogenetics: The Inheritance of Biological Time, by Luigi Gedda and Gianni Brenci, there is the odd case of twin brothers John and Arthur Mowforth, who lived in England just 80 miles away from each other. On May 22, 1975, at exactly the same time, both of the men experienced severe chest pains that saw them brought to two different hospitals, where they arrived at precisely the same time in the evening. Upon arrival, both men soon died of massive heart attacks, and the times of death were discovered to have been mere minutes apart.
Joining the ranks of strange coincidental deaths involving close family members is the story of John Gregory Tierney and his son, Patrick William Tierney, both of whom were involved with the construction of the Hoover Dam, which lies on the Colorado River on the border between the U.S. states of Nevada and Arizona, the reservoir of which provides the Las Vegas Valley with 90 percent of its drinking water. John Tierney was part of an initial team of surveyors involved in the pre-construction work of scouting suitable locations to build the dam. On December 20, 1922, John was caught in a flash flood on the volatile Colorado River, which carried him down the raging river where he would drown. His body would never be recovered. At the time, it was considered to be the first of an official estimate of 96 deaths that would be associated with the dangerous construction project.
Eventually, John’s son, Patrick William Tierney, would find himself working on construction of the Hoover Dam as well, after a desperate search for work during the Great Depression. Tragically, he would die when he fell from one of the massive intake towers on Arizona side of the dam to fatally plummet 320 feet to the ground. What makes this death of particular interest is that not only did it happen on December 20, 1935, which is 14 years to the day when his father had died, but Patrick Tierney would become known as the last known fatality directly linked to the dam’s construction. So here we have a father and son who both died on the same day 14 years apart, on the same project and with one of them being considered to be its first death while the other its last. It is certainly a curious case of dark serendipity. Dennis McBride, director of the Nevada State Museum in Las Vegas, has said of the strange case:
The myths you can explain. (They) usually have some basis in fact. Here is a fact that has no explanation. The thing that cannot be explained is the very thing that happened.
Moving on into the weird world of macabre synchronicity and death we come to the various cases of assassinations and executions permeated with odd coincidences. One such case is that of King Umberto I of Italy, who on July 29, 1900 sat down to eat at a small restaurant in the town of Monza. The meal would get progressively stranger as Umberto talked to the restaurant owner and found that they had a shocking amount of similarities. Besides looking so much alike that they could have been brothers, it soon became apparent that they were both from the same town, both had been born on March 14th, 1844, and they both had a wife named Margherita. On top of all of this, it turned out that the restaurant owner had opened his establishment on the very same day of Umberto’s coronation as the King of Italy. The following day, Umberto learned that this restaurant owner has been senselessly shot dead in the street, and later that day he too would be gunned down in the street by Italo-American anarchist Gaetano Bresci.
Another odd case is the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in 1914, an incident that was instrumental in sparking the start of World War I. In June of 1914, Ferdinand, who was heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, was travelling through Sarajevo, Bosnia, for the purpose of checking the condition of armed forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina. On June 28, 1914, Ferdinand was riding in his car along with his wife, Sophie, when they took a wrong turn and were fatally gunned down at point blank range by 19-year-old Serbian extremist and nationalist Gavrilo Princip, who just so happened to have been standing at the street corner and had not planned the attack ahead of time, instead taking the opportunity to kill the Archduke, which would lead to the start WWI. In an odd coincidence, the license plate of Ferdinand’s vehicle read "A III118," which aligns with the date of the official end of World War 1, Armistice Day, 11/11/18.
Perhaps the most famous assassination of all, which also just so happens to have drawn to itself a wide range of strange coincidences is that of John F. Kennedy, who was shot and killed on November 22, 1963. The assassination itself is already saturated with countless conspiracy theories, but here we will look at the strange synchronicity that has been pointed out between Kennedy and another famous president to be assassinated; Abraham Lincoln. The similarities between the two run the gamut from the intriguing to the paranoid. Besides both being elected to Congress exactly 100 years apart and also becoming president 100 years apart to the day, there is also the fact that they were both shot in the head on a Friday while seated beside their wives by killers who both had three names with a total of 15 letters, who were both detained by police officers named Baker. Additionally, Lincoln was killed while in Box no. 7 of Ford's Theatre whereas Kennedy was sitting in the 7th car of the motorcade, and both had successors with the name Johnson. The list goes on and on, and there are many extensive lists of the many, many spooky similarities, both sensible a little more conspiratorial floating about.
One of the creepier coincidences between the two is that both seem to have weirdly predicted their deaths in a sense. Lincoln famously said not too long before his assassination, “If somebody wants to take my life, there is nothing I can do to prevent it,” and Kennedy made a similarly darkly portentous statement to his wife, Jacqueline Kennedy. Just hours before his own assassination, Kennnedy reportedly told his concerned wife, “Jackie, if somebody wants to shoot me from a window with a rifle, nobody can stop it, so why worry about it?” It is ominous to be sure.
Numerous executions have also been beset with a wide range of coincidences, such as the execution of Jean Marie Dubarry, who was put to death in France on February 13, 1746 for killing his own father. Exactly a century later, on February 13, 1846, another man was executed in the same area, also for killing his father. His name? Jean Marie Dubarry. Just as strange was the execution of three men convicted of murdering a Sir Edmund Berry, and they were hanged on November 26, 1911, at Greenberry Hill in London. Curiously, the three condemned men were named Green, Berry and Hill.
Murders themselves can have moments of startling synchronicity. In 1872, Baron Rodemire de Tarazone of France was murdered by a man named Claude Volbonne. Chillingly, the Baron’s father had also been killed 21 years earlier by an unrelated man who was also named Claude Volbonne. More gruesome is the case of the murders of Barbara Forrest and Mary Ashford. Although their deaths were a full 157 years apart, the murders bear striking similarities and coincidences. They were both 20-years of age, with even the same exact birthday, and killed on the same day of the year, May 27, in the same general vicinity, with their respective bodies found just 300 yards apart. Both of them had been raped and then strangled to death after going to a dance in a new dress, and in both cases the main suspect was found to be named Thorton, both of whom were eventually acquitted of their crimes.
Other tales of dark synchronicity are harder to classify. Take the case of what has often been termed the "vengeful bullet." In 1883, a man named Henry Ziegland broke up with his girlfriend, who then became so trapped in despondency that she allegedly killed herself. While this may be tragic, it would normally be the end of the story, but in this case the girl's brother came looking for revenge, tracking Ziegland down and shooting him with a pistol, who fell to the earth in a spray of blood. Thinking the deed had been done, the killer then took his own life with a shot to the head.
It would turn out that the bullet fired at Ziegland had not killed him, and had in fact just grazed him enough to cause a lot of blood, but very little serious damage. The bullet itself had gone on to become lodged in a tree. Ziegland must have thought at the time that he had cheated death and come out on top, but a peculiar sequence of events would prove that things had merely been postponed. Ziegland turned his attention to the tree with the intention of cutting it down, but so massive was it that he decided to use dynamite to blow it up instead. When the explosives went off, the bullet that had been buried within it for all of this time was flung out at deadly velocity to strike him in the head, killing him just as it had been meant to years before. Perhaps death is not so easily cheated after all.
These are all seemingly very unlikely connections to be sure, and such absurd coincidences have been analyzed and picked apart for years. The main idea usually proposed is that these are just random chance, and that sooner or later there are going to be strange links between events, purely from a statistical standpoint. In this view, these events and details are in fact totally unrelated, and have just happened to have come together by statistical chance. After all, even if something has a million in one chance of happening, with over 7 billion people in the world that still adds up to a lot of weird occurrences. In this sense, extremely improbable events occur frequently, with one statistician named David Hand saying in his book The Improbability Principle, "Extremely improbable events are commonplace," and another group of researchers saying, "With a large enough sample, any outrageous thing is likely to happen." It can be seen with the lottery all of the time. Someone will win, and to them it will seem like a miracle, but statistically someone had to win. Then there is the fact that we will discard the usual expected outcomes to latch onto the ones which defy the odds and seem miraculous.
However, is this all just random chance and the effects of probability? There have been many researchers who have questioned whether sheer randomness can explain such synchronicity, including one Bernard Beitman, a psychiatrist and professor at the University of Virginia, who said, "I know there’s something more going on than we pay attention to. Random is not enough of an explanation for me." There is also the great Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, who spoke at length about synchronicity, and thought there was another force outside of causal effect at work here. He called this the the unus mundus, or one world, which he theorized was a connection between everything and everyone, and that these "coincidences" were actually manifestations of this order and structure to reality as we know it.
So what is it? Can cases such as we have looked at here be chalked up to simple aberrations and the result of the inevitable force of random probability? Is it just that sooner or later strange coincidences are going to pop up? Or maybe we are thinking too much about it. After all, if you take two disparate, random things and look at them for long enough you are bound to be able to find your own connections between them. Or perhaps there are no true coincidences? Perhaps this all has some deeper, profound and underlying meaning, some hint at something that flows through us and connects us on a level we have not even begun to comprehend? Is the universe itself trying to tell us something? These are questions thrown against the fabric of reality itself and so open to interpretation and opinion that it seems unlikely we will ever know for sure what is going on with such tales. Yet one cannot help but wonder if these are merely statistical hiccups or evidence of something far stranger at work.