bodies found

Lost on a glacier for 75 years

Marcelin and Francine Dumoulin had seven children. They lived in the tiny village of Chandolin in the Swiss Alps during World War II with their five boys and two girls. In nearby pastures, their cows grazed. One day, they went to feed their cows and never returned. Their bodies were not found until 75 years later.

Tsanfleuron Glacier, Switzerland

Francine and Marcel

Francine Dumoulin was a 37-year-old schoolteacher when she decided to accompany her husband to tend to their cattle for the first time. Her whole life had been spent working, pregnant or looking after their young children but on this occasion they took the trip together.

40-year-old Marcelin, a shoemaker, usually went alone on this journey, travelling on foot to the next state, the canton of Bern. On August 15th 1942, the sky was clear when they set out, but quickly dark clouds covered the area between their village and their farmland. The journey was to take them across the 2,600m-high Tsanfleuron glacier where it is assumed that they lost their footing and fell into a crevasse.

The Dumoulin Children

When their parents didn’t return, their children, aged between two and thirteen years old searched frantically, enlisting the help of fellow villagers and relatives to try and find them. Days past with no sign of them. Daily searches continued until, after two and a half months, the family came to realise that Mr and Mrs Dumoulin were not going to return. The children were split up and taken in by different local families.

The separated siblings grew apart, until fifteen years later, when one of the older brothers who had become a priest, led a mass on the Tsanfleuron glacier in an attempt to find closure, but the mystery of the whereabouts of Marcelin and Francine remained.


It was not until July 13th 2017 that an employee of a nearby ski resort came across backpacks, tin bowls and a glass bottle in the area. As the ice melted, male and female shoes were uncovered and part of a body became visible. Two bodies were eventually found, side by side, in clothes that were reminiscent of those worn during World War II.

After 75 years, Marcelin and Francine Dumoulin were found on Tsanfleuron Glacier.

In the 75 years since their mother and father went, all but two of the Dumoulin children had passed away. The youngest daughter, Marceline, has suggested she will now give her parents a funeral where she will not be wearing black, as is traditional, but white, to represent the hope that the children never lost for finding their parents.

Roopkund Lake

Mystery and Skeletons Lake

In 1942, a British ranger at Nanda Devi National Park in the north of India was patrolling the mountains when he came across a lake in a canyon. At such a high altitude (over 5000 metres) Roopkund Lake had frozen entirely. When he looked in the frozen lake, he was shocked to see human skeletons.

Who goes there?

At this time during World War II the British, who were occupying India, were terrified of opposing Japanese troops approaching through the Himalayas. The ranger informed local forces and it was assumed that the people that had been found were advancing Japanese soldiers who had not made it through the mountains. Upon closer inspection, it became apparent that this was not the case. But who were they and where did they come from?

The sheer volume of bodies only became apparent when the lake had thawed entirely. At the bottom of the lake were approximately 300 dead humans, nearly all of which had suffered the same fate. Their skulls and bodies showed signs of blows to the head. But still, no-one knew exactly what had happened here at Roopkund Lake.

Human Skeletons in Roopkund Lake

By Schwiki (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

A lot of the bodies were removed and inspected. The cold temperatures at this altitude has preserved not just the bones, but also some skin and hair. A clue lied alongside the bodies. Iron spear heads and leather slippers were found which suggested that these bodies had been here for a lot longer than anyone realised.

Now known to locals as Mystery and Skeletons Lake, the bodies and surrounding area was investigated for years, with no one getting any closer to what might have happened. For more than 60 years, the mystery went unsolved and theory after theory was put forward. Some thought it was the site of a mass suicide and others thought they might be Tibetan traders who got lost and succumbed to the altitude. But no theory would hold up under intense speculation.

Finding answers in Roopkund

In 2004, an expedition to the uninhabited region was taken by National Geographic filmmakers who enlisted the help of various professors and doctors from around the world to put an end to the mystery once and for all.

Using the latest carbon dating methods at Oxford University, the bodies were found to have come from the 9th century, long before anyone thought. Intriguingly, all of the people were found to have died at roughly the same time.

Archaeologists from Delhi University were able to ascertain that the dead were from two separate groups of people, one noticeably taller than the other. Due to some of the marking on the skulls, it is suggested that the smaller group were the porters, carrying the belongings of the taller people.

A paleopathologist at a college in Pune, India, noticed that a lot of the bones had similar abnormalities, suggesting that a lot of the dead people were related by blood, thus ruling out that this was an army. This was a group of men, women and children.

Why were they there?

There is no historical trade route to Tibet through the area, so that theory was ruled out also. The area near Roopkund Lake is, however, along an important pilgrimage route. The pilgrimage, known as the Nanda Devi Raj Jat is part of a Hindu festival that takes place every 12 years and ends right by Roopkund Lake.

Trekking path to Roopkund

Trekking path to Roopkund – By Djds4rce (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

This journey is a tough one because of the extreme terrain it goes through. According to local mythology, a King once took some dancers to this sacred spot. Due to heavy snowfall, the people were trapped and the dancers were transformed into skeletons and stones. A second myth is that the king’s wife was pregnant and as she was giving birth, her placenta flowed down to Roopkund and this caused the death of the people there.

How did these people all die?

There were no injuries consistent with an avalanche, so this was also ruled out. But another clue was to come from Professor Dr William Sax, the head of anthropology at Heidelberg University in Germany. He had spent years studying the local people in the area and had recalled a traditional song that the women in the area sang.

The song told of how the goddess, Nanda, would strike down anyone who did not believe in her with hailstones as “hard as iron”. As the bodies that had been found suffered injuries consistent with large, cricket ball sized objects falling from great heights, it was determined that these people had been the victims of an unexpected, violent hailstorm. The mystery that had been lying under the surface of a frozen lake for 1200 years was solved.