Today it would be unthinkable that the leader of a democratic nation would suddenly disappear without a trace, never to be seen again. Yet that’s precisely what happened in the bizarre case of Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt on December 17, 1967.
Holt left a group of associates to go swimming alone, at Chevoit Beach on Port Phillip Bay in southern Victoria, Australia. The area near the city of Melbourne was known for dangerous currents and rip tides, but Holt was said to be a better-than-average swimmer. Good judgement, apparently, was not one of his strengths, and he quickly disappeared beneath the waves. A two-day search by Royal Australian Navy divers and local volunteers yielded nothing. Holt was declared missing and presumed dead.
As might be expected, the vanishing of an international head of state led to a wide range of conspiracy theories. One urban legend said Holt was abducted by aliens. Another suggested he was a double agent for the Chinese government, plucked from the water by a submarine dispatched from Beijing.
Ironically, one can find an athletic center named in Holt’s honor near Melbourne. Its centerpiece, and most popular feature, is an outdoor swimming pool.