In A Nutshell
On September 29, 1913, inventor Rudolf Diesel vanished from a ship bound for London. His corpse was later found floating in the North Sea. The case seemed a clear instance of suicide, but there are some compelling theories that Diesel was, in fact, murdered.
The Whole Bushel
Rudolf Diesel was born in Germany in 1858, and trained to be an engineer. The focus of his career was in developing more efficient engines. The steam engine, most prevalent at the time, wasted a ton of energy. An experiment with a steam engine using ammonia vapor produced an explosion that nearly killed him. During his recovery, he began work on the design that would eventually become the diesel engine.
Diesel would go on to become a celebrated inventor, his engine still widely in use today. But things would not end well for him. On September 29, 1913, he boarded the ship Dresden in Antwerp, Belgium, headed for London, where he had a business meeting. He had dinner and went to his cabin for the night with instructions to get a 6:15 AM wake-up call.
That night, Diesel vanished. The following day, his cabin was found empty. He’d not slept in the bed, but his watch and nightshirt were laid out as if he were preparing for sleep. An examination of his diary showed only a cross as the entry for that day. Ten days later, another boat fund a putrid corpse floating in the North Sea. The crew took items from the body, but did not take it aboard. The items, such as a wallet and a pill case, were identified as belonging to Rudolf Diesel.
Most consider the death of Diesel to be an open-and-shut suicide case. He’d left behind a package for his wife containing 200,000 German marks and statements that claimed the family was otherwise bankrupt. There are, however, some conspiracy theories that indicate Rudolf Diesel was murdered. The business meeting he was en route to was with the British Navy, to whom he was trying to sell his engines for use in submarines. He could have been killed by any number of parties, from competitors to enemies of the British crown. There were a great deal of political tensions brewing at the time Diesel took his untimely swim—less than a year later, World War I would tear Europe apart.