History’s Weirdest Unsolved Disappearances
History is replete with instances of people, well-known and otherwise, simply vanishing without trace or explanation. Some of these cases are clearly the result of foul play, and others are completely impenetrable riddles. Of all the horrible ways to go, disappearing without explanation has to be one of the most terrifying, and most devastating to the people you love.
An Australian pilot named Frederich Valentich, known for his fascination with UFOs, disappeared in 1978. He was flying over Bass Strait when he radioed Melbourne Air Traffic Control to report that he was being tracked by a UFO. The craft would stop in mid-air, vanish, and then reappear. The last thing heard before his transmission cut to static was “It’s hovering, and it’s not an aircraft.” Neither Valentich nor his plane were ever seen again.
The people on this list all made their exit from public life in circumstances that still have historians and other curious types scratching their heads. The majority of the cases on this list have never been conclusively solved. Some of them are the stuff of nightmares.
Ray Gricar was the district attorney of Centre County, Pennsylvania for two decades. In 2005, he vanished after a phone call with his girlfriend, saying he was going for a drive in the countryside. His abandoned car was found outside of an antique store, and his laptop in a nearby river. He was investigating what would later break as the Penn State sex abuse scandal at the time. People speculated that he may have been murdered. Why, then, did a search of the browsing history on his home computer yield multiple results for things like “how to destroy a hard drive?”
Agatha Christie is one of the greats of mystery literature. For eleven days, she was at the center of her own mystery, that got international headlines. On a December night, she drove away from her home in Berkshire and vanished completely. Her car was found abandoned and a huge manhunt was launched. Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the Sherlock Holmes mystery stories, participated in the search. Eventually, it was revealed that Christie had absconded to Harrowgate via train, where she spent eleven days hobnobbing with the young social crowd under the name of her husband’s mistress. Christie, upon being discovered, says she had no memory of the events.
Amelia Earhart is synonymous with “mysterious disappearances.” Her mysterious plane flight, from which she never returned, is one of history’s greatest and most-studied unsolved riddles. While attempting to successfully circumnavigate the planet by plane, the plane completely disappeared, along with her and her navigator. Radio distress signals were never received. To make the mystery even more mysterious, there’s new evidence that suggests about half of the 100 messages she sent during the flight were not from her. There are many theories about what could have happened. One obvious candidate is that the plane fatally crashed. Another leading theory is that the Japanese kidnapped them.
Maura Murray was attending the University of Massachusetts Amherst before she vanished in 2004. Her professors and work advisor received an email from Murray stating that she was attending to a family crisis and would be abdicating her academic duties for a week. There was no family crisis. Murray’s car was discovered in New Hampshire, wrecked, and she was nowhere to be found. Nobody knows what happened to her, or where she is.
Bettie Page is history’s most famous pinup model. She is most famous for her nude photos and for her rockabilly-esque aesthetic, which is still very influential today. In the late fifties, Page completely disappeared from public life. Precisely zero photos of her were seen for thirty years, and no explanation was ever offered. She never literally disappeared, but she was persona non grata until she died in 2008.
The Crew of the MV Joyita
The MV Joyita, a fishing boat, reached a mysterious and almost certainly unpleasant end in 1955. Its maiden voyage out of Western Samoa was only meant to take two days at the most. Five weeks later, the Joyita was discovered drifting in open water. None of the crew were aboard, and all the cargo was missing. There was no evidence of anything violent happening, and the crew had not issued any distress calls. Nobody knows what happened.
April Fabb was only nineteen when she disappeared. She lived in Cromer, England, where she liked to ride her bicycle. On one bike ride in 1969, she never came home. It is still a complete mystery. There is no evidence of kidnapping, and no plausible explanation was ever arrived at.
Louis Le Prince
Le Prince is one of the people responsible for the invention of moving pictures. He invented the camera that captured the first moving image sequence. On a train trip to see his brother in 1890, he disappeared. The most plausible theories about his disappearance from the train are that he was either murdered or committed suicide.
Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
2014 was the year of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. The story of the plane’s disappearance dominated the news cycle for weeks. Somewhere over Vietnam, the flight vanished without a trace, having issued no distress signals. It’s still an unsolved mystery. No wreckage was ever found. Some people blame terrorists.
Ambrose Bierce, author of The Devil’s Dictionary, vanished during a horseback trip across the Rio Grande in 1913. Some speculate that he committed suicide, but the most plausible explanation is that he was killed. In the last letter he posted, he signs off with “Good-bye. If you hear of my being stood up against a Mexican stone wall and shot to rags, please know that I think it’s a pretty good way to depart this life.”
A Stratojet B-47 Bomber
In 1956, a Stratojet B-47 bomber carrying a nuclear weapon vanished during a flight out of a Florida air force base, somewhere over the Mediterranean Sea. A tanker plane was supposed to meet the bomber for refueling, but no sign of the Stratojet was seen or heard. Nobody knows what happened to the plane or the bomb.
Jean Spangler was an actress and Hollywood socialite who disappeared after traveling to see her former husband to talk to him about child support. Two days after, her purse was found. It contained all of her belongings, unstolen, as well as a note that read “Kirk, Can’t wait any longer. Going to see Dr. Scott. It will work best this way while mother is away.” Kirk Douglas emphatically denied that he was the Kirk in question.
Jim Thompson was an agent for the intelligence agency OSS during WWII. After the War, he moved to Thailand and became an influential figure in fashion. He revolutionized the country’s silk industry. Thompson vanished during a vacation in 1967. He went out for a short walk, not taking a jacket or cigarettes, and was never seen again. People speculate that he may have been kidnapped by communists.
Tara Calico, a 19 year old who lived in New Mexico, went for a bike ride in 1988 she never returned from. The next year, a photo was found outside a Florida convenience store that showed a girl who looked like her and a young boy, both bound and gagged in a van. Later, a Valencia County sheriff said publicly that he believed Calico was killed by two people who hit her with their truck and then dumped her body.
In 2006, Teresa Butler’s husband returned home to find her missing. Their two young boys were at home, and her Jeep was parked outside. The kids didn’t know what happened to her. Her purse and cell phone were gone, as were a Playstation, a car stereo and a video camera. The police discovered that she’d made two calls to two different Missouri towns. The people at those numbers had never heard of her. Nobody has any kind of explanation.
On a cruise with her family in 1998, Amy Bradley, 23, disappeared from the ship. The ship docked in Curacao soon thereafter and Amy could not be found. In 2005, her parents were emailed a photo from an escorting site that looked like her. There have been multiple claimed sightings of her since, including by a sailor who said a woman in a Curacao brothel told him her name was Amy Bradley, and pleaded for help before being taken away.
Korrina and Annette Sagers
Korrina Lynne Sagers Malinoski disappeared on her way to work in 1987. Her car was found without her in it. The next year, her daughter Annette also disappeared, on her way to school. A note was found at the bus stop where Annette vanished, reading, “Dad, momma come back. Give the boys a hug”. People speculate that Korrina disappeared herself, then kidnapped her daughter.
In 1981, Cynthia Anderson arrived at work and vanished shortly thereafter. Her car was still parked at the job, but her purse and keys were gone. A romance novel was open on her desk, at a page where the female protagonist is abducted. A lawyer at the law firm where she worked was later implicated in drug dealing. Some think she may have been killed for accidentally overhearing incriminating evidence. Thirty years later, no one knows.
In 2000, Asha Degree’s parents went into her room to wake her up to find that she wasn’t in bed. Her brother, who shared the room, didn’t know what happened. Eyewitnesses later said they saw a girl who looked like Degree wandering the highway margin at 4am that night. Three days later, some of her belongings were found at the door of a toolshed a mile from her house. Over a year later, her bag was found 26 miles away.
Laureen Rahn, fourteen, disappeared in 1980 during a sleepover with two friends. Her mother came home to their apartment building that night to find all the light bulbs in the hallway unscrewed. The next morning, she found Laureen’s friend sleeping in Laureen’s bed. She was gone. Some speculate the disappearance may have had something to do with “Dr. Z,” an infamous child pornographer
Leah Roberts, 23, disappeared in 2000 on a road trip. Her jeep was found in Whatcom County, Washington, far from her North Carolina home. There was, surprisingly, no blood, despite the jeep having crashed over an embankment. Her belongings were still at the site, but she was not. One eyewitness claimed he saw her outside a convenience store, but that was the last lead.
Diane Augat disappeared in 1988. Three days later, her mother played a voicemail on her answering machine in which a woman who sounded like Diane was herd yelling “Help, help, let me out” and “Hey, gimme that.” The call came from “Starlight.” The severed tip of her right middle finger was discovered near where she was last seen. A bag containing her clothes was found in the freezer of a convenience store. The case is still unsolved.
Mary Shotwell Little
Mary Shotwell Little was a 25 year old secretary who disappeared after having dinner with a friend in 1965. Her car was found the next day in the same parking lot where she had parked the previous night, but it appeared to have been driven away and then re-parked. Her gasoline credit card was used twice afterwards, signed “Mrs. Roy H. Little Jr.” Eyewitnesses described a frazzled looking woman with a head wound, with two imposing men.
Michael Rockefeller, son of Nelson Rockefeller, disappeared while on a trip to New Guinea in 1961. A popular theory claims he was eaten by cannibals. Nobody knows for certain, and it’s a matter of widespread speculation.
Joseph Force Crater
New York Supreme Court Judge Crater disappeared in Manhattan after eating dinner with a friend and a showgirl. Beforehand, he’d reportedly destroyed and relocated multiple documents and withdrawn $5,000 from his bank. A note was later discovered, written by a woman who claimed that several men, her husband among them, had killed Crater.
McCann was on a vacation to Portugal with her family in 2007 when she vanished from her hotel room. The parents were dragged in the tabloid press and on social media, being widely and baselessly accused of murdering their daughter.
Hoffa was the notorious corrupt union leader who was President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters between 1958 and 1971. He was deeply involved with organized crime. He was last seen in a Detroit restaurant with two mob bosses before disappearing in 1975. Urban myths abound concerning the location of his remains.
Holloway disappeared in Aruba during a high school graduation trip. She was last seen with three locals, all men, leaving a bar. All three had been arrested before multiple times, but no arrests were made in conjunction with the Holloway disappearance.
Glenn Miller was a popular musician when he enlisted in the Army in 1942. He wanted to modernize the Army band for WWII. On a flight in a single engine plane from Britain to Paris, the plane vanished somewhere over the English Channel. He was never seen again after that 1944 flight.
Son of Errol Flynn and Lili Damita, Sean Flynn vanished while covering Cambodia for Time Magazine in 1970. He was kidnapped by communist guerillas, along with Dana Stone, a CBS reporter. They were never returned or heard from again.
A man named DB Cooper hijacked a Boeing 727 in 1971. The flight was a short one, from Portland to Seattle. He demanded $200,000 when the plane landed. He was paid the money, and after most of the passengers and crew were released, the plane took off again for Mexico. Half an hour in, someone noticed an open door in the aft cabin. Cooper had, presumably, parachuted out. It’s the only unsolved air piracy case in American history.
Raoul Wallenberg was a Swedish architect who saved tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews during the Nazi occupation by issuing them protective passports and housing Jews in Swedish-controlled buildings. He was detained and likely killed by the KGB in 1945. He was never seen or heard from again.
Richey Edwards was a guitar player for the band Manic Street Preachers. He was twenty seven when he disappeared in 1995. Multiple sightings were reported following his disappearance, but the case was never solved.
Renee MacRae’s is the longest running missing persons case in the UK. She and her three year old son vanished while driving in 1976. Her BMW was found on fire, with a rug inside that had blood on it that corresponded with her blood type. Neither of them were ever seen again.
Orlandi lived in Vatican City, Italy and vanished in 1983. Her disappearance was initially explained as her running away but later phone calls suggested she’d been kidnapped by a group to be held as ransom for the release of Mehmet Ali Agca. Agca was the man who attempted to assassinate the Pope in 1981. She is still missing.
Morris was one of the only people to ever successfully escape Alcatraz. He swam across San Francisco Bay towards Marin. He likely did not survive the long swim, through cold water, strong currents, in shark-infested water. However, his cousin, Bud Morris, claims he met up with Frank after the escape.
Cox-Powell disappeared in 2009. Her husband, Josh Powell, is a prime suspect for murder. Susan’s blood was found in their home, as well as a $1.5 million life insurance policy. The house burned down in 2014, with evidence of arson. Josh and their two sons all died in the fire. The police finger Josh himself as the arson culprit.
George Bass, a British explorer and naval surgeon, took a mysterious final voyage in 1803, on the ship Venus. He and the crew all disappeared. They were en route to Tahiti and there’s evidence to suggest that bass was involved in illicit trade with Chile. Whatever happened to Bass and his crew is still a matter of historical mystery.
Bruno Manser was an environmental activist who was last seen in Bario, a remote village in Sarawak, Malaysia. He was last seen in 2000.