History is rife with unexplained disappearences, many that defy explanation and continue to baffle us. People, ships and planes have disappeared without a trace, leaving unanswered questions in their wake. The following article mentions a few famous ones.
We live in a world of constant monitoring. It may be difficult to believe, but the average person in a large American city is caught on camera about 70 times a day. From the closed circuit eyes at workplaces and educational institutions to the discreet lenses mounted at gas stations and hidden in ATM machines, we are seen and recorded wherever we go. Add to this the smartphone in your pocket, various social media accounts, the whole nine yards of Internet surfing patterns-and a reasonably accurate picture of your activities emerges-information which can be readily pulled from the ether of floating data points by law enforcement agencies, private eyes, and employers.
It may seem a tad naive to talk, in such a The Man is watching you scenario, of mysterious disappearances. This is as far as the argument goes though. There are more than 2000 reports of missing persons every day in the United States alone. That mind-boggling number translates to nearly 900,000 lost people in a year. It seems human beings are notoriously prone to being lost, and unlike misplaced car keys found under sofa cushions or in the dogs water bowl, we can be much harder to find, in many cases, impossible to find. Individuals aside, even ships, aircraft, and whole colonies of folks have absented themselves from civilization, never to be seen or heard from again.
The list of 10 inexplicable disappearances here includes some famous missing cases, some which garnered media attention from the word go, some that resulted in long-drawn but ultimately fruitless investigations and then inevitably, the ones which are bizarre enough to warrant the involvement of those lovable conspiracy theory characters; the aliens.
Disappeared: July 30, 1975
Last Location: Machus Red Fox Restaurant, Detroit
Arguably the most famous missing person case of all time, James Riddle Hoffa’s whereabouts remain unknown to this day. A powerful union leader during the 50s and 60s, Hoffa was the president of the International Teamsters Union, an organization which grew to become the largest labor union in the country. He was involved with the mafia and was imprisoned for fraud and jury tampering in 1967. He returned to public life in 1971 and became active amongst the teamsters once more.
Jimmy Hoffa’s last known location was outside the Machus Red Fox Restaurant in Bloomfield Township, Detroit, on July 30, 1975 at about 2.45 pm. He had talked of meeting mafia leaders Anthony Giacalone and Anthony Provenzano, but both denied any such meeting with him. An extensive manhunt began, continuing over decades and involving several agencies. Declared legally dead on July 30, 1982, it is now believed that Hoffa was murdered by the mafia to prevent him from consolidating his hold on the union again.
Disappeared: July 2, 1937
Last Location: Howland Island, near Honolulu
Amelia Earhart was America’s sweetheart before the title was usurped by film stars and 15-minute wannabes. The first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic, Earhart set numerous records, established an international organization for women aviators, was the recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross(United States), and wrote several bestsellers about her experiences as a pilot, not to mention being a vocal supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment. Phew! Seems the only thing left for her to do was to disappear from the face of the earth and leave us in perpetual wonder.
It was an attempt to circumnavigate the globe nonetheless, when Earhart, along with her navigator Fred Noonan, disappeared on their approach to Howland Island near Honolulu. Their aircraft, a Lockheed Model 10 Electra, was never found, despite several search attempts by the US Navy. There were several radio signals received from the aircraft but were unintelligible and could not be followed up. Over the years many theories have been formulated regarding Earhart’s disappearance and she is believed to have ditched her plane in the ocean after running out of fuel. The most famous aviatrix in history remains lost to the world, though surely not in memory.
Joseph Force Crater
Disappeared: August 6, 1930
Last Location: 45th Street, NYC
Not many would know the name of Joseph Crater today, it has been over 80 years since he went missing, yet back then he was front-page news and the subject of a nationwide search. His case gained so much publicity that for many years after, people who went missing were deemed to have – Pulled a Crater.
Crater was an Associate Justice of the New York Supreme Court, and so his vanishing was not treated lightly. The circumstances of it, however, remain obscure. Judge Crater was on a vacation in Maine when he received a call and hastily made his way to New York, giving no explanations to his wife. His actions were even more mysterious. He withdrew a large amount of money from his account and destroyed several files before proceeding to buy a single ticket for the Broadway show Dancing Partner. That evening he had dinner with two associates, and was last seen walking down 45th Street. It was the last time Judge Crater was seen by anyone.
D. B. Cooper
Disappeared: November 24, 1971, after hijacking Boeing 727
Last Location: Unknown
For starters, the man wasn’t actually named D.B. Cooper, this was a journalistic moniker given to him during the investigation that followed his daring acts. He is probably the only person on this list whose identity as well as location remains unknown to this day. What he did would be unbelievable if it were not true.
On the afternoon of November 24, 1971, a well-dressed man carrying a briefcase boarded Flight 305 at the Portland International Airport. The flight was traveling to Seattle, a mere 30-minutes away. The ticket he carried identified him as Dan Cooper. He sat in his seat, lit a cigarette and ordered a bourbon. Just another businessman on a trip? Dan Cooper changed perceptions quickly when he passed a note to an air hostess that he had a bomb and was hijacking the plane. He demanded $200,000 in cash, 4 parachutes, and a fuel truck ready at the Seattle airport. After the pilots and ground authorities were informed and his demands were met, Cooper let all the passengers and crew depart the plane and ordered the pilots to take off. The aircraft was a Boeing 727 with an airstair which opened outside. After a few minutes of flying the pilots saw the airstair warning light go off, and there was a reduction in air pressure inside the cabin. Dan Cooper, whoever he was, had jumped from the aircraft at a height of about 10,000 feet in his staid business suit and $200,000 in cash strapped to his body.
After months of searching Cooper’s possible landing zones and even dredging a lake, not one trace was found of the skyjacker. A placard from the hijacked plane was found, as were packets of ransom money, yet no clues to D. B. Cooper’s identity have emerged in the 40 years since he bailed out over the pacific northwest forests.
Disappeared: December 26, 1913
Last Location: Chihuahua, Chihuahua, Mexico
Ambrose Bierce is well-known today for his horror short stories and satirical works, but back in the day he was also a fierce critic and keen journalist. Bierce was an adventurer in both the literary and real world and was eager to explore the human element in the Mexican Revolution. In 1913, at the age of 71, he joined the revolutionary Pancho Villa and toured with him.
From here we pass into the realm of legend and hearsay. Bierce’s last known communique was a letter to a friend in which he mentions traveling to an unknown destination. The authenticity of this letter itself is in dispute among modern historians. However, after December 26, 1913 (the date of the letter), Ambrose Bierce disappeared into the pages of history forever.
The Roanoke Colony
Disappeared: Between 1587 to 1589
Location: Roanoke, Virginia
Known today as the lost colony, the Roanoke colony was established sometime in 1585 by the English. It was one of the first attempts by the English to colonize America. By 1587 the colony comprised about 115 people who were struggling to find purchase in the harsh frontier conditions and faced harassment at the hands of the local tribes. One of the colonists was Virginia Dare, the first child born to English parents in the Americas. She was the granddaughter of John White, the leader of the colony who decided to return to England in 1587, to gather more men and material.
When he returned 3 years later, delayed due to the Anglo-Spanish war, he found no trace of the colonists he had left behind. There were no signs of battle or any other disturbance, the only evidence was the word Croatoan carved onto a tree trunk. Croatoan was the name of an ethnic tribe and a small island in the region, and it was believed that the colonists had relocated there. However, subsequent expeditions and search parties never found a clue about their whereabouts. There were reports over the centuries of settlers encountering Native Americans who had blond hair and spoke English. Although unsubstantiated, many such legends have resulted in the establishment of the Lost Colony DNA Project in 2005, an attempt to track the bloodlines of the lost colonists.
Disappeared: Dec 4, 1872
Last Location: Near the Strait of Gibraltar
A classic mystery of the sea, the Mary Celeste was a merchant ship found adrift in the Atlantic Ocean on December 4, 1872. She had been abandoned on the high seas and the ten people on board were missing. The number of oddities in the case of Mary Celeste make it an intriguing mystery. Take a look.
- The ship was still seaworthy and had no distress flag flying to signal a catastrophe.
- All the papers on the ship were missing. The boarding party only found Captain Benjamin Briggs’ logbook.
- The ship’s clock had stopped, the compass was smashed, and the chronometer along with the only lifeboat was missing.
- The Mary Celeste had a 6-month supply of food and water, still fresh and apparently untouched.
- Valuables and personal belongings of the crew remained on board and there were no signs of a mutiny.
There is, however, a possible explanation to the event. The ship was carrying a cargo of 1,701 barrels of alcohol of which 9 were found to be empty. The Captain may have discovered the leak on a routine inspection and hurriedly ordered everyone off the ship, fearing an explosion. Their towline may have broken leaving them adrift and exposed to the elements, unable to return. Whatever be the reason for the ship’s abandonment, its name remains an eerie reminder of the unknown.
Disappeared: December 5, 1945
Last Location: Off the east coast of Florida
Just months after the end of World War II, on December 5, 1945, a squadron of 5 TBM Avengerbombers, on a training mission run by the US Navy, disappeared off the east coast of Florida. An area popularly known today as-you guessed it-The Bermuda Triangle.
Flight 19, as the group was designated, took off from Fort Lauderdale for a bombing run in an area that was roughly the shape of a triangle, continuing on a flight course which would deposit them back at their point of origin. Things went wrong after the bomb run was completed, as the aircraft in the area heard radio transmissions from the flight. Attempts were made to guide them back to the Florida Keys but the planes kept flying over water, eventually losing contact with the base. The weather deteriorated after sundown and a PBM Mariner seaplane was sent after the lost bombers never reported back. It was possibly lost in an explosion over sea as the Mariner was susceptible to fuel leaks. A massive search and rescue operation failed to uncover any trace of the aircraft. There are numerous theories regarding the disappearance of Flight 19, both logical and exotic. A generally accepted version is that the lead pilot lost his bearings and kept flying out to sea having made a wrong turn after the bombing run.
The Alcatraz Escapees
Disappeared: June 11, 1962
Last Location: Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary
In 1960, Allen West, Frank Morris, and the brothers Clarence and John Anglin were prisoners at Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary, aka The Rock, or the prison from where no one escaped alive. Well, they decided to change the status quo a bit. Masterminded by West, the group labored for nearly 2 years, digging behind vents and constructing a raft made of rubber raincoats. They even made fake heads from papier mache to fool the prison guards. The escape was effected on the night of June 11, 1962, and all the prisoners except Allen West (who couldn’t pry off his ventilator grill fast enough) made it into the utility shafts. They managed to reach the shoreline and cast off in their raft under the cover of night.
The search proved fruitless, and although authorities were of the opinion that they all drowned, no bodies turned up. What did was the remnants of the raft and a bag containing the Anglin brothers’ personal items. Their family claims they received notes and are sure the brothers made it across the treacherous waters. Books and films have been made on the subject and MythBusters dedicated an episode into recreating the escape, coming to the conclusion that a successful attempt was in fact possible.
Disappeared: October 21, 1978
Last Location: Cape Otway, Australia
As we wind down this list of weird disappearances, I can’t help but throw in one which is truly right up there when it comes to outright creepiness. This is where the little green men come in, where the orbs of light take a sinister appearance and a lone man faces the abyss, defenseless but undaunted.
On the evening of October 21, 1978, Frederick Valentich, a 20-year-old pilot was at the helm of a Cessna 182L plane over the Bass Strait in Australia. He reported crossing Cape Otway at about 7.00 pm, but his next transmission and the ones thereafter make for almost scary reading.
Valentich: Melbourne, this is Delta Sierra Juliet. Is there any known traffic below five thousand?
Control: Delta Sierra Juliet, no known traffic.
Valentich: Delta Sierra Juliet, I am, seems to be a large aircraft below five thousand.
Control: Delta Sierra Juliet, What type of aircraft is it?
Valentich: Delta Sierra Juliet, I cannot affirm, it is four bright, and it seems to me like landing lights.
The exchange goes on back and forth with Valentich explaining how this large aircraft is behaving, zooming at him from different directions at an amazingly high speed. The transcript concludes with the following transmissions, the last time anyone heard the voice of the young pilot.
Control: Delta Sierra Juliet, roger, what are your intentions?
Valentich: My intentions are – ah – to go to King Island – ah – Melbourne. That strange aircraft is hovering on top of me again. It is hovering and it’s not an aircraft.
Scared yet? It gets better still. After the last transmission there were 17 seconds of unexplained metallic scraping. No trace of the aircraft or its pilot were ever found, and the case remains firmly in the unexplained category of disappearances.
These were some cases of famous disappearances in history. People go missing all the time, many are kidnapped or stranded, and others disappear voluntarily to start new lives. Many are found through clever detective work and public help. Others, like the ones in this list, walk into the twilight zone…never to return.