Five Mysterious Disappearances
Ah, mysterious disappearances, the bread and butter of mysteries. Who hasn’t heard of Amelia Earhart or Jimmy Hoffa? Steve Fossett was the most recent celebrity or famous person to go missing, but it’s more common than one thinks. Mr Fossett was eventually found, but the world is a big place, and a lot of people never are. The interesting thing about most “mysterious” disappearances is that they aren’t really all that mysterious. Or more accurately, there’s always a rational explanation that would account for them being missing. The only really mysterious disappearances on record are that of David Lang and Oliver larch who both vanished in full view of witnesses. Unfortunately for the X-Files crew, the sources of both of these disappearances don’t hold water, and both appear to be tall tales based on a story by Ambrose Bierce. And as fate would have it, Ambrose Bierce, a very famous author in his day, did actually vanish from the face of the Earth. Of course he was in war torn revolutionary Mexico at the time, so it doesn’t take much imagination to explain his fate. In any event, here is a short list of mysterious disappearances. Some famous, some not so, all chosen because I thought they were interesting or obscure enough that I thought my readers might enjoy them.
The Mary Celeste. Possibly the most famous nautical mystery of all, the ship was found sailing without her entire crew. The captain, his wife and kid, and the crew of seven were all missing, apparently having abandoned the ship in some haste. To put it mildly, it was a big story in its day, and even now many people have heard of the Mary Celeste (often incorrectly called the Marie Celeste) and know that its crew vanished mysteriously. However, people promulgating the mystery aspect of the story usually add untrue details, like meals being half eaten, and overlook mentioning that the ship’s lifeboat was missing and a frayed rope was found trailing behind the ship. In other words, the crew of the ship got into the lifeboat for some reason, and the rope broke. Most likely because they panicked because of a problem with the alcohol the ship was carrying and they thought the ship was about to explode. Tragic, but there’s no need to invoke aliens, the Bermuda Triangle, or anything else.
Judge Crater. Another huge deal in its day, when I was a kid everyone knew about Judge Crater. Or more accurately, we knew he was a famous judge who disappeared, but that’s about all we knew. The story: On a summer day in 1930 he met some friends for dinner, they caught a cab, he walked away … and was never seen again. Huge manhunt and brouhaha, although the manhunt didn’t get underway until over a week after he vanished. Again though, once one knows a few of the details, this story becomes a lot less mysterious. For one thing, he cashed a few checks for some $5,000 the day he vanished. (About $60,000 in today’s money.) Secondly, two weeks later his mistress also vanished, never to be seen again. Most people can connect the dots from there. It’s also possible he suffered from a dissociative fugue state, but I think it’s safe to say he lived out his life with his mistress on some obscure beach somewhere.
The Norfolk Regiment. In 1915 during the fighting in Turkey a unit of British troops vanished during a battle. It was indeed somewhat of a mystery. After the war though, the mystery was solved. They had advanced too far, and been surrounded and massacred by Turkish troops. Their bodies were found and dug up for God’s sake. And yet to this day the fable that they disappeared into some sort of mysterious cloud persists. Ah, the Internet, the largest repository of false information in the known Universe.
Michael Rockefeller. Yes, son of the famous governor of New York. He was 24 at the time. He was on an expedition to New Guinea. His boat overturned. He decided to swim for shore. His partner waited it out on the overturned boat and was rescued the next day. Michael was never seen again. And yes, this was a huge deal at the time, and the Rockefeller’s left no stone unturned in their search. What happened to him? Well, he was swimming in shark and crocodile infested waters, so anyone who has seen Jaws can imagine his fate. Nothing much else to say hear, I only mention this one to show that even the children of the rich and powerful can vanish. And, well, as a lesson point. If your boat overturns in shark infested water … stay on the boat!
The Beaumont Children. This is a sad one. My Australian readers all have heard of it no doubt, but I include it for everyone else. Sadly it’s not really a mystery, someone took them. Still, three children disappearing in broad daylight on a trip to the beach is a hell of a thing. Short version: In 1966 Jane, Grant, and Anna Beaumont went for a visit to a beach near their home. Jane was 9, the other two were younger. Jane was considered mature enough to take care of her two siblings, this was not at all unusual for the time. They were last seen walking home around 3pm, over 3 hours later than expected, but were never seen again. There is very good evidence that they were seen in the company of a man in his thirties on the beach. And that was that. Massive police investigation, huge deal at the time, most famous cold case in Australian history. No trace of them has ever been found, no crime scene, no suspects, nada. And the case had a permanent effect, after this time most Australian parents became a lot more concerned about letting children wander around unsupervised. The end of an era of innocence so to speak.
There’s many many more disappearances where these came from. Dan Cooper, the Star Tiger and Star Arial, Spartacus, King Parnenozo, the Roanoke Colony, Flight 19, Osama bin Laden, and a whole host of others. Heck, here’s a list from Wikipedia: List of People who have disappeared mysteriously.
(The above image is Public Domain under US copyright law, being a nineteenth century engraving. It’s the Mary Celeste as she appeared when she was discovered sailing blithely along without her crew. Tomorrow: The Nazca Lines. And no, they’re not an airport for UFOs.)