Every year, millions of people disappear without explanation, and while many return, or are eventually found, some just appear to leave no trace. For the friends and loved ones left behind, this is obviously more than heartbreaking but some of these disappearances are just so bizarre they become infamous.
Sudden vanishings are intriguing – they leave us wondering what happened, and some people even think they might be able to find out. Ever wondered what happened to Virginia Dare, the infamous first child born on US soil, who vanished into thin air, along with her family? Or whether author Ambrose Bierce was really captured and executed amid the Mexican Revolution?
There are 1000’s of famous unsolved cases but we’ve put together our pick of the top 20 strangest disappearances that have never been solved – yet. Get ready to go down the rabbit hole and uncover the mystery of the world’s most baffling missing persons incidents – maybe you will be the one to find out the truth?
Disabled Owen Parfitt vanishes into thin air
Owen Parfitt, crippled, was resting in a chair outside his home in 1793, in Shepton Mallet. His sister and a neighbour helped him into it but when she went to get him back in – Owen was mysteriously gone. Some farm workers had been labouring close by, so she asked them if they had seen if anyone had come to get him. They’d witnessed nothing, so everyone searched the nearby area, but there was no trace of him.
Owen had apparently led a wild life, regaling his friends with stories of pirates and women, and some said pirates had taken him away, so they could find out the location of a buried treasure. Others said the devil had taken him, as there were rumours he was involved with the occult and black magic.
This wasn’t the first time Owen had disappeared- he’d vanished in his youth while working as a tailor and no one knew where he’d gone for decades. He turned up again in 1760, when a man returned to Shepton Mallet, claiming to be Owen Parfitt. There’s one more twist to this tale – a witness said they saw Owen fleeing the area, a short time after he vanished. So did he pretend to be crippled to fake his disappearance or were supernatural forces at play? We only know one thing for certain – the last time Owen vanished, he was never found again.
The unexplained disappearance of Claudia Kirschhoch
Travel writer Claudia Kirschhoch embarked on a working trip to Cuba but it got cancelled and she wound up stranded in Jamaica. She decided to stay at a hotel in Negril with a fellow writer and the pair stayed for three days before managing to book a flight home. After having breakfast with her friend on May 27, 2000, Claudia took a beach stroll, then disappeared.
When her room was searched, her passport, phone and flight ticket were discovered, but the hotel staff were careless and the phone mysteriously vanished, as did the logbook containing the license numbers of the vehicles entering and leaving the resort.
Claudia had spent some time with a bartender at the resort, and he had called in sick the day after she went missing. A hair of hers was found in his car and her scent was detected in the trunk but there was no conclusive evidence he was guilty, so he never became a suspect.
The last credible sighting was made by a lifeguard who spotted her walking on the beach in a blue bikini. Her parents felt both the hotel chain and the police mishandled evidence, so it could be a vital clue was missed, that would have been crucial to solving the case.
The strange abduction of Heather Teague
On August 26th,1995, a person peering through a telescope near the Ohio River saw something completely unexpected – a woman apparently being abducted. A man on the other side of the river, wearing a wig and a mosquito net over his face, came out of the woods and grabbed a sunbathing girl. Heather Teague abduction occurred on the Kentucky side of the River, near Newburgh, Indiana.
The police searched for Heather but the only thing they found was a piece of her swimsuit. Then a man called Marty Dill was pulled up on a routine traffic stop- inside his car were two guns, two knives, rubber gloves, rope, and duct tape. Dill’s red Ford Bronco matched a car seen parked near Heather’s and he closely fitted the witness’s description. The Police discovered blood stains in the rear of Dill’s vehicle, along with hairs that looked like Heather’s. Law enforcement had already received tips about Dill’s involvement, so they headed out to arrest him – but before they could, he shot himself in the head.
In court, his wife pleaded the 5th amendment, refusing to talk, and despite mountains of evidence, Dill was not found guilty – but no one really knows why? Heather Teague’s mother believes there was a cover up, and as the case is still pending, we’ll have to wait to find out what really happened to Heather after she was abducted that day.
The creepy mystery of actress Ada Constance Kent
Ada Constance Kent was an English screen and stage actress who was last seen on 6 March, 1939, buying a packet of cigarettes from her local pub. A friend, who hadn’t seen her for 3 months searched her Fingringhoe cottage, but as she found no sign of Constance, she called the police. A constable came, reporting that there was nobody – and no corpse, in the house at the time he looked. It appeared Ada had just left in a rush – the door was unlocked, and her coat was still hanging up. There was a supper tray with leftovers, and an open copy of Romeo and Juliet in a chair by the fireplace.
In 1942, another of Ada’s close friends searched all three rooms of the cottage, after breaking through the now locked front door. He noticed the book and the supper tray but did not discover Ada. Later, Ada’s bank told the police someone had been making large deposits into her account up until September 1948. The Police went back to check the cottage – and were baffled to discover a fully clothed skeleton next to the bed, beside an empty poison bottle. Robbery was ruled out, as money and jewels were found, but a 21 one year old man later said he had seen bones under the bed when as a child he clambered through the window. Rather creepy don’t you think?
The landlord who last saw Ada said she looked ill but as it has never been confirmed that the skeleton was hers – and a suspect has never been named. What really happened still remains a mystery.
The paranormal disappearance of Martha Wright
In 1975 a married couple, Martha and Jackson Wright, pulled over in the Lincoln Tunnel while driving to New York City, to wipe condensation off the windshield of their vehicle. Martha said she was going to clean the back window, so she hopped out to do so but when Jackson turned around, she had strangely vanished.
Jackson claimed he never heard or saw anything suspicious, and an investigation turned up zero evidence of foul play. Seemingly, Martha had just disappeared – but where had she gone?
Because of the high amount of traffic passing through the tunnel, it was thought Martha would have been spotted if she had run away, or been taken, leading some to wonder if there was a spookier explanation like time travel, or aliens.
Some people say the entire story must have been false as there are no stoppages allowed in the tunnel, and there’s no evidence Martha even existed. Did she really vanish mysteriously, or did Jackson kill her, then made it all up? Was Martha even a real person or just a figment of Jackson’s imagination?
The odd disappearance of Brandon Swanson
19-year-old Brandon Swanson disappeared while driving his Chevy Lumina home to Marshall, Minnesota, on May 14, 2008, after a party in Canby. His car had veered into a ditch, so he called his parents to ask them to pick him up, saying he was walking towards Lynd, southwest of Marshall and would meet them there.
Brandon had first called at 1:54 a.m and as they drove to find him, his parents spoke to him over the phone, for another 47 minutes – until he suddenly said, ‘Oh, s**t!” and the call was cut off.
Police thought he might have fallen into the Yellow Medicine River but later they focused on searching an area near Mud Creek, northwest of Porter. The last search for Brandon was in October 2013, but although dogs picked up the scent of human remains, he was never found.
Brandon had no trouble walking long distances, but even so, his parents think he might have become disorientated after wandering so long in the dark. This case is particularly baffling, as authorities have ruled out foul play, and Brandon was seemingly happy, making it unlikely he faked his disappearance, so he could run away.
The series of missing person cases in the Bennington triangle
Between 1943-1950, several people vanished in The Green Mountain National Forest, in Bennington County, Vermont, an area of woodland nicknamed The Bennington Triangle.
First was Carl Herrick, who became separated from his cousin on a hunting trip in 1943. Carl’s cousin discovered his body three days later – someone, or something had squeezed him until he passed away. There were bear prints around Carl’s corpse – but apparently, a bear wouldn’t squeeze a man like that. Middie Rivers vanished in 1945, while heading up a hunting party in Hell Hollow, after he got ahead of the group. His party wasn’t worried, as he knew the Vermont woods well, but the only trace left of him was a spent rifle cartridge, of the sort he used.
Sophomore Paula Jean Welden, whose disappearance already made our top twenty, was another of the Bennington Triangle vanishings. The red jacket she wore to hike the Long Trail in 1946 would have been hard to miss, yet a couple who saw her turn a corner said she vanished after they caught up. In 1950, 8-year-old Paul Jephson vanished, after his mother hopped out of the truck she drove to run an errand. She told Paul not to leave, but when she came back, he was missing. Paul wore a red jacket, like Paula, so it would have been impossible not to spot him. According to superstition, it’s unlucky to wear red in the forest.
Frieda Langer went missing on a hike with her cousin, after returning to camp to change her wet clothing. Seven months later, her body was discovered in an open field that had been searched repeatedly, in such a state it was impossible to say why she’d died.
Local tribes believed the woods were cursed, with one legend telling of a “man eating stone” that would swallow a person if they stepped on it. Others believe the changeable wind can disorientate – though this couldn’t explain all the cases. Aliens, wildmen, or the Bennington Monster, a giant hairy beast like Bigfoot, have all been said to be responsible. Until these cases are solved, the string of disappearances are so eerie, people will continue to speculate.
What really happened to Elisa Lam?
21-year-old Elisa Lam was staying at the notorious Cecil Hotel when she vanished on February 1, 2013. The last known sighting of her was in the hotel’s elevator, and it was captured on the security camera.
The clip was bizarre – Lam presses all the buttons, then repeatedly peeks out of the elevator, gesticulating as if she were talking to someone who couldn’t be seen. Finally, she exits the elevator, disappearing down a corridor.
Some claimed Lam was mentally disturbed, while others said she was scared of someone – or something. Two weeks later, a hotel employee checked on the rooftop water tanks, and, noticing the top hatch on one was open, looked in. What he found was grim, Elisa Lam was floating face up in one of the tanks.
Things took a puzzling turn – the roof couldn’t be accessed without activating an, and only employees had the key to the rooftop stairwell and door. Even if she’d made it to the roof, she’d have had to get onto the tank’s platform, scale another ladder to reach the top, then lift a weighty hatch, before jumping inside. The tank was only between half to three quarters full, so many wondered how she’d even managed to drown.
Elisa was supposed to be on anti-psychotic medication but there was only a very low level of the drugs in her system, leading some to conclude she’d ended her life, due to under-medication. As the autopsy couldn’t rule out foul play, we’ll sadly, never know for sure.
The disappearances of the Tower of London
The disappearance of the two princes in the Tower continues to haunt us, though it’s shrouded in mystery to this day. What we know is this – after the Prince’s father, Edward IV died, his elder son, Edward V, was named his heir. But his uncle, Richard III, who was also his legal protector, placed 12-year-old Edward in the Tower, closely followed by the 9-year-old Richard.
The two were never seen again and there’s been much speculation as to what occurred. It’s thought Richard feared he’d be toppled, as the brothers would be seen as more legitimate, but there were others involved who may also have stood to benefit.
Margaret Tudor, whose own son Henry had a disputed claim to the throne, was close to the Royal court and could have secured access to the boys. She had just as much motive as Richard to want to see them gone. Margaret had previously spoken with Elizabeth Woodville, the boy’s mother, about marrying her son to one of Woodville’s daughters but nothing came of this due to the instability of the court. Did Margaret get too ambitious? It’s true there were numerous other obstacles before Margaret could place her son on the throne, but we know she managed to navigate these – Henry VII was crowned on 22 August, 1485.
As to why the Princes vanished, we’ll probably never know, but as much as Richard III could have been responsible, it could also have been down to Margaret Tudor.
Donna Kay Cloud vanishes after a blind date
On October 25 2016, 19 year-old Donna Kay Cloud left her son with his dad to go to a restaurant with a man she said she’d met on Facebook. On the 26th October, she texted, promising to visit her family the next day, but on the 27th, she didn’t turn up.
The police pinged Donna’s phone- she’d made several stops, before she disappeared off the grid, in the Westchase area, in Houston, without credit cards, ID, or extra clothing. There was no footage of her at the restaurant and no evidence she’d gone there.
A Houston private investigator discovered there’d been an argument between Donna and her father, and claimed this was the cause of her disappearance. Donna’s assertion she was going on a blind date was not true – she’d been living in her father’s house, and he’d asked her to leave.
But Donna also had an abusive ex-boyfriend and had been threatened by another person the day she went missing. The police did not follow up on this, though they questioned the two men last known to be with her, who said they’d dropped her off on her Dad’s driveway.
It’s difficult to imagine Donna would have abandoned her young son, but her ex could have been involved, though he passed a polygraph. Or, it could have been the person who had threatened her, and equally, the men who said they had dropped her off could be lying. Whoever is responsible, Donna Kay Cloud is still missing, and no trace of her has yet been found.
Where is Asha Degree?
The disappearance of nine-year-old Asha Degree, on Valentine’s Day, 2000 in Shelby, North Carolina left everyone who knew her shaken. Her father checked on his two children around 2:30 am, after a car accident caused the neighbourhood’s power to go out. Asha was still sleeping then, but by 6:30 am she was gone – her brother said he’d heard her bed squeaking, but had assumed she was shifting in her sleep.
Asha was a diligent student, who was wary of strangers and there was no sign of forced entry to the Degree’s house. Police canine units could not detect her scent but two witnesses saw a girl matching her description at 4am, on Highway 18. One of them approached her but Asha ran away, heading into the woods.
Then the police located her hair bow, in a nearby shed, though an extensive search turned up nothing more. A year and a half later, her backpack was discovered by labourers in Burke County, 30 miles away from Asha’s home.
In 2004, the police received a tip from an inmate who said where her body was – but they searched and found only animal bones. Another tipster told police Asha had been spotted entering a green car, then in 2020, another prisoner claimed he’d heard someone saying they were responsible. The inmate was interviewed but nothing came of this lead. This is a troubling case, but until she is found, no one can say what happened and we can only hope that one day Asha will be located, alive and well.
The mystery of Louis Le Prince, father of cinematography
Louis Le Prince created the first working technology used to capture motion, though Thomas Edison and the Lumiere brothers were assumed to have invented it first.
Before he could showcase his creation though, Le Prince totally vanished. He was last known to be boarding a train to Paris, on 16 September 1890, after visiting his brother in Dijon, but never arrived at his destination and was not seen again. The last person to see him was his brother, at Dijon station, and an extensive search found no trace.
Edison could have been involved, not least because Le Prince was about to patent his technology. This would have contradicted Edison’s claims to have invented the world’s first motion picture camera, and since Le Prince had the evidence, we can’t discount this theory. Le Prince’s son took Edison to court to prove it was his father who first invented the technology but lost the case. Two years later Le Prince Junior was found dead.
It’s thought Le Prince took his own life because his work was not being recognised. Backing this up is a photograph of a man who drowned in the River Seine, who bears a strong likeness to him.
Others think his brother got rid of him because of their mother’s will, or that he disappeared to start a new life with another man. It’s possible Le Prince never boarded the train to Paris, but as for eloping with a male lover, there was zero evidence he was gay, so it’s unlikely this was the case.
The unsolved disappearance of Paula Jane Welden
Stamford college sophomore Paula Jane Welden, left her Bennington College campus on December 1, 1946 to hike along Vermont’s Long Trail, wearing a red parka, jeans, and sneakers but the police were alerted when she failed to return. Paula had been spotted shortly after she left campus running up and then down a gravel pit, and Louis Knapp said she’d hitch hiked a ride and he’d let her out near one of the entrances to the hiking route.
She’d also been seen in Bickford Hollow at 4pm, after Knapp dropped her off, making her way towards the trail. One of the people who’d seen her said he’d warned her about needing heavier clothing, but she’d ignored him and continued on. An elderly couple saw her turning a corner on the trail, but when they reached the same spot, she’d vanished.
A waitress in River Falls claimed she’d served dinner to a distressed woman fitting Paula’s description, so her father went to investigate. When he returned, he said he was certain her disappearance involved a man she was seeing, because a clairvoyant told him so.
Nine years later, Fred Gadette claimed he was responsible – then later he said he’d made the whole thing up. Gadette had been one of the last people to see Paula after an argument with his girlfriend, and had stormed off afterwards in a jealous rage. As no body was ever found, Paula’s disappearance remains a mystery. Some have wondered if her death is connected to the infamous Bennington Triangle, an area where several people vanished between 1943 and 1950.
Maura Murray vanishes into thin air
On February the 9th, 2004, 21 year-old nursing student Maura Murray, emptied her bank account and headed towards the White Mountains in her car. The journey was short lived – Murray crashed on a New Hampshire street in Haverhill, and was discovered by a bus driver, who offered his assistance.
Murray said she’d alerted the AAA, even though she hadn’t, so he left her and called the police. But when they arrived, they only found the car, with the windshields cracked, and a rag jammed into the tailpipe. What’s strange is that all of Murray’s belongings apart from her debit cards and phone were still inside.
Murray had been arrested for credit card fraud in the months preceding the accident, and had crashed her father’s car while drunk, only two days before. She’d emailed her professors the day she disappeared to say there was a death in the family, so she would be taking a week off – but this was not the case.
Murray’s internet history revealed she’d searched for apartments in New Hampshire, and tried to find out if alcohol could damage a fetus, though she had been studying maternity.
It was theorised she ended her life, but though she was troubled, there was nothing truly disturbing her that police could uncover. Others felt she ran away to avoid getting into trouble, as she was on parole, and drunk. Then another girl, Brianna Maitland, vanished after crashing her car outside a Vermont farmhouse, 100 miles away. Though no conclusive link was found, some think the two cases must have been connected.
The Pilot abducted by aliens
Australian pilot Frederick Valentich vanished while flying his rented Cessna, after calling into Air Flight Service claiming there was a large UFO with green lights 1000 feet above him.
His next transmissions were even stranger, Valentich claimed the other craft was totally still, then said it was orbiting above his plane, before reporting a rough sounding engine and losing all contact.
Neither Valentich nor his plane were located, but an eyewitness account claimed there was a green light in the sky the night he crashed. The morning after he disappeared, a farmer said he’d seen a 30 metre long flying object over his property, with a small airplane attached to its side. The farmer wrote down the aircraft’s tail number – which turned out to be the Cessna.
The problem was, these accounts did not surface until years after Valentich had disappeared, when it was known he’d claimed there was a UFO and flown in a Cessna. The night he crashed there were reports of an unidentified airplane landing on Cape Otaway, a location on his route, according to Valentich’s flight plan. There were two more factors – Valentich was an avid UFO enthusiast, and he was also a failed pilot.
An engine cowl flap that could have come from his Cessna was discovered in 1983 – so did he crash, fake his disappearance to give credence to UFOs, or did something more unearthly occur?
The lawyer Ray Gricar goes missing
On April 15, 2005, Pennsylvania District Attorney Ray Gricar parked his car, then abandoned it, never to be seen again. After telling his girlfriend he’d be missing work to go for a drive, he travelled 50 miles from Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, to Market Street, in Lewisburg.
Police were alerted when he failed to return, and his car was discovered, with Ray’s phone inside, but without his laptop, wallet, and keys. The lawyer, had worked on a number of controversial cases, including Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky’s child abuse trial, where he’d decided not to prosecute.
Some of his colleagues felt this was unusual – Ray was known to be a tough attorney. It was thought his disappearance could be linked to the Sandusky case but since Ray had also been involved in busting a heroin ring it was mooted that revenge could be behind his disappearance.
His internet history revealed he’d searched for terms such as “how to fry a hard drive” and his laptop, minus the drive, was discovered under the PA-45 bridge. Months later, the drive was found by a fisherman on a bank nearby but was too waterlogged to be deciphered.
Though his girlfriend and step-daughter were potential suspects, they both passed a polygraph test, and while some said Ray had taken his own life, like his brother, he’d been reported as looking forward to retirement. Ray’s body has still not been found, and the case remains active but as it stands, there are no new leads, so his disappearance remains a mystery.
Virginia Dare and the Lost Colony
Virginia Dare was the first English child born on US soil, on August 18 1587, in the English colony of Roanoke Island, on the North Carolina Coast. Her grandfather discovered Virginia’s disappearance, after he returned from a trip to England, to fetch supplies for the colony he’d founded. On returning, he found the 108-person settlement gone and all the buildings dismantled. There were no signs of struggle but carved into a nearby tree were the letters CRO, and at the colony’s entrance, the word CROATOAN had been chiselled on a post. Before he’d left, he’d told the colonists to carve a Maltese cross on the tree if anything happened, but there was no such sign.
The Croatoan were a Native American group living on what’s now Hatteras Island, but a report said the colonists had sought shelter with the Chesapeake, who were friendly. Another Native Chief, Powhatan, claimed his tribe had killed most of the group.
In 1612, the Jamestown Colony secretary reported that two-story stone houses had been seen at two Indian settlements, built by Indians who’d learned from Roanoke settlers.
A 1901 poem by Sallie Southall Cotton claimed Virginia became part of a Native American tribe, fell in love with a handsome Chieftain, Okinisawa, and captured the heart of the witch doctor, Chico. She was turned into a white doe when she spurned Chico’s advances. Cotton claimed her poem was based on three-century old colonial folklore, and a white doe has been seen on what was formerly Croatoan Island, but is this really likely? What do you think?
The couple at 3000 Piedmont Drive
William and Margaret Patterson randomly left their house in El Paso Texas, on 5 March 1957, and never returned. Abandoning all their possessions and their cat Tommy. There were few clues as to where they had gone, though William’s friend Cecil Ward said he’d helped William work on the Patterson’s sailboat a few nights before.
The Patterson’s ran a photo business and Cecil Ward said that on March 6, a man called Doyle Kirkland who ran a competing business had oddly driven up to his store in the Patterson’s Cadillac. When he came in, Cecil Ward asked him why he was in possession of his friend’s car and Kirkland just suspiciously claimed the Patterson’s had gone “on a little vacation.” Ward called the police, who questioned Patterson’s mistress, Estefana. She told them William had said he’d have to disappear “soon and quickly”, though she later retracted her statement.
On March 15, the Patterson’s accountant Herbert Roth, received a telegram, telling him to become business manager for the Patterson’s store, and hire the competitor Doyle Kirkland as general manager. The telegram was signed W.H Patterson, but William’s initials were in fact W.D. Roth still hired Kirkland, but by 1960 Kirkland left El Paso, and was never seen again.
There were sightings in Mexico City – hotel workers in Valle del Bravo claimed the Patterson’s stayed for several months in 1957. 20 years later, a former caretaker for the Patterson’s told a detective he’d discovered blood in their garage, and a piece of human scalp on the propeller of their boat. As he’d been undocumented, he’d not come forward. Two years later, he died in a car accident.
Some felt the pair must have been spies as they vanished so quickly and people linked to their disappearance abruptly died or disappeared, and the El Paso county Sheriff said he’d seen William photographing military shipments on trains. This might be what happened, but as William had a Mistress, could he have gotten rid of his wife, then fled? Or did Kirkland try and take out his business rivals?
The American Author Ambrose Bierce
In October 1913, 71-year-old author Ambrose Bierce told reporters he was leaving for Mexico, to experience the revolution. By December, Bierce had joined Mexican general Pancho Villa’s army as an observer, to witness the Battle of Tierra Blanca. Bierce went with them as far as Chihuahua – but then he vanished.
Apparently, he’d written a letter, dated December 26, 1913, that said “As to me, I leave here tomorrow for an unknown destination.” But it was later discovered the letter had never been found and all that existed were words in Bierce’s secretary’s notebook.
Some think Bierce hid his whereabouts, as he intended to end his life. Others say he was killed in the conflict. According to a priest who documented oral accounts from Sierra Mojada, Mexico, Bierce was executed by firing squad and buried in the town cemetery.
Bierce collected stories about disappearances and told a friend he wanted to end his life in a more glorious way “than just dying in bed.” The most peculiar theory though, has to be the one he himself helped to popularise. The writer claimed there are mysterious holes in the reality people can vanish into, where nothing can escape. Whatever the real truth, with no hard evidence Bierce even went to Mexico, there’s little chance this case will be solved…