Unsolved crimes have always held a strange fascination. We want to examine every side of the case to see if we can solve it for ourselves. They are the most appealing when that crime happens to be murder. And when it’s a serial killer, well, then we get really excited– just look at the infamy of Jack the Ripper.
But there is another kind of mystery which can be just as fascinating. It holds elements of tragedy, the mystery of crime, and also the unsatisfying feeling of an unfinished ending. Missing persons cases can be incredibly interesting. What happened to that person before they went missing? Why have they never been found? Are they dead, or alive? What clues are there which might tell us what happened to them? These cases are unique in that although they have not been solved yet, there is always still some hope that a person– or a body– might turn up and lay all of our questions to rest.
The 15 cases we have gathered here for you are some of the most shocking ever recorded. You might not think that it would be possible for a well-known person to disappear without a trace, or for the police to have absolutely no idea where they might be. But it happens more regularly than you might think, and there are other shocking aspects to these cases that you can’t yet imagine. Do you think you can come up with a theory that explains away these bizarre and shocking disappearances?
15. Richey James Edwards
Music fans may well be acquainted with this missing persons case already. Richard James Edwards, known as Richey at that time, was a songwriter and guitarist with the Manic Street Preachers. Their music was just starting to take off, and Richey was due to fly to the US for a promotional tour along with lead singer James Dean Bradfield. But he never appeared. It was later discovered that he had been withdrawing £200 from his bank account for two weeks, totalling £2800 by the day of the flight. He also engaged in strange behaviours such as leaving gifts for friends and family members. He collected his wallet, car keys, passport, and some Prozac the morning of the flight and checked out of his hotel at 7am, leaving most of his belongings behind. 17 days later, after numerous sightings, his car was found at a service station near the Severn Bridge, which is well-known as a spot for suicide jumpers. No trace of him has since been found, despite numerous alleged sightings, and he has since legally been declared dead. Part of the intrigue of this case is that he was frequently known to dismiss suicide as a weakness, and friends doubted he would ever have taken that course.
14. Harold Holt
A famous musician going missing is one thing, but the leader of a country is another. Harold Holt was the Prime Minister of Australia when he went missing in December, 1967. He was swimming on Cheviot Beach but disappeared from view of his friends and was never seen again. The surf was high, but Holt was a strong swimmer with a good record of experience in tidal waters. One of the largest search and rescue operations in Australia’s history was quickly launched in order to find the leader of the country, but they never recovered a single trace of him. The operation included police members, Royal Australian Navy divers, Royal Australian Air Force helicopters, army personnel, and even local volunteers. After two days, the government had no choice but to declare him presumed dead and swear in the Deputy Prime Minister. It is generally accepted that his health took a turn for the worst while in the water and he drowned.
13. Bobby Dunbar
This young boy would later become a subject of great fascination, but the real depth of the mystery was not revealed until long after his natural death. Bobby went missing when he was just 4 years old in 1912. He was taken from Louisiana and seemed to have vanished without a trace, until 8 months later a boy matching his description was found in Mississippi with a drifter called William Cantwell Winters. A woman named Julia Anderson claimed him as her son, and Winters was his uncle. But the Dunbar family said he was their own, and he was given over to their custody, with Winters charged with kidnapping. Bobby remained a Dunbar until his death in 1966. Except he actually wasn’t. Because Bobby Dunbar Jr. took a DNA test and it turned out that he had no relation to the other Dunbars– and his father was actually Bruce Anderson, Julia’s son, all along. So, what happened to the real Bobby? Everyone stopped looking when he was “found”.
12. Maura Murray
Maura Murray was 21 years old in February 2004, when she left her University of Massachusetts-Amherst campus to go home. She left a note informing professors that there had been a death in the family, but told no one at the time that she was leaving. She crashed her car that night into a snow bank in New Hampshire, where a passing motorist offered help. She declined– and was never seen again. A police officer later found her car, still locked, but totally abandoned. It gets weirder: it turns out that there had been no death in the family after all, and she had cleared out her bank account before leaving. She also crashed her car the weekend before she disappeared, and apparently received a phone call at work the week prior which had left her upset. Alcohol and a map to Burlington, Vermont were found in the car. Her boyfriend also reported a voicemail left on his phone, on which he could only hear a person breathing and whimpering. The case is still unsolved.
11. Zebb Quinn
In January 2000, right after the millennium, 18-year-old Zebb Quinn wanted to go look at a new car. He drove over there with his friend, Robert Jason Owens, in separate cars to go check it out. Halfway there Quinn stopped suddenly, told Owens he had a call on his pager, and said he couldn’t go check out the car. He turned around and drove off. Two days later, Quinn called in sick to work– but the manager recognized that the voice was actually Owens’. He claimed he had been called by Quinn and told to call in sick for him. The call on Quinn’s pager was traced to his aunt’s house, but she wasn’t home at the time and didn’t make the page. Even more bizarre, Quinn’s car was found two weeks later with lips and exclamation points drawn over the back window and a live puppy sitting inside. It wasn’t until 15 years later that Owens would be charged with the murder of a married couple, suggesting that he arranged Quinn’s disappearance too.
10. The Beaumont Children
On Australia Day in 1966, three children went to the beach close to their home, alone. This wasn’t so unusual, and it was considered safe for them to do so. Jane was 9 years old, her sister Arnna was 7, and Grant was their little brother at 4. The children never came home. Their parents became alarmed when they had not arrived back at 3.30pm, and witness testimony placed the children talking to a blond man in a relaxed and carefree manner. Jane was shy around strangers, suggesting that they might have met him before. The man appeared to have given them money with which to buy some pasties and a meat pie to eat. There were plenty of people who saw the children that day, but even so, they were never found again. Plenty of theories abound as to what happened, but the case has never been solved despite extensive investigations.
9. Madeleine McCann
If you haven’t heard of the Madeleine McCann case, you must have been living under a rock. The 3-year-old daughter of the McCanns was left alone with her younger siblings in a holiday apartment in Portugal while her parents went to dinner with friends. When they returned for a regular check– just over an hour since they had last seen her safe and well– Madeleine was no longer in the room. There have been many theories about what happened to the young girl, who has never been seen since. Some thought it might have been an abduction, while others suspect the parents of killing her and hiding the body, then raising the alarm to put off suspicion. It’s even possible, though unlikely, that Madeleine woke up and wandered out of the room herself. The case was reopened in recent years, but there have still been no new developments as to what really happened to her.
8. Ambrose Bierce
Ambrose Bierce was a journalist and writer whose work often tended towards absurdist humour. That’s why it is perhaps particularly fitting that the end of his life is shrouded in mystery and contradiction. He was 71 years old when he left Washington, D.C. in 1913 for a tour of Civil War battlefields. That much we know. After this point, it was widely believed that he went into Mexico and joined up with Pancho Villa’s army as an observer to the ongoing revolution. He wrote a letter to a friend from Chihuahua in December, and that was the last that was ever known of him. But some dispute that he did ever write a letter, as the only suggestion that one existed came from a notebook from his secretary where she detailed its contents. Some argue that he didn’t even go to Mexico in the first place, as he hated Pancho Villa and would not have wanted to go there. Villa’s men gave contradictory accounts, and oral tradition in a Mexican town called Sierra Mojada suggests that he was killed by firing squad there. There is no evidence that he went to Mexico, none that he did not, and nothing but hearsay to suggest whether he might have met his end there.
7. The Sodder Children
The missing Sodder children were Maurice (14), Martha (12), Louis (9), Jennie (8), and Betty (5). The five older ones got permission from their parents to stay up late while they and their five younger siblings went to bed. It was the night before Christmas, and their mother thought she heard a prank phone call just after midnight. An hour later, she heard a sound on the roof, and realized that the house was on fire. The parents and the 5 younger children made it out quickly, and looked for a ladder that normally leaned against the house to rescue the others. They later found the ladder some distance away, but the fire took the whole home and, it was thought, the children. That was 1945. There was no evidence that the children died in the home. In 1968 they received a photo of a young man marked “Louis Sodder”, but never heard anything more. Small bones with no fire damage, believed to belong to a young adult, were found on the grounds of their property. The rest is pure speculation.
6. Lauria Bible and Ashley Freeman
In 1999, two 16-year-old friends were celebrating the younger girl’s birthday. Lauria Bible spent the night at Ashley’s house, which caught fire around 6am. In it was found the body of Ashley’s mother, but nothing else. At first, suspicion fell on the missing father, who could have kidnapped the girls and killed his wife. But then his body was found in the rubble the next day. The investigation was rife with faults– who misses a body for a whole day?– and the family had problems with law enforcement. Ashley’s brother had been killed in a stand-off with police 6 months prior, and his surviving family had been demanding answers. Of all the theories about this case, the most chilling has to be deliberate police involvement – with Lauria being collateral damage. It’s also possible that it was linked to the father’s alleged drug deals, or even that the girls set the fire and ran away.
5. Brianna Maitland
17-year-old Brianna Maitland disappeared from Vermont in 2004. She left her workplace to go home right after midnight, but the next day there was no sign of her. Her car was found inside an abandoned barn, with some of her possessions inside the car and around it. There was some damage on the car where it had backed up into the barn. No one realized that she was actually missing for 4 days as she was staying with friends, and police had not contacted the registered owner of the car after finding it. Brianna was working two jobs in order to save up for college, and although she was involved with drugs, her parents say that her usage was not a serious issue. Police still believe it may have been foul play, but no one knows for sure what happened to her. DNA samples were found in the car in 2013, but nothing has yet come of it.
4. Margaret Kilcoyne
Unlike some of the other missing persons here, Margaret Kilcoyne was an adult, a professional, and had plenty of reasons to live. She was a cardiologist and had just made a medical discovery, something to be excited about. She went to a grocery store and bought everything in threes, spending $650 on food and $250 on alcohol. She was never seen again. When her brother came to wake her for church the next morning he found her car in the garage, her boots on the floor, and her coat in the closet– odd considering that it was below freezing the night that she disappeared. A few days later, in an area that had already been searched, her passport, a wallet with $100 in it, her chequebook, and her summer sandals were found neatly stacked together. Her brother said she was stressed and suggested she walked into the ocean, but that doesn’t add up with a woman who had just made a career breakthrough.
3. Machiko Mitsunaga
Machiko Mitsunaga’s disappearance in itself isn’t too odd. The woman picked up her daughter from school as she had toothache, and went straight to the dentist with her. Then she went to the supermarket, drove her daughter back to school, and went home. Her car was found in her driveway, but she was never seen again. It wouldn’t be so much of a worry if it didn’t happen shortly after an older couple were found stabbed to death in the same area. The day after Machiko disappeared, another woman left her child in a car only to find that she was missing when she returned. The residents of Oita were in a panic over these three incidents happening close together. The missing child turned out to have been a ploy on the mother’s part, but the other two cases remain a mystery. Yuko Emoto had found her daughter dead, so she says, and then dumped the body before raising the alarm.
2. Joseph Force Crater
Joseph Force Crater was a 41-year-old judge in the summer of 1930. He was vacationing in Maine with his wife, but took a phone call in July which caused him to return to New York. He then immediately left to go to Atlantic City with his mistress, Sally Lou Ritzi, before returning to Maine and then once again to New York. He told his wife that he would be back in Maine by August 9– her birthday. On August 6 he spent 2 hours looking at and destroying files in his courthouse chambers. Then he had his law clerk cash cheques to the amount of $5,150 for him, before going to a Broadway ticket office and buying a ticket for a show. He went to a restaurant and ate with his mistress and a friend, then got into a taxi at around 9:30pm. He was never seen again. There was a delayed reaction to his disappearance because it was not clear where he was meant to be or at what time, so the alarm was only raised on August 25th at the opening of the courts. The case is one of the oldest unsolved missing persons cases in US history, and became so well-known that disappearing became known as “doing a Crater”.
1. Suzy Lamplugh
Suzy was a 25-year-old real estate agent in London when she went missing in 1986. She was due to show a house in Fulham to a man named Mr. Kipper, and indeed witnesses saw her at the address. She was reportedly arguing with a man before she got into a car. Her car was found outside a property for sale a mile and a half away, with the key missing and Suzy’s purse still inside. No trace has ever been found of her despite a series of convincing leads. There are lots of coincidental connections with other crimes where Suzy is concerned. There was a convicted rapist who was released from a hostel right before she went missing whose prison nickname was Kipper. She was previously working on an ocean liner at the same time as Steve Wright, who went on to murder 5 prostitutes in Ipswich. There was also another case in 2006 of a female estate agent meeting a client called Mr. Herring, who attempted to attack her. Another real estate agent was murdered in Birmingham by a man that some believe also targeted Suzy. Despite all of this, no body or evidence has ever been found.