OK, strap yourselves in; this is going to be an uncomfortable one. When a filmmaker (with no sense of subtlety) wants to indicate to the audience in no uncertain terms that a character is a baddie, they’ll have the character kick a dog. This communicates to us that the character is pure evil and not to be sympathized with. But they could just as easily kick a kid. Most films aren’t brave enough to try to depict child abuse, but sadly, it happens in the real world. Far more often than we’d ever care to think about.
Don’t get me wrong. This article is not meant to scare all parents out there into hovering over their kids 24/7 for fear of abduction. Most people are good people. The vast majority of adults would help a lost kid get home, not abduct them from home. But sadly, with over seven billion people on Earth, even a small minority is a large group in actual numbers. There are a lot of hateful freaks out there. When a child is harmed, or worse still, murdered, the best we can hope for is that the perpetrators are caught and brought to justice. However, sometimes, we don’t even get that. This list depicts photos of children who were abducted and never seen again, alive or dead.
Note: It should go without saying, but these stories, and some of these photos, are very disturbing and upsetting.
15 Madeleine McCann
Madeleine McCann is one of Britain’s most famous missing children. She went missing in 2007 while on holiday with her family in the Algarve in Portugal. Her parents came to their room to find their twin children safe in bed but their daughter Madeleine was gone. Suspicion first fell on a British-Portuguese property consultant Robert Murat who had been seen outside the McCann’s apartment. Murat became the first official ‘arguido’ (suspect), but a thorough search of his apartment, pool, and cars turned up nothing and his arguido status was eventually lifted. The next arguidos were the McCanns themselves, who the Portuguese police believed may have hidden Madeleine’s body in a panic after she died in an accident while unsupervised. This lead to many UK tabloids throwing dirt upon the McCanns, which has resulted in lawsuits. The Portuguese police only ever considered the McCanns because they misinterpreted DNA evidence compiled by Scotland Yard. The Portuguese police’s main theory is that McCann was abducted for the purposes of a pedophile ring. Whatever the case, Madeleine’s whereabouts are still unknown and hers is, according to at least one newspaper, the “most heavily reported missing-person case in modern history”.
14 Eloise Worledge
January 12, 1976, was the last day eight-year old Eloise Worledge was ever seen. She disappeared from her own bedroom in Beaumaris, Victoria, Australia. The last person to see her was her mother, Patsy, when she checked in on Eloise and her two siblings before going to bed at 11 PM. Her father went to bed at 11:40 PM, presumably not realizing that the front door was open. Patsy awoke at 7:30 AM to discover Eloise was missing and the wire screen outside her window was cut. Upon further investigation, police determined that the hole cut in the window screen was unlikely big enough for Eloise to fit and certainly not large enough for an adult abductor. The screen cutting seems like a deliberate red herring. It should be noted that Patsy and Lindsay were going through a separation at the time and that Lindsay had been drinking. It has been reported that Lindsay’s police call was “strangely unemotional”. Lindsay agreed to take a polygraph (lie detector) test that day, but never took one until 25 years later. The results were, as they often are with polygraphs, inconclusive.
13 Kyron Horman
10-year old Kyron Horman disappeared in June 2010. The seven-year old was last seen after delivering his science fair presentation about frogs at his Oregon school. On his way to his next class, he vanished. What happened? Well, like with every other entry on this list, we don’t know. But many suspect Kyron’s stepmother, Terri. First, she made inconsistent statements to the police about her whereabouts on the day of Kyron’s disappearance. Furthermore, six months prior to Kyron’s disappearance, his father filed a restraining order against Terri, reportedly alleging that Terri had offered a hit-man money to murder him. It’s possible that, with that plan scuppered, Terri turned her nefarious attention to Kyron, but no compelling evidence has ever been found to support this theory.
12 Nicholas Barclay
This is a bizarre one. Not so much for young Nicholas’ disappearance, that was, sadly, all too normal. 13-year old Nicholas Barclay was last seen playing basketball in San Antonio on June 13, 1994. He never came home and his parents were, understandably, grief stricken. That was until three years later when they received communication from their son in Spain. He said he had been abducted into a child pedophile ring that brought him to Europe. He was flown from Spain to Texas only for his parents to realize...he wasn’t Nicholas. His name was Pierre Bourdin. He was a French conman with a sick penchant for impersonating missing children. Bourdin was an orphan with a possible mental disorder who said he felt compelled to impersonate missing children so he could feel parents’ love. He was imprisoned in Texas before being sent back to Europe where he perpetrated his rouse again.
11 Sabrina Aisenberg
Imagine going up to the crib in which your newborn baby should be sleeping only to find she’s not there. That’s what happened to the parents of Sabrina Aisenberg in the autumn of 1997. The five-month old Sabrina vanished, seemingly without a trace. There was no sign of forced entry. While no charges have ever been laid in this case, a missing child coupled with no signs of forced entry generally points toward people who were already in the house as being the culprits; namely, Sabrina’s parents. People’s suspicions were further heightened when they made a video pleading for the return of their daughter, but they seemed to be smiling incongruously. This doesn’t prove anything of course, and the parents might be innocent victims whose lives are further destroyed by people’s accusing words and glances. But somebody took that baby and they had the best opportunity.
10 Etan Patz
Etan Patz is famous for being one of the first (if not the first) missing child to have his photo appear on milk cartons. Even so, I’m sure Etan would have preferred to have just lived an anonymous but happy and healthy life. Six-year-old Etan Patz was abducted in 1979 walking towards the bus stop on the way to his Manhattan school. Apparently, his parents had only recently decided Etan could walk to the bus stop alone. This case, unlike most of the others here, does offer some closure, however. In 2012, Pedro Hernandez confessed to luring Etan into the basement of his bodega with the promise of free soda, only to strangle the boy to death and dispose of his body in the trash. His first trial ended in a hung jury in 2015 but he was eventually convicted in a second trial in 2017. Etan was declared dead in absentia in 2001.
9 The Lyon Sisters
Shelia (12) and Katherine (10) Lyon were last seen eating at a mall in the Washington D.C. suburb in which they lived on March 25, 1975. A local boy told police he saw them talking into a tape recorder held by an unidentified man. The girls were never seen again. A local TV reporter mused that the girls’ disappearance was the end of innocence for the suburban D.C. area. You hear that again and again. Murder and violence among adults is horrible enough, but when children are harmed, people really do see it as an end of innocence. A shattering of what is meant to be childlike purity. When confronted with the evidence that people can abduct, abuse, and kill children, one can scarcely look at the world in the same way as before.
8 Marjorie West
Marjorie West is the State of Pennsylvania’s oldest unsolved missing persons case. The last time anybody, for certain, saw four-year old Marjorie West was in 1938 and she was picking flowers in a field. An act and image so classically serene and peaceful it is physically painful to imagine what horrible fate may have befallen the beautiful, red-haired child. The only lead that police had to go on was that a girl matching Marjorie’s description was reportedly seen riding in an automobile, a dark sedan, with an unidentified man in West Virginia later that night. Neither the sedan nor the man were ever reported as seen ever again. Seeing as how this case is nigh on eighty years old, we can safely assume they’re probably never going to crack it.
7 Trenton Duckett
This one’s sad even for this list. Trenton Duckett was two years old when he disappeared from his Florida home in 2006. He vanished “without a trace or without signs of struggle”. Duckett’s parents were going through an acrimonious divorce at the time. His mother, Melinda, was a student of criminal psychology and was actually being investigated for bank embezzlement. Police uncovered evidence that Melinda had hacked into her husband’s email account in an attempt to frame him for Trenton’s disappearance. She was clearly a suspect but before police could move forward with an arrest, she put a halt to all proceedings. She committed suicide by shooting herself in the head with a shotgun just a day after a combative interview with Nancy Grace. With Melinda’s death, Trenton’s father lost any hope of seeing Trenton again, who has never been found, dead or alive.
6 The Beaumont Children
Australia Day is held every January 26 and is meant to celebrate the nation. But there was no celebrating for the Beaumont family on Australia Day, 1966. Jane (nine), Arnna (seven), and Grant (4) disappeared from Glenelg Beach near the Adelaide suburb of Somerton Park where they lived. The three kids had taken the five minute bus ride from their home to the beach, unsupervised, as they had the day earlier and as was common in Australia at the time. Their disappearance would fundamentally change how Australians looked after their kids and how they looked at each other. It truly was a case of innocence lost. The case resulted in one of the largest police investigations in Australian history and coverage of the story was ubiquitous. Even to this day, the case is famous, but sadly, the Beaumont Children have never been found.
5 Edward and Austin Bryant
One thing you don’t expect from a missing child case is for nobody to notice. Or at least, for nobody to mention the missing children. But this is what happened in the cases of Edward and Austin Bryant. Edward and Austin were biological brothers but they lived with their foster parents, Edward and Linda Bryant, in Monument, Colorado. In 2011, one of the other foster kids notified police that Austin was missing. But he hadn’t been missing a day or two, but rather, he went missing somewhere between 2003 and 2005. Worse still, older brother Edward had been missing since 2001. Both would have been about nine at the time of their disappearances. The Bryants didn’t tell anybody because they wanted to continue collecting government money for caring for the kids. In 2012, Linda Bryant was sentenced to 42 years in prison for welfare fraud and her husband faced similar charges. However, neither have been charged in the disappearance of the boys, which itself remains a mystery.
4 Timmothy James Pitzen
One day in May 2011, Jim Pitzen dropped his six year old son, Timmothy (correct spelling) off at his school in Aurora, Illinois. That was the last time Jim ever saw his son. His wife, Amy, would take Timmothy out of school later that day. She took him to a water park in the Wisconsin Dells. They were gone for about three days, during which time both Amy and Timmothy talked to family via phone. It was in a hotel room in Rockford that Amy’s body was discovered. She had killed herself via cutting and an overdose of antihistamines. Amy was mentally unwell and suffered from depression. Her marriage to Jim was not great and many suspect that she only stayed with him for fear of losing custody of Timmothy were they to be divorced. Most chilling of all was the suicide note she left. It ended ominously by saying that Timmothy was safe and “will never be found”. No idea if he’s safe, but the second part has certainly proven to be true thus far.
3 Megumi Yokota
Megumi Yokota’s story is tragic, as is everybody’s on this list, but it is different in a significant way: her abductors. Not only have her kidnappers identified themselves, but also...they’re the North Korean government. Megumi was 13 when she was abducted from her hometown in Niigata Prefecture, Japan. Megumi was one of at least 17 Japanese citizens abducted by the North Koreans in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. The program was, ostensibly, to get Megumi to train North Korean spies how to fit in in Japan. The North Korean government confessed to her kidnapping in 2002 but said that she killed herself in 1993 or 1994. They sent her ashes to Megumi’s family. However, DNA analysis of the ashes were not a match with Megumi, though it has been alleged that the DNA test was done improperly. The North Koreans also stated that Megumi had married a South Korean man who had also been kidnapped and they had a daughter. The Yokotas got to briefly meet their supposed granddaughter --and her daughter-- in March 2014 in Mongolia. However, the Yokotas continue to believe that Megumi is still alive and that the North Koreans are lying.
2 Johnny Gosch
This disturbing photo is allegedly of Johnny Gosch. It was one of three photos delivered to the doorstep of Johnny’s mother, Noreen, in 2006. Another photo depicted three boys tied up, but likely only as part of an escape contest they had in Florida 1979. The third was of an unidentified dead man. But let’s go back to the beginning. Johnny Gosch was a 12-year-old paperboy in West Des Moines, Iowa who was abducted on his paper route on September 5, 1982. Johnny was never seen again...except, maybe he was. Noreen claims that one night at around 2:30 AM in March of 1997, her then 27-year-old son knocked on her door with another unidentified man. They talked for about 90 minutes. Noreen said Johnny fears for his life and lives under an assumed identity. However, Noreen’s story cannot be corroborated and her ex-husband, Johnny’s father John, has cast some doubt over whether or not he thinks this really happened. Back to the photos. They could be a cruel prank or they could be, as Noreen believes, clues. If this one photo is of Johnny, it is positively chilling. There even appears to be a brand on his skin. Noreen believes Johnny was abducted by child molesters.
1 The Sodder Children
On Christmas Eve, 1945, a fire destroyed the Sodder home in Fayetteville, West Virginia. George and Jennie Sodder escaped with four of their nine kids living there. However, none of their remains were ever found, which is very odd for a house fire. Second, the supposed cause was faulty wiring, but George Sodder had just had his electrical circuit examined. Third, the ladder George usually kept leaning against the house wasn’t there; they later found it 75 feet away at the bottom of an embankment. Fourth, neither of George’s trucks would start that night. Fifth, the Sodder’s phone line was cut. There are so many incongruities to this case that make it fascinating, including the fire chief later admitting to having found a human heart in the ashes and then when George demanded to see it, he showed him a beef liver. Huh? Despite putting up a billboard ad for about thirty years and hiring private detectives, they never found the missing children. Jennie did receive a photo in the mail in 1967 of a man who looked to her like her son Louie, grown up, but this could not be proven. One last thing: if you’re wondering about a motive for arson, George Sodder, an Italian immigrant, had made some enemies with the large Italian population in town by disparaging Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. About two months before the fire, after rebuffing a life insurance salesman at his door, the salesman said George’s house:
"[would go] up in smoke ... and your children are going to be destroyed", because of, "the dirty remarks you have been making about Mussolini." Oh yeah, and that guy was also on the coroner’s inquest jury that concluded the fire was started by faulty wiring. What a coincidence.
Sources: Thought Catalog, Crime Online, the Colorado Springs Gazette, the Chicago Tribune