Death is one thing, but when someone disappears, those who are left behind often say it is a fate worse than death. At least with death there is an end. When someone goes missing the questions remain, a continuous crime that lingers on. Each year thousands of people disappear in America alone. Some can be attributed to homicides or suicides, but the majority are voluntary – teenage runaways or people seeking a new start in life. However, there are a few disappearances that are so strange, so inexplicable that they have captured the public’s imagination and continue to intrigue us to this day.
From a world famous author who disappeared to missing settlers of the Lost Colony, here are seven strange and baffling cases of people who simply vanished without a trace.
1. Agatha Christie
Best known for her mystery novels, Agatha Christie is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the best-selling novelist of all time, but it is the real-life mystery surrounding her disappearance that baffles fans and amateur sleuths to this day. In 1926 Christie’s car was found teetering on the edge of chalk pit in Surrey. She was not inside and there was no trace of her anywhere. The most famous woman in the world had vanished. Fifteen thousand volunteers joined the search for the missing author and after 11 days she was recognized by a member of the public in a hotel, living under an assumed name. Christie never publically spoke about why she disappeared or what had taken place during those 11 days, but perhaps it had something to do with her favorite genre – mystery.
2. Louis Le Prince
Louis Le Prince is best known as the inventor who shot the first moving pictures on film using a single lens camera. This revolutionary technology effectively paved the way for today’s motion picture industry. Prince’s groundbreaking work was years ahead of contemporaries such as Thomas Edison and the Lumière brothers. However, before Prince could publically demonstrate his creation he mysteriously disappeared. In 1890, he boarded a train to Paris and was never seen again. While it is not known what truly happened, many speculate that he met his demise one way or another on the train. Both French police and Scotland Yard carried out an exhaustive search of the train and along the tracks for his body and luggage, neither was ever found and the case remains unsolved to this day.
3. Percy Fawcett
Seasoned adventurer, Percy Fawcett’s doomed expedition into the Amazon in search of the lost City of Z – a modern day equivalent of El Dorado – has since become the stuff of legend. On April 20, 1925, Fawcett accompanied by his son Jack and friend Raleigh Rimell entered the jungle heading for the unexplored Mato Grosso region of Brazil. The trio left behind instructions that no rescue parties should be sent after them if the worst should happen. After three previous failed attempts to find Z, Fawcett was only too well aware of the dangers facing anyone daring enough to enter the Amazon. On May 29, the team sent their guides back home before proceeding further into the jungle. Fawcett handed over the last of the expedition’s dispatches, among them was a letter to his wife. It would be the last time anyone saw or heard from the adventurers again.
Despite Fawcett’s request for no rescue party, in the years that followed the expedition, the mystery surrounding Fawcett’s disappearance and his unwavering belief in the City of Z has lured many into the Amazon after him. It’s estimated that as many as 100 people have died or simply vanished without a trace searching for the lost adventurer.
4. Ambrose Bierce
Ambrose Bierce, a civil war veteran and author of the seminal short story An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge was well known to have a strange obsession with death. At the age of 71, seeking excitement and adventure he was riding a horse across the Rio Grande, during the height of the Mexican Revolution in 1913, when he simply vanished. He was presumed to have been killed by revolutionaries or kidnapped, but some speculated he may have committed suicide or simply gone underground.
The last anyone heard from Bierce was on December 26, 1913, while in Chihuahua, Mexico he wrote a letter to his friend and in the closing lines he penned: “As to me, I leave here tomorrow for an unknown destination,” a seemingly chilling prediction of his mysterious demise.
5. Amelia Earhart
The most famous disappearance in aviation history is that of pioneering aviator Amelia Earhart, who was the first woman to fly alone across the Atlantic. She set out on June 2, 1937 with navigator Fred Noonan to complete a 2,500-mile flight over the Pacific as part of her circumnavigation of the globe by plane. Shortly after reporting their location on July 2nd, the Lockheed Electra and her crew of two were never heard from again. Many conspiracy and other theories surround her death the most widespread of which are they crashed at sea or were captured by the Japanese.
Recently, evidence has been found that Earhart and her navigator may have landed and lived out their days on the uninhabited island of Nikumaroro. The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery gathered several artefacts including human remains, pieces of shoes, and other items. However, nothing proved to be conclusive evidence and the mystery of her fate remains.
6. The Crew of MV Joyita
The MV Joyita was bound for the Tokelau Islands in 1955. When it didn’t arrive as scheduled, search parties began to circulate to find the missing vessel. After five weeks the MV Joyita was found adrift in the South Pacific, partially submerged. Of the 16 members of crew and nine passengers, there was no trace. The ship’s three lifeboats were also missing. After searching the empty ship it was noted that the electric clocks on board had all stopped at 10:25 and the switches for the cabin lighting and navigation lights were on, implying that whatever had occurred happened at night. The ship’s logbook, sextant, mechanical chronometer, other navigational equipment, and firearms were gone. Search teams found a doctor’s bag on the deck, containing a stethoscope, a scalpel, and four lengths of blood-stained bandages.
Investigators could find no definitive explanations for what may have happened to the crew of the vessel. The extreme buoyancy of the ship made sinking nearly impossible so why had the crew had not remained on board and waited for help? Nobody knows. The fate of those on board the MV Joyita has entered naval history and remains a mystery to this very day.
7. The Lost Colony of Roanoke
It’s been called ‘America’s oldest unsolved mystery’, and the fate of those 115 settlers who arrived on Roanoke Island in 1587 still resonates to this day. The mystery began when John White — governor of the colony located just off the coast of what is now North Carolina – set sail for England to gather fresh supplies. He left behind his wife, daughter and his infant granddaughter Virginia Dare (notably the first English child born in the “New World”). While it was intended only to be a short trip upon his arrival in England, White found himself caught in the naval war between England and Spain. Queen Elizabeth I had called on every available ship to confront the mighty Spanish Armada. Unable to hire a ship it was three years later that White eventually made his return. When he arrived, Roanoke was deserted, and no trace of the colony or its inhabitants were found.
Perhaps what has made this mystery so enduring are the sparseness of clues left behind. When White had initially left Roanoke he gave instructions to the colonists to leave a carved marker of the Maltese cross if they were forced to relocate, but no such mark was found. Instead, White found the word “Croatoan” carved into a post, and the letters “CRO” carved into a tree. Croatoan was the name of an island south of Roanoke that was home to a Native American tribe, leading many to suspect that the colonists had been killed or abducted by the tribe. Others theorize they may have sailed back to England but got lost at sea, or met a bloody end at the hands of Spaniards. What we do know is that before White could investigate further a hurricane cut his efforts short and the fate of the Lost Colony was lost to history.
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