10 Disturbing Mass Disappearances

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Missing persons cases can be difficult to crack. However, most people go missing one at at time. In the 10 cases below, multiple people disappeared at the same time. While there are some clues about how these people went missing, none of these cases have ever been fully unraveled.

10. The Village at Lake Anjikuni

This one comes in at the bottom of our list because there is some doubt about whether there ever was a village at Lake Anjikuni, in Canada’s northern Nunavut region. As the story, which was first published in the Danville Bee in 1930, goes, fur trapper Joe Labelle returned to a remote Inuit village of about 25 people he had visited previously, only to discover that everyone was missing. The tents and villagers’ belongings were still there, but there was no sign of the inhabitants. According to this news account, Labelle reported, “The whole thing looked as if it had been left that way by people who expected to come back. But they hadn’t come back.” He also noticed signs that ancestral graves had been disturbed. While there were dog skeletons in the village, he could find no sign of human corpses.

However, there are some reasons to doubt this story, which entered the popular imagination when it appeared in Frank Edward’s 1959 book, Stranger than Science. When the Royal Canadian Mounted Police investigated the case in 1931, they determined “there is no evidence … to support such a story,” noting that a village of that size wouldn’t have feasibly existed in such a remote location and that local officers, trappers, and missionaries had reported nothing out of the ordinary.

9. The Sodder Children

When George and Jennie Sodder went to bed on Christmas Eve 1945, 9 of their 10 children were at home (the 10th was serving in the military). By the following morning, the Sodder house was burned to the ground. George, Jennie, and four of the children made it out. However, the other five children, who ranged in age from 5 to 14, were never seen again. Initially, everyone, including the surviving members of the Sodder family, assumed the children must have perished in the fire, despite their father’s desperate attempts to rescue them. Because it was Christmas Day, the fire marshal postponed a thorough inspection of the site, which was basically a basement full of ashes at that point. A few days later, George Sodder bulldozed several feet of dirt over the remains of his home, planting flowers there in memory of the family’s lost children.

As time went on, more details emerged that cast doubt on whether the five missing Sodder children had actually died in the fire. The family remembered some odd events around that time, meaningless in isolation, but suspicious in concert. Jennie had been awakened earlier in the night by a noise that sounded like something hitting the roof and the family had received what they thought was an odd prank phone call just after midnight the night of the fire. Additionally, a ladder had been moved from its storage area near the house to more than 75 feet away, hindering George’s attempts to reach his children’s upstairs bedrooms to rescue them. In another strange twist, the bones of the missing children were never recovered, despite the fact that the fire did not appear to have burned long enough or hot enough to destroy human bone.

The Sodders never stopped looking for their missing children, offering a reward for information, erecting a billboard near their house and hiring private detectives to follow up on reports of sightings, including a photo—of a young man bearing a striking resemblance to one of the missing children– which was mailed to the Sodders. Some suggested that the children could have been kidnapped in retaliation for negative remarks George Sodder, an Italian immigrant, had made about Mussolini or that the mafia could have been involved. Despite the many theories that emerged, no conclusive evidence of what ultimately happened to the five Sodder children has ever been found.

8. The Yemenite Children Affair

Following Israel’s founding in 1948, the state struggled to quickly absorb a rush of new immigrants. More than 50,000 Yemenite and other “Mazrahi” Jewish immigrants from the Middle East and Africa moved to the new state in its early years, and were often settled in chaotic transit camps, temporary tent cities were new immigrants were housed due a housing shortage.

In these camps, babies and toddlers were often taken from their parents to be cared for in hospitals or nurseries, which ostensibly offered better living conditions. Unfortunately, some of these babies—estimates range from 650 to more than 4,000—were never returned to their parents. Some parents were told that their babies had died, though most were not shown a body or a grave and many grieving parents weren’t given death certificates. Recent advances in DNA testing have proved that at least some of these supposedly deceased Yemenite babies never died at all, but rather, were placed for adoption with childless Ashkenazi (Jews of European descent) families. In 2016, one Israeli cabinet official who was part of a panel investigating the disappearances gave credence to activists’ claims that the children were systematically stolen and placed for adoption when he admitted that hundreds of children were taken from their families, saying, “They took the children, and gave them away. I don’t know where.”

7. Flight 19

Flight 19 didn’t consist of a single plane, but rather a group of five planes–US Navy TPM Avenger bombers—which took off from Fort Lauderdale Naval Air Station for a training mission between the Bahamas and Florida on the afternoon of December 5, 1945. The planes, and the 14 experienced airmen on them, never returned to shore.

The pilots of the group of planes, which would become known as the “Lost Patrol,” could be heard conversing with one another, and sounded disoriented by the fact that at least some of the pilots believed their compasses were malfunctioning and the worsening weather, which made assessing their position difficult. The lead pilot made the decision to fly east, believing they were in the Gulf of Mexico, a course the planes apparently stuck to until one pilot’s last transmission: “All planes close up tight … will have to ditch unless landfall. When the first plane drops to 10 gallons we all go down together.”

Two flying boats were dispatched to look for the missing patrol. One of those boats also disappeared from radar and, along with its 13-man crew, never returned. A passing merchant spotted a fireball in the sky, and saw evidence of an oil slick in the water, suggesting it likely fell victim to an explosion. Despite an extensive search by the Navy, bodies and debris from the missing patrol and the missing rescue mission were never located. A team of Navy investigators ultimately attributed the loss of Flight 19 to “causes or reasons unknown.”

6. The Mary Celeste

On November 7, 1872, the Mary Celeste, a 282-ton brigantine, set sail from New York City, bound for Genoa, Italy. It carried cargo of 1,700 barrels of industrial alcohol, seven crewmen, Captain Benjamin Briggs, his wife, and his 2-year-old daughter. When the ship was next spotted, almost a month later, 400 miles east of the Azores, the ship’s cargo and provisions were largely intact (though the lifeboat was missing), but there was no one aboard. The Mary Celeste was in reasonably good shape, other than some water in the bottom of the ship, and the crew of the ship that discovered it, the Dei Gratia, were able to sail it on to Gibraltar.

So what happened to the 10 people on board? There is no definitive answer to that question. Some suspected foul play, laying the blame on the crew of the Dei Gratia, who had applied to receive the salvage value of the ship. However, after a salvage inquiry was conducted, there was no evidence that this had occurred (there also wasn’t a whole lot of evidence that this had not occurred). Other theories, including mutiny, an explosion caused by the Mary Celeste’s boozy cargo, or an irrational decision by the captain also appeared unlikely. Anne MacGregor, who created a documentary film dedicated to unraveling the mystery, believes the evidence suggests that a faulty chronometer, along with a failing water pump aboard the ship, prompted Captain Briggs to believe the ship was in danger of sinking, and to give the order to abandon ship when the islands of the Azores were in sight. Since the lifeboat never arrived at the Azores, nor was it ever recovered, the definitive fate of the 10 souls aboard the Mary Celeste remains a mystery.

5. The Dyatlov Pass Incident


In late January 1959, a group of nine students of the Ural Polytechnic Institute and a ski instructor, set off for a skiing expedition to Mount Otorten in the northern Urals. Only one of them, Yuri Yudin, who had to turn back early due to health problems, ever returned from the trip.

When the other nine didn’t make contact as planned, a search party set out to locate them, and uncovered a grisly mystery. The first thing the rescuers located was the students’ tent, which had been sliced open from the inside. Most of the group’s belongings were still inside the tent, which appeared to have been abandoned in a hurry. Investigators found footprints showing that the group had fled the tent barefoot, in socks, or wearing a single shoe. The bodies of two of the students, dressed only in their underclothes were found near the remains of a campfire. Three more bodies were found between the fire and the tent. All five were determined to have died from hypothermia. A couple months later, the four remaining bodies were found at the bottom of a ravine, and showed signs of crush injuries and the tongue of one had been ripped out. Tests on their bodies showed trace amounts of radiation.

The Soviet military looked into the incident, somewhat vaguely determining that the group had died from a “natural force they were unable to overcome,” and classifying the materials related to the investigation.  In early 2019, Russian prosectors announced they were reexamining the case, though they were only considering theories associated with natural phenomena. Said the spokesman for Russia’s Prosector General, “Crime is out of the question. There is not a single proof, even an indirect one, to favor this (criminal) version. It was either an avalanche, a snow slab or a hurricane.”

4. Malaysia Airlines Flight 370

On March 8, 2014, a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew members took off from Kuala Lampur, Malaysia bound for Beijing. It never arrived. A months-long international search yielded only a few pieces of the plane, found thousands of miles from where the flight veered off course, but the bulk to the plane’s fuselage, along with the (presumed) remains of those aboard has yet to be located. The disappearance, and the lack of clarity about why or how the plane went missing shocked the world. As Miguel Marin, chief of operational safety at the International Civil Aviation Organization’s Air Navigation Bureau put it, “It was inconceivable that in this day and age we would lose an airplane that big without a trace.”

There are a few clues about the plane’s disappearance. The plane turned sharply off its planned flight path, a maneuver experts suggest would have had to be carried out manually (versus via autopilot) and the aircraft’s responder stopped transmitting (possibly due to a malfunction, but more likely because it was turned off). While the pilot’s home simulator did show some flight paths similar to that undertaken by the flight shortly before it disappeared from radar, an investigation of the captain’s private life failed to turn up any signs of the sort of disturbance that would provide a motive for suicide (and the more than 200 innocent deaths that would accompany it) and the Malaysian government has dismissed this theory, and suggested a “mass hypoxia event” rendered all aboard unconscious, while the plane flew on autopilot until it ran out of fuel and crashed. More definitive evidence about what happened on Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 may yet turn up, as the plane’s Flight Data Recorder and Cockpit Voice Recorder have, as of mid-2019, not been located.

3. The Flannan Isles Lighthouse Keepers

On December 26, 1900, a small ship made its way to a remote Scottish island. It carried a replacement lighthouse keeper, who would rotate in for a stint amongst the island’s three lighthouse keepers, and its only human inhabitants. However, when the ship arrived, no one emerged to greet it, even after the horn was sounded and a flare was fired. When the replacement lighthouse keeper rowed ashore and climbed to the lighthouse, he quickly discovered something was wrong. The lighthouse fireplace looked like it hadn’t been lit for a week and, while everything was in place, the three lighthouse keepers were nowhere to be found (although, oddly, one of them had left his protective oilskin coat in the lighthouse).

The official explanation suggests that the men were swept out to sea by a large wave as they attempted to secure some gear on a cliff during a storm. While it was against protocol for all three men to leave the lighthouse at once, one theory suggests that the third lighthouse keeper ventured out to help or warn his colleagues about an impending large wave (perhaps leaving his coat behind in haste) and was also swept away.

2. The students of Iguala

One night in September 2014, a group of about 100 university students from a rural teachers college in Mexico headed out in the city of Iguala to commandeer several buses to carry their group to a march in Mexico City a few days later. According to reports, stealing buses was something of a local tradition, and neither the bus companies nor the authorities were particularly alarmed when this happened.

After an altercation at a local bus depot, the students headed out on five buses, trailed by police, some of whom started firing on the buses. Forty-three students on two of the buses were eventually taken into police custody; they were never seen again. Only one of the students’ bodies has been identified. The official account (disputed by international investigators and friends and families of the missing students) is that the students were kidnapped by local police officers, who turned them over to a drug gang, which then killed them and burned their bodies. International investigators were brought in 2015, but when they failed to support the government’s version of events, the hostility and stonewalling they encountered led them to abandon the inquiry, though a federal court ordered another investigation conducted in late 2018. As of mid-2019, there was no conclusive evidence on the fate of the missing students.

1. The Lost Colony

In 1587, a group of 115 English settlers founded the Roanoke Colony on an island off the coast of North Carolina. Later that year, John White, the colony’s governor, sailed back to England to secure additional supplies for the fledgling settlement. However, just as White arrived in England, a naval war broke out between England and Spain, and every ship was ordered to participate in the war effort. By the time White made it back to Roanoke, it was three years later, and there was no sign of the settlers.

The only clues were the word “Croatoan” carved into a fencepost, and the letters CRO carved into a tree. “Croatoan” was the name used for what is now called Hatteras Island, as well as the name of the Native American tribe that populated the area. Reportedly, White had agreed with the colonists prior to heading back to England that if the group needed to leave Roanoke under duress, they would carve a Maltese cross symbol into a tree; no such sign was found at the site. Despite several contemporaneous and modern investigations, the fate of the colonists remains a mystery. The most likely theory is that the colonists moved locations (perhaps splitting into multiple groups), possibly assimilating with local Native American tribes. Other theories suggest the colonists were killed by Native Americans, killed by Spanish settlers, or tried to sail back to England and were lost at sea. While research is still ongoing, and some hope that DNA analysis will at last unlock the mystery of the colonists’ fate, the “Lost Colony” has managed to remain lost to the world for more than 400 years.


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