A staggering 600,000 people go missing every year in the US. And while the vast majority of them turn up again within the same year, far too many do not. That doesn’t necessarily mean those people are never seen again, but with each passing year, the likelihood decreases. Which is what makes it so remarkable when a person who, by all accounts, should never have been seen again makes a reappearance. And while that, in and of itself, is remarkable, sometimes the way it happens is far more bizarre than you could imagine. Let’s look at ten of the most incredible times the missing reappeared.
10. One of John Wayne Gacy’s Supposed Victims Turned Up Alive 34 Years Later
John Wayne Gacy was one of America’s most infamous serial killers. He murdered at least 33 young men and boys and likely more back in the 1970s. As you can imagine, that led to a lot of ruined and devastated families. And though he was finally caught, the fact that the number of his victims was never accurately pinned down meant that anyone else in the right age range who went missing at that time in that area could have just as easily fallen prey to him. There was no way to tell, and the remains of several unidentified victims were found.
In 1977, 19-year-old Harold Wayne Lovell left his Chicago home one day and was never seen again. His family believe he had fallen victim to Gacy once his crimes came to light. There were unidentified remains of eight victims related to Gacy’s crimes. Lovell’s family was assisting law enforcement to see if they could match DNA with some of the victims and finally determine Harold’s fate. Instead, they discovered that he’d been arrested on marijuana charges in Florida a few years earlier.
For 34 years, Harold had been living his life and had just never informed his family. He left home willingly and never looked back. His reason? He said he “never felt wanted” there, so he went somewhere else. He did, however, reconnect with his siblings after they discovered he was still alive.
9. Woman Missing for 11 Years Was Next Door
When someone goes missing, a good way to start a search is to establish a sort of perimeter. If the person was last seen in one spot, you can guess that they could have traveled maybe ten miles away, and now you have a circle with a ten mile radius in which to search. As time passes, you can expand outward.
None of this happened when an 18-year-old woman named Sajitha left her parent’s house in Kerala, India. They say police searched high and low for her but apparently not close. She had gone across the street.
Turns out Sajitha was in love with her neighbor Rahman. Being of different religions, they feared their relationship wouldn’t be accepted, so she secretly lived with him for 11 years without anyone, even his parents, who lived in the same house, knowing. They were only discovered when they moved to a new town and didn’t tell anyone, so Rahman was considered a missing person and tracked down as well.
8. A Tortoise Was Found in a House After 30 Years
Okay, so this one isn’t a missing person so much as a missing pet, but it’s pretty dramatic nonetheless. Manuela the tortoise went missing in 1982. The Brazilian family was unable to find the creature and assumed the worst as one does. And then, in a baffling twist, the tortoise showed up again in the house’s attic. And sure, that’s amazing, but it was 2013 when they found it again.
Manuela had vanished when the house was being renovated, so there was a lot of clutter. The grandfather was a bit of a hoarder and had jammed the house with old junk. That’s what kept the tortoise hidden. The family suspects she was surviving on termites.
7. Lawrence Joseph Bader Vanished for 8 Years, Then Was Found with a New Name
Soap operas are infamous for stories of amnesiacs and you’ll see it on film every now and again, too. Someone gets in an accident, forgets who they are, starts a whole new life. Does that ever really happen? Lawrence Joseph Bader claims it did.
Bader had gone fishing on Lake Erie in 1957, despite being warned by the man renting the boat and the Coast Guard that a storm was coming. His boat was found, but he was not. He left behind a wife and four kids. But in 1965, his niece ran into him at a sporting goods convention halfway across the country in Chicago.
Bader had become Fritz Johnson. He had become a radio personality and then a local TV star known for his big personality. His backstory? A former Navy man, discharged for having a bad back.
Fingerprints confirmed Johnson was Bader, but he claimed to have no memory of that life. Lawyers would later argue a tumor, which had cost him his eye, was responsible. He died a year later when his cancer returned.
6. Teruo Nakamura Fought WWII for 30 Extra Years
Here’s a question you may never have pondered before. If you were fighting a war in a remote location and the war ended, how would you know? Presumably you’d get the call on a phone or radio, right? What if you didn’t have those things? That’s sort of what happened to Teruo Nakamura.
Nakamura had been stationed on an Indonesian island in 1944. He was presumed dead after a battle, but he had escaped to the jungle with some other soldiers. They’d been told to keep on fighting. So he did.
Leaflets dropped on the island in 1945 that the war was over were dismissed as propaganda. Years went by, and Nakamura and his few fellow soldiers stayed hidden. They watched aircraft evolve and assumed it was the results of an arm race.
By 1956 he was alone, growing sweet potatoes and harvesting bananas. In 1974, he was spotted by some locals who reported him to Indonesian authorities. They began making arrangements to send him home and also give him 30 years of back pay, which amounted to $227.59.
5. Singer Shelagh McDonald Disappeared for 30 Years After an Acid Trip
Scottish folk singer Shelagh McDonald disappeared in 1971, just when her music career was really taking off. Thirty-four years later some of her music was re-released and so she decided to turn up and explain her disappearance.
Turns out McDonald had gotten super high on LSD. How high? Disappear for over 30 years high. Apparently she tripped out for a solid 18 months at her parents’ house. She had no contact info for friends, so she didn’t contact them. But she did meet a man and fall in love. They lived in a tent together for 6 years at one point and were quite happy.
4. Lucy Ann Johnson Disappeared for 52 Years
Try to imagine being a kid and one day your mom just never comes home.The police even dig up your yard looking for her body, but nothing turned up. Then, 52 years later, you get a call from a woman who saw your mom’s picture in a missing person ad and says that’s her mom, too.
This is the story of Lucy Ann Johnson. Linda Evans was seven when her mother went missing from Surrey, British Columbia. She turned up in the Yukon with a whole new family. Her husband, Evans’ father, had been abusive and a cheater and so one day she walked out. She tried to take the kids, but he refused and so she left, never to come back. The man himself didn’t report his wife missing for about four years.
3. A 5-Year-Old Boy From India Used Google Earth to Find Home Decades Later
The story of Saroo Brierley is hard to believe but has been well documented and as amazing as it is nightmarish, especially if you’re a parent. When Saroo was five, he was taking a train with his nine-year-old brother. The boys lived with their siblings and mother in a small town in India. Their father had left them and Saroo’s older brother Guddu was trying to help his mother by scavenging and stealing what he could. One day, he brought Saroo with him.
The plan was to look for lost change on a train. But the brothers got separated, and Saroo fell asleep on the train. When he awoke, he was alone with no idea where he was. At five, and from rural India, he also didn’t know the name of his town, or his family surname.
He ended up in Calcutta, unable to find anyone who spoke the same language as him. Eventually, he ended up in a juvenile center where he was adopted by the Brierleys, a kind couple from Australia.
In 2009, Saroo had grown into a happy and popular teen. He was still curious about his past, and Google Earth was able to provide answers. Though he didn’t know place names, he recognized landmarks and used them to hunt down his hometown. He even made use of that old math question about a train leaving a station traveling at a certain speed for a certain number of hours to narrow his search area, since that’s exactly what happened to him. His search took years.
Having been gone for about 25 years, Saroo finally found his hometown of Khandwa and returned in 2012. There, he reunited with his mother, sister and one of his brothers and learned Guddu had died shortly after his disappearance.
2. Carlina White Was Missing for 23 Years
It was the summer of 1987 when Carlina White disappeared. At 19 days old, someone took her from the hospital where she’d been born and it would be a stunning 23 years before she was heard from again.
Carlina’s mother got a message in 2010 from a woman named Nejdra Nance that came with baby pictures. They were pictures of Nance herself. She had been on a missing person’s website and seen pictures of Carlina, the 19-day-old baby. She noticed they looked a lot like her own baby pictures.
Police DNA tested both Nance and Carlina White’s parents and confirmed that Nance was, in fact, Carlina.
She had been abducted by a woman named Anne Pettway. Carlina said she was always a little suspicious since she looked nothing like Pettway and the woman was unable to provide a birth certificate a few years earlier when she needed one. Later, she confessed to not being her birth mother but insisted her real parents abandoned her.
Despite being a kidnapper, White admitted of her fake mother that, although strict, she was a good mother. Her friends, she said, always thought she was cool.
Her suspicions prompted her to look into missing person’s cases, which is how she ended up discovering her own disappearance. She was reunited with her birth parents in 2011.
1. Julian Hernandez Found Out He Was Kidnapped When He Tried to Go to College
Solving your own missing person’s case is not unprecedented, as we’ve seen, but having no idea anyone was looking for you and stumbling upon it as a result of doing routine paperwork may be. That’s how things worked out for 18-year-old Julian Hernandez.
Hernandez was applying to go to college and ran into a strange problem when trying to fill out his application. He found out his social security number was wrong. As in, it didn’t belong to him. So he got the help of a school guidance counselor and together they discovered Hernandez’s picture on a database of missing children. He’d disappeared 13 years earlier when he was just five-years-old.
Because it was his father that had taken him, Hernandez had no idea that anything was wrong. He was told his mother had abandoned him, which was not the case. And despite how it sounds, Hernandez was a vocal supporter of his father during the ensuing trial, saying his father had been a good dad and made sure he got good grades, noting that punishing him for taking him from his mother was essentially doing the same thing to him all over again. He was given four years in prison.