More Historical Disappearances That Were Never Solved


In the past, we have looked at some of the most baffling cases where people seemed to have disappeared off the face of the Earth. But we barely even scratched the surface as history is full of mysterious vanishings that, realistically, will probably never find a conclusion, leaving us only to wonder and speculate. Today, we examine a few more of these perplexing puzzles.

8. Aspiring Actress Goes Missing

In the late 1940s, Jean Spangler was a struggling actress hoping to make a career for herself in Hollywood. Like many young women, she came to Los Angeles with stars in her eyes and dreams of hitting it big. Her first role was as an extra in the 1948 drama The Miracle of the Bells. From there, a few more bit parts followed, including one in the musical drama Young Man with a Horn starring Kirk Douglas. Spangler’s career ended soon after it started because in 1949 she disappeared in Griffith Park, leaving behind only her purse.

On October 7, Spangler first had to meet Dexter Benner, her ex-husband, then she was due on set. She called home after finishing up with Benner, saying that the shoot would last late into the night. Her family was not expecting her back that evening but, when they saw that she still had not returned the next morning, they called the police.

Authorities found Spangler’s purse in Griffith Park. Dozens of officers and over a hundred volunteers searched the area, but found no other trace of the young actress. Inside her purse, there was a note that said “Kirk: Can’t wait any longer, Going to see Dr. Scott. It will work best this way while mother is away.”

Because of the note, actor Kirk Douglas was briefly suspected as the two had recently worked on set together, but he had an alibi. As for Dr. Scott, it was speculated that he was someone who performed illegal abortions and that Jean was pregnant and died during a botched procedure. Other ideas suggested her ex-husband did it to gain custody of her daughter, or even mobsters as Spangler had met a few while working as a nightclub dancer. For a while, it was even speculated that she fell victim to the same person who committed the Black Dahlia murder, but none of these ideas were ever backed up by proof.

7. The Prime Minister Puzzle

It is one of the quintessential Australian mysteries. On December 17, 1967, the country’s Prime Minister Harold Holt disappeared while swimming in the seaside town of Portsea, Victoria. A large search and rescue operation was mounted, but his body was never recovered and Holt was presumed dead by drowning. Australia held a memorial service attended by many world leaders and, in a bit of dark humor, decided to name a swimming center in Melbourne after Harold Holt.

The prime minister’s death was, most likely, an accidental drowning. It is, by far, the most probable answer, but this has not stopped people from speculating on other scenarios. One hypothesis that has gained prominence was that Holt committed suicide. A few other Australian politicians floated the idea, as did a recent documentary about Holt’s disappearance. However, the notion has been dismissed by Holt’s friends and family, as well as by the initial police report from 1968.

Some of the more outlandish ideas suggest that Holt had been the victim of an assassination by foreign agents, or that he himself was a spy for China and that he faked his death and defected by being carried away in a submarine.

6. The Band Leader Vanishes

Glenn Miller is predominantly remembered as leader of one of the most successful big bands in history, the eponymously-named Glenn Miller Orchestra. However, his career came to a sudden halt in 1944, when he disappeared over the English Channel during World War II.

In 1942, Miller wanted to join the war effort. At 38 years of age, he was too old to be drafted and the Navy were reluctant to take him. Eventually, he persuaded the Army to accept him, if only just to establish a modern Army band to boost morale. Before you knew it, the Army Air Forces Band contained 50 musicians with Glenn Miller at the helm.

In 1944, the band moved to England where it gave numerous performances. Towards the end of the year, the plan was to travel to Paris. On December 15, Miller was supposed to fly over there and make arrangements to bring in the entire band. He was flying aboard a single-engine C-64 Norseman, accompanied by two other officers. The airplane never made it to France and its wreckage was never recovered. 

Most likely scenario is that the plane crashed, killing all those aboard. It was flying in rough conditions and experts believe that engine icing caused the fuel intakes to freeze. However, even though this happened on December 15, Miller’s disappearance wasn’t made public until the 24th. This led to the appearance of several conspiracy theories such as Miller’s plane being accidentally hit by friendly bombers, or the bandleader actually dying of a heart attack in a brothel, and the military covering it up to preserve his image. 

5. The Lost Cyclist

Whenever a new mode of transportation is popularized, it is only a matter of time before someone tries to use it to circumnavigate the globe. So was the case with the bicycle. In 1884, Englishman Thomas Stevens set off from San Francisco on his penny farthing and, almost two years later, finished circling the globe.

A decade later, American Frank Lenz decided he would give it a try. He obtained a sponsorship from Outing Magazine, on the condition that he carried a camera with him to document his travels.

He set off in 1892, going the opposite direction of Stevens. Lenz started in Pittsburgh and rode to San Francisco from where he sailed to Asia. In May 1894, he reached the Ottoman Empire and was racing towards Istanbul. During a stage between the cities of Tabriz and Erzurum, Lenz disappeared.

This was around the time of the Armenian Genocide so the Ottoman Empire was a dangerous place to travel in. It’s fairly certain that Lenz was killed but, in an effort to find out for sure, Outing Magazine sent another accomplished cyclist named William Sachtleben to investigate. He learned that Lenz had allegedly been attacked and killed by Kurdish bandits after insulting one of their chiefs named Moostoe Niseh. Sachtleben even found bits from Lenz’s gear and camera on the caravan road leading out of Niseh’s town. 

This scenario certainly seemed plausible, but others believed that also plausible was that the Kurdish chief made for an easy scapegoat and that someone else killed Lenz. An accidental death was also not ruled out, and neither was the idea that the cyclist simply abandoned his mission and his identity to start a new life.

4. The Girl in the Green Mac

The disappearance of six-year-old Sheila Fox back in 1944 still ranks as one of England’s most baffling mysteries. Dubbed the “Girl in the Green Mac” by the media due to the mackintosh raincoat she was wearing, Sheila was last seen on August 18 after school hours, heading to her home in Bolton. Eyewitness accounts differed on specifics, but they all seemed to agree that the child was in the company of a well-dressed man in his mid-20s. 

After Sheila was declared missing, the police focused their efforts on identifying the man. They concluded that, because Sheila was a very shy girl, the suspect was likely someone that she knew and was comfortable with. Unfortunately, they were never able to get a positive ID.

After almost six decades with no developments, the case got some new life in 2001 when an elderly man came forward with a lead. He was a 13-year-old boy when Sheila was abducted, and lived near her house. Although it didn’t mean anything to him at the time, he remembered seeing a neighbor dig a large hole in his back garden in the middle of the night. Not only that, but the neighbor in question, subsequently identified as Richard Ryan, had later been charged with assaulting a child and served a prison sentence for rape.

Ryan was long dead by that point, but perhaps this new clue could finally reveal what had happened to the “Girl in the Green Mac.” Police obtained an order to excavate the property but, unfortunately, found no trace of Sheila’s remains or her clothing.

3. The Two Gunmakers

During the late 19th century, William Cantelo was a British inventor working on an early version of a machine gun with his two sons. At the time, most militaries had a great interest in this new kind of rapid-fire weapon so the person who designed and developed such a firearm could expect a big, fat government contract. One day in the early 1880s, Cantelo said that his work was finished. He left home on a trip and was never seen again.

There are two versions of the story. One said that Cantelo went on a much-deserved holiday; the other that he left to attend business meetings to sell his invention. Either way, his family noticed that a large sum of money had been transferred from his bank account, and a private detective followed the paper trail to America where it went cold.

Here is where it gets weirder. Humanity never saw the Cantelo gun in action, but they did see the Maxim gun, an efficient and lethal weapon created in 1884 by Hiram Maxim, an American inventor who had relocated to London. He made a fortune off his creation and was even knighted in 1901. But when Cantelo’s sons saw a picture of Maxim in the newspaper, they became convinced they were looking at their missing father. They even tracked him down in person once at Waterloo Station, but his train pulled away before they could approach him.

Could it be that the two gunmakers were the same person? Most likely not, since Maxim had a life in America before relocating. But could they have been doppelgangers? This was more probable and not that hard to achieve since both men usually had half their faces covered by big, white, bushy beards.

But this still begged the question – what happened to William Cantelo? Curiously, in his autobiography, Maxim mentioned instances in America where people claimed to have interacted with him, when in fact, he was still in England. He also believed he had a “double” living somewhere in the United States and, perhaps, that man was Cantelo.

2. The Murderess Governess

We continue with a look at one of the most notorious murders in the history of modern Poland, followed by the subsequent trial and disappearance of the woman found guilty of the crime, Rita Gorgonowa.

During the 1920s, Gorgonowa was hired as a governess at the home of divorced architect Henryk Zaremba and his two children: Lusia and Stanislaw. Eventually, Rita and Henryk started having an affair and even had a daughter together. However, her relationship with the other two children always remained contentious.

On the night before New Year’s Eve, 1931, the body of 17-year-old Lusia was found in her bed by her brother. Her skull had been crushed with a heavy object, later revealed to be an ice drill that had been discarded in the pool. Rita was found downstairs, standing by the Christmas tree, wearing a sheepskin with traces of blood on it. One of her handkerchiefs was found in the cellar, also covered in blood.

The trial did not take long, although it did become a national sensation. Rita Gorgonowa was found guilty and sentenced to death. However, due to several errors committed by investigators, her lawyers managed to get a retrial and move it to Krakow. The media constantly covered the case, with swarms of people lining up the steps and corridors of the courthouse, prompting the judge, at one point, to dismiss everyone while screaming “the whole of Krakow cannot enter the room!” 

The second trial went better. Gorgonowa was still found guilty, but sentenced to only eight years. She was released early in 1939 when Germany invaded Poland. As you would expect, the country had more pressing issues to deal with and didn’t care about Gorgonowa who managed to vanish without a trace. Some rumors say she lived a quiet, unassuming life in Opole or Silesia, while others claim she fled to South America. Her surviving family members are still trying to get her case reopened, hoping to clear her name.

1. The Curious Case of Benjamin Bathurst

The life of Benjamin Bathurst would surely have come and gone without much publicity were it not for the exceptional circumstances surrounding his disappearance. Born in 1784 in London, Bathurst became a diplomatic envoy during the Napoleonic Wars. Specifically, his mission was to travel to Austria and convince the emperor to declare war on France. He was successful in his task but, unfortunately for him, Napoleon defeated the Austrian army at the Battle of Wagram. All of a sudden, Bathurst needed to leave Vienna quickly and find some way of getting back home to England.

Thus, in November 1809, Bathurst was traveling by coach through Europe under the assumed name of “Baron de Koch,” accompanied by an attendant who went by “Fischer.” On November 25, the duo stopped at the White Swan Inn in the Prussian town of Perleberg. Hours later, when it was time to leave, Bathurst went outside and was never seen again. Allegedly, both he and Fischer went to enter the carriage; Fischer by the nearest door while Bathurst went around the coach. In the matter of the few seconds that Bathurst was out of sight, he seemingly vanished off the face of the Earth.

According to an investigation done a few decades ago, the reason why Bathurst’s disappearance became such a popular topic, especially in the sci-fi community, was simply because the details were so greatly embellished over the centuries that only supernatural phenomena would explain how the diplomat vanished. That is why Bathurst has been portrayed as the victim of alien abduction, time travel, and parallel dimensions, both in fiction and in conspiracy theories. 

The most likely explanation is also the most trivial – Bathurst fell prey to bandits. He was traveling through dangerous territory unarmed, he was dressed nicely and he had money. He would have made an enticing target for any criminal. 

Although the popular version of his story said that Bathurst simply “stepped behind his horses and vanished,” the investigation that was eventually carried out showed this was not the case. In fact, while his carriage was being prepared, Bathurst went alone for a walk, so bandits did have the opportunity to ambush him. His coat was later found with a local family named Schmidt while his pantaloons were also recovered in the forest. Forty years later, the skeleton of a man was found under a house near the inn. It could have been Bathurst but, of course, there was no way to tell with 19th century technology so the mystery remained.

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