Every now and then, we could use a reminder that a lot of mysteries do get solved, given enough time and effort. In the past, we have examined a few disappearances that seemed like they would remain cold cases forever, but they were ultimately elucidated. Now it is time to take a look at a few more, even more bizarre than the first.
8. The Captain Who Was Captured by Pirates
Born in 1702 in Marblehead, Massachusetts, Philip Ashton took to life on the open sea since he was a child. Therefore, nobody was surprised when he grew up to become a ship’s captain. In 1722, he commanded a crew of six aboard a schooner named Milton which he sailed to the Grand Banks of Newfoundland to fish for cod. In Port Roseway, Milton was approached by a merchant vessel and Ashton realized only too late that the men who boarded his ship were pirates in disguise. Just like that, Ashton found himself a captive of Ned Low, one of the most sadistic pirates to ever sail the seven seas. Even so, Ashton resisted all enticement to join Low’s crew.
The following year, Ashton was still a prisoner when the pirate ship landed on Roatan Island in the Caribbean to collect water. He was taken to shore to work and, when he saw his opportunity, Philip Ashton ran into the thick jungle. Eventually, the pirates left without him. The island was completely uninhabited and with the former captain basically marooning himself with no supplies, no food, not even any shoes, they assumed it would be the last time anyone heard of Philip Ashton.
That turned out not to be the case because he somehow survived 16 months on the deserted island until he was found by some English Baymen who lived in Honduras. Ashton lived with them until a brig from Massachusetts called the Diamond visited Honduras Bay, at which point, the former fisherman finally secured passage home, arriving almost three years after being captured by pirates.
7. The Air Force Officer Who Deserted
In the early 1980s, Captain William Howard Hughes Jr. was an important officer with the US Air Force who had “Top Secret/Single Scope Background Investigation” clearance. Then, in July 1983, he disappeared after returning from a business trip in Europe. None of his friends or family members had any clue what had happened to him so, in December of that same year, he was officially declared a deserter.
The commonly held belief at that time was that Hughes had either been kidnapped by the Soviets or had willingly defected to their side. One intelligence officer said that Hughes would have been “worth his weight in gold to the Russians,” and in fact, he was later investigated as a possible saboteur for several rocket ship launch failures, including the infamous Challenger disaster. As it turned out, Hughes did not sabotage any rocket ships, nor did he defect to Russia. He had started a new life in California.
For 35 years, he lived as Barry O’Beirne, although everyone called him Tim. His neighbors all thought he was a “pleasant” man who loved the San Francisco Giants and had no clue about his troubled past. Hughes was finally found out while being interviewed in a passport fraud investigation. Some of his statements didn’t make sense so, eventually, he came clean about his true identity. As to why he did it, Hughes put it down to depression about being in the Air Force and wanting a simpler life.
6. The Screenwriter with the Missing Hands
For three decades, Gary DeVore worked as a scriptwriter in Hollywood, beginning his career with shows from the ’60s, such as The Newlywed Game and The Steve Allen Show, before specializing in action movies, such as Raw Deal starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. In 1997, he was working on a remake of a 1940s film titled The Big Steal, and had just wrapped up some business in New Mexico. He jumped into his Ford Explorer and headed back home to Los Angeles, but he was never seen alive again.
DeVore’s publicist thought this was all some kind of publicity stunt. His wife wasn’t convinced and she contacted the police, put out a $100,000 reward, and even enlisted the help of a psychic. But all efforts proved in vain, as nobody could find Gary DeVore.
The mystery of his disappearance was solved in 1998 but, if anything, it only raised more questions. An amateur sleuth found his Ford Explorer in a California aqueduct, with the screenwriter’s body in the driver’s seat. At first glance, it appeared to be an accident, except for a few little details: there were no signs of impact, police had already checked the aqueduct during their initial search, and the writer’s laptop and gun had been taken from the vehicle. And also, his hands were missing.
Gary DeVore’s death was ruled a murder, but the solution remains just as elusive as ever.
5. The Teenager Who Hid in the Cupboard
In August 1998, 14-year-old Natasha Ryan from Rockhampton, Queensland, Australia, went missing after her mother dropped her off at school. Even worse, during the investigation into her disappearance, it was believed that she became a victim of suspected serial killer Leonard Fraser, known as the Rockhampton Rapist.
Fast forward to 2003 during Fraser’s trial. By this point, even though Ryan’s body had never been found, everyone was convinced that she had been killed by Fraser, mainly because he had confessed to the deed on tape. But as it turned out, not only did he not kill her, but Natasha Ryan wasn’t even dead. Police had executed a raid on the home of Scott Black, Ryan’s former boyfriend, and they found the missing teenager hiding in the cupboard.
Understandably, the girl’s family was shocked when they found out that Natasha was still alive. They were even more shocked when they discovered that she had been living less than two miles away all that time. For almost five years, Ryan did not leave her boyfriend’s apartment. She even had to spend hours at a time hiding in the cupboard when he had friends or family over. As to why she did it, she simply said that “the lie had become too big.”
4. The Girl Who Went to North Korea
On November 15, 1977, 13-year-old Megumi Yokota finished badminton practice at school and was heading back to her home in Niigata, Japan. Even though she only lived a few minutes away, that time was all it took for Megumi to vanish without a trace. A search party looked everywhere, from the forest to the shoreline, but could find no signs of a fight, a struggle, or a witness who may have seen what had happened to the young girl.
In the year that followed, a special kidnapping unit set up shop in the Yokota house and dedicated thousands of manhours towards solving the mystery of Megumi Yokota’s disappearance, but without any success.
It wasn’t until two decades later that the Yokota family received a shocking phone call from an official they had never met or spoken to, and he told them: “We have information that your daughter is alive in North Korea.”
As it turned out, both the Japanese and South Korean governments had been tipped off for years that North Korea was responsible for many kidnappings of their citizens, but were hesitant to act on the information. The story of Megumi Yokota was first told by a defecting North Korean spy, who said that she was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. The young girl had spotted two agents who were waiting for a pick-up boat and, fearing that their cover might be blown, they abducted her and took her to North Korea. There, she was taught Korean and forced to teach Japanese language and behavior at a spy school.
It wasn’t until 2002, during a historic meeting between Kim Jong-Il and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi that North Korea admitted the deed. They claimed responsibility for 13 kidnappings, although many believe the number is much higher. They also claimed that only five of the 13 were still alive and, unfortunately for the Yokota family, Megumi was not among them. Their story was that Megumi Yokota committed suicide in 1994 due to depression, but her family remains convinced this is just another lie.
3. The Message That Said STENDEC
“ETA Santiago 17:45 hrs. STENDEC.”
That was the last communication sent in Morse code on August 2, 1947, by an Avro 691 Lancastrian aircraft flying for British South American Airways from Buenos Aires, Argentina, to Santiago, Chile. The airship was a four-engine plane given the name Star Dust and was carrying 11 people on board, crew included.
The message had been sent at 5:41 p.m., suggesting that it was four minutes away from landing, right on schedule. Except that it never landed. Despite an extensive search at the time, the wreckage of the plane could not be found and the fate of Star Dust became a mystery for over half a century.
During that time, several ideas were put forward as to what had happened to the airplane and its passengers. This was just a few weeks after the Roswell incident so, obviously, some people thought it had to be aliens. The biggest piece of the puzzle was the last word of the Morse code: STENDEC. What was that supposed to mean? At first, the airport operator thought it was an error, but the radio operator aboard the Star Dust repeated it twice.
A lot of people noticed that STENDEC is an anagram of “descent.” A fault with the oxygen supply could have led to the crew suffering from hypoxia, which could have caused the operator to unwittingly send a scrambled message. Others think that it was simply a mistake and that he wanted to send “Star Dust,” which is similar to STENDEC in Morse code. Both ideas are plausible but unlikely given that the operator used the word three times. A popular hypothesis at the moment says that STENDEC was a World War II acronym that meant “Severe Turbulence Encountered, Now Descending, Emergency Crash-landing.”
Message aside, we finally found out what happened to the Star Dust in 1998, when a group of Argentinean mountaineers stumbled upon the wreckage while climbing Mount Tupungato. Subsequently, they found a lot of human remains, which had been well-preserved in the ice, and DNA tests confirmed their identity.
It seemed that the Star Dust crashed into terrain during a controlled descent due to the plane getting caught in a snowstorm while flying against a jet stream. It smashed right into the side of a glacier, which caused an avalanche that buried the wreckage under tons of snow.
2. The Man Who Forgot Who He Was
Back in 2016, Edgar Latulip was a middle-aged man living in St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada, who began having these strange sensations all of a sudden that he was living somebody else’s life. He tried to explain this unusual feeling to a social worker, who decided to Google his name and was stunned to discover that Edgar Latulip had been the target of a missing person’s investigation for 30 years. That sensation Edgar was experiencing was him getting his memories back.
In 1986, then-21-year-old Edgar Latulip lived in Kitchener, Ontario, in a group home. One day, he boarded a bus to Niagara Falls and was never seen again. Latulip suffered from both developmental delays and suicidal tendencies, so his family feared that he died at the falls, either following an accident or a suicide.
What had actually happened was that Latulip somehow sustained a head injury that was serious enough to cause massive memory loss. When he recovered, he traveled to nearby St. Catharines where he began his second life, just 80 miles away from his first one.
1. The Man Who Testified at His Own Murder Trial
We end with the most bizarre case on our list, that of an Arkansas man who vanished, was presumed murdered, and then showed up alive and well at his killers’ trial. And it only got more complicated from there.
We begin in January 1929, when a man named Connie Franklin showed up in the town of St. James, Stone County, Arkansas. Soon enough, he found work as a farmhand and started a romance with a local girl named Tiller Ruminer. By March, the two of them were ready to get married and that was when Franklin disappeared.
A few months later, the young woman approached the police with a shocking story. She claimed that four local men had attacked her and Franklin while they were on their way to the office of the Justice of the Peace. They dragged the couple into the woods, where they raped Ruminer and then beat, tortured, and burned Connie Franklin alive. They then threatened to kill the girl’s entire family if she went to the police. Unfortunately, there was no evidence to support her story, so a grand jury refused to indict the four men. It wasn’t until November 1929, that the trial moved forward when a woman found a pile of ashes in the woods which contained bones believed to be human.
The case took its first strange turn in December when Connie Franklin showed up at his own murder trial, with a vastly different story to that of his former fiancée. He claimed that he got drunk in celebration the night before his marriage. The following day, Tiller got cold feet. He basically told her it was now or never and when she refused to go through with it, he simply left town.
Now it’s time for the second twist because Tiller Ruminer, her father, and a few other locals claimed that the new man was not the real Connie Franklin. And they were half-right in the sense that he wasn’t the man he pretended to be. His real name was Marion Franklin Rogers, he was already married with three children, and he had escaped in 1927 from a mental hospital.
Of course, none of this indicated that he was not the same person who arrived in St. James back in January, just that he lied about his past. The town was split on whether this man was the same Connie Franklin as the first one but, ultimately, there wasn’t strong enough evidence to convict, so the four men were acquitted of the murder.