History is filled with tales of people who have vanished without a trace. We’ve covered quite a few of those tales here, but not all of them have to remain a mystery forever. It might take years, or even decades, but some of these disappearances get eventually solved, and some of them have quite unexpected solutions.
10. The Vanished Housewife
A native of Alaska, Lucy Ann Johnson was living with her husband, Marvin, and their two children in Surrey, British Columbia, in 1961, until one day when she simply vanished. For whatever reason, her husband did not report her disappearance to the police until almost four years later, in May, 1965. Unsurprisingly, the authorities immediately suspected foul play and Marvin Johnson became their primary suspect.
The police interrogated him, questioned the neighbors, even dug up the backyard looking for a body, but found nothing to incriminate Marvin Johnson so, ultimately, there were no charges filed against him. He died in the 90s, and the disappearance of Lucy Ann Johnson became another cold case that was searched in DNA databases every few years on the off-chance that somebody stumbled upon her unidentified remains.
The case took a turn in 2013, when Lucy’s disappearance was highlighted by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in their “Missing of the Month” series. At the same time, her daughter Linda began placing ads with pictures of her mother in the newspapers. Soon enough, the police received an unexpected call from a woman who claimed that the person in the pictures was her mother. As it turned out, the 77-year-old Lucy Ann Johnson was still alive and living in Yukon with her second family, having left Marvin for being abusive. It was 52 years later, but Linda had finally reunited with her mother.
9. The Comanche Chief’s Wife
In May 1836, a group of Comanche attacked Fort Parker in Texas, killing several militiamen in the process and kidnapping five children to be ransomed later. Four of the five were recovered in the years that followed, all except for Cynthia Ann Parker.
She was around 12 years old when she disappeared and the first assumption was that she died in Comanche captivity. Fast-forward almost 25 years and a group of Texas Rangers launched a surprise raid on a band of Comanches at the Battle of Pease River. During the fight, they spotted a white woman in the mix, who tried to get away with the retreating Comanche. The Rangers caught up to her and saw that she was in her mid-30s and she was clutching a baby girl. Using the fragmented bits of English that she still remembered, the woman identified herself as Cynthia Ann Parker.
As it turned out, young Cynthia had completely integrated with the Comanche and became part of their tribe. When she was older, she married a tribal leader named Peta Nocona and together they had three children, including future Comanche chief Quanah Parker.
Cynthia Ann Parker was taken to her biological relatives and became a sensation in the nation, but she never really adapted to her new life. She tried several times to escape and return to her Comanche family, but was unsuccessful and she never saw them again.
8. The Scottish Folk Singer
Born in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1948, Shelagh McDonald became a folk singer against the wishes of her parents. In 1971, she released her second album, Stargazer, which was well-received and earned her comparisons to the likes of Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez. It seemed like her star was on the rise, but later that same year, the singer simply vanished. Although she had been reportedly sighted in Scotland, England, and America, her fans never really learned what had happened to Shelagh, and many of them thought that the 24-year-old performer had died.
They were kept in the dark for almost 35 years. It wasn’t until 2005, when a record company published a re-release of McDonald’s two albums that she emerged in the spotlight once more, safe and sound. She revealed that her disappearance came as the result of a very bad acid trip, that caused her to lose four days entirely and hallucinate for weeks afterwards. It took Shelagh 18 months to fully recover, time during which her parents took care of her and completely cut her off from her previous life that they did not approve of. Once she fully recovered, McDonald fell in love with a man, ran away together and left the music business behind.
7. The Man Who Survived Gacy
Harold Wayne Lovell disappeared from his Chicago home in 1977. Then 19 years old, Lovell told his family that he was looking for construction work and that he had done some odd jobs for a local contractor. That contractor’s name was John Wayne Gacy.
In case you are unfamiliar with him, Gacy was one of America’s most notorious serial killers, responsible for the deaths of at least 33 boys and young men, some of whom remain unidentified to this day. Once the extent of Gacy’s crimes was known, Lovell’s fate became obvious to everyone – he was one of Gacy’s victims. That was what his family believed for over three decades, until they found out that Harold was alive and well.
The Illinois Sheriff’s Department finally tracked Lovell down in 2011, after a renewed effort to identify the remaining victims. He had run away from home following a fight with his mother and stepfather and moved to Florida, where he worked as a landscaper and shipbuilder. He had no idea that his family thought he was dead.
6. The Man on the Run from the Mob
In 1979, Chicago commodities broker Arthur Gerald Jones was not a very happy man – his marriage was in trouble and he was heavily in debt due to a gambling addiction. He owed a lot of money to some very dangerous people so, when he simply disappeared one day while out on an errand, everyone thought it was a mob hit. That’s how the FBI treated it in their investigation, but they were unable to come up with any leads. Eventually, Jones was declared dead in 1986 so his family could collect his benefits.
Fast-forward to 2011 and a Las Vegas bookie named Joseph Richard Sandelli was arrested for fraud, only for the police to discover that the man they had in custody was also guilty of using a fake identity. He was actually Arthur Jones, who had been successful in evading the mob and leaving his former life behind him. In the 30 years that had passed, he had moved around the country and used at least three different aliases. He had also been arrested seven times, but managed to leave each time with his secret identity intact. Jones had an impressive run, but all runs eventually must come to an end.
5. The Missing Teenagers
Not all people who disappear mysteriously get found alive and well decades later. In fact, in many cases where authorities suspect that a missing person has died, either the result of an accident, suicide, or foul play, that is exactly what happened.
For over 40 years, the families of Pamela Jackson and Cheryl Miller from South Dakota wondered what had happened to the two 17-year-olds after they vanished without a trace one night in May, 1971. The teenagers were last seen inside their 1960 Studebaker, on their way to an end-of-school party.
Years later, one of their former classmates, David Lykken, became the primary suspect in their deaths, as he had already been imprisoned for an unrelated kidnapping and rape. He was charged by a grand jury following testimony from a jailhouse informant who claimed that Lykken had confessed the murders to him. The charges were later dropped when the informant admitted to lying, and the prosecution could find no other evidence to implicate Lykken.
The fate of the two girls remained a mystery until 2004, when the state went through a major drought. As the water levels dropped in a nearby creek, the wheels of an overturned Studebaker popped out. Inside, police found the remains of the two girls, along with their personal belongings, with all signs pointing to a car accident.
4. The Murder Victim Who Wasn’t
When 24-year-old computer science student Petra Pazsitka disappeared in the German city of Brunswick back in 1984, it was believed that she had been murdered. Her case became a nationwide sensation after being featured on a German crime show called Aktenzeichen XY. The following year, a 19-year-old carpenter’s apprentice identified as Günter K was arrested for the murder of a teenage girl in a nearby city, and he became the main suspect in Petra’s death, even confessing to the deed at one point.
Due to lack of evidence, Günter was only convicted for the murder of the other girl, but German authorities were confident that he was behind Petra’s disappearance, as well, and unofficially closed the case. In 1989, Petra Pazsitka was declared legally dead.
Her story took a new turn in 2015, when police in Dusseldorf responded to a break-in. The victim initially identified herself as “Mrs. Schneider,” but when authorities insisted on seeing her ID, she confessed to being Petra Pazsitka. For 30 years, she had lived under a false name with no identity card, passport, bank account, or driver’s license.
Although Petra has been found, her motives still remain a mystery. She did not say why she left without a word and has refused to contact her siblings, although she did specify that abuse had nothing to do with her disappearance.
3. The Soldier Who Never Came Home
After World War II ended, plenty of examples emerged of Japanese holdouts – soldiers with the Imperial Japanese Army who kept on fighting, oftentimes because they had been stationed in remote areas with little to no communication and had not heard that Japan had surrendered or did not believe that the news was legitimate. The case of Ishinosuke Uwano was similar to that. While he did not keep fighting, he never returned home following the war, eventually making Japanese authorities declare him dead, only for him to turn up alive a few years later.
Uwano left his home in 1943 to fight in World War II. He was stationed on Sakhalin, an island in the North Pacific that, at the time, was disputed territory between Japan and Russia. It was completely annexed by the Russians following the war, and the hundreds of thousands of Japanese and Koreans who lived there were repatriated in the years that followed.
Ishinosuke Uwano was not among them. His family knew that he did not die in the war – his last contact with them was in 1958 – but then he simply disappeared. His relatives held out hope for decades, but finally had him declared dead in 2000.
Then, just a few years later, somebody contacted the Japanese embassy in Ukraine on behalf of Uwano. Word reached the Japanese Health Ministry, which then discovered that Uwano had moved to Ukraine in 1965 and started a new family. He took a trip to Japan, but afterwards returned to his new home in Ukraine.
2. The Archer with Amnesia
Of course, we had to include a story about amnesia on this list, but it’s one of the strangest ones out there, which still divides public opinion between incredibly rare mental condition and hoax.
Back in 1957, archery enthusiast Lawrence Bader from Akron, Ohio, rented a boat and took it out on Lake Erie where he was caught in a storm. The Coast Guard found the boat the next day, empty and damaged. Bader was missing, but everyone reached the same conclusion – he drowned in the storm. He was declared dead and his family was paid a hefty life insurance policy, which was quite handy as they were indebted to the IRS.
That was the official story for eight years. It changed in 1965, when an acquaintance of the Bader family saw a man who looked familiar at the archery booth of a sporting goods convention. He even brought in Bader’s niece and she confirmed what he already thought – they were looking at Lawrence Bader, albeit with facial hair and an eyepatch. However, the man denied this, insisting that he was John “Fritz” Johnson, a TV sports director from Omaha, Nebraska.
Of course, the niece didn’t just let it go, so she called the rest of her family who flew in. Eventually, the man known as Fritz agreed to be fingerprinted by the police as Bader’s prints were already on file since his time in the Navy. A few days later, the authorities concluded that Bader and Johnson were the same person.
This posed a few legal complications for Bader/Johnson. He had two wives, for starters, but the life insurance company also wanted their money back. Meanwhile, the man had accepted that he was Lawrence Bader, but insisted that he was not scamming anyone – he said that the storm not only caused his amnesia, but implanted fake memories in his mind. Whether or not this was true was never established with certainty – Bader died the following year, leaving behind a puzzling legacy.
1. Franklin’s Lost Expedition
We end this list with a look at one of the greatest maritime mysteries, one that took almost 170 years to solve – that of Franklin’s lost expedition.
Back in 1845, two English ships, the HMS Erebus and the HMS Terror, led by Sir John Franklin, departed from Kent with a crew of 129 men. Their goal was to navigate the Northwest Passage in the Arctic which connected the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. This had never been done before and it would be another 60 years until Roald Amundsen became the first to accomplish this feat. Obviously, Franklin’s expedition was unsuccessful, but nobody knew exactly what had happened to it.
The British Admiralty sent out numerous search missions to try and uncover the ultimate fate of the two ships and their crew, but were unsuccessful. Of course, everyone expected the worst and they found clues to suggest that was, indeed, what had happened – a few isolated graves here, a couple of skeletons there, an abandoned sled, some letters, not to mention stories from the local Inuit. However, it wasn’t until 2014 that a team finally found the wreck of the HMS Erebus, with the Terror also located two years later.
It is generally accepted that the entire crew slowly perished, either of scurvy or exposure, but the exact circumstances still remain a mystery. Both ships were dozens of miles off-course to the south. Were they carried there by the ice or did the men make one desperate attempt to turn back? Scientists and historians are still studying the wrecks, so one day soon we might get a full picture of what happened to Franklin’s lost expedition.