Notorious Criminals Who Just Disappeared


Leaving your life behind and vanishing is surprisingly difficult to do. It is even harder when you are a criminal and you have a lot of people actively looking for you. And yet, it is not unheard of. D.B. Cooper is probably the most famous example of a criminal who disappeared without a trace. Lord Lucan managed it. So did Frank Morris and the Anglin brothers after they escaped from Alcatraz.

Of course, with criminals there is always a strong possibility that they received some “help” and didn’t disappear by choice. Either way, today we take a look at ten people who seemingly vanished off the face of the Earth, whose ultimate fate will probably remain a mystery forever.

10. Vincent Mangano

Vincent Mangano was once one of the most powerful mobsters in the world. Following the Castellammarese War, he was one of the original five bosses when the Commission was formed. Although the crime family that once shared his name is now called Gambino, Mangano served as its boss for 20 years and became known as “the Executioner.”

During that time, Mangano often butted heads with one of his underbosses, Albert Anastasia aka “the Mad Hatter.” Anastasia was a fearsome opponent because he headed one of the deadliest crews in New York, the infamous Murder Inc. 

The feud between the two came to a head on April 19, 1951, when Vincent’s brother and consigliere, Philip Mangano, was found dead in Brooklyn’s Jamaica Bay. Police went to question Vincent Mangano about his brother’s murder, but they couldn’t find him. He disappeared on that same day and was never seen again. 

The most obvious scenario was that Anastasia killed them both to take over the crime family. This is likely what happened, although we cannot say with any certainty. Vincent Mangano’s body was never found and no informants ever indicated what happened to him. 

9. Jesse Evans

There was a time in the Old West when the name “Jesse Evans” was just as well-known and feared as others like Billy the Kid or Jesse James. He started his criminal career in the early 1870s and, a few years later, joined up with the John Kinney Gang. Eventually, he left and formed his own posse called the Jesse Evans Gang, also known as “The Boys.”

The Boys became part of Wild West legend when they acted as enforcers for the Murphy-Dolan faction during the Lincoln County War. This conflict over the control of dry goods and cattle interests left almost 25 men dead and turned Billy the Kid into one of the most notorious outlaws of the Old West.

Even though his side won the war, Evans and his gang went on the run for killing an attorney. They engaged in several gunfights with rangers and, while many of his riding partners were gunned down, Evans was captured and sent to Huntsville Prison. On May 23, 1882, Jesse Evans escaped and was never seen again.

Speculating on what happened to Jesse Evans has been a long-favored pastime of western historians. As early as the 1920s, researcher Robert Mullin claimed to have met a man named Joe Evans in Texas whom he believed to be the escaped outlaw. Other historians all had stories they heard from people claiming to be relatives or “friends of a friend” who knew what happened to Evans.

In 1948, Evans’ brother died in Missouri and an elderly man named Joe Hines came forward to claim his land, alleging that he was his sibling. Apparently, Hines convinced the investigator that he was the real Jesse Evans, but historians dismissed him as an impostor. 

8. Szilveszter Matuska

Symphorophilia is a condition where the individual experiences arousal from staging and watching disasters such as fires or car crashes. It is the diagnosis that a psychiatrist would probably have given to Szilveszter Matuska, a Hungarian engineer who used dynamite to derail trains in the early 1930s.

Matuska’s first two attempts were unsuccessful. Then, on August 8, 1931, he derailed the Berlin-Basel express south of the German capital. Dozens of people were injured, but there were no fatalities. 

His second derailment was a lot deadlier. On September 13, he attacked the Vienna Express as it was passing over the Biatorbágy Bridge in Hungary. The explosion caused multiple coaches and the train engine to plunge into the ravine below. Twenty-two people died and over 120 were injured. Matuska was caught at the scene and, although he temporarily managed to pass himself off as a passenger, he was arrested later.

Although convicted in Austria, Matuska was extradited to Hungary and imprisoned in Vác. From there, his movements become uncertain. It appears that the bomber managed to escape prison during World War II. Some reports even claim that he served in the war as an explosives expert, and later in the Korean War, but these remain nothing but rumors and speculation.

7. Boston Corbett

Unlike others in this list, Thomas “Boston” Corbett didn’t earn his notoriety from his criminal activities, but rather for becoming Lincoln’s Avenger. He was part of the cavalry regiment that pursued John Wilkes Booth after he killed Lincoln and Corbett was the man who gunned down the traitor on April 26, 1865.

This actually got him in trouble at first because Washington gave explicit orders to bring Booth alive so that he may be questioned about his accomplices. Corbett was immediately arrested for disobeying an order and taken to the War Department in D.C. to be court-martialed. Eventually, though, the higher-ups relented and released Corbett, declaring him a patriot.

Corbett was celebrated as a hero at first but, as his fame waned, he became increasingly paranoid, fearing that assassins were out to get him. Even before Booth’s death, Corbett had a history of erratic behavior, the most extreme example being the time he decided to castrate himself after getting aroused at the sight of some prostitutes.

As his health and mental state deteriorated, Corbett found it hard to make money. Out of pity, a veterans’ organization secured for him a position as an assistant doorkeeper at the Kansas State Legislature in Topeka. This didn’t last long because, following a dispute, Corbett brandished his weapon inside the statehouse. He was arrested immediately afterwards and sent to an insane asylum. 

In 1888, during outdoor exercises, Corbett stole a horse and escaped. He met with a fellow veteran who helped him book a train to Mexico and was never seen again. Various rumors of his demise sprang up, the most prevalent being that he died in the Great Hinckley Fire of 1894. None of these were ever corroborated. 

6. Edward Sands

Hollywood has always been a source of depravity and scandal, right from its inception. On February 1, 1922, the motion picture industry was shocked by the murder of William Desmond Taylor, one of Hollywood’s most successful and prolific directors. His death is still unsolved today, partly due to the fact that the main suspect disappeared without a trace.

That suspect was Edward Sands, a man who used to work as Taylor’s valet and cook. The subsequent investigation revealed that Sands had a history of petty crimes and had deserted from the Coast Guard. 

Sands took advantage of his relationship with Taylor and, while the director was in England in 1921, his assistant stole his car and jewelry and cashed in several forged checks. Obviously, Sands was fired for this but was never arrested. Therefore, when Taylor was gunned down in his bungalow several months later, Sands was considered a strong suspect. Investigators believed that the ex-valet burgled Taylor’s home at least once before. It is possible that he tried it again, only to run into his former employer. Regardless, they never managed to track Sands down ever again.

5. Danny Walsh

During the 1920s, there was a loose criminal organization dubbed “the Big Seven” which consisted of the most powerful figures on the American East Coast. One of the members was Danny Walsh, an Irish-American gangster who controlled bootlegging in Rhode Island.

Walsh’s criminal empire flourished during the 1920s, but quickly waned in the following decade as Prohibition was on its way out. On the night of February 2, 1933, Walsh had dinner with a few associates at the Bank Cafe in Pawtuxet and, then, simply disappeared.

His family received a ransom demand for $40,000 which they paid, but it proved to be for naught. Danny Walsh was never seen again.

We don’t know what happened to the bootlegger, but, unsurprisingly, most stories floating around suggest he was killed by a rival. One popular tale says that the culprit was an associate of Walsh’s named Carl Rettich. He wanted to take over the business so he fitted Walsh with a pair of cement shoes and threw him into the ocean alive.

4. Sharon Kinne

Sharon Kinne has the distinction of being the subject of one of the longest outstanding felony warrants in U.S. history. Many saw her as just an innocent housewife, but she manipulated and lied to get her way and, when that wasn’t enough, she had no qualms about murder.

It all started on March 19, 1960, when a deputy arrived at the Kinne household in Jackson County, Missouri, to find Sharon crying her eyes out. She said that her two-year-old daughter, Danna, had just accidentally shot and killed her husband, James, while playing with his gun. 

Police bought Sharon’s story. So did the insurance company that paid out a $200,000 policy. As it was later revealed, James was actually thinking about divorcing his wife because she spent all their money and might have been having affairs.

After her husband’s death, Sharon Kinne proceeded to spend all her money and have affairs. One of her romantic trysts was Walter Jones, a man who was married with children. He refused to leave his family for Sharon and, in retaliation, Kinne killed his wife Patricia. She even helped look for the body with another boyfriend and they were the ones to “discover” it. This arrogance proved to be a step too far. When detectives heard about it, they connected the dots and arrested Kinne on both murder counts.

She was acquitted of killing Patricia Jones, but sentenced to life in prison for her husband’s murder. In 1963, that conviction was overturned due to a technicality and two subsequent trials ended in mistrial. While awaiting a fourth, Kinne went to Mexico. There, she killed a man named Francisco Parades Ordoñez. Kinne claimed self-defense, but Mexican authorities weren’t buying it and she was sentenced to 13 years in prison.

In early December, 1969, Sharon Kinne escaped prison due to a series of fortuitous circumstances, including a blackout and an unguarded window. She remains at large.

3. Michael O’Rourke

Back in 1881, Charleston, Arizona, was a boomtown on the banks of the San Pedro River located opposite of Millville and near Tombstone. While people went to Millville to work in the silver ore mills located there, they would then travel across to Charleston to drink, gamble, visit a brothel or two, and, more than likely, get into a fight.

One of the locals who frequented the gambling halls of Charleston was an 18-year-old man named Michael O’Rourke, better known to everyone as “Johnny-Behind-the-Deuce.” On January 14, he was involved in an episode which became part of Wild West lore, mainly for the involvement of Wyatt Earp and his cohorts.

O’Rourke got into an argument with a man named Phillip Schneider who worked as chief engineer for the milling company. The exact nature of this altercation is somewhat iffy. One version says that Schneider made a comment at the card table, implying that the Deuce was cheating. Another says that the two first had words in a restaurant and escalated to violence later in the street. Whatever the circumstances, the end result was the same – Schneider laid dead, shot by O’Rourke.

Constable George McKelvey arrested the gambler, but his main concern was keeping him alive. Schneider was well-liked around the camp and, soon enough, a large mob wanted to lynch O’Rourke. McKelvey put the Deuce in a wagon and took him to Tombstone where City Marshal Ben Sippy formed a posse to protect him. That posse included Wyatt Earp and his two brothers, Virgil and Morgan, and probably Doc Holiday, too. As Virgil was the senior lawman among the bunch, newspapers of the time credited them as Deputy Marshal Virgil Earp “and his companions.”

The Tombstone Epitaph described the tense standoff. Marshal Sippy had over a score of men but the lynch mob numbered hundreds. Despite calls to open fire on the crowd, Sippy maintained control of the situation and brought O’Rourke to Benson safe where he was put on a train to Tucson.

He was put in county jail but escaped before his trial. The last reported sighting of Johnny-Behind-the-Deuce was a few days later in the Dragoon Mountains, allegedly heading for Texas. 

2. François Villon

François Villon is hailed today as one of the best French poets of the Late Middle Ages, but he was also a violent man with a long criminal history that eventually got him banished from Paris and from the history books.

Villon’s early life is a bit of a mystery. He was born in Paris sometime in April, 1431, and we’re not even sure what his real last name was. His parents were poor but, after his father died, François was taken in by chaplain Guillaume de Villon and took on his last name. 

In 1455, Villon was involved in a bar brawl where he fatally injured a priest. He was banished, but received a royal pardon, supposedly because the priest forgave him on his deathbed. In the years that followed, Villon wrote his most important works, including a collection of poetry called Le Testament

Despite his success, he never really stopped his criminal ways. Villon was part of a gang that committed various thefts. He was banished from Paris again, but secured another pardon with the help of the Duke of Orleans who was an admirer of his poetry. In 1461, when he wrote Le Testament, Villon had been released from prison again, although we do not know on what charge.

Despite the fact that his seminal masterpiece evoked regret for wasting his years in bars and brothels, the poet seemed unwilling to change his ways. In 1462 he was arrested, once again, for his part in a brawl and he was sentenced to death. The sentence was commuted to a 10-year banishment. 

This time, no more pardon came. In early 1463, François Villon left Paris and was never heard from again.

1. William Hare

Together with William Burke, William Hare embarked on one of the most gruesome killing sprees in Scottish history and, if you want, you can learn about it in all its gory detail in our in-depth Biographics video. Today we will look at how Hare managed to escape justice and let his partner hang while he disappeared and probably started a new life somewhere else.

By the time the actions of Burke and Hare came to light, the two had committed sixteen murders and their wives were also involved, although to what extent is still uncertain. And yet Hare walked away scot-free by turning king’s evidence against his partner. Unfortunately for the authorities, their case was rather weak and felt they needed a confession to secure a conviction. 

William Hare might have avoided the gallows, but he was almost lynched on several occasions. After Burke was hanged, his partner-in-crime was kept in custody for another week to let public anger die down. On February 5, 1829, Hare was disguised and put on the coach to Dumfries. 

This didn’t work. He was still recognized and ended up taking refuge in a hotel. Dumfries police came and placed him in jail for his own protection, waiting for more constables to arrive. Eventually, a large force escorted him safely out of the town and basically told him that he was on his own from then on out. 

The last official report placed him on the road to Carlisle and there is no reliable information on what happened to him after. He could have been killed half an hour later as far as we know, although plenty of unsubstantiated sightings of the infamous murderer were later reported so this is unlikely. A popular rumor said Hare spent the rest of his days as a blind beggar in London’s East End, although this sounds more like wishful thinking. The people of Applecross in the Highlands of Scotland maintain that Hare relocated there under the name William Maxwell.

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