Recently, three women who had been kidnapped separately over a decade ago were found alive and well, and the brothers who had kidnapped them all were jailed. It was a shocking but welcome turn of events, as the loved ones of those who are kidnapped too seldom receive this kind of news.
It’s more common than one may think for kidnapped children to eventually be found alive and well. But then there are cases like these; full-grown adults who vanished without a trace, only to turn up years, or sometimes even decades, later. Their stories are as varied as they are improbable, and here are ten of the strangest.
10. Brenda Heist
In 2002, mother of two Brenda Heist was sobbing her eyes out in a Pennsylvania park. She was going through a divorce, and had just been turned down for public housing; unsure of how she would support her 8 and 12 year-old kids, she was at the end of her rope. That’s when she was approached by three strangers, and Brenda’s life would never be the same.
Normally, stories like these wind up the story of a victim who vanished from the face of the Earth. Which is exactly what happened here, but she was no victim; after comforting her, the strangers offered to let her come with them. And without a word to anyone, leaving laundry in the machine and dinner on the stove, she did.
“Everybody that knew Brenda told us there was absolutely no way Brenda would leave her children,” the detective on her case, John Schofield, said in disbelief after Brenda approached Florida police with her story eleven years later. “She explained to me that she just snapped … (s)he turned her back on her family, she turned her back on her friends, her co-workers.” Not to mention her husband, who had been investigated as a suspect in her disappearance, and had her declared legally dead in 2010.
Heist worked briefly as a live-in housekeeper and spent some time living in a camper with a male companion, but spent the rest of her time in limbo as a vagrant, panhandling and popping in and out of jail for drugs. Apparently, she simply got tired of that life, but she’ll have to reinvent herself yet again, as her old life doesn’t seem to want her back. Her estranged husband and children want nothing to do with her, and we can’t say we’re surprised.
9. Philip Sessarego
A soldier in the British Army, Philip Sessarego always dreamed of being a part of the SAS, but failed their selection process twice. On second thought, “dreamed” isn’t quite the correct word here; Sessarego was obsessed with the regiment, and figured that if he couldn’t get in, he’d never be the person he wanted to be. So in 1993, he faked his death — and simply became that person instead.
Philip went missing, and was thought to have probably been killed in a car bomb attack in Croatia, but that was by design. He took on the name Tom Carew, and told anybody within earshot that he was a member of British Special Forces, with over 20 years experience and a hand in helping to train the Muhajideen to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. It was, of course, complete fiction, but Sessarego couldn’t even be content to spin his fiction privately. He actually wrote a book entitled “Jihad! The Secret War In Afghanistan” based on his “experiences” in the SAS. Not only did he write it, he found a publisher, and the book was released in December of 2000. It made the New York Times bestseller list, and sold 50,000 copies.
Sessarego lived for years in Belgium, after he was exposed by a BBC news program in November 2001, eight years after he went missing. He was discovered dead in the storage locker in which he’d been living in 2008, but only after extensive DNA testing would authorities believe that it was actually him.
8. Gabriel Nagy
Here’s another story that normally has an all-too familiar ending. In Australia in 1987, devoted family man Gabriel Nagy called his wife in the middle of the day to say he’d be home from work for lunch; he never arrived. The next day, his burned-out car was found on the side of the road. Two weeks after that, money was withdrawn from his bank account. Then, nothing. Nothing at all for 23 years, when a Medicare card with Gabriel’s name on it set an alarm bell for a police detective who had never stopped looking for him.
For that entire period, Gabriel’s earliest memory had been one of bleeding profusely from his head — the unknown injury that caused his amnesia. The money he had withdrawn before vanishing had been used to buy camping supplies; having no memory of his previous life, he wandered around Australia for a couple of decades, surviving however he could. He didn’t know his name, so he created a new one; he worked odd jobs, and eventually ended up as the caretaker of a church in Mackay.
Eventually, Gabriel remembered his given name, and applied for the Medicare card for cataract surgery. Fearful he had done something wrong, since he didn’t know exactly why he was “running,” he was relieved to find out from the police Constable that he hadn’t killed anyone, and that a lot of people had been looking for him for a long time. Gabriel was eventually able to recover most of his memory, and was reunited with his family, though a great deal of the past twenty years are still a blank.
7. Bakhretdin Khakimov
During the nine-year Soviet campaign in Afghanistan, almost 300 Soviet soldiers went missing in action. One of these soldiers, an ethnic Uzbek named Bakhredtin Khakimov, was wounded just months after the initial invasion in 1980. Taken in and nursed back to health by local Afghan tribesmen, he defected from the Army; there he stayed until he was discovered by a Russian non-profit organization in 2013, nearly 33 years later.
Though he could still remember his native Uzbek tongue, he barely understood Russian; he identified himself as Sheikh Abdullah, having converted to Islam 20 years prior. He still had a tremor in one arm, and a tic from the head wound that changed his life, and had become a practitioner of herbal medicine; he had even married during his time in Afghanistan, though his wife had since died.
6. Judith Bello
Snohomish County, Washington, created a deck of playing cards in 2008 featuring the county’s cold cases. The decks were handed out in the county jail, with the hope being that they would lead to new information on some of these hopelessly stalled cases. The first case from the deck to be solved was that of Judith Bello, a mother of two who had vanished in 1993, her car found abandoned the same day. But the new information in this case came from Judith herself, who made a phone call to stunned detectives in November of 2011.
Judith had made the snap decision to run because of a supposedly abusive husband, though no details of said abuse exist. Even though she had reportedly been close to her family, especially her siblings, she contacted them not once in eighteen years; she said she was afraid that her husband would cause problems for them.
She was living two states away in Fontana, California, under a different name and with a new family. As strange as it may seem — and though she left her young children to her “abusive” husband — Snohomish county police simply closed the case, as it’s actually totally legal to change your name, move to a different state, and stop talking to everyone you know.
5. Denise Bolser
24-year-old Manchester, New Hampshire resident Denise Bolser vanished without a trace on January 17, 1985. Her estranged husband’s abandoned truck was found a few days later at Logan International Airport, all of her identifying documents arranged on the front seat; said husband found a note reading “We’ve got your wife” in their home, but that was all. No instructions were given, and no ransom demand ever came. From these fishy circumstances, one might come to a conclusion that Denise had either been kidnapped and murdered, or that the husband had something to do with her disappearance; in actuality, neither of these things were true.
Police never believed the case to be a genuine kidnapping, and the husband was never a suspect, but they were puzzled as to why she would run, until the co-owner of the business for which she worked as a bookkeeper came under investigation for embezzlement. Denise was indicted in absentia in 1986 for allegedly ripping off around $12,000, but Denise herself would later tell authorities it was closer to $100,000.
Denise decided to run when her boss threatened her life. Authorities dropped the embezzlement case in 1993, and Denise’s ex-boss is long dead; Denise, who had started another life with a new family in Panama City, Florida, had no idea about any of this, until New Hampshire police detectives and the FBI showed up on her doorstep in 2002.
4. Michele Whitaker
32 year-old Michele Whitaker stormed out after an argument with her mother in August of 2002, and was reported missing several days later. The missing persons case didn’t turn up much for weeks — and then one of Michele’s co-workers, 21 year-old Heather Sellars, went missing as well, and things started to get strange.
Sellars’ boyfriend, Jonothan Vick, had long been a suspect in an unsolved 1995 rape and murder. Police immediately began to look at him as a suspect in his girlfriend’s disappearance and, since Vick and Michele probably knew each other, Michele’s as well. Vick wouldn’t give up any information, but was convicted in 2006 of murder in the 1995 case — it seemed all but certain that he’d been responsible for murdering the other two women.
Then the case was featured on the TV show Forensic Files, and a viewer of the show recognized a picture of Michele Whitaker as her neighbor, a woman who was decidedly not dead, last time anyone checked. Incredibly, the entire situation with Jonothan Vick, the convicted murderer whose missing girlfriend worked with Michele, was a complete coincidence. Michele had simply decided to up and leave, the bizarre timing of the other missing girl caused everyone to assume foul play, and Michele kept her mouth shut for six years.
3. Arthur Jones
In 1979, Chicago commodities trader Arthur Jones rushed out the door, telling his wife he was on his way to a “business meeting.” He wasn’t dressed for business, however, and she would later tell police that he seemed rattled. They had been married over twenty years, and she knew something was wrong, especially when he didn’t return from the meeting. When his car and belongings were found at O’Hare airport, the worst was suspected.
Now, in April of that year, a fellow commodities trader had been shot and killed in his home by masked gunmen, so you’d be forgiven for thinking Arthur was simply the victim of a cursed profession. However, Arthur hadn’t been a victim of foul play, and he didn’t intend to become one, though he well could have. See, Jones was a gambler. His wife reported a $210,000 debt that he had been forced to sell his seat on the Board of Trade to pay off, and that he had once lost $30,000 on one basketball game.
His wife suspected ties to the mob. As it turned out, she was correct, and Arthur made stops in California and Florida before relocating permanently to Las Vegas, where he was found working as a sports bookie in a casino in 2011 – after more than 30 years on the run.
Arthur was charged with identity theft, as the result of using the Social Security number of a living person to obtain his fake identity, an identity he used to register to vote and pay taxes. The person whom the number belonged to noticed activity on their account that seemed off, and reported it to the Social Security Administration. Had they not done so, Arthur Jones might very well be on the run still.
2. Melvin Uphoff and Jacquelyn Rains-Kracman
Melvin Uphoff was a 30-year-old father to four children, and Jackie Rains-Kracman was an 18-year-old mother of two, when they disappeared about a month apart, in the fall of 1965. While the local Sheriff believed they ran away together, the families of the two believed that there was a different, more sinister explanation, and that the pair would never abandon their children, their jobs, and their friends.
As it turns out, they were wrong and the Sheriff was right; they HAD run away together. Unbelievably, it would take over 40 years to get an answer to that question.
Melvin managed the co-op where Jackie’s husband worked; Melvin’s wife reported that, about a month before his disappearance, Jackie had come by the house while Melvin was away, to break the news of their affair. Melvin denied it, but then began “acting differently;” not long thereafter he, his coin collection, and his car vanished into thin air. Jackie had told her family she’d be leaving “when her ship came in,” and disappeared after going off with some friends. Still, their families clung to the belief that the two had been murdered: “For her to just up and leave her children and not ever come back, that’s not my sister. I have a hard time believing she would do that,” Jackie’s brother Jim said in 2007.
That’s when investigators received a tip from an unidentified source that the couple was alive and well, and confirmed it by speaking with them by telephone. Since the couple requested privacy, state police were unable to divulge any further information, and the stunned families were understandably confused as to how they should feel. Said Melvin’s daughter Michelle: “I just want to know what happened to him that night. I’m a mom and I can’t imagine driving away from my boys and never ever seeing them again. I can’t imagine. It blows my mind.”
1. Lula Hood
Lula Cora Hood was a single mother with some pretty serious mental health issues. When she disappeared from her Illinois home in 1970 after a family dispute, few eyebrows were raised. She had done this before, but had always come back. Not this time. For decades, her family had no answers as to what may possibly have happened to her; remains found in a brickyard in 1996 were identified as belonging to her, and her family buried those remains.
In 2009, a new and improved round of DNA testing, revealed that those remains were actually NOT a match. This caused police to reopen their investigation into Lula’s disappearance, and the results of that investigation stunned them. They became convinced that an 84-year-old woman, living in Florida with the same unusual first name, was Lula Cora Hood. When questioned, the woman was able to name members of her family, and a mystery of over 40 years was at least partially solved.
It’s unclear how Lula arrived at her current residence; her memory is very spotty, and she remembers some of her kids (though not others,) and the place she was born, but not other important places in her life. She has had a total of 14 children, and speaks with her surviving daughters from her “old life” regularly by phone. One of her daughters recalled the night her mother was told to leave and never come back, which was “exactly what she did,” until finally found, four decades later and a thousand miles away.