Have you ever thought about disappearing? And not in the sense that you get a new passport and start a life somewhere else. More in the sense that you just vanish, as though an ancestor of yours got wiped out in the timeline.
Have you thought about how it would be different? How your mark on the world left it forever altered, hopefully better.
The families and friends of the people on this list know that better than anyone. Their loved ones disappeared under unusual, and sometimes nefarious, circumstances.
1. The Lost Colony of Roanoke
The Roanoke Colony – later known as the Lost Colony of Roanoke – was the first attempted permanent English settlement on North American soil.
It was founded in 1585 and was located on Roanoke Island in what would become North Carolina. A lack of proper supplies and bad relations with local Native American tribes caused a majority of the settlers to leave the colony with Sir Francis Drake just a year after its establishment, leaving behind a small detachment that consisted mostly of men.
A second expedition, led by John White, returned to the colony in July of 1587, only to discover that the detachment of men had disappeared. He returned to England in late 1587 to request assistance from the English government but could not return to Roanoke until August 1590 due to the Anglo-Spanish War.
When he returned the second time, the entire colony was gone, with only a single clue left behind: the word “CROATOAN” that had been carved into a tree.
Many believed that the colonists were simply massacred by local tribes, but no bodies were found, and no other archaeological evidence supported this line of thinking. The current hypothesis is that environmental conditions became unfavorable, forcing the colonists to shelter with nearby tribes. This is mostly based on oral histories, and to this day, its uncertain where the fate of the Lost Colony of Roanoke actually was.
2. The Mary Celeste
The Mary Celeste is a strange case in terms of mass disappearances, simply because it was only the people that disappeared, leaving the vessel intact. The ship was an American merchant brigantine that had left New York City for Genoa on November 7, 1872 with a shipment of denatured alcohol.
On December 5, the crew of a Canadian brigantine called Dei Gratia discovered the ship adrift in the Atlantic Ocean, just off the Azores Islands. Reports indicate that she was a little battered, but seaworthy, drifting under partial sail. A search of the vessel found that it was deserted, but the lifeboat was missing. The last entry in the ship’s log was dated 10 days earlier, and the captain and crew’s personal belongings were not disturbed. None of those aboard the ship were ever found.
There are multiple theories about what happened to these people – the most recent is that the ship’s pump had become congested with coal dust and malfunctioned, leaving the men worried that she would take on water and causing them to abandon her. The others include multiple accusations of foul play against multiple parties, or that the transfer of the crew into the lifeboat was a temporary safety measure, but they were carried away from the ship by rough waves and lost.
3. Bobby Dunbar
Though this disappearance was technically solved, it carried unanswered questions with it for over a century. In August 1912, four-year-old Bobby Dunbar disappeared while on a trip with his family to Swayze Lake, Louisiana.
Eight months later, authorities arrested a man named William Cantwell Walters, who had been travelling with a little boy that matched Bobby’s description. Despite Walters assertion that the boy was actually Bruce Charles Anderson, a fact that was backed up by Julia Anderson, his mother, Bobby Dunbar’s mother Lessie identified the boy as her son, and William Cantwell Walters was convicted of kidnapping.
Years later, long after the man raised as Bobby Dunbar had died, his granddaughter began looking into the case, seeking to prove that he really was who they thought he was.
However, her investigation led her to a contrary conclusion, and, with help from an Associated Press reporter, she convinced Bob Dunbar Jr. to consent to a DNA test in 2004. The test conclusively proved that the man who had been raised as Bobby Dunbar was not related to the Dunbar family at all, and it’s likely that he was really Charles Bruce Anderson, leaving the Dunbar family to piece together what was left of their identity.
Read a more detailed account of the case here.
4. Amelia Earhart
Though she needs no introduction, Amelia Earhart was one of the most brilliant aviators in her time.
In 1932, she became the first female pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, and went on to endorse commercial flight, write bestselling books about her experiences, and help form The Ninety-Nines, an organization for female pilots. She was brave, passionate, and a skilled pilot.
In 1937, just five years after her brilliant transatlantic flight, Earhart decided to attempt a flight that would circumnavigate the globe. She and her navigator, Fred Noonan, took off from Miami, Florida on June 1, 1937.
For the first month, their flight was successful, and their route took them through numerous stops in South America, Africa, and India. They arrived at their last known stop, Lae, which is located in the Morobe Province of Papua New Guinea, on June 29, 1937. The last 7000 miles of their circumnavigational flight had taken place over the Pacific Ocean.
Earhart and Noonan took off from Lae Airfield at midnight on July 2, 1937. At around 3pm Lae time, Earhart reported her altitude as 10,000 feet, but said they would be reducing altitude due to a thick cloud cover.
Their last known position report was near the Nukumanu Islands, about 800 miles into their flight from Lae. After that point, Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan disappeared, seemingly into thin air. No bodies or wreckage of the plane was found in the initial searches, which began approximately one hour after Earhart’s last recorded message.
There are multiple theories about Earhart and Noonan’s disappearance. The most common is that the pair had gotten lost while searching for their next destination, Howland Island, ran out of fuel, and crashed into the ocean. Some believe that the plane did crash, but Earhart and Noonan survived and were either never rescued or killed before they could be.
Other theories include their capture by Japanese forces, either because they were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time or because Earhart was spying on the Japanese at the behest of Franklin D. Roosevelt, or that they both took new identities and lived out their lives in New Jersey.
Despite all of these theories, there is still no concrete evidence as to what happened to Amelia Earhart or Fred Noonan on that fateful flight.
5. The Sodder Children
In December 1945, the Sodder family of Fayetteville, West Virginia, experienced their worst nightmare.
On Christmas Eve, a fire tore through their home – only parents George and Jennie, plus four of their ten children, escaped the fire. The other five who were in the house that night – Maurice – age 14, Martha – age 12, Louis – age 9, Jennie – age 8, and Betty— age 5 were presumed to have died in the blaze.
But the case wasn’t exactly open and shut. Even after a coroner’s inquest found that the fire was an accident and death certificates were issued for the children, George and Jennie Sodder began to believe that the fire had been arson, and their missing children had been kidnapped and were alive somewhere.
They spent the rest of their lives following tips and leads, searching for answers.
Unfortunately, despite the wealth of odd circumstantial evidence surrounding the case, there is no definitive proof of either arson or kidnapping, and none of the missing Sodder children have ever been located, if they survived the fire to begin with.
Read a more detailed account here.
6. D.B. Cooper
This infamous hijacker isn’t technically a missing person – he’s a fugitive.
On November 24, 1971, a man bought a ticket for Northwest Orient Flight 305 from Portland, Oregon to Seattle, Washington.
He used the alias “Dan Cooper” – later, a mistake in the media led to another alias, “D.B. Cooper”. He boarded the Boeing 727-100 and took a seat somewhere in the rear of the passenger cabin. \
According to other passengers on the flight, he was somewhere in his mid-forties who was between 5’10 and 6 feet tall. He was wearing a light black raincoat, a dark suit, loafers, and a black clip-on tie with a mother of pearl tie pin. At the time, he looked like just another businessman, smoking a cigarette and drinking a bourbon and soda.
Flight 305 departed on schedule at 2:50pm, Pacific Standard Time. Shortly after takeoff, the man handed a note to Florence Schaffner, a flight attendant who had been sitting in the jump seat attached to the aft stair door. She assumed that it was just a phone number and dropped it, unopened, into her purse. He leaned toward her and whispered, “Miss, you’d better look at that note. I have a bomb.”
The exact wording of the note is unknown, because Cooper later took it with him, but Schaffner recalled that it said Cooper had a bomb in his briefcase.
After she read it, Cooper told her to sit beside him. When she asked to see the bomb, he opened the briefcase long enough to catch a glimpse of eight red cylinders attached to wires and a long cylindrical battery. He told her his demands: $200,000 in “negotiable American currency”, four parachutes – two primary and two reserve— and that there would be a fuel truck waiting for them in Seattle, presumably to refuel the aircraft.
Schaffner conveyed his instructions to the pilots in the cockpit, who contacted Seattle-Tacoma Airport air traffic control, which in turn informed the local and federal authorities. The 36 other passengers on the flight were told that arrival in Seattle would be delayed because of a “minor mechanical difficulty”.
The president of Northwest Orient, Donald Nyrop, authorized the payment and ordered all of the airline’s employees to cooperate fully with the rest of Cooper’s demands. The aircraft stayed airborne, circling Puget Sound, for two hours while Seattle Police and the FBI arranged the parachutes and ransom money while mobilizing emergency personnel.
At 5:24pm, Cooper was informed that his demands had been met, and the aircraft landed at Seattle-Tacoma Airport at 5:39pm. The money and parachutes were delivered by Northwest Orient’s Seattle operations manager, Al Lee, after which Cooper ordered all of the passengers, Schaffner, and the senior flight attendant, Alice Hancock, to leave the plane.
Cooper told the remaining flight crew that he wanted them to follow a southeast course towards Mexico City.
While the plane was in the air, at approximately 8pm, a warning light came on in the cockpit to indicate that the aft airstair apparatus was active, and a change in pressure indicated that the aft door had been opened.
When the jet landed at Reno Airport at 10:15, it was determined that the man known as D.B. Cooper was no longer aboard. It is assumed that he jumped, using the parachutes, and absconded with his riches. Until recently, there has been no positive leads on his identity, though investigators announced a promising lead last year.
7. Jimmy Hoffa
James Riddle “Jimmy” Hoffa was president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) from 1957 until 1971. He secured the National Master Freight Agreement in 1964, which agreed on the national rates for teamsters. He was also involved in organized crime, with accusations of jury tampering, attempted bribery, and fraud in two trials that occurred in 1964.
On July 30, 1975, he disappeared from the parking lot of a Red Fox restaurant in Bloomfield Township – a suburb of Detroit, Illinois. He’d told friends that he was going there to meet with Anthony Giacalone and Anthony Provenzano, two leaders of the Mafia.
Provenzano had also been national vice-president of the IBT during Hoffa’s second term as president. Now an enemy, Provenzano allegedly threatened to kidnap and harm Hoffa’s granddaughter, amongst other things.
Hoffa left his home at 1:15pm and stopped to talk to a friend who was known to be a buffer for Hoffa when he dealt with people face-to-face. Later, he made several phone calls from a payphone behind the Red Fox, complaining that he was being stood up. His last call took place at 3:27pm. After that, no one heard from Jimmy Hoffa again.
Most theories state that he was probably taken out by the Mafia, but his body has never been found, and the exact details of what happened that day remain unknown.
8. Amy Lynn Bradley
Amy Lynn Bradley was on a cruise with her family when she disappeared. On March 24, 1998, she’d been drinking in the ship’s club with the band, Blue Orchid before going back to her cabin to sleep.
Her father saw her sleeping on the balcony due to the sweltering warmth inside the cabin between 5:15 and 5:30am. When he got up again at 6am, she was gone.
A botched investigation and extensive searches ensued, but no trace of Amy Lynn Bradley has ever been found. The dominant theory is that she was sold into sexual slavery after being smuggled off of the ship, and some believe that her disappearance is connected to that of Natalee Holloway, which occurred just 7 years later.
Read a more detailed account of her disappearance here.
9. Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
There’s an equivalent to the loss of a merchant ship like the Mary Celeste in this day and age – the loss of an aircraft.
Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 was on its way from Kuala Lumpur International Airport to Beijing Capital International Airport. Around 38 minutes after takeoff, the flight stopped communicating with air traffic control and was lost from their radar screens.
The flight continued to be tracked by military radar for another hour, during which it deviated west of its planned flight path and crossed the Malay Peninsula. It left the range of military radar when it was 200 nautical miles northwest of Penang Island, Malaysia.
There has been very little debris found, and it is presumed that the plane crashed somewhere in the southern Indian Ocean.
Everyone aboard – 227 passengers and 12 crew members – are presumed dead, making this the deadliest incident ever to involve a Boeing 777 aircraft and the deadliest in Malaysia Airlines history until it was surpassed by the fatalities caused during the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which was shot down while flying over Ukraine only four months later.
Is There Any Hope for these Unsolved Disappearances?
These are just a few of the world’s strangest unsolved disappearances. Though progress has been made on some of them, answers are far from forthcoming. Hopefully someday, we will know what happened to these people. But for now, their disappearances remain mysteries, stuck in our minds.