Thousands of people go missing every year in the U.S. alone for a variety of reasons: Unsolved murders or suicides, teenage runaways, and people who just want to “get away from it all.” Having said that, there are a few vanishings in history that are either inexplicable, or have captured the public’s attention to the extent that they continue to intrigue folks to this day. Here are among the most curious:
7. Harold Holt, 1967
It’s not every day that an active head of state — in this case the Prime Minister of Australia — simply disappears. That’s precisely what happened one Sunday morning in December of 1967 when the Prime Minister went for a swim and was never seen again. A massive search was conducted, but his body was never found. There were many rumors surrounding Holt’s death, including claims that he had committed suicide or faked his own death in order to run away with his mistress. His death became the subject of numerous urban myths in Australia, including outlandish but persistent stories that he had been kidnapped by a Chinese submarine, or that he had been abducted by a UFO. Most likely, the 59-year-old Prime Minister — not in the best of health at the time — was simply swept out to sea at a beach notorious for its strong and dangerous rip currents.
6. Raoul Wallenberg, 1945
Chance are you’ve never heard of Raoul Wallenberg. Few people outside of Sweden remember the courageous Swedish diplomat who was credited with saving the lives of at least 20,000 Hungarian Jews during the Holocaust. (10 times more than Oskar Schindler, immortalized in Schindler’s List). Arrested on espionage charges in Budapest following the arrival of the Soviet army, his subsequent fate remains a mystery despite hundreds of purported sightings in Soviet prisons, some as recent as the 1980s. In 2001, after 10 years of research, a Swedish-Russian panel concluded that Wallenberg probably died (most likely executed by the Russians) in July of 1947, but to date no substantiating evidence has been found. He rightfully remains a genuine hero for his actions in Sweden, and to thousands of Jews around the world.
5. Glenn Miller, 1944
When the popular American jazz musician and bandleader vanished enroute from England to France to play for troops in recently liberated Paris, few people knew about it at the time due because it happened the same day the Germans launched their last major offensive against the allies in what would be known as the Battle of the Bulge. The fate of the single-engine Norseman over the English Channel 10 days before Christmas has never been explained, and no trace of Miller or the plane has ever been found. There is speculation that it was shot down by a German fighter, or that it was hit by ordnance dropped from British bombers on their way back from a canceled mission. (At the time, bombers couldn’t return with unexploded ordnance on board and were required to jettison their bombs — preferably over the ocean — before they could land.) Whatever the case, Miller’s death was a huge loss to the American musical scene.
4. D.B. Copper, 1971
In what many consider one of the most bizarre events in aviation and criminal history, a man calling himself D.B. Cooper skyjacked a Boeing 727 over Washington State and, after collecting a ransom of $200,000 from authorities, jumped from the rear stairs of the plane from an altitude of 10,000 feet, never to be seen again. This is made-to-order stuff for conspiracy buffs, who came up with all sorts of scenarios — not to mention alleged suspects — about who the mysterious man was and what became of him. The mystery appeared destined to remain unsolved until a boy playing on the banks of the Columbia River in 1980 found a stack of decaying bills later confirmed to have been part of Cooper’s ransom, suggesting that the man probably didn’t survive the plunge after all. It was only a small part of the ransom (about $5,000), allowing the faithful to ask what became of the rest of it — and of the man who almost got away with the perfect crime.
3. Percy Fawcett, 1925
When British archaeologist and explorer, Percy Fawcett, together with his eldest son, Jack, and friend Raleigh Rimmell, set out for the jungles of Brazil in search for a hidden “city of gold,” who could have imagined that something could possibly go wrong? They were never heard from again and their fate remains unknown to this day. Several unconfirmed sightings and many conflicting reports and theories explaining their disappearance followed, but despite the loss of over 100 lives in more than a dozen follow-up expeditions, and the recovery of some of Fawcett’s belongings, their fate remains a mystery. Perhaps they ended up in a stew, or as shrunken heads on a witch doctor’s fireplace mantle.
2. Jimmy Hoffa, 1975
This one is personal to me. My dad was a Teamster whose pension funds were misapproriated during Jimmy Hoffa”s time as president of the union. Coincidentally, I’ve also eaten at the restaurant where Hoffa was last seen. So what’s the payoff for being one of the most obnoxious union leaders ever to testify before a Senate subcommittee? A cement overcoat, which is probably what Teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa got when his organized crime pals decided he was more trouble than he was worth. In any case, when he went missing on July 30, 1975, from the parking lot of the Machus Red Fox Restaurant near Detroit, it wasn’t much of a shock to anyone. Of course, what do you expect when you’re meeting with a pair of Mafiosos with Soprano-sounding names like “Tony Jack” Giacolone and “Tony Pro” Provenzano. The only real mysterious is where, or how they disposed of the body. One of the more popular suggestions was the fifty-yard line at Giant’s Stadium in New Jersey.
1. Amelia Earhart, 1937
This is without a doubt the most famous disappearance in history. The fate of to the 39-year-old flyer and her navigator, Fred Noonan, remains a topic of speculation to this day. On one of the last legs of a circumnavigation of the globe, the pair left New Guinea en route to the tiny Howland Island, never to be seen or heard from again. The most likely explanation is they simply got lost and ran out of fuel, forcing them to ditch in the sea — most likely a fatal prospect in the heavy, two-engine Lockheed Electra they were flying. Conspiracy theorists have had a field day ever since, some claiming that she was captured by the Japanese when she flew too near the Marshal Islands on a secret spying mission for FDR. while others think she set down on some other deserted island and played Gilligan’s Island with Fred for awhile. As late as 1970, there were those who claimed she was still alive, having somehow survived to make her way to America to live under an assumed name. Damn, I love conspiracy theory nuts.