These People Mysteriously Vanished Without a Trace

By Jake Schroeder
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Photo Courtesy: National Portrait Gallery/Smithsonian Institution

People who vanish come from all walks of life. While some are wealthy and famous, others lead ordinary lives. What's extraordinary is how each of the following people seemingly disappeared without a trace.

Family and friends left behind can only speculate as to their fate. Did they decide to leave on their own? Did they have accidents, or were they murdered? Read on to learn about some of the most intriguing missing persons cases.

Sean Flynn

Sean Flynn was the son of film legend Errol Flynn. Like his dad, Flynn appeared in a few swashbuckler films, but he wasn’t interested in acting. Rather than follow in his father’s footsteps, however, Flynn purchased a camera and set off to Southeast Asia to work as a war correspondent.

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Photo Courtesy: Bettmann/Getty Images

On April 6, 1970, 28-year-old Flynn and journalist Dana Stone disappeared while traveling by motorcycle from Cambodia to Vietnam to attend a press conference. It’s believed the two reporters were taken by communist rebels. After his mother devoted 14 years to searching for her son, Flynn was declared dead in absentia in 1984.

Dorothy Arnold

On December 12, 1910, American socialite Dorothy Arnold vanished in Manhattan. Coming from one of New York's prominent families, the 25-year-old Arnold set off to go dress shopping and was last seen by a shopkeeper and friend. The friend said Arnold planned to stroll through Central Park before heading home.

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Photo Courtesy: Library of Congress/Wikipedia

For unknown reasons, Arnold's mother was hesitant to notify authorities, preferring instead to work with private detectives. The family finally filed a missing persons report in January 1911. Theories regarding Arnold’s disappearance included being kidnapped for ransom. Police continued to receive tips about her case 25 years after her death.

Michael Rockefeller

Hailing from the famed Rockefeller family, Michael Rockefeller was the son of former Vice President Nelson Rockefeller. Rather than becoming a socialite, the 23-year-old Rockefeller set off to photograph and collect the art of New Guinea’s Asmat tribe.

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Photo Courtesy: Robert W. Kelley/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images

On November 19, 1961, Rockefeller and anthropologist Rene Wassing were traveling in a dugout canoe that overturned. Their two guides swam off to seek help but didn’t immediately return. "I think I can make it," Rockefeller told Wassing before attempting to swim several miles to shore. While it was rumored Rockefeller was eaten by Asmat cannibals, the more likely explanation was that he drowned.

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D.B. Cooper

On November 24, 1971, a man walked into Oregon’s Portland International Airport, identified himself as "Dan Cooper" and purchased a ticket to Seattle on Northwest Orient Airlines. After takeoff, he handed a note to a flight attendant and said, "Miss, you’d better look at that note. I have a bomb."

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Photo Courtesy: Federal Bureau of Investigation

Cooper demanded $200,000 and four civilian parachutes upon arrival in Seattle. Once his demands were met, the plane headed off to Mexico City. The crew remained in the cockpit when Cooper jumped out of the plane. Several pieces of physical evidence were recovered over the years, but Cooper was never found.

John Lake

No one knows what became of John Lake. The 37-year-old, cigar-chomping Newsweek sports editor was last seen in Manhattan on December 10, 1967. He’d had dinner with a female acquaintance, escorted her back to her apartment and was last seen heading to the subway. Ex-wife Alice filed a missing persons report four days after his disappearance.

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Photo Courtesy: Eric Lake/Wikipedia

Colleagues suspected the 6-foot, 180-pound Lake disappeared intentionally, citing unhappiness with his work, problems resulting from his divorce settlement and alcohol. While friends believe Lake wanted to take off and make a fresh start, he was declared dead seven years after his disappearance.

Lawrence Oates

Thirty-two-year-old British army officer and Antarctic explorer Lawrence Oates went missing during the ill-fated Terra Nova expedition to reach the geographic South Pole. In 1910, Oates enthusiastically joined the expedition. Unfortunately, the group encountered severe weather conditions returning from the South Pole, and Oates developed debilitating frostbite.

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Photo Courtesy: Herbert Ponting/Wikipedia

Around March 15, 1912, Oates told the other men to continue without him. When they refused, Oates told his colleagues, "I am just going outside and may be some time." The others knew he was walking to his death and described his sacrifice as "the act of a brave man and an English gentleman."

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Natalee Holloway

Alabama teen Natalee Holloway should have been having fun on her 2005 high school trip to Aruba, but instead, the 18 year old went missing. Holloway was last seen at a popular restaurant in the capital of Oranjestad. Police learned three local boys, Joran van der Sloot and his friends Deepak and Satish Kalpoe, said they'd dropped Holloway off at her hotel.

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Photo Courtesy: Fair use/Wikipedia

Intense searches of the island were conducted. Van der Sloot and the Kalpoe brothers were interrogated but denied any involvement in Holloway's disappearance. Later, Van der Sloot was convicted of the 2010 murder of Stephany Flores Ramirez in Lima, Peru.

Jim Thompson

Jim Thompson is a beloved figure in Thailand. The savvy American businessman is credited with bringing Thailand’s silk industry back from the brink of extinction after founding the Thai Silk Company in 1948. The company’s vivid fabrics were used in the hit film The King and I, creating international demand for Thai silk clothing and accessories.

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Photo Courtesy: Nik Wheeler/Corbis via Getty Images

Thompson, 61, was visiting Malaysia when he went for a walk on March 26, 1967, and vanished without a trace. An extensive search failed to turn up clues. There's speculation he may have been eaten by a tiger or that he was murdered.

Vitaly Yurchenko

Where is Vitaly Yurchenko? The Russian spy left his high-level government position and defected to the United States, giving up the names of two Americans who were working as KGB agents. In November 1985, Yurchenko was dining with his CIA guard when he strangely remarked, "I’m going for a walk. If I don’t come back, it’s not your fault."

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Photo Courtesy: Brhiba/Wikipedia

Yurchenko left the restaurant and vanished. The Soviet Union claimed Yurchenko returned after being abducted by the United States. While a definitive story has never been revealed, a plaque commemorating Yurchenko’s disappearance was placed in the booth where Yurchenko had dined.

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Amelia Earhart

The disappearance of famed American aviatrix Amelia Earhart has baffled investigators and armchair detectives for decades. Earhart set several aviation records and was the first woman to fly across the Atlantic. In 1937, the 39-year-old Earhart decided to set another record by becoming the first woman to circumnavigate the globe.

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Photo Courtesy: National Portrait Gallery/Smithsonian Institution

Accompanied by navigator Fred Noonan, Earhart set off in a Lockheed Model 10E Electra and disappeared over the Pacific Ocean near Howland Island. It was reported in October 2019 that bones found on the Pacific island of Nikumaroro would be DNA tested to determine if they are Earhart's remains.

Percy Fawcett

Mesmerized by South America, Percy Fawcett often traveled through the jungles of Brazil and Bolivia and went on a mapping expedition for the Royal Geographic Society. Between 1906 and 1924, Fawcett recorded detailed information about the region’s diverse flora and fauna.

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Photo Courtesy: Public Domain/Wikipedia

Fawcett, his oldest son Jack and Jack’s friend Raleigh Rimmell vanished in 1925 while searching for an ancient lost city in Brazil’s jungle, which Fawcett called "Z." Theories include the trio being killed by a jungle tribe or succumbing to illness. Fawcett told his family not to conduct a search if they went missing, lest the search party members encounter the same fate.

Ettore Majorana

Ettore Majorana was a gifted physicist and a professor of theoretical physics at the University of Naples. Majorana disappeared on March 25, 1938, while on a boat trip to Palermo, Italy. It’s not certain why the 38 year old was traveling, but he’d withdrawn all the money from his bank account before his trip.

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Photo Courtesy: Public Domain/Wikipedia

The day he disappeared, Majorana sent a letter to the director of the Naples Physics Institute that read: "I made a decision that has become unavoidable. There isn’t a bit of selfishness in it, but I realize what trouble my sudden disappearance will cause you and the students."

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Jean Spangler

Jean Spangler’s star seemed to be rising when she suddenly disappeared in Los Angeles, California. The accomplished singer and dancer had minor roles in several films. At the time of her 1949 disappearance, Spangler had been involved in a custody dispute with her ex-husband.

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Photo Courtesy: Bettman/Getty Images

Spangler’s purse was found in Griffith Park two days after she went missing. It contained a note that read, "Kirk: Can’t wait any longer, Going to see Dr. Scott. It will work best this way while mother is away." The note may have referred to actor Kirk Douglas. Douglas denied having any relationship with the young woman.

James Hoffa

Former International Brotherhood of Teamsters union president James "Jimmy" Hoffa went missing on July 30, 1975, while waiting to meet three mobsters outside a Bloomfield Township, Michigan, restaurant. The 62-year-old Hoffa maintained strong Mafia ties that resulted in a prison sentence for jury tampering.

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Photo Courtesy: Garam/Wikipedia

Hoffa was looking at ways to regain his union power with the mob’s help. The day he disappeared, Hoffa called his wife to say he'd been stood up. Most authorities suspect Hoffa was murdered. The only trace of Hoffa was found in 2001 when the FBI discovered DNA evidence matching Hoffa in his foster son’s car.

Archduke Johann Salvator

Johann Salvator was the youngest son of Leopold II. As a young man, Salvator served in the Austrian army and made an unsuccessful attempt to reign over Bulgaria. In 1889 he renounced royal life, took the name Johann Orth and married Vienna Court Opera dancer Ludmilla Stubel.

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Photo Courtesy: Public Domain/Wikipedia

Orth purchased a steamer so he and his new bride could travel to South America. Although the steamer supposedly went down during a storm near Cape Horn, rumors swirled that the couple had staged their disappearance so they could start a new life. The former archduke went missing at the age of 37.

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Glenn Miller

As one of the best-selling musical artists of the 1940s, trombonist, composer and bandleader Glenn Miller was a beloved American performer. But at the height of his fame, Miller put his career on hold and enlisted in the army. During World War II, Miller boosted morale by heading up the Army Air Force Band.

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Photo Courtesy: Public Domain/Wikipedia

On December 15, 1944, the 40-year-old Miller took a flight from a British military base to Paris so he could make preparations for an upcoming performance. Just before takeoff, Miller’s last known words were, "Where the hell are the parachutes?"

Helen Brach

Heiress Helen Brach had a sweet life after she married into the E.J. Brach & Sons candy fortune. But in 1977, Brach went missing after she’d gone for a check-up at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Brach was last seen by a gift shop assistant.

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Photo Courtesy: Bettmann/Getty Images

"I’m in a hurry. My houseman is waiting," were Brach’s last known words before she vanished. Investigators believe her houseman/chauffer Jack Mattlick may have been responsible for Brach’s disappearance. Conman Richard Bailey was also a suspect and was sentenced to 30 years in prison for defrauding the socialite. Brach was declared dead in 1984.

John Favara

John Favara was the neighbor of mob boss John Gotti. Favara’s home was a block behind Gotti’s in Howard Beach, New York. On March 18, 1980, John Gotti’s youngest son Frank was hit by Favara when the 12 year old rode out from behind a dumpster while riding a motorized minibike.

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Photo Courtesy: New York Daily News Archive

Although an investigation determined Favara was not at fault for the tragic accident, Favara was repeatedly harassed. On July 28, 1980, Favara was reportedly shoved into a van by several men before disappearing. Authorities believe hitman Charles Carneglia murdered Favara and destroyed his body using acid. Favara was declared dead in 1983.

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The Princes in the Tower

Edward V and Richard of Shrewsbury were the sons of King Edward IV of England. The two brothers were 12 and 9 years old when their uncle, Lord Protector Richard, Duke of Gloucester, had the two boys housed in the Tower of London. The boys were supposedly moved in preparation for Edward V’s upcoming coronation in the late 1400s.

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Photo Courtesy: Paul Delaroche/Wikipedia

But the two boys were declared illegitimate, and their uncle ascended to the throne. Nobody knows what happened to them. It’s believed Richard had the boys murdered to assure his succession. Four unidentified bodies have been located; however, it's uncertain if any of the four are the princes’ remains.

Thomas Hale Boggs

Thomas Hale Boggs was a Louisiana congressman who had a 25-year career as a member of the House of Representatives. Boggs was the husband of future Congresswoman Lindy Boggs and father of journalist Cokie Roberts and Congresswoman Barbara Boggs.

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Photo Courtesy: Pocket Congressional Directory, 1969/Wikipedia

On October 16, 1972, Boggs was helping fellow Congressman Nick Begich campaign for re-election when their flight from Anchorage to Juneau, Alaska, disappeared. One rumor was that Boggs’ disappearance was tied to his skepticism over the Warren Commission’s "single bullet" conclusion that resulted from the Kennedy assassination investigation. Boggs’ wife Lindy successfully ran and filled the seat vacated by her missing husband.

Scott Smith

Musician Donald "Scott" Smith gained fame as the bassist for classic rock band Loverboy. The Canadian group was well-known for its hit songs "Working for the Weekend," and "This Could Be the Night." Loverboy had four multi-platinum albums and sold over 23 million records.

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Photo Courtesy: Larry Hust/Getty Images

On the night of November 30, 2000, Smith was sailing near San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge with fiancée Yvonne Mayotte and friend Bill Ellis when his 36-foot boat was hit by a large wave. Smith fell overboard. After an extensive search of the area by the Coast Guard, the 45-year-old Smith was declared dead.

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Harold Holt

Harold Holt was the 17th Prime Minister of Australia and went missing while in office. Holt was elected in 1966 and was known for changing the country’s currency from the pound to the Australian dollar. Under his leadership, the country also began counting indigenous people as members of Australia’s general population.

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Photo Courtesy: Frank Wolfe, White House Photo Office/Wikipedia

Two years after assuming office, the 59-year-old Holt disappeared while swimming at Cheviot Beach in rough waters. Holt’s last known words to his wife Zara were, "Before God, you’re a rose of a woman." In 1969 a plaque was bolted to the seafloor of Cheviot Beach, acknowledging his tragic disappearance.

Ambrose Bierce

Ambrose Bierce was one of America’s most respected writers. Bierce gained fame as a journalist, literary critic and writer of "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge." His stories typically focused on dark situations he’d encountered as a Union soldier during the Civil War.

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Photo Courtesy: Clifton Waller Barrett Library of American Literature/Wikipedia

In 1913, the 71-year-old Bierce traveled with Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa’s army as an observer and then disappeared. "As to me, I leave here tomorrow for an unknown destination," he wrote to a friend before vanishing. It’s believed Bierce was last spotted in Chihuahua, Mexico, in 1914. One account claims he was executed in Sierra Mojada, Coahuila, Mexico.

John Brisker

Pro basketball star John Brisker was a talented player with a temper. For six seasons, he played with the Pittsburgh Pipers (later the Pittsburgh Condors) and Seattle Supersonics. Brisker had been ejected from games so frequently he was nicknamed the "heavyweight champion of the ABA."

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Photo Courtesy: Author Unknown/Wikipedia

His temper may have gotten him in trouble. In 1978, the 30-year-old Brisker vanished after traveling to Uganda. There was speculation that he'd been working as a mercenary and visiting as the guest of former Ugandan dictator Idi Amin. The last communication with Brisker occurred in April of that year. Brisker was declared dead in 1985.

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Connie Converse

Family and friends mourned the disappearance of Elizabeth Eaton "Connie" Converse. A popular 1950s singer and songwriter, Converse is considered one of the main originators of the singer-songwriter genre.

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Photo Courtesy: nameus.gov

After struggling to find an audience for her music in New York City, Converse moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 1961 and took a job as the editor of the Journal of Conflict Resolution. In 1974, Converse wrote to family and friends about making a fresh start. "Let me go. Let me be if I can. Let me be if I can’t." Converse then packed up her Volkswagen Beetle and disappeared.

Wallace Fard Muhammad

Nation of Islam founder Wallace Fard Muhammad had humble beginnings. Visiting the homes of African-Americans who’d moved from the South to Detroit, the door-to-door salesman would develop a rapport with listeners, who later became members of the charismatic Muhammad's group.

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Photo Courtesy: Source Unknown/Wikipedia

Little is known about Muhammad’s background, and his true identity still remains a mystery. While monitoring Muhammad for possible ties to a Japanese spy, the FBI discovered he had several aliases and may have originally come from New Zealand. Muhammad disappeared in 1934 at the approximate age of 56. His true identity and whereabouts remain a mystery to this day.

Richey Edwards

Richey Edwards gained fame as the lyricist and guitarist of alternative rock group Manic Street Preachers. But on February 1, 1995, the Welsh rocker disappeared in Cardiff before he was due to go on a promotional tour.

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Photo Courtesy: Martyn Goodacre/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Two weeks before his disappearance, Edwards was withdrawing £200 daily from his bank account. On the night before going missing, Edwards gave a friend the book "Novel with Cocaine." It described how the author had stayed in a mental institution before vanishing. Some of those close to Edwards believe he staged his disappearance. In November 2008, Edwards was officially presumed dead.

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Raoul Wallenberg

Swedish diplomat and businessman Raoul Wallenberg gained a place in history for his role in saving thousands of Hungarian Jews from the Nazis. Wallenberg and fellow Swedish diplomat Per Anger issued "protective passports" designed to shield the Jews from deportation to the Third Reich’s concentration camps.

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Photo Courtesy: USHMM Photo Archives/Wikipedia

Soon after Soviet troops liberated Budapest in 1945, the 34-year-old Wallenberg was seen with Soviet officials, who suspected he was a spy. A 1956 Soviet report theorized that Wallenberg had been interrogated then placed in a Soviet prison where he likely died. After 71 years of searching, the Swedish government declared Wallenberg dead in 2016.

Heinrich Muller

Heinrich Muller was the highest-ranking Nazi never to be captured by the Allies. As head of the feared Schutzstaffel, Muller helped coordinate Nazi Germany’s Holocaust, deporting tens of thousands of Jews to concentration camps. During the final days of World War II, Muller found himself hiding with Adolf Hitler in the Fuhrerbunker as Soviet troops moved in.

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Photo Courtesy: DPA Image Archives/Wikipedia

Muller disappeared in May of 1945. "We know the Russian methods exactly. I haven’t the faintest intention of being taken by the Russians," he said before vanishing. CIA files on Muller revealed that the agents were never able to track him down.

Barbara Newhall Follett

Barbara Newhall Follett was a Jazz Age literary prodigy who published her first novel, "The House Without Windows," in 1927. As a young woman, Follett went on to publish three novels that received critical acclaim from authors and literary critics.

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Photo Courtesy: Fair use/Wikipedia

In 1939 at the age of 25, Follett allegedly walked out of her Brookline, Massachusetts, home with $30 and was never seen or heard from again. Husband Nickerson Rogers waited two weeks before notifying the police of his wife’s disappearance. In 1952, Follett’s mother went to the police, telling them she suspected Nickerson of foul play.

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