In history, several strange and mystifying disappearances have taken place – with many featuring bizarre circumstances, a plethora of theories and differing accounts of what ultimately happened. Mysterious disappearances capture the imagination of the public – everyone is entitled to their opinion of what happened. The very nature of these disappearances ensure that it is rare for a consensus to be reached regarding what truly happened – therefore making these events all the more thought-provoking. In this article, we take a look at the 20 most mysterious disappearances of all time. Each listing has its own story – you can find out even more about each individual case.
The Bermuda Triangle, sometimes referred to as the ‘Devil’s Triangle’, is a notorious area which is known for being at the forefront of several mysterious disappearances. Yet the incident that started this phenomenon was the disappearance of Flight 19 in 1945. Five torpedo bombers, carrying 14 people, set off from Florida on a training mission for the US Navy. The group eventually became disoriented, supposedly due to faulty compasses. The group believed they were close to Florida, but didn’t make it back. No trace of them, nor their torpedo bombers, were ever found. While a loss of fuel seems most likely, more sinister explanations have since been theorized.
Percy Fawcett was a highly-experienced explorer who disappeared in mysterious circumstances in 1925. Fawcett was undertaking a risky expedition where he and two others were searching for ‘Z’ – an alleged ancient lost city in the Amazon rainforest in Brazil. Little is known of what happened during their expedition, with the final communication from Fawcett coming five weeks into the expedition. Their fate is unknown – with native tribes, a lack of food and disorientation all possible theories. It has also been suggested that the Indiana Jones character was based upon Fawcett.
Jim Thompson was lauded as a man who almost ‘single-handedly’ saved Thailand’s silk industry from extinction. Prior to this, Thompson enjoyed a distinguished military career. The American businessman went to Malaysia in 1967, when he went for a walk. Yet on this walk he vanished – never to be seen from again. An enormous manhunt ensued, though no trace of Thompson ever emerged. There have been a range of theories attributed to the disappearance – including murder, a tiger mauling, or more military work. Though nothing conclusive has ever been found.
The disappearance of the 150-strong Roanoke Colony is steeped in history. Back in 1587, a group of 115 English settlers arrived on Roanoke Island – modern day North Carolina – looking to establish a colony. Their leader returned to the United Kingdom via ship after resources became scarce. The leader was due to return immediately, though got caught up in the naval war against the Spanish Armada. By 1590, the leader finally returned to the island, only to see no sign of the colony – despite search efforts. The only clue was the carving of the word ‘Croatoan’ where the colony had settled. Croatoan was the name of a nearby tribe – which links them to the Colony’s disappearance. Several theories exist to explain the disappearance, including the Croatoan tribe murdering the colony, or the colony voluntarily joining the Croatoan tribe – along of course with other, more far-flung theories.
Harold Holt was the former Prime Minister of Australia – a position he held when he inexplicably disappeared in 1967. Holt was a big fan of the ocean, and in December 1967, he and some friends opted to take a swim at Cheviot Beach. However, in poor conditions Holt struggled, and eventually got caught in a rip current. The waves eventually got hold of Holt, who went out of sight. An enormous search was launched, though Holt was never located. Accidental drowning was the official cause of death, though suicide, an underground submarine and even an assassination were among the other theories suggested to explain his disappearance..
Frederick Valentich was just 20 years old when he disappeared mysteriously in Australia in 1978. Valentich had been on a 125-mile training flight, when he radioed in to Melbourne Air Traffic Control to tell them he was being accompanied by an unidentified object. Valentich reported seeing lights emanating from the object, though Air controllers didn’t see anything on their radars. Valentich’s final communication included a strange metallic noise, and the assertion the object was getting closer. Valentich subsequently vanished, with him and his aircraft never to be seen again. While many suggest Valentich must have crashed and perished, the lack of evidence could suggest otherwise. It has been suggested that this case is a clear example of extra-terrestrial involvement. In any case, this disappearance has led to fervent debate.
Ben Needham was a British youngster who disappeared in Kos, Greece in 1991. Ben was just 21 months old at the time, where he was staying with his grandparents at their farmhouse. However, one day Ben was discovered to be missing, having earlier been playing near to his grandparents – the Police were notified. The Police wasted time however, failing to notify docks and airports and instead focusing on the Needham’s. Eventually a manhunt was launched, though nothing was found of Ben. Despite many supposed sightings over the years, no trace of Ben has ever been found. Child trafficking, an accidental murder during construction work and even a fall have been suggested as reasons behind the disappearance. It is believed one man took the secrets of what truly happened to the grave.
Richey Edwards was a member of the famous rock band Manic Street Preachers. Lauded for his incredible song-writing abilities, his attitude towards mental health and his contributions to making the Preachers a highly successful band, Edwards vanished in February 1995. Edwards was due to show up for a flight to the US, though never did. It transpired he had withdrawn £3,000 in cash in the build up to his disappearance. A taxi driver stated he drove Edwards around the area where he grew up, before dropping him off at Severn Bridge Service Station. Evidence suggests Edwards lived in his car at the service station for a few days, before vanishing. Many believe he committed suicide at Severn Bridge, though there is some interesting evidence to suggest otherwise. There have been a range of supposed sightings of Edwards in recent years – with his fans adamant he is still alive.
Amelia Earhart was a pioneer of the aviation industry – being the first female to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. After a distinguished career, Earhart was a celebrity in the United States. In 1937, Earhart attempted to complete a circumnavigation around the globe – seen as the ultimate test of skill. Earhart completed the first half of the journey with no problems. What precisely happened in the final 7,000 miles is unknown. A US Navy ship was near the finishing point in an effort to help Earhart make it back. But Earhart and the Navy ship struggled to communicate to one another, with differing views on where Earhart was located. Eventually, Earhart stopped transmitting, and was never heard from again, nor found. While most believe she crashed after running out of fuel, there have been suggestions she successfully crash landed on an island in the Pacific. Other theories too exist, though nothing conclusive has ever been found.
The disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa has baffled and intrigued the world in equal measure for years. Hoffa was a well-known figure in the US, having been the President of the powerful labour union – ‘The International Brotherhood of Teamsters’. Hoffa served as President from 1958 to 1971, which coincided with a prison sentence due to a range of crimes. Upon leaving prison, Hoffa slowly started to gain influence once more, and was touted as a contender to become the President of the Union once again. Yet in 1975, Hoffa disappeared, having been waiting in a car park for two mafia bosses. After the disappearance, the mafia bosses were questioned, but both had iron-clad alibis. Hoffa’s disappearance has never been solved. Mafia involvement seems most plausible, though countless suggestions theories suggest otherwise.
In 1953, First Lieutenant Felix Moncla vanished while attempting an interception – in unusual circumstances. On a quiet evening in Michigan, air traffic controllers noticed an unusual object flying on their radar. Moncla was scrambled from the nearby Kinross Air Base to investigate. Moncla closed in on the object, with those back at air control witnessing the Moncla and the object simply merge. The controllers waited for the two items to separate, but they didn’t – and eventually both vanished from the radar at the same time. No trace of Moncla, nor his aircraft has ever been found. The US Air Force stated the object Moncla was chasing was a Canadian Air Force aircraft – though this has been continuously denied by the Canadians. This has given rise to several theories regarding Moncla’s fate. This case is well-renowned by Ufologists.
The disappearance of Madeleine McCann in 2007 led to an unprecedented media frenzy, significant searches and multiple questions – all to no avail, with her disappearance still unsolved. McCann was just three years old at the time of her disappearance – she had been on holiday in Portugal with her parents at the time. Her parents were part of a group of friends that made the calamitous decision to leave their children sleeping while they ate around 500 yards away. At some point during the night in question, something happened to Madeleine, with an abduction looking likely. Despite an enormous manhunt ensuing, and years of controversial investigations, there is still no sign of what happened to her. Theories include abduction, child trafficking, and somewhat controversially – parent involvement. A case which has very few answers, but no shortage of speculation.
Louis Le Prince is well-known for being a key component in the invention of the early motion picture camera – with many praising him as the ‘Father of Cinematography’. In 1890, Le Prince got on a train, only to mysteriously not be present by the time the train reached its destination. Le Prince wasn’t seen by any passengers, with no trace of neither his person, nor his luggage. A range of theories have been suggested to explain his disappearance – including leaping off the train in a suicide bid, a rivalry with Thomas Edison that turned deadly, an intentional disappearance or a case of fratricide – where Le Prince perhaps never actually got on the train. His death has confused many, with no set answer of what exactly happened. Le Prince’s legacy has lived on.
Few disappearances have gained such worldwide interest as that of Lord Lucan. Prior to his disappearance, Lucan had been considered for the role of James Bond – such was his popularity. Yet a remarkable fall from grace – including a failed marriage and heavy gambling losses, led to Lucan getting in severe financial difficulty. In November 1974, Lucan supposedly killed his ex-wife Veronica’s nanny Sandra Rivett, before attacking Veronica. Veronica managed to escape, and Lucan fled to the house of friends – who were the last to see him as he vanished afterwards. His car was found a few days later – albeit with no sign of Lucan. What happened to him is a complete mystery – with his disappearance spawning films, documentaries and a plethora of theories. Many believed that he committed suicide – and that his body was never found. However, there is also a strong chance he managed to evade capture – and that even to this day he still lives on.
In March 2000, a wrecked vehicle was found at the bottom of an embankment in Washington, USA. The car was traced to a 23-year old woman named Leah Roberts, who had suddenly left her home in North Carolina nine days earlier. A missing person’s case was ongoing for Leah. Leah had left a note which read she was ‘not suicidal’, but ‘the opposite’. While the car had appeared to roll over in the crash, considerable evidence suggested the crash was staged. Other strange events which added to the confision include the fact the car had appeared to be lived in for a few days, many of Leah’s valuables were in the area, supposed sightings, and the apparent appearance of a man travelling with Leah. No sign of her has ever been found – leading to a myriad of theories being developed. Leah may have wandered off to an uncertain fate, or there could’ve been another person involved. Robbery, an acute mental health episode and alien abduction are among other theories. This disappearance has confused many.
DB Cooper is one of the most notorious names in aviation history. In 1971, a man allegedly named ‘DB Cooper’ threatened a flight attendant – handing her a note which suggested he had a bomb on board. He demanded $200,000 in ransom money. The President of the Airline agreed to meet the ransom money – and the plane landed. The money was given to Cooper. Some of the crew and passengers were allowed to leave the plane, before Cooper demanded it took off again. Shortly after the plane took off, two fighter jets were scrambled to keep tabs. But, in an unexpected turn, Cooper parachuted out of the plane, never to be seen from again. It is unknown if Cooper survived the jump. The case has captured the imagination of the public in the years since. In 2017, a cold case team suggested they had found Cooper – though the man implicated denied everything. The FBI took until 2016 to end their search. Very little evidence has shown up, and none of the money was ever spent. Many questions can be asked!
In December 1945, the Sodder residence – inhabited by two parents and nine children, caught fire. Four children and the parents managed to escape, with the other five never being found. It was believed that the fire started accidentally, and that the five children perished as a result. However, there are a multitude of of bizarre and unexplained occurrences in the build up to the fire, and the aftermath, which have led many to believe the five survived and were kidnapped. Just some of the many events included threats against the family, strange noises being heard, unidentified cars allegedly following the family around, sightings of the children after the fire, and inconsistencies in the idea that the fire wasn’t started on purpose. Despite the wide array of evidence to the contrary, the Police believed the children had died in the fire, and didn’t launch much of a search. The surviving children continue to hope for a safe return of the others.
The disappearance of the crew of MV Joyita is one of the most mysterious incidents in recent history. In 1955, the MV Joyita – a merchant vessel – left Samoa, bound for the Tokelau Islands – with 25 people on board. The journey was scheduled to take 2 days. After 3 days, operators at Tokelau raised the alarm following MV Joyita’s failure to arrive. A search and rescue mission failed to locate the ship, causing considerable confusion. A month later, MV Joyita was found adrift – way off course, and with no one on board. While the ship was damaged, investigators concluded that the chances of her sinking were ‘near-impossible’. This led to a multitude of questions as to why the crew departed, and what ultimately happened to them. The dinghy and liferafts were missing, suggesting those on board evacuated. Some blood was found inside – hinting at a fracas. Many theories have tried to explain the disappearance. An injury to the captain, or an evacuation at the behest of the Captain, along with mutiny, insurance fraud and Japanese involvement are just some of the many theories attributed to the disappearance.
The disappearance of the crew of the Mary Celeste has gone down in maritime folklore. Back in 1872, a crew of 11 set off from New York on the Mary Celeste – intending to make it to Italy. Yet at some point on the voyage, the entire crew disappeared. The ship was found a few days later steering erratically by the Dei Gratia ship. The crew investigated, finding that she was in sea-worthy condition, only to have been deserted. It appeared that a calm and orderly evacuation via a lifeboat had taken place – with belonging’s left neatly on board. No sign of the crew has ever been found. A huge amount of theories have been put forward to try and explain what happened to the crew. Most believe they thought their ship was in danger, and so they used the lifeboat to try and evacuate. Or, this could have been done as a result of disorientation – if their navigation equipment wasn’t working. Mutiny, cabin fever, Dei Gratia involvement, piracy, a giant squid, a seaquake, insurance fraud, and of course alien abduction, have all been mooted. Simply one of the most thought-provoking and mind-blowing mysteries of all time.
In March 2014, one of the most tragic and mysterious disappearances in history took place, with many questions left unanswered regarding the fateful day, several years on. Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 was en route to China from Malaysia when it disappeared, with all 239 people on board presumed dead. The flight took an unexpected deviation from its planned route shortly into the flight, and soon disappeared from radars – communications had been disabled manually. The flight never reappeared, and a search was hastily launched. Many years on, it is still unclear exactly what happened to the flight, despite the most expensive search in aviation history being conducted. Part of the plane turned up on the island of Reunion – though nothing else has been yielded. Questions continue to be asked, despite there being very few answers. Some theories include a pilot suicide, passenger hijacking, unresponsive crew, a fire, or even alien abduction. For a plane and 239 people to completely vanish without explanation in the modern age is near-inconceivable. Hopes that the 239 people are still alive fades each day. But the overall hope is that one day, the truth behind this tragic event will be revealed.
So there we have it – twenty of the most mysterious disappearances of all time. These disappearances range from aviation-related to maritime-located, and all sort of other settings in between. Each case has a range of theories trying to explain the disappearance – though not one of these cases has received closure. But this is what makes these disappearances so remarkable. While none of these cases have yet received an answer, the truth is out there… somewhere.