The National Missing and Unidentified Persons database maintained by the U.S. Department of Justice lists more than 600,000 people that vanish at least temporarily each year. Fortunately, the majority of missing persons cases ultimately find resolution. For instance, in 2021, out of 521,705 reported missing individuals, over 485,000 were located or had their cases resolved within the same year.
Since 1997, there has been a decline in the number of missing-person cases, thanks to advancements in communication and technology that have facilitated better tracking of disappeared individuals. Nonetheless, there are still more than 20,000 open missing-person cases in the United States.
Over the years, some disappearances have captured the public’s imagination and become part of American legend and folklore. To compile a list of the most mysterious disappearances in American history, 24/7 Tempo reviewed sources including Encyclopedia Britannica, Smithsonian Magazine, and other online sources. Our focus was on cases that garnered widespread public and media attention and occurred within the United States or its waters. (We excluded aviator Amelia Earhart due to her disappearance in the South Pacific.)
Many of the mysterious disappearances on our list left the public astonished when they happened. Some individuals chose to vanish willingly, while others seemed to disappear against their will. (For kidnap victims who were eventually found – dead or alive – these are the biggest ransoms ever paid.)
Several cases on our list pertain not only to individuals but also to entire modes of transportation, such as boats (the Mary Celeste, S.S. Poet) and aircraft (L-8 blimp, Flight 19).
Naturally, no comprehensive list would be complete without featuring the most prominent disappearances in American history: Judge Joseph Force Crater, whose sensational disappearance earned him the title of “the missingest man in New York”; “D.B. Cooper,” the infamous skyjacker who parachuted out of a jetliner during a storm with a bag full of cash and was never heard from again; and Jimmy Hoffa, the confrontational union leader believed to have been eliminated by organized crime. (These are the most famous failed assassinations in world history.)
1. The Roanoke Colony
> Year: 1587-1590
> Location: Dare County, North Carolina
After England established its first North American colony in what is now North Carolina, Governor John White sailed back to the mother country in 1587 to get supplies. White, however, was delayed on his return by the Anglo-Spanish War (which included the Spanish Armada), and wouldn’t make it back to Roanoke until almost three years later. When he returned, White found no trace of the colony or its inhabitants. There were few clues as to the fate of the settlers, apart from the word “Croatoan” carved into a wooden post.
2. Theodosia Burr Alston
> Year: 1812
> Location: Atlantic Ocean
Theodosia Burr Alston was the daughter of disgraced former vice-president Aaron Burr, who had fled the country after he was tried and acquitted for treason and was living in Europe. Theodosia boarded the schooner the Patriot in South Carolina on Dec. 31, 1812, hoping to reunite with her father in New York. The boat disappeared en route, perhaps taken by pirates or lost in a storm.
3. The Mary Celeste
> Year: 1872
> Location: Left New York City on Nov. 5, 1872
The Mary Celeste was a cargo ship that left New York City for Genoa, Italy, on Nov. 5, 1872, with a load of industrial ethanol. Onboard were a seven-man crew, Captain Benjamin Briggs, his wife, and their 2-year-old daughter. The captain’s last entry in his log was Nov. 24.
In early December, the ship was found by a Canadian vessel drifting about 400 miles west of the Azores with nobody aboard. There were a few tears in her sails, but there was no sign of a struggle. The boat had plenty of drinkable water on board and enough food for six months. The lifeboat was missing, as well some of the captain’s papers, and two of the ship’s pumps had been dismantled.
4. Dorothy Arnold
> Year: 1910
> Location: New York City
Dorothy Arnold was a 25-year-old New York socialite and aspiring writer who after a day of shopping on Dec. 12, 1910, stopped to chat with a friend at a bookstore in Manhattan. She left her friend saying she had to meet her mother for lunch. This was around 2 p.m. No one ever saw her again after that.
Her family did not tell the police immediately fearing media attention and sent detectives to find her. They failed to turn up anything. Finally the family went to the police and offered a reward. The police abandoned the search after 75 days.
5. Bennington “Triangle” disappearances
> Year: 1920-1950
> Location: Bennington, Vermont
Between 1920 and 1950, at least 10 people disappeared in a section of woods around Glastenbury Mountain in Vermont that’s been dubbed the “Bennington Triangle.” The name was coined by author Joseph Citro, whose specialty is occult and paranormal occurrences in New England.
According to a website dedicated to the Triangle, disappearances included tour guide Middie Rivers in 1945, college student Paula Welden the following year, and Frieda Langer and 8-year-old Paul Jepsen, both in 1950. The highly changeable weather, cougars, a wild man, or a hairy monster are the most-discussed theories behind the disappearances.
6. Judge Joseph Force Crater
> Year: 1937
> Location: New York City
Joseph Force Crater was an associate justice of the New York Supreme Court in New York City with connections to the powerful Tammany Hall Democratic Party machine.
Crater liked to live the high life and had a fondness for nice clothes and an eye for showgirls, even though he was married. Crater planned to meet his wife for vacation in Maine but he disappeared on Aug. 6, 1930. His disappearance became a sensation. “Pulling a Crater” became slang for ditching your life, and nightclub comedians worked his name into jokes, sometimes asking the club management to “page Judge Crater.” Judge Crater was officially declared dead in absentia on June 6, 1939.
7. Barbara Newhall Follett
> Year: 1939
> Location: Brookline, Massachusetts
Barbara Newhall Follett was a literary prodigy, who wrote her first novel at age 8. By the time she was 18, she had written four books. Follett battled mental illness and by age 25 had fallen into depression.
Her marriage to Nickerson Rogers was happy at first, but on the evening of Dec. 7, 1939, she got into an argument with her husband and left their home in Brookline, Massachusetts. She was never seen again. Rogers officially divorced his wife in 1944. The cause was “absence for three years without being heard of.”
8. L-8 blimp
> Year: 1942
> Location: Daly City, California
Blimps were frequently seen over the Pacific Coast during WWII, searching for Japanese submarines that might prey on American ships. The L-8 blimp took off from California’s Moffett Airfield on Aug. 16, 1942, with the experienced two-man crew of Lt. Ernest Cody and Ens. Charles Adams aboard.
One hour into a routine flight, they radioed in that they were going to take a closer look at an oil slick. Later that day, the airship crashed on a busy street in Daly City, with neither man aboard. The door to the gondola was propped open, which was the most unusual aspect of the blimp once it crashed. The radio worked and the blimp had plenty of fuel. One of the theories was that the men got into a fight and both fell out of the airship.
9. The Sodder children
> Year: 1945
> Location: Fayetteville, West Virginia
On Christmas Eve 1945, George and Jennie Sodder and nine of their 10 children went to sleep (one son was away serving in the U.S. Army). Around 1 a.m., a fire broke out at their house. The Sodder parents and four of their children escaped, but the other five were never seen again. A search for the remains of the five children in the house failed to turn up any evidence of their demise.
For many years, motorists traveling on Route 16 near Fayetteville could see a billboard with images and names of the five children, with a message seeking their whereabouts.
10. Flight 19
> Year: 1945
> Location: Coast of Florida
On Dec. 5, 1945, five U.S. Navy Grumman TBF Avenger warplanes disappeared during a daytime training mission after taking off from the naval air station in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
The mission was led by experienced pilot and combat veteran Lieutenant Charles C. Taylor. About 90 minutes into the flight, Taylor said the compasses stopped working and he became disoriented. They lost contact with the naval base at 6 p.m. that day. All 14 of the airmen aboard the planes disappeared, as did the 13 crew members of a Navy flying boat sent to find them. No wreckage or bodies from the Avengers or the flying boat was found despite a search by 248 planes and 18 surface craft.
The incident was one of the first that prompted the legend of the Bermuda Triangle.
11. Three Alcatraz inmates
> Year: 1962
> Location: Alcatraz prison in California
With strong currents surrounding Alcatraz prison about a mile off the coast of San Francisco, escape from the correctional facility was believed to be impossible. Even so, some prisoners tried, though authorities are convinced that nobody ever succeeded. It’s possible that John and Clarence Anglin and Frank Morris made it, however. On June 12, 1962, the three got off “The Rock” by using sharpened spoons to bore through the prison walls, left papier-mâché dummies in their beds, and pushed off on a raft from 50 raincoats.
Their story was told in “Escape from Alcatraz,” a 1963 book by J. Campbell Bruce, which was made into a movie of the same name starring Clint Eastwood in 1979 – the same year that the investigation into their escape was officially ended. The story took a curious turn in January 2018, when CBS San Francisco published an extract from a letter addressed to the FBI allegedly written by John Anglin, claiming that the three had escaped.
12. Patty Blough, Renee Bruhl, and Ann Miller
> Year: 1966
> Location:Indiana Dunes State Park, Indiana
On Saturday, July 2, 1966, three young women in bathing suits were seen boarding a small motorboat on the Lake Michigan shoreline at Indiana Dunes State Park, Indiana. They never returned from their voyage, and their belongings on the beach went unclaimed. Missing persons’ reports were filed over the weekend by their families. Park rangers began investigating the park and located Miller’s Buick in the parking lot. They found her car keys and some women’s clothing and other personal effects. Other law enforcement agencies, including the United States Coast Guard, were contacted. A search for the missing women began on July 5 but no trace of the three was found.
13. D.B. Cooper
> Year: 1971
> Location: Northwest Oriental Airlines flight to Seattle from Portland
An airline passenger who went by the name of “D.B. Cooper” became the stuff of legend in 1971 by skyjacking a jetliner and parachuting into a rainstorm with $200,000 in cash, never to be seen again.
Cooper boarded a Northwest Oriental Airlines flight to Seattle from Portland on Nov. 24,1971. He handed a note to a flight attendant saying he had a bomb. He had her write another note to the captain demanding $200,000 and four parachutes. The flight landed in Seattle and he allowed all but several crew members to deplane in exchange for the money and the parachutes. The plane took off on a course for Mexico City, but Cooper bailed out between Seattle and Reno with $200,000 in tow.
Cooper became an American legend, with bars and drinks named after him, and movies and documentaries chronicling his feat.
14. Hale Boggs
> Year: 1972
> Location: Alaska
On Oct. 16, 1972, a twin-engine Cessna carrying House Majority Leader Hale Boggs of Louisiana, Alaska congressman Nicholas Begich, and a Begich aide vanished between Anchorage and Juneau during a campaign trip. The disappearance initiated the largest search and rescue operation to that point in American history, involving 40 military aircraft, 50 civilian planes, a search grid of 325,000 square miles, and more than 3,600 hours of search time. The search was called off after 39 days, with no sign of wreckage or survivors.
15. Jim Robinson
> Year: Unknown
> Location: Miami, Florida
Known as “Sweet Jimmy,” Jim Robinson was a boxer who fought and lost to Muhammad Ali (then called Cassius Clay) in 1961, before Ali became the heavyweight world champion. Robinson reportedly had gambling debts and bet against himself, and threw the fight. He continued fighting, without much success, and was last seen in 1979. Robinson’s fate came into question in 2003 when an autograph collector sought autographs of all 50 of Ali’s opponents. The only one he failed to obtain was Robinson’s. It is not known if Robinson is homeless today or has passed away.
16. Jimmy Hoffa
> Year: 1975
> Location: Bloomfield, Michigan
Colorful Teamsters union boss Jimmy Hoffa was famous for crossing swords with Attorney General Robert Kennedy during a federal investigation into organized crime’s influence in American labor unions. On July 30, 1975, Hoffa was reportedly waiting for two mobsters outside of a restaurant in Bloomfield Township, Michigan He was seen leaving the restaurant in a red 1975 Mercury Marquis Brougham. He was never seen or heard from again. Hoffa’s body has never been found, though urban legend has placed his remains in various spots in New Jersey.
17. Etan Patz
> Year: 1979
> Location: New York City
Six-year-old Etan Patz disappeared on May 25, 1979. The boy had been on his way to the bus stop in the SoHo section of Manhattan walking alone two blocks from his home when he vanished.
The case produced a publicity firestorm, with Patz’s picture among the first photos of a missing child to be printed on a milk carton. Despite a massive search and various leads, Patz was never found. He was declared dead in 2001. Patz’ disappearance helped launch the missing children movement, which included new legislation and methods for finding missing children.
In 2017, Pedro Hernandez was convicted of the kidnapping and felony murder of Patz after a public confession from years previous was brought to light.
18. The S.S. Poet
> Year: 1980
> Location: North Atlantic
The S.S. Poet was a former World War II troop transport vessel converted into carrying cargo. On the morning of Oct. 24, 1980, the ship left Philadelphia with a hold full of corn and was bound for Egypt where it was due to arrive on Nov. 9. The ship sent its last message as it passed Cape Henlopen off the coast of Delaware later that morning. A large storm blew into that part of the Atlantic the next day. There was no trace of the ship and no distress signal was ever heard.
19. Mary Badaracco
> Year: 1984
> Location: Sherman, Connecticut
Mary Badaracco disappeared from her Sherman, Connecticut, home on Aug. 19, 1984. Her car was found parked in the driveway with the driver’s side of the windshield smashed inwards. Badaracco’s wedding ring and car keys had been left on the kitchen counter; her personal belongings, including photographs, had vanished. Badaracco was known to have had a troubled marriage with her husband Dominic Badaracco Sr. and had left him for brief periods. Mary Badaracco had filed for divorce at the time of her disappearance.
20. Tara Calico
> Year: 1988
> Location: Belen, New Mexico
Nineteen-year-old Tara Calico went missing on Sept. 20, 1988, after she had left her home in Belen, New Mexico, for a bike ride and never returned. On June 15, 1989, a suspicious photo was found in a Florida parking lot more than 1,200 miles away from the site of her disappearance. The photo showed a teenage girl and a young boy with their mouths taped and hands bound behind their backs. Calico’s parents insisted it was their daughter, despite the fact that the FBI has not been able to verify it was her.
21. Keith Reinhard
> Year: 1988
> Location: Silver Plume, Colorado
There are several levels to this mystery. On Sept, 7, 1987, Tom Young took his dog for a walk near Silver Plume, Colorado, and never returned. Young had been running a bookstore in town, and Keith Reinhard subsequently leased the same space. The new tenant was aware of Young’s disappearance and started writing a novel in which the main character was a composite of both Young and Reinhard. On July 31, 1988, the remains of Young and his dog were found by hunters, each with a gunshot wound to the head. A week later, Reinhard went for a hike in the mountains and never returned.
22. Philip Taylor Kramer
> Year: 1995
> Location: Los Angeles, California
Hard-rock aficionados remember the 1970s band Iron Butterfly. Philip Taylor Kramer was a bass player for the group in the 1970s, who later utilized his mathematics and computer skills to become a successful entrepreneur. On Feb. 12, 1995, a Los Angeles 911 operator received a call from a man who was later identified as Kramer who said that he was going to kill himself. Then he hung up. Then he disappeared.
Four years later, two hikers exploring Decker Canyon near Malibu Beach discovered the rusted shell of Kramer’s van with his remains inside. The cause of death was a blunt force trauma, but it was not determined whether his death was a suicide, an accident, or a homicide.
23. Jodi Huisentruit
> Year: 1995
> Location: Mason City, Iowa
On June 27, 1995, TV news anchor Jodi Huisentruit, working for the CBS affiliate in Mason City, Iowa, was scheduled to start her morning shift at 3:50 a.m. When she did not get to the TV studio by 6 a.m., the studio sensed something was wrong and sent a person to her home. They found strewn belongings in her car, including her shoes, two earrings, and her car key, suggesting she was forcibly removed. Huisentruit was never found.
24. Ray Gricar
> Year: 2005
> Location: Lewisburg, Pennsylvania
On April 15, 2005, Ray Gricar, a homicide prosecutor for Centre County, Pennsylvania, told his girlfriend he was leaving work early that day to go to Lewisburg, where he planned to shop and go for a walk. The next day, his red Mini Cooper was found by a state trooper in a Lewisburg parking lot across from an antique mall. Technicians detected a cigarette smell, and Gricar reportedly detested the smell of cigarettes.
Gricar’s laptop was found six months later under a bridge and missing its hard drive. The hard drive was found several months later on the banks of the Susquehanna River, so badly damaged that no information could be retrieved from it. No other trace of Gricar was found. He was declared legally dead in 2011.
25. Barbara Bolick
> Year: 2007
> Location: Bitterroot Mountains, Montana
On July 18, 2007, 55-year-old Barbara Bolick went for a hike with a family friend in the Bitterroot Mountains of Montana. According to Jim Ramaker, one of the friends, he and Barbara went to an overlook where they stopped for a snack. Barbara, considered to be a physically fit and experienced hiker, walked back down the trail as Jim took one last look at the view. Then she vanished. She was carrying a black day pack at the time she disappeared, containing a .357 Magnum pistol. More than a decade later, Barbara’s disappearance remains unsolved.
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