After months of inaction, search teams have resumed trawling the Indian Ocean for the merest scrap of evidence that Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, which stunned the world when it went missing back in March, had plunged into its murky depths.
The plane’s disappearance captivated the globe because unsolved mysteries and missing-persons sagas bear an extra smidgen of Creep Factor compared to your everyday open-and-shut true-crime stories. Raised on fairy tales and weaned on Hollywood endings, people crave closure in their narratives—but you won’t get it with any of the following real-life cases. Here are thirteen bizarre disappearances throughout history presented in chronological order.
1. The Lost Colony of Roanoke
John White—who, as fate would have it, was white—was the leader of one of the first English settlements in North America. In 1587, he led an expedition of an estimated 117 men, women, and children from England to carve out a new homeland on Roanoke Island off the coast of what is now North Carolina. His granddaughter, Virginia Dare, was the first English child born in America. But faced with dwindling resources and a chilly reception by local indigenous tribes, White set sail back to England for assistance. His efforts were stalled for three years because his ship was needed in a war between Spain and England.
When he returned to the colony in 1590, its inhabitants had vanished and the makeshift houses they’d built were gone. The only sign they’d left were carvings of the word “CROATOAN” on a wooden gate post and “CRO” on a nearby tree. There was an indigenous tribe known as the Croatoans on a nearby island, but a gathering ocean storm prevented White’s crew from investigating before they set back toward England. The colonists may have been absorbed into a nearby tribe, they may have drowned at sea, or they may have been slaughtered wholesale while searching for a new settlement. Four hundred and twenty-four years later, no one knows.
2. Anti-Masonic Author William Morgan
One of the oddest coincidences in my life taught me it’s probably never a wise idea to fuck with the Freemasons. Fourteen US presidents have been members of this furtive fraternal order of secret rituals and rumored vast political power, and two of them were assassinated.
In the summer of 1826, after reportedly being denied membership at a local Masonic temple, William Morgan of Batavia, NY, announced his intention to write an exposé revealing the group’s occultic practices. Soon thereafter came a series of fires at the print shop where Morgan planned to produce the book. In September of that year, he was abducted and never seen again. Ten local Masons were convicted of kidnapping charges in Morgan’s case. John Quincy Adams, the US president at the time of Morgan’s abduction, would later blame the Masons for Morgan’s murder. The political fallout from Morgan’s disappearance led to the formation of the Anti-Masonic Party, known as the country’s “first ‘third’ party,” which ran candidates for president in 1828 and 1832.
3. Solomon “Twelve Years a Slave” Northup
Now famous as the main author of the autobiographical book Twelve Years a Slave that became an Oscar-winning film, Northup was born free in New York in 1808. In 1841, he was drugged and kidnapped by slave traders in Washington, DC, who shipped him down to Louisiana, where he was brutalized and tossed around various plantations for a dozen years.
Upon achieving freedom, he wrote his memoir and embarked upon a book tour in 1857, at which point he abruptly disappeared. It is speculated that he was either murdered, captured and sold into slavery again, or went into hiding of his own volition. But again, it’s all pure speculation. No one has a clue.
4. Hungarian Serial Killer Béla Kiss
An “amateur astrologer”—seriously, is there any other kind?—and dabbler in the occult, Kiss (pronounced “Kish”) had already left his home and entered the First World War as a soldier when authorities who searched his house for metal drums he’d claimed contained gasoline pried open the drums to discover the corpses of an estimated 24 women. The women all had puncture wounds on their necks and had lost significant amounts of blood.
In 1916, when investigators traced Kiss to a recovery room in a Serbian hospital, Kiss placed the body of a dead soldier in his bed and made an escape before being captured. Four years later, a man matching Kiss’s physical description and calling himself “Hoffman”—an alias Kiss had used in letters he’d written in attempts to woo some of his female victims—had bragged to a fellow soldier in the French Foreign Legion about his prowess at the art of strangulation. Before police were able to capture him, “Hoffman” had disappeared. In 1932, rumors spread in New York City that Kiss was working there as a janitor, but the janitor vanished before police were able to interview him.
5. Nation of Islam Founder Wallace Fard Muhammad
All religions are wacky to some degree, but the Nation of Islam rivals Mormonism as one of the wick-wack-wackiest spiritual belief systems ever devised on American soil. In addition to teaching that white people are devils who were created by an evil black scientist named Yakub, the religion that gave us Malcolm X also claims there is a giant flying saucer known as the Mother Wheel, which current NOI head honcho Louis Farrakhan reportedly refers to as a “heavily armed spaceship the size of a city that will rain destruction upon white America but save those who embrace the Nation of Islam.”
Yet even wackier than all that is the fact that this religion was founded by a man who, according to the Detroit Police Department mug shot above and the official Nation of Islam portrait, appears to be mighty white. His successor, Elijah Muhammad, taught that Fard (pronounced “Fuh-ROD”) Muhammad was Allah incarnate, although researchers would beg to differ. His reputed origins are disputed—especially by the Nation of Islam—and this light-skinned mystery man was once convicted of drug offenses and apparently drifted through life using aliases such as Wallace Dodd Ford, Wallie Ford, Wali Fard, Fred Dodd, and David Ford-el.
He appeared in Detroit in 1930 to lay down the teachings that blossomed into the Nation of Islam. By 1934, after several run-ins with authorities, he was gone. No one knows for sure where he went, but the Nation of Islam claims he is alive and living happily aboard the Mother Wheel.
6. Italian Mobster James Squillante
A big-time yet short-statured member of New York’s Gambino crime family—this mini-mobster only stood at five feet and two inches—Squillante was involved in several brutal mob hits, one of which involved him dismembering a victim’s body and loading the pieces onto a garbage truck. While he was facing extortion charges in 1960, Squillante’s higher-ups ordered his murder.
Although his body was never found, it was the rumored method of his demise that comprises one of the most graphic legends of American Mafia lore. After being shot in the head, Squillante was allegedly placed into a car trunk, whereupon the automobile was loaded into a car-crusher, after which the chunk of steel containing his squashed corpse was melted down in an open furnace.
7. Teamsters Union Leader Jimmy Hoffa
As the rough-neck leader of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters from 1958-1971, Hoffa walked a fine line between fighting for truckers’ rights and appeasing the Mafiosi who simultaneously offered protection and siphoned funds from his organization. He was imprisoned in 1967 for crimes that included jury tampering and bribery but was pardoned in 1971 by US President Richard Milhous Nixon. As Hoffa attempted to regain control of the Teamsters, he faced escalating tensions with the mob. He was last seen outside a Michigan restaurant in 1975 where he’d been scheduled to meet with two eminent mobsters.
Rumors abound as to what happened to Hoffa, one of the most famous of which is that he was buried under an end zone at Giants Stadium in New Jersey. Contract killer Richard “The Iceman” Kuklinski, who claimed to have murdered over 100 men, says he killed Hoffa with a hunting knife, placed him in an oil drum, and temporarily set him ablaze before welding the drum shut and burying it in a junkyard. More recently, a former mob underboss claimed that Hoffa had been buried alive at a Michigan dig site.
Hoffa’s son is now president of the Teamsters.
8. Frederick “It’s Not An Aircraft” Valentich
Although the case of Amelia Earhart is far more famous, this one is much more unsettling. In October 1978, Australian pilot and reputed UFO enthusiast Frederick Valentich was flying his plane over Australia’s Bass Strait when he contacted Melbourne’s Air Traffic Control to report that an unidentified flying object was intermittently tracking him, stopping in mid-air, and vanishing. The last thing he can be heard saying before his transmission was interrupted by white noise is “It’s hovering, and it’s not an aircraft.” No trace of Valentich or his plane was ever found.
9. Azaria “Maybe the Dingo Ate Your Baby” Chamberlain
This is the only case on this list that isn’t technically “unexplained” because a 2012 inquiry finally concluded that the nine-week-old female infant was captured and eaten by dingoes in the shadows of world-famous Ayers Rock—now known as Uluru—in the Australian outback.
In August of 1980, young Azaria and her family were camping in Australia’s Northern Territory when according to her mother Lindy, a dingo snatched her baby girl from a tent and escaped with her. Witnesses corroborated Lindy’s account.
Yet a hysterical Australian press focused suspicion on Lindy herself, sketching out an entirely different theory about Azaria’s death that led to a 1982 murder trial, a conviction, and a life sentence for Lindy Chamberlain.
In 1986, a British climber fell to his death from Uluru, and investigators discovered baby Azaria’s missing jacket amid nearby dingo lairs. Lindy Chamberlain was released from prison soon thereafter, but it wasn’t until 2012 when authorities finally ruled that Lindy had been telling the truth all along—the dingo ate her baby.
10. Pennsylvania District Attorney Ray Gricar
When former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky was convicted of serial child molestation in 2012, it was an international scandal that demolished the school’s once-proud legacy.
Little known was the fact that as far back as 1998, the local district attorney, Ray Gricar, had been presented with evidence of Sandusky’s wrongdoing but refused to prosecute him. In 2004, Gricar announced that he would not run for reelection. In April of the next year, Gricar’s abandoned vehicle was found near the Susquehanna River. His laptop was found under a nearby bridge with the hard drive missing. A couple months later, the hard drive was discovered about a hundred yards away from where the laptop had been found. It had been so thoroughly destroyed that a firm that had been able to recover data from a hard drive involved in 2003’s Space Shuttle Columbia disaster couldn’t retrieve a speck of information from it. Police later revealed that a home computer at Gricar’s residence had been used to search such phrases as “how to wreck a hard drive” and “water damage to a notebook computer.”
Without any proof, it has been speculated that Gricar had opened a new investigation that revealed so much damning evidence against Jerry Sandusky, he either killed himself or went into hiding out of guilt for not charging him back in 1998. He may have destroyed his hard drive beyond repair to prevent anyone from making such a connection.
11. Cruise-ship worker Rebecca Coriam
In March of 2011 while toiling in the Pacific Ocean as a crew member on the cruise ship Disney Wonder, Rebecca Coriam vanished without a trace. A security camera in the crew lounge showed her in apparent distress during a phone conversation, but that is the last undeniable evidence of her existence. Many of her coworkers are said to believe that she went overboard and that the Disney company knows more than it’s admitting. Since her disappearance, Coriam’s credit card has been used and someone allegedly changed her Facebook password. What remains unclear is whether she’s alive or at the bottom of the ocean.
12. The Four Skeletons of the McStay Family
One February day in 2010, all four members of the McStay family of Fallbrook, CA—a husband and wife in their forties and two sons aged four and three—abruptly left their house never to return again. Their SUV was later found near the Mexican border but showed no sign of forced entry. Grainy surveillance video allegedly showed them crossing the border into Mexico, but its quality was too poor to make a positive identification. Investigators also allegedly found searches for Spanish-language lessons and the phrase “What documents do children need for traveling to Mexico?” on their home computer. It was assumed that for unexplained reasons, the family had decided to embark upon a new life in Mexico, even though they’d withdrawn no funds from what was estimated to be over $100,000 in their bank account.
Then in November 2013, a motorcyclist spotted some bones near Victorville, CA—a town north of Fallbrook and thus even further away from Mexico than their home. Authorities unearthed the skeletons and verified that it was the McStays, whom they determined had been murdered. The murders remain unsolved.
13. Malaysian Airlines Flight 370
It took off from Kuala Lumpur on its way to Beijing on March 8, 2014 carrying 239 passengers. Then it lost contact with the air traffic control board and abruptly changed its flight path. With zero success, much of the civilized world has attempted to locate it. Most of the paranoid world has offered theories and explanations regarding what happened. But if anyone truly knows, they aren’t talking. For the time being at least, it will remain the plane that fooled the modern world.