10 Famous People Who Vanished Without a Trace

ambrose-bierce-2 (Image: via UVA Library; Ambrose Bierce)

In a world as vast and mysterious as ours, it’s perhaps no surprise that things can sometimes just vanish. Great cities, monuments, and priceless works of art have all disappeared into the ether… as have people.

Against all logic, some of the most-famous faces of our times have managed to evade discovery; seemingly slipping through cracks in reality into a lost, unknowable dimension. Where did these people go, and why did they choose to disappear? We may never know.

Lord Lucan

lord-lucan (Image: Photoshot.com via Wikipedia)

On November 7, 1974, the Lucan family home in London witnessed one of the most-brutal murders of the period. A nanny, Sandra Rivett, was bludgeoned to death in the basement with a piece of lead pipe. The lady of the house, Lady Lucan, was also viciously attacked. When interviewed by police, she named her estranged husband John Bingham, 7th Earl of Lucan, as the assailant.

A professional gambler, Lord Lucan was a paranoid obsessive who had spent the years since their divorce spying on his ex-wife. Only the day before, he’d had a public meltdown after a cat he brought for his children had its throat cut, blaming Lady Lucan. After the murder of Sandra Rivett, Lucan was last seen driving a Ford Corsair in East Sussex. The car itself was found hours later, its interior dripping with blood. Of Lord Lucan himself there was no sign.

Since then, the peer’s whereabouts has become an infamous British mystery. Some think he committed suicide following the attack, hurling himself into the Channel. Others believe he used a private airfield to fly away to safety. In the intervening years, there have been sightings in Goa, South Africa, Gabon and Colombia, but none have been confirmed. No body has ever surfaced.

Richey Edwards

richey-edwards-manic-street-preachers (Image: Manics4real)

The story of the vanished Manic Street Preachers guitarist and lyricist Richey Edwards is as tragic as they come. A lifelong depressive, Edwards was known to self-harm, routinely stubbing cigarettes out on his skin and cutting himself. In one interview, he took a razor blade and carved the words 4 REAL into his own arm after a journalist questioned his integrity. He was open about the fact that he often felt so bad he couldn’t get out of bed in the mornings.

Then, in February 1995, things seemed to come to a head. In the two preceding weeks, Edwards had withdrawn £200 a day from his bank account. Finally, on the 1st of the month, Edwards drove from London to his apartment in Wales. He was never seen again.

Because his car was found two weeks later near the notorious Severn Bridge suicide hotspot, its often been thought Edwards simply couldn’t handle life anymore and chose to check out early. Those who knew him say he would never do such a thing. As things currently stand, he’s officially considered missing presumed dead. No sightings have ever been reported.

Harold Holt  

harold-holt (Image: Ronald Hall – DoD)

It’s strange enough to imagine a rock star and a wanted murderer disappearing, let alone a head of state. But that’s exactly what happened in Australia in 1967. On December 17, Prime Minister Harold Holt and some friends travelled to secluded Cheviot Beach to go swimming. Despite the strong riptides and a shoulder injury, Holt decided to go into the water. Ignoring the pleas of his friends, he stepped in and promptly vanished from history.

The most-likely explanation is that Holt drowned and the vicious currents swept his body out to sea. Some think this is exactly what he intended to happen and the whole thing was a suicide attempt. However, others believe he faked his own death and disappeared. Despite one of the largest search and rescue operations ever mounted, Holt’s body was never recovered. Some believe a waiting Communist submarine picked him up and scooted him to safety, as part of a well-organized defection. Others just throw in the towel and claim aliens did it. Whatever the truth, no trace of Holt has ever been found.

D. B. Cooper

DB-Cooper (Image: US Department of Justice)

D. B. Cooper is perhaps the only person on this list whose primary claim to fame is their disappearance. To this day, we don’t actually know who he was, or if anyone with that name ever really existed. All we know is that he hijacked an airliner with a bunch of explosives, demanded $200,000 and a parachute, then leapt out the plane over Mount St. Helens. What happened to him – or his money – is anybody’s guess.

The FBI’s favoured theory is that he died in the fall. Doing a parachute jump isn’t as easy as it looks, and doing a parachute jump in the dead of night, in the driving rain, in the middle of winter, with no visibility and your safety chute sewn shut smacks of insanity. However, plenty of others disagree and the list of suspects is astonishingly long. Freakily, neither Cooper’s body nor the parachute were ever recovered – although some of the money did turn up in 1980. The theories as to where D. B. Cooper went or what he did if he survived are even more numerous than the suspects.

Dorothy Arnold

dorothy-arnold-vanished-socialite-nyc (Image: via Wikipedia)

How can someone vanish in a crowd of people? That’s the question many have asked about Dorothy Arnold, a wealthy New York socialite who disappeared in 1910. Rather than being snatched in the night, though, Dorothy disappeared in the middle of the day in a city full of people.

On December 12, Dorothy left the house to go shopping for her sister’s “coming out” ball (a phrase with a very different meaning in 1910). She was repeatedly sighted along Fifth Avenue, where she spoke to shopkeepers and exchanged greetings with friends. Then she took a stroll to Central Park, waved goodbye to an acquaintance and was never seen or heard from again.

Predictably, the theories about her fate are too numerous to count. Some think she was murdered in the park, others that she secretly went to an abortion doctor that afternoon and bled to death on the table. It’s been suggested that a possible lover of hers, George Griscom, may have killed her, or she may have been abducted by her own parents after they discovered she was pregnant and forcibly sent abroad to save the family name. But it could be something else entirely. As with many on this list, we’ll probably never know.

Oscar Zeta Acosta

oscar-zeta-acosta (Image: via Wikipedia)

The hard-drinking, hard-smoking, hard-living Chicano activist lawyer Oscar Zeta Acosta is today most-(in)famous for being Hunter S. Thompson’s crazed attorney in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Addicted to drugs, pleasure and risk taking, Acosta earned that reputation the hard way. There’s another side to his story, though, one equally as interesting as his life: his death, or rather, lack of it. In 1974, three years after Thompson’s book was published, Acosta disappeared in Mexico.

There are two popular theories. One is that the notorious firebrand attorney made one too many enemies, and was murdered. The other is that he got caught up in a drug deal that went sour and wound up becoming a casualty. The fact that he almost certainly died in 1974 didn’t stop stories from surfacing. In his 1977 essay the Banshee Screams for Buffalo Meat, Hunter Thompson himself even reported on a rumour that Acosta had later been seen alive, manically piloting a speedboat away from a drug shootout in the ocean.

Ambrose Bierce     

ambrose-bierce (Image: John Herbert Evelyn Partington)

At age 71, Ambrose Bierce had apparently had enough of life. The journalist and writer of An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge was known for his bitter pronouncements and general grumpiness. But his last pronouncement may have topped them all. In 1913, he declared that he was going to move to Mexico.

At the time, Mexico was in the grips of a bloody revolution. Thousands upon thousands were dying, villages were being destroyed, and the social fabric was being torn to shreds. It was the equivalent of deciding in the modern day to spontaneously move to Damascus or Donetsk. In his last letter before he vanished off into this vortex of violence, Bierce wrote to his family, saying: “if you hear of my being stood up against a Mexican stone wall and shot to rags please know that I think that a pretty good way to depart this life. It beats old age, disease, or falling down the cellar stairs.”

After he left, he was never heard from again. A number of scholars believe he died in the siege of Ojinaga in January 1914. Others that he never actually reached Mexico, but instead committed suicide – the move just a cover up to spare his family the shame.

Jim Thompson

jim-thompson-thai-silk-industry-oss (Image: via Wikipedia)

The life and disappearance of Jim Thompson is the stuff of Hollywood fiction. A former OSS agent (the precursor to the CIA), he settled in Thailand after World War Two and became a millionaire celebrity, thanks to his work reforming the Thai silk industry. Then one day in March 1967, he went out for a short walk near a friend’s house in the mountains of Malaysia. He never returned.

Thanks to his fame and power, one of the biggest manhunts in history was launched. Yet nothing was found. An experienced hiker, it seemed unlikely Thompson would have gotten lost or fallen amid the terrain. Nor did he have any reason to fake his death. People quickly began to suspect he was still working for American intelligence, and had been abducted and possibly killed by Communist insurgents. If this was the case, however, no evidence has ever surfaced.

More likely is the theory that a local driver knocked him down and hastily buried the body in a shallow grave. But even then, you’d expect the searchers to have uncovered some evidence. With so much time now having passed since Jim Thompson’s disappearance, it’s doubtful we’ll ever know.

Jean Spangler

jean-spangler (Image: via Wikipedia)

On October 7, 1949, 26-year old American model, dancer and bit-part actress Jean Spangler vanished. What followed is one of the murkiest missing person cases in American history.

Jean’s last-known movements were going to see her controlling ex-husband Dexter, who had a motive for murdering her after she got full custody of their daughter. However, Dexter had a good alibi for the day Jean disappeared, seemingly ruling out his involvement. Then there was Jean’s purse. Discovered in a park, it included a note to “Kirk” that read:  “Can’t wait any longer, Going to see Dr. Scott.  It will work best this way while mother is away.” No sooner had the note been discovered than film star Kirk Douglas contacted the police to assure them it didn’t refer to him.

The fact he got in contact when he wasn’t under suspicion conversely made some people think the star was involved. Jean had been working on a movie Douglas was making, although Douglas didn’t know her personally. Then there was Dr Scott. Supposedly a backstreet abortion doctor (in those days abortion was still illegal), Scott was never properly identified. To top it off, Jean was later reported to have been seen staying in a hotel with a notorious mobster wanted on conspiracy charges only two days before he vanished too.

So what happened? There are so many theories you can take your pick. Some think Dexter had the mob bump her off. Others that she got a backstreet abortion and died on the table. Others still suggest that she fell in love with a mobster, who was forced to flee the country and took Jean with him.

Nefertiti

nefertiti (Image: Philip Pikart)

The queen of Egypt in the 14th century BC, Nefertiti is also one of the greatest mysteries facing modern historians. Head of the cult of Aten and married to Amenhotep IV, she was beautiful (her name literally means “a beautiful woman has come”) and stunningly powerful. Her husband treated her as an equal in all matters, making her effectively joint ruler of Egypt and its people. Yet 12 years after she ascended the throne, something strange happened. All references to Nefertiti disappeared completely.

What’s left now is a strange gap in the historical record as mystifying as any recent disappearance. Did she die? Was she sent into exile when worship of the deity Amen-Ra came back into fashion? Others have even wilder theories. It’s been proposed Nefertiti was elevated to a true co-ruler and began dressing as a man; or that after her husband died she became known as Pharaoh Smenkhkare and ruled Egypt by herself.

Whether or not any of these rumours are true we can no longer say. All we know for sure is that this is a mystery – like the others on this list – that may never be solved.

Related – Aviation Mysteries: 10 Most Strange Aircraft Disappearances in History

 
 


 
 
 

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