The Five Spookiest Disappearances Of All Time

The Five Spookiest Disappearances Of All Time

People go missing all the time. Sometimes they want to disappear. Sometimes, it may be someone else that wants them to vanish. Then there are the cases where you can never really be sure what happened — though you can be sure that something strange is going on. Here are five cases of disappearances happening in the most mysterious of circumstances.

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Benjamin Bathurst

Benjamin Bathurst. Public domain

Benjamin Bathurst was a British diplomat who disappeared without a trace in Germany in 1809. Now, this might not sound too mysterious considering how common murders, robberies and bandits were in Prussia during the Napoleonic Wars, in a day and age when sophisticated forensics didn’t exist. However his disappearance was so notably sudden that many attributed it to a supernatural cause, even suggesting that he had hopped between dimensions.

Bathurst was travelling through Prussia at the time, under the alias of Baron de Koch. He and his German courier stopped in the town of Perleberg at an inn called the White Swan while they waited for fresh horses to be harnessed to their carriage. After staying a few hours, they were notified that their carriage was ready. Bathurst left the room immediately, and his companion followed shortly after — only to find that Bathurst had disappeared completely in the short distance between the inn and the carriage.

No sign of the diplomat could be found, and at first a search was not mobilised. As Bathurst was travelling under an alias as a commercial traveller, his disappearance was not noted until his companion managed to travel back to England with the news. Bathurst’s wife immediately left for Germany where a Captain von Klitzing had already mobilised his troops for an ultimately fruitless search.

The first sign found of the man was an expensive fur coat, turned up in the outhouse of a family that worked at the White Swan. Later, his pantaloons were found in the forest north of Perleberg — but no other trace of the man was ever discovered. Contemporary reports argued over whether Bathurst was in his right mind as he travelled through Prussia, with many investigators working under the impression that he had chosen to disappear of his own accord.

The most thorough account of Bathurst’s disappearance comes from Sabine Baring-Gould’s Historic Oddities and Strange Events:

On Mr. Bathurst’s return to the inn, he countermanded the horses; he said he would not start till night. He considered that it would be safer for him to spin along the dangerous portion of the route by night when Napoleon’s spies would be less likely to be on the alert. He remained in the inn writing and burning papers. At seven o’clock he dismissed the soldiers on guard, and ordered the horses to be ready by nine. He stood outside the inn watching his portmanteau, which had been taken within, being replaced on the carriage, stepped round to the heads of the horses — and was never seen again.

Baring-Gould does go on to say that it was quite dark at this time and though there were witnesses in the courtyard, not many of them were paying attention. Many of the witnesses had noted that the man seemed agitated in the hours before he disappeared, as though he knew he was in danger. Whether this was because the French were close by in the area, because he was mentally ill and potentially suicidal or even for another, stranger reason, no one knows.

Image via Project Gutenberg. Public domain

The suddenness and completeness of his disappearance has always been a point of interest, however, to the point where it has inspired a number of science-fiction stories and novels. The most notable of these is ‘He Walked Around The Horses‘, a science fiction novel in which Bathurst slips into an alternate universe from the courtyard of the White Swan.

There was never any conclusive evidence of what really happened to Bathurst. In 1852, a skeleton was discovered under the threshold of a stable by a house not three hundred paces from the White Swan. The skull was fractured as if by a heavy instrument, and one of the lower molars had been removed by a dentist. While this skull was investigated, it was never conclusively decided whether it was Bathurst’s or not.

Was Bathurst a victim of a murder, a French kidnapping or did he simply step out of this world and into another, as some suggest? As with most of these mysteries, we’ll probably never know.

Roanoke, The Lost Colony

Roanoke Map, 1584. Public domain

Another historical disappearance, the story of Roanoke is far stranger and greater in scale. It concerns an event in early American history when an entire colony disappeared without a trace — earning it the nickname, “The Lost Colony”.

The colony was founded in 1585 by Sir Walter Raleigh, the earliest of a number of attempts by Queen Elizabeth I to establish a permanent English settlement on the American continent.

In April 1585, Raleigh sent an exploratory expedition to America to find the best place to establish a colony. The first reached Roanoke Island and even brought two of the native Croatoan people back to England, who told Raleigh about the politics and geography of their area. Later that year a second expedition returned to establish a colony on the island, though it began badly. Stopping in at a native village, the English came to believe that a native person from the village had stolen a silver cup. In retaliation, they sacked and burned the village.

An initial attempt at colonisation was unsuccessful when the small Roanoke settlement suffered an attack from the native tribes, and explorer Sir Francis Drake soon after stopped by at the colony and took the colonists back to England. When the relief fleet arrived to find the colony abandoned, the fleet returned quickly to England leaving only fifteen men as a garrison.

The next English ship that stopped by at Roanoke was a ship of colonists intended for Chesapeake Bay in 1587 — though when they found no trace of the garrison that had been left behind, the fleet’s commander insisted that they establish the colony on Roanoke instead. They reformed relations with the local Croatoans and other tribes, but some remained hostile towards them.

After a colonist was killed by a native while out alone, the colonists sent their Governor back to England to ask for help for Roanoke. Around 115 of them were left behind on the island — among them, Virginia Dare, the first English child born in America and Governor White’s granddaughter.

With problems rising back home in England, Governor White was unable to return to Roanoke for almost three years. He landed in August of 1590 but the settlement was deserted. Of a colony that had been left with 90 men, 17 women and 11 children, not a single one could be found — alive or dead. While it’s clear that many of the local natives harboured ill will towards the colonists, there was also no sign of a struggle or a battle at the site of the colony. The only sign the colonists had left was the word “CROATOAN” carved into a fence post.

The discovery of the word ‘CROATOAN’. Public Domain

The colony showed signs of an unhurried departure. Houses and fortifications had been dismantled, and the only answer White could imagine was that the colony had moved to Croatoan Island. With his men keen to move on and a storm brewing, the matter could not be investigated at that point in time.

Twelve years passed before Raleigh launched an investigation into the fate of his lost colony, but this ship never even made it to Roanoke. The Spanish stumbled upon the remains of the colony by accident, but after this point no further effort was expended looking for the colony, and no trace of their people was ever found.

There are a number of theories as to what happened to the colonists of Roanoke Island, none of them more or less conclusive than the other. Chief Powhatan is said to have bragged to the later English settlers of Jamestown that he was responsible for the slaughter of the lost colonists, after they had moved their colony elsewhere from Roanoke island.

Other accounts suggest that the Roanoke colonists moved elsewhere and integrated with the Native tribes — and there are a number of cases where Native populations are said to have either English-looking features, or similar surnames and even words in their dialect to those used by the original settlers.

Archaeological expeditions are still seeking to solve this mystery to this day, but no solid evidence of the settlers’ fate has yet been uncovered.

Leah Roberts

In March 2000, 23 year Leah Roberts disappeared from her home after a tumultuous couple of years in which she had lost both her parents and dropped out of college. Nine days after she first went missing, the wreck of her Jeep was discovered in a remote forest. Several days after this, a man reported a sighting of a young woman wandering disoriented and confused around a gas station some distance away.

After this, no further trace of Leah was ever found.

Before Leah’s disappearance, she seemed to be going through the same kind of soul-searching that would be familiar to many who’ve gone through particularly rough periods in their lives. After dropping out of college, she took up a number of new pursuits including photography, poetry and guitar, and spoke with her friends about emulating Jack Kerouac and going on a road trip west.

None of her friends expected her to leave when she did, however. It was March 9, 2000, and Leah was making plans with friends — including agreeing to do some babysitting the next day. Later in the day, her roommate noticed that Leah had not returned home. She didn’t turn up to babysitting the next day either, and was not home by that evening. Leah was reported missing on Monday March 13.

Everything that remained in Leah’s room suggested that the woman had been planning on leaving on an extended trip — but with the intention to return eventually. Much of her clothing was missing, and she seemed to have taken her cat, but she had left a note bundled with enough money to cover around a month’s worth of rent and expenses. This indicates she had intended to return within this amount of time. The note assured her friends that she wasn’t suicidal, in fact that she was “the opposite”, and mentioned the author Kerouac again.

Leah’s sister Kara had access to her bank accounts at that time, and was able to look into her records. These showed evidence of a trip heading west along Interstate 40, with purchases including gas or food and a motel paid for on her debit card near Memphis, Tennessee. After talking with some of Leah’s friends, Kara concluded that Leah was heading to the Cascade Mountains of Washington, to a place of much beauty that Kerouac had been quite taken with in his novel The Dharma Bums.

At this point, Kara seemed assured that she knew (at least vaguely) where her sister was and what she was doing. She gave up her investigation, simply waiting for Leah to contact her. The last activity on Leah’s accounts occurred on the morning of March 13.

After a few days of silence, Leah’s car had been found in Bellingham, Washington, without Leah inside or around it. A jogger had come across a site where articles of clothing had been strewn by the roadside, with some even tied to trees and branches. At the bottom of a steep embankment off the side of this road was Leah’s smashed-up Jeep. The crash site suggested the Jeep had been travelling fast when it left the road, with signs pointing to a multiple rollover — though no blood or signs of injury were found inside the vehicle. It was even theorised that the crash had been staged.

An in-depth study of Leah’s case. You may have to turn the volume up for this video

Inside the vehicle, police found pillows and blankets hung inside the windows, suggesting someone had been living inside at least temporarily. Leah’s passport, checkbook, license and many of her belongings were found scattered in the surrounding area, including cat food and a cat carrier. Valuables and an amount of cash were also located at the crash scene, meaning robbery hadn’t been the cause of the crash, or Leah’s absence.

Searching through Leah’s belongings, police found a ticket stub from a theatre suggesting she had stopped in Bellingham. This line of investigation led them to two men who had dined and conversed with her on March 13. These men claimed that Leah had left the restaurant with a third man, who she called ‘Barry’. Police spent two weeks searching for Leah in the area around the crash, acting under the assumption that she had been injured in the crash and had left the car behind, though no trace of her was found.

The next development came when a man claimed to have seen her, disorientated and confused, in a gas station close to Seattle. Since then, sightings of Leah have been reported, though few of them have proven credible. The only other evidence that was found came years later in 2006, when the crashed Jeep was gone over again. Detectives found that a wire had been cut that would allow the car to accelerate without someone in it pushing the pedal. This meant that the crash could have been staged. Along with this, a fingerprint was found under the hood, along with some male DNA on Leah’s clothes.

Leah has never been officially declared deceased, and some organisations continue to organise events to keep the missing woman in people’s memories. While the leading theory is that she was the victim of foul play and was killed, it’s also possible that she disappeared of her own volition, and is still out there somewhere.

Missing 411

Leah is not the only person to have disappeared in one of America’s wilder, forested areas. She is one of many — one of thousands, in fact. Some have started to question how so very many people can go missing in national parks, both in the US and worldwide. One of these is David Paulides, who has compiled a series of books under the name Missing 411, chronicling unsolved disappearances in national parks.

What’s more, they seem to follow a certain pattern. Children are often the ones who disappear, in many cases when they were walking right by their parents. Those who are found sometimes turn up in places described by searchers as ‘inaccessible’. Clothing has been found, sometimes neatly folded, and bodies turn up in areas which have already been thoroughly searched. Missing people who are found alive often can’t describe what happened or where they were. In a lot of the cases people (especially children) are found, whether dead or alive, further away from the place where they went missing than they could have possibly travelled to on their own.

One of the cases involved an eight year old girl named Kathryn Van Alst who got lost in the Ozark Mountains in 1946. She went missing after going for a walk near her camp, getting lost in the thick vegetation. Kathryn was found alive after six days, unharmed and seemingly unworried by her ordeal. When searchers called her name, she simply stepped out of a cave saying “here I am”.

An entrance to one of the caves in the Devil’s Den. Image via Sam

The park that Van Alst had gotten lost in was called “Devil’s Den”, and those studying these mysteries have noted that children often seem to get lost in places with similar names. In 1938, a five-year-old named Alfred Beilhartz went missing in the Rocky Mountain National Park. He had gone with his dad to the river, and from there had wanted to go join two family friends a little further up the river. It was only when the group returned to camp that they noticed Alfred was missing.

The day after he disappeared, as a huge party searched the area, a couple of hikers in a nearby area looked up to see a young boy perched in a place called the Devil’s Nest. By the time they realised he was the missing boy and notified the searchers, he was already gone.

Another child who went missing was six-year-old Dennis Martin, in a highly publicised case that led to one of the largest National Park searches ever. It even got help from United States Army Special Forces — the Green Berets. Dennis disappeared in the Smoky Mountain National Park, a place that’s infamous for the number of people who go missing within its bounds. Martin had been just one participant in a prank whereby he and his brothers would jump out from the bushes and scare the adults in their group — but Dennis never appeared from the brush.

Dennis was wearing brightly coloured clothing that had helped his relatives keep track of him in the mountains until this point, but the young boy had simply disappeared into the forest. Later that day, a nearby group heard a “sickening scream” from the forest, moments later seeing a “rough-looking” man moving swiftly through the woods near where the sound came from.

The case was one that engrossed the searchers — Dennis’s father spent two weeks in the area searching, while a park ranger named Dwight McCarter found himself particularly haunted by the case. For the young boy to disappear so completely just didn’t make sense.

While Paulides is convinced that all these cases, or at least a large number of them, are related, he still has no definite theory on what has happened to the missing people. Paulides is also known for his research into the cryptid Bigfoot, however — and this is a prevailing theory among some followers of Missing 411.

The Sodder Family

One common element in cases of missing children is a phenomenon where parents seem to be unable to accept the apparent deaths of their children, even when presented with strong evidence supporting it. Yet in the case of the Sodder family, the parents’ insistence that their children are still alive might just be true. The Sodder family was a large one, with parents George and Jennie and their ten children. George was actually born Giorgo Soddu in Sardenia, Italy, though he later migrated to the US.

On Christmas Eve of 1945, the whole family was together to celebrate. Late in the night, Jennie took a phone call from a female voice that she didn’t recognise, asking for someone she didn’t know. Jennie only noticed the other woman’s odd laugh as she hung up. Her eldest child had fallen asleep on the couch, and Jennie assumed the other children had all gone up to the upstairs room where they slept.

Around 1am, she was woken up by the sound of something hitting the roof, and half an hour later woke up to the smell of smoke. George’s office was on fire — having seemingly started around the telephone line and the fuse box. The parents and four children escaped the house, and though they called up the stairs (which were already flame) for the other five children, they didn’t hear a response.

Trying to rescue the other children was oddly complicated. First, the phone line didn’t work, and the eldest Sodder child had to run to a neighbour’s to call the fire department. When George went to try and rescue the other children from the attic, the ladder he would have used could not be found in its usual spot. Next he tried to move his trucks over by the house so he could climb up them into the window, but neither of them would start. Low on manpower and resources, the fire department couldn’t respond to the call until the next morning. By that time the remains of the Sodder family had had to watch as their house burned and slowly crumbled in on itself.

Alleged photo of an adult Louis Sodder. Public domain

As the fire department searched the wreckage the next morning, however, no trace of the five children who had supposedly perished in the fire could be found — not even bones. An inquest held that the cause of the fire had been faulty wiring, though one of the jurors on the panel was a man who had earlier threatened George that his house would be burned and his children taken away for making anti-Mussolini comments. The parents could not even bear to attend their children’s funerals.

Soon, the Sodder parents started to question whether their children really had died in the fire. Jennie burned small piles of animal bones to see whether fire could completely destroy even bones. A repairman revealed that the phone line had not been burned through, but had deliberately been cut on the night of the fire. The missing ladder was found at the bottom of an embankment. Sightings of the children started to crop up nearby. A box that supposedly contained the remains of one of the children turned out to contain a beef liver, and the man who had buried it admitted he had been asked to lie about its origins.

The prevailing theory is that the children were abducted by the Sicilian Mafia in retaliation for George’s criticism of the Italian Fascist government, but nothing has ever been proven. However, it’s more than likely that the Sodder children are still out there somewhere — the family even received a photo in 1967, supposedly showing one of their now-adult children, including a cryptic message on the back that no one ever discovered the meaning of.