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15 Mysterious Disappearances No One Can Explain

There's something uniquely disturbing about people vanishing into thin air. Read about these incredibly strange, unsolved cases.

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path through a dark forest at night

Gone without a trace

Although these 15 disappearances span centuries, locations, age ranges, and circumstances, there’s one common thread shared between them: a lack of closure. There are theories, speculations, and investigations, but never a decisive answer.

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15 Mysterious Disappearances No One Can Explain
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Virginia Dare

On August 18, 1587, Virginia Dare was born in Roanoke Colony, making her the first English child born in the Americas. Her grandfather was John White, who earlier that year had helped found Roanoke, but White never saw Virginia grow up because by the time he returned to Roanoke from an extended trip to retrieve supplies, the entire colony had vanished—not just the people, but every structure. No one knows what happened to Virginia or the rest of the Roanoke colonists.

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15 Mysterious Disappearances No One Can Explain
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Owen Parfitt

The disappearance of old Owen Parfitt from his sister’s front porch in the English countryside isn’t nearly as famous as, say, the disappearance of Amelia Earhart in 1937, but it’s even more mysterious. In the summer of 1763 (or therebouts—accounts differ on the exact year), while living with his sister in the town of Shepton Mallet, the paralyzed 60-year-old Parfitt simply disappeared. He couldn’t have walked off, but even the farm workers in the field across the road from the porch where Parfitt was sitting didn’t see anyone come or go. One moment he was there, the next, poof.

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Old letters
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Ambrose Bierce

The stories of American author, Ambrose Bierce, were part of the inspiration behind the first season of HBO’s True Detective. Bierce himself is the subject of a real-life mystery that will likely never be solved. One day in 1913, when Bierce was in his 70s, he told his friends and family he was going to Mexico to join Pancho Villa’s revolution. After sending a few letters from Mexico, Bierce was never seen or heard from again. Some speculate he was killed in action, while others believe that he may have committed suicide. Here are more of the strangest unsolved mysteries of all time.

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vintage typewriter and books on the table with blank paper on wooden desk

Barbara Newhall Follett

Finishing her first novel at age eight, Barbara Newhall Follett had written four books by the time she turned 18. But her literary success came at a price: She never had a childhood. By age 25, Follett had fallen into depression, and on the evening of December 7, 1939, she walked out of her house after an argument with her husband, never to be seen or heard from again. Her body was never found.

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Wooded Path in Michigan
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Paula Jean Welden

Paula Jean Welden was a sophomore at Bennington College on the day in December 1946 that she disappeared without a trace after telling her roommate she was taking a long walk. At one point, Paula’s father was suspected in her disappearance; he was later cleared. Over the next 10 years, a local Bennington man bragged to friends that he knew where Paula’s body was buried, but he couldn’t lead police to the gravesite. No one knows what really happened to Paula, but her disappearance ranks as one of history’s strangest unsolved mysteries.

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Old bus interior

James Tetford

Strangely enough, Bennington was the site of several unsolved disappearances that took place in the 1940s, including that of the wife of James Tetford, whom Tetford claimed went to the market and never returned. Just a few years later, in 1949, Tetford himself disappeared without a trace. He was last seen on a crowded bus, sleeping in his seat. Yet when the bus reached Bennington, Tetford had gone, all of his belongings left behind. He was never seen or heard from again.

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Dark Sea Water Surface
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The MV Joyita

On October 3, 1955, the merchant vessel, MV Joyita, departed Samoa for the Tokelau Islands. A month later, she was found drifting in the South Pacific, 600 miles off her course. All her passengers, crew, and cargo were gone. Some believe the ship was the victim of piracy. Another theory has it that the boat was taking on water (it was listing when it was discovered) and the 25 people on board abandoned ship—prematurely—and were lost.

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15 Mysterious Disappearances No One Can Explain

Patty Blough, Renee Bruhl, and Ann Miller

On July 2, 1966, three young women in bathing suits were seen happily boarding a small motorboat at a Lake Michigan beach. Crime reporter, Dick Wylie, who delved deeply into the women’s’ backstories, believes they had taken the boat to visit a floating abortion clinic (one which performed backroom abortions; this was seven years before Roe v. Wade). “I believe…something went wrong with one of the procedures,” Wylie told the New York Daily News. “[The abortionists] might have lost one girl, and they did away with the other two because they couldn’t leave witnesses.”

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Bow of a wooden boat
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The Sarah Joe

In February 1979, five friends departed the coast of Maui for a fun day of fishing on a small boat called the Sarah Joe and motored into one of Hawaii’s worst storms on record. When they failed to return, a massive search was conducted, to no avail. Sad, but not that surprising when it comes to maritime tragedy. Then things got weird: A decade later, the Sarah Joe was found wrecked on the coast of one of the Marshall Islands—next to the grave of what turned out to be one of the five men. How did he get there? Who buried him? And where is that person now who could help explain this mystery? We’ll never know. Check out these 14 mysteries of the ocean scientists can’t explain.

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Vintage journalist's desk 1950s style, he is working and typing on his typewriter late at night, top view

Keith Reinhard

This mystery starts with another man, Tom Young, who one day in 1987, took his dog for a walk near Silver Plume, Colorado, and never returned. Young had been renting retail space in town, which was then rented to Keith Reinhard. The new tenant found Young’s story so intriguing that he began writing a novel in which the main character was a composite of both Young and Reinhard. In 1988, a week after Young’s body was found by hunters with a shot to the head (presumed suicide), Reinhard went for a hike and never returned. Coincidence? Conspiracy? No one knows—but don’t miss these conspiracy theories that turned out to be true.

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Lost the keys on the grass
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Jodi Huisentruit

Jodi Huisentruit was an Iowa news anchor who disappeared from the parking lot of her apartment complex on June 27, 1995, at 4:10 a.m. She was heading into work. There were signs of a struggle, and some of her belongings were found strewn beside her car, including two shoes, two earrings, and her car key. Although a partial palm print and a hair were recovered from the scene, Huisentruit’s fate remains unknown.

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Keyboard dirty computer old laptop abc apple alphabet

Ray Gricar

On April 15, 2005, Ray Gricar, a homicide prosecutor for Centre County, Pennsylvania, told his girlfriend he was skipping work that day for a drive to Lewisburg (about 50 miles from his home), where he was hoping to enjoy a day of shopping and strolling. The next day, his car was found by a state trooper in a Lewisburg parking lot. His laptop was found six months later under a bridge; it wasmissing its hard drive. The hard drive was found several months later, too damaged to be read. Beyond that, no trace of Gricar was ever found; he was declared dead in 2011. Check out these science mysteries no one’s figured out.

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Bright open bar
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Brian Shaffer

Brian Shaffer, a 27-year-old Ohio State medical student, disappeared on April 1, 2006. That night, security cameras recorded him entering a Columbus bar with his friends—but not leaving. Friends and family wonder if Shaffer, who was grieving the death of his mother, intentionally slipped out of the bar never to be heard from again, or if he’d intended to get away temporarily to clear his head, and then something terrible happened to him. Read about these strange urban legends turned out to be true.

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hiking boots on the forest floor
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Barbara Bolick

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 the friend, Jim Ramaker, he and Barbara—a physically fit and experienced hiker—headed to an overlook where they stopped for a snack; Barbara walked back down the trail as Jim took one last look at the view—and then she vanished without a trace. More than a decade later, Barbara’s disappearance remains unsolved.

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Night Road on dark forest.

Lauren Spierer

On June 3, 2011, 20-year-old Indiana University student, Lauren Spierer, disappeared after a night of partying with her friends. PEOPLE recently reported: “Despite possible leads that included the arrest and conviction of a man for killing another Indiana U student in 2015,” Bloomington police still have no updates on Spierer. “Lauren’s disappearance has been and continues to be the most heart-wrenching experience of our lives,” her parents write on their Facebook page. “Seven years later, we continue our search for Lauren, for truth, for justice.” Read about these spooky urban legends from all 50 states.

Lauren Cahn
Lauren Cahn is a New York–based writer whose work has appeared regularly on Reader's Digest and in a variety of other publications since 2008. She covers life and style, popular culture, law, religion, health, fitness, yoga, entertaining and entertainment. Lauren is also an author of crime fiction, and her first full-length manuscript, "The Trust Game," was short-listed for the 2017 CLUE Award for emerging talent in the genre of suspense fiction.