It’s early Saturday morning in a sleepy English town, and the previous night’s revelers are slowly making their way home. In a pizza joint, a young man happily plays a game with strangers before heading into the darkness. But suddenly, events take a sinister turn; a camera catches footage of him turning right into the shadows, never to be seen again.
Twenty-three-year-old Corrie Mckeague was stationed at RAF Honington, a base near the town of Bury St. Edmunds in Suffolk, England. Born in Perth, Scotland, he spent his childhood in Cupar and Dunfermline on the Scottish coast.
Despite harboring an ambition to join the armed forces, Mckeague initially trained as a hair stylist after leaving school. However, he soon had a change of heart and headed to Perth College University to train as a fitness instructor.
But eventually, in October 2013, Mckeague followed his dreams by joining the Royal Air Force. And after passing training at RAF Honington, he became a gunner in No. 2 Squadron.
In a 2016 interview with BBC News, Mckeague’s mother said he was “gregarious” and always “the center of attention.” He was close to his family, had a puppy he doted on, and by all accounts seemed to be enjoying life.
On the night of September 23, 2016, however, everything changed. Indeed, what started as a normal evening out quickly turned into a mystery that experts are still struggling to solve.
After parking his car, Mckeague chatted to his brother on the phone for approximately 60 minutes. And when the call ended, Mckeague headed to a local bar to meet up with friends for drinks.
He met them at So Bar, where they all sang a track with musician Nick Lowe. Mckeague was a familiar face to Lowe, who often saw him in the pubs around Bury St. Edmunds.
After leaving So Bar, the group moved on to a local Wetherspoons, a British bar chain, at around 11:30 p.m. By this time, Mckeague was in high spirits, and witnesses recall him chatting to various customers.
At around 12:30 a.m., the group went to a local nightclub, where staff noted that Mckeague was visibly under the influence of alcohol. Half an hour later, he was escorted from the venue by security personnel. And although he had been asked to leave, Mckeague had reportedly done so amicably.
Having left his friends behind, Mckeague headed to Pizza Mamma Mia, where he bought burgers, fries and a kebab. By all accounts, he was in good spirits; indeed, he played rock-paper-scissors with a stranger.
At 1:20 a.m., CCTV captured Mckeague eating his food in the street before falling asleep in a shop doorway. Around two hours later, he awoke and texted a photograph to a friend. And that was the last anyone has heard from the popular young man.
The last known footage of Mckeague was taken at around 3:25 a.m., when he made a right turn that led him to an area behind a nearby store. Mysteriously, he hasn’t been seen since.
When Mckeague failed to turn up on the morning of September 26, RAF Honington officials reported him missing to local police. He could have been listed as AWOL in such circumstances, but Mckeague’s absence was so “out of character” that his superiors were far more concerned.
Earlier in 2016, unidentified assailants attempted to abduct a serviceman from RAF Marham, another base around 35 miles away. Although the culprits were never apprehended, investigators suspected that terrorists could have played a role, and there has inevitably been speculation that the two events may be connected.
Social media users soon mobilized to join the hunt for Mckeague. A Facebook group rapidly grew to over 80,000 members, while a Twitter campaign popularized the hashtag #findcorrie. Police, meanwhile, attempted to find individuals spotted at the time of Mckeague’s disappearance who they hoped might be able to provide some leads.
As more facts emerged, the mystery surrounding what happened deepened. A study of CCTV footage revealed that it was impossible for anyone to have left the area in which Mckeague was last seen without appearing again on camera. Nevertheless, he had seemingly disappeared without a trace.
In December, Mckeague’s mother, Nicola Urquhart, said she had lost faith in the police’s investigation. So she organized her own search in woods near RAF Honington, though it failed to turn up any further clues. She believes that her son was taken away in a vehicle – a theory seemingly supported by a trace on Mckeague’s phone, which showed it traveling several miles after his disappearance.
Another theory is that Mckeague had attempted to walk home but had been hit by a car – although this doesn’t explain how he mysteriously vanished from CCTV. Currently, the police and Mckeague’s family have no new leads as to his whereabouts, and so the riddle of his strange disappearance seems no closer to being solved.