The 20 Most Mysterious Disappearances of the 20th Century

Over the course of the 20th century countless people disappeared. Some, thankfully, returned safely – but not these 20. The circumstances surrounding their vanishings – which involved everything from kidnappings and murder to espionage and aliens – really captured the public’s imagination, but still no one could solve what happened to them.

20. Amelia Earhart

The first female pilot to fly across the Atlantic, Amelia Earhart was a true pioneer. In the summer of 1937 she endeavored to circumnavigate the globe in a Lockheed Model 10 Electra, but she never made it. The pilot vanished close to Howard Island in the Pacific Ocean, and while most historians agree that Earhart crashed into the sea, a few believe she made it to land – possibly Saipan, where some have suggested she was captured and executed by Japanese soldiers.

19. Michael Rockefeller

Michael, a fourth-generation Rockefeller family member, had a taste for adventure. In 1961 he teamed up with a Dutch anthropologist to explore New Guinea by wooden canoe, though on November 17 their boat capsized. Rockefeller was never seen again; maybe he was eaten by a shark or a crocodile. Some, however, believe he was killed by native tribes and that he may have been cannibalized.

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18. Heinrich Muller

As head of the Berlin Gestapo, Herman Muller was at Hitler’s bunker at the very end. Yet while the Fuhrer’s death is well documented, Muller seems to have simply vanished; to this day he remains the highest-ranking Nazi whose fate is unknown. Muller may have died in the bunker, where his body could have been destroyed. Or perhaps he joined other Nazis in fleeing to South America and living out his days under a new name.

17. Victor Grayson

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On September 28, 1920, English politician Victor Grayson was summoned to the Queen’s Hotel in Leicester Square, London. He told his companions that he would return shortly – but he never came back. What became of him? Nobody knows. One biographer claimed he deliberately vanished to live under a new identity provided by the secret service; others argue that he was killed so he couldn’t blow the whistle on a corruption scandal. His case continues to baffle history buffs.

16. Felix Moncla

In 1953 first lieutenant Felix Moncla, then stationed at Michigan’s Kinross Air Force Base, was ordered to investigate a strange object detected by radar. But when Moncla got close to the object in his F-89C Scorpion jet – either directly above or below it, in fact, according to the radar screen – his plane suddenly vanished. The object, weirdly, continued traveling as normal. No trace of Moncla or his airplane has ever been discovered.

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15. Frank Morris

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Late on June 11, 1962, convicted felon Frank Lee Morris, along with two other prisoners, escaped from Alcatraz. The men left papier-mâché dummies in their cells, crawled through tunnels and then set off from the island on a makeshift raft. Their chances of making it were slim, to say the least, but some believe Morris survived. His case, which is overseen by the United States Marshals Service, remains open to this day.

14. Lord Lucan

British peer Lord Lucan was deemed legally dead in 2016, but how, where and when he died – or if he actually is dead – has never been proven. The aristocrat vanished on November 7, 1974 after the family’s nanny was found beaten to death. An inquest confirmed that Lord Lucan was guilty of her murder, but he would never face justice. Did he kill himself in shame? Or perhaps he fled abroad under a new guise.

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13. Richey Edwards

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With his history of depression – and the fact that his car was found by a notorious suicide spot, the Severn Bridge, which links Wales to England – there are clear signs that Manic Street Preachers guitarist Richie Edwards jumped to his death when he vanished in February 1995. The musician’s body, however, has never been found, which has caused some to speculate as to whether he is still alive. In 2008 he was deemed presumed dead.

12. Vladimir Alexandrov

Vladimir Valentinovich Alexandrov, who mathematically mapped the nuclear winter theory, was the star speaker at a special conference in Madrid in 1985. But the Russian physicist – who simply vanished from the Spanish capital’s streets, never to be seen again – was destined not to appear on stage. This was before the end of the Cold War, so some believe Alexandrov was taken by the KGB in case he rejected the concept of the nuclear winter.

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11. Gedhun Choekyi Nyima

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Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, who was only born in 1989, is Tibetan Buddhism’s 11th Panchen Lama – the most senior figure below the Dalia Lama. Yet in May 1995, when he was just six, the boy was kidnapped by Chinese authorities. No one has publicly seen Nyima – who human rights groups refer to as the “youngest political prisoner in the world” – since. In 2015 the Chinese government said he “does not wish to be disturbed.”

10. Oscar Zeta Acosta

Oscar Zeta Acosta was immortalized by Hunter S. Thompson as Dr. Gonzo in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, but what became of him is anyone’s guess. In 1974 the Mexican-American attorney and Chicano activist vanished in Mazatlán on the west coast of Mexico. An investigation by Thompson into his friend’s disappearance suggested that Acosta was addicted to amphetamines, which led some to believe he may have gotten on the wrong side of drug traffickers or that he died after an overdose.

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9. The Springfield Three

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In June 1992 friends Suzie Streeter, Stacy McCall and Sherrill Levitt, Streeter’s mom, disappeared from the latter’s house in the Missouri city of Springfield. Despite investigators receiving thousands of tips, however, they found no trace of The Springfield Three’s whereabouts – and there was no real sign of struggle at the property. All three remain officially missing, though some have suggested that their bodies may lie in concrete foundations at a local hospital which were laid on the day they disappeared.

8. Lionel Crabb

Lionel Crabb was basically a real-life James Bond, and in April 1956 the British MI6 diver was sent to examine a Soviet cruiser docked in Portsmouth on England’s south coast. Yet upon diving in he was never seen again, at least not publicly. In June the following year, however, a diver’s body was recovered from the waters – minus its hands and head. It couldn’t be identified, though, and it didn’t seem to have the scars that Crabb definitely possessed.

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7. Jean Spangler

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Jean Spangler dreamed of making it big in Hollywood, but the dancer and model became famous for darker reasons. She was just 26 when she vanished, purportedly on her way to meet her ex-husband. Police later found Spangler’s empty purse and a note addressed to “Kirk” mentioning a visit to “Dr. Scott.” Who these two figures are has never been determined, however. Acting legend Kirk Douglas – who Spangler once worked alongside as an extra – insisted he never knew her.

6. The Sodder Children

On Christmas Eve 1945 the Sodder family home in Fayetteville, West Virginia burnt down. Four of the nine children inside survived, but what about the five others? George Sodder and his wife Jennie insisted their kids – whose bodies were never found – survived and that the fire was a means to conceal their kidnapping. George, a native Italian, was a vocal critic of the country’s fascist government; could it or the mafia have started the blaze in retaliation?

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5. Joshua Slocum

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The first individual to sail around the planet alone, Joshua Slocum was a more than able seaman. But in 1909, while sailing to the West Indies, he vanished. Some maintain that only a freak accident – a collision with a whale, perhaps – could have led to his death. Or was suicide his last great adventure? If so, his “accident” at sea – despite being a skilled mariner, Slocum couldn’t swim – would mean that his wife would be eligible for an insurance payout.

4. Béla Kiss

Few murderers chill the bones quite like Béla Kiss. The Hungarian killed over 20 women in his home town of Czinkota between 1900 and 1914 and used alcohol to pickle his victims’ bodies. Kiss’ killing spree was only halted by the outbreak of the First World War, during which he was injured. He escaped from a Serbian hospital in 1916, and no one’s been able to say with certainty what happened to him since – despite an apparent sighting in New York in 1932.

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3. Ettore Majorana

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Ettore Majorana, who’s widely regarded as one of the greatest minds of the last century, disappeared while travelling from Palermo, Italy to Naples in March 1938. The theories behind this still-unsolved case are almost as complex as the theoretical physics the Italian worked on. Did he flee to Argentina? Was he captured by hostile countries who worried that he might be developing atomic weapons? Did he take his own life? Still nobody knows.

2. Tara Calico

The case that gripped a nation: Tara Leigh Calico vanished in Belen, New Mexico on September 20, 1988. Sightings of a suspicious van in the area at the time fueled speculation that Calico had been kidnapped. There have been several alleged sightings of the woman over the years, too, while there’s also been the emergence of a creepy Polaroid picture of two youngsters tied up in the back of a van. Detectives, however, are no closer to finding the truth.

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1. Jim Thompson

In ’50s and ’60s Asia Jim Thompson lived the good life in Thailand. The businessman is credited with having revived the country’s silk industry – something that allowed him to make a fortune. In March 1967, however, he vanished without a trace while trekking in Malaysia’s Cameron Highlands, and despite a huge search he was never found. Some believe Thompson was kidnapped or killed by business rivals; others reckon he voluntarily left for Vietnam to work undercover in resolving the conflict there.

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