Stories of People Disappearing or Vanishing

A man vanishing into thin air.
Photo:Creative RF / erlandg / Getty Images

People Disappear everyday. It's been estimated that as many as 10 million people are reported missing each year in the U.S. alone; about 95 percent of them return or are otherwise accounted for. Of the remaining 5 percent, some are runaways, others are kidnappings, abductions or the victims of some other crime.

There is a small percentage of disappearances, however, for which there is no easy explanation. We related several such incidents in a previous article, Vanished! Unexplained Disappearances. The fate of these people -- sometimes groups of people -- is left for us to wonder about. Did they unwittingly step into a time portal?... Were they swallowed up by a rift in our three-dimensional world?... Were they abducted by extraterrestrials in UFOs? These are pretty far-out suggestions, to be sure, but the circumstances of the following unexplained disappearances leave us scratching our heads in bewilderment.

The Vanishing Prisoner

This first account is an excellent case in point because it defies any rational explanation for one simple reason: it occurred in full view of witnesses. The year was 1815 and the location a Prussian prison at Weichselmunde. The prisoner's name was Diderici, a valet who was serving a sentence for assuming his employer's identity after he died from a stroke. It was an ordinary afternoon and Diderici was just one in a line of prisoners, all chained together, walking in the prison yard for the day's exercise.

As Diderici walked with his prison inmates to the clanking of their shackles, he slowly began to fade -- literally. His body became more and more transparent until Diderici disappeared altogether, and his manacles and leg irons fell empty to the ground. He disappeared into thin air and was never seen again.

(From Among the Missing: An Anecdotal History of Missing Persons from 1800 to the Present, by Jay Robert Nash)

Stumble into Nothingness

It's difficult to dismiss such incredible stories when they take place in front of eyewitnesses. Here's another. This case began as a harmless bet among friends, but ended in tragic mystery. In 1873, James Worson of Leamington Spa, England, was a simple shoemaker who also fancied himself somewhat of an athlete. One fine day, James made a bet with a few of his friends that he could run non-stop from Leamington Spa to Coventry. Knowing that this was a good 16 miles, his friends readily took the bet.

As James began to jog at a moderate pace toward Coventry, his friends climbed into a horse-drawn cart to follow him and protect their bet. James did well for the first few miles. Then his friends saw him trip on something and fall forward... but never hit the ground. Instead, James completely vanished. Astonished and doubting their own eyes, his friends looked for him without success, then raced back to Leamington Spa to inform the police. An investigation turned up nothing. James Worson had run into oblivion.

(From Into Thin Air, by Paul Begg)

Halfway to the Well

Most disappearances do not have witnesses, yet there is sometimes circumstantial evidence that is no less puzzling. This is the case for the vanishing of Charles Ashmore. It was a cold November winter night in 1878 when 16-year-old Charles went out into the dark with a bucket to fetch water from the well for his family on their Quincy, Illinois property. He did not return.

After many minutes, his father and sister became concerned. They feared that Charles perhaps had slipped in the snow that blanketed the ground and was injured, or worse, had fallen into the well. They set out to look for him, but he was just gone. There was no sign of a struggle or fall... only the clear tracks of Charles' footprints in the fresh snow that led halfway to the well, then abruptly stopped. Charles Ashmore had suddenly disappeared into the void.

(From Into Thin Air, by Paul Begg)

Gone in His Sleep

Bruce Campbell was right next to his wife when he disappeared, although she didn't see it happen. She was asleep. And perhaps so was he. It was April 14, 1959, and Campbell was traveling with his wife from their hometown in Massachusetts to visit their son some distance across the country. It was a long but pleasant drive across the U.S. with plenty of stops along the way. One overnight stop was in Jacksonville, Illinois... and it turned out to be the last stop Mr. Campbell was to ever make.

He and his wife checked into a motel and went to bed. In the morning, Mrs. Campbell awoke to find the space next to her in bed empty. Mr. Campbell had vanished, apparently in his pajamas. All of his belongings -- his money, car and clothing -- remained behind. Bruce Campbell was never seen again and no explanation for his disappearance ever found.

(From Among the Missing: An Anecdotal History of Missing Persons from 1800 to the Present, by Jay Robert Nash)

They Drove Away... To Where?

Here's another case of a couple in Illinois, but this time they both vanished -- along with their car. It was May, 1970 when Edward and Stephania Andrews were in the city of Chicago to attend a trade convention party at the Chicago Sheraton Hotel. Edward was a bookkeeper and Stephania a credit investigator. They were both 63 years old, considered average, upstanding citizens who lived in a fine home in the Chicago suburb of Arlington Heights. During the party, other attendees noted that Edward complained of mild illness, which he attributed merely to being hungry (the party only served drinks and small hor d'oeuvres).

They soon left the party and went to the parking garage to retrieve their car. The parking attendant later told authorities that Stephania appeared to be crying and that Edward did not look well. As they drove away with Edward at the wheel, he scraped the car's fender on the exit door, but kept on going. The attendant was the last person to ever see the Andrews. They vanished into the night. Police speculated that Edward, not feeling well, had driven off a bridge into the Chicago River. But an investigation uncovered no sign of such an accident; the river was even dragged for the car without success. The Andrews and their car were just gone.

The Long, Long Drive

A similar disappearance was reported by The New York Times in April, 1980. Charles Romer and his wife Catherine were one of those retired couples who spent half of the year in the north and half in the south, living in their summer home in Scarsdale, New York, then driving to Florida to enjoy the winter in their Miami apartment. It was on one such trip back to New York that the Romers met their mysterious fate. They set off on the long trip on the morning of April 8 in their black Lincoln Continental. Late that afternoon, they made their first overnight stop at a  motel in Brunswick City, Georgia. It turned out to be their last.

They checked in and dropped off their luggage in their room. Then they went out, possibly to get some dinner. A highway patrolman might have seen their car on the road that evening. If so, it was the last anyone ever saw of the Romers or their Continental. They never arrived at any restaurant and never made it back to the motel. It wasn't until three days later that an investigation showed that their motel beds were never slept in. A thorough search of the area found absolutely no trace of the Romers or their car -- no clues whatsoever. They simply vanished without a trace.