There is an intensely eerie quality in cases of mysterious disappearances. The loss of people as a result of violent crime is one thing. But an unexplained absence is on a completely different level.
In mysterious disappearances, it is the silence of the empty space where the person used to be, and the lack of explanation to help us piece the events together that chills us.
Mysterious disappearances defy the logical chain of events in missing persons’ cases. Consequently, they make us feel intrigued yet powerless.
Perhaps this involuntary yet seductive pull is the reason why the public has long found fascination in unexplained mysteries and missing persons cases, or why we love a good mystery story. Why urban legends and the stuff of myth stem from such stories.
Mysterious disappearances have been occurring since the dawn of recorded civilization.
The first case of a person going missing without explanation lies in the case of Romulus, one of the legendary founders of Rome. Through the centuries and until today, a host of famous disappearances have accumulated.
Here are some of them:
Flannan Isle Lighthouse Keepers
The mystery of the lightkeepers has inspired many a song and ballad, the most famous being by the band “Genesis”. The mystery concerns a lighthouse near Eilean Mòr, one of the Flannan Isles in the northernmost Outer Hebrides region of Scotland.
The cluster of islands, under the nickname “the Seven Hunters”, supposedly took its name from Saint Flannan, the seventh-century Irish preacher and abbot.
In 1900, Donal Macarthur, James Ducat, and Thomas Marshall vanished from the lighthouse on Flannan Isle. The three keepers were at the end of a 14-day shift but remained on the Isle due to bad weather. After a passing ship noticed that the lighthouse was dark, a search began for them.
Following the disappearance, massive investigation and speculations ensued. The investigators did not have much to go on. The most credible theory is that a freak wave swept the men out to sea during the storm.
The island was completely deserted, and unmade beds and cups still full were in the lighthouse. There were no clues of a struggle or an accident happening. No bodies were ever found.
The three men had vanished in the foam.
“As to me, I leave here tomorrow for an unknown destination”.
Such were the closing lines of Ambrose Bierce’s last ever letter to his friend, Blanche Partington. The date was December 26, 1913. The following day, one of America’s most widely known and influential writers, journalists, and satirists, would leave no trace.
Bierce, under his capacity as a war journalist and correspondent as well as an adventurer, went to follow Sancho Villa’s Army during the unfolding revolution in Mexico. Historians believe that sometime during the fighting he perished, or criminals murdered him.
Nobody ever found any remains of indication of what really happened. And so, one of the founders of ghost literature and horror stories had a fitting end to his unconventional life.
As far as mysterious disappearances go, Roanoke Colony is one of the most extreme. For a person to go missing is strange for sure. But a whole colony? Now that’s something else entirely.
Roanoke received funding from Sir Walter Raleigh and was the first attempt at a permanent colony in North America. From the very beginning, the mission faced many difficulties; storms, shortage of funds and food, illness, you name it. The harsh conditions forced the majority of the prospective colonists to leave, a small part remaining behind.
By the time the ones who left returned with reinforcements during a second expedition, the entire colony was missing.
There was only a single clue to indicate what happened to them: the word “CROATOAN” carved into a tree.
Nobody knows what happened. Speculation suggests that local tribes either killed or assimilated the colonists. The Croatan are a small Native American group living in the coastal areas of what is now North Carolina.
They may have been a branch of the larger Roanoke people, a tribe with Algonquian roots, or allied with them. The story of Roanoke has inspired certain well-known adaptations, such as a season of the popular TV show “American Horror Story”.
Elizabeth Eaton Converse had such a poignant life. She was one of the first singer-songwriters, and her work and life remained underground until the 2009 release of her song recordings, titled “How Sad, How Lovely”.
During the ’50s, she moved to New York, writing and singing songs accompanied by her acoustic guitar. They were mostly melancholy or playful tunes, about love, loss, and everyday life.
She had a distinctly old-style folk sound. Her music did not yet have elements of electric instruments like the folk music that would come after Bob Dylan and Simon and Garfunkel’s rise to success.
As the years passed, Connie had been drinking and smoking a lot, and become disillusioned by the discrepancy between the life she had dreamt of and the life she had had.
In 1974, Connie Converse sent letters to a few close family members and friends, informing them that she was going to set out and make a fresh start. That was the last anyone heard of her.
How sad and lovely indeed.
Megumi Yokota and the North Korean Abductions
And then there’s North Korea. During the period between 1977 to 1983, North Korea was responsible for at least thirteen mysterious disappearances.
According to official announcements made by North Korea at the time and ex post facto, a number of Japanese persons, most of them teenagers or young adults, were abducted in order to train as Korean Spies.
One of them was a student named Megumi Yokota. North Korean agents reportedly dragged her into a boat and took her straight to North Korea to a facility that taught North Korean spies about South Korean customs and practices.
After also learning Korean, Megumi forcibly married another captive and taught North Korean agents how to pass as Japanese and assimilate into the Japanese routine.
In 2002, North Korea admitted having orchestrated the abduction but claimed that Megumi had committed suicide. It returned what it said were her remains. The captive she had had to marry corroborated the story, claiming she had committed suicide after a bout of mental illness ensuing from her captivity.
Megumi’s remains returned to Japan sometime during the ’00s, though controversy as to their authenticity accompanied them.
The North Korean abductions made headlines once, but sadly enough no international legal action ever took place.
Yuba County Five and the American Dyatlov Pass
On the night of February 24, 1978, Gary Mathias, age 25, Bill Sterling, age 29, Jack Huett, age 24, Ted Weiher, age 32, and Jack Madruga, age 30, stopped at a local convenience store in Yuba City, California.
It was just after a basketball game they had attended, and they meant to buy snacks and drinks and go for a ride. That was the last time anyone saw them alive.
The press dubbed their mysterious disappearances “The American Dyatlov Pass”, after a disappearance incident involving Soviet hikers in 1959.
Police discovered the youth’s car in a remote part of Plumas National Forest. There was no sight of them in the surrounding area.
Investigators could not, however, determine why they had abandoned it as they could easily have pushed it out of the snowpack it was in.
A few months later, the bodies started showing up.
All of them, at least, apart from Gary Mathias, who the police never found. The other four bodies lay in a shelter approximately 32 kilometers from where the car had been. They showed signs of exposure, famine, and dehydration.
The police still have no idea what happened. Why was the car where they found it? Why did the bodies show signs of exposure, starvation, and hypothermia despite the ample provisions left next to them? Even more perplexing is the disappearance of Gary Mathias.
The above were just a fraction of mysterious disappearances that will never cease to attract us.
It is in the absence that one finds the most material, and it is the silence of a vanishing that is most deafening.
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