The 25 Most Puzzling Disappearances in American History

Source: Stanleykpatz / Wikimedia Commons

The National Missing and Unidentified Persons database maintained by the U.S. Department of Justice lists more than 600,000 people that vanish at least temporarily each year. Fortunately, the majority of missing persons cases ultimately find resolution. For instance, in 2021, out of 521,705 reported missing individuals, over 485,000 were located or had their cases resolved within the same year.

Since 1997, there has been a decline in the number of missing-person cases, thanks to advancements in communication and technology that have facilitated better tracking of disappeared individuals. Nonetheless, there are still more than 20,000 open missing-person cases in the United States.

Over the years, some disappearances have captured the public’s imagination and become part of American legend and folklore. To compile a list of the most mysterious disappearances in American history, 24/7 Tempo reviewed sources including Encyclopedia Britannica, Smithsonian Magazine, and other online sources. Our focus was on cases that garnered widespread public and media attention and occurred within the United States or its waters. (We excluded aviator Amelia Earhart due to her disappearance in the South Pacific.)

Many of the mysterious disappearances on our list left the public astonished when they happened. Some individuals chose to vanish willingly, while others seemed to disappear against their will. (For kidnap victims who were eventually found – dead or alive – these are the biggest ransoms ever paid.)

Several cases on our list pertain not only to individuals but also to entire modes of transportation, such as boats (the Mary Celeste, S.S. Poet) and aircraft (L-8 blimp, Flight 19).

Naturally, no comprehensive list would be complete without featuring the most prominent disappearances in American history: Judge Joseph Force Crater, whose sensational disappearance earned him the title of “the missingest man in New York”; “D.B. Cooper,” the infamous skyjacker who parachuted out of a jetliner during a storm with a bag full of cash and was never heard from again; and Jimmy Hoffa, the confrontational union leader believed to have been eliminated by organized crime. (These are the most famous failed assassinations in world history.)

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