The Most Mysterious Disappearances in America

Source: Public Domain / 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. Luckily, most missing persons cases are eventually resolved. For instance, out of 521,705 people reported missing in 2021, more than 485,000 of them were found or had their disappearances solved within the year.

The number of missing-person cases has been falling since 1997. Communication and technology advances have made it easier to track the disappeared. Even so, more than 20,000 missing-person cases remain open in the U.S. 

Over the decades, 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, Atlas Obscura, Live Science, Reader’s Digest, and The Charley Project. We focused on disappearances that had garnered wide public and media attention and interest and occurred within the United States or off its shores. (We omitted aviator Amelia Earhart because she disappeared in the South Pacific.)

Many of the mysterious disappearances on our list shocked the public when they occurred. Some people disappeared because they wanted to; others vanished seemingly against their will. (For kidnap victims who were eventually found – dead or alive – these are the biggest ransoms ever paid.)

Some cases on our list concern not individuals but whole modes of transportation, such as boats (the Mary Celeste, S.S. Poet) and aircraft (L-8 blimp, Flight 19). 

Our list also includes the disappearance of hikers in Montana (Barbara Bolick), Colorado (Keith Reinhard), and Vermont (many hikers vanished over several decades near Bennington). 

The evidence found where Tara Calico, Jodi Huisentruit, and Ray Gricar were last seen strongly suggests that nefarious motives were at work behind their disappearances. 

Of course no list would be complete without including the most noteworthy vanishing acts in our history: Judge Joseph Force Crater, whose sensational disappearance made him “the missingest man in New York”; “D.B. Cooper,” the most famous skyjacker in U.S. history, who bailed out of a jetliner in a storm with a bag full of cash and was never heard from; and Jimmy Hoffa, the combative union head allegedly knocked off by organized crime. (These are 37 famous assassinations in American history.)

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