And you thought Jordan Peele‘s scary movies kept you up at night… Well, they say the truth is always stranger than fiction, and we’re going to prove that right here.
Have you ever wondered how a person could just disappear in thin air without leaving a trace of themselves behind?! No indication that they’d moved, or ran away, or been kidnapped, or even that they’d passed on from this life?? Just… gone?!
Over the years and across the world, there have been some really, really strange and eerie disappearances — the kind of stuff that law enforcement, even after years of investigations, has been totally unable to explain with any level of certainty. All the logic in the world and every investigative tool at their disposal has done nothing in these cases… it just seems like these people vanished altogether, as if they went up in smoke!
Get ready to go down the rabbit hole, y’all… It’s time for us to take a long look at some of the weirdest unexplained disappearances EVER, beginning with what may be the most infamous unexplained disappearance of all time — and the most infamous crime ever committed!
Dan ‘D.B.’ Cooper, Air Pirate
On the night before Thanksgiving — November 24, 1971, a middle-aged man in a suit approached the ticket counter at Portland International Airport in Portland, Oregon, identified himself as Dan Cooper, and used a crisp $20 bill to purchase a one-way ticket on Northwest Orient Airlines Flight 305, a 30-minute trip north to Seattle.
Cooper — later misidentified as “D.B. Cooper” by journalists, a misnomer that would stick with this story forever — sat in seat 18C near the rear of the passenger cabin of the Boeing 727, and immediately ordered a bourbon and soda once aboard. The flight was about one-third full as it took off from Portland; almost immediately after getting up in the air, the forty-something year-old-man handed a note to flight attendant Florence Schaffner, who assumed it was just a lonely businessman trying to hit on her, so she put it in her purse without reading it.
After a few moments, Cooper turned to Schaffner and infamously whispered, “Miss, you’d better look at that note. I have a bomb.”
Though the exact wording of the note is lost to history — Cooper eventually reclaimed it before his hasty exit from the plane — it contained information about a bomb and a ransom demand, with the well-dressed man requesting $200,000 (about $1.25 million today) in “negotiable American currency,” four parachutes (two primary and two reserve), and a fuel truck standing by in Seattle to refuel the plane upon arrival. Cooper then opened his briefcase to show Schaffner what appeared to be a series of red cylinders attached by wires, suggesting to her the presence of a real bomb.
Schaffner relayed the info to the pilots, who then communicated with ground control about their predicament. Eventually, the plane landed in Seattle and everybody except Cooper, the flight attendants, and the pilots disembarked. After refueling and the successful delivery of the parachutes and the money, the flight took off from Seattle, this time heading south towards Mexico.
But soon after the plane leveled off at altitude, with the flight attendants in the front gallery near the cockpit, Cooper went to the back of the plane, opened up the aft stairway, and jumped out, opting to sky dive down to the ground below and take his chances with the woods somewhere in rural western Washington state. Along with Cooper were the parachutes, the note, the purported bomb, and the $200,000, and he was never seen again.
Many investigators today believe Cooper didn’t survive the jump, but others are quick to note that a skilled sky diver with the right training could realistically have survived a landing and gotten away uninjured. Furthermore, many involved in the case believe Cooper had at least some sort of high-level paramilitary training that would have helped him survive the jump and navigate the cold, rural landing that night.
Lending more credence to the theory that his jump was successful is the fact that there’s never been any evidence found of his remains, his clothing, or any of his possessions, despite the FBI leading one of the most extensive manhunts and protracted investigations in the organization’s history. The bureau even maintained an active investigation into the case for the next 45 years, and while they interviewed thousands of suspects for decades, even eventually finding a small wad of what were later confirmed to be bills from the ransom demand in a riverbed in Washington, they were never able to uncover anything conclusive about the whereabouts of the real Dan Cooper and the rest of the money.
In July 2016, the FBI officially suspended its investigation, and Dan ‘D.B.’ Cooper’s infamous disappearance flew off into history as the only unsolved case of air piracy in worldwide commercial aviation history.
The Fort Worth Missing Trio
According to reports, little before noon on December 23, 1974, 17-year-old Rachel Trlica and 14-year-old Renee Wilson set out to do some last-minute Christmas shopping in Forth Worth, Texas. At the last minute, the girls’ neighbor, nine-year-old Julie Ann Moseley, asked to go with them so she wouldn’t have to spend the day alone at home. After Julie Ann got permission from her mother, all three girls piled into Rachel’s 1972 Oldsmobile 98 and set off for the Sears store at the Seminary South Shopping Center in Forth Worth.
The original plan was to be back early that afternoon; Moseley’s mother told her daughter to be back by 6 p.m. sharp. Wilson wanted to be home even earlier than that to get ready for a Christmas party that night, as she was to see her boyfriend there; he had just given her a promise ring earlier that morning before the trip to Sears, and she wanted plenty of time to get ready for the evening. Trlica, the oldest girl and driver of the car, had been married to her husband Tommy Trlica for almost six months at the time of the shopping trip.
Multiple witnesses recall seeing the three girls in the mall that day, going to various stores and purchasing things as gifts. But when 6 p.m. rolled around and none of the girls had made it back home, the families started to get concerned, and headed to the mall to look for them. Very quickly, they found Rachel’s car parked in the upper-level parking lot outside Sears, but no sign of the girls. More bizarre, still, was that all the gifts the girls had purchased were found in the car, undisturbed. Family members stayed by the car all night long, waiting for the girls to come back, but they never did — and none of the three have ever been seen since.
Fort Worth Police investigated the case for years, but not only were they never able to come up with any hard evidence as to where the girls might be, they never found anything to even suggest what might have taken place — whether it be an abduction, or a runaway situation, or anything else. As far as the cops were concerned, it’s as if the girls had simply vanished without a trace. But as far as the families were concerned, that didn’t make sense; not with Rachel being a happy newlywed, and Renee wanting so badly to go to the Christmas party that night. And as for little Julie Ann — as her mother would later note — well, what nine-year-old girl would run away two days before Christmas?
Days after the disappearance, Rachel’s husband Tommy received a letter in the mail. Once opened, it simply read (below):
“I know I’m going to catch it, but we had to get away. We’re going to Houston. See you in about a week. The car is in Sears’ upper lot. Love, Rachel”
Tommy noted that the letter appeared to be in Rachel’s handwriting, but there were some weird things about it; namely, that the letter had been written in black ink, while the envelope was addressed in pencil. Furthermore, while the letter seemed to have been written by Rachel, the envelope’s return address appeared to have misspelled Rachel’s last name with an ‘e’ instead of an ‘i,’ before being written over and corrected. Would Rachel Trlica REALLY misspell her own last name on a letter? Finally, the letter had been addressed to “Thomas A. Trlica,” which, while it was her husband’s name, nobody ever called him that, opting instead to refer to him as Tommy. Why would Rachel suddenly be so formal?
When the girls inevitably failed to return from Houston, as the letter claimed, police became further dumbfounded by the case, and struggled to find any solid leads whatsoever. And a private investigator who worked on it doggedly for several years up until his death in 1979 never got any closer himself. There were so few leads and such little evidence that even the Fort Worth Police saw fit to appoint a new detective to the case in 2001, a man named Tom Boetcher, though he still had no luck with more resources and new technology.
Boetcher’s current theory is that the girls must have left the mall with somebody they trusted, so no witnesses would have raised suspicion about a possible abduction, and they were later met with foul play by one person or a group of people. “We can say that they were at one point seen with one individual,” Boetcher said to the media a few years ago, alluding to witnesses placing an unidentified person with the girls at one point in the mall, “but we believe there was more than one involved.”
Even with that claim, the cops never made public any list of persons of interest to interview about who might have been involved, and the investigation has languished in cold case files with literally no evidence upon which to build. Even to this day, every time an unidentified set of remains is found in Texas, it’s checked to see if the DNA connects it to any of the Forth Worth Missing Trio… but so far, nothing has been a match.
The Crew Of The Carroll A. Deering
The Carroll A. Deering was a five-masted commercial ship that was found run aground off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina in 1921 with no one on board, and her crew nowhere to be found. Evidence points to a possible mutiny, or the crew being victims of piracy, but even after years of government investigations into the ship’s fate, no conclusive findings have ever been made. As such, it’s become a tale of caution for those who believe the Bermuda Triangle has a haunting power over ships and airplanes…
Originally captained out of port in Puerto Rico, the Deering arrived in Newport News, Virginia on July 19, 1920 to pick up a cargo of coal to deliver to Brazil. Captained by William H. Merritt — a Navy veteran who had been a hero of World War I just a few years earlier — the Deering and its ten-man crew sailed for Rio in early August. Captain Merritt fell seriously ill almost immediately into the voyage, though, and the ship turned back, eventually landing at the port of Lewes, Delaware, where they dropped off Merritt and his son, Sewall Merritt. A replacement captain named Willis B. Wormell was quickly recruited to replace Merritt, with Charles B. McLellan agreeing to be the new first mate.
The newly-captained ship got to Brazil without incident in December 1920, but their trip back to America — which set off from Rio de Janeiro on January 9, 1921 — would prove to be their final, ill-fated voyage. With Wormell still at the helm, and McLellan by now a known, raging alcoholic who reportedly got lit every time the ship came into port, the small crew was tiring of the ship’s new dynamic as they returned to the southeast coast of the United States. The Deering was eventually sighted three weeks into their voyage, on January 28, by a ship just off Cape Lookout, North Carolina; Captain Jacobson of the lightship in question reported that “a tall, thin man with reddish hair and a foreign accent speaking through a megaphone told him the vessel had lost her anchors in a storm off Cape Fear and asked that the ship’s owners, the G.G. Deering Company, be notified.”
Jacobson made a note of it, but his radio was down at the time, and he wasn’t able to immediately report it until the next day. More bizarre, Jacobson noted that the small crew of the Deering appeared to be “milling around” on the quarterdeck of the ship — a place where crew members typically were not allowed. Not even 24 hours later, the crew of another vessel spotted the Deering sailing a bit further up the North Carolina coast, but saw no one out on any of the ship’s decks and noted there appeared to be no visible activity aboard when they signaled to communicate with the ship.
Less than two full days later, at dawn on January 31, 1921, the Deering was spotted run aground with all sails set on outer edge of Diamond Shoals, at Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. The area has long since been a notorious site for shipwrecks — forever known by sailors as the “Graveyard of the Atlantic” — so it wasn’t necessarily weird that the ship itself ran aground in the tricky-to-navigate area. What was weird, though, is when the ship was finally boarded several days later (after bad weather delays), it had clearly long been completely abandoned. The ship’s log and navigation equipment were gone, as were two lifeboats, though food stuffs that had been used to prepare the next day’s meals had been left behind, as if the crew decided to abandon suddenly and with little warning.
The U.S. government immediately launched an extensive investigation into the disappearance, with an unprecedented FIVE departments — Commerce, Treasury, Justice, Navy, and State — looking into the mystery. The investigation found something very strange: there had been a hurricane in the area at the time, which ended up claiming the Italian vessel Monte San Michele, which had been sailing nearby. But according to sea currents and confirmed routes based on the grounding, the Deering and one other American ship that disappeared, the Hewitt, were proven to have actually been far away from the hurricane winds and sailing AWAY from the storm as the Italian ship went down.
Without a hurricane to list as probable cause of her grounding, and the crew’s disappearance, the government investigation was dumbfounded — and in late 1922, it was closed altogether without ever coming to a conclusion. To this day, the disappearance of the crew of the Deering — and, by some extension, the Hewitt — is a complete mystery lost to the sea. Referencing Jacobson’s earlier observations of the ship, as well as First Mate McLellan’s noted alcohol problems that unsettled the crew, recent historians have offered the theory that a mutiny likely occurred on the Deering, though even that still doesn’t explain why no trace of the crew (or the Hewitt!) was ever found.
Born in Norway in 1859, it’s said Bella (later Belle) Paulsdatter emigrated to the United States in the 1880s and eventually settled onto a farming plot in La Porte, Indiana with her first husband, Mads Sorenson, in 1884. The pair owned a candy store, which burned to the ground; because of its destruction, they collected an insurance payout. A couple years later, the couple’s house also burned down; and again, they received an insurance payout.
On July 30, 1890, Sorenson purchased a second life insurance policy for himself; his first policy had been active up until that very day, while the second one was to begin that day, and continue forward. Miraculously — or, more likely, maliciously — Sorenson died the very day both policies were active, after Belle reported that he came home complaining of a headache and quickly succumbed to a cerebral hemorrhage. Belle collected payouts from both of those insurance policies, too.
In 1901, she became Belle Gunness when she married farmer Peter Gunness; eight months later, Peter died unexpectedly of a skull injury. According to Belle, he had been reaching for something on a high shelf when a meat grinder fell on him, smashing his skull. Peter’s death was ruled accidental – and, yes, there was another insurance payment for Belle to collect.
The real notoriety would take place after Peter’s death, though, as Belle eventually opened up her La Porte farmhouse to lonely men from all over the country who were seeking companionship. They’d arrive to meet Belle, who had been putting advertisements in newspapers claiming she was seeking farm help and romance, and she’d allegedly promptly murder the men, rob them of all their valuables and cash, and bury their bodies underneath her pig pen out behind the house. She did this at least a dozen times — historians think she may have killed as many as 40 men — up until 1908, when the brother of one of the men who disappeared wrote to Belle and indicated he was going to come to La Porte to investigate the man’s last known whereabouts.
On April 27, 1908, Belle Gunness’ farmhouse burned down; reportedly, she died inside along with several of her children. Hired hand Ray Lamphere, who had worked on the farm for several years and may have known exactly what had been going on, was framed for the fire and taken in as a suspect. But when investigators combed through the ashes after the fire, they determined that the body belonging to “Belle” was actually that of a much smaller, younger woman who had been decapitated before the fire and placed in Gunness’ room as a decoy. Investigators looked throughout the burned-out house trying to find the decapitated woman’s head, before deciding to dig up the yard — only to make the most gruesome discovery imaginable.
After a couple days of digging, investigators began uncovering body parts: a severed human arm, pieces of corpses, and “naked torsos wrapped in burlap, and heads, arms, and legs scattered around.” Several of the victims were confirmed to be men who had gone missing after writing letters to Belle. One of the victims was a young girl named Jennie Olsen, who Belle had adopted as a toddler. Her bones were found on what would have been her 18th birthday; two years earlier, Belle had told neighbors who wondered about Jennie’s whereabouts that she had been sent for schooling in California. So creepy…
Belle’s fate is ultimately unknown. Some historians believe she did die in the fire, choosing to end her life of deceit, even though there was that decoy body in her bed. Others are adamant that she escaped scot-free, changed her identity, and moved on to another part of the country; still a decade before the start of World War I, doing so wouldn’t have been too difficult for a motivated, insidious woman. Whatever the case, no one conclusively knows whatever happened to the most prolific and legendary female serial killer in American history, and nobody heard from Belle Gunness ever again.
And then, in 1931, a woman named Esther Carlson died in a Los Angeles prison while awaiting trial on charges that she’d poisoned a man. It had been over 20 years since La Porte, but investigators who later looked at photographs of Carlson claimed that she bore a “striking resemblance” to an older Gunness. Carlson was also reportedly carrying the photographs of three children “that very closely resembled Gunness’ children.”
Could it be…?
Jason Derek Brown, The FBI’s Most Wanted
Born in Los Angeles in 1969, Jason Derek Brown was living well beyond his means by the time he moved to Utah as a young adult, running multiple businesses but spending way more money than he made. Accustomed to a certain lifestyle by then, Brown was loathe to let that end, and so he needed a quick infusion of cash — and he hatched a plan to rob an armored vehicle.
On November 29, 2004, he attempted to rob an armored truck in Phoenix, Arizona, but things went wrong almost immediately, and he ended up killing the armed guard after shooting him half a dozen times. Brown’s fingerprints were quickly traced back to a getaway bike he’d abandoned after the killing; he made off with more than $56,000 in cash and eluded police in Phoenix, who quickly began a manhunt for him.
Eventually, he was put on the FBI’s Most Wanted Fugitives List (you can still find him there today), and he is considered extremely armed and dangerous. Initially, investigators assumed he’d disappeared in Mexico, but further sleuthing found that he actually only abandoned his car in San Diego before boarding a flight to Portland, Oregon, at which point the paper trail ran out and he went off the grid. The prevailing thought still assumes Brown may be in Mexico, and the FBI warns he could also be hiding in France or Thailand, but his surfer-boy style with long, blonde hair and his resemblance to actor Sean Penn has made Brown the fugitive with the most reported supposed sightings in the history of the FBI, from places all over the world. In fact, at one point, one of Penn’s body doubles was actually arrested and detained for a time because authorities thought he was Brown!
As if the disappearance weren’t so simple, in August 2008 — four years after the crime that catapulted him to infamy — an acquaintance of Brown pulled up to a stoplight in Salt Lake City, Utah. As the man turned his head to look into the other car, he saw the man’s face, and recognized him to be Jason Derek Brown, though with much more tanned skin and longer hair than before. Brown recognized the man, too, and sped away through the stoplight against traffic before the man could get a chance to follow him. That remains the last confirmed sighting of Jason Derek Brown, though police and the FBI believe he is alive and well, and living somewhere in the western United States or Mexico.
[Image via FBI.gov]