The Vanishing Act
Missing persons are reported to authorities daily in every country of the world. In fact, in the United States alone the Federal Bureau of Investigation National Crime Information Center shows that, in total for 2012, 661,593 missing persons were reported missing.
While individual missing persons cases are an ongoing emotional situation for the family members involved, it is soon forgotten by the general population. But when these disappearances include large groups of people, interest in the case stays for years in the form of speculations and rumour.
Throughout history mass disappearances have shocked, frightened, and dumbfounded people in general. The most disturbing fact regarding these cases is that many of these disappearances are never solved. All that is left is circumstantial evidence and radical hypotheses of what people think could have happened.
The following listings contain mass and individual disappearances that have intrigued people by remaining unsolved or controversial due to the authorities conclusion.
“Rape of Nanking”
The year was 1937. China and Japan were at war and hostilities had been raging for six months. Japan was about to execute the infamous “Rape of Nanking”, widely regarded as one of the most horrific massacres in military history. The events leading up to this abominable act produced one of the most bizarre and puzzling disappearances in recorded history.
South of the city of Nanking, the Chinese Colonel Li Fu Sien was preparing to make a stupendous last-stand defensive manouver. He had sent for three thousand reinforcements, and they had arrived.
The men were placed along a line some 2 miles (3.2km) long set up to defend a bridge – a crossing place of major importance on the Yangtze River. They were equipped with large amounts of heavy artillery and were quite prepared to fight to the last man if necessary.
Having inspected his men, the Colonel uttered some motivating words before returning to his headquarters, back beyond the line, to await the inevitable Japanese attack.
When dawn arrived, the Colonel was still asleep. he was awoken by an aide who brought the news that, try as they might, they were unable to make any contact with their troops on the line.
Immediately, an investigating party was put together and set off to try to ascertain what had happened. On arrival at the line, they were met with a chilling sight. Every position was deserted, not a single man to be found anywhere. The equipment remained. The heavy guns stood in position ready to be fired, but there was no one to fire them.
Every position was eerily deserted, but in good order with no sign of struggle or fighting. Closer to the bridge, the sentries remained and they were interrogated for information, they swore that not a single man had crossed the bridge during the night, let alone three thousand troops!
The missing men were never found. When the war finally ended, the Japanese’s records were examined for some clue as to what may have befallen the missing men, but the records showed no trace of the three thousand missing troops. They were just gone, never to be seen again.
The Mysterious Vanishing Battalion of WWI
War brings with it many things. Death, destruction, chaos, loss; these are all innate features of battle. War also has the tendency to draw about itself rich folklore, mysteries, and amazing stories from the battlefield. One of the most well-known and certainly more bizarre tales of wartime mystery comes from the bloody battlefields of WWI, when an entire battalion of men is said to have marched bravely into battle to fight their enemy, only to inexplicably disappear without a trace off the face of the earth.
The setting for the incident was the battlegrounds of World War I, in particular the Gallipoli campaign, which took place on the Gallipoli Peninsula of the Ottoman Empire from 25 April 1915 and 9 January 1916. The objective of the campaign was for the Allied powers of Britain and France to launch an ultimately unsuccessful naval and amphibious assault against the Turks to secure the Dardanelles, which is a strait that connects the Mediterranean with the Black Sea and served as an essential sea route for their ally, Russia. At the time, the strait was controlled by Turkey, an ally of Germany’s. The eventual plan was to push through and forcefully claim the city of Constantinople (present day Istanbul), which was the Ottoman Empire’s capital, and expel the Turks from the war.
In the midst of the bloody campaign, there came the Sandringhams, a military unit that had been created in 1908 by King Edward VII, consisting of men that had been recruited from the staff of the royal Sandringham Estate. They would later be included with the 5th Territorial Battalion the Royal Norfolk Regiment, or “The Norfolks”. The regiment was rather unique in that it was one of the first examples in the British forces of what came to be referred to as “Pal’s Battalions,” which were military units made up of men who had all been recruited from the same civilian group, for instance the same town , company, or in this case royal estate. These were close-knit groups comprised of men who knew each other well, and in many cases had even grown up together. In the case of the Sandringhams, they were about to go to war together.
The Norfolk Regiment, made up of 250 men, 16 officers, and led by Sir Horace Proctor-Beauchamp, set out for the Gallipoli Peninsula from Liverpool on July 30, 1915 aboard the SS Aquitainia and arrived at Suvla Bay in Gallipoli on 10 August 1915 amidst heavy fighting. They did not have to wait long to see battle themselves.
The Norfolk Regiment
The exhausted, thirsty, and sick men first made an error and turned the wrong way, separating them from the larger 163rd Brigade. Realizing their mistake, they nevertheless prepared to advance against Kavak Tepe ridge without support or reinforcements. It is from this charge into the smoke and trees that the mystique and mystery of the vanished Royal Norfolk Regiment really takes off.
It was assumed at the time that the men had been captured by Turkish forces and held as prisoners of war. The British made inquiries to the Turkish government as to whether they had taken the men as prisoners, but they denied having any knowledge of the Norfolks. When the war was over, the British demanded the return of the soldiers, but again the Turks adamantly denied having them, and indeed declared that they had never even heard of them.
The case of the Vanishing Battalion remained pretty much closed after that with only rumours and speculations as to what happened to the regiment. That was until the 50th anniversary of the Gallipoli landings in April 1965, when a New Zealand WWI veteran by the name of Frederick Reichardt, along with two of his compatriots, came forward with their own first-hand account of what they saw on that fateful day.
Reichardt went on record saying that there had been sappers with the New Zealand Expeditionary Force and that they had been operating in an area near a Turkish position known as Hill 60, which was not far from where the lost Norfolk Regiment had been waging war. The sapper claimed they noticed between 6 and 8 odd, grayish brown, “loaf shaped” clouds hovering over the battlefield. The weird clouds were described as being completely still even in the face of high winds at the time. Beneath these clouds was reportedly another, even larger and denser looking cloud that was estimated as being around 800 feet in length and around 200 feet high. This massive cloud was allegedly hugging the ground over a dry creek bed when the Norfolk Regiment approached, and without hesitation they proceeded to march directly into it. When the regiment had disappeared into the cloud, Reichardt claimed that it had then slowly risen upwards to join the other strange clouds, taking the soldiers with it, after which they all moved off to the north in unison before disappearing from view. The story would be later corroborated when in 1966, another veteran of the campaign, Gerald Wilde, went on the record as saying that, although he had not seen the disappearance directly, he had heard many soldiers discussing the incident also many rumours that the entire Norfolk Regiment had simply disappeared after walking into a cloud that had been covering the ground.
Note: It was claimed when later researched that a minister who viewed the farm where the battle had taken place discovered many dead soldiers with bullet wounds to the head. (Turks rarely took prisoners, surrendered or wounded enemy were shot instead.)
Roman Ninth Legion
By the 2nd century A.D., the Ninth Legion had become one of the most feared military units in the Roman army. Formed around 65 B.C., the legion of more than 4,000 trained soldiers had fought and won many battles from Africa and Spain to Germania and Britain. But around 109 A.D., the legion was sent into what is now modern-day Scotland and mysteriously disappeared several years later. Most historians believe the legion’s demise is not mysterious at all, proposing that the legion was either transferred to the Middle East or disbanded. Yet there is no proof, and as with most legends, the most dramatic explanation remains the most popular with the public. In this version of events, the soldiers were brutally annihilated around 117 A.D. by a merciless band of Scottish warriors.The true story may never be discovered. Yet the story of a band of underdog warriors inflicting a stunning defeat against 4000 well-equipped and well-trained professional soldiers seems rather unlikely.
The Village of Angikuni Lake
Moving north to Canada is yet another strikingly disturbing vanishing act. Previously, there existed a booming fishing village on Lake Anjikuni of Inuit settlers. However, in November of 1930 when a fur trapper, Joe Labelle, returned to the village with an expectation of finding its inhabitants going about business as usual, he found no one. Between 2,000 and 3,000 people—men, women, and children— seemed to have evaporated into thin air. Each shack he examined came up empty, and, more startling, nothing had been taken with them. Food, supplies, and weapons remained. Labelle vacated the village to find either answers or help. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) took up an investigation, learning that nearby settlers had seen strange objects and lights in the sky just days before. When they arrived back at the ghost village, they found open graves in which the bodies had been removed. Plus, sled dogs, which were quite valuable at the time, were found dead of starvation buried beneath snow drifts. No further information about the Inuit settlers was found. However, years later in 1959, the RCMP attributed the story of the disappearance to an American author, Frank Edwards, who published the account in his book “Stranger than Science”. What’s interesting is Edwards’ book came nearly 20 years after the first known accounts of the disappearance where told, which further muddles the reliability of this bizarre story. Even today the story of Angikuni Lake has been a mainstay of Canadian mystery lore.
The Colony of Roanoke
One of the earliest and probably most notable disappearances on American soil involves the lost colony of Roanoke. This particular vanishing act dates all the way back to 1587 and it still perplexes historians today. Roanoke consisted of an initial settlement of about 115 settlers from England who set up a colony near the coast of modern day North Carolina. The governor of Roanoke, John White, left the colony in 1587 for England. He was delayed from returning due to a naval war between England and Spain that required the assistance of all available ships. When he finally returned to the colony three years later, there was not a soul in sight. The entire settlement—including his wife, daughter, and granddaughter, Virginia Dare, the first English child born in the new land—was gone. The only clue as to where the colonists had disappeared to as carved onto a wooden gatepost, “Croatoan”. This was the name of an island to the South, home to the Croatoan tribe of Native Americans. Theories abound as to what exactly happened to the settlers. Were they killed by the local Native Americans? Were they abducted by aliens? No one truly knows,
The Village of Hoer Verde
Another disarming mass disappearance occurred in 1923 in a Brazilian town with a population in the ballpark of 600 people. This mystery is specifically puzzling since little was known about the town or its people to begin with. However, as visitors embarked on the village, they noticed that it was strangely silent without a person in sight. Authorities were called in and launched an investigation that concluded that the town’s inhabitants seemed to be gone without a trace. The only remaining, and more confusing, evidence remaining were a gun which seemed to have been recently fired and a note that when translated read: “There is no salvation”. It seems that the note rang especially true; the mystery disappearance of these 600 individuals remains unsolved today.
Hippies Absorbed by Lightning at Stonehenge
Stonehenge is one of the Seven Mysteries of Medieval World and used to be open to the public for camping and religious ceremonies. That was before August, 1971, when England’s iconic standing stones became the site of a creepy disappearance.
A group of “hippies” pitched tents in the center of the circle and spent the night around a campfire, smoking weed. According to commonly accepted story, at about 2 a.m. a severe thunder storm descended upon the Salisbury Plain, bringing tremendous bolts of lightning. Two witnesses, a farmer and a policeman, said that lightning struck the Stonehenge stones and absorbed the entire area in eerie blue light that was so intense that they had to cover their eyes. The witness heard the campers screaming and when the lightning had passed, the witnesses ran to the stones. Naturally, they expected to find badly injured and burned people, who would likely be dead, or close to dead. To their amazement, and the chagrin of the paranormal and UFO communities, they found no one. Only burning tent pegs and the campfire.
There is virtually no information on this story. Were the campers incinerated by the lightning? Did they even exist in the first place? The story is dubious but has persisted in urban legend and is made more mysterious by the fact that there are 14 major ley lines that converge at Stonehenge. Some say they create a powerful vortex.
DISAPPEARING SHIPS AND PLANES
The Mary Celeste
There have been many strange ship disappearances but one of the many foreboding ones has details that really don’t add up. It was December of 1872 when the Mary Celeste was observed drifting in choppy waters approximately 400 miles from Azores by the British brig Dei Gratia. The captain switched the course of his brig to offer assistance. Once a party boarded the ship they were stumped at the scene before them. One of two pumps had been disassembled and the only lifeboat was gone. There was at least a 6-month supply remaining of food and water, over 3 feet of water covering the floors, and, surprisingly, a completely intact cargo of alcohol still aboard. However, the ship’s captain, Benjamin Briggs, his wife and daughter, along with 7 members of the crew were all missing. Modern-day technology has led historians to believe that this nautical mystery occurred because the ship’s inhabitant’s fled for some unknown reason and capsized in the lifeboat some distance away, their bodies never to be recovered.
The U S S Cyclops
According to the Naval Historical Foundation, this incident included the “largest loss of life in the history of the United States Navy of a U.S. built steel hulled warship where there simply is no direct evidence of why it happened, when it happened, or exactly how it happened”. The Cyclops was in charge of moving bulk cargo between the U.S. and Brazil in 1918. On its last voyage, there were 309 souls onboard—both crew and passengers—on the day of March 3rd when the ship sent its last telegram. Due to previous damage to the starboard engine earlier in the voyage, the ship moved at a slower pace of 10 knots when it departed Barbados—an unscheduled port—for Baltimore on March 3rd. It was never seen again. The notion that the ship was too heavily loaded with ore resulting in its engine failing and causing it to sink is one conclusion drawn about the Cyclops’ fateful journey.
The Ghost Crew of the MV Joyita
Like the much larger Titanic, the MV Joyita was considered “unsinkable,” but that didn’t stop her from drifting in, half-submerged, to the Fiji island of Vanua Levu with all of her 25 passengers and crew members missing, 37 days after a two-day run to Tokelau on October 3, 1955.
The Joyita disappeared somewhere in the South Pacific and when she was found, the ship was missing four tons of cargo including medical supplies, timber, food and empty oil drums. The radio was tuned to the international marine distress channel. All the lifeboats were gone and blood-stained bandages were found.
Auckland academic David Wright recently claimed to have solved the mystery of the Joyita ghost ship. Wright says there is evidence that the boat was taking in water from a corroded pipe and began to sink. Thinking they had sent out a distress signal (though it turns out the signal was never actually sent), the captain and crew abandoned the ship in lifeboats. There weren’t enough lifeboats for everyone and some of the passengers possibly floated in the dark water in life vests. Since no distress signal ever went out, it is possible the 25 people died one by one, by drowning or being eaten by sharks. Of course, whatever happened to the passengers who left in lifeboats is still a mystery.
The Carroll A. Deering
When commercial schooner the Carroll A. Deering was found run aground in North Carolina in 1921, the entire crew was mysteriously missing. Just one month earlier, the ship had set sail from Virginia for Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to deliver a cargo of coal. The ship reached its destination, but the events that took place after caused great speculation. Reportedly, the captain wasn’t fond of his crew. The first mate made a public threat against the captain’s life, which landed him in jail. He was eventually bailed out, and the men made amends, but it set a negative tone for the trip home. The incident would also lead investigators to blame mutiny for the disappearance. Later that month, a lightship keeper spotted the Deering, reporting that a man on board advised the anchors were lost. Due to a broken radio, the lightship keeper was unable to report the incident — and then the ship reappeared weeks later, sans crew. Rescuers noted that the log, navigation equipment, crew’s personal effects, and two lifeboats were gone. Food was sitting mid-preparation in the galley. Due to the disappearance of several other ships during that time, the government launched an in-depth investigation and came up short
The Ourang Medan
The story about Dutch cargo ship the S.S. Ourang Medan is widely debated, but it’s too creepy to pass up for our purposes. It’s said that the ghost ship wrecked in Indonesian waters in 1947. When rescuers boarded the vessel, the entire crew was dead with no visible injuries. However, the men were frozen in horror with arms outstretched. A fire quickly broke out in the ship’s cargo hold, which prevented investigators from researching the bizarre incident.
The SS Baychimo
The 1,322-ton cargo steamer the SS Baychimo was abandoned in 1931 when it became trapped in ice on the Arctic Ocean. It remained afloat and dislodged itself after the crew abandoned it to seek shelter. Over the next several decades, various sightings were reported and several crews managed to climb aboard, but the Baychimo has always eluded capture. The last recorded sighting was in 1969 — 38 years after it was first abandoned. The Alaskan government opened an investigation in 2006 to determine if the Baychimo is still afloat or finally sank, but investigators still haven’t located the ship.
Sailing barge the Zebrina set sail for Saint-Brieuc, France, but was found ashore in 1917 with its cargo of coal and its sails intact. The five-person crew was missing. There was no sign of a struggle, but the common theory is that the men were intercepted by a German U-Boat and brought aboard. It’s then possible that everyone was attacked by Royal Naval ships before the Germans could destroy the Zebrina.
The Kaz II
The mystery behind the catamaran known as the Kaz II remains unexplained, though investigators have attempted to piece together the events leading up to the ship’s discovery. In 2007, the Kaz was found drifting off the coast of Australia, and the three-man crew (the owner and his neighbors) was nowhere to be found. The table was set with food waiting to be eaten. A laptop was turned on and fully functional. The Kaz’s radio and GPS were operational, and the life jackets were still on board. It was truly a ghostly scene. After an extensive investigation, officials concluded that while fishing, one man fell overboard, and in an attempt to rescue him the others met the same fate, they were never found.
No one knows if the story of English schooner the Octavius is real, but the tale of the trading ship’s discovery is so frightening that we had to share. Found drifting off the coast of Greenland in 1775, the Octavius had attempted to travel back home to England from the Orient by way of the Northwest Passage. There, the schooner became trapped in ice. That means the Octavius had only completed its passage as a ghost ship. Creepier still is that the entire crew of 28 were found frozen and perfectly preserved, some still curled under blankets in their beds. Legend has it that the captain was still at his desk with pen in hand with the log set on the table before him. Rescuers were too terrified to search the ship, but they took the log. It showed the last entry was from 1762, which meant the ship had been drifting in the Arctic for 13 years.
Frederick Valentich and the Strange Aircraft
The case of Valentich is notorious for the creepy recording that accompanies it. In 1978, Cessna 182L light aircraft pilot Frederick Valentich reported a UFO while on his way to King Island, in Australia. He claimed the unidentified aircraft was flying about 1,000 feet above him. Specifically, Frederick said, “That strange aircraft is hovering on top of me again. It is hovering and it’s not an aircraft.”
Soon after, his aircraft began to malfunction and his plane disappeared from radar, never to be found again. Despite recent “evidence” that claims to debunk this case with the mere assertion that Frederick Valentich believed in UFOs, the final 17 seconds of the flight recording contain metallic noises that analysts are unable able to explain.
Want more? Well, it turns out that the Department of Transport’s “Aircraft Accident Investigation Summary Report” contains a transcript of radio communications between Valentich and the Melbourne Flight Service Unit.
This case gets even weirder. According to a Royal Australian Air Force spokesman, about 10 reports of UFO sightings were also documented during the same weekend of the disappearance.
Lieutenant Felix Moncla Disappears Mid-Flight
In 1953, Lieutenant Felix Moncla was stationed at Kinross Air Force Base in Michigan. An unidentified flying object appeared on radar and Moncla took an F-89 Scorpion interceptor to investigate.
Ground radar operators reported that Moncla’s aircraft flew at about 500 mph and closed in on the object while crossing Northern Lake Superior from west to east at 7,000 feet.
At this time, operators claimed that on the radar, Moncla’s aircraft merged with the UFO, at which point they both disappeared. A search and rescue turned up nothing and no debris or wreckage was ever found from either aircraft. Canadian aviation authorities have since maintained that there were no planes in the sky at the time of the mysterious “merger.” Moncla and his plane were never seen again.
Orion Williamson was a Selma, Alabama farmer who, on a July day in 1854, simply vanished into thin air while walking across his property. What makes this case especially notable is the fact he did so in full view of his wife and son, as well as two other witnesses (neighbor Armour Wren and his son James).
The Wrens, who’d been riding along a road on the other side of the field in a horse and buggy, immediately ran to the spot where Williamson had last been seen, idly swishing the ankle-deep grass with a small stick, but found nothing. Most of the grass was gone from the spot where Williamson had disappeared as well. The news was quickly carried into town, and soon three hundred men formed a massive search party. They combed the field in three rows an arm length apart from each other, but their thorough search yielded no clues. As news of the inexplicable event spread for miles around Selma, hundreds of curious onlookers arrived at the farm to join in the futile search or merely to gawk at the scene. A geologist and a team of experts dug up the field to see if perhaps the ground underneath was unstable or abnormal at all. They found nothing unusual.
Newspaper reporters swarmed to the place, and all their articles said essentially the same thing: “A man has vanished into thin air.” The curious were still coming to gape at the field as late as the following spring. Mrs. Williamson allegedly revealed at this point that she and her son had heard the farmer’s voice crying out for help from the area where he’d vanished, but the voice gradually grew weaker and faded away after a few weeks.
THE COWDEN FAMILY
An entire family once disappeared from the Rogue River National Forest Campground in Oregon. On September 5, 1974, Richard Cowden and his wife Belinda, along with their two small children, David and Melissa, went camping for the Labor Day weekend. On Sunday morning, Richard was seen in nearby Copper, Oregon buying some milk. That was the last anyone ever saw of the Cowden family. When the family didn’t show up for a scheduled Sunday dinner at Richard Cowden’s mother’s place, local authorities conducted a search. The camp scene was like something out of The Twilight Zone. Trooper Lee Rickson stated: “That camp sure was spooky. Even the milk was still on the table”. Investigators found cooking utensils resting on a tree stump, fishing rods leaning against a tree and the family car was still parked above the campsite. Richard’s wallet and his wife’s purse were also discovered, with nothing apparently missing from them. There were no indications of a struggle. The family was never seen again.
JAMES BURNE WORSON
Worson was a shoemaker who lived in Warwickshire, England. He was prone to bragging about his prowess as a long-distance runner, and on September 3, 1873, he was challenged by two friends, linen draper Barham Wise and photographer Hamerson Burns, to run the 40 mile distance from Leamington to Coventry. Worson accepted and started jogging while his friends followed closely in a horse-drawn cart. Worson ran easily for several miles, conversing along the way with his friends. Suddenly, when he was only a half dozen yards from them, and with their eyes fixed upon him, Worson appeared to stumble in the middle of the road. He then fell forward and, as he went down, gave out an awful cry of terror. He then vanished completely. Burns and Wise searched frantically, but couldn’t find a trace of their friend who appeared to have evaporated into thin air right before their eyes. A subsequent extensive search of the area yielded similar results, and Corson was never seen again.
Parfitt was an ex-tailor who lived in the little English town of Shepton Mallet, in the county of Somerset. Parfitt was an invalid, aged about 70, who resided with his sister Susannah in a cottage on what was, for that day and age, a busy turnpike road. One balmy June evening in 1768, Parfitt was carried by his sister and another younger woman, Susannah Snook, downstairs and placed in a chair by the door. He was left alone there, with his coat across his chest, as his sister went upstairs and Snook went home. About fifteen minutes later, the sister heard, according to one witness account, “a noise,” and quickly ran downstairs. She discovered Parfitt’s chair was empty beneath the coat that was still lying there, but he was nowhere in sight. A massive search was conducted, but to no avail. Old Parfitt was well known around Shepton Mallet, and if somehow he’d miraculously managed to rise from a chair he supposedly was unable to rise unaided from, and make his way to the turnpike road, surely one of the 3000 inhabitants of the town would have noticed him. Parfitt was never seen again.
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