Monday, October 1, 2012

Mysterious disappearances... should we keep looking?

And by "we," I mean someone else.  I'm kinda busy lately.

But what made me ask the question was this article at CNN about Jimmy Hoffa, another tip led to another fruitless search for his body.  Should we spend the public's time and money looking, after almost 40 years?

You tell me.

It did get me wondering about other mysterious disappearances, though, and a little research dug up (hehe) a few I didn't know about.  And as a mystery writer, you can bet some of these got my imagination running, as I simply love to incorporate history into my stories -- Nazi-hunting and turn-of-the-century romantic poetry feature in The Bookseller:

  • Between 1139 and 1337 B.C., the Egyptian Nefertiti vanished during the 14th year of her husband Akhenaten's reign.  Apparently, no records of her exist after this time so those in the not-know have offered reasons for her disappearance:  maybe death due to plague, possibly she assumed a new identity, or might have ruled with, and eventually succeeded, Akhenaten on the throne. . . Fragments of a shabti (a funerary figurine) have been found with her name on them, but her mummy has never been found.  Calling Indiana Jones...
  • The body of rebel slave Spartacus has never been found (I'm guessing it's a little late), even though he was presumed killed in battle in 71 B.C., although no one really knows for sure.
  • A few years later, in 53 B.C., a group of Belgian waffles, I mean warriors, led by Ambiorix managed to cross the Rhine and disappear without a trace.  I mention this only because it makes me think of Asterix, who would never do something so silly as disappear without a trace.
  • Leaping forward to more modern times (lots of people disappeared at sea in the interim, but is that really mysterious?  Really??) brings us to 1826 when William Morgan upped and vanished, right before his book critical of Freemasonry was published.  His book about rum, on the other hand, was a great success and led to... oh, what, that was a different Morgan?
  • You've probably heard of this one: 1872 – Captain Benjamin Briggs (aged 37) , his wife Sarah Elizabeth (31), daughter Sophia Matilda (2), and all seven crew members were missing when the Mary Celeste was found adrift in choppy seas some 400 miles east of the Azores. Their disappearances are the core of "one of the most durable mysteries in nautical history," says the Smithsonian Magazine.  And they should know.
  • In 1910, Dorothy Arnold (because if your name is 'Dorothy,' you had to be born in 1910) was a 25-year-old socialite and perfume heiress.  Lucky her, right?  Except she vanished after buying a book in New York City. Apparently, she intended to walk through Central Park but was never seen again.
  • Ah, yes, because this is my blog I have to mention a serial killer: Bela Kiss (great name, eh?), aged 25, a Hungarian who murdered twenty-four young women prior to his enrollment in the Austro-Hungarian Army in the First World War.  Upon the discovery of his crimes he was traced to a Serbian military hospital, but escaped a few days before investigators arrived. Although there were several reported sightings of the killer (notably in New York in 1932), his true fate remains a mystery.
  • In 1926, Agatha Christie, the British crime writer and huge inspiration to me, famously disappeared and, although she reappeared sometime later, the actual reason for her disappearance remains a mystery.  Kudos for coming back, unlike everyone else in this list...
  • ... but maybe these guys will: in 1937, Theodore Cole and Ralph Roe (24 & 28) escaped from Alcatraz prison and disappeared. Authorities presumed that they drowned, but no bodies were ever recovered.  Of course they'd be knocking 100 years old by now, so not much chance of them pulling an Agatha at this point.
  • And then there was D.B. Cooper, who in 1971 collected a ransom of $200,000 and then parachuted from the rear stairs of a Boeing 727 at 10,000 feet.  He was never seen again, though I believe some of the money was recovered.  Some of it.  Pretty daring considering 200 grand wouldn't pay off a student loan, these days.
As to the question of whether we should keep looking for the disappeared who are, pretty clearly, dead by now, what do you think?  We should consider their families who ought to have closure more than we consider the cost of the occasional FBI agent with a shovel in his hand, shouldn't we?

In the meantime, I may have come up with a storyline involving a long-disappeared serial killer who is driven to commit murder by his discovery of the the tomb of Nefertiti...


  1. As with many issues, the answer to your question is not a simple one. Several conditions should be met before allocating resources to the investigation of persons who have been missing for many years:

    1. Credible possibility exists that the disappearance is the result of a crime.

    2. The person(s) responsible for the crime are still alive and are competent to stand trial.


    3. A compelling public interest exists to determine the final outcome of the situation.

    I believe that all three conditions exist in the Hoffa case, warranting the commitment of some funds towards the investigation of the case.

    By the way, the same conditions should apply in the JonBenet Ramsey case and in many others. (I would sure like to know who really killed that little girl)

    It really isn't about closure for the Hoffa family. They knew what he was and what he was about. It's more about the persons responsible for the crime answering to the people and being prosecuted for their crimes.

  2. Capt. Schmoe: interesting and thoughtful response, thanks. I wonder whether it's necessary for there to be evidence of a crime, though. Sure, Hoffa's family may not need closure but there are so many instances of people (couples, too) just disappearing. Some of them may have decided to remove themselves from their lives and gone to live in a shack in Oregon. Others may have been kidnapped and killed. How do we know which warrant further investigation?

    I think my criteria would include the wishes of any remaining kin, and the existence of new and unexplored evidence.

    And I totally agree on the Ramsey case, that's a mystery begging to be solved for many reasons.

  3. I'm just thankful you worked the Açores into this blog. Bringing awareness to my peeps!

  4. I am glad to see that someone else knows about Asterix and Obelix. You are the first person in the US that I have found that knows about them. Brings back memories of Munich in 1976 when I first read the books.


  5. Anon 1: I know who you are... but you're welcome anyway!

    Butch: I found a few at the local book store and got them for my kids. For my kids, you understand...


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