Saturday, March 29, 2008
Seven Mysterious Disappearances
With all this talk of those kids who found the parachute that might be D.B. Cooper’s, it’s made me think about people who have randomly disappeared. I think it’s such a fascinating topic – and other people must too, or we wouldn’t still be talking about people such as Amelia Earhart and Mr. Cooper today.
In that spirit, I’ve found (not literally, of course) a few people whose disappearances have kept us guessing over the years. I know there are (sadly) plenty out there, but I tried to pick some of the vanishings I found most intriguing.
Virginia Dare, 1587
roanokeVirginia Dare is just one of the many people (87 men, 17 women and 11 children, to be exact) from the island of Roanoke who disappeared without a trace. What’s notable about Virginia, though, is that she was the first child of English parents to be born in the Americas. In fact, it is Virginia’s grandfather, John White, who discovered that the colony was missing. In 1587, John sailed back to England for supplies and assistance for the colony. When he returned in 1590, everything was gone except for the infamous “CROATOAN” carved on a tree.
Virginia is gone but not forgotten, though. Dare County, N.C. is named after her, as is the Virginia Dare Memorial Bridge that spans the Croatan Sound. Roanoke Island celebrates Virginia’s birthday every year with an Elizabethan Renaissance Fair.
Her legend has also been the subject of many imaginative writers – a couple of novels have her meeting Pocahontas and John Smith. The Daughter of Virginia Dare even portrays her as Pocahontas’ mother.
A 1965 novel titled Dare, Virginia and the other Lost Colonists have all of the Roanoke residents being abducted by aliens and settling on a planet called Dare.
In the Buffyverse, Virginia Dare is a vampire slayer known as the White Doe. The T.B. show Freakylinks shows us a demon Virginia who destroyed the other colonists. The picture above, by the way, is a map of the Roanoke area by John White. Can you believe no pictures of Virginia Dare from 1587 exist? (that’s a joke)
Theodosia Burr Alston, 1812
theoTheodosia was the daughter of Vice President Aaron Burr. She led a pretty charmed life until 1812 – prior to that, she was widely known as the most educated American woman of the day, she married a wealthy land owner and politician and had a son named after her father. In 1812, though, Theodosia was exhausted from appealing to people on her father’s behalf. He was acquitted of treason but decided it would be best to spend some time in Europe. Theo was arranging for his 1812 return when her son died. She was still recovering from the shock of that when she boarded the Patriot in the Georgetown, S.C. harbor to meet her father in New York. That wasn’t to happen, though – after boarding the ship, neither it nor Theodosia were ever seen again. Of course, most theories say that the boat went down in a storm. But some legends say the Patriot was captured by pirates, who made Theo and her shipmates walk the plank. Another version of this is that Theo was forced to become a pirate’s mistress.
The least believable of the theories, though, is the one that involves a Karankawa Indian chief. He supposedly found a ship wrecked on the shore and found Theo, chained to a bulkhead and naked except for a gold locket engraved with her name. He rescued her and she told him that she was the daughter of a very important man and that if the chief ever came across white men, he should give him the locket and explain what happened. She gave him her necklace and promptly died.
Benjamin Briggs and the passengers and crew of the Mary Celeste, 1872
briggsNot that a missing ship is anything to be blasé about, but it wasn’t uncommon before modern technology was able to track ships. The Mary Celeste is interesting, though, because the ship was found – minus its passengers.
The Mary Celeste might have been cursed from the very beginning - the first captain died on her maiden voyage. She was launched on her last voyage on November 5, 1872, from Staten Island to Genoa, Italy. A month later the captain of the Dei Gratia, who knew Captain Benjamin Briggs, spotted the Mary Celeste drifting along toward the Strait of Gibraltar. Although the ship was just drifting, no distress signals were flying. Some of the Dei Gratia’s crew went to the Mary Celeste in a small boat and boarded it. It was wet, but in good condition. The lifeboat was missing and looked like it was intentionally launched. A six-month supply of food and water had been left behind, along with all of the ship’s paperwork except for the captain’s log.
The most plausible theory stems from the cargo the Mary Celeste had on board – more than 1,000 barrels of alcohol. When the abandoned ship was unloaded, nine of these barrels were found empty. The theory is that when the cargo hold was opened, the nine leaking barrels resulted in a rush of fumes that lead the captain to believe the ship was going to explode. He basically freaked out, ordered everyone into a lifeboat and forgot to secure the lifeboat to the ship (or the line broke).
Another theory is that the crew drank the alcohol, murdered the Captain and stole the lifeboat to escape.
Flannan Isles Lighthouse Keepers, 1900
In December of 1900, the lighthouse keepers on the Flannan Isles off the coast of Scotland vanished. It was first noted when a steamer passed the lighthouse on December 15 and noticed the light wasn’t working. This was reported, but apparently nothing was done until the relief keeper and a crew with provisions went to the lighthouse on December 26. When no one came out to greet them, they entered the lighthouse and found the entrance gate and main door both closed, the beds unmade, the clock stopped and an overturned chair in the kitchen. The island was thoroughly searched for the men and any clues as to their whereabouts, but the only thing that was found was some damage done by a storm. Although this might seem like a clue, the log left by the keepers showed that it happened before they disappeared.
The Northern Lighthouse Board concluded that the men had drowned and been swept out to sea. Rumors, though, had one keeper murdering the other two, then drowning himself out of guilt. A sea serpent was also a possibility, along with the prospect that they had been abducted by spies or attacked by a boat full of ghosts (the lifeboat full of the Mary Celeste crew, maybe?). Photo by Marc Calhoun
Dorothy Arnold, 1910
dorothy arnoldImagine the media frenzy if Paris Hilton went for a walk in L.A. and disappeared forever (we can dream, right?). That’s just what happened when Manhattan socialite Dorothy Arnold went for a stroll in Central Park (supposedly) on December 12, 1910.
Dorothy was the daughter of a wealthy perfume importer and the niece of an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. Earlier that year, she had spent a week with a man that could have caused some embarrassment to the Arnold family, so instead of reporting her missing, her dad conducted his own investigation through the Pinkertons. Six weeks later, he gave in and called the police. The man she had been seeing, George Griscom, Jr., thought she might have committed suicide after her writing was rejected from a magazine. Friends thought she killed herself because Griscom wouldn’t marry her. And her dad thought she had been abducted in Central Park. Another rumor circulated that she had gotten pregnant and died during a botched abortion. So far, no one knows the truth for sure – no evidence of any sort has ever turned up. Photo from PrairieGhosts.com
Amelia Earhart, 1937
ameliaSet on circumnavigating the globe, Amelia Earhart took off in her Electra from Miami with navigator Fred Noonan on June 1, 1937. After numerous stops, they ended up in Lae, New Guinea on June 29. They had completed a good chunk of their trip – about 22,000 miles. Only 7,000 miles remained of the fateful journey. On July 2, the pair headed for Howland Island, which is where the trip took a turn for the worse: they fell out of contact and disappeared. Search efforts began only an hour after Amelia’s last communication.
Obviously, they were never found, despite a huge search effort involving $4 million, the Navy and the Coast Guard. Their efforts included a search of Gardner Island (now Nikumaroro) which had been uninhabited for more than four decades. Since then, artifacts have been uncovered on Nikumaroro including a piece of clear Plexiglass with the exact thickness and curvature as an Electra window and a size nine shoe that looked like the shoes Amelia wore.
We have to look at some of the theories surrounding her disappearance – they’re pretty interesting. Many thought she was perhaps a spy for FDR and the Japanese had something to do with her disappearance. For instance, in 1966, a CBS correspondent published a book that said Amelia and Fred were captured and executed when they crashed on Saipan Island. Another book was published including a daughter from a Japanese officer who claimed her father had executed Amelia himself.
A former Marine said that he and his fellow soldiers had opened a safe in Saipan, only to find Amelia’s briefcase. Another Marine said he actually guarded the plane in 1944 and then watched it being destroyed.
One author even claimed that Amelia actually completed the flight, returned to the U.S. and began living under an assumed name – Irene Bolam. The real Irene Bolam sued for $1.5 million and swore that she was not Amelia Earhart. Studies since then have shown that she was telling the truth.
D.B. Cooper, 1971
cooperJust in case you haven’t heard the D.B. Cooper story, here’s a little recap. In November 1971, D.B. Cooper (AKA Dan Cooper, neither of which are his real name) hijacked a plane, demanded a ransom of $200,000, and jumped out of the aircraft after he received it. He has never been found, but a few clues have popped up over the years. In 1980, a little boy found nearly $6,000 in rotting $20 bills on the banks of the Columbia River, which is in the area of where Cooper jumped. In 2007, the FBI announced that they were able to get some DNA from a tie Cooper left on the plane. And, most recently, some kids found an old parachute buried near Amboy, Washington.
The FBI doesn’t think Cooper survived the flight – when he jumped out, the plane was going through a bad storm with lots of cloud coverage. More than 400 troops from Fort Lewis helped survey the area on foot for any trace of Cooper, but no one found even a shred of evidence. Although the $20 bills given to Cooper were unmarked, the FBI was careful to assign a certain range of serial numbers. A newspaper in Portland offered $1,000 to the first person who could bring in one of these bills, hoping that Cooper was spending them, but not one ever turned up.