TV shows and movies have long emphasized that a person has to be gone longer than 48 hours in order to file a missing persons report. Although the rules vary in each jurisdiction, for the most part, any missing juvenile or elderly patient suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease receives immediate attention from law enforcement. However, if someone decides to leave their life behind of their own accord, there is little that law enforcement can do.
These are a few famous cases where some folks seemingly vanished. Whether something happened to them or they disappeared of their own volition, we may never know.
1. Amelia Earhart
Earhart took her first airplane ride in 1920 at age 23, when famous air racer Frank Hawkes took her on a 10-minute flight that was designed to frighten and astonish her. Instead, it gave her a new goal—she would learn to fly. Being one of the lone females in a male-dominated profession only made her more determined to succeed, which she did in spades.
She eventually set many world records: She was the first female solo pilot to fly non-stop across the Atlantic and the first pilot to fly solo from Hawaii to California, to name just two. On June 1, 1937, she departed from Miami in a Lockheed Electra with navigator Frederick Noonan aboard. Their goal was to fly around the world, following the Equator—a trip of approximately 29,000 miles. They successfully completed a little over 20,000 miles of the expedition, with stops in South America and Africa along the way. On June 29, they made a stop in New Guinea. The next leg of the journey was 7,000 miles long over the Pacific Ocean, headed for a refueling stop on Howland Island.
The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Itasca was trailing Earhart as a safety precaution, and as her plane approached the island, Earhart radioed the ship that she was low on fuel. The ship was belching out black smoke which made it difficult for Earhart to make visual contact with the island, and after she broadcast “one half-hour fuel and no landfall,” all radio contact was lost. Earhart, Noonan and their plane were never found. Did their plane plummet into the ocean, or did Earhart and Noonan survive the crash only to be taken prisoner by the Japanese? Conspiracy theories abound.
2. Judge Crater
New York Supreme Court Justice Joseph F. Crater has become something of a poster boy for folks who have disappeared under mysterious circumstances. It was suspected at the time of his appointment to the state’s highest court that Crater had connections with the infamous and notoriously corrupt Tammany Hall, a Democrat cabal of politicians who ran NYC politics and had strong ties with organized crime.
On the morning of August 6, 1930, he went to his office and transferred several confidential files into a pair of locked briefcases. He also cashed $5,000 worth of checks before returning to his 5th Avenue apartment. Crater was last seen leaving Billy Haa’s Chophouse in Manhattan after having dinner with a showgirl friend and a fellow attorney. He was never seen again, and was declared legally dead in 1939.
3. Jimmy Hoffa
James Riddle Hoffa first became interested in the labor movement as a teenager, when he helped to unionize the employees at the Kroger grocery store in Detroit where he worked in the early 1930s. Hoffa’s strong-arm tactics helped him rise in the union ranks, and he was elected president of the Teamsters in 1957.
He served some time in prison for mail fraud and jury tampering, but by 1971 he was once again a free man and anxious to regain his previous position leading the Teamsters. After a few years of attempting to regain power, Hoffa had become discouraged and accused the government of restricting his freedom.
In 1975, Hoffa had refocused his efforts on Detroit. He was also working on an autobiography when he suddenly disappeared. On July 30, 1975, Hoffa drove to the Machus Red Fox restaurant for a lunch meeting with Anthony Giacalone and Anthony Provenzano, two reputed organized crime bosses. Hoffa’s intent was to settle previous grudges with the two over lunch, but after making a few telephone calls from a phone booth in the restaurant’s parking lot, he was never seen again.
Hoffa was declared legally dead in 1982, but his remains have never been found—although over the years tipsters have reported that Hoffa's body was entombed within a number of southeast Michigan-area construction projects, from the Pontiac Silverdome to the Walter Reuther Freeway to the Renaissance Center.
4. Glenn Miller
“Boy the way Glenn Miller played...” Alton Glenn Miller was not only a trombonist; he was also a bandleader and composer with many popular tunes like “Moonlight Serenade”, “Chattanooga Choo-Choo” and “In the Mood” to his credit.
He was at the height of his career when he decided it was more important to serve his country than to play to sold-out venues stateside. He registered for the draft during World War II, but at age 38 he was deemed too old for combat. Instead, he was inducted into the Army Air Corps as the leader of a military swing band and was sent to England after months of broadcasting a popular recruitment radio show from New York.
In December 1944, he boarded a single-engine Noorduyn Norseman bound for Paris to play a Christmas concert for the Allied troops in the area. The plane and its passengers never arrived in France, having seemingly vanished somewhere over the English Channel. No trace of the aircraft or its occupants has been found to this day.
5. D.B. Cooper
On November 24, 1971, a man in a suit carrying a briefcase purchased a one-way ticket to Seattle at the Portland International Airport. It was the day before Thanksgiving, and employees at the busy Northwest Orient counter didn’t pay much attention to the passenger who gave his name as Dan Cooper (a mistaken press report led to the man becoming known as D.B. Cooper later).
He settled into either seat 15D or 18C near the rear of the Boeing 727-100, ordered a drink, and lit a cigarette as the plane began its 55-minute flight. Shortly after takeoff, he summoned a flight attendant and handed her a note. It was printed neatly in capital letters and demanded $20,000 in $20 bills and four parachutes. The stewardess stood frozen in disbelief, so Cooper opened his briefcase slightly so that she could see the sticks of dynamite and array of wires inside.
The note was given to the pilot, who radioed Seattle so that officials on the ground could make arrangements to have the money and the parachutes prepared. The FBI was also notified. Once they landed in Seattle, the money and parachutes were brought on board, the plane was refueled, and Cooper told the pilot that all the other passengers could leave the plane.
His next demand was puzzling: He ordered the pilot to take him to Mexico, flying at 10,000 feet as slowly as could be done without stalling. The entire flight crew huddled in the cockpit on his orders, and 20 minutes after takeoff a warning light began flashing. Crew members went to the rear of the plane to investigate and found a door open and the stairway lowered. Dan Cooper and the money had vanished into the dark, rainy Seattle night, apparently having jumped out of the jet as it flew 200 miles per hour.
Neither the man nor his remains were ever found, but nine years later a young boy vacationing with his family near the Columbia River did find three packets of money that were later confirmed to be part of the ransom Cooper had taken.
6. Kathleen Durst
Kathleen McCormack Durst or Kathie, as she was known to friends and family, has recently returned to the public eye thanks to a new Lifetime Network movie and the recent HBO series, The Jinx. Kathie was just 19 years old when she first met Robert “Bobby” Durst face-to-face–she was handing him a rent check, since his very wealthy family owned the building in which she rented an apartment. Bobby was a smooth talker, and Kathie was a looker. He wooed her with trips in his private jet to exotic cities for dinner and took her dancing at the then exclusive disco Studio 54.
Even though he was almost 10 years older than her, Kathie fell fast and hard, moving in with Durst only a couple months after meeting him. The pair married in 1973. Sadly, what seemed like an idyllic life quickly fell apart for Kathie; Bobby objected to her pursuing her college career (she’d been accepted into medical school and was studying to be a pediatrician) and often punched and slapped her. During the last few years before she disappeared, Kathie repeatedly told her close friends and family members, “If anything happens to me, don’t let Bobby get away with it.” The last time Kathie was verified seen alive was on January 31, 1982.
Her husband waited five days to officially report her as missing. Kathie’s body has never been found, but Robert Durst has since been charged with other murders, so her family holds out hope that someday he’ll lead them to her remains.
7. Larry Hillblom
Larry Hillblom was a law student at UC Berkeley when he got a part-time job as a courier for an insurance company, delivering packages and documents daily between Oakland International Airport and LAX. Once he graduated, he took his knowledge of logistics (plane schedules, freight regulations, etc.) and a portion of his student loans to co-found the expediting company eventually known as DHL Express (Hillblom was the “H” in DHL).
DHL offered guaranteed overnight delivery before FedEx got into the business, and by 1980 Hillblom was a billionaire. As his business grew, he also grew restless and impatient with the day-to-day operations and moved to Saipan, a U.S. commonwealth Pacific isle in the Northern Mariana Islands. Business associates presumed he’d moved off the grid for tax purposes, but it turns out that Hillblom had a dark side to his personality and chosen this particular region because prostitution was legal and he had an unhealthy appetite for underage Asian women.
On May 21, 1995, Hillblom boarded a SeaBee amphibian plane bound for Pagan Island, 200 miles away, where he intended to explore the possibility of mining ash from a volcano on the island. The plane crashed (under still mysterious circumstances) over the Pacific, and the only bodies recovered were those of the pilot, Robert Long, and Jesus Mafnas, one of Hillblom’s business partners.
After the crash, the mothers of many illegitimate children allegedly fathered by Hillblom came forward to claim their part of his sizeable estate. Interestingly enough, when investigators visited Hillblom’s house in search of DNA evidence, they found that his sinks had been scrubbed with muriatic acid, and his toothbrushes, combs and other personal hygiene items had been buried in the back yard. A lingering question remains: Did Hillblom die in that plane crash, or did he stage his death in hopes of escaping financial responsibilities for his unclaimed offspring?
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