18 Incidents of People Vanishing into Thin Air Throughout History
18 Incidents of People Vanishing into Thin Air Throughout History

18 Incidents of People Vanishing into Thin Air Throughout History

Larry Holzwarth - October 10, 2018

18 Incidents of People Vanishing into Thin Air Throughout History
American writer and critic H. L. Mencken was lavish in his praise for the work of twelve year old Barbara Follett. National Archives

15. Barbara Follett walked away from her marriage and writing career.

Barbara Follett published her first novel The House Without Windows in 1927, receiving lavish praise from literary critics at The New York Times and from American sage H. L. Mencken. What made the novel truly remarkable was that Barbara was twelve years of age at the time of publication. Her second novel, The Voyage of the Norman D. was equally well received when it was published the following year. Barbara’s career as a novelist reached its peak before she was fourteen, though she continued to write for a time, including book length manuscripts and travelogues. In 1933, while working as a secretary, Barbara married Nickerson Rogers, and settled in Brookline, Massachusetts.

Her marriage was an unhappy one, and Barbara suspected her husband of being unfaithful. In early December, 1939, Barbara left their home in the aftermath of a spat with her husband, allegedly with about $30 in her pocket. Nickerson did not report her missing until she had been gone for two weeks, and after she had been gone several months he requested a missing person’s bulletin be issued. The bulletin was released using Barbara’s married name rather than her own more famous last name, well known in the publishing world. Despite police and private investigations, no trace of Barbara was ever found, nor was there any evidence of a crime involving the former prodigy. Barbara Follett simply vanished, her fate remains unknown.

18 Incidents of People Vanishing into Thin Air Throughout History
An aerial view of the submarine base at Pearl Harbor in 1941. Lattimore would have had a similar view during his hikes in the Hawaiian hills. US Navy

16 Thomas Lattimore was briefly a governor of American Samoa

Thomas Lattimore was a career officer in the United States Navy, who graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1914. He served during the First World War as a junior officer, promoted to Lieutenant Junior Grade before the war ended, and during the interwar years served in many posts, including briefly as acting governor of American Samoa, since he was temporarily the senior officer present. In the spring of 1941 he was assigned as commanding officer of USS Dobbin, a destroyer tender based at Pearl Harbor, Hawaiian Territory. Later that summer the decision was made to keep the American Pacific Fleet in Hawaiian waters, rather than at the anchorages along America’s west coast.

Lattimore was known to enjoy solitary hikes in the hills surrounding Pearl Harbor. After one such hike he returned to his ship with an arm injury, which he claimed occurred as the result of an accidental fall, and which required his arm to be in a cast. In July 1941, after the cast had been removed, Lattimore again left for a hike in the Aiea Mountains. When he failed to return, search parties of sailors, soldiers, and Marines were sent to look for him, including search dogs. He was never found, nor were any clues as to what may have happened to him. Rumors about his fate included abduction by Japanese spies who were gathering information preparatory to the Pearl Harbor attack, but the Commander’s fate remained, and still remains, a mystery, largely forgotten following the Japanese attack in December, other than among sailors who knew him.

18 Incidents of People Vanishing into Thin Air Throughout History
The wreckage of the bomber known as Lady be Good in the Libyan desert in 1960, seventeen years after it was lost. US Air Force

17. The crew of the Lady be Good vanished in the Libyan desert

For fifteen years, the American B-24 Liberator bomber named Lady be Good by its crew was believed to have been lost over the Mediterranean Sea while flying its first combat mission in 1943. The bomber had been part of a raid on Naples, after which it failed to return to its base in Libya. Its crew of nine officers and men had been assigned to the squadron only the week before the mission, and were inexperienced flying over the desert, where landmarks which could be used to correct navigational errors were scarce. The bomber took off as a sandstorm was developing, and in the low visibility the pilot was unable to join the formation of planes which had launched earlier, so it continued on its mission without escort. On its return leg, the automatic direction finder failed.

The crew failed to spot its airfield, and continued to fly south over the Libyan desert in the low visibility caused by the sandstorm. It eventually ran out of fuel in the desert, and belly landed in the sand. The wreck of the aircraft was partially covered by shifting sands, and remained undisturbed until 1958, when a crew of surveyors for British Petroleum discovered the aircraft. There was no indication of what happened to the crew, other than that the absence of parachutes indicated that the crew bailed out before the aircraft landed in the desert, with only one engine still running. In 1960 a comprehensive search by the United States Air Force and British Petroleum discovered the remains of eight of the nine men who flew in Lady be Good, ending a seventeen year mystery over their fate.

18 Incidents of People Vanishing into Thin Air Throughout History
Although some of the badly deteriorated cash extorted by the man known as D. B. Cooper was found in 1980, the rest of the money and the man has never been found. Federal Bureau of Investigation

18. D. B. Cooper became a part of American folklore

When D. B. Cooper (not his real name) jumped from a Boeing 727 carrying a briefcase containing $200,000 in November 1971, he vanished from sight and entered into legend. Despite some of the money being found in 1980, most of the money and the man who extorted it by hijacking an airliner have never been found. The FBI and local authorities held an intensive manhunt in the rough country where Cooper would have landed by parachute, but found no trace of the hijacker nor the equipment which he carried with him when he made his jump. The search operation was one of the most expensive of American history to that time, but it delivered little of value to the investigators. Other than a small amount of money found in 1980, none of the cash has ever turned up.

D. B. Cooper, which is a name created by the media to identify the hijacker, may or may not have survived the parachute jump and the harsh country in which he may have landed. From the day of the hijacking he became a folk hero, with many Americans expressing the hope that he got away with several crimes that November day. The fact that none of the money was ever found in circulation suggests otherwise, despite several individuals, or relatives of individuals, claiming to either be the hijacker or knowing who he was. The FBI finally suspended the investigation in 2016, citing the need to focus resources into more pressing issues. Whoever the man known as D.B. Cooper was, he vanished, as did the money he extorted, disappearing perhaps into plain sight but hidden from history.


Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“Owain Glyndwr”. BBC Wales. Online

“King of the Pirates: The Swashbuckling Life of Henry Every”. E. T. Fox. 2008

“Signs of Cherokee Culture: Sequoyah’s Syllabary in Eastern Cherokee Life”. Margaret Bender. 2002

“‘Twelve Years’ Is the Story of a Slave Whose End is a Mystery”. Hansi Lo Wang, National Public Radio, transcript. January, 2014. Online

“Abandoned Ship: The Mary Celeste”. Jess Blumberg, Smithsonian Magazine. November 2007

“Louis Le Prince, who shot the world’s first film in Leeds”. Ian Youngs, BBC News. June 23, 2015

“Belle Gunness: The Black Widow of the Midwest Who Lured Numerous Victims to Their Deaths”. Steven Casale, The Line Up. Jan 8, 2017

“Ambrose Bierce: Alone in Bad Company”. Roy Morris. 1995

“Amelia Earhart: Island bones ‘likely’ belonged to famed pilot”. BBC News. March 8, 2018

“Mystery of Glenn Miller’s death is finally solved 73 years after his disappearance”. David Pilditch, The Daily Express. December 20, 2017

“Books: Tragedy in a hothouse”. Harold Grier McGurdy, TIME Magazine. June 3, 1966

“Lady be Good, Mystery Bomber of World War II”. Dennis McLendon. 1982

“Unmasking D. B. Cooper”. Geoffrey Gray, New York Magazine. October 21, 2007