People can’t just disappear without a trace, right? There has to be a logical reason. There can’t just be Something out there … taking people. Right?
The Lost Colony
In the early efforts to settle the New World, a colony of 115 people was established on the island of Roanoke just off the coast of North Carolina. Three years later a resupply mission for what would become known as “The Lost Colony” landed and found everyone had disappeared.
There was no sign of a struggle or battle. All the houses and fortifications had been dismantled, which meant their departure had not been hurried. The colonists had been instructed to carve a Maltese Cross on a tree should they fall into trouble. There was no cross carved into the trees. They had not been forced to leave.
The only clue was the word “Croatoan” carved into a post of the fence around the village, and the letters C-R-O carved into a nearby tree.
Many people have heard of this famous “Lost Colony.” What many people don’t know is that, although the most famous, the Lost Colony wasn’t the first European settlement to disappear on Roanoke. An earlier colony was established in 1586 and also disappeared by the time the Lost Colony had arrived.
Eilean Mor Lighthouse Keepers
On the 26th December 1900, a small ship was made its way to a barren and remote island in the Outer Hebrides, Eilean Mor, located off the west coast of Scotland. The ship was delivering a replacement lighthouse keeper for one of the three men who tended the lighthouse.
Although uninhabited except for the lighthouse keepers, shepherds would bring over sheep to graze on the island always sure to leave before nightfall for fear of the spirits believed to inhabit the place.
Captain James Harvey was surprised to see there was nobody out to greet the ship, even more surprised when no one appeared after he blew the horn and fired up a flare.
The new light keeper, Joseph Moore, rowed ashore and climbed the steep set of stair that led up to the lighthouse. According to Moore himself, he was overcome with an overwhelming sense of foreboding as he drew near the structure at the top of the cliff.
What he found in the lighthouse was unsettling. Two of the three oiled overcoats were missing. In the kitchen he found a half-eaten meal with an overturned chair as if somebody jumped up from the table in a hurry. The clock had stopped.
The island was searched but there was no sign of the men.
In checking the lighthouse log, the last few days of entries were unusual.
On Dec 12th Second Assistant Thomas Marshall wrote of “severe winds the likes of which I have never seen before in twenty years.” He also noted that Principal Keeper, James Ducat, had been “very quiet” and Third Assistant, William McArthur, had been crying.
On Dec 13th it was noted that the storm was still raging and all three men had been praying.
It was odd that a seasoned seaman such as McArthur with a reputation for toughness would be crying. They wondered what had overcome the experienced men so fearfully that they felt they needed to pray. They were safe far above the raging sea. There were no other mentions of prayer in the log.
What is most peculiar is that there were no storms reported in the area for Dec 12-14. In fact, the weather was calm those days and a storm didn’t come until the 17th.
Dec 15th was the final log entry and simply read, “Storm ended, sea calm. God is over all.”
Investigators wondered at what that might mean.
Rules strictly prohibited all three keepers being out of the lighthouse at the same time. Why would one of them leave his coat and rush out into the bitter cold?
The most common theory was that two somehow got into trouble securing ropes down the steps towards the landing during the storm, the third ran out to help and all three were caught by a wave.
The problem with this idea goes back to the weather conditions. The seas were calm because Eilean Mor could be seen by folks from the nearby Isle of Lewis who would have quickly noticed if there was a 3-day storm over the lighthouse while their own island remained calm. According to the last journal entry, they disappeared sometime after the “storm.”
California Ghost Blimp
On August 16, 1942 a sagging blimp descended out of the sky and landed in Daly City, CA, near San Francisco. It snagged and then cut through a mess of power lines on its way down sending arcs of electricity into the air.
The engines smashed into the pavement, the propellers were bent, and gasoline poured into the street. “It looked like a big broken wiener,” a fireman recalled for the San Francisco Chronicle in 1979.
Chaos erupted and people ran from their homes to the scene. Police and firemen were already on the scene moving in to save the crew. But there was no crew to save.
The cabin was undamaged, even from the crash. The parachutes were neatly stored in their normal spot. The lifeboat remained intact. The cap of one pilot still sat on the instrument panel. Everything was in perfect working order right down to the radio. There was even a bomb still attached.
The search was on for the missing pilots. The Navy hunted for the men by land, sea and air. The men were not found nor any clues as to what happened.
It was WWII and the Navy deployed blimps to do routine patrols along the coast looking for submarines. Earlier that day, the pilots of the blimp radioed the message, “Am investigating suspicious oil slick – stand by.” And oil slick could be the sign of a submarine in the area. It was the last message the crew would send.
There were other odd things about the blimp. The door was open and fixed by a latch to keep it open. Typically, this door would never be open during flight. The engines were stopped which suggested the pilots wanted to slow the blimp down.
On every flight, the crew would bring a specially weighted briefcase that contained classified documents. In case of emergency, they were to toss the briefcase overboard. The briefcase remained in the cockpit suggesting there was no emergency.
Earlier in the day, the blimp was observed circling waters above two flares. This was a practice consistent with investigating an oil slick. The dirigible then descended until “it seemed to almost sit on top of the water” stated one observer. It then lifted its nose and ascended.
One witness, Ida Ruby, was out for a horse ride near the beach when she spotted the blimp through binoculars. She stated that she was “quite sure” she saw three men in the gondola. A Navy official testified at the inquest that there was no possibility of a stowaway.
The Navy concluded the inquest with the determination that there was no good reason for the men to leave their ship voluntarily. There had been no fire, no attack, bad weather, or technical malfunction.
The actual fate of the pilots remains unknown because their bodies were never found.
The Missing 1600
1969, Smoky Mountain NP: While on an annual family camping trip to the national park, six-year-old Dennis Martin is scheming with his brother and two other boys in the park’s Spence Field to sneak up on their family and startle them. The boys each get into their position, run and jump on the adults. Dennis is nowhere to be found and is never seen again.
1976, Smoky Mountain NP: 16-year-old Trenny Lynn Gibson is hiking along Andrews Bald with 40 of her classmates on a horticulture field trip to the national park. Late afternoon someone notices Trenny is not with the group. She is never seen again.
1981, Smoky Mountain NP: 58-year-old Thelma Melton is hiking with friends near Deep Creek Campground and area she was well acquainted with. She walked ahead of the group over a hill. On the other side, the friends saw no sign of her. Thelma is never seen again.
1928, Grand Canyon NP: Glen and Bessie Hyde were spending their honeymoon boating down the Colorado River. Glen was experienced with tough rivers. Bessie was a nervous newbie. People report seeing them along the way. The newlyweds do not return from their trip. Months later their boat is found down river, upright and full of supplies. The couple are never found.
1996, Death Valley NP: Four German tourists sign a log at a small ghost town in the park, “Conny, Egbert, Georg, Max. We are going through the pass.” Searchers assumed this referred to the Mengel Pass. The Germans are never seen again.
1981, Yosemite NP: 14-year-old Stacy Arrass has just arrived at Sunrise High Sierra Camp. She and her family are part of a group traveling by horseback from camp to camp. She and a 70-year-old man walk 50’ away to take some pictures. From there she walks a little further for a better shot and is never seen again.
1999, Mount Shasta: Avid outdoor enthusiast Carl Landers, 69, is hiking with friends. From their camp at a place called 50/50, Carl decides to get a head start on their hike toward Lake Helen. This is the last anyone ever sees of Carl.
2014, Los Padres National Forest: 34-year-old firefighter Mike Herdman is camping with a friend when he runs off shoeless after his dog. The dog was eventually found. Mike never was.
2004, San Bernadino National Forest: 9-year-old David Gonzales asks his mom for the car keys so he can get a box of cookies from the car parked 50 yards from camp. The mother reported she gave him the keys, watched him walk towards the car, looked away, looked back at him but he was gone. The cookies were in the car. David was never found.
2015, Chiricahua Mountains: 44-year-old Janet Castrejon stops at a campground restroom with her step-mother and waits outside while the other woman steps inside. Minutes later when the woman comes out, Janet is gone. She is never seen again.
In all these cases, extensive searches were conducted with enormous manpower and great cost. These are just a few of the many stories of people that go missing on public lands. Conservative estimates put the total at 1,600.