Across the world, many people over the years have disappeared, seemingly into thin air, with no satisfying explanation. The mystery is only deepened when neither the missing person nor their remains are ever seen again.
However, there have also been many cases of people who disappear in the most mysterious of circumstances, only to reappear—sometimes decades later—in equally mysterious and intriguing circumstances. What follows are just ten examples of such bizarre cases. These people vanished into thin air and then reappeared just as strangely . . .
Although two-year-old Amber Rose Smith was missing for only a day, her case is truly one of the most bizarre and intriguing. According to her father, the young girl was playing happily at their home Newaygo County, Michigan, on October 8, 2013. She was out of sight of her father only briefly as he went into another room. However, upon is return, she was no longer there.
A full-scale search involving numerous volunteers was launched almost immediately. However, despite the entire area undergoing absolute scrutiny by the hundreds-strong search party, it appeared that the young girl had seemingly vanished into thin air.
The following day, however, as searches continued, Amber Rose was found only a few miles from her home. And what’s more, she was discovered in a location that had already been thoroughly searched the previous day. How she had managed to “avoid” the search teams who went into action so soon after her disappearance, as well as how she had managed to cover so much ground, left searchers and investigators baffled.
What is perhaps the most fascinating, if extremely grim, about the case of Steven Stayner are the events that would take place following his reemergence in a California police station in 1980 after having been missing for over seven years.
Steven had been missing since 1972, when he was seven years old, and had disappeared while walking home from school. His abductor, Kenneth Parnell, would hold him captive for years, sexually abusing him during this time. By the time Steven was a teenager, Parnell desired a younger boy, and after Parnell brought another abducted child to the house, Stayner was spurred on to escape with the five-year-old, stating later that he “couldn’t let another child go through what he had.”
Parnell was eventually arrested and sentenced to seven years in prison, although he was released after serving only five of those years. (He was arrested again in 2003 for attempting to “procure” a four-year-old boy.) In 1989, after gaining national attention for his part in Parnell’s arrest, Steven Stayner was killed in a motorcycle accident at only 24 years old.
Incidentally, in the years that followed, though, it would be Steven’s brother, Cary, who would be in the news. This time, though, as opposed to his being seen as a national hero who performed acts of bravery in the face of such danger and criminality as Steven had been, Cary was facing multiple charges of first-degree murder, of which he would be convicted. He was sentenced to death in 2002. Allegedly, Cary stated he wanted a “movie-of-the-week” made about his crimes—just like the television movie made of his brother’s ordeal.
When 14-year-old Tanya Kach of McKeesport, Pennsylvania, vanished one day in 1996, it was assumed (given that she had simply walked out of the family home) that she had run away. In part, that was true.
It would come to light a decade later in 2006 that Kach had been convinced by a security guard at the middle school, Thomas Hose, to “run away with him.” When she did so, however, Hose would instead hold her prisoner at a house his parents owned. She would remain there for the next ten years, and Hose would routinely rape and abuse her.
After four years, Kach, under a new name, was allowed to leave the house. In 2006, she sought help, telling the over of a deli, whom she’d become friends with, that she was being held prisoner at the hands of Hose and had been since she was a teenager. It wasn’t long before Hose was arrested, charged, and eventually imprisoned. Kach was reunited with her family.
Unlike our previous two encounters, the account of Steven Kubacki is not a brutal case of imprisonment but one of genuine mystery bordering on the supernatural. One February morning in 1978 near Lake Michigan, student Steven Kubacki would venture out to indulge in several hours of skiing. However, when he still hadn’t returned the following day, a huge search was put in motion.
Strangely, and ominously, footprints were discovered in a location where the student claimed to be heading. And what’s more, they stopped right at the frozen water’s edge. There was no sign of any markings on the frozen surface of the water and no signs that the ice had been broken anywhere. Later that day, Steven’s skis and backpack were discovered. However, no other sign of Kubacki came to light, and the searches were eventually called off. His family, while not giving up hope, were prepared for the worst.
Then, over a year later in early May 1979, Steven Kubacki would appear out of the blue on his parents’ doorstep. He had very little memory of where he had been. He had awoken earlier that day in a field in Pittsfield, hundreds of miles from where he disappeared and around 64 kilometers (40 mi) from the family home. Even stranger, he was wearing clothes that weren’t his and had a strange bag of maps with him that he didn’t recognize.
Rather than compensate himself financially with the many offers from media people for his story, Kubacki would retreat from the public, refusing to speak of the incident (of which he had no memory) and not wishing to undergo such things as hypnotic regression, as he wasn’t experiencing any “psychological problems” and wished to keep it that way.
Perhaps one of the strangest cases of disappearances followed by an equally strange reappearance is that of Dr. William Horatio Bates, who would seemingly vanish into thin air from New York City in August 1902. He left a short note for his wife stating that he was “called out of town to some major operations” and that he was “glad to get so much money for us all.” Furthermore, he would “write details later.” And with that, he was gone. What is perhaps curious, aside from the hurried manner with which he seemingly left, was that he was already a man of considerable wealth, which made his line of being “glad to get so much money” slightly odd.
He would not return, nor would he write as he had promised. After several days, his wife would use her husband’s fellow Mason friends to try to locate him, which, especially considering the times, was perhaps key in doing so. After his picture and details traveled across lodges around the United States and as far afield as Europe, information would reach Mrs. Bates that William was in a London hospital. Furthermore, he was not in a good way, looking “haggard, thin, and [with deeply sunken eyes].”
Bizarrely, despite access to funds at a London bank account, he appeared to be suffering from malnutrition. Even stranger, when Mrs. Bates arrived in London, William claimed to not recognize or remember her. He did, however, agree to stay with her at her hotel so that his memory might return.
Initially, all appeared well. He would even recall being asked to set sail from New York several weeks earlier and operating on a patient with a brain abscess. However, only two days later, he would leave the hotel and disappear once again. This time, at least as far as his wife was concerned, it was forever. She would pass away in 1907, still searching for her ill husband.
A fellow doctor and friend would locate Bates in Grand Forks, North Dakota, in 1910, working in an ophthalmology practice he owned. He would eventually return to New York with his friend, going into partnership together. However, Bates would never, at least according to him, recover his memories of his life before that mysterious call in 1902. Nor would he recall what had happened to him.
One of the most recent of our strange disappearance and reappearance cases occurred on September 22, 2012 in the Arkansas Ozarks. On that afternoon, brother and sister Eddie Huff and Linda Arteaga set out for a day’s hiking in the forests of the region. However, when Eddie returned alone claiming to have left his sister at a relative’s house, something seemed amiss, even more so when it was discovered that the 53-year-old woman was not at the relative’s house as Eddie had claimed.
Eddie, seemingly with no memory of what had happened, was now confused and a little disoriented, to say the least. A search party was organized, and Arteaga was eventually discovered in a seemingly random location in the middle of the deep woodland. What’s more, she appeared shocked and unnerved by whatever incident had unfolded and led her here.
She would later claim, although the details were murky at best, that her brother had suffered some kind of injury and that she had volunteered to go and find help. She would then state that as she walked through the woods, she came across other hikers who, try as she might, simply didn’t seem to be able to hear her when she called out to them. Even more disturbingly, she would witness bizarre “shadowy figures” that appeared to be watching her from the trees and bushes. The next thing she knew, she was coming to in the forest with the search party calling her name.
This rather bizarre incident remains unexplained.
On the early afternoon of January 21, 1987, Gabriel Nagy, a married father of two from Sydney, Australia, would call his wife to let her know her that he would be home from work early that day. Then, he vanished without a trace for almost a quarter of a century. Most would suspect, whether through foul play, his own hand, or some bizarre and tragic circumstances, that he had died shortly after that phone call.
However, in 2010, just before Nagy would have been officially declared dead, a clue would suddenly leap out at the detective in charge of the cold case, Georgia Robinson. A Medicare card in Gabriel Nagy’s name was eventually tracked down, leading Robinson to visit the property and its owner.
The man in question was confused as to why the police were at his door. However, it didn’t take long for Robinson to realize that the man was indeed the missing person from January 1987. And what’s more, it would appear that he was truthful when claiming no memory of his life with a wife and two children. However, with patience and using photographs of his family from the police files, Nagy had what he would later describe as “flashbulb” moments, where memories began to emerge from the haze. Slowly, a time line was pieced together.
It would appear that at some point after the phone call, Nagy was attacked, as his “first memory” is of waking up with some kind of head injury, so bad it was bleeding. Following this, his recollection was hazy at best, with the most prominent memories suggesting he had camped in various areas in Queensland, as well as working on farms and fishing boats and even, on occasion, sleeping on the streets.
Slowly, his name had come back to him (allowing him to apply for a Medicare card). He would ultimately be reunited with his family, who continue to work to restore as much of his memory as possible. Whether a physical attack would cause him to lose such vast amounts of his memories or whether, as the family suspect, dissociative fugue is to blame, remains to be seen. The case, though, is certainly one of the most intriguing of recent times.
The case of Philip Sessarego isn’t the most mysterious, but it is most definitely intriguing, not least due to the lengths the British soldier would go to restart his life anew, particularly concerning his desire to join the ranks of the elite Special Air Service (SAS) special forces unit, which had twice turned him down. His daughter would later speak of how this rejection from the unit had caused her father to enter into a “fantasy state.” He would dress how many “SAS men” dressed and purposely drink in establishments known to be frequented by members of the unit. Then, in Croatia in 1991, he would simply disappear. (Some accounts state that he was seemingly killed by a car bomb.)
However, in 2000, a strange and intriguing book would appear on The New York Times’s bestseller list, entitled Jihad! The Secret War In Afghanistan. It was authored by an equally strange and intriguing gentleman named Tom Carew, who had made statements in (then) recent years of having served with the SAS for over two decades. He’d spoken of how he had trained mujahideen fighters against the Soviets in the 1970s and 1980s.
Carew would also become a regular talking head following the 9/11 attacks. However, the more he appeared in public, the more his claims began to unravel, not least when other SAS soldiers would essentially accuse Carew of being a fraud. By the time the BBC’s Newsnight program was involved, it was discovered that Carew was, in fact, Philip Sesserago, the same man who had tried so hard to join the SAS years previously. Interestingly, Sesserago would again disappear, eventually using the name Philip Stevenson in Belgium. In 2009, he was discovered dead in a rented garage, apparently the victim of accidental carbon monoxide poisoning.
Another person who seemingly looked to start a new life for herself was Lititz, Pennsylvania, resident Brenda Heist. While going through a divorce in 2002, she would simply walk away from it all, leaving her two children of eight and 12 years old, and vanish without a trace.
Following a widespread search and investigation, including the charging and clearing of her ex-husband, she was declared legally dead in 2010. That was until one day in 2013, when she wandered into a Florida police station and claimed that she was, in fact, Brenda Heist who had disappeared from Pennsylvania 11 years previously.
She would claim that after driving her kids to school that day in 2002, she had gone to a park, where she sat and cried. A group of “three strangers” approached her and asked if she wished to join them on their way to Florida. She would explain how she “just snapped” and went with them, leaving her old life behind. Needless to say, she would ultimately end up using drugs and, at times, living rough on the streets.
Brenda, who had been using the alias Kelsie Lyanne Smith, realized she’d made a dreadful mistake by 2013, and she went to the police station and began attempts to reestablish contact with her family. However, all attempts on her part were rebuffed, with her two children, now young adults, refusing to allow her back into their lives.
The story of Richard Hoagland is at least as strange as any other on this list and is seemingly one orchestrated by Hoagland himself. On the afternoon of February 10, 1993, he would call his wife and explain how he was feeling unwell and was on his way to a hospital in Indianapolis. However, when his wife later attempted to track him down and find out which hospital he had arrived at, it would come to light that not only had no one calling himself Richard Hoagland been checked in, but no one under that name had even contacted any hospitals.
When his wife would make a report of the strange circumstances to the police, they would discover that Richard had not taken any substantial amounts of cash or credit cards, nor had he taken any clothes or a passport. The only lead of any type was the discovery of his car at the Indianapolis International Airport. However, the airport records show that no one bought any tickets under the name of Richard Hoagland.
In the summer of 1993, Hoagland’s two young sons each received a card in the mail containing $50. In them were the words, “Maybe sometime soon we will get to see each other. I bet I won’t even know you. It has been so long. Mind your mother. Bye, Dad.”
No one would hear or see anything of Hoagland following this, and by 2003, he was officially and legally declared dead. However, in 2016, it would come to light that Hoagland was not only alive and well, but he had hijacked the identity of Terry Symansky, who had died in 1991. Furthermore, he had remarried and even fathered a child while living in Florida (Symansky’s home state). It would turn out that Hoagland was the subject of an investigation for fraud at the time of his disappearance and made the decision to start again. Incidentally, the woman he married in Florida was completely ignorant to his schemes.