$43259History's Most Famous Missing Persons
Being famous doesn't make you easier to find
September 18, 2008
If you had to pick the world's most famous missing person, who would it be? My vote would probably go to Amelia Earhart, who inspired so many little girls to reach for the skies.
Another disappearance I've always found interesting is turn-of-the-century writer Ambrose Bierce, who vanished while in his 70s somewhere in the Mexican countryside during the Mexican revolution. Historical accounts say Bierce traveled to Chihuahua with Pancho Villa's troops, and then simply dropped off the face of the earth.
Jimmy Hoffa, leader of the Teamsters and an enigmatic figure in American labor, also mysteriously evaporated, although it is widely (and probably correctly) believed that Hoffa was the victim of a contract hit authorized by organized crime.
Being rich or famous or a member of the ruling class offers no protection against misfortune, just more publicity and the guarantee there will be much conjecture on the parts of the public and media. For proof, consider the case of Owain Glyndwr, the last Welsh-born Prince of Wales.
Glydwr led a long-running revolt against the sitting English monarch. Despite a rousing start, his forces were soon routed, and the charismatic leader disappeared into the pages of time, never to be heard from again.
His last confirmed sighting: 1412. To this day scholars, historians and amateur sleuths continue to seek Glydwr's grave. He's also been the subject of a number of literary works and was represented as a character in one of Shakespeare’s plays.
Royal blood certainly cuts down on the chances that a disappearance is innocent. Many royals, such as the two young princes in the tower, appear to be victims of age-old power grabs in dark and dangerous times. The princes, nephews of Richard III, were relegated to the Tower Of London at the time of their disappearance. Their fate represents a lingering mystery in the subsequent centuries. Skeletal remains, possibly linked to the two boys, were found during some old renovations, but the case remains unresolved.
Virginia Dare, the first child born to English settlers, went missing, leaving history with a huge question mark on her fate and that of the other early colonists. Playwright Paul Green's outdoor drama, The Lost Colony, plays to packed stadiums every year, proving that even today, historical disappearances intrigue us all.
In more recent times, adventurous men and women have stepped into the pages of history in the pursuit of one truth or another. Englishman Percy Fawcett, an archaeologist, disappeared on an expedition with his son and a friend while looking for the famous city of gold in South America. Other adventurers include the progeny of famous families: Actor Errol Flynn's son Sean vanished with a co-worker while making a documentary on the Khmer Rouge in 1970; and Michael Rockefeller, scion of the wealthy Rockefeller family, disappeared during a scholarly expedition to New Guinea.
Transportation mishaps add to the mysteries of missing persons: ships have been found devoid of their occupants, airliners have taken off and never been heard from again and others have ridden or driven off into the sunset - and total oblivion.
Amelia Earhart's disappearance, along with her navigator Fred Noonan, constitutes one of the greatest and certainly most debated, missing persons cases in history.
An accomplished aviatrix at a time when the world was beginning to feel the grim effects of the Axis alliance, Earhart - with Noonan - was trying to circumnavigate the globe when the plane disappeared over the Pacific Ocean. Although many theories have been floated over the years as to their fate - from rumors they were working as U.S. government spies, to the pair's crash landing on a barren Pacific atoll - no definitive answer as to their fate has surfaced.
Earhart's case continues to draw interest for three reasons: Her fame at the time of her disappearance, the perpetuation of theories and continuing nonstop publicity.
The vast majority of missing people were not famous. In fact, most of the missing are ordinary, representing a mix of individuals who have chosen to remove themselves from society and others with no choice in the matter. It is this last group, the ones whose lives are disrupted as a result of abduction and other crimes that police seek.
While willful disappearances also concern authorities, especially when the individuals are minors or suffering from some type of mental impairment, the cases involving foul play or accident are by far the ones that receive the greatest media play. Most continuing publicity results from friends and family keeping high the public interest.
Publicity like this insures high public interest in missing individuals like Kristen Modafferi, a North Carolina college student who disappeared from a summer job in San Francisco
; Jason Jolkowski, a young man who disappeared while on his way to work in Omaha, Neb.; and Natalee Holloway, a recent high school graduate who vanished while on a post-graduation trip to Aruba.
In each case, the families of these missing children have worked hard to keep their loved ones visible and their causes active by building Web sites, giving interviews, posting photographs and in general staying proactively involved with the media. I can't imagine a more difficult task.
While the search for someone famous, like Amelia Earhart will always attract attention, the families of those who are not already in the public eye have to work hard to put and keep them there. It's a thankless job and one I hope never to learn.