Hundreds of thousands of people go missing all over the world every day. Most cases are solved; the victims were lost, runaways, abductions, murders. But the cases are closed and the mysteries are solved. However this is not always the case. Some cases are so bizarre that the mystery is never solved, and some people are simply never found. But in modern times with our advanced technologies, how can people just vanish? And how can we not know what happened to them?
Over the last year I have become fascinated by stories of strange disappearances, and these are just a sampling of the hundreds I have researched. Each of these cases stuck with me for one reason or another, resonated with me in some way, and still haunt me even as I type.
Maura Murray grew up in Hanson, MA. She was a cadet at West Point for 3 months. She did well in school and on her SATs, but at 21 the nursing student’s life was beginning to spiral out of control. In November of 2003 she got into some trouble for using a stolen credit card to buy pizzas for her UMass dorm, but her charge was to be dismissed after 3 months good behavior. In February of 2004 Maura’s father came to visit her in Amherst and stayed at a hotel. According to him he was there to help Maura buy a new car, as her old Saturn was starting to die. Later that night she borrowed his car to go to a party, but on the way home at 3:30am she crashed it into a guard rail. Despite this Maura got to go home without a sobriety test, and managed not to get into trouble while on probation. From looking at her computer records police discovered that Maura began to do research on hotels in rural Vermont and New Hampshire. On February ninth she called her work and told them she would be away for a week due to a death in the family. The death was a fabrication. But for some reason Maura wanted to get out of town, and that night she packed up a bag, took out almost all the rest of the money from her bank account ($280) and drove off in her black saturn sedan. She stopped at a liquor store and bought a fair amount of booze. Maura then headed into the mountains of New Hampshire, an area where she had gone frequently with her father on trips growing up. At around 7pm Maura crashed into a snowbank in Haverhill, NH. A passing bus driver stopped to help her, but she begged him not to call the police, and assured him that AAA was on their way. The bus driver left, but he was haunted by the troubled young girl, and called the police when he arrived home. Police arrived on the scene at 7:46pm and found the car abandoned. The snow around the car was stained with wine, and a coke bottle in her car smelled of alcohol. Maura, her black backpack, wallet, and phone were gone. There was a rag stuffed in her car’s tailpipe, a trick her father had taught her previously to stop the car from smoking. Despite the bizarre scene, Police investigated the case as a missing person, and suspected no foul play.
A wide search for Maura began, but the 21 year old was never seen again. Her odd behavior may make sense given the clues; Maura was probably heading up to NH to clear her head and wait out the final week of her probation. She seemed to be an alcoholic, and a DUI crash (her second in a week no less) would be a violation of her probation and get her into serious trouble. She had never called AAA that night, and likely planned to hike to the nearest town and sober up before contacting assistance. But she never made it. Maura seemed to have been heading east, and recently someone claimed to have seen an abandoned black backpack, empty and frozen, in the woods near Pemigewasset Overlook, 30 miles east from Haverhill on the Kancamagus Highway. Did she end up lost in the woods on the freezing night? Was she abducted on the side of the NH highway? Police had wondered if she was trying to run away, but her cards have not been used and there have been no confirmed sightings. It seems clear Maura was fighting with many personal demons, but there is no evidence to suggest that she ran away or committed suicide. Tragically, no further traces of Maura have ever been found.
If you have any information on Maura please contact New Hampshire Cold Case Unit Tips at firstname.lastname@example.org or call at 603-271-2663 or 603-271-1255.
About a hundred miles away in Montgomery Vermont and only one month later in March of 2004, Brianna Maitland would also disappear, leaving her abandoned car behind her, in circumstances eerily similar to Maura Murray’s. 17 year old Brianna had been going through her own personal issues; she had moved out of her parent’s house after a fight, had dropped out of high school, and had recently gotten into a violent fight with a girl at a party. But Brianna seemed to be working to get her life back in order. She was working on a high school equivalency program and had a job at a restaurant. On March 19th 2004, Brianna was out shopping with her mother when she wandered off. She returned agitated and upset acting, but where she had been or what had happened are unknown. That night she went to work as usual. She was last seen leaving that night by colleagues, then was never seen again. The next day police were called to the scene of a car crashed into the back of an abandoned house. It was Brianna’s.
Her wallet and most possessions were still in the locked car, and a few things were scattered on the ground outside. But Brianna was nowhere to be seen. One of Brianna’s friends would later imply that the teen owed money to some bad people. But to this day no trace of Brianna has been found.
If you have any information on Brianna please contact police at 802-524-5993 or at the State Police Crime Information Tip Line at 802-241-5355. Anonymous tips can be submitted at www.vtips.info.
Iraena Asher may have been a beautiful New Zealand model, but she struggled with internal demons. The 25 year old was a known sufferer of bipolar disorder, and without medication was prone to having ‘episodes’ where she would become paranoid and manic. But the day before she went missing, October 10th 2004, Iraena’s loved ones said she seemed completely fine. Despite her appearances, at 9pm that night Iraena made a frantic call to Auckland police, expressing concerns for her safety. She was at a new boyfriends’ house, and was feeling “pressured” into sex, among other things. Rather than send an officer out however, police inexplicably sent a cab to pick her up. A cab which subsequently got lost and could not find Iraena. Shortly after her call Iraena was found walking down a street by two people, wearing only a sweatshirt and underwear. The people thought she might have been on drugs and took the scared woman to their home where they calmed her down and gave her some food and a nightgown. Iraena begged them not to call the police, and the guardians decided to wait until morning to decide what to do. However after being tucked into a bed for the night, Iraena slipped out of the house and into the night once more at about 1:10am, leaving her nightgown on the ground behind her. She was last seen at about 1:30am by a couple who claimed the woman was naked and talking to a streetlamp, before she frolicked off onto Piha beach.
Iraena was never found, not a trace of her, but a Coroner theorized she likely drowned. He could not be sure whether her bizarre behavior was a due to her bipolar, or some kind of drug.
Brandon Swanson was living in Marshall Minnesota, and attending a technical college for wind turbine engineering in Canby about 30 miles away. He knew the area like the back of his hand…a fact that would make his subsequent disappearance that much more bizarre. On May 14th 2008, 19 year old Brandon was celebrating his last day of classes with friends in Canby. He headed home, but one way or another his car ended up in a ditch. He called his parent’s around 1am and asked if they could come pick him up. Brandon’s parents told everyone later that Brandon sounded sober and clearheaded. He had said he was in Lynd, a town southwest of Marshall, and seemed to know precisely where he was. His parents made the drive, but saw no sign of Brandon’s car. Brandon flashed his headlights to try to signal them, and they did the same back, but they couldn’t see each other on the dark country road. Frustrated, Brandon told his parents to pick him up at the nearest obvious landmark; he could see the lights of the town of Lynd ahead, so he headed for it. He stayed on the phone with his parents to be safe, talking to them. He mentioned that he was cutting through a field sometime after 2am, when suddenly he yelped out “Oh shit!-” and the call abruptly ended. Brandon’s parents searched for hours, then called police. The next day Brandon’s car was located in a ditch just as he had described…but on Lyon Lincoln Rd. in Taunton MN, over 20 miles from where he had claimed to be the previous night.
Brandon seemed to have been heading toward Porter when he vanished, possibly having mistook it for Lynd, and indeed tracking dogs brought SAR northwest by the the Yellow Medicine River before the trail went cold. But how could he have been so disorientated in an area he travelled every day? To this day no trace of Brandon has ever been found, despite intense recovery efforts and the wide use of cadaver dogs.
If you have any information regarding Brandon, please contact either the Lincoln County Sheriff at 507-694-1664 or the Lyon County Sheriff at 507-537-7666.
British student Myles Robinson loved to go skiing with his family in Switzerland. The 23 year old was with his family in the remote resort village of Wengen for the holidays in 2009. They loved the seclusion; Wengen has no cars on its streets and one must take a train in. On December 21st 2009, Myles spent time with friends at bars in the village, having a good time. He had recently gotten a business degree and his future looked promising. His girlfriend was coming to Wengen soon for New Years and he was excited to be with her. He walked his friend to her hotel after 2am and was caught on CCTV, the last time he would ever be seen alive. The next day a search began, and a tracking dog led teams down a small path, in the opposite direction Myles should have been heading to return to his hotel. The path led a mile outside of town to an area known as Mönchsblick Point, a lookout at the top of a steep 300 foot high cliff. But the path was difficult in summer, let alone winter, and at this time of year the cliff was incredibly dangerous. So dangerous that authorities withheld their discovery, not wanting anyone to search the area until it was safer and no rocks and ice were falling from the cliff face.
But despite the danger, members of his family ended up searching at the bottom of the cliff regardless, and that was where they found Myles’ body. His injuries were consistent with the 300 foot fall through trees, and he had lost his shoes on the way down. One was never recovered. The coroner concluded that Myles had been intoxicated, though his friends say that he was coherent and didn’t seem too bad off. The toxicology report revealed traces of other drugs in his system as well, and some believe it is possible his drink was spiked. Why Myles wandered to the edge of a cliff 20 minutes through the woods away from his hotel, alone, on a winter night, is still unknown.
Emma Fillipof had always been a free spirit. The 26 year old vegan had set off to live on her own in Victoria, Vancouver BC after becoming depressed and stressed by her parents divorce. She worked at a seaside restaurant and spent a lot of her time writing poetry. But in the weeks leading up to her disappearance she began to struggle with her new life. She journaled about her loneliness, and expressed unease that someone might be stalking her. She had to stay at a women’s shelter several times, and finally on November 26th 2012, she called her mother and begged to come home. Emma’s mother made plans to fly out to Victoria to get her immediately. On November 28th Emma went into a 7 Eleven and bought a pre-paid cell phone. Surveillance video indicated that she seemed anxious to return outside, as if avoiding someone. She then tried to take a taxi to an airport, but was ejected after not having adequate fare. She returned to the women’s shelter for a time, then went back to the 7 Eleven and bought a pre-paid credit card. The next time Emma was seen, she was walking barefoot in front of the Empress Hotel, seeming disoriented. An acquaintance recognized her and called the police, who arrived and spoke with her for 45 minutes. Apparently convinced Emma was alright and having no reason to take her, they left her at about 7:45pm. That was the last time Emma was ever seen. Her cellphone was never activated, and her credit card was found by an alcoholic man who used it to buy cigarettes and could not remember where he had found it (he was ruled out as a suspect). The rest of Emma’s possessions were found locked in her van, indicating she did not run away. Her mother arrived in Victoria just three hours after Emma had last been seen. Though a search began and a reward was offered, nothing could be found of Emma. In May of 2014 a man walked into a Gastown Vancouver convenience store and ripped a poster of Emma off the wall, crumpling it. When the concerned employees questioned him, the ‘creepy’ man reportedly said “It’s one of those missing persons posters, except she’s not missing, she’s my girlfriend and she ran away ‘cause she hates her parents.” The man was caught on CCTV and police were called, but he has yet to be identified, and it is unknown if he actually knows Emma.
If you have any information on Emma’s whereabouts, or you have information on the man in the Gastown CCTV video image, please call 911 or contact the Vancouver or Victoria Police. The family is offering a $25,000 reward for information that leads investigators to her whereabouts.
Lisanne Froon and Kris Kremers were best friends studying in beautiful Panama. The Dutch girls decided to go on a day hike on the Pianista Trail north of Boquete on April 1st 2013. They packed a bag with only a few items; swim tops, sunglasses, a camera. They didn’t expect to be gone long, and certainly never imagined that they would never come back out of the Panama jungle. Lisanne and Kris documented their adventure with photos, posing in front of beautiful lookouts and waterfalls. But at around 4:30pm something went wrong. A call to the Panama emergency number was logged on Kris’ iphone, but it did not go through. 20 minutes later, a call to 112 (the emergency number in the Netherlands) logged on Lisanne’s phone, but it also failed to go through. The next morning Lisanne’s phone attempted to call several emergency numbers over the course of several hours, but none went through. The phone was then powered off to conserve battery. Over the next several days the phones would periodically be turned on, distress calls made without answer, then desperately turned off once more to conserve battery. On April 5th Lisanne’s phone finally died. On April 6th Kris’ phone was turned on once more, but no calls were made. The phone was activated for the final time ten days after the girls went missing. The fact that the girls were missing eventually became clear and a search began. On April 5th trail guides walked the trail and rivers, searching for the girls. On the 8th a helicopter searched from the sky and a larger rescue team scoured the jungle, sending signals for the girls to see. But not a trace of them was found. Ten weeks later, locals would find the girls’ back pack with items still inside, including both cellphones, and a camera that seemed to have documented some of the last moments of their lives. Miles away, an even more grim discovery would be made…Kris’ shoe, with her foot still inside, and a piece of Lisanne’s pelvic bone.
The girls’ camera had over 90 photos taken about seven days after they first went missing, between 1-4am. Most were black, as if the lens cap was on. But there were three that were taken that had some puzzling clues.
One photo showed a nondescript area of the jungle in the darkness, an area of light around its taker created by the flash. The picture doesn’t seem to be focused on anything, and was instead likely used to create a light source.
The next photo was similar, though this one included a further clue; A stick with bits of a red plastic bag tied to it. Had the stick been an attempt to signal for possible help from above through the trees?
The final image was never formally released, but was visible on a Dutch television program. It seems to be a close up of Kris’ hair.
All the photos were taken one week after the girls first ran into whatever trouble befell them. Some theorize that they girls were trying to see in the dark, or scare off the sounds of approaching predators. Others believe that they could hear or see rescue parties in the distance but couldn’t move due to injury or fatigue, and were trying to use the flash to signal them. This theory falls in line with the dates of rescue parties; the girls could have heard the helicopters and tried to signal it by waving the stick with the bright bag attached.
And what trouble had caused the girls to become lost or trapped in the jungle? A cougar or large predator is unlikely, and though Panama has several venomous snakes, the odds of being bit by one are akin to being struck by lightning. The most likely scenario was a slip and fall from one of the cliffs along the trail, some with drops as high as 100 feet, perhaps while posing for a photo. The fall could have severely disoriented or injured one or both girls. Off the trail and injured, without phone service, at the bottom of a cliff, the girls could do nothing but sit and wait. Flooding and scavenging animals would explain the distance between the bag and the few remains found. Unfortunately this is just speculation, and we will likely never know what really transpired in those final ten days.
30 year old Cullen Finnerty had football in his blood. He came from a family lineage of tough football playing men, and was considered to be one of the best college level quarterbacks of his time. He was on the Baltimore Ravens and the Denver Broncos for brief periods of time. He was a good friend, husband, and father, and at 6’2″ and 240 pounds he seemed invincible. But there had been times when Cullen’s life was filled with paranoia. Two years before his death he had voiced concerns that he was being followed and was in danger. Days before his death, Cullen had complained of aches and was taking pain medication for a football injury. A known nap taker, Cullen had slept little for the past few nights. On May 26th 2013 Cullen headed off with his brother -in-law and father-in-law for a Memorial day weekend fishing trip, a trip he must have hoped would lead to an ease of his anxiety and some rest and relaxation. Cullen travelled to the Baldwin River in Michigan with his pontoon boat and set off. But later that evening his wife received a frantic phonecall; Cullen was distressed, saying once again he felt he was being followed by two men. He told her he was abandoning his boat to escape into the woods. She heard rustling and questioned him, and he mentioned a bizarre statement about taking off his clothes. Though she tried to console him, he soon hung up. Meanwhile, Cullen’s brother and father-in-law were concerned when Cullen was not at the predetermined meetup spot. They began to drive around searching for him. Cullen’s brother-in-law called him and asked him where he was. Cullen gave GPS coordinates, but although they went to the location, Cullen was not there. Though his loved ones frantically tried to find him as his panic rose, eventually all he could say was “I don’t know where I am.” And soon he stopped answering the phone. Cullen’s family called police almost immediately, and they pinged Cullen’s phone, but it only led to more questions than answers. Cullen’s phone pinged in multiple locations, miles apart, something that made no sense and shouldn’t have been possible. Over the next couple of days, searchers would scour the swamps of Michigan searching for Cullen. On May 28th, Cullen’s body was found by his friend and former coach, laying face down in the woods, only 100 yards from a road. His cause of death was far from obvious, and a coroner would later conclude an unlikely cause. Cullen had died of Pneumonia. The coroner theorized that in his disorientated and panicked state, he had vomited and then aspirated. Over the course of the night pneumonia formed. The coroner also determined that Cullen had a common condition suffered by football players, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). Though not advanced enough in Cullen to have obvious effects, it was possible it had contributed to his confusion, or have possibly mixed adversely with his prescribed painkillers. Though Cullen was sure he was being followed, police disagreed; they found no signs of foul play or any other people in the area that night.
30 year old Kayelyn Louder had led a relatively normal life until September of 2014. She had been a social worker at a boys school, but had recently been let go. She lived in a Murray, Salt Lake City Utah condo with a friend and her beloved dog who she scarcely left home without. On the night of September 26 2014, Kayelyn began to act strangely. She placed an anxious call to 911, claiming there was a fight outside her condo which involved firearms. Police arrived and found no fight…only a peaceful wedding reception next door. The next day, Kayelyn called 911 once more. She was convinced that someone had broken into her apartment. She claimed she believed there was more than one intruder, as she had heard someone say something akin to “check in there”. While on the phone, Kayelyn’s friend had awoken and and walked in, trying to calm her, assuring her that their door was locked and there was no one in the house. Kayelyn eventually calmed, but later that evening she walked out of her home into the rain outside, barefoot and with none of her possessions, and was never seen alive again. Over nine weeks later. Kayelyn’s body was found in the Jordan River, about six miles from her condo. A coroner could not establish a definitive cause of death, and labeled in “undetermined due to water exposure”. Regardless, police did not believe that foul play was involved. It seemed to most that Kayelyn had suffered a psychotic break that lead to her death. However she had never shown signs of mental illness before, and how she had walked six miles barefoot and wearing clothes obviously unfit for the weather, to the river, without being seen remains unclear. Police released a surveillance tape from the day she disappeared showing her taking her dog out to go the bathroom. They claimed Kayelyn can be seen behaving strangely and talking to herself, but to me she just seems to be talking to her dog. In fact, police seemed to focus strongly on Kayelyn’s perceived mental state while investigating her disappearance.
Henry McCabe was a Minnesota Revenue Department employee. On September 6th 2015, 32 year old Henry was out at a club with some friends. During the course of the evening Henry had several drinks, and a friend took his wallet from him to cut him off. Later, Henry and a different friend were heading home when Henry supposedly convinced his friend to let him off at a Fridley gas station at around 2am (though no CCTV footage was found of Henry at any area gas station to confirm this). That was the last time he would be seen alive. At about 2:30am a voicemail from Henry was left on his wife’s phone. Henry could be heard screaming in terror and groaning in pain, and a guttural growling and a voice saying “stop it” were also audible. Some of the call can be heard here.
A subsequent search for Henry would reveal nothing until 2 months later, when a kayaker found his body in Rush Lake, about 7 miles from Fridley and consistent with the location of his last cell phone ping. His cause of death was ruled to be “probable drowning” despite the bizarre voicemail. There were no signs of trauma to his body. How he got 7 miles away while severely intoxicated to ultimately drown in a lake was never considered.
Henry had survived years of Civil War in his home country of Liberia, and some wondered if his death was somehow connected. To this day the voicemail and other bizarre facets of the case cannot be explained.
So those were just some of the cases of missing people that have haunted me most. Many are cases I reference when discussing other cases as well. Hopefully by sharing I can once again shine some light onto a few cold cases, as well as convince others to be safer in the future. We may live in a small, technologically advanced world, but every day people still simply vanish into the ether.