Life can change in an instant. One minute you could be holding your breath as the plane carries you upward for the first time, only for it to be falling to the ground the next. The whole scenario might even make you think of Ironic by Alanis Morrissette as the plane nosedives into the deepest depths of the ocean.
Or you could be at home, just about to go to bed, when the uneasy feeling you’ve had all night turns into a solid nightmare and you disappear into the dark, never to be found again.
People vanish every day. From their workplaces, their homes, shopping centres, holiday resorts and highways.
Far too many are never found.
10 The missing children of Hannibal
The Murphy’s Cave complex were a big drawing card for the children of Hannibal. Three boys in particular were very taken with the caves and often set off to explore them, aluminum ladder and all.
On May 10, 1967, 10-year-old Billy Hoag, 13-year-old Joey Hoag, and 14-year-old Craig Dowell once again made their way to the caves, carrying a shovel and flashlights. This was according to 14-year-old Lynn Strube who said she saw them heading into the direction of the caves that day. They entered the caves just as they’ve done many times before, but this time they didn’t return.
The boys were reported missing when they didn’t show up at their homes for supper and ten days of frenzied searching followed. Rescuers and volunteers searched the cave complex every day and soon hundreds of spelunkers joined in.
Soon doubts arose about whether the boys had even entered the caves in the first place. Rumors of kidnapping started doing the rounds while others speculated that the boys had run away from home.
After day 10, the search was called off. Every lead police had received had led them to a dead end.
In 2006, workers uncovered the entrance to the cave during the construction of a new elementary school, but no trace of the boys were found anywhere.
54 years later, the mystery of what happened to the missing Hannibal children remains.
9 Tiffany Daniels
On August 11, 2013 25-year-old Tiffany Daniels said goodbye to her boyfriend, who was set to leave for the University of Texas as he’d been accepted into the robotics program. Her 54-year-old roommate, Gary Nichols saw that she was feeling down and decided to stay in that night to watch Monty Python and the Holy Grail with her. Tiffany was due to start working on a theater set at Pensacola State College, to prepare it for a musical comedy show called Spamalot, the following day.
According to Gary, they both went to bed early, but he woke up between 3:00 and 5:00am and heard the front door opening and closing several times. He looked outside his bedroom door, but didn’t see anything so he went back to sleep.
Tiffany turned up at work on August 12 to start painting the set, and asked her supervisor if she could leave early and also take a couple of days off. The supervisor agreed and Tiffany left the theater at 4:43pm. She then went home but stayed only a couple of minutes. Gary didn’t see her come in as he was on the phone with his girlfriend at the time.
When, by 10:00pm that night, Tiffany still hadn’t returned, Gary became worried and tried to call her without success. He tried to call again the next morning, but she didn’t answer. By that evening, Tiffany’s parents were informed that she was missing and they began contacting everyone they knew that might have had an idea of where their daughter was. When there was no sign of Tiffany by the end of the week, they reported the matter to the police.
Tiffany’s car was found abandoned in Park West near Fort Pickens on August 20, with important belongings such as her purse, phone, wallet and clothing inside. Residents in the area told police they had seen a man driving the car. This man would be seen by other witnesses over the next couple of years.
As time passed, many sightings of Tiffany were reported, but none that led police to her. The most common theory shared by authorities and Tiffany’s parents is that she is a victim of human trafficking.
The case remains open.
8 Matthew Pendergrast
23-year-old Matthew Pendergrast drove to Rhodes College in Memphis to attend his regular Spanish class on December 1, 2000. He lived a mere four blocks from campus, but never arrived for the class. His friends became concerned when hours later they still hadn’t heard from him. Another friend who lived in Atlanta at the time, said that he’d spoken to Matthew that morning and that he seemed perfectly fine and happy.
A search ensued and soon Matthew’s car was discovered in Arkansas, unlocked and with the keys in the ignition. Matthew was nowhere to be found. The next day, the search party found Matthew’s jeans, t-shirt, shoes and socks folded into a neat pile. Inside the pocket of the jeans were Matthew’s driver’s license, cash and credit cards. Another search of his car revealed a journal that contained strange poetry that spoke of “The Silver Elves” and ‘walking into water to become one with nature.’
No other leads or clues were ever found. Some believe the young man might have committed suicide by submerging himself into the swamp in the area. Others think that he may have been attacked by a hitchhiker who murdered him. A psychic told police that she believed Matthew wanted to be reborn as a “Silver Elf” and that he lost the battle for his own soul.
To date, Matthew’s ultimate fate remains a mystery.
7 Brittney Wood
It is believed that 19-year-old Brittney Wood was in the company of her uncle, Donnie Holland when she disappeared on May 30, 2012. Holland was under investigation for sex crimes at the time and allegedly killed himself two days after Brittney vanished.
Prosecutors confirmed afterward that Holland had been the leader of the largest sex ring ever uncovered in Alabama. Eight of Brittney’s relatives and three family friends were charged with felonies ranging from incest to child pornography. It is also believed that Brittney was a victim of her uncle’s crimes and could have been a key witness had she been found.
Brittney’s mother and two aunts were on trial as well, but denied partaking in any crimes. Brittney had a baby girl when she was 17 years old and fell into drug use at a young age. Private Facebook messages uncovered by police revealed that Brittney had been raped by three male relatives just three days before she disappeared.
Police are still searching for Brittney and are following up any and all leads.
6 Rico Harris
After a turbulent life dotted with drug use, alcoholism and incarcerations, 37-year-old former professional basketball player, Rico Omarr Harris, was on the verge of turning things around. By 2014 he’d been with his girlfriend, Jennifer Song, for two years and he decided to move into her Seattle townhouse. Unfortunately, that same year Rico relapsed into drug and alcohol abuse but was determined to overcome the addiction yet again.
On October 8, 2014, Rico told Jennifer he wanted to do a bit of sightseeing around Seattle while she spent some time at the gym. By 8:00pm he hadn’t returned home and when Jennifer texted him, he replied that he was driving through Oregon, on his way to Alhambra where he had lived before moving to Seattle.
Rico arrived at his mother’s house at 2:00am on October 9 and she immediately saw that something was wrong. It seemed like Rico had been drinking and hadn’t slept for a long time. At around 10:30pm that night, Rico started driving back to Seattle without taking the time to sleep or even take a nap. He phoned Jennifer just after 1:00am and stayed on the line with her for around 4 hours and she soon became worried as she realized Rico hadn’t slept in 40 hours. Jennifer fell asleep briefly and when she awoke at 8:00 she phoned Rico again who told her he was near Sacramento. When she tried to call him later that morning, he didn’t pick up, but he sent a text apologizing for missing her call. After 10:44am all Jennifer’s phonecalls went unanswered and, by all accounts, Rico never made it to Seattle.
On October 13, a sheriff’s deputy in Yolo County ran the plates of an abandoned black Nissan Maxima parked in a rest area at a regional state park. The car belonged to Rico. It also appeared to have been ransacked and was out of gas. As soon as Rico’s mother and Jennifer were informed, they filed a missing person’s report and police began to search for him.
Police were given Rico’s backpack which had been found by a man who was walking along the road. The backpack contained a cellphone, bottles of alcohol and a set of jumper cables. A video on the phone showed Rico tearing papers and other items apart and tossing CD’s around inside his car.
But despite this and more leads, Rico remained missing. Eye witnesses came forward with sightings of Rico, but nothing panned out. To date, it is still unknown whether Rico is alive and what had happened to him.
5 Anna Christian Waters
5-year-old Anna Christian Waters arrived home from kindergarten at 1:00pm on January 16, 1973 and, after changing her clothes, went outside to play in the yard. At 2:20pm Anna’s mother went to look for her, but Anna was nowhere to be seen. After searching in vain for her daughter, Michaele contacted the police at 3:00pm.
The initial search centered around Purisima Creek which wasn’t far from the family’s home. Even after a four-day search, there was no trace of the little girl. Three decades later Anna’s half-brother Nonda remembered something and told his family that he had seen a couple driving alongside Anna on the road one afternoon and trying to convince her to get into their car. They were unsuccessful.
It remains unclear whether the couple eventually succeeded in kidnapping Anna on another day or whether a different type of tragedy befell the young girl.
4 Shelley Luty
Shelley Luty had received the good news that she was to be promoted to being a full-time waitress at the Llanerch Diner in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania and was happy when she arrived at work on August 23, 1982. The 19-year-old, and her two-year-old daughter Jenny, was also about to move into their own apartment and it would have been the first time they would be living on their own. Shelley doted on Jenny and would bring her treats every night she arrived home.
Shelley’s mother, Barbara, also worked at the diner and arrived just as Shelley was getting ready to leave. Shelley asked if she could continue to borrow her stepfather’s Impala to visit a girlfriend after her shift and Barbara said she should just stop at home and ask her stepfather for permission. Shelley said she would do so, put a packet of M&M’s in her bag for Jenny and started for the door of the diner. As she got to the door, a male customer who looked to be in his 20’s grabbed hold of Shelley’s arm. She pulled away but spoke to the man for a few moments after which he left. Shelley left shortly after and witnesses later said they saw her talking to the same man in the parking lot. She then entered the diner again to get her coat and waved at her mother before leaving again.
Shelley and the Impala were never seen again. It is unclear whether she even made it to the car, which was parked across the road from the diner. Her stepfather reported her missing when hours went by and Shelley hadn’t arrived home.
Police found no evidence of foul play, but they also couldn’t come to a conclusive theory as to what might have happened to Shelley. They never found the man Shelley had spoken to inside the diner and in the parking lot. There was speculation that Shelley might have had an epileptic seizure the night of her disappearance which might have led to her becoming disoriented and wandering off.
The FBI got involved, but closed their investigation in October 1984. Upper Darby police are still hoping for a break in the case.
3 Phoenix Coldon
After 23-year-old Phoenix Coldon attended church on December 18, 2011, she went to sit in her Chevy Blazer. Her father saw her leave at around 2:20pm and assumed she was going to the store or to visit a friend. She was never seen again. Her car was found hours after her disappearance, abandoned in East St. Louis with her ID, purse and glasses still inside.
Because of the crime rate in that area, police believed that Phoenix had been a victim of foul play. Family members joined the search, visiting exotic dance clubs to determine whether Phoenix might have been forced to join the sex trade. It was eventually revealed that Phoenix never enrolled for the next semester of college and that she lived with a boyfriend her parents were unaware of before moving back home. It was also revealed that Phoenix was using drugs at the time of her disappearance.
Phoenix’s parents lost their savings and their home because of a privately-funded search for their daughter. In 2021, they still have no answers and no closure.
2 Cherrie Mahan
On February 22, 1985, eight-year-old Cherrie Mahan got off her school bus along with three schoolmates. Her friends got into a car waiting for them, driven by Debbie Burk, one of the girls’ mother. Burk saw Cherrie walking past a bluish-green Dodge van and then turn the corner to walk the last 150 yards to her house. This would be the last time anyone laid eyes on Cherrie.
Cherrie never made it home. Her stepfather heard the school bus stopping and leaving and expected Cherrie to arrive home within a few minutes. He wanted to meet her at the end of the long driveway but her mother thought it would be fine for the girl to walk home because it ‘was a nice day.’ However, as the minutes passed and Cherrie still wasn’t home, they started to worry.
They went outside to look for her, but couldn’t find her anywhere. There were no footprints in the snow on the driveway, but there were tire impressions in the soil around 50 yards from the house.
Police were notified and a search started, without success. Authorities believed the child had been kidnapped and that she likely knew the person who took her. Witnesses later stated that they’d seen the Dodge van a few times before Cherrie’s disappearance and that it had been painted black after she went missing.
Cherrie’s face was printed on thousands of postcards to help with the search and there were many potential sightings of her, but nothing ever panned out. In 2018, Cherrie’s mother, Janice, received an anonymous letter from someone who claimed to have murdered Cherrie. They described how and why and also where her body was buried. This disturbing letter too was a dead-end lead.
The mystery of who kidnapped Cherrie, remains.
1 The lost boys of Pickering
On March 17, 1995, six teenage boys left a spring break party during which they drank a considerable amount of alcohol. That was the last time anyone saw them.
It is thought that in their drunken stupor the boys may have stolen a motorboat and paddle boat on Frenchman’s Bay in Pickering and headed out onto Lake Ontario. This theory was strengthened by a witness who told police that the boys had told him they were going to ‘goof around’ on a boat.
Police concluded that Jay Boyle, Michael Cummins, Daniel Higgins, Chad Smith, Robbie Rumboldt and Jamie Lefebvre likely ended up in the water after their boats capsized and that they died of hypothermia.
However, a massive search didn’t find any bodies, boats or clothing. The only item ever found in connection with the boys’ disappearance was a gas can that belonged to the motorboat. Some people believed that the boys never went out on the boats, but instead set up the whole scenario as a ploy to disappear on purpose.
No new clues have been discovered as to where the boys may be or where their remains might be located after DNA testing on a pair of Levi jeans thought to have been worn by Jay Boyle, was revealed in 2018 to have belonged to another teenager that had gone missing.