The beach is one of those few places that practically everyone views in a positive light. However, this bright and fun destination is not immune from danger and darkness lurking beneath the surface.
More times than you might think, casual trips to the beach have quickly gone wrong—sometimes in shocking or tragic ways. For all you know, your favorite sandy hangout spot could have a dark secret history too.
Here are ten stories about beaches where horrifying things have gone down.
Related: Top 10 Dangerous Diseases Lurking At The Beach
10 Wanda Beach
Like a good sister, 15-year-old Marianne Schmidt took her younger siblings to the beach one January day in 1965. Accompanied by her best friend and neighbor, Christine Sharrock, the group set out to Sydney, Australia’s Wanda Beach, for what should have been a nice afternoon.
It was a windy day, and the weather did not seem to be letting up. Schmidt and Sharrock eventually decided to go grab their bags so they could all head home. When walking toward the bags, Schmidt’s younger brother called out to ask why they were walking in the wrong direction. The girls just laughed this off and kept on walking.
They never returned. Their dead bodies were found next to each other after their families reported the disappearance to authorities. Despite setting a new Australian record for most people interviewed during an investigation, the case has never been conclusively solved. It is now the oldest case still under review by the New South Wales unsolved homicide unit.
9 Short Sands Beach
Thirty-five-year-old Rhonda Pattelena loved spending time at Short Sands Beach in Maine. The Bedford, Massachusetts, mother of three tried to visit her favorite spot each and every summer so she could pass the time enjoying the waves and feeling the sand between her toes.
She was probably very excited in March 2021 when she and her boyfriend Jeffrey Buchanan, a man she considered her “soulmate,” went out to take a walk along her beloved beach. But she never returned. Although he claims to have “blacked out” and not remember his actions, surveillance footage revealed that Buchanan brutally beat Pattelena to death with a large rock.
The crime shocked the community, as well as Pattelena’s loved ones. The town where she lost her life held a vigil for her at the scene of the crime as a way to “reclaim” the spot she always loved escaping to.
8 Cannon Beach
If you happened to drive past the picturesque shores of Cannon Beach, Oregon, you would definitely notice their intense beauty—but you probably would not realize they were haunted. Yes, as legend has it, the beaches near a particular area of U.S. Highway 101 are home to a mysterious ghostly apparition known as the “Bandage Man.”
Here’s how the story goes. When a young couple parked their truck along the waterfront back in the 1950s, they suddenly felt something aggressively shaking their vehicle from the outside. When they looked behind them, they spotted what appeared to be a man covered from head to toe in bloody bandages banging on their window and trying to get inside.
Naturally, the couple sped off as fast as they possibly could, and the figure disappeared behind them. Since then, others have reported similar encounters with the creepy mystery figure in this exact same spot—some even as recently as 2019.
7 Jaboatao dos Guararapes
Fifty-one-year-old Marcelo Rocha Santos was spending a pleasant afternoon at the beach with some friends in the eastern-Brazilian city of Jaboatao dos Guarararpes. During the outing, he suddenly realized he needed to use the bathroom. Finding no official restroom facilities in the area, both he and one of his friends decided to relieve themselves in the water.
This turned out to be a fatal mistake. In the middle of doing their business, an 8-foot (2.6-meter) tiger shark came out of nowhere and violently attacked Santos right in front of his friend. Santos attempted to fight off the shark, but it was no use. He quickly lost consciousness, and the water filled up with blood.
By the time his friends managed to pull his discarded body out of the water, large chunks of his arm and leg were missing. He was pronounced dead as soon as he arrived at a nearby hospital.
6 Hermosa Beach
In April 1954, a young couple was spending some time with their infant son at California’s Hermosa Beach when things took a sudden and very dark turn. A large wave came crashing toward them without warning and whisked the helpless baby away.
Distraught and unable to locate their child, Mr. and Mrs. McDonald clutched each other tightly—trying to process the horror of what had just happened to them. Tragically, the couple tried to think of anything they could possibly do to save their child but ultimately had to just wait in agony until the poor kid’s dead body washed up on shore later in the day.
But the story does not end there. Unbeknownst to the couple, a neighborhood resident who overheard the whole commotion happened to be a photographer for The Los Angeles Times. Realizing something important was happening, he instinctively snapped a photo and eerily captured the couple’s most desperate moment for the entire world to see. The photo was so poignant that it won a Pulitzer Prize for its taker, John Gaunt.
5 Fort Lauderdale
South Florida’s beaches are among the most popular in the world—but they, too, have been touched by tragedy. Passersby took notice in June 2012 when a massive yacht washed up on the shores of a Fort Lauderdale beach with no one on board.
It was not long before people realized that the yacht belonged to well-known Brazilian oil tycoon and philanthropist Guma Aguiar. Upon inspection of the vessel, no blood was found nor any other trace of his remains. Subsequent searches could not determine his whereabouts, and he was eventually assumed to be dead.
Nevertheless, the story still gets stranger. In the months following Aguiar’s disappearance, a conspiracy theory arose claiming that he was still alive and hiding out in the Netherlands. One of the individuals who floated this possibility in public was the lawyer of Aguiar’s own wife.
4 Huntington Beach
If you spent any time hanging around the shores of Huntington Beach, California, in 1968, you might have noticed a group of teenagers playing music and wearing colorful attire. Given the hippy counterculture of the time, you might not have batted an eye at this seemingly-harmless sight.
But appearances can be deceiving. These casual waterside concerts were actually part of a concerted recruitment effort by a dangerous cult called “Teens for Christ.” The goal of these sessions was to lure unsuspecting beachgoers to visit their “Light Club” facility just off the pier, where they would be made into members of the group.
Within a few years, “Teens for Christ” became “Children of God”—a group now remembered for its leader’s egregious treatment of his followers. This treatment included sexual abuse, violence, incest, and brainwashing.
3 Cheviot Beach
World leaders are probably the most surveilled and carefully guarded human beings on the planet—which makes the story of Harold Holt all the more baffling. Holt was the sitting Prime Minister of Australia in December 1967 when he decided to go for a swim on a beach near Melbourne.
At some point during this swim, Holt disappeared—and was never seen again. To this day, despite very intense searches, his remains have never been found. The only trace of him ever having been there was the pile of clothes he left behind on the shore.
In the years and decades since his disappearance, many theories have been proposed to explain the baffling mystery. Some of the ideas proposed have ranged from suicide to a freak accident to an international hit job.
2 Gilgo Beach
When Long Island police received a frantic 9-1-1 call from Shannan Gilbert in 2010 claiming that someone was trying to kill her, they had no idea what had just hit them. The search for Gilbert led investigators to discover the bodies of four deceased women, all of whom had been wrapped in fabric and discarded in an area along the Gilgo Beach coast.
It soon became clear that all these women, including Gilbert, had been working as escorts on the Craigslist website. Soon after, the remains of as many as 16 victims were discovered within this same stretch, revealing that a serial killer had been luring victims to the area for nearly two decades before anyone caught on.
Despite ten years passing since the discovery of the bodies, authorities have still never charged any suspect with the crimes, and the identity of the serial killer remains unknown.
1 Somerton Beach
In December 1948, two passersby spotted a well-dressed middle-aged man lying face-up on the beach in Adelaide, Australia. Sensing that something was not right, they approached and discovered that the man was deceased. The man had no I.D. on him, and his body showed no signs of foul play.
In an effort to find clues about his identity, investigators found a small, rolled-up fragment of paper with the words “Tamam Shud” written on it. These words mean “the end” in Persian and are a quote from the 11th-century poem “The Rubaiyat.”
For years, the identity of the man remained uncovered. However, recent DNA tests may have shed light on this decades-old mystery. Many concerned scientists and researchers have tried their hand at cracking the mystery but have not succeeded until recently. Rumors about his identity abounded, from a Russian spy or a jilted lover poisoned by his paramour to a smuggler or a former ballet dancer. In 2022, it is now believed that the unknown “Somerton Man” was an electrical engineer from Melbourne, Carl “Charles” Webb.