Spring break is a great time in every college student’s life. The weather is just starting to really warm up in most places across the country. School is out for a week or so, and the campus empties out. As tradition suggests, college kids are meant to hightail far away from their dorms and off to a beach under the sun. Many imbibe while there, as is custom for young adults. Partying rules the day—and the night. Many students make lifetime memories of hanging out with friends and enjoying the atmosphere without a care in the world. Many more drink so much that they can’t remember spring break after it happens!
But there’s a dark side to all that time in the sun too. Late-night parties may be fun for students, but all that alcohol can leave them discombobulated and vulnerable. Predators prey on students—especially young women—in those faraway locales. Sure, the chances of coming across a stone-cold killer are relatively remote, but the worst horror stories are the stuff of nightmares. In this list, you’ll learn all about ten terrifying and spine-tingling spring break mysteries. In these stories, college students left familiar surroundings to party with pals, only to never return home again.
Related: Top 10 Mysterious Missing Persons Cases
10 Reny Jose
Rice University student Reny Jose wanted to party in the warm weather for spring break. So he and his friends took a trip to the most infamous college party locale: Panama City, Florida. When they showed up in the beach town on March 1, 2014, they were ready to have a week’s worth of fun. But just a couple days later, something went horribly wrong. Reny’s friends lost track of him one night and couldn’t find him.
Hours later, after searching high and low, they reported him missing to the cops. Police began to investigate and started uncovering clues. For one, Reny first went missing around 7:00 pm on the night of March 3. However, his friends didn’t report him missing until 11:00 am the next morning. When detectives asked about the delay, Jose’s pals explained they figured he would simply show up in the morning. But he never did. And nobody has ever seen or heard from him again.
As cops continued to press, they found Reny’s clothes on a Panama City beach. That find was a major puzzle too. Cleanup crews had swept up and down that very beach just five hours before the clothes were found. And yet none of the beach cleaners remembered seeing clothes at that location when they did their work. So the police began to theorize that Reny—or someone else—dumped his clothes after some kind of dark mystery. As more friends began to come forward, other stories emerged.
One friend claimed Reny had taken LSD the night before he went missing. While allegedly under the influence of that drug, Reny supposedly told his friends that he was suicidal. One concerned pal even wondered whether the engineering major drowned in the ocean late at night. Jose’s family says suicide would be completely out of character for him, though. But in the meantime, they just want answers.
Reny’s so-called friends left town in droves before cops could question them all. In the years since, many of those pals have lawyered up. And none have ever come forward with information. To this day, nobody knows what happened to Reny Jose.
9 Amy Gellert
On the evening of March 20, 1994, Bob and Bunny Lehton walked into their quiet home in the beachside town of Cocoa Beach, Florida. As they opened the door, they found a man waiting inside. He was wearing all black except for white tennis shoes, and he had a mask covering his face. He was also holding a gun and a knife the couple would later describe as “ornate.” When the couple walked inside, he ordered them into the living room. There, he demanded they lie on the floor. He took money from them but didn’t appear concerned with robbing their home.
Instead, he cryptically said he was waiting for a ride away. But when Bob offered to let him use their car, he declined. For a while, he simply held them hostage. Then, not long after, the Lehtons’ daughter Amy Gellert pulled into the driveway. She had been driving home from college to start her spring break. Her plan was to settle in for a quiet week at home with her parents rather than enjoy spring break partying with friends. Sadly, she never got the chance.
As Amy’s car pulled into the driveway, the intruder began stabbing Bob and Bunny. He furiously slashed each one in the head, neck, and back. Bunny fought back and managed to wrestle away from the man despite being seriously injured. Bob was stabbed in the back of the head but got up and ran across the street to get help. As he did so, the intruder walked outside and began stabbing Amy in the driveway. Sadly, even though Bob and Bunny survived, Amy did not.
She died in a parking lot across the street from the family’s home. Paramedics who rushed to the scene were unable to save her. As detectives began looking into the case, they hit a roadblock. The Lehtons hadn’t gotten a good look at the intruder with the mask covering his face. Cops quickly learned his gun wasn’t real, either—it was a prop gun stolen from a movie set. And the “ornate” knife was extremely unique, but it never offered answers. To this day, nearly 30 years later, Amy’s killer has never been caught. What should have been a quiet spring break with her family has turned into an unsolved tragedy.
8 Susan Jacques
Susan Jacques was an 18-year-old high school student who went on the trip of a lifetime to south Florida in the spring of 1986. She and nine friends chose to travel down to Fort Lauderdale to enjoy the beach that April. Sadly, she never returned home—and her death remains a terrible mystery. It all began on April 25, 1986.
That night, Susan and her friends went out on the town. The large group of high school kids stayed out until the wee hours of the morning before heading back to their motel. But about an hour after they arrived, Susan told pals she wanted to go for a walk out on the beach. The friends bid her farewell, thinking they were in a safe area. They expected her to return shortly after. But something horrible happened during her late-night walk, and nobody ever saw her again.
When Susan didn’t come home after a few hours, her alarmed friends contacted the cops. Police in Fort Lauderdale immediately began to search for her. At first, they had no luck. Then, three days later, Susan’s body was found 35 miles (56 kilometers) away. She had been dumped in a canal in a remote part of the state. Investigators were stumped from the start.
The canal water had left her body very decomposed even after just three days. Her corpse was in such a bad state that police couldn’t determine her cause of death. They also couldn’t get a reliable toxicology report or document any injuries she may have had. Even worse, there are few leads as to where Susan went before her death. After she left her friends to walk on the beach, nobody has ever reported seeing her or knowing her ultimate destination. Because of it, cops have remained confused about what happened.
For the record, they are not even sure if she was murdered. Some theories claim Susan fell into a canal and drowned, and her body was merely carried in the water’s current to its final resting spot. Still, many others believe she met with foul play during that beach stroll. But whatever went down, it remains a mystery now, nearly 40 years later.
7 Rachel Taylor
Rachel Taylor has the unwanted distinction of being the first student ever murdered at Penn State University. The year was 1940, and Taylor was an optimistic young co-ed on campus. The school was in a difficult place financially at the time, and it was about to experience a bizarre string of murders. Most of those would end up being solved in time, but not the very first one: the killing of Rachel Taylor.
In March 1940, Taylor was returning to campus following a long, fun week away for spring break. At 1:30 am, she got off a bus in town. Witnesses at the bus station that night saw her get into a car to presumably hitch a ride back to her dorm room. But she never made it. After the sun rose hours later, locals found Taylor’s lifeless body on the side of a road outside town. She had been beaten and stabbed to death.
Cops initially had quite a few persons of interest, but no evidence came to light implicating any one man. They believed that a screwdriver was the murder weapon, but even that was inconclusive. Plus, despite witness statements about Taylor hitching a ride after getting off the bus, nobody knew exactly what kind of car she’d been in that night. After weeks of uncertainty, a local jailhouse denizen named Jack Ray confessed to the murder.
Cops were hopeful they had their man, but his admission turned out to be phony. He couldn’t provide key details about the night of the murder, and detectives quickly realized he was merely looking for attention. Back to square one, investigators started over. Sadly, no other leads have come up. In the eighty years since Taylor’s death, cops are now no closer to solving it than they were on the morning her body was first discovered.
6 Karen Wilson
Karen Wilson was a happy college student working hard on her degree at SUNY-Albany in the spring of 1985. In March of that year, she was counting down the days until she could go down to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, for spring break. As the big departure day came, she hurriedly prepped for the trip. On March 27, she went shopping for spring break clothes and had an appointment at a local tanning salon. But that night, she disappeared.
She was supposed to return to her dorm room and prepare to leave the next day, but something awful happened. Cops were so stumped at first that they wondered whether she hadn’t actually gone to Fort Lauderdale already. Florida detectives got involved in trying to figure out if she’d gone missing once already in the Sunshine State. Investigators even tried to trace her possible road trip route to see if something happened to her on the way down. But nothing seemed to come up.
Finally, a lead came. An eyewitness reported seeing a woman matching Wilson’s description walking onto the SUNY-Albany campus at about 8:15 pm on the night of March 27. Cops realized she must have never left New York. Instead, going off that last known sighting, they began to believe she was abducted from her dorm room, or perhaps while she was just about to begin her road trip. The belongings she had with her to take to Florida were missing too. Police started to speculate that she met with foul play somewhere in Albany right before or as she was leaving. And yet still no reliable tips came in.
Weeks later, an anonymous tip named a person of interest who may have been involved. Police tracked him down but determined he wasn’t in the area at the time of Wilson’s disappearance. Rumors have circulated ever since about a supposed suspicious man on the Albany campus. Sadly, his identity has never been revealed. Wilson has never turned up in the 40 years since that fateful night. Her family continues to hope for answers, but with each passing year, that becomes less likely.
5 The Six Boys of Pickering, Ontario
It’s tragic enough when one person disappears into thin air. But what do you do when a group of six vanishes without a trace? That’s what happened in the city of Pickering, Ontario, on the night of March 17, 1995. That evening was host to what was otherwise a perfectly normal high school party. Students in town were celebrating the start of spring break. So they got together for a big blowout in the eastern suburb of Toronto.
During the night, a group of boys decided they wanted to leave the party early. So while the rager was still in full swing, Michael Cummins, Robbie Rumboldt, Daniel Higgins, Jamie Lefebvre, Chad Smith, and Jay Boyle decided to split. They walked away from the group and out into the night. Some said they had commandeered a motorboat and wanted to take it for a joyride. Others claimed they were simply tired of the party and wanted to go. Whatever their motivation may have been, the boys were never seen again.
Hours later, several of the boys’ girlfriends became alarmed when they couldn’t reach the young men. So they reported the boys missing. Police in Pickering sent out search parties. Sadly, very few clues were ever recovered. Surveillance video from a dock in town did appear to show at least three of the boys walking by at around 2:00 am that morning. Family members have since positively identified the three they believe were caught on camera. But the clip was grainy and brief, and cops didn’t know where else to turn.
Soon, it became clear nobody had any answers for the group’s disappearance. Even long after, clues cops optimistically hope could be linked to the case aren’t what they seem. A few years after they vanished, a body washed up on the banks of the Niagara River. The corpse wore red pants that were remarkably similar to those worn by Boyle on the night he vanished. Police wondered whether it could be his body. They ordered DNA testing. Sadly, it came back negative. In the decades since, cops haven’t had any other reliable leads on what happened to the six lost boys of Pickering.
4 Sarah Ann Ottens
Sarah Ann Ottens’s murder should never have happened. The college student had been invited to take a spring break trip down to Mexico with friends in March of 1973. But she declined the offer, instead choosing to hang back in her dorm at the University of Iowa to catch up on school work. For a few days, it seemed like she’d live out a mundane spring break on campus.
But on March 13, two other students who stayed back in the dorm noticed something strange as they walked down the hall: Ottens’s door was left wide open. The curious college kids walked inside to see what was going on and made a horrific discovery. Sarah Ann’s lifeless body was found on the floor. She had been strangled to death and covered hastily with a bed sheet. The students called the cops, who rushed in and began to investigate. Soon, police had a suspect in their sights: former University of Iowa football player James Hall.
Hall was charged with murder, tried, and convicted in the case. He was sent to jail and expected to live out his life there. But from the start of his prison sentence, something was wrong. Defense attorneys appealed the verdict and found prosecutors withheld key evidence at Hall’s trial. Prosecutors also claimed during the trial that Hall’s fingerprints were found at the scene—but never entered any evidence into court to prove it. Police detectives also came under fire for lying about how witnesses supposedly picked Hall out of a police lineup, even though they hadn’t.
Those shady courtroom antics prompted a judge to throw out Hall’s conviction. After a protracted legal battle, Hall was released from jail in 1983. The next year, an Iowa grand jury declined to re-indict him on the murder charge. He walked free and even came away from the situation $60,000 richer after settling a lawsuit with the prosecutor’s office. Ottens’s killer was never brought to justice. Hall’s story didn’t end there, though. Less than a decade later, in 1993, he was tried and convicted of the 1992 murder of a Cedar Rapids woman and sentenced to life in prison.
3 Lisa Eisman & Kim Vaccaro
People don’t hitchhike now like they used to decades ago—for a good reason. Not only is it an unpredictable and often inefficient way to get around, but it can also be remarkably dangerous. Getting into a car with a complete stranger on a long, lonely stretch of road often isn’t the wisest move. College students Lisa Eisman and Kim Vaccaro sadly found that out the hard way back in 1985.
It was March, and the two college kids had just started their spring break. They were ready to speed away from their studies at New York’s State University of Buffalo and sprint south to warmer weather. So, they made a plan to hitchhike down to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. On March 29, they set off from Buffalo. By the next day, they had already made it all the way down to Hagerstown, Maryland. There, they bought a postcard and mailed it off to a pal back home. And then they were never seen or heard from again.
The case got off to a slow start because nobody even knew they were missing for a few days. They were supposed to show up in Florida on March 31 to meet another friend but failed to do so. The friend was alarmed, but also knew they’d been hitchhiking. So they waited a bit to see if the girls would turn up. Two days later, they did—as corpses. On April 2, the bodies of Eisman and Vaccaro were found dumped in the Hillsborough River in a swampy section of central Florida.
Cops didn’t have much to go on, as their bodies were remarkably decomposed after having been in the water for at least 48 hours. Forensic investigators figured out the girls suffered blunt force trauma but couldn’t determine much more from the decomposing bodies. Police officers speculated they were dumped over a nearby bridge, but that was as far as they got.
No leads ever came up in the case, and cops have been stumped ever since. Could they have been victims of a serial killer or some other long-haul traveler along the way? Did they make it to Florida safe and sound only to be attacked, robbed, and murdered once there? Likely, nobody will ever know for sure.
2 Dana Bailey
Dana Bailey was a normal college student at Penn State University in the spring of 1987. She was enjoying spring break at her apartment near the central Pennsylvania campus that week. Looking forward to catching up on schoolwork and relaxing with some time off, she took the liberty to enjoy some peace and quiet. But on March 5, her mother came by.
The older woman hadn’t heard from her daughter in a few days and was worried. Dana’s fiancé also hadn’t heard from his love, so he asked her mom to check in. When she let herself into the student’s apartment, Dana’s mom found a horrifying sight: Bailey was dead from multiple deep stab wounds to her chest. She’d been tied to a chair in the kitchen and left to decompose. Her horrified mom called the police, and an investigation began.
Unfortunately for cops, the days-old discovery of the body put them behind schedule from the start. They quickly determined the murderer had likely climbed through an apartment window. And they know Dana was killed with a knife from her own kitchen. But besides that, cops haven’t been keen on releasing details to the public. Cryptically, they have said the crime is “lust related,” suggesting a sexually-motivated slaying or possible peeping case that quickly got way out of hand.
But the campus community still doesn’t know much about the motive behind the murder. More than 30 years later, a group of Penn State students tried to change that. They produced a documentary on the murder investigation in the hopes of bringing Dana’s killer to justice. So far, nothing has come from the film. Still, cops are hopeful the renewed attention might help them solve the mysterious spring break slaying.
1 Brian Shaffer
Brian Shaffer was a medical student working hard at Ohio State University in the early 2000s with dreams of becoming a doctor. When spring break rolled around in 2006, he was ready to let loose for a few days before getting back to his studies. Sadly, tragedy struck one night while he was hanging out with friends in downtown Columbus. And now, more than 15 years later, police still have no idea what really happened.
On the night of April 1, 2006, Shaffer went to a bar in Columbus with a friend. After a few drinks, the pair made their way across downtown. At around 2:00 am, they were spotted on surveillance video standing outside another bar. Shaffer could be seen talking to a couple women. The conversation ended amicably, and Shaffer walked back toward the bar’s front door. He appears to have gone in, but no footage ever showed him leaving the bar again. And he was somehow never seen again. So, what happened?
Friends called his cell phone for the rest of the weekend, but he never answered. Pals who were still in Columbus looked around town for him too. They couldn’t find any answers, and they rushed to the police for help. Cops officially declared Shaffer to be a missing person on Monday. But their professional investigative abilities didn’t find any more answers to his whereabouts, either. Detectives and internet sleuths alike have wondered if Shaffer managed to slip out of the bar without being seen on camera.
Some wonder if he snuck out the bar’s back door and crept through a construction site behind the watering hole. Others theorized something horrible happened to him. But whatever it was, nobody ever heard from him again. In the years since, supposed sightings of Shaffer have popped up every now and then. They have never led to any more information, though. Police have released age-advanced sketches of what he might look like now too. But nothing definitive has ever come up. Shaffer seemingly disappeared into thin air that night in 2006.