Whenever someone goes missing and their disappearance garners a lot of publicity, it’s inevitable that investigators will be flooded with tips from eyewitnesses claiming to have seen the victim. In most cases, these eyewitness sightings are never officially confirmed to be genuine, and it usually turns out that the witness saw someone else and mistook them for the missing person.
However, there are some cases in which eyewitnesses will provide specific details to make investigators believe that their sighting might be credible. While the following missing persons cases are still unsolved, they all contain some very unusual eyewitness sightings that caused everyone to look at the case in a very different light.
10 Joan Risch
In 1961, 31-year-old Joan Risch lived in Lincoln, Massachusetts, with her husband, four-year-old daughter, and two-year-old son. On October 24, Joan’s husband was out of town, and her daughter went to a neighbor’s house. When the girl returned home, Joan was gone, and her infant son was sleeping unattended. There was blood in the kitchen, and a trail of it ran outside to Joan’s car in the driveway. The phone was ripped out of the wall, and the phone book was open to the emergency numbers section. A bloody fingerprint was also found, which could not be matched to anyone. All signs pointed to an abduction, but some strange eyewitness sightings complicated this scenario.
That afternoon, a neighbor saw a dazed-looking Joan running outside her house but assumed that she was chasing one of her children. Later that day, motorists saw a woman resembling Joan walking along Route 128. Even though the woman appeared to be bloody and disoriented, no one assisted her, and she was never found. Since Route 128 was under construction at the time, there was some speculation that she fell into an excavation pit and was eventually buried under asphalt.
Things got even more complicated when investigators discovered that Joan had checked out over 25 library books about murders and disappearances throughout the summer. One of the books chronicled the story of a woman who disappeared and left blood smears behind. Since the Risch family had moved to Lincoln from New York City six months earlier, and Joan gave up a publishing career to raise her children, one theory was that she became unhappy with her domestic life and decided to stage her own disappearance. If that theory is true, Joan Risch has managed to stayed off the radar for decades.
9 A.J. Breaux
In 1991, 50-year-old Adam John “A.J.” Breaux was a well-liked citizen of Houma, Louisiana. He was a former alcoholic who had been sober for eight years and went out of his way to help others with the same problem. On the evening of August 28, A.J. left an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and stopped off at a convenience store to purchase some milk. After that, he vanished without explanation. Two days later, A.J.’s abandoned car was found in a park across the street from where his AA meetings were held. His wallet, checkbook, and a bag containing $165 in AA funds were inside. That very same day, there would be some unusual eyewitness sightings of the missing A.J.
One of A.J.’s friends claimed that he ran into him outside a convenience store. According to the witness, A.J. looked unkempt and was nervously talking on a pay phone. A red compact car containing three unidentified men was parked nearby. Shortly thereafter, another witness who personally knew A.J. saw the same car drive past his house with A.J. and the three men inside. Four weeks later, a woman from the town of Lockport reported that an intoxicated-looking man fitting A.J.’s description had pulled in front of her house in a van and tried to sell her some frozen fish. The police also received an anonymous, cryptic note claiming that A.J. had gotten drunk and shot himself in the stomach before his body ended up in the bayou.
While the note was dismissed as a prank, authorities did not dismiss the possibility that A.J. had a relapse and starting drinking again, causing him to suffer memory loss. However, the sightings of A.J. with the unidentified men have led his family to believe he was abducted and met with foul play.
8 Mistie Murray
On May 31, 1995, 16-year-old Mistie Murray told her parents that she was attending a band practice in her hometown of Goderich, Ontario, Canada. Mistie never returned home, and her friends said that there was no band practice that night. Mistie was adopted, but since she’d recently made contact with her biological mother, there was speculation that she might have run away. However, the investigation would eventually focus on Mistie’s adoptive father, Steven Murray. Since Steven had been seen boating on Lake Huron on the day of Mistie’s disappearance, authorities came to believe that Steven murdered her and dumped her body in the water. Even though Mistie’s body could not be found, Steven was charged with her murder.
However, the case against Steven was complicated by 97 eyewitness sightings of Mistie, which took place after Steven was alleged to have killed her. In the weeks following Mistie’s disappearance, several teenagers who personally knew her claimed to have spoken with Mistie in Goderich and in the nearby town of Clinton. There would also be sightings of Mistie in Toronto and London, Ontario. According to witnesses in London, Mistie had become involved in drugs and prostitution and left town with her pimp once her disappearance started getting publicity.
In spite of these sightings, Steven Murray still went on trial for his adoptive daughter’s murder, but the case against him was so faulty that it only took 45 minutes for the jury to acquit him. The police faced heavy criticism for their investigation and were hit with a lawsuit from Mistie’s family, who claimed that they focused too much on Steven and failed to pursue any leads suggesting that Mistie was still alive. She remains a missing person over 20 years later.
7 Bridget Pendell-Williamson
After her aspirations of being a model fell through, Bridget Pendell-Williamson decided to become a registered nurse. She also got married and had a child, but Bridget’s life spiraled out of control after she became involved with the wrong crowd and started abusing drugs. She essentially became a drifter and spent much of her time following the Grateful Dead around the country. The last time Bridget made contact with her family was in 1996, after a failed attempt at drug rehab in New York. She traveled to San Francisco, and her last confirmed sighting occurred in April 1997, when 23-year-old Bridget was arrested for prostitution. She never showed up for her court date, and no one knows what actually happened to her.
Bridget’s case would be rejuvenated when The San Francisco Chronicle ran a series of articles about the city’s homeless population and made mention of a local young female drifter nicknamed “the Crier.” The Crier had tribal tattoos on her face and appeared to be a drug addict. She earned this nickname because she always seemed to be weeping every time she was seen wandering the streets. The Chronicle took a photograph of the Crier sleeping on a sidewalk outside Transbay Terminal.
When Bridget’s sister, Jacqueline Horne, saw the photo, she became convinced that the Crier might be Bridget. Jacqueline traveled to San Francisco in 2004 and circulated Bridget’s photograph among the homeless community, and many of them seemed to think that Bridget and the Crier were the same person. However, Jacqueline never actually tracked down the Crier or got a definitive answer about her identity. To this day, no one knows what became of the Crier or Bridget Pendell-Williamson.
6 Elizabeth Campbell
On the evening of April 25, 1988, 20-year-old college student Elizabeth Campbell was at her boyfriend’s residence in Killeen, Texas, when the couple got into an argument. When Elizabeth’s boyfriend refused her request to drive her home, she left on her own, even though she lived 50 kilometers (30 mi) away in Lampasas. At some point, Elizabeth ran into a fellow college student, who agreed to take her as far as Copperas Cove, where he dropped her off at a convenience store. Since Elizabeth was still a long way from home, she phoned her boyfriend to come pick her up, but he once again refused. Elizabeth’s time at the store would be the last confirmed sighting of her. She never returned home, and her family reported her missing.
Six days after Elizabeth’s disappearance, there were two separate alleged sightings of her at a convenience store 137 kilometers (85 mi) away. In both cases, she looked very nervous and was in the company of an unidentified man who wouldn’t let go of her arm. Two months later, there was another sighting of a nervous-looking woman resembling Elizabeth at a gas station 240 kilometers (150 mi) away. The similarity of all these sightings led to some speculation that Elizabeth was abducted and forced into prostitution.
In another bizarre turn of events, Elizabeth’s purse would be discovered in the possession of the Crockett County Sheriff’s Department in Ozona in 1992. It had apparently been found near an interstate approximately 290 kilometers (180 mi) from where Elizabeth disappeared, but the police did not have an exact record of when the purse was found or who turned it in. Unfortunately, in spite of all these leads, Elizabeth Campbell has never been found.
5 August Reiger
After graduating from his Oklahoma City high school and being named valedictorian, 18-year-old August Reiger was awarded a full scholarship to the University of Oklahoma in 2013. The Reiger family decided to celebrate by taking August on a trip to Ecuador. They stayed in the resort town of Banos. On June 16, the Reigers decided to go hiking on a scenic mountain trail. During the hike, August got ahead of his family and told them he would meet them at the summit at the end of the trail. August disappeared out of sight, but when his family reached the summit, he was nowhere to be found. He did not return to their hotel, and a search of the area turned up no trace of him. At the time, August was not carrying any money or his passport.
While it was initially suspected that August had gotten lost, an eyewitness sighting would open up the disturbing possibility that he was kidnapped. Several days after August’s disappearance, it was announced that he had been spotted inside a pickup truck heading toward the Amazon region. Throughout the next year, there would be more reported sightings of a young man resembling August in Ecuador.
The incident wound up making national news. President Barack Obama made a statement about August’s disappearance and referred to him as “a missing patriot.” Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa also pledged his support to the Reiger family and told them that he would make it his mission to find August. Despite all the publicity this case has received, the ultimate fate of August Reiger is still unknown.
4 Rachel Pratt
On the evening of January 16, 1995, 15-year-old Rachel Pratt was watching a movie with her brother at their family’s residence in Garden City, Kansas. When Rachel’s mother returned home at approximately 2:00 AM, Rachel’s brother had fallen asleep, but Rachel herself was gone. Other than her jacket, she left behind all her personal belongings. At the time, Rachel was going through a difficult situation. After she’d been caught shoplifting a home pregnancy test, Rachel’s family learned that she was pregnant. The father of Rachel’s child was her boyfriend, an 18-year-old high school senior. This case would further be complicated by an odd sighting of Rachel shortly thereafter.
Five days after she disappeared, a group of girls claimed to have seen Rachel talking on a pay phone outside of a local grocery store. Rachel’s boyfriend was with her, and after she handed the phone to him, she went over to the girls and asked them for a ride. When they turned her down, Rachel walked into the store, and that’s the last time she was seen.
Since Rachel was underage and her boyfriend was legally an adult, he was charged with aggravated indecent liberties with a child shortly before her disappearance. Rachel was set to testify as a witness against her boyfriend, but after she went missing, the charges against him were dropped. Naturally, this caused authorities to zero in on the boyfriend as a suspect, but he has always maintained his innocence and denied being with Rachel during the alleged sighting at the grocery store. There is no evidence that Rachel ever gave birth to her unborn child, and the circumstances behind her disappearance are still unknown.
3 Gordon Collins
In 1991, 34-year-old Gordon Collins left his hometown of Palm Springs, California, for a vacation in Baja California Sur with his girlfriend, Anastasia Seals, and another couple, Wayne Shwartz and Arlean Burlington. On April 23, they left the port of Punta Chivato for a fishing trip on the Sea of Cortez. Later that day, a huge storm hit the area, and the boat never returned. A few days later, the capsized vessel was found, and the bodies of Wayne Shwartz and Anastasia Seals were discovered floating about 1.6 kilometers (1 mi) away. In spite of an extensive search, the bodies of Gordon Collins and Arlean Burlington were never found. While it seemed likely that they drowned, there would soon be unexpected sightings of a man resembling Gordon in Mexico.
Months after the boating accident, residents of the Mexican village of Colonia Vincente Guerrero took note of a disoriented-looking American man who frequently wandered through the village and lived off handouts. When word reached the Collins family, they came to believe that this transient might be Gordon and that he was suffering from amnesia. This theory started picking up credibility when Gordon’s family heard various eyewitness accounts of an American man wandering out of the ocean onto a beach in close proximity to where his capsized boat was found.
As the months went on, there would be at least 50 sightings of this mysterious man in the area. At one point, he was arrested in a Mexican village for stealing food, and the sheriff brought in a local American citizen to translate. The American claimed that the man bore a striking resemblance to Gordon Collins and that he even introduced himself as “Gordy.” However, in spite of an extensive search, Gordon’s parents never located this transient or their son.
2 Shonda Stansbury
On December 8, 2006, 24-year-old Shonda Stansbury phoned her stepmother and claimed that the father of her four children had left them alone and that she was planning to go get them. Early the next morning, Shonda showed up at the Waffle House where her sister worked in Weldon, North Carolina. Shonda appeared to be in rough shape, with several bruises on her face and legs and a bump on her temple, but she didn’t tell anyone what happened. One of the customers offered to give Shonda a ride. After she was dropped off at a trailer court, Shonda went missing without explanation. Since Shonda was to known to have problems with drugs and alcohol, authorities initially suspected that she disappeared on her own, but a disturbing eyewitness sighting changed their perspective.
Five days after Shonda’s disappearance, a woman called 911, claiming that she had seen a nude woman running behind a grocery store in Halifax County. According to the caller, the woman was bleeding from the nose and screaming for help. The witness initially opened her passenger door to assist the woman but became fearful when she saw two black men chasing her into the woods. Since the witness had no access to a phone at that time, it would be 12 minutes before she could report the incident to the police. The caller was convinced that the woman she saw was Shonda Stansbury. However, a search of the area turned up no trace of Shonda, and no evidence has ever been found to corroborate the caller’s story. Shonda Stansbury remains missing.
1 Renee LaManna
On January 8, 1994, 35-year-old Renee LaManna was found wandering the streets of New York City. She was barefoot and appeared to be disoriented. Renee had recently broken up with her boyfriend of 10 years, which may have caused to her to suffer a mental breakdown. After she was treated in a psychiatric emergency room, arrangements were made to take Renee to her sister’s home in Ocean City, New Jersey. That evening, Renee ran out of the house while dressed in a bathrobe. Approximately two hours later, she was seen at a bar in nearby Somers Point. After leaving the bar, Renee vanished, but her bathrobe was discovered two blocks away. It was theorized that Renee was suffering from dissociative fugue disorder, causing her to forget who she was.
There were numerous unconfirmed sightings of Renee over the next two decades, but major developments didn’t occur until 2014. In October, a Good Samaritan named Ruth Collins befriended a homeless woman in Gretna, Virginia, and spent the next few days helping her out. The woman apparently said that her name was “Renee Leman” and claimed that she was looking for her family. Months later, Collins discovered Renee LaManna’s profile in a missing persons database and was struck by the resemblance. Collins had taken several photos of the woman and when Renee’s family saw them, they became convinced that it was her.
When this story made the news in February 2015, police received several tips from witnesses who claimed to have encountered this woman in Virginia and North Carolina. The investigation also uncovered a recent mug shot of the woman, who had been picked up by police in October 2014 and gave her name as “Josephine Pagano.” The search to locate Renee LaManna continues on, but she hasn’t been found.
Robin Warder is a budding Canadian screenwriter who has used his encyclopedic movie knowledge to publish numerous articles at Cracked.com. He is also the co-owner of a pop culture website called The Back Row and recently wrote the award-winning script for a short film called Indefinite Late Fee. Feel free to contact him here.