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10 Unsettling Disappearances In The Age Of Information
To disappear without a trace in this day and age seems almost impossible. Facebook and Twitter have more than a billion users—and 30 percent say their social media accounts have a location attached to them. Meanwhile, around 90 percent of American adults have a cell phone. We are caught on security cameras an average of 200 times per day. So how can somebody just vanish?
In February 2004, Maura Murray was 21 and a nursing student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. On February 7, Maura’s father arrived in Amherst to help his daughter shop for a used car. That night, Maura borrowed his car to attend a dorm party, leaving at around 2:30 AM to return the car to her father’s motel. At around 3:30 AM, she struck a guardrail in Hadley, Massachusetts. Although she was questioned by the police, they did not administer a sobriety test and it was confirmed that the damages would be covered by insurance. Her father dropped her off at school the next morning and then returned home, calling her later that night to discuss the insurance forms. They agreed to speak more the following day.
Around 30 minutes later, just after midnight, Maura used MapQuest to search for directions to Burlington, Vermont. That afternoon, she emailed her boyfriend: “I got your messages, but honestly, I didn’t feel like talking to much of anyone. I promise to call today though.” At around the same time, she called to ask about renting a condo in Bartlett, New Hampshire, where her family had previously vacationed. She did not rent the condo. Later that day, she emailed some of her teachers to let them know she would be out of town due to a death in the family. There was no death.
At 2:05 PM, she called a booking number for hotels in Stowe, Vermont, but the system was down at the time and it would have been impossible for her to make a reservation. At 2:18 PM, she left a voicemail for her boyfriend, promising to call later. At 3:40 PM, she withdrew almost all of the money in her bank account—$280. She spent around $40 on alcohol at a local liquor store.
At around 7:00 PM that night, Maura’s car ran off the road and into a snowbank in Woodsville, New Hampshire. Several passersby stopped to offer assistance, but Maura “pleaded” with them not to call the police. Around 30 minutes later, a local resident phoned the sheriff’s department.
The police arrived 15 minutes later. No one was in the car, which was locked. Inside were accident forms, the MapQuest directions, gloves, CDs, makeup, a book on mountain climbing, and Maura’s favorite stuffed animal—a monkey given to her by her father. Her debit card, credit cards, and cell phone were missing. Maura Murray was nowhere to be found.
In October 2006, sniffer dogs picked up the scent of human remains in the closet of an abandoned house near where Maura’s car was found. Neither her debit card nor her credit cards have been used since she vanished. Police still consider her disappearance an open case.
In 2011, Rebecca Coriam was a crew member on board the cruise ship Disney Wonder. On March 21, Rebecca sent her mother a Facebook message promising to call the next day. After 12 hours without a response, Rebecca’s parents grew concerned. On March 22, they received a call from a Disney official informing them that their daughter was missing. The previous night, the ship’s security cameras had recorded her engaged in what appeared to be an emotional phone conversation. She was never seen again.
The ship was thoroughly searched, as were the waters the ship had been traveling through at the time. Disney officials theorized that Rebecca had been washed overboard by a wave while in the crew pool, despite the fact that the pool was surrounded by high walls.
In May 2011, Rebecca’s mother received a call from her daughter’s bank, who informed her that there had been activity on Rebecca’s account following her disappearance. In September, Rebecca’s uncle reported that her Facebook password had been changed.
Some of Rebecca’s fellow crew members believe that she may have been involved in a love triangle with an older man and another young woman, which they speculate may have driven her to commit suicide. There has also been speculation that Disney officials might know what happened. One crew member claims that Disney representatives placed flowers by the pool the day after Rebecca disappeared. Currently, Rebecca Coriam remains classified as a missing person.
Sixteen-year-old Erica Parsons, of Salisbury, North Carolina, was reported missing in August 2013—but nobody outside of her immediate family had seen her since December 2011.
Erica’s biological parents, Carolyn Parsons and Billy Goodman, gave her up for adoption in 2000, and she was taken in by Sandy and Casey Parsons, the brother and sister-in-law of Carolyn’s ex-husband. Carolyn claims she has not seen her daughter since January 2011. For their part, Sandy and Casey claim that Erica is with her biological grandmother, Irene Goodman, whom they say first contacted them in July 2011. According to the Parsons, Erica and Irene met for the first time at a McDonald’s in September 2011. At a later meeting in December 2011, they say Erica requested to go live with Irene permanently. Casey and Sandy say they last heard from Erica in February 2012. No Irene has ever been found.
In August 2013, Sandy and Casey’s 19-year-old son James reported Erica missing, claiming he had not seen her since November or December 2011. Sandy and Casey hired attorneys after police found red stains in the house. In late 2014, the pair were convicted of fraud after it was revealed that they had collected benefits for raising Erica while she was no longer living with them. They will be sentenced in February 2015. Erica is still missing.
Seventeen-year-old Brianna Maitland was last seen leaving her dishwashing job in Montgomery, Vermont in 2004. She never returned home. At the time, Brianna was living with her friend Jillian Stout while she attended school in the next town over from her mother.
On March 19, she clocked out from work at 11:20 PM and was observed leaving the restaurant by several coworkers. The next morning, a state trooper was dispatched to an abandoned farmhouse about a mile from Brianna’s workplace, where he found her car. The vehicle had been backed into the side of the house hard enough to put a hole in the wall. Two of Brianna’s paychecks were found inside.
The cops towed the car, but Brianna wasn’t reported missing until five days later, when Jillian called Brianna’s mother. After failing to locate her daughter, she called the police. It was later discovered that at least three people saw Brianna’s car at the abandoned house on the night of March 19, and several other passersby actually photographed it on the morning of March 20. One man who noticed the car at some point between 11:30 PM and 12:30 AM said he thought the headlights might have been on. A second man, who drove by around midnight, said he saw a turn signal flashing. One of Brianna’s former boyfriends, who drove by the farmhouse on the way home from a party, said he recognized her car but didn’t see anyone around.
Around a month before her disappearance, Brianna was violently attacked by a girl who had apparently become jealous of her. During the altercation, Brianna sustained a broken nose and a concussion. Charges were filed, but were dropped three weeks after Brianna disappeared.
Tara Grinstead was a former beauty pageant competitor from Ocilla, Georgia. Using her pageant winnings to help pay for college, she began teaching history at Irwin County High School in 1998. After her retirement from the scene, she began coaching pageant contestants in her spare time. On the night she disappeared, Tara had helped out at a pageant in a neighboring town, before attending a barbecue.
The next day, October 22, 2005, Tara failed to show up for work. Concerned, her fellow teachers called the police, who went to her home. Inside, they found her cell phone. Her purse and keys were gone, and her car was found locked outside. The house had not been broken into, and there were no signs of a struggle.
Sensing the disappearance was beyond their capabilities, the local police called the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. In 2008, the authorities revealed that they had found a latex glove containing DNA near Tara’s front door. The DNA belonged to a man but did not match anyone Tara knew or DNA records in the Georgia and national databases. Tara remains missing.
Jennifer Kesse was 24 when she went missing from her home in Orlando, Florida. She was last seen on January 23, 2006, at around 6:00 PM, leaving work at Central Florida Investments. That evening, she made several calls to her family and friends, ending with a call to her boyfriend.
When Jennifer didn’t show up for work the next day, her supervisor called her parents, who then called her boyfriend. Calls to Jennifer’s cell phone went straight to voicemail. Concerned, her parents immediately decided to drive to Orlando from Tampa. According to her mother: “That’s not Jennifer. Jennifer has always been reachable. When I got that phone call I knew intuitively something happened to her.”
At her apartment, everything seemed normal. The shower was damp and a wet towel was found on the bed, suggesting that Jennifer had showered as normal before leaving for work. The front door was locked and her Chevy Malibu was missing. Eventually, investigators came to believe that Jennifer had been abducted on the way to her car.
The one major development in the case came when the car was found in a parking lot a short distance from Jennifer’s apartment. Security footage showed an unidentified person parking the car and quickly walking away. However, a fence largely concealed the suspect from the cameras. Investigators were only able to determine that the individual was around 1.6 meters (5.3 ft) tall.
The only missing items were Jennifer’s cell phone, iPod, keys, purse, and briefcase. Her phone was never turned on again and her bank accounts have never been accessed.
On January 2, 2002, 18-year-old Zebb Quinn finished his evening shift at Walmart in Asheville, North Carolina and met up with a friend, Robert Owens, in the parking lot. The two planned to go look at a car Zebb was considering purchasing.
Shortly after they stopped at a gas station, Zebb flashed his lights at Robert, indicating he needed to pull over. Zebb explained that he had received a page and needed to return the call from a nearby payphone. After making the call, Zebb became so agitated that he accidentally rear-ended Robert’s truck. Saying that he needed to cancel their plans, Zebb apparently drove away without further explanation.
Zebb’s mother reported him missing the next day.
Two days after the pager incident, someone called Walmart claiming to be Zebb and explaining he would have to miss work due to illness. Suspicious, Zebb’s manager noted down the number and the police were able to trace the call to Robert Owens’ workplace. Robert subsequently admitted to placing the call, but insisted he did so at Zebb’s request. He refused to cooperate further with the investigation. The police consider him a person of interest.
Two weeks later, Zebb’s car was found near the hospital where his mother worked. A pair of lips were drawn on the back windshield in lipstick, and a live puppy was inside, along with a jacket not belonging to Zebb. Police also found a hotel key card but were unable to trace it.
Zebb was involved with a woman named Misty Taylor and claimed to have been threatened by her abusive boyfriend. Oddly, the police investigation revealed that Zebb really did receive a page from his aunt that night. However, the aunt insisted that she could not have sent the page, since she was out at the time it was sent—having dinner with Misty Taylor’s family.
At 26, George Smith was supposed to be enjoying one of the happiest times of his life—his honeymoon. Instead, he disappeared.
Eleven days before he vanished, Smith, originally from Connecticut, married Jennifer Hagel. Their honeymoon was a two-week cruise around the Mediterranean. At some point during the night of July 5, Smith vanished from the cruise ship as it made its way toward Turkey. A bloodstain was found on a lifeboat directly below his cabin balcony. His body has never been found.
Suspicion originally fell on Smith’s new wife, but Jennifer said that on the day her husband disappeared she was found passed out near the ship’s casino at 4:00 AM. Crew members hoisted her into a wheelchair and deposited her in her cabin. Jennifer has said that her husband was also drinking that night, speculating that this might have led to him accidentally falling overboard. Officials with Royal Caribbean Cruises also believe his disappearance was a tragic accident.
But there are strange details as well. On the night he disappeared, George and Jennifer partied with Josh Askin, a student from San Diego, and three Russian-Americans, Greg and Zach Rozenberg and Rostislav Kofman. They claimed that George had fought with Jennifer and that she had left the ship’s nightclub with a crew member named Lloyd Botha. But key card records show that Botha left the nightclub long before Jennifer did.
The four men then escorted Smith back to his cabin, where other guests claim they heard a commotion. According to Askin and the Russians, they left Smith safely in bed before returning to their own cabins for room service. However, the ship had no record of a room service order, and staff members had been told not to answer calls from the Russians due to their abusive language. Askin went on to fail a polygraph test about events on the night Smith disappeared. The case continues to be the subject of much speculation.
Emma Fillipoff was 26 when she was interviewed by the police near the Empress Hotel in Victoria, British Columbia. It was the last time anyone saw her.
Fillipoff had come to British Columbia from Ontario a year earlier. She found work in a seafood restaurant but quit at the end of October because the work was seasonal. On November 28, 2012, she called her mother, Shelly, in Ottawa, and asked her to come get her. Concerned, Shelly immediately bought a plane ticket, but Emma was gone by the time she reached Victoria.
Emma had been staying at the Sandy Merriman House women’s shelter, which she reportedly left around 6:00 PM that evening. A short time later, a concerned passerby called the police to report a distressed woman walking shoeless outside the Empress Hotel. The police spoke with Fillipoff for about 45 minutes, but she repeatedly assured them she was fine.
Her elderly Mazda was later found in a parking lot a short distance away. In it were her passport, library books, laptop, and clothes. Because she was staying at the shelter, police believe she used the car for storage.
In May 2014, two Vancouver store owners, Joel and Lori Sellen, saw a man take down one of Fillipoff’s missing posters and throw it away. When they asked about it, the man responsible explained: “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 case remains open.
When he mysteriously disappeared, Ray Gricar had been the the district attorney of Centre County, Pennsylvania since 1985. On April 15, 2005, Ray called his partner, Patty Fornicola, to say he was driving through the Brush Valley area. He never returned home.
The next day, his car was found in the parking lot of an antique store in Lewisburg. His cell phone was inside, but his keys, laptop, and wallet were missing. In July, a fisherman discovered the missing laptop in a local river. Its hard drive was missing, but it was later found a short distance away, damaged beyond repair.
In April 2009, the police revealed that before Ray disappeared, someone had used his home computer to Google “how to wreck a hard drive” and “water damage to a notebook computer.” Patty Fornicola passed a polygraph test and is not currently considered a suspect. Oddly, Ray’s brother had disappeared under similar circumstances in 1996. His body was later found in the Great Miami River and his death ruled a suicide, but there has been no such breakthrough in Ray’s case.
Interest in the disappearance was renewed after it was revealed that in 1998 Ray had declined to press charges against Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky for sexually abusing children. In 2011, Sandusky would be indicted on 40 counts of sex crimes against children. The university was heavily chastised for not reporting what they knew in 1998, when Ray declined to press charges. Ray was also criticized, and some theorized that he didn’t want to prosecute a hometown hero.
+A Happy Ending
Margaret Profet was a brilliant evolutionary biologist, receiving a MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant in 1993. But in 2002, she simply cut ties with her family. After that, she gradually lost contact with her friends and colleagues. By 2005, she had simply vanished. Her mother reported her missing in 2009, but her whereabouts were unknown until 2012, when a Psychology Today article led a friend to inform Margaret of her “disappearance.” In reality, she had been living in Boston after a long bout of poverty and illness. She was reunited with her family in May 2012.
Lizzie holds a number of fairly useless degrees, which she uses in a valiant attempt to earn a living. She lives in Pittsburgh with her dog and severe hockey obsession.