When a friend or relative mysteriously and ominously disappears, we instinctively entertain worst-case scenarios while hoping for the best. Occasionally, life gives us neither, instead opting for endings we would neither have dreaded nor desired.
In such instances, the truth can leave us fervently wringing our hands in consternation because of a loved one’s perplexing and sometimes infuriating actions.
10 A Darkly Elegant Solution
“I’m going on the kind of a trip where you never come back,” wrote Dennis Rarick. It was 1976, and the highly esteemed mathematician and computer scientist had succumbed to depression. Nagging despair had driven him to bid his father farewell in a distressing message. Dennis ditched his car, wallet, personal documents, and seemingly life itself.
In the 14 years that followed, Dennis’s friends and family grew convinced that he was waltzing with the grim reaper, and court documents were filed to reflect that fact. In reality, Rarick had hit the reset button on his entire existence. He adopted the name Leonard Cohn and subtracted seven years from his actual age.
Cohn, like his previous incarnation, was drawn to computing. He even earned master’s and doctoral degrees in computer science before settling down with a family and starting a business.
Cohn’s wife, Martha Weaver, knew him as a man with no family. She didn’t question his lack of a paper trail due to his professed status as a military draft dodger. Martha lived in that manufactured universe for 10 years.
Then, out of the blue, Cohn came clean. It was Christmas, and he had joined his wife for dinner. Cohn had serious matters to discuss, namely that he had fabricated his entire biography.
Cohn spent several weeks spilling his guts to Martha and introducing her to his life as Dennis Rarick. After flooring his wife with the knowledge that their marriage was built on lies, he sent a letter to his father.
Contrary to what he had told his father 14 years earlier, Dennis was coming back. Nothing in particular triggered his decision to come out of hiding. He just felt it was time.
9 A Man Among Mushrooms
Carlos Sanchez Ortiz de Salazar boasted a host of impressive skills and achievements. He was a doctor, a student of psychology, and a polyglot. He was also well respected. Those who knew Carlos regarded him as gracious and responsible. But when 1996 rolled around, something changed.
The prevailing theory is that the unassuming doc from Seville, Spain, was suffering from crippling depression and saw no recourse but to seek solitude. Whatever the case, no one could find him. After 14 years without any calls or correspondence, Carlos’s family no longer believed that he was alive. So he joined the unhappy list of missing people presumed dead.
In 2015, a pair of Italian mushroom pickers brought renewed hope to Salazar’s family. While foraging for fungi in Tuscany, the duo happened upon a disconcerting number of plastic bottles and water canisters. Like a trail of bread crumbs, the litter led them to the tent of a filthy-faced man with an ample beard.
Wary of the disheveled camper in the woods, the mushroom pickers departed in a panic. Then they fetched a forest ranger and took him to the bearded oddity they had discovered earlier.
The man greeted his visitors amicably and explained that he was Dr. Carlos de Salazar. He had the ID to prove it. In an act of ultimate introversion, the onetime Spanish physician had shunned society altogether. He dreaded human contact and expressed his intention to relocate now that his location was exposed.
But his two discoverers photographed his identification documents before he faded into nature again. Later, they shared their photos and Carlos’s story with missing persons associations in Italy and Spain.
After 19 years of futile hoping, Carlos’s parents couldn’t believe that someone had found their son alive. Overjoyed, they raced to Italy. As his 65-year-old mother explained, “It would be enough to see him for just half an hour. Then if it is his wish, we would not try to see him again.”
But they didn’t get the reunion they wanted. True to his word, Carlos had already abandoned his Tuscan hideaway.
8 The Unexpected Haven
It’s practically a written rule that teenagers will occasionally lock horns with their parents. So it’s no surprise that things got vitriolic between 14-year-old Xiao Yun and her mother one day in 2005.
In a fit of fury, Yun stormed off. But rather than cooling off and making a hasty reentrance, she stayed away. As days transitioned into weeks, months, and years, her worry-stricken parents came to a grim conclusion: Their daughter was no more. In a gesture of resignation, her parents removed her from the home registry.
In 2015, everything changed. Police in Hangzhou, China, came across a woman using a fake ID in an Internet cafe. Officers hauled her down to the precinct for interrogation. Initially, she misled authorities about her upbringing by claiming she grew up with her grandparents. But she eventually cracked and coughed up the truth: She was Xiao Yun.
According to Yun, after she left home, she lived in and out of Internet cafes and bathhouses. To earn cash, she taught people how to excel at the video game CrossFire, tended the register at some of her regular haunts, and relied on the generosity of strangers. When she wasn’t earning money, she was honing her already lucrative CrossFire skills.
Yun’s parents couldn’t wait to retrieve their daughter, but she was cold to the idea. With a little coaxing, she agreed to return home with them. Now that Yun’s folks have her back, they have sworn never to fight with her again.
7 The Extended Stay
For years, Senior Sergeant Ed Lukin of Queensland, Australia, pondered the fate of American tourist Kenneth Rodman. Rodman’s estranged wife and young daughter undoubtedly did the same. But the facts of his case didn’t look promising.
In 2010, Rodman journeyed to Australia and ostensibly met a grisly demise. While staying with a friend in Mowbray, he allegedly set out alone to kayak to a nearby village. When he failed to touch base, police were notified.
A fortnight’s worth of searching only turned up Rodman’s capsized kayak floating in croc-infested waters. He was now officially missing. From the looks of things, he had likely become crocodile chow.
Five years came and went. In the meantime, investigating officer Ed Lukin was reassigned to a post in a different city. Although he had hoped for Rodman’s safe return, Lukin had moved on to a new place and other pressing matters.
Then an unrelated string of break-ins in Lukin’s new locale abruptly cracked the Rodman case wide open. Officers from his unit were in pursuit of the perp behind a pair of break-ins when an unidentified man on a bicycle rode by in the dead of night. Police suspected that they’d spotted the culprit and sought to question him. But the man sped off.
Assisting officers from the dog squad tracked down the mysterious man, and he quickly confessed. But not to the break-ins. The individual was completely innocent in that respect. However, he was guilty of being Kenneth Rodman and grossly overstaying his tourist visa.
It seemed that Kenneth had pulled a fast one on his friends, family, and Australian authorities. He had created the appearance of becoming crocodile chow so that he could hide out in Australia. What exactly he was escaping went unexplained. But maybe it had something to do with the nearly $50,000 of unpaid child support that he owed.
6 A Lapse In Memory
Winston Bright, a husband and father of three, evaporated into thin air one day in 1990. His frantic wife mounted an impassioned search with the help of the New York Police Department, but her spouse had vanished like a ghost. A decade later, Winston’s wife concluded that he must have died. But she was sorely mistaken.
According to Winston, as his wife plastered New York City with images of his face, he was aimlessly walking the streets of San Diego with no ID or memory of who he was.
Despite his self-described amnesia, Bright legally changed his name to Kwame Seku rather than try to discover his identity. As Seku, he obtained a GED and a teaching certificate to teach at San Diego public schools. He spent nearly two decades working as an educator.
Conveniently, Bright’s memory came flooding back once he retired from teaching and wanted to collect his pension. He claimed that memories came trickling back to him in dreams. Subsequent Internet sleuthing supposedly unveiled the life he had led before Kwame Seku existed.
Winston wanted to reclaim that life—and his pension. By this time, 20 years had passed. For 10 of those years, he was legally deceased, and the money he hoped to receive was disbursed to his wife and children.
Eager to get paid, Bright returned to New York and sued for his retirement benefits. He supplied a DNA test to confirm his identity and peddled his bizarre tale of amnesia and dream-induced recollections.
Medical professionals ceded that Bright’s professed condition, known as fugue amnesia, was entirely possible, although it was incredibly uncommon. But Winston’s family responded more skeptically.
Bright’s wife, Leslie, observed that he seemed unduly concerned with finances upon his long-awaited return. One of his sons openly rejected his father’s fantastical story. Perhaps the only thing Winston forgot was his conscience.
5 An Untapped Passion
Police in two states tried and failed to locate Eric Myers. In 1991, the well-to-do real estate agent from Arizona traveled to San Diego for a real estate seminar but didn’t make it home. Five years of fruitless searching broke the resolve of Eric’s wife and five children. They had him declared legally dead and could only wonder what cruel fate had befallen him. Eleven years later, they got an answer.
In 2007, Myers’s friends and family started receiving unsettling emails, one of which asked directly if they wanted to know what had happened to their long-lost Eric. Myers then reached out to his mother via a friend. Soon his entire social circle learned the surprising reason behind their 16 years of apparent bereavement.
Eric had wrestled with his sexual orientation since childhood. Giving in to his conservative upbringing, he shrouded himself in a cocoon of uber-religiosity and married early. He ignored his persistent marital turbulence and clung to the facade of a perfect family leading a lavish lifestyle. Then Eric got robbed.
It happened during the real estate conference that preceded his disappearance. The experience left him brooding and emotionally bruised. But rather than head home, he absconded to Mexico.
There, he fell for a man and wished to explore his long-suppressed homosexuality. Myers and his partner adopted fake names and began working odd jobs as they traveled together without a care in the world.
In the meantime, his family in Arizona struggled to cope. His daughter Kirsten grappled with substance abuse problems for years. Eric’s wife, Anne, provided vital guidance and care, but her children’s pain ran deep.
Sixteen years later, Eric decided he wanted to see his family. In an interview with ABC News, he explained, “There was never any plan to come back, just like there was never any plan to leave, and it just happened.”
Apparently, Eric never considered how his behavior would affect anyone else. Otherwise, he might have realized that his grieving family would receive $800,000 in death benefits after he was presumed dead and the insurance company would sue to get the money back when he returned.
He also threw his family into emotional upheaval again—with some able to cope and others filled with newfound anguish. Myers, though, stood by his actions, certain that suppressing his true self was a fool’s errand.
4 The Unhappy Hitchhiker
In 2002, Brenda Heist of Lititz Borough, Pennsylvania, just couldn’t catch a break. The car dealership bookkeeper was juggling the unenviable trifecta of divorce proceedings, housing difficulties, and the general rigors of rearing an eight-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son. Then one day, after dropping her kids off at school, Brenda went to a park and was seemingly blotted out of existence.
Those who knew Brenda concluded that something sinister had happened. She wasn’t the type to embark on impromptu adventures, and the prospect of her abandoning her family seemed unthinkable to them. Police quickly eyed then-husband Lee Heist as a person of interest in a presumed crime. However, a subsequent investigation failed to yield incriminating evidence.
A pall of mistrust followed Lee Heist for years. A number of parents in his neighborhood forbade their children from playing with Heist’s for fear they would come in contact with a possible killer. He also grappled with financial woes that only lessened in 2010 when Brenda was officially declared dead and her life insurance kicked in.
In 2013, Lee Heist and his daughter received word that Brenda had resurfaced in Florida. Eleven years earlier, a crestfallen Brenda Heist had been approached by three strangers while sobbing in the park. In a moment of brute spontaneity, she agreed to skip town with them, embracing a life of abject hoboism. The quartet slept under bridges, raided dumpsters for food, and begged for money while hitchhiking to Florida.
In Florida, Brenda worked as a housekeeper, boat cleaner, babysitter, and general day laborer. Eventually, she moved in with one her clients and stayed with him for seven years. She also distanced herself from her past, setting up Facebook and online dating profiles under an alias. But her freewheeling reincarnation came with serious downsides.
Brenda racked up several arrests for possessing drugs, using false identification, and stealing a customer’s driver’s license. Eventually, she found herself on the streets again. Growing weary of her lying ways, she admitted her true identity to Florida authorities.
Brenda brimmed with contrition as she described the way she had hurt her husband and children. Understandably, after 11 years of emotional hell, her jilted family wasn’t eager to extend an olive branch.
3 The Index Card Confessions
Lydia Bacot MacDonald never expected to become an unemployed single mother. The insurance company statistician from Hartford, Connecticut, had fallen in love with a man named David Bigelow MacDonald while attending college part-time. They married in 1956.
The following year, Lydia gave birth to their daughter, Anne. Her husband, however, wasn’t around to witness it. On April 10, 1957—mere days after a pregnant Lydia left her job—David purportedly visited Boston to see about a car. He never returned.
The police were stumped. Three years passed without a peep from him. Then, out of the blue, he sent one of his friends a bizarre gift: a salmon packed in ice.
Apparently, Lydia’s husband was somewhere in Seattle, Washington, but refused to reveal his exact whereabouts. He sent his distraught wife some money orders but did nothing to mend her shattered heart.
David’s scant communications eventually ceased. Not even tragedy provoked a reaction. When his father grew deathly ill, David remained conspicuously absent. His daughter, Anne, died of breast cancer at 44, apparently never having met her father. Lydia also passed away, never knowing what had become of her eventual ex-husband.
Fifty years went by before anyone discovered what had become of David. Then, in 2007, Seattle resident Heather Garrett made a jaw-dropping discovery. While sifting through the personal effects of a recently deceased family friend, Eric Nils Sonnegaard, she found a series of index cards. Scrawled across them was the secret biography of David MacDonald.
David had inexplicably decided to abandon his previous life and start anew as Eric Sonnegaard. Portraying himself as a man of meager means and little schooling, he endeared himself to Heather’s grandmother, Gladys Vance. Coincidentally, Gladys had been abandoned by her husband just as David left Lydia.
“Eric” filled the void in Vance’s life, becoming her constant companion and doting on her grandchildren with fatherly affection. To earn money, he swept sidewalks, recycled waste, and performed tasks which didn’t require use of a social security number. By the time of his 2007 death from cancer, he had taken to hoarding broken televisions.
Military documents and fingerprint comparisons confirmed that Eric Sonnegaard was indeed David MacDonald. The revelation flabbergasted Heather and aggrieved her deceived grandmother. It also created a conduit of closure for MacDonald’s surviving relatives. Some suspected that war-induced PTSD had spurred David’s rash exit, but no one will ever know for sure.
2 The Imperfect Murder
No one could rightly accuse Christina Davison’s ex-husband, Craig, of being a saint. His laundry list of misdeeds included charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and multiple instances of family violence. But was Craig enough of a scoundrel to kill his former spouse? In 2014, it somewhat looked that way.
In May of that year, about three months after Craig had been charged with assaulting Christina, she vanished. From the looks of things, she didn’t go willingly. Her bed bore knife cuts and traces of blood. Her purse was located on a roadway in an entirely different city.
Attempts to contact the 43-year-old Whataburger waitress were futile. Friend Patti Rucker captured the mood of the moment best: “I don’t believe we’ll find her alive.”
Thankfully, Patti was wrong. Nine months after Christina Davison was seemingly plucked from existence, she turned up in Lexington, Kentucky. She had taken a waitressing job at a Red State BBQ and established herself as a popular commodity around the place. Her coworkers had been led to believe that she moved to Kentucky to escape an abusive boyfriend in Arkansas.
Christina’s cozy setup came crashing down when she was caught in a traffic stop one night in 2015. She was wanted in Texas for drug possession, and attempts to verify her identity revealed her missing person status in the state. The jig was up, but questions still remained.
Christina provided no insights into her actions or why she had failed to contact her friends or family during her nine-month absence. Authorities speculated that she had hoped to avoid jail or her former common-law spouse, Craig, by staging her own demise. But they had no clue whose blood they had found on her bed.
1 An Unusual Resurrection
It’s not every day that a murder victim opens their door to you. But in September 2015, authorities in Dusseldorf, Germany, faced that scenario. While responding to reports of an apartment burglary, they were greeted by a woman who called herself “Mrs. Schneider.”
When prompted to confirm her identity, however, she revealed herself as Petra Pazsitka. It was a startling admission, to say the least. The woman in question had allegedly been murdered 26 years earlier.
Petra’s case began in July 1984. Back then, she was studying computer science in Braunschweig and had recently completed her university thesis. On July 26, she reportedly had plans to visit her parents after seeing a dentist. But Pazsitka didn’t reach her stated destination.
When she subsequently missed her brother’s birthday celebration, police were alerted. Law enforcement suspected foul play, and Petra’s picture and description were displayed on German crime show Aktenzeichen XY. The effort yielded no useful leads, however, and the case went cold.
Fears that Pazsitka had been murdered were apparently confirmed in 1987 when a teenager identified as Gunter K. confessed to slaying the Braunschweig student. In 1989, the case was closed.
In theory, Gunter had killed at least one other person—a young student—near the spot where Petra had disappeared. But if he did claim a second victim, it wasn’t Pazsitka.
According to the purported murder victim, she simply wanted to sever ties with her family and made herself invisible for 31 years. She dismissed suggestions of abuse by her kin but declined to clarify her specific gripes. She did open up about hopping from city to city and somehow acquiring both work and housing without using an ID, social security number, or bank account.
Officers were flummoxed by Petra’s ability to drift through life as a phantom. Her family was even more astounded. Once the shock settled, they looked forward to a tearful reunion. Petra, however, steadfastly refused, preferring to leave their relationship dead and buried.