Top Ten Mysterious Disappearances by Dr Gillian O’Brien

  1. Dr Patrick Henry Cronin
I have to start with this one, for it was an account of Cronin’s disappearance that led me to investigate the story behind his kidnap and murder in Chicago in 1889, which has recently been published as Blood Runs Green: The Murder that Transfixed Gilded Age Chicago. Cronin, a medical doctor and a member of Clan na Gael, a secret Irish revolutionary society, disappeared after being called out on a medical emergency in May 1889. For two weeks, rumors circulated about what had happened to him but all speculation ended when his naked and beaten body was discovered in a sewer in North Chicago. The investigation and murder trial that followed devastated Irish republicanism and had severe consequences for the Chicago police force.

 
 
  1. Shergar
The disappearance of Shergar, an Irish racehorse and the winner of the 1981 Epsom Derby, fascinated me as a child. Shergar was kidnapped by the IRA in February 1983. The IRA demanded a £2 million ransom for the horse but the owners refused to pay. Despite an intensive police investigation, Shergar was never found and it is presumed that he was shot by his kidnappers within days of his disappearance.

  1. Amelia Earhart
Amelia Earhart was one of aviation’s great pioneers and, in 1932, became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic. She disappeared while flying over the Pacific Ocean in 1937 and no trace of her was ever found until October 2014, when researchers concluded that a fragment of a plane found in 1991 on Nikumaroro, an atoll in the southwest Pacific, was from Earhart’s plane. In June of this year, a group of fourteen researchers from TIGHAR will begin a detailed search of Nikumaroro in the hope of finding some evidence that Earhart landed there.

  1. Agatha Christie
Another relatively short disappearance but one I found fascinating given that the woman in question had dedicated her writing life to solving mysteries. Agatha Christie, one of the world’s most famous crime writers, disappeared for eleven days in 1926. Her car was found abandoned near Guildford in Surrey but there was no sign of Christie. She was eventually discovered 230 miles north in Harrogate where she had been staying under an assumed name in a hotel. Christie never offered any explanation for her strange disappearance.

  1. Lord Lucan
In 1974, Sandra Rivett, the nanny to Lord Lucan’s children, was beaten to death with a lead pipe. The press and public immediately assumed that Lord Lucan was the murderer and his intended target was his estranged wife, Veronica. The day after the murder, Lucan’s blood-stained car was found abandoned at the British port of Newhaven. Though he was never seen again, in June 1974, an inquest jury concluded that he had indeed murdered Rivett. Many people have speculated that he fled to Africa; others believe that he committed suicide in the hours after the murder.

  1. Jean McConville
Jean McConville was a widowed mother of ten who lived in the Divis flats in Belfast during the early years of “The Troubles.” In 1972, the IRA kidnapped her, claiming that she was an informer, though no evidence of this has ever been provided. McConville became one of Ireland’s “Disappeared.” The IRA initially denied any involvement in her disappearance, but in 1999, the organization admitted it had murdered her. In 2003, the body of Jean McConville was found by walkers on a beach in County Louth.

  1. Marie Celeste
The Marie Celeste was discovered adrift off the Azores in December 1872. The ship had set sail from New York with seven crew members, the captain, and his wife and daughter on board. It was destined for Genoa, Italy. When the ship was discovered, the lifeboat was missing but the ship was seaworthy, there was plenty of food and drink on board, and the cargo was untouched. None of those on board the ship was ever found.

  1. Anastasia Romanov
The story of the execution of Tsar Nicholas II and his family in July 1918 captivated me as a child. I was particularly fascinated by the rumors that one of the young princesses, Anastasia, had survived. Now there is little doubt that Anastasia was executed alongside other members of her family, but it was the rumors of her survival that first prompted me to really engage with the past and to understand that there are often many different versions of the same story.

  1. Arthur Craven
Craven was a writer, poet, boxer, dandy, and adventurer who left Europe for the United States in 1917 to avoid fighting in World War I. When the United States entered the war, he headed to Mexico and was last seen around October 1918, though there were alleged sightings of him subsequently and it was rumored that he had staged his own death. He left behind a pregnant wife who named their daughter Fabienne after his real name, Fabian Lloyd.

10. Bermuda Triangle

In light of the mysterious disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 last year, I was reminded of the vanishing of many planes and ships over and within the Bermuda Triangle, an area of about 500,000 square miles bordered broadly by Miami, Puerto Rico, and Bermuda. Despite the absence of any scientific evidence to explain these disappearances, the Bermuda Triangle has long fascinated the public.

Dr Gillian O’Brien, author of Blood Runs Green: The Murder that Transfixed Gilded Age Chicago (Chicago, 2015) and Senior Lecturer in History, Liverpool John Moores University

Comments

What about Victor Grayson, Liverpool-born maverick left-wing Labour MP, disappeared mysteriously 1920, never explained, possible Special Branch connection?

 Prof. Sam Davies  5/28/2015

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