Uncertainty is a killer. Even a death offers the possibility of closure for those left behind, the chance to come to terms with what’s happened. But when you have no idea what has happened you are left only with your own imagination – rarely a comforting thing in such circumstances – and unanswered questions.
Some of these people may well have simply died, many are presumed to have been murdered, but their relatives have never had the comfort of a body or a funeral.
1 – Jimmy Hoffa
Most people with any familiarity with his life story have a fair idea what happened to Jimmy Hoffa. He moved in dangerous circles and was almost certainly killed, it is presumed to keep him quiet. Hoffa was the leader of the vastly powerful Teamsters union. He got the job in 1958 after working his way up through the organisation. His predecessor had just appeared before a Senate committee on union corruption, taking the Fifth Amendment 140 times in the process, and was to be convicted of fraud within the year.
Hoffa was in law enforcement’s sites and had been for some time. Things really hotted up when President Kennedy was elected and his brother Robert turned his time as Attorney General into a crusade against organised crime. He’d failed to ‘get Hoffa’ before and made it a major priority of his time in government.
He was convicted of jury tampering and lending large sums from the Teamsters’ pension fund to Mafia mates. He appealed and won time, but went to prison in 1967. Facing 13 years inside, he was out in five when President Nixon pardoned him. The Teamsters supported him in the next election.
He went missing from the car park of a restaurant in Detroit on July 30, 1975. Hoffa believed he was due to meet two Mafiosi. He was never seen again and the two mobsters could prove they hadn’t been at the restaurant and denied arranging a meeting. He was declared dead seven years later, but most will believe he’d been dead not long after attending that ‘meeting’.
2 – Dorothy Arnold
Arnold, who is generally described as a socialite, went out shopping on the morning of December 12, saw a couple of friends, and bought a book and some chocolate. She told a friend she was heading home through the park and was never seen again. Her family held back on calling the police. Their daughter had recently eloped and they feared more embarrassment so called in friends and private eyes who came up with nothing. It was six weeks before the official police were called in a press conference called. Journalists immediately got on the trail of George Griscom, the man with whom she’d previously run away, but he denied any knowledge of her disappearance and later spent thousands of dollars of his own money trying to track her down.
Rumours swirled around: she was in hospital with amnesia, had died on an abortionists operating table, had taken her own life after Griscom refused to marry her and been sent to Switzerland by her family who then staged the disappearance. In her room was found material relating to steamships travelling to Europe, but even though the hunt was widened no trace of her was found. Numerous people claimed to have seen her, one claimed to have dug a grave for her and, bizarrely, the chief of the Bureau of Missing Persons reported that his organisation knew what had happened to her but declined to say what that was.
3 – Béla Kiss
What’s creepy about Bela Kiss’ disappearance isn’t the tragedy of the family and friends he left behind, but what he might have got up to. He’s believed to have murdered at least 24 women before vanishing and despite several reported sightings was never caught. Kiss lived near Budapest in Hungary and from 1912 he began writing to women, many of whom visited him at his home. At the outbreak of the First World War he was called up and left a housekeeper to look after his house.
Before the war, Kiss had started bringing large metal drums into his house. He said he needed them to store petrol should rationing begin, but when his landlord thought the petrol should be shared out he found out what Kiss had really been using them for – pickling the remains of 24 women he had killed.
Word was sent to the military to arrest the killer, while discovering that Kiss had a history of defrauding women who were looking for husbands stretching back to 1903. Two of his victims had tried to take him to court but the case had to be dropped when they vanished, and we can probably guess where they ended up. The army tracked down Kiss and sent for the chief investigator, but by the time he arrived at the hospital where he was supposed to be recovering from a wound Kiss was gone.
Several sightings were reported. In 1920 he was reported to have been in the French Foreign Legion, but the man in question deserted and disappeared before the cops arrived. Twelve years later, a New York Police was convinced he saw Kiss at a Subway station. A janitor came under suspicion, but he too had vanished when the police turned up.
4 – Albert Victor Grayson
With Edward Snowden on the run in Russia and Bradley Manning starting a 25 year prison sentence, it’s fairly clear that sharing state secrets remains a dangerous thing to do. For Albert Grayson it was quite possibly fatal. Grayson had been a socialist MP from 1907 to 1910 and was said to have been about to reveal evidence of high level corruption when he went missing in London in 1920.
Grayson has been a very successful orator, but also a troubled man who suffered a nervous breakdown and drank too much. He served in the First World War (falling out with many fellow socialists when he backed Britain’s involvement in the conflict and turned his speaking skills to recruiting troops). After the war he hoped to revive his political career, but Special Branch had other ideas. He was under surveillance – via a Special Branch agent called Maundy Gregory – and suspected of working for either the new Soviet government or the IRA.
Gregory had his own secrets. He is now best known as the man who sold honours on behalf of Prime Minister David Lloyd George, and Grayson was onto him. He told friends that he’d reveal all he knew and in September 1920 was set upon in a London street. That didn’t stop him though.
On September 28 he was out with friends when a telephone call summoned him to a hotel in Leicester Square. He said he’d be back soon and was never seen again. Grayson was spotted entering a house that subsequent investigations revealed was owned by Gregory and it’s been widely assumed he was killed to keep him quiet, though one biographer argues he lived on to the 1950s.
5 – Louis Le Prince
Louis Le Prince is one of the forgotten heroes of the invention of cinema, carrying out much of his work in Leeds. He took the first moving pictures recorded on paper film with a single lens camera. He vanished on September 16, 1890 from a Paris to Dijon train and his mysterious vanishing act has inspired a number of different theories. Le Prince was planning to travel to America when he vanished and his disappearance is one of the reasons Thomas Edison is now remembered as the inventor of cinema.
Le Prince won an American patent in 1888 for his combined camera and projector, his application for a patent for a single lens version was turned down because someone else held an interfering patent. Edison made almost exactly the same application a few years later and was granted a patent. On September 16, 1890, with a UK patent on the way and a trip to America planned, Le Prince would have seemed to have everything to live for. He was due to return to England – he was married to an English woman – when he decided to take a trip to see his family in Dijon. He apparently boarded the train back to Paris but was never seen again. His luggage was gone and no body was ever found, no-one on the train reported anything suspicious.
It’s been suggested that Le Prince committed suicide, planning – for reasons no-one can fathom – to leave neither his body nor belongings behind. Others say he was killed by rivals in the moving picture business. Edison has been accused of some shady dealings over some of his inventions, but would he have assassinated a rival in Europe? Le Prince’s son also died in slightly suspicious circumstances while Edison’s achievements were still being disputed by the Le Prince family. A third theory is that his family arranged his disappearance to hide his homosexuality – for which there is no evidence. Finally, some claim that the last man to see Le Prince – his brother – killed him. Again, the claim has little evidence to back it.
6 – Lord Lucan
If anyone epitomises the vanished, it’s the 7th Earl of Lucan, who vanished on the night his children’s nanny was murdered. Despite a huge manhunt he evaded the British authorities and his whereabouts has been the subject of lively speculation ever since. Lucan was a flamboyant man, who at one point turned down a screen test for the role of James Bond. He had worked in a bank, but threw that in in favour of a career as a professional gambler.
His marriage, to Veronica, was strained and in 1972 the couple were separated. A custody battle over the children was bitter and unpleasant and Countess Lucan had told one nanny that her husband had been violent towards her and one day would probably kill her. Lucan lost the custody battle and his gambling was going badly when he apparently murdered Sandra Rivett, his children’s nanny and attacked his wife. He phoned his mother and told her there had been a ‘terrible catastrophe’ at his wife’s house before driving to see a friend south of London.
Lucan’s description was widely circulated but never apprehended. He had time to write letters to friends attempting to explain the incident in his wife’s home. His car was found with the likely murder weapon in the boot, but the Earl was nowhere to be seen. Murder and attempted murder warrants were issued and the police issued international pleas for help. Some police officers complained that Lucan’s high society friends weren’t co-operating fully with their investigation and the press speculated about plots and an ‘Eton Mafia’.
An inquest into the death of Rivett unusually named Lucan as the killer and his parlous financial affairs became public. Some – including many of Lucan’s friends and his wife – say that he killed himself. Others say he went to South Africa. The last friend to see him reckons he was smuggled out of the country before being killed in Switzerland. Since his disappearance Lord Lucan has been one of the most spotted men on earth. He’s been seen in France, Colombia and Goa amongst other places and as recently as 2007 was reported to be living homeless in New Zealand.
7 – Ray Gricar
Lawyer Ray Gricar called his partner from his car on April 15, 2005 and was never heard from again. He had been district attorney for a county in the state of Pennsylvania and a popular one too, winning five elections before announcing that he wouldn’t run again in 2005.
Undoubtedly, being a public lawyer can bring you notoriety and unpopularity. Gricar had refused to prosecute a sports coach who was subsequently found guilty of major child abuse. He had been divorced twice and his brother had also disappeared in 1996 – his body was found in a river, but the authorities said it wasn’t a suicide.
On that April day he called home but 12 hours later when he hadn’t returned, his partner called the police. His car was found in the car park of an antiques shop. His computer, keys and wallet were gone, but police could see nothing suspicious.
Rivers were searched and bank accounts opened, but nothing turned up. Finally, Gricar’s computer was found in the river, then its hard drive, but nothing could be recovered. The fact that someone at Gricar’s address had searched online for methods of destroying computer data have suggested foul play to some.
8 – Claudia Lawrence
Claudia Lawrence went missing on March 18, 2009, and her disappearance has baffled the police who launched a nationwide hunt for this popular and apparently very happy young woman. Claudia worked as a chef at the University of York and was last seen on her way home from work. She made plans to spend Mother’s Day with her mum and texted a friend at 8.23pm, the last anyone heard of her.
Claudia’s mysterious disappearance was major news as her family desperately appealed for information and the police admitted they were completely baffled. Claudia had apparently left her home, leaving her passport and bank cards behind her. Police turned their attention to Cyprus and said they were seeking a van driver. Claudia’s father has made appeals online and a large reward was put up by the Crimestoppers charity, all to no avail, and the police have now classified Claudia’s disappearance as a suspected murder.
9 – Madeleine McCann
Madeleine McCann is probably the most famous little girl in Britain. Tragically that’s because the hunt for her, after she went missing from a Portuguese holiday apartment, has so far remained unsuccessful. Madeleine was three-years-old when she accompanied her parents, Kate and Gerry, on holiday with a group of friends.
On Thursday, May 3, 2007, Kate and Jerry joined their friends as usual in a nearby restaurant, leaving the three children sleeping together in the apartment. They were only 30 seconds walk away and regularly checked on. At 10pm though, Kate discovered that Madeleine was missing, and searches were started.
The police arrived quickly, but the investigation into Madeleine’s disappearance has been the subject of enormous scrutiny and much criticism. One of the McCann’s friends believed she saw the man who took Madeleine.
The case sparked an enormous amount of media coverage. Of course, the McCanns needed publicity in the hunt for their daughter, but the British tabloid press is a dangerous beast to deal with and the couple were subjected to terrible criticism, particularly Kate. Social media came into play too and everyone had their say. The McCanns eventually won libel damages of £550,000 and their group of friends not much less. They testified at the Leveson Inquiry into press behaviour. The McCanns have never given up hope of finding their daughter and the case retains its fascination for the British press and public. In 2013, Scotland Yard announced that it would examine the case.
10 – The Beaumont children
Jane (nine), Arnna (seven) and Grant (four) Beaumont disappeared from an Adelaide beach in 1966, although their disappearance has been linked to several other cases it has never been explained and is regularly covered in the Australian press even today. The Beaumont children case is believed to have changed the way almost all Australians supervise their children. There was nothing in the family’s background to suggest anything untoward, and the beach resort they visited on 26 January was a regular haunt of the children just five minutes’ bus journey from their home. However, when the children were three hours late returning from their outing their mother called the police.
Witnesses reported seeing the children with a tall, blond man. They were reported to be relaxed and happy in his company. When a local shopkeeper who knew the children well reported that they had used a £1 note (their mother had only given them small change) to buy cakes and a meat pie (something they almost never bought) police were convinced the man had taken the three children with him.
They were later seen alone, apparently walking home and again in a perfectly happy mood. And that was that. Although there were reported sightings, nothing ever came of them. A psychic was called in with predictably dismal results. The parents then received two letters, one of them offering to return the children
When the Beaumonts went to an arranged meeting with a police detective they soon got another letter accusing them of betraying their correspondent’s trust. A quarter of a century later improved forensics were able to confirm that the letters were hoaxes. The Beaumonts finally moved away, after staying in the same home for many years in case their family returned home, and the case remains open.