Australia, Random Rambles
Comments 14

The Disappearers

Maybe, like me, readers, you’ve long been fascinated by real-life mysteries.

Maybe, like me, you were the geeky kid that was always borrowing those Reader’s Digest paranormal-phenomena coffee-table books from the library, or wading through endless volumes about UFOs, cryptozoology and Borley Rectory, “The Most Haunted House in England”.

Maybe, like me, you used to savour the chill of  the eerie music and Leonard Nimoy’s even eerier narration on those In Search Of… episodes in the ’70s.

And alas, maybe, like me, you’ve grown into the type of skeptical adult that now believes most of that stuff you once swallowed, unquestioned, belongs somewhere between fancy and outright fraud.

But even as harsh torchlight probes the very last unexplored cracks and crevices of this once-mysterious globe, let’s be thankful for the true mysteries that remain unsolved and un-debunked (“bunked”?).

Mysteries like these as-yet-unsolved disappearances:

Ludwig Leichhardt, 1813-c.1848:

German-born explorer famed in Australia for expeditions including a 3,000-mile overland journey from Moreton Bay, Queensland, to Port Essington, Northern Territory. Disappeared with his party in 1848 while attempting an east-west traverse of the continent from the Condamine River, QLD, to the Swan River, Western Australia.

Percy Fawcett 1867-c.1925:

British soldier, explorer and perhaps dangerously deluded eccentric. Disappeared in 1925 with two expedition members, including his son, and two local labourers, while searching for a lost city he named “Z”, which he believed existed in the Brazilian jungle. Variously rumoured to have been killed by wild animals or natives, or to have lived out his remaining years, Kurtz-style, with a jungle tribe.

Roald Amundsen, 1872-1928:

Famed Norwegian polar explorer, first to reach both poles and to traverse the Northwest Passage. Disappeared somewhere in the Barents Sea on 18 June 1928 while flying to aid in the rescue of the crew of a downed airship, Italia.

Everett Ruess, 1914-1934?: 

Artist, poet and solo explorer of the Californian mountains and wild desert regions of the American southwest. Disappeared in the Utah wilderness while journeying with two burros. The mystery, presumed solved in 2009 with DNA analysis of bones from a desert grave, deepened further when the results of the tests were questioned and finally disproved.

Amelia Earhart, 1897-1937:

Pioneering American aviatrix (love that word), adventurer and campaigner for women’s rights. First woman to fly solo non-stop across the Atlantic. A true celebrity, she vanished over the Pacific with her co-pilot, Fred Noonan, while attempting a circumnavigation of the globe.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, 1900-1944:

Writer (The Little Prince; Wind, Sand & Stars and others) and aviator who flew commercially on three continents and famously survived a crash in the Sahara before serving in the French Airforce during WWII. Following the French armistice he flew for the Free French Airforce and disappeared over the Mediterranean while flying a solo reconnaissance mission. His bracelet was discovered in 1998 and portions of his plane two years later, south of Marseilles.

Michael Rockefeller, 1938-1961:

The youngest son of the obscenely wealthy New York governor enjoyed exploration and anthropology in western New Guinea. While studying the Asmat tribe, the dugout canoe he shared with a Dutch anthropologist overturned; Rockerfeller, whose last recorded words were “I think I can make it,” attempted to swim the several miles to shore. Either shark or crocodile attack, or death on shore at the hands of local headhunters, likely accounts for his disappearance.

Harold Holt, 1908-1967:

Perhaps the only head of government in modern history to disappear while in office, Holt was our 17th prime minister and a staunch advocate of Australia’s presence in the Vietnam War. Disappeared without trace while swimming in heavy surf near Portsea, Victoria. Folklore has him, variously, faking a suicide, actually committing suicide, and rendezvousing with a Chinese submarine. The Australian expression “to do a Harold Holt” (ie, bolt) is used to describe an unexplained exit from a gathering.

Sean Flynn, 1941-1970?:

Only son of Errol Flynn, also an actor and a photojournalist for Time in the Vietnam War. Captured with journalist Dana Stone by communist guerillas while travelling on Honda motorcycles through Cambodia. Believed to have been killed over a year later by the Khmer Rouge.

D.B. Cooper, ? -?:

The only successful skyjacking in American aviation history — if “Dan Cooper” survived. On a flight between Portland and Seattle on November 24, 1971, a passenger claimed possession of a bomb, demanding $200,000 and two parachutes. On landing in Seattle, his demands were met, passengers released, and the Boeing 727 took off again. Exited the plane, via the rear airstair, somewhere over southern Washington. A portion of the ransom money was discovered on the Columbia River bank in 1980.

David ‘Bird’ Thomson, 1947 -?:

In the style of a post-Woodstock Edward Abbey, Thomson’s In the Shining Mountains is a lyrical account of a man consumed in equal parts by a reverence for the wild, pre-industrial Rockies — where the book’s narrator undertakes a series of increasingly risky solo journeys — and an almost pathological rage at their desecration in more modern times. In 1979, soon after publication of Mountains, Thomson deposited copies of his new book, The Solar Kid, with his family, and disappeared.

Maybe like me, readers, you’ve also harboured a secret longing to “do a Harry”? Nothing in the league of the esteemed company above, sure — just a temporary disappearance, an Agatha Christie-style vanishing, to emerge somewhere new and mysterious and start afresh?

Maybe, like me…

~ And that’s all the Goat wrote



  1. Good morning, Goat. How about that amazing red sunrise! Thanks for that intriguing post. I’m a fan of real-life mysteries too but you won’t go disappearing on us now will you….? Hello?

  2. You of all people should realise that Donald Crowhurst should be in your list or do you already know that?! Wherefore art thou Goat Go????

    • Yup, I screwed up in forgetting the supreme modern-day Disappearer, Greg. Hope you continue to enjoy the ever-deepening mystery — not that I’m anywhere near Crowhurst’s league (there’s a pun in there I think).

  3. I have on many occasions fantasised about ‘disappearing’. I did actually do an authentic ‘Harold Holt’ early on New Year’s Day when I packed my backpack in an hour and headed for Switzerland. Unfortunately, however, the very problems you are trying to escape await your return.

    • Yeah, mine was a highly protracted disappearance. But I still don’t think some of my friends etc have noticed or care ;(. It’s true, disappearing seldom solves anything long-term, but it serves a useful purpose while it lasts. I admire you for packing for Switzerland in an hour!

  4. Goat,

    I have mentioned Josph Mikulec to you before and believe that he belongs in this blog entry. Did he dissappear or did he grow to a very old age? No one knows but despite some publicity and detail of his substantial walks little of his later life is known. If he doesnt belong here he needs an entry of some sort ….he certainly looks grizzled enough to join your pantheon of inspirations.

    Good luck finding information on him though.

    • Sorry, Franko, only space for a few favourite Disappearers — and I neglected one of my faves, Donald Crowhurst. Maybe next pre-Disappearance…

    • Wow, thank you! I’m truly touched and grateful you found this. I think your brother’s book is an almost-unknown (nowadays) masterpiece. Definitely a classic of its era, an idiosyncratic and very personal look at the American outdoors and that groundswell of rage and passion in the 60s and 70s as folks started trying in earnest to protect it.

      I wish you luck in your search. If you’re interested, I also mentioned the book in the early days of my blog. Here’s the link:

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