The Missing: Why Do Some People Vanish Into Thin Air?On Thursday January 8, 2015, Johanna Frouw’s husband parked his car outside the liquor store on 32 Street in Vernon, British Columbia, leaving her behind while he went inside to purchase beer. He left the keys in the ignition, and was only gone for a few minutes; when he returned, his car was where he left it, and inside were the keys—still in the ignition—along with Johanna’s phone.
Johanna, however, was nowhere to be found.
RCMP officials learned that Johanna had used drugs in the past, but that she was never prone to just leave like this. Her husband, to whom her partnership is recognized by common law, said there had been nothing wrong, nor any indication as to why she would leave. At present, police are still trying to understand how a woman could seemingly vanish off the face of the earth within a narrow window of only a few minutes.
Frouw’s story isn’t unique, of course. Every year, an unprecedented number of people go missing, and under a variety of different circumstances that have often left police and investigators scratching their heads.
Late in 2014, the Boston Globe reported on the disappearance of Gerry Largay, who vanished while hiking alone on the Appalachian Trail on July 22, 2013. Largay hadn’t been alone the entire time, however; as a reasonably experienced hiker, she had befriended many families and fellow hikers along the way, and had been assisted by her husband, who supplemented her solo-trek along the way by meeting her at various intervals, where he would meet her to assist with supplies, or occasionally to get them a hotel where Gerry could enjoy a warm shower. Largay disappeared during a period of precipitation over a three day stint amidst some of the more rugged terrain in western Maine.
No conclusive leads as to Largay’s whereabouts have ever been uncovered, and while it is presumed that she met her fate while hiking the Appalachian Trail, her disappearance is one of the many mysteries in the realm of people’s strange disappearances.
Entire committees have been formed to address the issue of people who just vanish, such as the, International Commission on Missing Persons, formed specifically to address disappearances of individuals related to natural disasters, armed conflicts, and violations of human rights the likes of slavery and human trafficking. Especially in North America, a number of the more curious disappearances have been opined as being the result of something far less well-orchestrated as human trafficking, though the possibility of kidnappings having taken place may indeed be related.
Another case which I’ve detailed previously here at Mysterious Universe was brought to my attention by researcher David Paulides, author of the Missing 411 book series, which documents strange, and often seemingly inexplicable disappearances, as well as the strange circumstances that occasionally surround them. The story of the disappearance of six-year-old Dennis Martin, a young boy who went missing in 1969 near Cades Cove, Tennessee, in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, has remained a hallmark among odd missing person cases for decades. Much like Johannah Frouw’s sudden disappearance earlier this month, Martin had also vanished within a very short period of time, while he and other children were playing near Spence Field while he and his family were camping there in the summer months. Also, much like Gerry Largay’s case, the youngest member of the Martin family had vanished while on the Appalachian Trail; his whereabouts have never been determined.
There are countless reasons why an individual–particularly a minor–might become disoriented and disappear in a wilderness area; of Martin, it is important to note that his father had been quoted in a National Park Service document saying that Dennis had apparently suffered a mild learning disability. Still, what is arguably the most disturbing aspect of the investigation has to do with the observations of a man named Harold Key, who along with his family, had been hiking a few miles away near Rhowan’s Creek on the afternoon Dennis went missing. He and his family reported hearing an “enormous, sickening scream” as they hiked along, followed by the unsettling observation of a “rough-looking, dark figured man” who appeared to be trying to conceal himself from view on a ridge above them. This individual was observed moving quickly up the ridge away from them, and Key suggested there may have been something the individual had been carrying at the time.
Strange details such as these have fueled the imaginations of researchers, as well as that of less official, but perhaps equally-curious minds who have studied the case, leading some to suggest that strange “beasts” the likes of Bigfoot might be held accountable for the disappearances. It is obviously difficult to support such a conclusion, at least in the absence of hard data that supports the existence of these proposed “wild men” in the North Americas. And yet, reports that seem to account for the likes of such animals have been produced by numerous individuals, for well over a century.
More likely, perhaps, in the majority of cases is the notion that people who go missing in the wilderness are the victims of disorientation, dehydration, or perhaps even the predation of various wild animals, large and dangerous enough to accost and overcome even a well-built man in his prime. Which, in truth, points to the urban disappearances as being among the more perplexing; with hope, people the likes of Johanna Frouw will not remain among North America’s inexplicably missing.
A final example worthy of review here involves the disappearance of Zebb Quinn, an 18-year-old Walmart employee who vanished on January 2, 2000 near his home in Asheville, North Carolina (the home, incidentally, of this author). Quinn had been looking to purchase a new vehicle, and had been accompanied by a friend at the time he received an alert (a page, to be exact, to further illustrate the passage of time since his disappearance), after which he told his company he had to leave. Quinn was last seen at a gas station on Hendersonville Road, and his disappearance has never been solved.
Of particular interest in the disappearance of Quinn, Jason Owens, the friend who had been with him at the time Quinn received the page, later told police that Quinn had seemed “frantic,” and had purportedly damaged Owen’s vehicle by rear-ending him during his hasty exit. Owens turned up later that evening at the local urgent care facility with a head injury, as well as broken ribs, claiming that a second accident had occurred that evening, for which no police report was ever filed.
Quinn’s vehicle turned up nearly two weeks later in the parking lot of the Little Pigs Barbecue across from Asheville High School, sporting its own bizarre variety of defacement: a large pair of lips had been drawn on the rear window of the car with what appeared to be lipstick, and a labrador puppy, as well as a hotel key, drink bottles, and a jacket, were found within. Possible leads in the case had included the suspicion that Quinn’s friend Owen, as well as a young woman named Misty Taylor and her boyfriend, may have had information in the disappearance, but no evidence has ever surfaced to support this conclusively.
It is indeed strange–and unsetting–when circumstances allow for a person to go missing indefinitely in this way. Whatever the underlying cause in any given circumstance, such cases can appear to defy logic, and of course, remind us of the frailties we maintain as individuals. Amidst the more foreign and exotic mysteries of our universe, none strike home quite like those which can occur in the everyday, and still remain unsolved.