15 famous people who mysteriously disappeared

Though many of them are presumed dead, exactly what happened to these high-profile personalities still remains unknown.

The Lost Roanoke Colony. The Dyatlov Pass Incident. The death of Natalie Wood. The Black Dahlia. The Bermuda Triangle. Bigfoot. Did Tony Soprano die at the end of “The Sopranos”?

We love a good unsolved mystery, and unexplained disappearances that have managed to baffle historians have also intrigued the general public. Unlike the FBI’s decades-old search for the remains of a certain convict/labor organizer from Detroit, we’ve successfully managed to track down 15 missing people of note, including six particularly intriguing head-scratchers followed by a few more names that you may recognize.

In a majority of these cases, the unaccounted-for person was legally declared dead at some point, although their body has never been recovered and their whereabouts are still unknown. Some of these vanishings have been subject to massive search parties, wild speculation, media sensationalism, false accusations, dead ends, wrong turns and the occasional TV miniseries. Some are rather tragic. And in one famous instance, the identity of the AWOL individual was unknown even before he vanished into thin air (by jumping from a plane no less).

So cue up the appropriate music and join us as we delve into the realm of the mostly unknown.

Henry HudsonWho: Henry Hudson
Missing since: 1611
Where: James Bay, Canada
Henry Hudson (a.k.a. the famed British navigator who has a river, bay, straight, town, bridge, etc. named after him) must have been a rather pushy fellow to work for. His own crew — homesick, starving, half-frozen and unwilling to keep exploring after becoming trapped in ice for several months — set a determined Hudson, his teenage son and seven infirm and/or loyal-to-Hudson sailors adrift on a small, open boat in the middle of present-day Hudson Bay. Hudson and the other cast-offs were never seen or heard from again. (So much for talking things out with the HR department, eh?)

Not a whole lot of particulars are known about the mutiny that ended Hudson’s fourth expedition as only a handful of the Discovery’s crew survived the voyage back to England to stand trial. Arrested and charged with the murder of their captain, the mutinous crewmembers ended up escaping any kind of punishment and, to this day, it’s generally believed that a marooned Hudson met his maker while aboard the tiny lifeboat. This scenario has been immortalized in a famous John Collier painting (pictured). (A fur-clad, ZZ Top-ish Hudson doesn’t appear too thrilled in it.)

In his book, “Fatal Journey: The Final Expedition of Henry Hudson,” esteemed history professor Peter Mancall highlights evidence that suggests Hudson could have been violently murdered by his crew and not forced into a small boat with a few others and left to die. The possibility that Hudson managed to survive the mutiny, changed his hair color and relocated to Rio de Janeiro where he lived out the rest of his life as a popular yet enigmatic lounge singer named “Bob Simpson” has been ruled out. And as for Hudson’s doomed crew, you never know, they could have very well reemerged nearly 200 years later alongside a few other former disgruntled Hudson sailors – the crew of the Half Moon – as hirsute bowling enthusiasts living in New York’s Catskill Mountains.

Amelia EarhartWho: Amelia Earhart
Missing since: 1937
Where: The Pacific Ocean

Pioneering aviatrix, author, teacher, magazine editor, celebrity fashion designer, cigarette spokesperson. In her short 39 years on this planet, Amelia Earhart managed to amass an impressive CV, but it was her mysterious disappearance while attempting a round-the-world flight that continues to intrigue to this day.

Although there are numerous theories, no one can be certain what really happened when Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan vanished over the Pacific Ocean on July 2, 1937, while en route to Howland Island in a Lockheed Electra 10E, a disappearance that resulted in the most intensive — and expensive — search effort in American history up to that time. It’s commonly believed that the Electra ran out of fuel and Earhart, who was declared dead in absentia in 1939, ditched the plane into the Pacific near Howland Island – the “crash and sink theory” — although there’s been no shortage of wild myths and legends surrounding Earhart’s disappearance. Most recently, researchers embarked on a $2.2 million expedition to prove that Earhart crashed her plane on the tiny island of Nikumaoro.

Our favorite Earhart disappearance legend, other than the one where she’s employed to spy on the Japanese by F.D.R., has to be the one involving the iconic pilot pulling an Abbie Hoffman — a ludicrous scenario in which Earhart secretly completed the round-the-world flight but, tired of all the fame and fortune, decided to move to Monroe Township, N.J., and change her name to Irene Craigmile Bolam. Author Joe Klaas ran with this theory in his 1970 book, “Amelia Earhart Lives,” and, as a result, the real Irene Craigmile Bolam was none too pleased. Bolam, a banker and amateur pilot, filed a $1.5 lawsuit and publisher McGraw-Hill quickly pulled Klaas’ book after it was published.

Harold HoltWho: Harold Holt
Missing since: 1967
Where: Point Nepean, Victoria, Australia

It’s not every day that a prime minister vanishes into the sea. However, just that happened on Dec. 17, 1967, when the 17th prime minister of Australia, Harold Holt, decided to go for a swim at Cheviot Beach near Portsea, Victoria. Following two days of exhaustive search efforts, the authorities declared that 59-year-old Holt, a skilled swimmer and longtime member of Parliament who had served as prime minister for less than two years, was presumed dead. His body was never recovered and it wasn’t until 2005 that a coroner ruled the cause of death to be accidental drowning — he was either swept out to sea or eaten by shark — in a risky location known for strong rip currents. At the time of his disappearance, Holt was taking pain meds for a shoulder injury.

Not long after Holt went missing, the rumor mill started working overtime and speculation as to what exactly happened that fateful morning at Cheviot Beach continues to this day. Among the more wild myths, many fueled by the fact that Holt’s disappearance was not followed by a formal inquiry and that has body was not found: he was abducted by a UFO; he faked his own death so that he could decamp with his mistress, Marjorie Gillespie; and, most famously, he deliberately swam out to sea where he was plucked from the water by a waiting Chinese submarine and whisked off to China. This ridiculous theory, in which Holt was revealed to be a communist and longtime secret agent for the People’s Republic of China, surfaced in British journalist Anthony Grey’s controversial 1983 book, “The Prime Minister Was a Spy.” To this, Holt’s wife Zara responded: “Harry? Chinese submarine? He didn’t even like Chinese cooking.”

Suicide is another theory tied to Holt’s disappearance and was suggested in the 2007 documentary “Who Killed Harold Holt?” Several sources close to the late prime minister have adamantly denied that he suffered from bouts of depression or a mental illness.

Whatever the case, Holt will forever be remembered by a wickedly ironic recreation complex in the suburbs of Melbourne, the Harold Holt Swim Centre, and by the rhyming slang expression “do a Harry Holt.” Translation: to bolt — to disappear abruptly.

Jimmy HoffaWho: Jimmy Hoffa
Missing since: 1975
Where: Bloomfield Township, Mich.

By now, it’s been well established that Teamsters kingpin Jimmy Hoffa was offed by the mob after vanishing from the parking lot of a restaurant in suburban Detroit on July 30, 1975. But for decades, even after the super-corrupt union leader was declared dead in absentia a full eight years later, the question remains: what in the hell did they do with his body?

Hoffa’s disappearance has yielded a delightfully sordid assortment of lore, lies and potential leads. Some have been pursed by the FBI, some have not, while most pertain to the whereabouts of his remains. Just a taste: entombed under Section 107 at the now-demolished Giants Stadium in New Jersey; hidden in the concrete foundation of Detroit’s Renaissance Center; stashed under a horse barn; interred beneath the driveway of a suburban home; tossed into a swamp in Florida; buried under a backyard swimming pool in Bloomfield Hills. Other scenarios have seen Hoffa’s body sent through a meat grinder, weighted down in a river, disintegrated at a fat-rendering plant, crushed in a car compactor, buried in a gravel pit, and, last but not least, stuffed into an oil drum and deposited at a toxic waste dump in New Jersey.

The latest entrant in the always-riveting game of Where in the World Is Jimmy Hoffa’s Body? According to one source, he’s interred in a shallow grave on a vacant lot in Oakland County, Mich., about 20 miles north of the restaurant where he was last seen alive. Apparently, this location was intended as a temporary dumping ground before Hoffa’s body was transferred to a more relocation. That plan, however, fell through.

This revelation comes from Tony Zerilli, a reputed Detroit mob boss who was incarcerated at the time of Hoffa’s disappearance. Zerilli told New York’s NBC 4 News during a January 2013 interview: “I’m as certain as I could possibly be. If I had money, I’d like to bet a big sum of money that he’s buried (there).” He adds: “I’d like to just prove to everybody that I’m not crazy.” And on the topic of money and crazy, Zerilli is promoting his new, self-published book titled “Hoffa Found.” As of publication, Hoffa’s remains remain at large.

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