Hundreds of thousands of people go missing every year but there are some cases that just capture our morbid human fascination. Here are six stories spanning the decades that have stumped experts and sparked plenty of conspiracies alike.
6. Dyatlov Pass Incident, 1959
It was the lost expedition that shocked the world and stoked crazy imaginations and conspiracies alike. The Dyatlov Pass Incident occurred in the snowy, turbulent peaks of the then-Soviet Northern Urals during one cold February winter in 1959.
The expedition was led by 23-year-old Igor Dyatlov plus nine experienced hikers and skiers. The group departed on February 1 and were to arrive at Vizhai by February 12 where they would telegram their friends and family of their safe passage. When February 12 rolled around, and there was no message the families of the expedition members became worried. By February 20, a full-blown rescue operation was underway.
Authorities found the group’s belongings and a severely damaged tent on February 26. Investigators were baffled at their findings. The campsite looked like a crime scene. Observers noticed that the tent had been cut from the inside like the occupants were trying to escape someone or something. While outside there were nine pairs of footprints left by people who were wearing only socks or in some cases, completely barefoot in the subzero temperatures.
Even more bizarre were the violent injuries members of the expedition had suffered. Four bodies found at the bottom of a creek bed experienced major soft tissue damage similar to that of a car crash. One corpse was missing her eyes and tongue; another had severe skull fractures while a third body had missing eyebrows. The other skiers had succumbed to hypothermia, many of their bodies were found wearing little to no clothing; was a death sentence in the intense cold.
Low levels of radiation were also found on the corpses which led some to believe that the Soviet government was involved in the expedition’s demise. But even that doesn’t explain the gruesome wounds on the corpses. Crazier conspiracies claim that the group was attacked by not only animals but a yeti, a prehistoric ape-like creature from ancient times. But alas, there were no animal tracks found near the camp.
But the possible truth seems to be less exotic. Experts now believe that the expedition were victims of a freak avalanche that they attempted to outrun at the last minute. With little to no time to grab supplies or even put on jackets, the survivors were doomed to survive out in the frigid cold.
Also eerie: One of the last photos taken by the Dyatlov Expedition. A yeti perhaps?
5. Yuba County Five, 1978
The Yuba County Five is a case that still stumps people to this day. Five friends, Bill Sterling, Jack Huett, Ted Weiher, Jack Madruga, and Gary Mathias, had just attended a basketball game in Chico, California, and were on their way back to their town of Yuba.
The group was last seen around 10 pm at a convenience store to pick up some snacks. When none of them returned home, their families called the police. The authorities discovered the group’s car 70 miles away in a remote section of the Plumas National Forest on a snow-covered mountaintop. The car was in good working order and not stuck. Police determined that it must’ve been abandoned. Other than candy wrappers there were no signs of the five friends.
After the snow melted in the park around June, police began discovering the bodies in far and unusual places. Four of the men’s bodies were found 20 miles away from the car. Three had perished deep in the forest, their bodies scavenged by animals, while the fourth was discovered in a nearby backpacker’s cabin. The man in the cabin, Ted Weiher, had apparently lived three months before starving to death, which perplexed police since food and heating supplies were found in the dwelling.
This only left Gary Mathias, whose body was never discovered. Mathias’s family revealed that Gary had schizophrenia and was psychiatrically discharged from the U.S. Army. Though he had had psychotic and violent outbursts in the past, his physicians considered him to be stable. Mathias’s four other friends also suffered from “slight intellectual disabilities” according to accounts.
But even with these circumstances considered many questions still remain. Why did the group drive 70 miles out of town and up a mountain in the middle of February? Why leave a perfectly operable vehicle to take shelter? Why not simply drive back down the bluff from where they came? And why did some individuals leave their shoes in the snow?
The case of the Yuba County Five certainly poses more questions than answers. To this day, investigators have failed to find an explanation for the group’s behavior and the reasons behind their demise.
4. The Body in The Cylinder, 1945
“The Body in The Cylinder” is a mysterious phenomenon uncovered after the leveling of Liverpool by German bombs during World War II. After clearing the wreckage of a Methodist church in 1943, an American bulldozer dug up a metal cylinder in the ground. Nobody thought anything of the large metal object so it was laid in the street where kids would play on it and roll it around.
The cylinder had a length of 6 feet 9 inches, a diameter of 19 inches, and was made of gauge 9 steel that was about 4 mm thick. It was certainly not a German bomb, so folks were not afraid to get close to it…until some children made an unsettling discovery.
On July 13, 1945, three young boys played with the cylinder when they decided to see what was inside. The cylinder was damaged by the bulldozer and had a 4-inch rupture on its side. When the boys peered into the hole they could make out a shoe…and then a leg. Police were called to the scene and opened the cylinder with a torch. Inside they found the bones of a 6-foot-tall man wearing Victorian-style clothes and diary entries from 1885. It appeared the man was sleeping inside the cylinder when he met his mysterious fate.
By August 1945, authorities named Thomas Creegan Williams, the owner of a paint manufacturing business, as the possible identity of the corpse; Williams had also been reported as missing. An investigation concluded that Williams had undergone some financial troubles, had left home, and was sleeping in the cylinder which was probably used for paint production. Somehow, the cylinder was sealed while he was asleep inside asphyxiating him. Whether this was foul play or an accident remains unknown to this day.
3. The “YOGTZE” Case, 1984
The YOGTZE incident (also known as the Autobahn Riddle) is one of the most mysterious criminal cases in modern German history; it is also the story of a man losing his sanity. Günther Stoll was an unemployed man undergoing some hard times when vanished under some erratic circumstances one late October night in 1984.
Before he disappeared Stoll was incensed with paranoia, complaining to his wife that “they” were after him. Any clues as to who “they” are is anyone’s guess, but Stoll was convinced that unknown forces were out to harm him. At 11:00 pm, before leaving for the night he exclaimed, “Now, I’ve got it!” before writing the letters, “YOGTZE” on a piece of paper authorities found.
The next two hours of Stoll’s life are blurry. He was spotted at his favorite pub where he had one drink, became unconscious, and injured his face in the process. Stoll then left in his vehicle and was spotted one last time at 3 am by two truck drivers. The drivers discovered Stoll unclothed and unconscious in his car, crashed into a trench on the side of the Autobahn.
When asked what happened to him, Stoll claimed that four men had attacked him. Severely injured, Stoll died on his way to the hospital. To this day, nobody knows the meaning of “YOGTZE” or has solved the fabled Autobahn Riddle.
2. Ray Gricar, 2005
Ray Gricar was a lawyer and former District Attorney of the state of Pennsylvania. He disappeared under mysterious circumstances on April 15, 2005, after failing to return from a road trip. Authorities found his red MiniCooper in a parking lot with no signs of foul play. Police found his government-provided cellphone in the vehicle but not his work laptop, wallet, or keys.
Eerily enough, Gricar’s brother had committed suicide and left his vehicle in a similar place in the vicinity (adjacent to the same two bridges near the Susquehanna River as Ray). Authorities wondered if Gricar took his own life but he had no signs of depression or suicidal tendencies.
On July 30, fishermen found Gricar’s government laptop but its hard drive was missing. Two months later the hard drive was recovered 100 yards from the site of the laptop. Data-recovery efforts from the FBI were unsuccessful with no hope to reveal what was on the drive. Whatever was on that hard drive seemed to have been of importance to someone. It was also worth noting that Gricar had been involved in busting a major narcotics ring, but the FBI has ruled out anybody in connection to the bust.
Another theory suggests that Gricar wanted to fake his own death/disappearance. In 2009, police revealed internet searches at the Gricar residence for “how to wreck a hard drive”, “how to fry a hard drive” and “water damage to a notebook computer.” Regardless of the scenario, Gricar’s family petitioned for him to be declared legally dead in 2011. He was not been seen or heard from since.
1. Elisa Lam, 2013
The story of Elisa Lam is one filled with many bizarre coincidences. Lam disappeared while visiting the infamous Cecil Hotel near Skidrow in Los Angeles, California. The hotel is known for its checkered past of murders and suicides. Lam would be the latest addition to the hotel’s list of victims.
Lam exhibited irrational behavior in the days leading up to her disappearance. She antagonized her roommates and was kicked off an airing of Conan by security. She was last seen alive on January 31 via a security cam in the hotel elevator. In the video, Lam attempts to operate the elevator for two and half minutes. She pokes her head out of the door as if she is hiding from somebody then performs a disturbing series of erratic gestures with her arms and hands. The released footage deeply unsettled viewers.
During the search for Lam, patrons of the Cecil complained about low pressure and discolored, foul-tasting water from the hotel sinks. On February 19, a maintenance worker checked the water tanks on the hotel roof and made a grisly discovery; Lam’s corpse floating face up in one of its four 1,000-gallon water tanks.
The macabre death is unusually similar to the 2002 movie, Dark Water. In the film, a mother and daughter stay in a rundown apartment complex with a dysfunctional elevator and dark, discolored water flowing from its faucets. The two then discover the body of a missing girl in the water tank.
The eerie coincidence is one of many that have plagued the Elisa Lam case. Authorities found no evidence of foul play and an autopsy showed no traces of any illicit substances in Lam’s body. But what still stands is why Elis Lam disrobed and entered the water tanks. Some theories speculate, that Lam, who was on a series of medications for her mental health in the past, was undergoing a psychotic episode. In the end, the curious case of Elisa Lam leaves more questions than answers.