Tens of thousands of people go missing every year in the U.S. but with the advent of mass surveillance, cell phones, and forensic technology the number of cases has decreased annually. But that wasn’t always the case, especially in the 1970s, a decade that was rife with murder, mystery, and people vanishing into thin air. In fact, many cases from the 70s remain unsolved to this day.
When we think of missing persons many famous names come to mind, like Jimmy Hoffa, Amelia Earhart, or D.B. Cooper but in this list, we compiled some of the lesser-known cases from the era. Their names may have been long forgotten, but their stories still manage to haunt us to this day.
6. Cheryl Gene Grimmer, 1970
This tale is as mysterious as it is filled with unreliable narratives and false accusations. Cheryl Gene Grimmer was a three-year-old toddler who mysteriously disappeared from her family while at a beach in New South Wales, Australia.
The Grimmer family had spent a sunny afternoon at the beach when 26-year-old mother, Carole Grimmer decided to call it a day around 1:30 pm. One of Cheryl’s older brothers, Ricki (7) took her to the shower block to change and get ready to leave. After about ten minutes, Ricki returned to enlist his mother’s help saying Cheryl was being fussy and refused to leave the showers. Carole returned with Ricki to the showers to find that little Cheryl had disappeared.
There were no phones on the beach so the mother rushed to find one down the road to call the police. Witness accounts proved as eerie as they are confusing. One account stated they saw Cheryl being helped by an older man to reach the drinking fountain who then wrapped her up in a towel and ran the moment they were spotted. Another witness claimed to have seen her in a white car.
Investigations took place immediately but no breakthroughs were made until 18 months later when a teenager claimed to have abducted and killed her when he was 15 years old. The teenager gave detailed descriptions of the area and said he had hidden the body in an area that was under construction at the time. Police contacted the property owner who confirmed many inconsistencies with the teenager’s story and descriptions. Police concluded that the teenager’s account was a false confession. The case has gone cold since and Cheryl was declared legally dead in 2011.
5. Robin Graham, 1970
Robin Graham was 18 years old when she disappeared without a trace on the side of a Los Angeles freeway one late night in November. The crazy thing is she had made contact with multiple California Highway Patrol Officers shortly before vanishing.
After a night out with friends, Graham’s car ran out of gas around 1:45 am. She made contact with a passing officer who directed her to a call box around 2:00 am to let her parents know that she was stuck on the side of the road. When police spotted her a second time, Graham was in the company of an unknown man in his mid-20s driving a green Corvette. The officer at the time assumed the young man was the help Graham had phoned for and continued on his way.
Meanwhile, Graham’s parents arrived at the spot around 2:30 am. They found Graham’s locked vehicle, but not their daughter. Despite CHP officers following correct protocol, safety polices were changed to better protect stranded female motorists. The changes could’ve saved Graham’s life. Her case nonetheless went cold and she’s been missing ever since.
17 years later a mysterious ad in the Los Angeles Times classifieds that read “DEAREST ROBIN You ran out of gas on the Hollywood Frwy. A man in a Corvette pulled over to help. You’ve not been seen of since. It’s been 17 years, but it’s always just yesterday. Still looking for you (signed) THE ECHO PARK DUCKS.”
4. Peter Jonathan Winston, 1978
At 19, Peter Jonathan Winston had a promising career as a chess player before he disappeared. At age 14, he shared first prize in the 1974 U.S. Junior Chess Championship and had a FIDE chess rating of 2220.
Winston entered a chess tournament in New York City in late 1977. Despite being one of the highest-rated chess players in the tournament, Winston lost all nine games in a row, shocking his colleagues. People close to Winston said that his mental health began to deteriorate at this time. He entered another tournament a few months later only to lose out again.
After the latest string of defeats, Winston vanished. According to sources, the young man left his home in the middle of a January snowstorm without any money, luggage, or ID. Despite leaving home in densely populated New York City, he was never seen or heard from again. Even today, the chess prodigy’s disappearance is still shrouded in mystery.
3. Frederick Valentich, 1978
There are many rumors surrounding the story of Frederick Valentich, an Australian pilot who disappeared while on a 125 nautical mile flight in a Cessna single-engine plane. Some could describe Valentich as “unpredictable.” He was rejected by the Australian Air Force for not following standard operating procedures and was also an ardent believer in UFOs. In fact, it was one of the last things he reported before he went missing.
Before he disappeared Valentich reported to Melbourne traffic control that he was being followed by an unknown object following him 1,000 feet from above. According to reports Valentich described the aircraft as circular with green lights and said that it was “toying with him.” Valentich also reported that he was experiencing engine problems. When asked to identify the aircraft he said “It’s not an aircraft,” before losing all contact. The traffic controller then heard static and metallic scraping over the radio. He was never heard or seen of again.
Though it can be easy to dispel Valentich as a UFO crank it is worth noting that there were other unrelated reports of UFOs in the area on the night of his disappearance. Some say he was abducted by aliens while others believe he staged his own disappearance or perhaps became disoriented in flight. Either way, no wreckage of his craft was ever discovered.
2. 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.
1. Fort Worth Missing Trio, 1974
There is something especially sad about the Fort Worth Missing Trio; a group of young girls who went missing just before Christmas Eve, 1974. Mary Rachel Trlica (17), Lisa Renee Wilson (14), Julie Ann Moseley (9), were bored and wanted to do some holiday shopping. Moseley, the youngest begged her mother to join, who finally relented. A mistake that she regretted for the rest of her life.
“I remember that Julie called and wanted to go to Seminary South Mall. I said, ‘No. You don’t have any money. You just stay home.’ But she [Julie] kept whining about how she wouldn’t have anybody to play with. … I finally gave in, but I told her to be home by six,” Moseley’s mother Rayanne said.
It would be the last time she would see her young daughter.
Originally the girls planned to get back by 4 pm just in time for a Christmas party, but when they never returned home the parents became worried. The families discovered the girls’ car, a 1972 Oldsmobile 98 parked in the Sears upper-level parking garage. The girls’ presents could be seen in the backseat, but there were no signs of any of them.
An investigation began immediately, with police suggesting the girls were runaways which the parents refused to believe. Mary’s newly wedded husband, Tommy Trilica received a mysterious letter in the mail that seemed to have been written by his wife.
It said: “I know I’m going to catch it, but we had to get away. We’re going to Houston. See you in about a week. The car is in Sears’ upper lot. Love Rachel.”
The location of the vehicle in the letter was correct but there were many things off about it. For example, the letter itself was written in pencil while the envelope was addressed in ink pen. Mary, who went by her middle name Rachel, also seemed to have misspelled her own name and referred to her husband as “Thomas” instead of the usual “Tommy.” Handwriting experts from the FBI have turned up inconclusive results.
Fed up with the results of the police investigation, the family of the victims hired a private investigator named Jon Swaim. In April 1975, Swaim led 100 volunteers to comb under bridges in the Port Lavaca area. They found no signs of the girls but a year later three skeletons were found in a field by oil drillers. Swaim had the remains analyzed which revealed that the bones belonged to a teenage boy and two girls. Dental records concluded that the two girls were not the Fort Worth Missing Trio.
Swaim continued his work on the case until he died of an apparent overdose in 1979; his death was strangely ruled as suicide. Even more bizarre, in the event of his death, Swaim ordered all his files on the specific case to be destroyed. The trail went cold once again with his death. Though the case has changed hands many times there have been no new leads in the still open mystery of the Forth Worth Missing Trio.