Mysterious Disappearances and Deaths: Four Unexplained Vanishings
Vanishings, Murders, and Unexplained Disappearances That Shocked the World
Photo by Paul Gilmore on Unsplash
Try as they might, they still can’t explain what happened
The Ghost Murderer of Hinterkaifeck
On the night of March 31, 1922, six people were killed in the small German farmstead of Hinterkaifeck. True, they didn’t disappear like some of the others in this article, but their murderer sure did. It was almost as if their deaths were caused by something supernatural, and there are hints that it was.
At the time, the murder was so shocking that the authorities changed the hamlet’s name, and you will no longer find Hinterkaifeck on the maps. The rumor was that the name was changed because the story attracted the ghoulish and unhinged, searching for clues to support their own occult versions of what really happened.
Hinterkaifeck was a remote place even in 1922, and it was so little visited that the dead bodies weren’t discovered until four days later.
We do know that the murder weapon was a pickaxe, though that was not found until the next year when it was discovered hidden in the attic, still stained with blood.
The murderer was never found.
The victims were all members of the same farming family — Andreas and Cazilia Gruber, Viktoria Gabriel, their widowed daughter, who was living with them, and Viktoria’s two children Cazilia and Josef.
Possibly irrelevant, Josef was said to be the product of an incestuous relationship between Viktoria and her father, Andreas.
The murderer also hacked down the maid Maria Baumgartner, who, by sheer bad luck, arrived at the farm just hours before the incident.
Interestingly, the previous maid had left the farm a few months before, claiming it was haunted.
Though the family was comfortably-off and respectable, they were not well-liked in the community. Andreas was said to be “a brutish, sullen loner”. It’s said that Andreas argued with his wife the night before the murder, and she had rushed off into the night, saying she would kill herself. The family went out searching for her and after many hours found her — remember, there was snow on the ground, so she must have been freezing.
From what evidence remained it seemed that the older couple, and then their daughter and grand-daughter, were lured into the barn one by one where they were killed with a pickaxe. Viktoria was the first to die; she was strangled as well as having her head staved in.
The murderer then crept into the farmhouse where he killed the two-year-old child and the maid where they slept. The younger girl, Cazilia aged 7, did not die immediately but lay next to the corpses of her family. When the police found her, the little girl had torn out her hair in horror.
This is where it gets weird: The authorities beheaded the corpses for some unexplained reason, and the skulls were sent to Munich to be examined by psychics — yes psychics! No record remains now of what the psychics discovered. It’s also worth noting that beheading was the traditional method in country districts of stopping the dead rising as vampires.
The police also found the family dog cowering in the barn, terrified and hurt, but at least the dog survived.
The crime wasn’t discovered for four days, and the alarm was eventually raised when the children did not go to school, and the postman noticed that the mail from the previous Saturday had not been moved from where he left it.
But someone had stayed on the farm in the four days following the murders, with the corpses lying around. The cattle had been fed, and smoke was seen rising from the chimney by neighbors.
A large amount of money was found in the farmhouse, so robbery was not the motive.
So what was the motive?
No convincing, rational explanation has been found. But, just a few days before the murder, Andreas Gruber said that he had found footprints in the snow. He called these the “Devil’s Footprints”.
Andreas said they led out of the forest towards the farm, but he could find none leading back. He said he heard footsteps from the attic and that he saw a newspaper in the house that neither he nor his family had bought.
Viktoria had also spoken about hearing inexplicable noises in the house.
But whoever, or whatever, killed the family simply vanished.
You can read Jenny Ashford’s exploration of the murders here.
On January 25, 1959, a group of ten Russian students from the Ural Polytechnic Institute arrived at the remote town of Ivdel in Siberia. They planned an expedition across the Siberian waste in commemoration of the 21st Congress of the Soviet Communist Party. They knew the conditions were going to be harsh, but they were well-equipped and experienced hikers. Later on January 25, the students took a truck to the last inhabited hamlet before entering the snowy wastes, stocked up on food, and prepared for their trek.
They never came back.
Rescuers found diaries and cameras at the students’ last campsite, and these allowed investigators to piece together some, but crucially not all, of the story of what happened to them.
One of the nine backed out before the fatal last few days, but the others all died.
We know that on January 31st, they made camp and prepared to climb the mountains before them. They climbed the Dyatlov Pass and apparently hoped to get over it and camp on the other side, but the weather worsened, and snowstorms drove them west, off their planned route. It appears they realized they had gone wrong and decided to camp there and then on the mountain. That was February 2nd, and nothing more was ever heard from them.
By February 20th, families were demanding a rescue party be sent and, eventually, on February 26th, their tent was found on the mountainside. When rescuers got to the tent, what they found baffled them.
The tent was battered and covered in snow, but as the search party approached, they saw it billowing open and had been cut open from the insidewith a sharp blade.
The students were missing from the campsite, but bizarrely they had left all their possessions behind them, including nearly all of their shoes. The rescue party found nine sets of footprints in the snow, and these prints showed people walking barefoot, or with one shoe only.
The search party followed the footprints and discovered the bodies one by one. The first two bodies were at a forest’s edge, shoeless and dressed only in their underwear. It seems they had built a small fire. A nearby tree had broken branches as if one of them had climbed up it.
Three more bodies were found scattered between the tent and the forest. None of them were together.
It took four months to find the corpses of the four remaining students. Finally, they were discovered buried under snow in a ravine and were wearing the clothes of the ones who died first, not their own clothes.
One of the dead had a major skull injury, and another two had significant trauma to their chests. Forensic examiners said that the force needed to inflict such wounds was comparable to that in a high-speed traffic collision.
Of the four found in the ravine, all had soft-tissue damage to the face and head. One girl was missing her tongue, eyes, part of the lips as well as a fragment of her skull. One of the men was missing his eyeballs and another his eyebrows.
There were no footprints visible other than the student groups’ and those shoeless. There was no sign of other humans, of fighting and no marks of predators.
Forensic examiners ruled out that another human being could have caused the traumatic injuries.
After the initial inquiry, the Soviet investigation was stopped and reports filed in a secret archive. No details were released about the condition of the students’ internal organs.
From the students’ cameras found around the tent, several photographs of the party were recovered, and these photographs showed the students happy and in good health.
Interestingly, at the time the students went missing, there was another expedition in the area, about thirty miles south. This group reported seeing strange orange spheres in the sky on the night the students were killed. In the town the students set out from, Ivdel, there were reports of similar glowing spheres in the sky from February to March 1959.
There are many mysteries in this case. The injuries and the evidence were odd: why go out of your tent in the freezing snow with no shoes? What major force, if not an animal, not a human, nor a vehicle, caused the skeletal injuries? What or who took lips, eyebrows, and eyeballs? And why were no details released on the state of the internal organs?
The Soviet Union tidied the case away by claiming an avalanche was the cause of death of them all. See Reuter’s article here, and you can read an in-depth account in Donnie Eicher’s best-selling book here.
The Mary Celeste
On December 4, 1872, an American merchant ship — a sailing-ship of the type known as a brigantine, was discovered adrift in the Atlantic Ocean just off the Azores, a group of islands belonging to Portugal.
The Mary Celeste was sea-worthy, with no apparent reason why the crew should have abandoned her, but there was no one on board. The last log entry was from ten days prior to the discovery of her drifting.
The Mary Celeste is probably the most famous case of mysterious vanishings and has been linked to the Bermuda Triangle phenomenon. The Bermuda Triangle is said to be a large area of sea around Bermuda where weird things happen, and people vanish. Importantly, the Mary Celeste doesn’t seem to have passed through this triangle.
Ruling out obvious causes for the abandonment like theft or piracy, we note that the Mary Celeste’s cargo of methylated spirits was intact. The Mary Celeste had set off from New York bound for Genoa, Italy. There was no evidence that this was an attempt at fraud and the crew was never seen again, and certainly didn’t benefit financially.
The Captain of the Mary Celeste on her last journey was Benjamin Briggs and experienced sea-captain who came from an ocean-going family. He was a mild, Christian man. He was very successful and had no apparent reason to try and defraud or trick anyone. His best interests were served by delivering his cargo promptly to Genoa and picking up another one to take back to the USA, or wherever would pay best.
Before setting off, Briggs wrote to his mother that the Mary Celeste was in good order and he was anticipating a peaceful and prosperous journey across the Atlantic.
A Canadian vessel called the Dei Gratia found the Mary Celeste off the Azores. They saw her adrift and that her rigging was poorly set with ropes trailing as if her crew had neglected the sails. The main hatch was secure, but two other hatches from below were lying open, and water had got in.
The compass glass was broken. When the Dei Gratia crew went below, they found everyone missing, no signs of violence, and no reason why the ship should have been abandoned. The small lifeboat was gone, and no trace of it was ever found.
Also missing were the Captain’s navigational equipment and most of the ship’s papers.
Later investigations found strange cuts on the bow of the Mary Celeste and traces of blood on Captain Briggs’s sword. There was no clear explanation of what had caused the cuts, and they did not resemble marks caused by a collision.
In a report in the Los Angeles Times from 1883, it was reported that the Dei Gratia crew found every sail set, a fire burning in the galley, the dinner set out untasted and hardly cold, and the log written within an hour of the Dei Gratia finding her. These details were not correct, showing that fake news to sell stories has a long history.
In 1904, one newspaper proposed the Mary Celeste was attacked by a giant squid, causing the crew to flee for their lives!
Whatever happened, there is no clear explanation of why Briggs and his skilled crew abandoned a seaworthy ship full of provisions, easily able to continue its journey to Italy. Neither were any of the crew seen or heard from again.
Read more in the account by Valerie Martin here.
Photo by Leonie Krickhuhn on Unsplash
Orion Williamson was a farmer from Selma, Alabama. On a sunny, warm day in July 1854, he went for a walk across his own farmland to bring home the animals and vanished, never to be seen again. He simply flicked out of existence while his wife and son watched.
As well as his own family, his neighbors Armour Wren and James Wren were passing by along the track in a horse and cart. They raised a hand in greeting and as Williamson waved back, he vanished. The Wrens were so amazed that they jumped off their buggy and sprinted to where Williamson had vanished, only to find nothing. Not even his hat.
They called a search party, and three hundred local folk gathered and formed a line to comb the field, an arm’s length apart so no inch would be missed. They even looked to see if there were any sinkholes he could have fallen into but found nothing. Apparently a geologist was called, but still no explanation: zilch.
The searchers brought in bloodhounds that night, but even these dogs, famous for being able to track the smallest trace of a man’s scent, failed to find Orion Williamson. He was gone.
Later, his widow claimed to hear echoes of Orion calling. She would search around the spot and hear his voice but never could find him. Eventually, his voice grew weaker and weaker until it too vanished forever.
You can read more about this case here.
A very important point in this case is the involvement of Ambrose Bierce. Now, Bierce was a controversial author and journalist, and he liked to stir people up.
Bierce claims he consulted a German scientist about the case. This man was Dr. Maximilian Hern of Leipzig who wrote a book called Verschwinden, und Seine Theorie, (A Theory of Disappearance) which somehow sounds more convincing in German. Remember, at this time, all the prominent scientific research and all the psychological theories were coming out in German. Bierce’s report on the case is written in a very measured and ostensibly scientific and rational manner and can be read in his Ghost and Horror Stories collection.
According to Bierce, Dr. Maximilian Hern spoke of specific spots on earth where there were vacua or vacancies that could swallow up people and things. Furthermore, Dr. Hern apparently believed it was the existence of such vacuathat was the explanation of all the mysterious, sudden vanishings throughout history. According to Hern, people simply fall into the spaces between the worlds — fall in and are trapped, never to get out.
But here is where the mystery ends because Ambrose Bierce simply made the whole thing up. There was no Orion Williamson, and there was no Dr. Maximilian Hern, and there is no book by the good Dr. Hern in English or German. Despite that, there are articles all over the Internet treating the Orion Williamson case as if it were fact.
However, there might be vacua lying around, so my advice is to watch where you step, particularly on sunny days in July in Alabama.
PS: Bierce himself vanished fifty years later when he set off to Mexico and was never heard of again. Ironic, huh?