Legends of mysterious mass disappearances have cropped up all across the globe. Without a doubt, the most famous incident in North American history is the unknown fate of the citizens of Roanoke Colony, who were last seen alive in 1587, but an even more inexplicable case concerns the whereabouts of the over 30 men, women and children who allegedly vanished without a trace from an Inuit fishing village in the first half of the 20th Century.
The trout and pike filled estuary known as Anjikuni Lake (also spelled Angikuni) is located along the Kazan River in the remote Kivalliq Region of Nunavut, Canada. The out-of-the-way area is rich with legends of malicious wood spirits and beasts like the Wendigo, but as fascinating as these oft told tales are, there is none more intriguing than the terrifying and controversial mystery surrounding the collective vanishing of the villagers who once lived on the stony coast of Anjikuni’s frigid waters.
Our tale begins on an arctic evening back in November of 1930. A Canadian fur trapper by the name of Joe Labelle was seeking respite from the bitter cold and a warm place to bunk down for the night when he tromped into an Inuit village that was nestled on the rocky shores of Canada’s Lake Anjikuni.
Labelle had visited the area before and knew it to be a bustling fishing village full of tents, rough hewn huts and friendly locals, but when he shouted a greeting the only sound that returned to him was that of his own echo and his snowshoes crunching through the icy frost.
Labelle could see the ramshackle structures that were silhouetted under the full moon, but he saw no bustling people nor barking sled dogs nor any other signs of life.
Even within the huts, the expected sounds of laughter and conversation were replaced by a deathly silence. Labelle also noted with a chill that not a single chimney had smoke coming out of it. That was when he spied a fire crackling in the distance.
Labelle, trying his best to remain calm, picked up his pace and headed toward the glowing embers of the dying fire in the distance, eager to find some trace of humanity. When the trapper arrived at the flames he was greeted not by a friendly face, but a charred stew that had bafflingly been left to blacken above the embers.
The veteran tracker -- having spent so much of his life skulking around shadowy and inaccessible forests -- was likely not easily spooked, but it’s difficult to imagine that he was not bathed in a cold sweat as he walked past the derelict, wave battered kayaks into the heart of the ghost village, wondering what had happened to its inhabitants.
Labelle methodically pulled back the caribou skin flaps and checked all of the shacks hoping to find telltale signs of a mass exodus, but, much to his chagrin, he discovered that all of the huts were stocked with the kinds of foodstuff and weapons that would never have been abandoned by their owners. In one shelter he found a pot of stewed caribou that had grown moldy and a child’s half-mended sealskin coat that lay discarded on a bunk with a bone needle still embedded in it as if someone had deserted their effort in mid-stitch.
He even inspected the fish storehouse and noticed that its supplies had not been depleted. Nowhere were there any signs of a struggle or pandemonium and Labelle knew all too well that deserting a perfectly habitable community without rifles, food or parkas would be utterly unthinkable, no matter what the circumstances might have been to force the tribe to spontaneously migrate.
Labelle then scanned the borders of the village in the hopes of ascertaining what direction the Inuits travelled in. Even though the villagers’ exit seemed to have been relatively recent, and hasty enough to leave food on the flames, he could find no trace of their flight no matter how hard he searched.
Cold and fatigued as he was, Labelle was simply too terrified to linger in this enigmatically vacant village. Although it meant he had to forgo the comforts of food, warmth and shelter, the trapper considered the risk of remaining to be too great and decided to make haste through the sub-zero temperatures to a telegraph office located many miles away, lest the same nefarious -- and, in Labelle‘s estimation, unmistakably supernatural -- force that claimed the villagers descend upon him.
The exhausted and frostbit Labelle finally staggered into the telegraph office and within minutes an emergency message was fired off to the closest Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) barracks. By the time the Mounties arrived, several hours later, Labelle had calmed himself enough to relate his disturbing tale.
According to 1984’s "The World’s Greatest UFO Mysteries" by Roger Boar and Nigel Blundell, on their way to Anjikuni Lake the Mounties stopped for a bit of rest at a shanty that was shared by trapper Armand Laurent and his two sons. The officers explained to their hosts that they were headed to Anjikuni to deal with: “a kind of problem.”
The Mounties inquired as to whether or not the Laurents had seen anything unusual during the past few days, and the trapper was forced to concede that he and his sons has spied a bizarre gleaming object soaring across the sky just a few days before. Laurent claimed that the enormous, illuminated flying “thing” seemed to changed shape before their very eyes, transforming from a cylinder into a bullet-like object. He further divulged that this unusual object was flying in the direction of the village at Anjikuni.
Once they arrived at the scene, the Mounties were not only able to confirm Labelle’s testimony regarding the state of this now desolate village, but -- according to some sources -- they made an additional, even more arcane, discovery on the outskirts of the community.
Various accounts verify that the officers conducting the search were alarmed when they stumbled across a plethora of open graves in the village burial ground. In fact -- if some of the more outrageous statements are to be believed -- every single tomb had been opened and, even more puzzlingly, emptied.
There are also less dramatic, though no less baffling, reports that state that it was just a single tomb that was violated. Either way, it is a sever taboo for an Inuit grave to be desecrated, so why were these bodies or body moved?
To add an extra pinch of “weird” to the proceedings, witnesses claimed that the earth around the grave was frozen: “as hard as rock.” These reports also suggest that the marker stones had been stacked in two, neat piles on either side of the graves, confirming that this was not the work of animals.
Needless to say the Mounties at the scene were perturbed by these discoveries and a substantial search party was organized posthaste. During the search no additional clues as to the villagers’ whereabouts were turned up, but another grisly discovery was purportedly made.
According to reports, no less than 7 (though some say 2 or 3) sled dog carcasses were discovered about 300-feet away from the edge of the village. According to Canadian pathologists, these unfortunate canines all apparently died of starvation, whereupon they were covered by snow drifts, which buried them nearly 12-feet deep.
How these animals managed to starve when they were surrounded by huts full of food is yet another unexplained piece of this enigmatic puzzle. There is a single account which claims that the ill-fated animals were tied to “scrubby trees,” which would explain their inability to scavenge for food, but this does not resolve the issue of why they succumbed so quickly. Logic seems to dictate that they certainly would not have had time to starve to death between the moment of this collective vanishing and the arrival of Labelle, who reportedly found food still burning over dying embers.
This begs the question: did the villagers allow their own dogs to go hungry intentionally before they slipped into the ether? These invaluable dogs whose very existence was essential to the villagers’ own survival -- if so, then why? If not, then what happened?
As if this tale weren’t strange enough, the officers at the scene supposedly reported odd, bluish lights pulsating on the horizon above the village. The men watched until the illumination disappeared, all of them concurring that this unusual light show did not resemble the aurora borealis.
After two weeks of investigation, the Mounties -- based on some berries they found in one of the cooking pots --came to the somewhat dubious conclusion that the villagers had been gone for at least two months. This presents yet another question; if the Inuits really had abandoned their homes eight weeks before, then who was responsible for making the fire that Labelle saw when he first arrived at the village?
Fact and folklore have a notorious habit of interbreeding when bizarre events such as the one that transpired at Lake Anjikuni occur, nevertheless the first official account of the missing village is alleged to have been printed on November, 28th, 1930, when special correspondent, Emmett E. Kelleher, published a report of the events in the Canadian newspaper “Le Pas, Manitoba.”
As there were no available images of the Anjikuni settlement, this article -- as was standard procedure at the time -- was accompanied by a stock photo of a deserted Cree tent encampment taken in 1909, this has led some to discount the whole event.
While most say that Le Pas, Manitoba was the first to the punch, there are others who insist that the initial report was actually published a day earlier by the “Danville Bee.” Regardless of who got the scoop first, it’s the opinion of most researchers that the account that caught the public’s interest the most was printed in the November 29th, 1930 edition of the “Halifax Herald” below the undeniably sensationalistic headline: "Tribe Lost in Barrens of North -- Village of Dead Found by Wandering Trapper, Joe Labelle."
Labelle did not mince words when he described his harrowing discovery to reporters:
"I felt immediately that something was wrong... In view of half cooked dishes, I knew they had been disturbed during the preparation of dinner. In every cabin, I found a rifle leaning beside the door and no Eskimo goes nowhere without his gun... I understood that something terrible had happened."
Of course, it wasn’t long before the Newspaper Enterprise Association wire service was feeding this astonishing story to its papers, and readers all over North America were given a first hand account of what would, arguably, be the greatest unsolved mystery ever investigated by the RCMP.
After a brief media blitz, this bizarre event was filed away under a heap of unsolved cases until 1959, when journalist and author, Frank Edwards, dug up the tale and included it in his tome “Stranger than Science.” While Edwards did not shy away from the unusual, he was not prone to over sensationalism and there are no accounts of this reporter ever outright fabricating a tale, yet that is just what the RCMP accused him of on the webpage that they’ve dedicated to this mysterious case.
According to RCMP, Edwards manufactured the whole affair for his book and that no such event ever occurred. As printed on the RCMP website:
“The story about the disappearance in the 1930's of an Inuit village near Lake Angikuni is not true. An American author by the name of Frank Edwards is purported to have started this story in his book Stranger than Science. It has become a popular piece of journalism, repeatedly published and referred to in books and magazines. There is no evidence however to support such a story. A village with such a large population would not have existed in such a remote area of the Northwest Territories (62 degrees north and 100 degrees west, about 100 km west of Eskimo Point). Furthermore, the Mounted Police who patrolled the area recorded no untoward events of any kind and neither did local trappers or missionaries.”
I’ll be the first to admit that there’s a distinct possibility that the case of the missing Anjikuni Inuits is little more than an infectious fable. There can be little doubt that the alleged missing persons count offered in many reports -- including "The World’s Greatest UFO Mysteries" by Boar and Blundell, which put the figure at a ludicrously whopping 2,000 -- have been massively exaggerated, but it seems as if the RCMP’s stance is a little dismissive, not to mention simply incorrect.
To begin with, as mentioned above, the first known accounts of this event were not published after Edwards’ 1959 book, but in the same year that this unexplained event was said to have occurred. This means that there is no way he could have concocted this legend. Also there are records of at least two separate investigations into the subject by members of the RCMP.
The first investigation -- following the Mounties who responded to Labelle's initial report -- was launched on January 17, 1931, just months after the event in question. The man in charge of the case was an inquisitive RCMP officer named Sergeant J. Nelson, who was stationed with the Le Pas detachment.
Nelson became intrigued by the unusual reports hailing from the region and decided to make what he qualified as: “diligent enquiries from different sources," but it is unclear as to whether or not his investigation was sanctioned by the RCMP. Nelson would go on to declare that he could: "find no foundations for this story."
According to information gleaned by Chris Rutkowski and Geoff Dittman for their book "The Canadian UFO Report: The Best Cases Revealed," Nelson's assumptions were based on a single conversation he had with the unnamed owner of the Windy Lakes trading post who told him that he had not heard about the deserted village from any of the trappers that came through his store.
The gossipy store owner even went so far as to say that he had heard that Labelle originally hailed from the south of the Northwestern Territory and had likely never been with 100-miles of Lake Angikuni. According to Nelson:
“Joe Labelle, the trapper who is alleged to have related the story to Emmett E. Kelleher, the correspondent, is considered to be a newcomer to this country... and doubts are expressed as to whether he has ever been in the territories.”
Nelson further attempted to shore up the veracity his version of events by casting aspersions upon the journalistic integrity of Kelleher, stating that he had a “habit of writing colorful stories of the North and very little credence can be given to his articles." That being noted, he did admit to not having interviewed the reporter, but claimed that he intended to do as soon as the opportunity allowed.
Again it is uncertain if he ever actually spoke to Labelle or if he even bothered to travel to Angikuni Lake to investigate the site for himself. One must assume that the state of the village had not changed much in the less than 2 months since Labelle stumbled out of there in a panic. Despite the fact that Nelson seemed only to be reporting hearsay, he would terminate his inquiry by stating that:
“The case for the vanished village rests upon the story of an inexperienced trapper told to an imaginative and not too conscientious newsman.”
It goes without saying that skeptics hail this as the final word regarding this event, but (with all due respect to Officer Nelson) one has to wonder how in depth his investigation actually went. It seems as if he was a skeptic right out the gate and never had any intention of actually digging for the truth. It also bears mentioning that just because he never spoke to anyone who could confirm the event with their own eyes does not constitute proof of non-existence.
None of this, of course, proves or disproves the cases’ veracity, but one need maintain a skeptical eye towards both those who support unconventional theories as well as those who strive to debunk them out of hand. Sadly, it seems that any Tom, Dick or Harry who claims hoax is given instant credibility in the media while those who are courageous enough to look at the evidence in an unbiased light are dismissed as gullible or worse.
In the November, 1976 edition of Fate Magazine; this mystery was dusted off in an article titled: “Vanished Village Revisited" by Dwight Whalens. The article confirmed that there were records showing that the RCMP had investigated the case again in 1931.
These Mounties did admit to discovering an uninhabited settlement, but they deemed it to be either a seasonal or permanent abandonment of the site with no mysterious overtones and (perhaps conveniently) declared the case closed. While it’s known that many Inuit tribes were still semi-nomadic in the 1930s, they would never have deserted their homes -- be it temporarily or permanently -- in the dead of winter without their prized rifles and essential provisions.
When one considers all of the ramifications of this case it is difficult to blame law enforcement officials for wanting the whole Anjikuni debacle to disappear. The RCMP’s inaccurate disclaimer is an obvious attempt to distance their organization from an enigmatic cold case that does not necessarily reflect highly on the RCMP and, more significantly, is over 70-years old.
Even if there are members of the RCMP interested in this case, the trail has long since gone cold and it is doubtful that they could convinced any of their superiors to dedicate either the time or the limited resources they have to such a futile effort.
Okay, so if we grant that at least 30 folks went missing on that fateful day then the big question is…
Now all we are left with is the colossal conundrum of whom or what was actually responsible for the shocking disappearance of these individuals back in 1930. This has always been the biggest point of contention between those who believe that the Anjikuni tribe mysteriously vanished.
It’s difficult to imagine what sort of force could compel a seasoned tribe of Inuits to leave the safety of their homes without taking the tools, food, weapons and dogs necessary for their survival in the harsh climate of the tundra. The fact that there were no signs of a struggle and no indications of violence only compounds this already inexplicable mystery.
If the Inuits of Anjikuni were murdered or taken by force then surely there would have been some indication of the mêlée left behind. This combined with the fact that experienced trackers could find no indication of the path they took in leaving their village has left researchers stumped for decades.
So if we can’t find a logical explanation, then we’re forced to start looking outside the proverbial box. Along these lines comes the first -- and in many ways the most popular -- theory, and that is that the villagers were the victims of…
In the latter half of the 20th Century, numerous ufologists speculated that the residents of this remote Canadian village might well have been the unsuspecting victims of one of the largest mass alien abductions in history. This hypothesis is based in no small part on the Laurents’ observation of the cylindrical, bullet-shaped object hurtling toward Anjikuni, as well as the bizarre blue lights seen by the Mounties in the night sky above the village.
While the evidence supporting this theory is circumstantial at best, the thought is intriguing… as well as utterly horrifying. One must admit that just contemplating the notion of extraterrestrials swooping down and absconding away with the entire population of a village is the stuff from which nightmares are forged.
On one hand this would explain how every living soul in the village managed to evaporate without a trace -- apparently while engaged in daily chores -- without so much as a footprint to show for it. On the other hand, we might be giving our celestial comrades a bad rap by pinning this on them with only one strange object and some vague lights as proof.
Okay, so if we rule out aliens then we have to deal with an even more disturbing hypothesis which puts forth the idea that the Angikuni fell prey to a…
The demonic entity that Labelle referred to appears to be a misspelling of “Torngarsuk” -- also known as: “Torngasak, Tornatik, Torngasoak, Tungrangayak and Tor-nar-suk” -- who, according to Inuit legend, is a powerful sky deity who is the leader of a legion of malevolent spirits. It’s worth noting that Labelle, a supposed stranger to the region, was apparently familiar enough with its indigenous people and their customs to mention one of their most maleficent entities by name.
Said to be invisible to all but Inuit shamans -- who were known to recite incantations and make animal sacrifices in order to keep this so-called “great devil” at bay -- this malicious being was said to occasionally appear in animal form, such as that of a bear. Could it be that the Angikuni natives came to believe that one or more of their precious sled dogs were actually incarnations of this beast? Is this why they were left to starve? The premise is thin, but cannot entirely be discounted.
Barring demons, there is the possibility that we might be dealing with another supernatural creature such as…
I’ll admit that this is not one of my own personal theories, and, frankly, not my favorite. In fact, this wild speculation likely stems from one too many readings of Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith’s wonderfully creepy “30 Days of Night.”
Still, when exposed to the kind of prolonged darkness that occurs when living in the land of the Midnight Sun, who knows what kind of insidious beasts one may fall prey to? Nevertheless, the distinct lack of blood or any other signs of struggle at the scene of the “crime” would seem to counter indicate this suggestion.
So if we’re not dealing with aliens, forest demons or modern vampires ravaging the village with their unholy rage, then we must consider the possibility that they simply slipped into…
Take the strange case of Orion Williamson -- a farmer from Selma, Alabama -- who was said to have vanished into thin air in front of his wife, son and two neighbors while strolling across his property in July of 1854. The entire community turned out to search for the farmer to no avail, but Williamson’s son swore he heard the ghostly cries of his father emanating from the field for weeks following his bizarre evaporation.
Then there’s the astonishing case of a shoemaker from Warwickshire, England, by the name of James Burne Worson. Worson’s penchant for bragging about his long distance running abilities had finally worn down the patience of his drinking buddies -- Hamerson Burns and Barham Wise -- who challenged their mate to run the 40-mile distance from Leamington to Coventry. Worson accepted the bet and within the hour the trio were on their way with Worson jogging and Burns and Wise following close behind in horse-drawn cart.
The incredibly fit Worson seemed to be enjoying himself, running at a solid pace and joking with his buddies, until he tripped just 20-feet ahead of his friends. Burns and Wise watched in abject horror as their friend fell forward with “an awful cry of terror,” then vanished before their very eyes. As in the Williamson case, the search for their missing cohort proved fruitless.
I could go on and on with cases like the one above, but you get the point. Suffice it to say there is a genuine precedent for unexplained disappearances... one that even eyewitnesses are at a loss to explain.
It should be clear to anyone who reads my articles that I’m a fan of campfire stories. I love the chills and thrills and the mysteries that surround these ostensibly “true” legends, but I also have an incredulous side and I realize that a lot of the information in this case is difficult, if not impossible, to substantiate.
It seems clear that a lot of the specifics surrounding these events have become twisted and exaggerated with each retelling over the past 7 decades, resulting in a strange jambalaya of fact and fiction.
Nevertheless, as skeptical as I am about unconfirmed reports, I am just as skeptical about those who purport to debunk those same reports based on contrary evidence that is just as "sketchy" and scant as that upon which said legends are based. Still, if we trim down the mind-bogglingly huge number of 2,000 missing persons to just the original 30 souls that were said to have vanished, and scale back the scores of desecrated graves to just one missing corpse, what remains is still one of the most intriguing mysteries of modern times.
Whatever their fates may have been, the fact remains that sometime during November of 1930, approximately 30 men, woman and children -- who just a day before were working and playing, surrounded by loved ones and the comforts of home -- apparently abandoned their abodes and vanished from the face of the Earth.
Despite the vociferous protestations of debunkers worldwide this mystery is alive and well, and the while we may never find out whether or not these poor souls were murdered, transported to another world or simply slipped into the ether of a different dimension, we can collectively hope that wherever they are they wound up in a better place than here.