Throughout history there have been numerous cases of people who have simply ceased to exist, disappearing forever without explanation or resolution. This is certainly spooky enough when it is just one person, but it becomes decidedly more bizarre when large groups of people abruptly vanish to never be seen again. Indeed, some of the most baffling disappearances in history have to do with mass vanishings that seem to have swallowed up and wiped out hundreds or even thousands of souls, in some cases whole towns, all of which remain gone and with few clues of what became of them. They have apparently simply ceased to exist. What lies behind these tales and what forces may have been at work to make crowds of people totally blink out of existence? Here we will take a look at some of the more notable mysterious mass disappearances in history, in which a large number of people seem to have almost dissipated into thin air, and which have left profound mysteries and puzzles behind.

Perhaps one of the most well debated mass vanishings of all time comes to us from the cold expanses of the frigid north. Northern Canada is a harsh environment in which to eke out a living. Here in this cold land of eternal, relentlessly icy, biting winds, there was once an Inuit village perched upon the stony shores of the remote Lake Anjikuni. The settlement was a rather prosperous fishing village at the time, with a population of about 1,200 to 2,500 people, who toiled away in the gnawing cold to make a living out here on the outer fringes of civilization. It was here that a fur trapper named Joe Labelle came through snow and ice to seek refuge in November of 1930, after an arduous journey overland by snowshoe running trap lines. Labelle had apparently been to this village before, and often relied on the warm welcome and supplies he could expect to receive here, yet this was not to be a typical visit.


Upon reaching the village, Labelle found no one there to welcome his arrival, as was usually the case. Finding this rather odd already, he was soon overcome by the sheer, almost deafening  silence that emanated from the normally bustling village as he stood there in the cold, buffeted by wind and a glaring void of any other sound. None of the activity he had come to expect from this normally booming fishing town was anywhere to be seen, and his shouts out into the still village were answered with the howling of wind. Labelle cautiously made his way into the village and it was not long before more eerie discoveries were made in the frigid, deathly silence. He passed a group of emaciated sled dogs dead in the snow, frozen solid and half buried in snowdrifts, seeming to have starved to death out in the bleakness. A peek into several of the snow caked shacks in which the villagers lived showed that personal items remained, as well as weapons such as rifles. There were also meals on tables and even pots that had been left cooking over fires, whose charred contents had since gone cold save for a few that hung over some still smoldering embers. Everything remained undisturbed and just as it had been left, and there was no sign of any struggle or anything out of the ordinary except the fact that there was not a soul to be seen anywhere. For all appearances it seemed as if someone should have been coming back at any moment, but no one did. It seemed that every single inhabitant of the village had simply vanished.

When Labelle left the ghostly silence behind and made his way back to civilization he immediately reported the situation to the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police), who launched an investigation into the matter. They would also find an abandoned village in which all of the huts and shacks had been left totally undisturbed and with all provisions and weapons left exactly where they were supposed to be. Even the storehouses had remained untouched, their contents sitting silently in the frigid, silent cold. The authorities also found the dead sled dogs tied to a tree and frozen into the landscape, and they made the further chilling discovery of sacred graves that had apparently been emptied, their contents nowhere to be seen. Indeed, there were no signs of tracks or footprints in the snow and no indication of where everyone could have possibly gone. In the November 23, 1930 edition of the Toronto Daily Star, it is explained that The RCMP would return to confirm what Labelle had claimed, that the entire village had just spontaneously disappeared, apparently with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Eerily, it was later alleged that other nearby villagers reported to the police that there had been numerous sightings of strange lights in the skies over the abandoned village in the days leading up to Labelle’s unsettling discovery, although this is very likely a spooky element to the story added later to give it another dimension of bizarreness.


The story of the vanishing Inuit village of Lake Anjikuni has achieved legendary status in the world of the unexplained, in particular cases involving strange disappearances. The problem is that it is uncertain just how much of the tale actually really happened and how much has been embellished or even flat out fabricated over time. It seems that there is very little truly reliable evidence or information which can shed light on just how much of this bizarre story is actually true. In the absence of any new developments and with little concrete information to go on, the vanishing village of Lake Anjikuni will likely always remain just a scary story surrounded by questions which we will likely never know the answers to.

The village of Lake Anijikuni is certainly not the only settlement that has gone mysteriously missing. Indeed, one of the most well known baffling vanishings in history is the strange case of the lost colony of Roanoke Island. In 1587, the first permanent English colony of the New World was established on the island of Roanoke, an eight mile (12 km) long, two mile (3 km) wide sliver of land lying within a chain of barrier islands called the Outer Banks, off the coast of the U.S. state of North Carolina. Around 120 settlers including men, women, and children braved hardship and a long sea journey to start a new life here, led by a John White, whose own granddaughter, Virginia Dare, was to be the first English person born on the continent of North America.


Life in the new colony was hard, and the settlers faced severe, unforgiving weather and a lack of supplies, as well as a rocky relationship with the native tribes of the area due to confrontations with an earlier failed settlement here in 1584 which had ended in violence. Things eventually got to the point where White was forced to return to England to load up on various things the colony desperately needed. As he said his goodbyes to friends and loved ones who would stay behind and sailed out over the horizon, White did not think that it would be long before he was back with his colony and family. The original plan was to return to the Roanoke colony within 3 months with the needed supplies, but there were some unforeseen obstacles. England’s war with Spain had created a situation in which every available ship was needed for the war effort, shipping had been banned due to the relentless attacks from the Spanish armada, and subsequently White’s own ship was confiscated. Rather than the 3 months originally intended, White wouldn’t return to Roanoke until August of 1590, around 3 years later than anticipated.

When White finally sailed into Roanoke, he was not greeted with the sight of the community and loved ones he had left. In fact, he was not greeted by anyone at all. When White disembarked with his men to search the village, he found that the settlement had been completely and utterly deserted. Homes had been orderly disassembled and removed, yet there was no trace of where all of the settlers had gone. It was as if the village had been erased from existence. A complete search of the area turned up only a few eerie clues; the word “Croatoan” hastily carved into a tree and the letters “CRO” carved into another tree. Other than that, there were no signs of a struggle or anything amiss other than the complete lack of any signs of life. They had simply vanished.


White surmised that the carved words meant that the settlers had relocated to an island to the south now known as Hatteras Island, which at the time was the home of a tribe of friendly natives known as the Croatoan. Indeed, before his departure 3 years earlier, he had instructed the settlers that if ever they were forced to leave the island, they were to carve the name of their destination into a tree along with a Maltese cross if there was danger involved in their movement, such as an attack from the hostile natives or a natural disaster. In both of the carvings found there was no cross, making it a mystery as to why they would have left in the first place. White had the full intention of making the journey to the Croatoan island, but he was besieged with foul weather and a bedraggled crew who were uncooperative almost to the point of mutiny. Vanquished by these obstacles, White had no choice but to return to England, never to come back and leaving the fate of the settlers, which included his own daughter and granddaughter, unresolved. It is a mystery that centuries later we are still not really much closer to solving.

There have been many theories as to what happened to the vanished “Lost Colony” of Roanoke Island. Some think that the settlers were attacked and killed by aggressive natives who did not take kindly to foreign settlers coming to invade their lands, and who had had violent confrontations with foreign settlers before. Others think that a mysterious disease killed off the colonists, which is an odd theory considering there was not a single body or grave to be found. Still other theories point to some violent cataclysm such as a hurricane, that they were attacked by maurading Spanish forces scouring the coast, or even that they tried to leave the New World to sail back to England, only to be swallowed into a watery grave by the sea. It is also quite possible that the settlers did indeed go to Hatteras Island to assimilate with the natives there, just as White had predicted. Over the ensuing centuries there have been occasional frustrating clues as to what happened to the colonists, but no answer has really ever congealed, and for all of the speculation we ultimately just don’t know. Until more concrete evidence becomes available, the mystery of Roanoke Island’s lost colony will perhaps forever elude us.


Another curious account of a disappearing settlement is that of the village of Hoer Verde in Brazil. On February 5, 1923, a group of visitors to this small hamlet of 600 people were amazed to discover that there was not a soul to be found anywhere in the town, and homes and other buildings had been abandoned in great haste, with personal belongings and food left behind as is. Authorities launched an investigation, but could find no sign of where any of the inhabitants had gone. The only clues left behind were a single gun that had been recently fired, and a message scrawled on a blackboard that read “There is no salvation.” Theories of what happened to the 600 vanished residents of Hoer Verde range from the plausible notion that they were forced to evacuate due to attacks from roving guerrillas or drug dealers, to the more far out idea that they were abducted by aliens, but there is unfortunately very little evidence to make any conclusions and the case of Brazil’s vanishing village remains a baffling conundrum.

Joining the ranks of bizarre mass disappearances are those of large amounts of soldiers that for reasons left unexplained have vanished without a trace. Perhaps the most well-known of these cases is that of the mysterious disappearance of the Roman Ninth Legion. Formed originally in around 65 BC, the Ninth Legion was the most ruthless and greatly feared fighting force in the Roman Empire’s military, consisting of around 5,000 of the Empire’s most skilled and highly trained fighting men, pulled from a variety of countries. By the 2nd century AD, the extremely well armed, highly trained army of the Ninth Legion had laid waste to enemies in far-flung locales as far and wide as Africa, Germania, Spain, the Balkans, and Britain, and were instrumental in maintaining Rome’s iron grip across its vast empire. Indeed in the 2nd century AD, the Ninth Legion was at the tip of the spear that Rome was trying to drive into an insurgence from untamed rampaging tribes of painted faced barbarians churning within Britain at the time. It was a conflict that would test Rome’s might, as it was suffering great losses here against barbarian hordes, and struggling to keep Britain under its control. In particular under the reign of emperor Hadrian (AD 117 - 138) the Romans were losing large numbers of soldiers to the bloody battlefields of Britain, and the whole engagement was so extremely worrying to leaders in Rome that they would even eventually erect a huge wall, called Hadrian’s Wall, to keep the enemy out.


It was into this horrific maelstrom of fighting and turmoil that the Ninth Legion marched in around 109 A.D., when they pushed forth into what is now known as Scotland to face an enemy that terrified most soldiers, with their primitive face paint streaked across fierce visages, attire of ragged bear and wolf skins over substantial bare flesh even in the middle of winter, fierce tattoos, booming war drums, and their mystical shamans howling prayers to ancient Celtic gods in the midst of battle. These barbarians were seen as a ruthless enemy the likes of which no one had ever seen before, yet the Ninth Legion bravely marched forth to engage and push them north. This vast force of heavily armored soldiers would go forth to engage, and would never be seen again; thousands of men gone without a trace, not a single one ever to be accounted for. The disappearance would go on to grip the public imagination with the publishing of such works as Rosemary Sutcliff’s 1954 book, The Eagle of the Ninth, which was an instant bestseller when released.

The mystery of the missing Roman Ninth Legion has become legend, and a baffling historical oddity that has never really seen a satisfactory answer. There are of course many theories as to what happened to the Roman Ninth Legion. One of the more plausible ones put forward by historians is that there was nothing mysterious going on at all, chalking it up to the legion merely slowly transferring to other battlefields in Britain or the Middle East or even disbanding altogether. The legends of Scotland like to portray a different scenario; that the well-equipped formidable Roman fighting force was whittled away by tenacious guerrilla attacks by the very under-equipped primitive forces they were trying to eradicate. Some rumors that leaked from the battlefield at the time suggested that a catastrophic battle had ensued between the Roman forces and the Celtic tribes, which had resulted in devastating repercussions. However, for all of the theories, there is little archeological evidence to settle the matter once and for all. All we know is that, for whatever reasons, Rome’s most exalted, feared fighting forced totally disappeared from the records, only to move on into the realm of mystery and legend.


The disappearance of the Roman Ninth Legion continues to capture the imagination. It has been covered in a wide variety of media from books, to TV, to film. Recently, two films devoted to exploring the conundrum were released practically back to back, with the 2010 film Centurion followed one year later by 2011’s The Eagle, both giving different takes on the disappearance. Yet for all of the theories, debate and speculation, the tale of the vanishing of Rome’s Ninth Legion is still unresolved, and will likely continue to bore its way into myth and legend for some time to come.

A similarly baffling vanishing of an entire military force is said to have occurred in China sometime around the year 1937. This was during the second Sino-Japanese War, when China was about to be subjected to the abject cruelty and barbarity of what has come to be known ominously as the "Rape of Nanking,” in which invading Japanese forces in the then Chinese capital city of Nanjing (now Nanking) over a 6-week period in 1937 mercilessly massacred an estimated 40,000 to over 300,000 civilians in an orgy of killing, looting, and widespread rape. In the days leading up to this tragic stain on history, Chinese Colonel Li Fu Sien had been engaged in a desperate effort to staunch the coming invasion by placing 3,000 heavily armed reinforcement troops along a 2 mile (3.2km) line in order to defend a major strategic bridge over the Yangtze River, where they waited for the inevitable Japanese onslaught. The defensive line set up artillery and heavy guns in the hopes of unleashing them upon their ruthless enemy and the Colonel himself fell back to his headquarters to await the attack he knew was coming.

Iwane Matsui rides into Nanjing 570x412
Japanese troops in Nanking

The following morning, the Colonel was awoken by an aide who brought news that all contact with the defensive position had been lost. Baffled, Li Fu Sien had an expedition launched to the line to check on their current situation, and this is where things got bizarre indeed. When the investigation team arrived, it became apparent that the entire line of over 3,000 men was simply and totally gone. Posts were completely abandoned and artillery and heavy guns had been left where they were, fully loaded, locked in firing positions, but dead and unused. There was no sign of blood or a struggle of any kind, indeed no sign at all as to where everyone had gone at all. It was as if the men had just blinked out of existence. Two sentries far away at the end of the bridge were still at their posts and claimed that no one had come through that way. In fact, there were several sentry posts set up throughout the area and none had seen any sort of movement from the large force of men. How could they have silently and stealthily have moved without any word to their superiors and without notice by these sentry posts? In the aftermath of the war, there were some efforts made to reach some closure to what had happened to the 3,000 plus armed men, but Japanese records held no hint as to their ultimate fate and it remains a perplexing unsolved mass disappearance to this day. Considering that the Japanese have done everything in their power to cover-up and hide the various atrocities committed in China during the war, it is highly likely that we will never know for sure what happened to these troops.

Further weirdness came about in the following years, when in 1945 a train carrying hundreds of passengers heading from Guandun to Shanghai, China, failed to reach its destination and intensive searches turned up no trace of where the train or its people had gone. The only thing turned up of note during the search for the train was an odd lake that had seemingly sprung up from nowhere. In November of the same year, a group of around 100 Soviet forces heading for a train station suddenly and inexplicably vanished en route. A subsequent investigation turned up a camp that had been halfway set up and a fire that had been put out, but no sign of where the men had gone.


What lies at the heart of these sorts of mass vanishings? Is there some rational explanation or is there something far more bizarre than we can possibly imagine at work here? There have been numerous theories as to what may lie behind these mysterious disappearances, ranging from meteorite strikes, to spontaneous Earthbound black holes or inter-dimensional portals that open up to swallow large numbers of people before flickering out of existence, to UFOs, to even an ancient Greek god known as Proteus, which is said to be a vast mass of protoplasm that lies dormant deep in the bowels of the earth to occasionally surface to feed. The Proteus theory was in modern days suggested by the author Dean Koontz, who wrote of this as an explanation for mass disappearances in his horror novel Phantoms. Koontz explained:

It is an enormous mass of protoplasm covering maybe an area of some square kilometers. Some millions years of age, it is probably one of the very first forms of life existing in the entrails of Earth or deep in the ocean. Once or twice in a century it eats people dissolving and digesting them almost entirely. Deep pools of water were found in the huts of Roanoke colony. A Chinese pilot searching for a missed train spotted from air a small lake that seemed to emerge from nowhere. Frozen water was found in the huts of an abandoned small Eskimo village on the shores of Lake Anjikuni, Canada, in 1930. The human body is 90 percent water, and that was perhaps all that was left of the dissolved victims of Proteus.

Could any of this possibly be that bizarre? What are we to make of the sudden, inexplicable vanishings of hundreds or even thousands of people? Are we to ever know the fate of these lost, forgotten souls? Did they ever even happen at all or is this all just spooky superstition wrapped into history? While we may not have, and perhaps never will have the answers to these questions, it is certainly compelling and not a little frightening to think about the notion that at times this world we live on potentially has the ability to open up and just swallow us up or wipe us off the face of the earth without a trace.

Brent Swancer

Brent Swancer is an author and crypto expert living in Japan. Biology, nature, and cryptozoology still remain Brent Swancer’s first intellectual loves. He's written articles for MU and Daily Grail and has been a guest on Coast to Coast AM and Binnal of America.

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