Mysterious vanishings have always had a certain macabre allure. That a person could just go out and, well, keep on going out into the unknown, remains a riveting facet of such cases. Within the long list of those who have vanished into thin air are those who seem to have been involved in car wrecks, yet rather than appear amongst the victims of these disasters they have instead gone on to vault into the considerable lore of missing person mysteries. Here, when one would expect to find bodies they have found only the bizarre clues, evidence, and mysteries of those who have seemingly emerged unscathed, to scamper off into the dark world of the vanished.
One such missing person case that was well-known in Europe is that of 10-year-old Juan Pedro Martínez, who vanished in 1986. The truly weird story begins with a crash on June 25, 1986, in which a truck carrying a payload of 20,000 liters of industrial sulfuric acid and a married couple smashed recklessly into another truck headed the opposite direction on the Somosierra mountain pass, north of Madrid province, Spain, after demonstrating what witnesses described as being erratic driving indicative of faulty or broken brakes. The potentially lethal sulphuric acid was unleashed from its ruptured tanks, sowing a scene of panic and chaos as toxic fumes filled the air. Two victims were immediately found in one of the trucks, the tanker truck to be exact, who were already being gruesomely eaten away and melted by the acid, but they could not be soon retrieved in the quickly growing poisonous cloud spreading over the area, all of which was made all the more urgent considering the potential ecological disaster’s close proximity to the nearby Duratón River.
Eventually, after a good amount of frantic action, the scene was brought under some semblance of control, and the partially dissolved victims of the truck were identified as truck driver Andrés Martínez and his wife Carmen Gómez. When Carmen’s mother was notified of the death of her daughter, in addition to her sadness she had a chilling response when she demanded to know if "the boy" was alright. Thus led to the unfolding of one of the oddest missing person cases in Spanish history.
It turned out that their young son Juan Pedro Martínez had joined his father and mother on that fateful drive to deliver the cargo of sulphuric acid to the Basque Country, and that he had definitely departed with Andrés and Carmen, yet no body of a boy had been found at the scene, nor anywhere in the vicinity at all, leading authorities to wonder just what had happened to him. However, there was definitely concrete evidence that a child had been indeed been there, as there were found to be children’s books and toys in the vehicle. Numerous eyewitness accounts from people along the route, such as gas station attendants and waiters or waitresses also clearly remembered seeing the couple with a young boy, and that they had seemed to be in good spirits.
Authorities desperately went about researching the area for the body of this missing child. The ground of the area was dug up in case he had been buried somehow, the surrounding forest was intensively searched over and over again, but there was absolutely nothing. Fearing that the boy could have been possibly completely dissolved by the shower of corrosive acid, experts were approached on this matter but it was considered to be impossible for the boy to have been so completely disintegrated by the amounts present as to leave no trace behind.
In the ensuing investigation there were found some odd clues. The truck’s instruments and eyewitness testimony of those who saw the family showed that the trip had gone normally at first, but at some point the truck began a series of a dozen very brief stops lasting from 1 to 20 seconds in length, despite the fact that there were no traffic jams at the time or any other obvious reason for this. It was also found that the doomed truck’s brakes had been in complete working order at the time, meaning that neither the strange stops nor the erratic driving reported before the crash could have been due to faulty brakes.
Another spooky clue that turned up came in the form of the testimony from some witnesses who claimed that in the aftermath of the crash a car had pulled up to the truck, after which a very tall, blonde, “Nordic-looking” man and woman wearing white clothing had gone to the truck to retrieve a package of some sort, although it is unclear as to what this “package” might have been. A driver at the scene also claimed that a man and woman fitting this description had approached him and told him that they were a doctor and a nurse there to help, before ignoring potential accident victims to head towards the wreck. It was never found out who this mysterious couple was or why they were at the scene of the crime, further deepening the enigma.
The case has gone on to become one of the most talked about mysterious vanishings ever in Spain, and of course has spawned its fair share of theories, ranging from a drug deal gone bad, to a kidnapping, to strange cults, to an alien abduction. No one really knows. Adding to the mystery are various sightings of the boy in question in the years after the vanishing, but none of these have led anywhere. There are many intriguing questions we are left with in this case. Since the boy had been mostly positively identified as being with his parents on the doomed delivery run, why wasn’t his body found at the scene of the fatal crash? What had prompted the erratic careening of the wayward truck and why had it stopped so many times en route? Where could the missing boy have possibly gone? What happened to him and why? Who were the two strangers in white clothing who were reportedly snooping around after the accident, and what was the package they allegedly took from the crashed truck? No one knows.
Another very bizarre vanishing associated with a car crash is the case of 37-year-old Patricia Meehan. On the evening of April 20, 1989, Patricia was speeding along on the wrong side of the road on Highway 200, near the town of Circle, Montana, in the United States, when she not surprisingly was involved in a near head-on crash with another vehicle after narrowly avoiding another just before. In the wake of the horrific accident, Meehan was reported by the other driver as exiting her vehicle and looking decidedly dazed and confused, although in one piece without any noticeable injury. When the startled driver of the other vehicle approached her, Meehan reportedly just stared blankly at her, prompting the witness to later say, “She just stared. She never said anything, she just stared at me. I will never forget her.”
The driver of the car that had been narrowly missed, a Peggy Bueller, also saw the disoriented woman standing there by the side of the road watching the whole scene as if she were just a passing bystander. After several minutes of this odd behavior, the mystery woman then reportedly dazedly walked to the side of the road as if in a trance, clumsily climbing over a fence, and walking away into the night. It would be the last time she would ever be seen again. When police had the mysterious driver’s vehicle checked, they found it to be owned by a Patricia Meehan, who was discovered to have made an appointment with a psychologist scheduled for April 21st, but it is unknown if this had anything to do with her accident or subsequent vanishing.
In the days after the crash and disappearance, a large search was organized to look for any trace of the obviously distraught woman, but no sign of Patricia Meehan was ever found, and she made no attempts to call family or friends. Baffled authorities would go on to create several theories as to what may have become of her. One was that she had perhaps hitched a ride with another vehicle or even stowed away aboard a truck, but it is not known why she would have done such a thing. An eery clue found later by her family was a selfie taken by the missing woman that was found to be on her abandoned camera, but it is unknown what connection this has to the disappearance.
There was also the possibility that she had incurred a form of amnesia in the accident and had then wandered off in a confused daze, which could be supported by the numerous bizarre, unconfirmed sightings of Meehan made in the years after her vanishing. Hundreds of such sightings have been made over the years, usually describing the woman as hitching rides at truck stops in places as far away as Seattle, Washington. She has also been seen at various diners and restaurants, with waitresses usually explaining that the spaced-out woman always seems to be jumpy, dazed, and in a hurry. One waitress described such an encounter thus:
What stood out in my mind was that she seemed really disorientated, and really spacey. I heard her talking to herself. She sat at that table for an hour and a half more just looking out the window, watching people walk by. That’s when I walked up to her and asked her, ‘You okay?’ I was wondering if there was anything I could do, because she seemed so lost. I felt like she didn’t know where she was or who she was.
There have also been claims of actually finding the missing woman over the years, although these have proven to be false. The most dramatic of these occurred in 1990, when a strange, vagrant woman bearing a striking physical similarity to the missing Patricia Meehan was arrested and brought in in Kootenai County, Idaho for littering. The woman had no ID on her at the time, and called herself "Morning Star," and was thought to perhaps be the missing Meehan, but this was ultimately put to rest by her family, who said it was certainly not her. Other sightings and claims have likewise remained elusive, and just what happened to Patricia Meehan after that fateful accident remains a complete mystery. She has not been seen since.
More well-known is the baffling case of a 21-year-old University of Massachusetts student named Maura Murray, who vanished under very strange circumstances on February 9th, 2004. On this day, Maura was involved in a car crash into the side of the road along Route 112, near Woodsville, New Hampshire, in the United States. A concerned bus driver apparently approached the dazed young woman to ask if she needed help, but she said that she had already called AAA and would wait for them to arrive. The concerned bus driver nevertheless called the authorities, but when police arrived at the scene not long after Maura was nowhere to be seen, and she has not been seen since.
It soon came to light that Maura had been involved in a rather odd series of events in the days leading up to her inexplicable disappearance. A few days before, on February 6, she had apparently been upset by a phone call she had received at 1 AM in the morning while at work, by all accounts causing her to have a veritable breakdown, although she refused to say what it was all about. The next day, her father had been in town visiting in order to buy her a new car to replace her broken-down vehicle and she had borrowed his to go out with friends, after which she had then crashed it into a guardrail. Two days after that, she told her boyfriend by email that she did not want to speak with him, after which she had made calls seeking condominium rentals in New Hampshire, as well as as those for seeking information on the town of Stowe, Vermont, at one point spending 5 minutes listening to a pre-recorded message about the town, as well as for information on hotels in rural Vermont and New Hampshire. She also was found to have searched for information on directions to Burlington, Vermont.
On the evening of February 9, Maura called her workplace to say that she would be gone for a family emergency, which would turn out not to exist, cleaned out all of the money from her bank account, packed her bags, and proceeded to head out on her last known drive, buying around $40 worth of booze along the way. It is still not known why she was so obsessed with Vermont or what had prompted her sudden, fateful road trip. Adding to the whole air of menace and mystery is a call that her boyfriend allegedly received, during which he could only hear sobbing on the other end before the line went dead.
In the wake of the accident and her bizarre vanishing, there were several strange clues found in and around Maura’s car. There were directions to Burlington and Stowe, Vermont, and a whole box of wine that had been damaged and had leaked out onto the ground around the car. There was also found a book on mountain climbing in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, Maura’s childhood stuffed animal, and strangest of all a rag stuffed into the tailpipe of the car, its purpose unknown. No signs of a struggle or foul play were found. Maura’s backpack, phone, and wallet were missing, although one local would claim that he had spotted an abandoned black backpack out in the snow in the woods near Pemigewasset Overlook, near the Kancamagus Highway. Whether this was hers or not is not known.
None of these elusive clues has ever fully shed light on the mystery of Maura Murray’s disappearance. It is not known what the significance of the cloth in the tailpipe is, why it was there, nor any meaning behind the other various clues that were uncovered. Speculation has seen her bailing from her crashed car to hitch a ride, running away from her troubled life, lost in the woods to freeze to death as she set out to get help, or being kidnapped or committing suicide, but there has never really been enough solid evidence to back up any of these numerous possibilities. Maura Murray has just vanished into thin air.
Spookily, another vanishing unfolded a mere one month after Maura’s disappearance in the same general vicinity. On March 19, 2004, 17-year-old Brianna Maitland left her job at the Black Lantern Inn, in Montgomery, Vermont, telling her co-workers that she was going to go home and rest before her second job, and this would be the last time she was ever seen. After a search for her whereabouts, her car was found smashed into an abandoned house nearby, with Brianna’s wallet, two paychecks, and other possessions still sequestered within untouched.
It was learned that Brianna had had her own personal demons to contend with, and that she had not only dropped out of high school, but that she had recently been involved with a violent brawl with another girl at a party, during which she had suffered some nasty injuries such as a broken nose and a concussion. She had also recently moved out of her parents’ home to live with her friend Jillian Stout. She had also shown some agitation during a shopping trip with her mother, during which she had left the store for unknown reasons to go outside and come back noticeably upset. That night she would go to work and never be seen again, and it was learned that she had left a note for her roommate saying that she would be home after work, although she had never arrived. Brianna Maitland has not been seen since, and her vanishing remains unsolved.
Another such vanishing victim with perhaps her own personal demons was 23-year-old Leah Roberts, of Durham, North Carolina, who disappeared under strange circumstances in March of 2000. Leah had had a tough time of things, having lost both of her parents to the scourge of death, her father to lung illness and her mother to heart disease. She had also been in a serious, life-threatening car accident in 1998, which had caused a punctured lung and a broken femur, necessitating a metal rod put into her leg. Deciding to pursue other endeavors, she eventually dropped out of school to do some soul searching, which included a planned excursion to Costa Rica that never came to fruition and other pursuits such as learning to play the guitar and photography and poetry. She also often told her friends of her plan to take a road trip out west, just as in the writings of an author she worshiped, Jack Kerouac.
On March 11, 2000, Leah failed to show up for an appointment with her friend to do some babysitting, and all attempts to reach her went unanswered. When she had still not been seen or heard from on March 13, she was declared a missing person. Leah’s room showed signs that she had been preparing for a lengthy trip of some sort, with many of her belongings and clothes missing and even her cat was gone, as well as with money with a note saying that it was for the following month’s rent, along with a promise to be back by that time, and it was thought that she had perhaps decided to go through with her plans for a road trip after all without telling anyone she was leaving. This theory was further bolstered when Leah’s records showed that she was purchasing gas and staying at motels along a westerly course on Interstate 40. Leah’s sister, Kara, became convinced that the missing woman was headed towards the Cascade Mountains, Washington, a location she had expressed much interest in before, but then shortly after a gasoline purchase at Brooks, Ortegon all activity on Leah’s various accounts ceased, and her current whereabouts became cloaked in shadow.
On March 18, 2000, Leah’s wrecked Jeep Cherokee was accidentally found by some joggers in a remote forest near the Mount Baker Highway in Whatcom County, Washington, not far from the Canadian border and Desolation Peak, which was fitting since it was very near a location in one of her favorite of Jack Kerouac’s novels, The Dharma Bums. The scene was decidedly odd in that some of the missing woman’s clothing had been strung up alongside the road tied to trees, and although the Jeep was determined to have gone careening off the road at high speed and to have tumbled before crashing, no sign of blood or the vanished woman could be found. Also, within the vehicle were found to be pillows and blankets hung up over the windows, and various belongings such as a passport, wallet, some valuables like jewelry, $2,500 in cash, a cat carrier, cat food, and her drivers license were found strewn around about the actual wreck. There was also a ticket stub for a theater performance in the nearby town of Bellington. Repeated searches of the area using tracker dogs turned up no sign of the missing woman and it was just as if she had evaporated into thin air.
A few days after the discovery of the crashed vehicle, a man called authorities to claim that he had seen a disorientated looking woman matching Leah's description wandering aimlessly about a gas station in Everett, Washington, although it is not known if this was her or not. Some other people claimed to have seen her at a diner in Oregon, where she had supposedly said she was traveling with an unidentified man named “Barry.” Other than this, there were no other clues whatsoever as to what had happened to her, and theories swirled.
The main assumption was that the vehicle had been intentionally crashed and that there had been no one actually in it when it had tumbled off the road, a theory given weight by the later discovery that the Jeep’s starter relay had been cut, yet oddly the blankets and pillows in the windows suggested that someone had used the vehicle as a temporary shelter. It didn’t make any sense, and the presence of so many valuables and so much cash detracted from any talk of robbery being the motive. This led to the idea that she had perhaps really crashed and incurred amnesia, after which she had taken shelter in her own downed vehicle and then subsequently wandered off into the unknown, but no one knew.
In recent years it has been mostly suspected that Leah Roberts was the victim of foul play of some sort, or that she intentionally ran away for unspecified reasons, but all of the strange clues surrounding the vehicle and the scene of the crash have never fully added up, and no new leads have been forthcoming. Despite her case being featured on various high profile crime documentaries such as Unsolved Mysteries and Disappeared, the ultimate fate of Leah Roberts remains unknown, and it is still debated to this day.
Mysterious vanishings come in many forms. However, what happened in these cases of scenes that were strewn with the aftermath of car crashes? How did these people simply get up and walk away forever? Was it something that drove them just as they drove in the vehicle, or was it the doing of some nefarious outside force? Unfortunately, in every one of these cases the answers remain elusive, leaving clues and riddles just as surely as they left the wrecked carcasses of the vehicles of the victims.