The world of vanished people is a strange one, with myriad cases cloaked in mystery that seem to defy all attempts to solve or understand them. Among these cases some of the weirder are those that involve people who managed to vanish into thin air right out of moving vehicles, without any explanation and quite often confounding all attempts to grasp what has happened. It is a bizarre concept to be sure, that someone could be riding in a vehicle, often in full view of others, and simply drop out of existence or even seemingly evaporate into thin air, but this is a phenomenon that has happened an unsettling number of times. From trains, planes, and buses these people have stepped off the face of the earth, leaving bewilderment behind.
Perhaps one of the most well known of all vanishings from a moving vehicle is the infamous case of who has come to be known as D.B. Cooper. The tale begins in Portland, Oregon, in the United States, on the day before Thanksgiving, on November 24, 1971, when a well-dressed man in a dark suit, white shirt, and black tie calling himself Dan Cooper paid cash for a ticket and embarked on Northwest Airlines Flight #305, a Boeing 747 bound for Seattle, Washington. During the flight, the up until then quiet passenger hijacked the plane by claiming he had a bomb in his briefcase, and he demanded $200,000 in cash, as well as four parachutes. Upon landing in Seattle, he released the passengers and many of the crew, before ordering the remaining pilots and a skeleton crew to take off on a southerly course for Mexico City, Mexico.
During the flight, somewhere between Seattle and Reno, Nevada, Cooper then told the sole remaining flight attendant to go to the cockpit, after which he put on two parachutes front and rear, strapped the sack of cash to himself, lowered the hatch, and jumped out into history and the unknown. When the crew searched the plane, the only things left behind were some parachutes and Mr. Cooper’s black tie lying in his seat. The area was immediately descended upon by law enforcement, the FBI, and the military, who used the latest cutting edge technology to try and track where he might have landed on both the ground and from the air, but no sign of him was ever found. He had simply vanished into thin air. It was at first thought that he must have died in the parachute jump, but no body, nor the parachute or money, were found.
The media would latch onto the enigmatic case, where Dan Cooper would widely become known as “D.B. Cooper,” and the FBI began what would become one of its longest running active cold cases, and which would turn out to be the object of continued intense speculation, scrutiny, and debate, even to this day. One of the only pieces of solid evidence ever turned up was a discovery made in 1980, when a boy named Brian Ingram came across some bundles of cash totaling approximately $5,800 at an area called Tena Bar, along the Columbia River near Portland, Oregon. The cash was in fairly good shape all things considered, even maintaining its delicate rubber bands, and the serial numbers of the bills matched the ones that Cooper had stolen. When the area was further meticulously searched and dredged there were no more clues to be found, and the money only served to continue to fuel the debate as to how it had gotten there and where Cooper had gone off to, if he had even survived the jump at all.
In the years since, the mysterious case of “D.B. Cooper” has gotten really no closer to being solved, despite intense investigation by the FBI, and indeed has only continued to cloak itself with baffling clues and mysteries. The case has been continuously debated, discussed, and obsessed over by both authorities and amateur sleuths alike, but yet we are not truly any closer to having any true answers as to what really became of Cooper, his parachutes, and the rest of his money. The frequent claims of those coming forward to say they have finally cracked the case have remained unproven, controversial, debated, and have ultimately turned out to shed little light on the case. To this day it is unknown just who Dan Cooper really was, why he was on that plane, what his motivations were for hijacking it, or what became of him and his money after he leapt off into the night and off the face of the earth. There has been little evidence to support any one claim, and Cooper and the remaining cash have never been found. For its part, the FBI abandoned the official investigation in 2016, and it remains the only unsolved skyjacking in U.S. history. It is a legendary unsolved mystery that seems likely to incite debate and speculation for some time to come.
An even earlier and perhaps even weirder case, if not as well-known, is that of the French inventor Louis Le Prince, who is most famous for his pioneering work in motion picture technology and recording the first known moving images on film. On September 16, 1890, Le Prince visited his brother in Dijon, France, and then boarded a train to return home. When the train reached its destination, it was found that neither Le Prince, nor his luggage, were anywhere to be found. It would turn out that Le Prince had last been seen by various witnesses checking his luggage and then entering his cabin, and after that his fate remains a mystery. No one saw him exit his cabin, no one saw him get off the train at any time, the windows to his cabin were found to be closed and locked, and it has become a mystery that has continued to baffle.
Of course there are theories as to what became of Le Prince. One idea is that he was murdered or kidnapped in order to stop his pioneering progress into motion picture technology, most notably his incoming patent on a 16 lens camera, with death or disappearance meaning that any patents associated with him would remain in limbo. Indeed Thomas Edison himself has been pointed out as being someone who would have had a lot to gain from Le Prince being out of the picture, and interestingly it would be Edison who would swoop in and claim credit for the invention of motion cinema in the wake of the vanishing. He could have also been targeted for the large inheritance to be had, with at least one close relative purportedly receiving a rather comfortable sum. However, it is difficult to see how it could have been done, as no signs of foul play were found at all.
Another idea is that he committed suicide, but not only is there no evidence of this and no perceivable way he could have pulled this off, at least on the train, but also Le Prince really had had no real reason to want to kill himself, as he was awaiting several important new patents that were groundbreaking for their time. So far there is no clear answer to the mystery. All anyone knows is that Lois Le Prince got on that train and seemingly never got off.
Equally as enigmatic is the rather bizarre vanishing of a WWII veteran named James E. Tetford, from Vermont, in the United States. Things were already a bit strange when the 56-year-old Tetford came home one day in the early 1940s to find his wife, 28-year-old Pearl, had disappeared without a trace. She would never be seen again, and Tetford allegedly spiralled into depression and despondency afterwards, and he would eventually go to live at a veteran’s home in Bennington, Vermont, in 1947, where he apparently languished in his personal misery while only occasionally leaving to visit relatives.
After one such trip to visit relatives in St. Albans, Vermont, on December 1, 1949, Tetford boarded a bus home. The bus on that day was crowded, and he was seen by numerous witnesses to buy his ticket and board a bus headed for Bennington with his luggage. The bus journey was a nonstop ride, and once on board Tetford was seen by many of the other passengers to fall asleep in his seat. However, when the bus reached its destination Tetford was no where to be found. He never got off the bus, there were no stops, and no one could find him, although his luggage remained and there was a discarded bus timetable found open on his seat. The bus driver and 14 witnesses testified that they had last seen him sleeping in his seat and that the bus had not made any stops, so where in the world could he have gone? No one knows.
Tetford’s vanishing ties in with a series of weird disappearances that occurred between the years of 1945-1950, during which several seemingly unconnected people vanished in an an area of southwestern Vermont that has come to be known as the Bennington Triangle, and which I have written of here at Mysterious Universe before. There have been five rather strange, unsolved vanishings associated with this area, which is typically defined as centered on Glastenbury Mountain and radiating outward into the communities around it, and the vanishing of James Tetford is certainly one of the more bizarre. How could he have so completely vanished in full view of a crowded bus of people? We may never know.
In yet another case, on June 29, 1968, 23 passengers were flying aboard a Douglas DC-3 airliner on their way from Kankakee, Illinois to Dallas, Texas, for a Lion’s Club convention. At one point during the flight, one of these passengers, a Mr. Jerrold I. Potter, got up to go to the restroom at the rear of the plane. When he did not return for some time, his wife became concerned and she had the flight attendant go to the lavatory to check up on her husband, but she saw no sign of the man. Not long after this, the pilot of the aircraft purportedly noticed a warning light flashing in the cockpit, which indicated that there was a door open somewhere on the plane. Co-pilot Roy Bacus was sent to go investigate, and he soon found that there was a passenger apparently missing.
Very aware that this had the potential to cause a great deal of panic among the passengers, Bacus and the flight attendant calmly and quietly discussed the situation, and Bacus went to the lavatory in question. There he would find that the exit door adjacent to it was indeed ajar, with the chain used to keep it in place lying broken on the floor, but no pressurization problems had occurred in the aircraft. Bacus then calmly went to tell the pilot of what he had found. The pilot would later surmise that Mr. Potter had fallen against the exit door during some turbulence and fallen out, but this made little sense.
A door opening during flight would have likely caused mass chaos, and would not have gone totally unnoticed by everyone on board. Additionally, it was found that there was no way to simply fall against the door and force it open, as the handle had to be manually twisted 180 degrees before the door could be opened, which would have been hard to do in mid-flight, especially without anyone noticing anything strange or awry. There had likewise been no screams for help, no commotion of any kind. By all accounts the flight had been going quietly, peacefully, and smoothly, the weather was calm and clear, and there had been no problem at all noticed by anyone onboard. Nevertheless, a full search of the plane would turn up no sign of Potter, and a subsequent search of the entire flight path would also turn up no trace of him. Jerrold I. Potter has never been found and there have been no concrete clues as to how he could have possibly vanished from that flight. He was simply there one moment and gone the next.
Even more recent than any of these cases is the disappearance of 25-year-old college student Robin Putnam in 2012. On July 7 of that year, Putnam got on a train to travel from Oakland, California, to Grand Junction, Colorado, in order to visit family. The train stopped at Salt Lake City, Utah, and it was at this point when it was discovered that Putnam was no longer anywhere aboard. Baffled train crew looked everywhere for him, but all that was found were his personal belongings such as his wallet, luggage, and laptop computer sitting in his seat as if he would return at any moment. As for Robin himself, no sign could be found. He had simply vanished.
It was thought that he had gotten off at Salt Lake and crept away unnoticed, but absolutely no one had seen him do so, and there was no apparent motive for why he should sneak off, leave his stuff behind, and never come back. Authorities would determine that he had been going through a rough patch of personal problems, having quit his part-time job and having suffered from anxiety attacks, but all witnesses who had seen him on the train said he had been acting normally. In the years since his vanishing there have been several odd sightings of who could be Putnam, and even a piece of security footage showing him having a beer in Salt Lake City, but it has never been ascertained just what became of him and he has never been found.
These cases leave many questions. How could someone so thoroughly vanish from a moving vehicle and evade all attempts to understand what has happened? Where did they go and how did they manage in some cases to simply cease to exist practically right under the noses of witnesses? Why has there been no further evidence to point towards what became of them? Indeed it seems that mysterious vanishings can happen at any time, anywhere, and they never cease to baffle and confuse.