Mysterious vanishings are known not only for their often very strange circumstances, but also for the myriad bizarre clues they often leave behind, as well as the strange leads which frequently come in to more often than not only muddy the waters. In some cases, people have simply seemingly ceased to exist, only to leave in their wake enigmatic letters which may or may not shine a light onto the shadows surrounding their cases. There are inexplicable letters wedged within some of the most compelling missing persons cases out there, which have served simultaneously as a beacon of hope in solving them and also a frustrating exercise in inscrutable mystery.
We begin our journey into these strange cases on the night of August 24, 1951, when a young, 10-year-old girl named Beverly Potts went off with a friend, Patricia Swing, to visit Halloran Park, in Cleveland, Ohio, in order to watch some performers at a lively summer festival. Swing had to return home at around 9PM, but Beverly decided to stay behind to watch the show to its end. However, she would not ever make it home that night and the following morning she was still nowhere to be seen. She had simply disappeared into thin air.
Thus would begin one of the largest scale searches in Cleveland history, as law enforcement launched an intensive search operation bolstered by thousands of concerned volunteers, who poured in to aide in the hunt for the missing child, scouring practically every inch of the city for any sign of her. In the meantime there were countless tips and leads, but none of these led anywhere, and in the end the child’s whereabouts remained frustratingly elusive. Despite pursuing every available lead and interviewing dozens of possible persons of interest, the police were never able to ever get any closer to finding out what had happened to Beverly, she remained missing, and no solid clues could be obtained.
Oddly, the only real clues began to come in decades later in the form of eerily strange letters that turned up. The first was in 1994, when a letter was discovered by accident in a renovated house, which claimed that the writer’s husband had brutally murdered Beverly and disposed of the body. Although this was seen as a groundbreaking potential clue at the time, it turned out to be a dead end when it was determined that the letter had likely been an attempt by the woman to get revenge on her husband for years of abuse by framing him for the crime. After this revelation, the letter was pretty much dropped as any sort of potential evidence.
Then, in 2000, the news publication The Plain Dealer received a series of odd and anonymous letters that served to stir up the case once again. The first letter simply stated that the writer had killed Beverly Potts after kidnapping and molesting her, and described how he had decided to confess because he was dying of an unspecified illness. Over the next year, three more such letters would arrive from the same individual, each giving further grim details into the kidnapping and murder, and they were seen as being a rather credible lead in the case at the time. Some intriguing promises were made in the exchange. The second letter promised that the writer had arranged upon his death to have sent a sealed brown envelope which would supposedly include even more details and proof of the admission in the form of a rare coin that Beverly was known to carry around with her.
Later, in the third letter, the author of the mysterious letters ended up offering to actually turn himself in. He claimed that he would appear in Halloran Park on the 50th anniversary of the mysterious vanishing, saying “Fifty years is long enough to live with what I've done,” yet on the anniversary he was a no-show, and merely sent one final letter. In this last letter, he merely stated that he had decided not to turn himself in after all, and gave the cryptic clue that he had checked himself into a nursing home. This would be the last letter from the mysterious sender, and no one would hear from him again.
As none of the letters were signed there is no way to know who they were sent by or how much veracity they have. They have been considered to be anything from the real deal to an elaborate and rather tasteless hoax. Nobody knows, and the disappearance of Beverly Potts has never been close to being solved, despite constant pleas for information, relentless following of new leads in the case, and increasingly hefty rewards offered. The mystery has been made into a book called Twilight of Innocence -- The Disappearance of Beverly Potts, by historian James Badal, and was also the focus of the documentary Dusk and Shadow -- The mystery of Beverly Potts. The mysterious vanishing has gone on to be a legendary case in Cleveland, regularly appearing in the news even to this day, and Beverly has earned the nickname “The Little Girl Clevelanders Can't Forget.”
By far the most bizarre disappearance linked to a strange letter occurred in November of 1980, with the sudden vanishing of 32-year-old Granger Taylor from his parent’s home in the rural town of Duncan, on Vancouver Island in Canada. A high school dropout, Taylor had nevertheless been a remarkably talented mechanic all of his life, he had always had the urge to build and tinker with things, including rebuilding a junked bulldozer, renovating and restoring an abandoned old locomotive he had found out in the forest as well as a vintage World War II P-40 Kitty Hawk airplane, which he fixed up good as new. His skill with building things was undeniable.
Granger was not without his own eccentricities, as such geniuses are won't to be, and at one point he painstakingly constructed an actual life sized UFO in his yard over the course of a year, tirelessly cobbled together from some old satellite dishes and other assorted spare parts and junk. It was around this time when Granger had expressed intense interest in the subject of UFOs and aliens, and he began to make increasingly bizarre claims to his friends that he was in regular telepathic contact with actual extraterrestrials. By all accounts he had become hopelessly and deeply obsessed with UFOs, constantly reading about them and theorizing about how they worked, and it was practically the only thing he would ever talk about. He would spend hours locked away within his UFO replica, which was equipped with a stove and a bed, feverishly reading about UFOs and doing who knows what else out there. Things got weirder still when Granger began to tell his friends that not only had aliens been contacting him, but that they had actually invited him on a journey aboard one of their craft.
On November 29, 1980, the night he vanished without a trace, Granger had dinner at a diner he regularly frequented, despite the fact that a severe storm was ominously brewing outside. On that night, gale force winds were beginning to come roaring through the area, eventually knocking out large swaths of electricity and causing mass panic. Granger returned home through the storm and left an incredibly weird letter behind for his parents in the barn, which had served for his workstation where he tinkered with and built all manner of curious things. The deeply weird letter read:
Dear Mother and Father,
I have gone away to walk aboard an alien spaceship, as recurring dreams assured a 42-month interstellar voyage to explore the vast universe, then return. I am leaving behind all my possessions to you as I will no longer require the use of any. Please use the instructions in my will as a guide to help.
On the back of the letter was inexplicably scrawled a map of Waterloo Mountain, around 20 miles away, the significance of which has never been ascertained. After writing this letter, Granger got into his 1972 Datsun pick-up truck and drove out into the roiling storm outside, his final destination unknown. True to his word, he had indeed left behind everything he owned, including a sizable chunk of cash to the tune of $10,000, although his secretly penned last will held few clues at all. He has never been seen again. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) immediately organized a massive search for the missing man, but no sign of neither him nor his vehicle could ever be located. The only possible clue ever found was a few bits of human bone that were found 4 miles away from the Taylor property at a dynamite blast site, with the main theory being that Granger had had some dynamite in his truck that had accidentally gone off, but it has never been conclusively determined whether these remains really belonged to Granger or not.
In the years since, the bizarre vanishing has of course produced many theories as to what happened to him. One is that he had simply had enough of his life and either went off to start a new one or ended it, or that he accidentally exploded himself with dynamite, as the evidence seems to suggest. Another is that he was the victim of foul play of some sort, but there is no evidence to support this. There is also the idea that he had some sort of psychotic break from reality and fled off into the unknown, which is supported by claims from friends and family that Granger had been heavily smoking a lot of pot and frequently dropping acid in the months leading up to his inexplicable vanishing. Then of course in light of his final letter there is the notion that he actually did make contact with his beloved aliens, and that they had spirited him away to destinations unknown. Granger’s father would say of this possibility:
I can hardly believe Granger’s off in a spaceship, but if there is a flying object out there, he’s the one to find it.
Whether Granger was the victim of suicide, a demented, troubled mind, or he was truly whisked away to the stars by otherworldly beings, his case has never been solved, and it remains one of the strangest, surreal disappearances there is. Just a few years later, in 1985, we come to our next case. On July 28, 1985, policeman and fingerprint technician for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Mel Wiley, went out in his 1980 Toyota station wagon in Hinckley Township, Ohio and was never seen again. The car was located relatively quickly on July 30th, where it was discovered to be locked and containing some of the missing man’s belongings, such as clothing, his badge and identification, suntan lotion, a beach bag, a pack of cigarettes, and his wallet containing his credit cards and $15 in cash.
Wiley’s apartment proved to be in pristine condition, with no sign whatsoever of any foul play or anyone rifling though, and indeed several days of food and water had been politely left out for his two pet cats. However, oddly, a novel that Wiley had been working on, as well as a collection of poetry, were found to be missing, as well as various other assorted things such as envelopes, stamps, his typewriter paper and his address book, as well as some of his clothing. The refrigerator was also found to be empty, save a single container of mayonnaise. When his normally cluttered desk at work was checked, it was found to be practically empty as well, except for a lone key, which proved to be to Wiley’s apartment. His uniform was found to have a bus and a taxi schedule tucked within, but it was unknown just what significance any of these had.
The biggest clue lay in a letter he had typed out to a friend of his shortly before his vanishing, in which he expressed disillusionment and sadness about the state of his life, ultimately proclaiming that he wanted to just disappear. The weird thing about this particular letter is that the friend had never actually received it, and the only evidence of its existence at all was the ribbon of the office typewriter he had used to punch the message out on. There were few motives for the vanishing, except for some rumors from co-workers that he had seemed morose and depressed in the days leading up to his disappearance. However, Wiley’s family claimed that he was relatively well-adjusted and had never expressed any desire to up and vanish, and indeed he had been looking forward to finishing his beloved novel that he had been working so hard on. There is also the fact that the rather large sum of money in his bank account was never touched, just sitting there forgotten.
It was at first thought that he had perhaps gone off swimming in Lake Eerie and drowned, as he had mentioned going there before the vanishing, but it turned out that Wiley actually was not a good swimmer, and had never even bought a swimsuit. The main theory has then become that he decided to leave his life behind and start anew, but where that road may have taken him remains unknown. It is also unknown if he had met with some sort of foul play, or just what happened to that last letter he had typed out or what meaning it may have held. Mel Wiley has never been found.
More recent is the vanishing of 12-year-old Jaliek Rainwalker, of Greenwich, New York. Rainwalker’s life was no doubt full of its share of drama, what with her being in the charge of a crack addict mother and having been a foster child in his youth. On November 1, 2007, Jaliek was staying at the home of his adoptive father, Stephen Burrell Kerr, when he just suddenly vanished into thin air sometime during the night. According to Kerr, he woke up in the morning to find the boy nowhere to be seen. The only clue that was found was a forlorn goodbye letter stating that he no longer wished to be a burden on them.
The father was originally named a person of interest in the case, but there was no evidence to convict him of any wrongdoing. Then, in 2008 there was another weird clue in the form of a strange letter that was received by a local media outlet, in which it was written that Jaliek was alive and had been recruited as a “foot soldier on the war on drugs.” The rambling, mostly nonsensical letter was peppered with grammar mistakes and had various weird and anomalous statements, such as weird sentences like “Who are the macaroni family?” as well as “Why does Franti yell fire?,” and “My cat name Diamond?” It is all very much like the ramblings of a diseased mind, but the last sentence is a bit odd, as Jaliek did in fact have a cat named Diamond, yet the ultimate meaning of the letter is obfuscated and muddied by all of the other random bizarreness. In the end, no further clues have been forthcoming and neither Jaliek Rainwalker, nor the meaning behind this cryptic letter, have ever been found.
Finally in 2009 we come to the case of 29-year-old Toni Lee Sharpless, of Brandywine Township, Pennsylvania. On August 23, 2009, Toni went out drinking with a friend and reportedly got quite drunk in the process of crawling through several nightclubs that evening. The two friends decided to keep the party going and headed off to a house party being hosted by a professional athlete, 76ers star Willie Green. Toni was reportedly very drunk at the time, erratic and quite unruly, starting trouble with other guests and getting into a fight with someone, after which she was asked to leave. The two friends left the party and then got into a fight with each other not long after, which ended with Toni kicking her friend out of the car and going on to drive completely off the face of the earth.
A thorough search turned up no sign of the missing woman, and there was no sign of any activity on her bank account or cell phone. Although it has been ascertained that Sharpless had been dealing with bipolar disorder and been on medication, meaning she probably shouldn’t have even been drinking alcohol in the first place, it is nevertheless impressive just how completely she has managed to totally vanish without a trace. Not even her car has been found, despite the fact that it had reportedly been quite low on gas at the time.
The only clue that has turned up was a disturbing letter written to a private investigator on the case, in which the anonymous writer claims that Sharpless had been killed in an altercation with a police officer and then her body disposed of and covered up, even going as far as to claim that they were in on it, having been paid to get rid of the vehicle in Boston. Adding to the evidence is that the writer was spookily able to give the correct vehicle registration number, but considering that the mysterious letter writer has not reached out since, it remains merely an alluring clue that will probably ultimately lead nowhere. Toni Lee Sharpless remains missing, and whether she was killed and covertly disposed of by law enforcement is left unknown.
What do these weird letters mean, if anything? Do they potentially shed light on these long cold cases or are they merely more smoke and mirrors, cryptic puzzles, or hoaxes? Whether any of them truly carry within them any real answers to these baffling mysteries, there is nothing we have been able to glean from them yet, and they remain just one more layer to the myriad bizarreness orbiting these unfortunate cases of people who have stepped off the face of the earth.