Mysterious vanishings come in many forms and they seem to be liable to happen pretty much anywhere and to anyone It seems that someone can just vanish into thin air at any time or any place, but some of these cases prove to be especially compelling. In some cases, these people go missing right from well monitored, well established institutions, taking them into a new realm of strangeness. One of the most mysterious and much discussed of these is when a promising young cadet at the West Point military academy went missing under bizarre circumstances, leaving behind many clues but very few answers.
The setting for this strange tale is perhaps the most prestigious and well-known military academy in the United States, if not the world. Officially called the United States Military Academy, but usually referred to as simply West Point, the facility is located in West Point, New York, and is the oldest of the country’s five service academies. Over the years some of the most respected military commanders and leaders in American history have passed through these doors, and it has a long and illustrious history. The location itself was once a fort overlooking the Hudson River, and this can be seen in its appearance. This is an imposing, fortress like structure complete with turrets and a stone façade that looks more like an impenetrable gothic castle than a military academy, and it is to this intimidating place that a cadet by the name of Richard Colvin Cox came in 1948.
The 21-year-old Cox, who was originally from Mansfield, Ohio, had just returned from a 2-year tour of duty in Germany with the U.S. Army’s Sixth Constabulary Regiment, which was sort of a police security force in Allied-occupied Germany. He had proven to be a hard worker and disciplined soldier, and as he walked into West Point he was seen as having great potential. He immediately demonstrated a keen intellect and athletic ability, he was a model student, well-liked by his peers, and there was no reason to think he wouldn’t excel in his new surroundings. There was certainly no reason to think that he would soon become one of the strangest unsolved mysteries in U.S. history, but dark clouds seemed to be lurking on his horizon.
It began with a simple phone call. On January 7, 1950, at 4:45 PM, Cox’s West Point classmate and the Cadet in Charge of Quarters at North Barracks, Peter Hains, received a call from a man calling himself “George,” who wanted to speak to Cox. Hains told him that Cox was not there and offered to take a message, to which the mysterious caller replied, “Just tell him George called – he’ll know who I am. We knew each other in Germany. I’m just up here for a little while, and tell him I’d like to get him a bite to eat.” Hains would later describe the caller’s general demeanor as being “rough and patronizing, almost insulting.” Nevertheless, Hains told him about the call, and Cox seemed to have no idea of who it could possibly be. They both just sort of shrugged their shoulders and forgot about it until later that evening, when a man stopped by the academy to enter a visiting area and ask to see Cox, presumably the man “George” from the phone call. Oddly, it was reported that when Cox came to meet the stranger, he seemed to recognize him and was even happy to see him.
Cox ended up signing out to go have dinner with the man, returning later to say that the two had just ended up just drinking some whiskey in his car. He was described as being rather drunk at the time, which was unusual because he was not typically a big drinker, and he went to go sleep it off without explaining further. Oddly, he was later reported as having woken up suddenly to shout what sounded like “Alice!” before passing out again. The significance of this is not known. It was not until the next day that he would explain to anyone who this George guy actually was. Cox explained that the man had been an Army Ranger in Germany during his tour, and he didn’t seem to have much nice to say about him. He described the stranger, who he never did refer to by name, as being a real sadistic guy, even going so far as to say he had murdered a girl he had knocked up in Germany, and that he had often bragged about the vicious ways he had killed other Germans. Listening to Cox talk about this guy he sounded like a real villain, a real piece of work, and he even said he “hoped he wouldn’t have to see the fellow again.”
Nevertheless, despite this apparent distaste Cox would go out with him again later that same afternoon, and a week later he was seen chatting with George on the school grounds and shortly after that went out with him to have dinner. Making it all very strange was that each time he met with the mysterious George, he was described by his friends as not seeming to really want to go or to have anything to do with him, but yet still somehow compelled to do so. On January 14, 1950, Cox got dressed up in his cadet uniform and signed out to go have his dinner with this mysterious visitor at the nearby Hotel Thayer. The two were seen talking outside and then they walked off together. George would never sign back in, and proceeded to seemingly disappear off the face of the earth.
When Cox did not sign in, the hotel where he had said he would have dinner was immediately contacted, and it turned out that he had not been there at all that evening. Oddly, Cox’s room seemed to be in order but it seemed that he had taken no money with him when he had left and all of his civilian clothing was left behind. Authorities would canvas the area questioning people and found that, rather strangely, no one seemed to remember seeing Cox around town, or indeed actually even leaving the campus at all, despite the fact that in his uniform he should have stuck out. Realizing that this was an actual missing person they had on their hands, a massive search was organized. The entirety of West Point was meticulously searched, fliers were sent out, and police and the FBI even had the nearby Hudson River and Lusk Reservoir dragged, and a pond completely drained, all without finding a thing.
Authorities also scoured military records trying to get a bead on who this “George” guy might have been, but this led to a dead end too. There was no way to know who Cox’s mysterious visitor was, or even if his name was really George. Cox had never mentioned his name and Hains would later admit that he could have been mistaken about the name. Making it even more complicated is that some of the physical descriptions of George on the different occasions when Cox met him didn’t even match up. Authorities had nothing to go on, and after several months they had produced not a single solid lead. Both Cox and “George” had seemingly evaporated. In the meantime, when the case hit the news there were several reports of people having claimed to have sighted the missing cadet or even met him, but these didn’t lead anywhere. Some weird clues were turned up during it all, such as an abandoned Brazilian-made .38 caliber pistol near the academy’s firing range, but there was no way at all to know if this was connected to the case.
The investigation would go on for years, and at first it was assumed that Cox must have just deserted and gone AWOL, but this was strange for a variety of reasons. First was that Cox had been engaged to be married to his girlfriend and was looking forward to a future with her. There is also the fact that becoming an officer and studying at West Point had been his lifelong dream, and he had seemed in line to make that all come true, so why would he throw that away? Adding to this was that, although West Point had had cadets go AWOL before, they were usually due to extreme cases of hazing or insurmountable stress, and even then, they always came back. Not only did Cox have a lot of friends on campus and no major problems that could explain his wanting to run away, he was also the only cadet in West Point history to just go missing without a trace and never be found. It was finally decided that he had not gone AWOL, so where did he go and what had happened to him? No one had the slightest clue. The investigation continued to 1957, when he was declared legally dead.
Curiously, the official investigation was often criticized by Cox’s friends and family for being extremely vague, opaque, and secretive, rarely offering any clear-cut answers and often giving them the run around. The police and feds were very tightlipped and uncooperative, and many of Cox’s family would explain that they had gotten the unshakable sense that they were being kept in the dark and having information withheld from them. When Cox was legally declared dead, there was almost nothing heard about it at all, as if the whole thing had been dropped. Conspiracy theories only got riled up further when in 1969 Richland County Prosecutor William F. McKee, who had been friends with Cox, asked the FBI to see the files on the case and was led around in circles, with the files never materializing. He tried again a few years later and was similarly rebuked, reporting that every one he asked about those files seemed uncomfortable even talking about it. McKee would never get his hands on them. When they were finally uncovered in 1982 by an investigative journalist for the Mansfield News Journal by the name of Jim Underwood, there were so many lines of blacked out, redacted material, and so many missing pages that it was nearly nonsensical, and this only fueled conspiracies of a cover-up. Underwood also uncovered testimony that suggested that Cox may have been secretly recruited by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) or some other secretive government agency and whisked off to start a new life of espionage, with “George” being his contact into this new world and the Army Ranger story just a ruse.
Enter retired high school history teacher Marshall Jacobs, who had become quite obsessed with the case and decided in 1985 to launch an investigation of his own. He would spend the next decade scouring records, travelling around the United states, and meticulously interviewing pretty much everyone Cox had ever known in a quest to get to the bottom of the mystery. He also found an anonymous tip pointing towards the identity of the mysterious “George,” who was believed to be a man formerly known as Robert Dion, with who Cox had been stationed at Fort Knox and had been involved in a fake ID scam. The idea here would be that Cox had forged a new ID and run off with his buddy Dion in order to start a new life somewhere.
Jacobs would also revisit Underwood’s research, and he too found leads that suggested that Cox may have gone off to join the CIA. Jacobs would claim that he had spoken with an actual retired CIA official who said that this was the case, and that Cox had then gone off to be instrumental in smuggling scientists connected to Russia’s nuclear program across the Iron Curtain during the Cold War. According to this source, Cox had then gone on to live a normal life under an alias and die of cancer in 1999. By the end of his investigation he was convinced that something very strange was going on. Jacobs would eventually collaborate with Harry Mailhafer to write a book on the Cox vanishing, entitled Oblivion.
What happened to Richard Colvin Cox? The theories have been never ending. For some this was someone running away to start a new life, perhaps hiding some secret he thought would bring him shame. Or was this foul play, with the mysterious “George” figure having some part to play in it all? If so, why and how? Was Cox perhaps recruited by the CIA and forced to give up his old life to engage in espionage and intrigue? Who was George and what part did he have to play in all of this? Why all of the murkiness and unwillingness to release information on the part of law enforcement? Was there a cover-up, and if so, why? No one knows, and the strange case of Richard Clvin Coxo has never been solved.