Ruth Wilson, of Surrey, in southeast England, had a tough childhood. Her mother Nesta died when she was just a toddler, and although it had actually been a suicide, Ruth grew up being told it had been an accident that had killed her. As she got older, at around 16 years of age, she became suspicious of the story she had always been told, that her mother had slipped and fallen down the stairs to her death, and she went about looking into the death certificate to find the truth, which was suicide by hanging. This then caused her to run away from home for a month out of shock, hiding out at a friend’s house in Betchworth, and although she was a bright student with a lot of friends, she was never quite the same after this. Whether any of this would have anything to do with the strange events that would unfold remains unknown, but unfold they did, and she was about to enter the pantheon of strange mysterious vanishings.
On Saturday, November 25, 1995, a month after running away from home, things had settled down a bit and it started as a normal week for Ruth. She went to her part-time job at a music store in Dorking, and then went out to get something to eat with her ex-boyfriend, Will Kennedy, and another friend, Neil Phillipson. She was described as being in good spirits and not demonstrating any particularly unusual behavior, although she would pay for their meals and give a cryptic statement that would not really have any impact until later, telling them that this meal would be something “to remember her by.” On the 26th she was similarly normal, attending the local youth club, going to handbell practice at her local church, and by all accounts she seemed to be totally relaxed at this time. On the 27th met up with her sister, Jenny, with whom she was supposed to take a bus to school, but at the last minute she changed her mind and decided not to get on the bus for reasons unknown. Jenny went without her, and later Kennedy would drive by to offer her a lift in his car, but she refused and said she would see him later at school, but she never did.
It would turn out that Ruth would not show up for school that day at all, and at around 11:30 am she took a taxi into Dorking and spent some time at the library there, before taking a taxi again at 4 pm, telling the driver that she wanted to go to a place called Box Hill, a summit of the North Downs in Surrey that overlooks the town of Dorking and is a popular spot to see the surrounding scenery. She instructed the taxi to leave her off near a pub called the Hand in Hand, and the driver would later find it odd that after being dropped off she just sort of stood there in the rain as if in a daze. He also found it strange that the woman had not been dressed for a cold winter’s night, but nevertheless, he sent off about his business, not having the faintest idea that he would become the last person to officially see her. She would not come home that evening, would not contact any friends or family, and when the next day came with still no sign of her, Ruth’s parents reported her as missing.
A police search was carried out around the area of Box Hill, using helicopters, heat seeking equipment, and tracker dogs, but they not only didn’t find her, but found pretty much no evidence to show that she had even ever been there at all. There was also no sign that she had withdrawn any money from her bank account or that she had called anyone. It was as if she had suddenly just evaporated after being dropped off by that taxi. In the meantime, some odd clues began popping up. It would turn out that on the day she had disappeared, Ruth had purchased some flowers for her stepmother at a florist in Dorking, but had requested that they not be delivered until the following week and there was no note included with them. Why would she do this? There were also found several notes in Ruth’s handwriting found under a bush at the top edge of Betchworth Quarry on Box Hill, addressed to friends and family, but police have never released just exactly what they said. Interviews with her close friends also showed that Ruth had been expressing unhappiness with her home life and shock at the news of the real death of her biological mother, as well as worry about her slipping grades at school, and also that she had frequently talked about running away. This led police to suspect that she had just run away, and the fact that she was underdressed for the evening suggests she might have been waiting for someone to pick her up, but if that were the case where did she go, and why would she do it with no luggage and no money? Also, why would she go to Box Hill? Another idea was that she might have committed suicide, as paracetamol tablets and a half empty bottle of Vermouth were found near the notes but there was no body.
At the time, there were several theories floating around, including that she had run away, been kidnapped, committed suicide, had been murdered, or had suffered a tragic accident, but there was no evidence to really support any one of these. In the meantime, even as the case began to go cold, sightings of the missing woman began popping up all over the place. On October 1, 1996, Ruth was possibly sighted on the outskirts of London and there was also CCTV footage that turned up apparently showing what appears to be the woman at a Dorking newsagent’s shop two miles from Box Hill. The staff member at the shop would report that she had been “very distressed” when she had learned that one of the local papers was sold out. There were sporadic sightings of Ruth all over England at the time, and even one as far away as Canada, but none of these came to anything. In 2006, Ruth’s father, Ian Wilson, wrote an open letter to his still missing daughter, saying:
We still have the presents we bought you for Christmas in 1995. They’re safe in a drawer — waiting for you to come back, though I expect your tastes have changed so much you’d probably laugh at the music and clothes. Though the house is too large now your sister Jenny has moved out, we can’t bear to move. It’s your home, after all. Your disappearance is still a mystery. You were confident, independent-minded and, apart from the usual teenage frictions, seemed so happy at home. You can imagine our terror and how we searched month after month. I trawled London, hoping against hope I’d find you. We wondered if you had a secret but your Filofax revealed nothing. The police discovered you had visited Box Hill before, but don’t know why. There have been many false leads. Every time our spirits are raised, only to be dashed again. It’s torture. Even now I find myself driving past bus stops and staring. Could that young woman — you’re 27 now — be you?’
Despite numerous appeals to the public for more information and appearances on TV shows and in the media, there have been no further clues as to what happened to Ruth Wilson and no new leads. She has contacted no one, her bank account has remained untouched, and she has become one of the more perplexing missing person cases of recent times. Roxy Birch, a schoolfriend of Ruth’s, has said:
She couldn’t drive, as far as I am aware, she didn’t have a passport… So, you have to ask yourself the question, where could she have disappeared to for 22 years? My belief is that she had planned to do something. I don’t know whether that would be permanent or temporary. I’d also like to believe that someone knows what happened.
The case has been made into the 2018 documentary Vanished: the Surrey Schoolgirl, and to this day no one knows what happened to Ruth Wilson and the few clues left behind tend to generate more questions than answers. Why had she gone to Box Hill on that fateful day? What were the meanings of the notes and the flowers she sent? Did she run away, was she abducted, or what? Where did she go without any of her belongings and no money and what was going through her mind on that chilly, raining evening as that taxi driver drove off to leave her standing in the rain? We don’t know, and it seems she has just walked off the face of the earth into oblivion and an unsolved mystery we will probably never get to the bottom of.