5 Mysterious Disappearances (That Were Elaborate Hoaxes)

We've all had those days when we just wanted to run away. Maybe the boss was being a jerk or the toilet overflowed after enchilada/laxative night. Maybe your best friend is an old Asian man who makes you do his housekeeping under the pretense of giving you martial arts lessons. Who are we to presume what troubles ail you? The point is, most of us suck it up and work through our issues.

Not these champs. When things got tough, they decided it was time to disappear under the cover of a grossly implausible story.

#5. The World's Worst Dad

What's the worst thing that can happen to you when you're a kid? OK, besides peeing your pants during a spelling bee in an auditorium full of your peers. We'd count losing one of your parents in the top three worst things, easy. In 2002, British dad John Darwin disappeared after kayaking in the North Sea. His body was never found, his wife inherited a 250,000-pound insurance policy and his teenage sons began the long, torturous process of grieving their father. But not before they spent hours researching missing persons and unidentified bodies, scouring the Internet for clues like the goddamn Hardy Boys. For five years.


Then they got a call that GUESS WHAT? Their dad was alive and well, and had just walked himself into a police station with a spot of amnesia! The boys, now in their early 20s, got their mom on the phone to shriek the good news. The nightmare was over!

The Bullshit:

For Anthony and Mark Darwin, the nightmare was just beginning.

Dad, as you probably can guess, did not actually have amnesia. Dad had, in fact, faked his death for an insurance policy, intending to start a new life without them and travel the world under his new identity. But that's not the worst part: Their freaking mom was in on it the whole time.

Guardian
Faces like theirs are exactly what alcoholism was made for.

The whole scheme was hatched between the two of them for that insurance policy, which they happily splurged on themselves within the five years dad was "missing" and presumed dead by all of the people who loved him. The couple took trips, bought cars, shopped for 42-foot catamarans and snorted gold dust off each other's bodies (allegedly).

By the way, if you're wondering where dear old dad was hiding out while they were carrying out this fraud, he lived NEXT DOOR. Right there, by his mourning sons.


Of course this was devastating, as they thought they lived next to Santa that whole time.

So how did they find out? Eventually, the "widowed" Mrs. Darwin announced she was starting over in Panama. It was time for a new climate, a new hemisphere, a new start. Her grown sons wished her well. She had been through so much, after all. What the sons didn't know was that it wasn't just their mom who was going to start over in Panama -- their "dead" dad was going as well. So they could have canoeing adventures.

Telegraph
And take pictures with their real estate guy.

And that was when the guilt finally hit not-dead John Darwin. So he came up with the best plan he could (because he only watched soap operas and the Bourne movies) -- amnesia. He booked a flight home and turned himself in. Now think about that phone call those grown boys made to their mom -- how she had to act out her surprise and joy and relief after all those years. Call us cynical, but Meryl Streep she ain't:

dailymail
"My soul mate. Alive. Yay."

Three days later, the jig was up. Between the tan and the fact that the policemen weren't toddlers, the whole scheme fell apart pretty quickly. Both John and his wife ended up putting in six years in the slammer. As for the boys, well, one of them put it this way:

"They were in it together and they deserve the sentences handed down by the judge. They're as bad as each other."

#4. The Congressional Candidate With Cold Feet

Congressional candidate Gary Dodds was in the middle of a rigorous campaign when something terrible happened. He was driving alone in April 2006, and he had a horrific car accident. He left his car, disoriented and injured, and somehow found himself crossing the icy Bellamy River in search of help. Twenty seven hours later, he was found shivering under a pile of leaves, frostbitten and drifting in and out of consciousness.

But at least he was found. Because Gary Dodds is a survivor.

wonkette
"My opponents can't even handle the air-conditioner without a coat."

The Bullshit:

The aftermath of this amazing tale raised a few red flags.

First, it appeared that the car crash wasn't so much a "crash" as it was an "accelerated bump," one that drew in rescue authorities within minutes. Second, Dodds' body temperature when they found him was 96.8, despite his violent case of the shakes. Most bullshitty of all was his frostbite -- which only seemed to affect his feet up to his ankles. It was almost like he'd been soaking his feet in cold water for 24 hours. We're not kidding here -- there was an actual demarcation line where his "frostbite" ended.

Getty
"Oh God, there was ice everywhere. It was 18-year-old scotch. The horror ... the horror."

It didn't take a mathologist to realize the numbers weren't adding up. It turned out that the whole escapade was a ruse to distract attention from his failing campaign, to paint this picture of some kind of Rambo, as if camping skills translate into being something other than a resourceful Boy Scout. Needless to say, Dodds came in third out of four candidates, and the fourth was a drunk llama.

Dodds was also convicted of leaving the scene of an accident, falsifying evidence and causing a public panic. But since then, everything's been coming up Dodds! Except for when he got arrested again a couple of years later.

Getty
For impersonating a drunk llama.

#3. The Horny Preacher Lady

Just for the sake of illustration, imagine that one day Oprah Winfrey goes for a swim in the ocean and disappears. Just -- vanishes. Think of what her fans would do. Think of the chaotic mournfest America would fall into.

Getty
People would go back to eating books for sustenance.

So, God help us, nothing like this imaginary travesty will ever happen. But something similar did happen in 1926, only the drowning victim was a celebrity preacher named Aimee Semple McPherson. She was a televangelist type before there was such a thing as television, a big time media pioneer. She was one of the first preachers to use radio and invented the megachurch. And she did it looking and talking like a flapper holding bootlegged hooch in her undercarriage. Watch this video of Aimee and her albino fox carcass spreading the good word.

So, back to our story. On May 18, 1926, Aimee went for a swim in the Pacific Ocean and never came home. Her mom tactfully made the announcement at the end of a sermon by declaring "Sister is with Jesus." Aimee's flock freaked out. One would-be rescuer drowned, and another died of exposure. For a solid month, the country played detective, looking for her body. Until the day when -- praise Jesus! -- she stumbled out of the desert with a story of kidnapping, drugging and torture. But at least she was home. Hallelujah!

flixster.org
And here's a legitimate photo of her killing a Bigfoot.

The Bullshit:

For all her savvy business sense, Aimee didn't quite think her story through. For one thing, she claimed she escaped her kidnappers and managed a 13-hour trek through the desert. Yet she looked as fresh as a daisy -- she wasn't dehydrated or sunburned, her clothes didn't have that I-just-fucking-traversed-a-desert look. So that didn't quite sit right with investigators.

foursquare.org
"And the LORD bestowed upon me shower gel, and lo, Palmolive did flow through the desert like water."

Then there was the matter of Aimee's so called kidnappers, "Steve" and "Mexicali Rose," who she said chloroformed her before stealing her away in their car. Steve. Mexicali Rose.

And that was about the moment when everyone noticed that Kenneth Ormiston, the married radio operator from her megachurch, had been missing for about as month as well. Either an altogether different kidnapper was really into Jesus or these two had been laying up in a love nest copulating (for God). Apparently, it never occurred to Sister Aimee that anyone would actually miss anybody but her, or that anyone would suspect that the two of them would take off together.

jeff560
And suddenly you're picturing them having sex.

In fact, five different people claimed they saw the two at a rented cottage in Carmel-by-the-Sea. But when it came time for the district attorney to build the case of kidnap fakery, not to mention manslaughter of her rescuers, this Ormiston fellow said yes, in fact, he had been renting a cottage in Caress-by-the-Semen. But not with Aimee -- it was with another hussy. A lady he refused to name.

Wikipedia
A-- Amelia Earhart?

In the end, either the district attorney didn't have enough evidence against the lying lovebirds, or Jesus himself convinced him to drop the case. Note: Two years later, this particular district attorney was convicted of accepting a bribe from an altogether different entity. You do the math.

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