5 Mysterious Disappearances (That Were Elaborate Hoaxes)

#2. Close Encounters of the Nonexistent Kind

It's a story you've heard before. Regular Joes find themselves out in the boonies at night (it's always at night). Cletus and Bubba Jr. see a disc-shaped light, and someone gets anal probed by melon-headed creatures of the sky. If you've heard one, you've heard them all. But there was something about Travis Walton's 1975 "abduction" that not only made people think twice about the existence of aliens, but somehow warranted a 1993 feature film that actually made it into theaters. Into theaters!

With such masterpieces as TMNT3 and Super Mario Bros.!

First, we need to backtrack. In 1975, Travis Walton and his six co-workers were driving home after work when they saw a flying saucer. They stopped to get a better look-see, when Travis' curiosity got the best of him and he bolted toward the light. According to the witnesses, a beam of green-blue alien brightness lifted Travis a foot into the air, then shot him back another 10 feet, then dropped his country ass on the ground. His good friends fled faster than WWII vets at a Rocky Horror singalong.

Now, it helps set the scene to know that 22-year-old Travis was a logger, and that this is what he looked like:

You know this man has never worn anything but denim.

If it were possible for Ron Swanson and the construction guy from the Village People to make a grown baby-man, Travis Walton would be it.

A few minutes after leaving the scene, the loggers returned. Travis, the spaceship and any hopes of living a normal life were all gone. Within hours, sheriffs were searching -- no sign of him. The next day, they had helicopters and jeeps and horse officers looking -- still nothing. For days, the community searched for the man. After all, even if the whole thing was a logging trip gone horribly wrong, there had to be a body somewhere, right? It wasn't until five days later that Travis reappeared -- thinner, wearing the same clothes, frazzled and mumbling about beings with huge eyes. And apparently he thought he'd only been gone a few hours.

"I just railed some 2C-I and hydrocodone, and then suddenly, out of nowhere, ALIENS!"

And so many people believed him that this one story became one of the biggest abduction stories ever.

The Bullshit:

Right off the bat, we're starting with a UFO abduction, so it's not like Cracked.com is going to blow your minds with a debunking session. But that still raises the question of why somebody would make up such a story.

Well, almost from the moment Travis Walton returned, he would only talk to people who believed in UFOs and paid him. You know who fit that bill perfectly? The National Enquirer, which had a $100,000 reward for anyone who could prove aliens existed. For access to the story, the tabloid magazine paid for Walton's medical exams and a polygraph test -- which he failed (a fact which everyone immediately decided should be kept secret).

Because that would only make the truth all fuzzy and untruthful.

So if the presence of The National Enquirer didn't raise some eyebrows, the fact that the whole Walton family had been UFO-obsessed for years should have. Travis' brother Duane was fond of telling people he'd been chased by a UFO in the forest as a kid, and their absent father was a UFO fanatic before he abandoned the family. When told about the abduction, Travis' mother insisted the aliens wouldn't harm her son -- that he would be returned, because that's how aliens do. There was no "Oh no! My baby!" or suspicious glances at the rest of the crew. Just an implicit understanding that yes, her son was with the aliens in the sky, and yes, he would be returned shortly.

"Just as soon as he takes us to his dealer."

But still, there were those six witnesses. Six. You can't fake six witnesses to an event -- someone is bound to fall apart somewhere in the interrogation process, right? Not if, as the sheriff alleges, the saucer was actually a lit balloon that brother Duane set off at the right time, and the loggers really believed they saw something all along. Especially since the driver had watched a movie about a UFO encounter two weeks earlier.

If you're waiting to hear when these guys got caught, too bad. Travis Walton published his book, which later became a movie, and he gets invited to UFO events all the time. In other words, we think we've found the perfect crime.

Now, if you'll excuse us, we've got to disappear for two or three days.

Speaking of the perfect crime ...

#1. The Case of Agatha Christie's Baffling Revenge

Maybe you're not a 70-year-old lady who loves to knit by the fireplace while reading Agatha Christie mystery novels and sipping hot tea. But even if you've never read a Christie page-turner, you've probably heard of her. After all, her books have made her the best-selling fiction writer of all time, ahead of even Dr. Seuss and Stephen King. Only Shakespeare has sold more works than Christie, and God help us all if you don't know who he is.

The difference between Shakespeare and Christie, however, was that Agatha was a huge celebrity in her lifetime. And since her lifetime was after cameras and movies were invented, everyone knew what she looked like. In 1926, she looked a little something like this:

It's surprising that any foxes survived the 20th century.

On December 3, 1926, the author was enjoying the success of her latest murder mystery when her husband, Archie, dropped a bomb. He was leaving her for another woman. Like, right then. He had his bags packed and everything. So he takes off and leaves her alone with their child. Then she does the same. The kid just hangs out in bed by herself.

"Looks like it's time for 'The Case of the Dog in the Gas Oven.'"

The next day, Agatha's car was found at an embankment by a lake, which was eerily named Silent Pool, because she knew her stuff. In it was a small suitcase with her belongings, her coat -- remember it's December in England, which Dickens taught us is very cold -- and her driver's license. Things did not look good for Ms. Christie. The lake was promptly dredged, and no fewer than 15,000 volunteers began the 11-day hunt to find her.

We should have also mentioned that her mother had died only a few months before. So there were two big fears: a) she killed herself or b) her husband did the killing for her. Why else would this otherwise successful, famous, rich woman abandon her child and disappear?

"Screw that, I'm young and rich. Why wouldn't I?"

It was the stuff of a murder novel -- if only a detective could come in and crack the case.

The Bullshit:

There was no need for a detective. A banjo player, of all people, said he knew exactly where she was -- at a spa 200 miles away. Sure enough, there she was, registered under the name "Teresa Neele," which happened to be the last name of her husband's lover. While there, she danced the Charleston, played bridge with new friends and quietly enjoyed crossword puzzles, and when asked if she was the famous writer, she politely chuckled that she wasn't.

Banjo player? Waaait a second, what kind of mustache was he rocking?

So maybe she was in some kind of fugue state? Between her mother's death and her husband's abandonment, maybe she had suffered a nervous breakdown? Some researchers claim that yes, that's it. Agatha Christie, the world's most famous murder novelist, who weaves intricate plots of mystery and intrigue, just happened to suffer from a sort of amnesia that just happened to frame her husband for murder.

We say, sure, if you're enrolled in Fat Chance Academy. Ms. Christie took a train to that spa, which she was able to afford because she was wearing a money belt swollen with wads of cash. The whole thing was a clumsy attempt to embarrass her husband for leaving her, maybe even frame him for murder, but it was the crappiest framing ever made. And her fans and the police were livid with her when they found out she'd been chilling at a spa the whole time they were looking for her. In their eyes, it was a publicity stunt to promote her latest novel -- one that worked, because the whole country talked of nothing else but Ms. Christie's disappearance for 11 days.

Not the perfect cover.

And as a footnote, not only did Agatha Christie go on to write 60 more novels after her disappearance, she also eventually remarried, to a man 15 years her junior. She was never investigated, and everyone kind of forgot about that time she abandoned her 7-year-old kid. Which was a pretty neat trick, when you think about it.

For more terrible responses to problems, check out 6 People Who Faked Their Own Death (For Ridiculous Reasons). Or learn about the 6 People Who Just Fucking Disappeared.

And stop by LinkSTORM to learn which columnist faked his death to get out of marrying his girlfriend (now wife).

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