Back in the Dark Ages, people disappeared all the time. Crusades, disease and nearly nonexistent bookkeeping made it easy to slip through the cracks without so much as a footprint left behind. Luckily, the modern world makes such disappearances damn near impossible -- when people vanish, it usually turns out they were killed or kidnapped, or at least they were very likely to have been. The point is, usually we have some kind of an answer.
Which makes it all the more mind-boggling when people actually do vanish into thin air, under very weird circumstances. Like ...
For 20 years, Ray Gricar was the district attorney of Centre County, Pennsylvania. He was a solid man with a tough reputation. On April 15, 2005, Gricar phoned his girlfriend and told her he was driving in the countryside and would be back soon.
But hey, mystery schmystery, right? Dude was a hardass DA, he was bound to make enemies. He was probably making that call under duress from some gang member or something.
"Tell her I send my love. No, I couldn't do it myself, it's embarrassing."
That's pretty much what the cops must have figured when Gricar's car was found outside an antiques store. Pretty much everything but his cellphone was missing. There were no signs of a struggle, but it must be noted that DAs seldom put up a fight at gunpoint unless they're played by Aaron Eckhart.
A search ensued. Gricar's credit cards and accounts were monitored, with no signs of activity. His laptop was retrieved from a nearby river, too damaged to recover any files.
Although thankfully not too damaged to run Windows ME.
So what makes Gricar's disappearance any different from those of countless other guys who could have been killed, or killed themselves? Well ...
It Gets Weirder:
Want to guess what case he was working at the time he disappeared? Here's a hint: It's Pennsylvania, home of Penn State University.
Hey, what a coincidence! Something big happened there just the other ... year ... oh.
Yep. Investigators found that at the time of his disappearance in 2005, Gricar was working on what would be known as the Penn State sex abuse scandal, which may or may not end up revealing an assistant football coach as a horrible dickbag who deserves all the prison. You know, that scandal that just broke last year. Gricar was working on it six years earlier.
Then he vanished.
Furthermore, investigators found out Gricar had in 1998 mysteriously refused to press charges against the coach despite having more than enough evidence. In 2005, same thing. It was almost like he was stacking evidence for the mother of all judicial beatdowns.
"You're about to be as screwed as those k-- oh, shit. I probably shouldn't say that."
Many officials have since said that Gricar's disappearance must have something to do with the Penn State scandal, goddamnit. And true enough, even without the whole case-building thing, Gricar had a history of animosity with the university. But here's yet another curve:
Remember that laptop we mentioned, the one that was found in the river? You know, implying that the killer dumped it there? In 2009, someone got around to searching Gricar's home computer. Its search history showed that Gricar had made a whole lot of Web searches for things such as "how to wreck a hard drive," "how to fry a hard drive" and "water damage to a notebook computer." It's as if he was planning to destroy the computer himself, in a way that would make its contents unrecoverable.
"Haha! Now no one will discover all that incriminating evidence! Wait, shit."
So that would mean he dumped the computer, and then vanished. Why?
It's looking like we'll never know.
Louis Le Prince was a 19th century inventor who specialized in cameras and was so far ahead of his time that he actually created the world's first true moving picture. With such pioneering technology at his disposal and loads more up his sleeve, Le Prince was well on his way to becoming the most influential Frenchman since Napoleon. So ... why haven't we ever heard of him before?
Because he vanished. From a train.
"That's odd. Coal almost never screams when you burn it."
In 1890, Le Prince was traveling to America to get new patents and show off his newest wonderful toys. In Dijon, France, he checked his baggage, boarded a train bound for Paris, retired to his cabin and ... that was the last time anyone saw him.
It Gets Weirder:
No passengers saw anything suspicious. There were no noises from Le Prince's cabin. All windows were tightly closed. Yet when the train pulled into Paris, not only was Le Prince not on the train, but his baggage -- kept in a separate compartment -- was missing as well. Both the train and the railroad were searched in their entirety, but neither the man nor the luggage was ever found.
Which is a shame, as his luggage held the upgrade for this ... trouser press?
Some were certain that Le Prince had performed an elaborate suicide by essentially vanishing into thin air, despite being in the middle of a trip to go show off the work he was so proud of. Others claimed his family had ordered him to disappear due to financial problems, and he took it a bit literally. Others still stretched the family theory even further, claiming his brother had murdered him and somehow managed to magic the corpse-luggage combo away because screw you, logic, we're conspiracy theorizin' here.
Occam's razor clearly points toward weaponized spontaneous human combustion.
Of course, there is also that other theory.
Le Prince was in heavy competition with an American film pioneer. Said American actively blocked the Frenchman's U.S. patents, while Le Prince returned the favor by having the American's camera designs bleed out to French cameramen before he could get European patents for them.
So, a slightly dickish, insanely competitive American inventor who was keen on cinematography? Hi, Thomas Edison! We've been missing you.
What's that, Edison? A "murdering train-bound Frenchmen" potion? You scamp!
In a sweet (for Edison) twist of fate, Le Prince's disappearance meant there was no one to hold Tommy back from hogging all the credit for discovering motion pictures. Many investigators noticed this, but there was absolutely no way to connect Edison to the case. And even if he was behind Le Prince's disappearance somehow, that would take us no closer to the grand question: How?
We actually have film footage, but people are waiting for the 3-D rerelease.
Still, we can't help thinking that if you wanted to come up with someone who could make a dude just flat out disappear, the guy whose actual nickname had the word "Wizard" in it might warrant more than a passing glance.
Jean Spangler was one of the many denizens of the shadowy underbelly of Los Angeles -- a gorgeous actress who didn't let her limited success stop her from leading as sparkling a life as she could manage. She had just finished filming a bit part in the movie Young Man With a Horn (tee hee!), among numerous other small roles, and it might just have been a matter of time before she'd make it big. Or not. We'll never know, as fate had other plans for her. One October day in 1949, she set off to meet her ex-husband about child support and was never seen again.
And the creepy headline floodgates opened.
Her purse appeared two days later, untouched and exactly as cashless as it had been (she didn't carry money -- the investigation ruled out robbery). The only thing inside was a cryptic note:
"Kirk, Can't wait any longer. Going to see Dr. Scott. It will work best this way while mother is away."
"Cont. in next tweet."
Nobody knew who "Kirk" was. But there was one Kirk she knew that made the case all the more curious ...
It Gets Weirder:
And when we say curious, we mean the case was intriguing enough to become a nationwide sensation. Publicity brought plenty of new tips and leads, each turning out to be completely useless. All clues pointed in different directions, and each path was a dead end. Yes, even the ex-husband she was on her way to see.
And then we have that "Kirk" she had worked with. Specifically, actor Kirk Douglas of Spartacus and Being Michael Douglas' Dad fame.
Winner of Cracked's "Holy Crap Is That Dude Still Alive?" award 2012.
Douglas managed to become entangled in the case by going out of his way to tell everyone that the "Kirk" in the note totally wasn't him, honestly, guys, he barely knew her. Curiously, up until then the police hadn't even really thought of him as a suspect, despite at the time checking out pretty much every Kirk and Scott within their jurisdiction, just in case.
"To prove it, here's a creepy photo of me in my new film The Champion, out this year."
Douglas could, of course, just have been covering his back, as he'd recently starred in a film Spangler also had a role in. And his involvement was just one of many odd little facts that kept popping up. For instance, three weeks before Spangler's disappearance, a shady abortion doctor named, yes, Dr. Kirk had been threatening all his former patients over the phone, and a close associate of his actually disappeared without a trace. But no evidence ever turned up connecting him with Spangler's disappearance.
In yet another lead, two mobsters who had been partying with Spangler had also vanished at around the same time. Any evidence they were involved with her disappearance? Of course not!
We suspect this child. Because just look at that ghoulish little face.
In fact, no definitive theory or suspect was ever named, as every day it seemed more like Spangler had just flat out walked right off the earth. Lacking gruesome details, the case slipped through the cracks of public consciousness within months. Soon, it was little more than a shrug and a bucketload of half-assed assumptions of botched abortions and various fatal encounters. Thus faded the memory of Jean Spangler.
You know, except for that one time when a mysterious woman who looked exactly like her was spotted in Texas the following year. However, police never pursued the lead.
"Oh yeah, faces like hers are 10 a penny."