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.

The World's Worst Dad

5 Mysterious Disappearances (That Were Elaborate Hoaxes)

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.

5 Mysterious Disappearances (That Were Elaborate Hoaxes)

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.

5 Mysterious Disappearances (That Were Elaborate Hoaxes)

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.

5 Mysterious Disappearances (That Were Elaborate Hoaxes)

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:

5 Mysterious Disappearances (That Were Elaborate Hoaxes)

"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."

The Congressional Candidate With Cold Feet

5 Mysterious Disappearances (That Were Elaborate Hoaxes)

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.

5 Mysterious Disappearances (That Were Elaborate Hoaxes)

"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.

5 Mysterious Disappearances (That Were Elaborate Hoaxes)

"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.

5 Mysterious Disappearances (That Were Elaborate Hoaxes)

For impersonating a drunk llama.

The Horny Preacher Lady

5 Mysterious Disappearances (That Were Elaborate Hoaxes)

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.

5 Mysterious Disappearances (That Were Elaborate Hoaxes)

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!

5 Mysterious Disappearances (That Were Elaborate Hoaxes)

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.


"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.

5 Mysterious Disappearances (That Were Elaborate Hoaxes)

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.


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.

Close Encounters of the Nonexistent Kind

5 Mysterious Disappearances (That Were Elaborate Hoaxes)

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:

5 Mysterious Disappearances (That Were Elaborate Hoaxes)

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.

5 Mysterious Disappearances (That Were Elaborate Hoaxes)

"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.

5 Mysterious Disappearances (That Were Elaborate Hoaxes)

"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 ...

The Case of Agatha Christie's Baffling Revenge

5 Mysterious Disappearances (That Were Elaborate Hoaxes)

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:

5 Mysterious Disappearances (That Were Elaborate Hoaxes)

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.

5 Mysterious Disappearances (That Were Elaborate Hoaxes)

"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?

5 Mysterious Disappearances (That Were Elaborate Hoaxes)

"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.

5 Mysterious Disappearances (That Were Elaborate Hoaxes)

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.

5 Mysterious Disappearances (That Were Elaborate Hoaxes)

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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