5 Prominent People Who Just Up And Vanished

They never found the body
5 Prominent People Who Just Up And Vanished

Disappearing is difficult nowadays. If someone goes even three days without posting online, officers are dispatched to their last known location, with help from the GPS chips embedded in everyone’s feet. Slip a few decades into the past, however, and some people simple vanished from all records — even people who had everyone’s eyes on them. 

One Actress in ‘Scarface’ Was Never Seen Again

Early on in 1983’s Scarface, Tony Montana and a pal visit a motel to buy some cocaine. A man there is soon killing Tony’s partner with a chainsaw, a most inconvenient weapon to bring with you to motels. Some time passes before Tony’s lookout arrives and intervenes. This lookout is delayed, initially distracted by chatting up a passing pedestrian.

This pedestrian has no name or lines, but this sight leaves a certain kind of viewer saying, “Who is she? Does she have any other scenes?” This cultured cinephile would research and learn the actress is named Tammy Lynn Leppert, and she also acted in another movie from that year, called Spring Break. She received no official credit for that film, but she still appeared prominently on the movie poster. 

Spring Break poster

Columbia Pictures

Well, one part of her did, and it wasn’t her face.

Her entire filmography comprises three uncredited roles: “party girl,” “boxing contest girl” and “distraction at the lookout girl.” Her résumé then ends because she vanished. In fact, by the time Scarface released to theaters, she’d already been missing for six months. The scene of some character getting dismembered by a chainsaw is played for comedy — it’s only macabre now thanks to this real-life detail.

She was last seen on a Florida beach that summer, and then she was gone. As this was the 1980s, and Florida, many suspected that she’d fallen victim to a serial killer. Her family settled on one guy, an Australian named Christopher Wilder who’d killed at least 12 women, starting in Florida before working his way west. He died in April 1984 in a police shoot-out, and Leppert’s family went on to sue his estate on suspicion of killing Tammy. 


Mostly because he liked killing blondes.

The evidence against Wilder? Not much, and authorities never suspected him, but when someone goes missing, people are always tempted to propose some theory or another. We’re especially struck by this newspaper’s suggestion:

USA Today

The article contains no elaboration before or after this regarding vampire rapist John Crutchley (a man who earned this title for extracting one victim’s blood and trying to drink it). Sometimes, you just have to say, “Maybe it was the vampire rapist” and move on. 

The New York Supreme Court Justice Who Might Have Been Killed By Cops

A century ago, there lived in New York a man named Joe Force Crater. That alone is a fact powerful enough to brighten your day, and you need read no more. You may also be interested, though, to know he was a judge on the New York State Supreme Court, and his disappearance was a huge deal. 

Joseph Force Crater

via Wiki Commons

His head was also a huge deal.

One night, Crater had his staff cash out a big pile of money for him, and this aroused no suspicion. Clearly, Party Joe was taking a few hours away from his wife to immerse himself in wine, women and song. But he never returned, and people later discovered he’d secretly withdrawn an even larger sum. That might point to him slipping away to start a new life, but he also had additional envelopes of money at home, which he left behind. He also left behind all his belongings, while otherwise not being particularly discreet in his departure. 

Perhaps he was making a giant payment to someone, rather than making off with the money. The last words his wife heard him say were that he was heading into the city to “straighten out a few people,” and he’d previously been involved in a corruption investigation. One theory tied him to Charles Burns, an NYPD cop who also worked for the mob. Burns murdered Force — according to a letter found in 2005, written by an old dying woman, recounting something told to her by her NYPD husband. That’s not exactly black-and-white proof, and we don’t see ourselves stumbling on any new evidence going forward. 

New York Aquarium

David Shankbone

He sleeps with the fishes, says this theory (i.e., he’s buried under the aquarium).

The surprising part isn’t that we’re still talking about Crater 90 years after his presumed death. It’s that other people aren’t. Because for decades, people did continue to talk about Crater. His name was a punchline for “guy who disappeared, and probably got whacked,” and that name remains in old movies and TV shows long after we’ve forgotten who he was. It’s like how the average kid today doesn’t know what Jimmy Hoffa did for a living but sure knows that he vanished. One day, even that much will be forgotten. 

The Guerilla Fighter of Confederates

During the Civil War, the Confederates looked at anyone who didn’t already have to fight and conscripted them into building forts for them. This included Henry Berry Lowry, of the Lumbee tribe, only Lowry wasn’t keen on helping Confederates. He instead founded the Lowry Gang, devoted to the far more interesting task of robbing Confederates. 

Lowry Gang

NC Dept Natural and Cultural Resources

This photo’s staged but shows the Lowry Gang meant business.

The gang stole hogs and burgled homes and robbed carriages, winding up with more valuables than they knew what to do with. Often, they gave the booty away to others who needed it. Sometimes, when they were through using a horse or a wagon, they returned it to the owner. 

Things escalated when the Confederates executed Henry’s father for the offense of owning a gun. The Lowry Gang added murdering Confederates to their repertoire of crimes, and authorities stepped up attempts to hunt them down. They got their chance at capturing Henry when the Civil War ended, and he made the mistake of attending a public wedding (his own). Before they could try him, friends smuggled a file into his prison cell, and he sawed through the bars and escaped. 

Henry Berry Lowry

via Wiki Commons

History omits how he dealt with the guards. Maybe he just stared at them. 

In 1872, the gang pulled off their biggest heist of all, stealing the equivalent of half a million dollars from a sheriff’s safe. That was the last anyone heard of Henry Berry Lowry. He remained an extremely wanted man, but no one had any luck tracking him down. He killed himself cleaning his shotgun, said one story, but it was never substantiated. They probably just spread that story to save face. And to make him look stupid. And to scare people off owning guns. 

The Founder of the Nation of Islam

You probably know the Nation of Islam thanks to its leader Louis Farrakhan, who gained the nickname “Black Hitler” for certain pointed views of his. The organization was founded by Wallace Fard Muhammad, and if you’re expecting us to now give you a thorough biography of Wallace Fard Muhammad, you’re about to be disappointed. 

via Wiki Commons

Many of you are now tossing your phones to the ground in anger.

We don’t know where he came from. We don’t know for sure when he was born. We don’t even know what race he was, though we have some photos of him. We just know he showed up in Detroit in the 1930s, selling raincoats door-to-door. Selling raincoats turned out to be a great way of talking to people and telling them they should adopt Muslim names, and give him money.

Then, in 1932, one man Fard had inducted into his church performed a human sacrifice. Robert Harris took a new follower to an altar, stabbed him in the heart and bludgeoned him in front of an audience. Police arrested Fard, but they found themselves unable to charge him with inciting the murder. They settled for convincing him to leave Detroit, forever. 

Fard, left, showing a book to police detectives

via Wiki Commons

Here he is with detectives, and with a book again, most suspiciously.

He returned to Detroit, repeatedly. He dodged arrests, on the charges of running a school without a license (a school that said poison bombs would soon fall and kill off all the white people). What happened to him after this? No one knows. The FBI tried to find out, and his own followers revered him as God, so a lot of people were very interested in his whereabouts but still turned up nothing. One report from 1959 said he went on to work for Hitler, and while that was likely a story planted by the FBI purely to discredit his followers, some would say it sounded pretty on-brand for the organization. 

The Eight-Year-Old Novelist

There’s a running joke online, about former “gifted kids” who are convinced the world failed them because they’re unremarkable now. Maybe they feel unremarkable because the ability to read at an eighth grade level is an accomplishment when you’re nine years old but standard when you’re adult. Kids are told that smarts is an inherent quality, which means if you’re above average as a tyke, you’ll be above average your whole life, but what if that’s not true?

a business woman who is stressed and frustrated

Elisa Ventur

What do you mean “everyone can solve puzzles, it’s no big deal”?

Even outright child prodigies often see no great success as adults. Consider Barbara Follett. She wrote a novel when she was eight, which is surely worthy of praise. The House Without Windows was published four years later, in 1927, by which point she still appeared too young to have managed such a feat. The book, wrote the New York Times, “may prove to be the most authentic and unalloyed document of a transient and hitherto unrecorded phase in plastic intelligence.”

She wrote more books. Then her father abandoned the family, and Barbara needed to get a job (“writer,” of course, is not a real job). Along with being a secretary, she continued to work on new novels, but when she got around to sending them to the publisher, no one was interested. She was an adult now, and married, and they no longer had the prodigy gimmick to sell the book. Maybe the new manuscript was good, we don’t know, but that doesn’t guarantee a book deal. 

Barbara Newhall Follett

via Wiki Commons

And even a book deal doesn't guarantee success.

One day, she left home and never came back. If she ran away, it wouldn’t be the first time. She ran away once as a child, and her parents swiftly dispatched police to fetch her back. The House Without Windows was about a little girl who disappears (and becomes a wood nymph). She’d also long talked about running to sea and becoming a pirate; we need to give that ambition the seriousness it deserves. This time, no one retrieved Barbara, partly because her husband never reported her as missing. By the time her mother asked police to investigate, 13 years had passed. 

No one ever found out what happened to Barbara Follett. You can go hunt down her book now if you like. You can also ponder the effects of authorship on young children. Follett once mused what would happen if we gave every four-year-old their own typewriter. We more-or-less did that, in the 21st century. The results were disastrous. 

Follow Ryan Menezes on Twitter for more stuff no one should see.

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