Every year, thousands of people go missing all over the world. According to the statistics provided by the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, in the United States alone, there are approximately 90,000 missing people at any given time. Losing a loved one is hard enough, but when a person goes missing, families are thrust into a state of limbo, and they are left to grapple with the question – what exactly happened? More often than not, these missing person cases take months or years to be solved, and they often end in tragedy. Here are 10 such mind-boggling missing person cases that were later solved.
1. Walter Collins disappeared from his home in 1928. After his disappearance, the Los Angeles police department tried to convince his mother, Christine Collins, that a different boy was her son. The story made national headlines, and it was later discovered that Walter had been kidnapped and murdered by Gordon Stewart Northcott in the Wineville Chicken Coop Murders.
Southern California was flourishing in 1928. The movie industry and agriculture had completely transformed this region into a bustling metropolis. However, when a series of child abductions and murders took place in Los Angeles and Riverside County, it changed how people saw this place. The Wineville Chicken Coop Murders made headlines and drew national attention, but perhaps, the most publicized story was of Walter Collins, the son of Christine Collins.
On 10 March 1928, nine-year-old Walter disappeared from near his home in Los Angeles. His mother had given him some money so that he could go and see a movie at a nearby theater, and he was last seen by a neighbor around 5:00 p.m.
At the time of Walter’s disappearance, the LAPD was being investigated for several corruption scandals, and when they failed to locate Walter even after following up on hundreds of leads, it brought the entire department a lot of shame and embarrassment. The case received nationwide attention, and there was tremendous public pressure for solving the case.
Five months later, the police learned about a boy in DeKalb, Illinois who claimed to be Walter. Photographs and letters were exchanged, and then Christine Collins paid for him to be brought to Los Angeles. Upon seeing the boy, Christine said that he was not her son. Yet, Captain J.J. Jones, the officer in charge, convinced her to take the boy home and “try him out.”
Three weeks later, Christine returned saying that the boy was not her son. Though she had the backing of her friends and dental records to prove her case, the officer accused her of lying and of being a bad mother. He even had her committed to a psychiatric facility.
Later, when the boy was questioned, he admitted to being Arthur Hutchins from Iowa. The 12-year-old runaway had lied and posed as Walter so that he could get to Hollywood and meet his favorite actor, Tom Mix.
In 1929, the court found Gordon Stewart Northcott guilty of abducting, molesting, and killing three young boys in what came to be known as the Wineville Chicken Coop Murders. Northcott’s mother, who played an active role in her son’s crimes, confessed to being involved in the murder of Walter Collins. She was sentenced to life imprisonment without a trial, and Gordon Northcott received the death penalty.
Gordon Northcott denied killing Walter, and Christine Collins chose to believe that her son was still alive. Northcott pledged to tell her the truth of what happened to her son but changed his mind at the last minute. Christine Collins continued searching for her son until her death in 1964.
The 2008 movie, Changeling, depicts the story of Walter’s disappearance and everything that followed. Angelina Jolie played the role of Christine Collins and she even received an Academy Award nomination for her performance. (1, 2)
2. Ludwig Stumpfegger was Adolf Hitler’s personal surgeon. After Hitler’s suicide, Stumpfegger, and a few others escaped from the Führerbunker. He was thought to be at large since 1 May 1945, but his remains were discovered in 1972 in West Berlin.
Ludwig Stumpfegger was a German doctor who served in Nazi Germany during the Second World War. He was Adolf Hitler’s personal surgeon from 1944 to 1945, and he was also present in the Führerbunker, where Hitler committed suicide in 1945.
During World War II, Stumpfegger served in the SS. While working under the supervision of two other doctors, he performed medical experiments on women subjects who were brought from concentration camps. After a few promotions, he was transferred to Hitler’s headquarters as the resident doctor.
In 1945, while working directly for the Führer in the Führerbunker in Berlin, Stumpfegger distributed cyanide capsules among secretaries, various military adjutants, and other staff in the bunker.
On April 30, 1945, minutes before committing suicide, Hitler signed an order allowing a breakout. The next day, Stumpfegger along with Nazi Party officials Martin Bormann, Artur Axmann, and Werner Naumann, left the Führerbunker as part of their breakout plan.
They were one of the ten groups that tried to break out of the Soviet encirclement. The Germans used a Tiger tank to try and storm across the Weidendammer Bridge, but it was destroyed. When the tank was hit, Stumpfegger and Bormann were knocked over.
Finally, on their third attempt, Stumpfegger and the group were able to cross the Spree. Axmann decided to leave the group and go alone in the opposite direction of where Stumpfegger and Bormann were going. When he came across a Red Army patrol, he decided to double back.
On his way back, Axmann saw two bodies on a bridge. He later identified them as Stumpfegger and Bormann, but since he had not checked the bodies, he failed to figure out what killed them.
In 1963, a man named Albert Krumnow told the police that around May 8, 1945, he and his colleagues buried two bodies near Lehrter station at the order of the Soviets. One of the men was wearing a Wehrmacht uniform and the other one was in underwear. Krumnow’s colleague found a doctor’s paybook on one of the bodies and identified him as Dr. Ludwig Stumpfegger. When he gave the paybook to his boss, the book was turned over to the Soviets, who then destroyed it.
In July of 1965, excavations were carried out at the site described by Krumnow, but the bodies were not discovered. Finally, in 1972, some construction workers uncovered human remains in West Berlin near Lehrter station, just 39 feet away from the site that Krumnow had reported. Autopsy of the remains revealed that they had committed suicide by biting cyanide capsules. Dental records and other forensic exams determined that one of them was Bormann, and the second skeleton was determined to be of Stumpfegger. (1, 2)
3. Mary Jane Barker, a four-year-old girl from New Jersey, went missing on February 25, 1957. After an extensive search, her body was discovered in the closet of an empty house near her home on March 3.
On February 25, 1957, around 10:30 a.m., Bellmawr, New Jersey resident, four-year-old Mary Jane Barker, disappeared along with her playmate’s four-month-old black spaniel puppy. Last seen playing in a neighborhood yard, the girl was supposed to meet her friend and neighbor, six-year-old Maria Freitta, who was also the owner of the dog.
Later in the day, around 1:30 p.m., the police were notified, and Barker was presumed kidnapped. The next day, different sets of footprints, which seemed to belong to a man, child, and dog, were found along a nearby stream bank. The police report said that the child’s footprints matched the size of Barker’s shoes.
As per The Philadelphia Inquirer, her disappearance sparked an intensive search for a murderer or kidnapper. It was even dubbed as “the largest search in South Jersey.” The police along with hundreds of volunteers searched the city. On the first night, over 200 civilians conducted a foot-by-foot search. Eventually, more than a thousand volunteers were involved. Barker’s remained missing even on her fourth birthday.
On February 27, Barker’s parents appealed on TV, asking the kidnapper to release their child. The police questioned a 43-year old convicted child molester who had been near the Barker home. On February 28, the FBI performed its own search and again questioned the same suspect after the police received a ransom call.
Despite working on several leads, the police and the FBI failed to find Barker. Finally, on March 3, Maria Freitta, Barker’s playmate and the owner of the dog, went to a newly-built, vacant ranch house that was next door to her house. When six-year-old Freitta opened the door of the three-foot by five-foot bedroom closet, her missing dog leaped out of the closet.
Also in the closet was Mary Jane Barker, dead and in a seated position. She was wearing the same clothes she had on the day she disappeared. The hood of her coat partially covered her blonde hair and a few bits of fur from her hat had been rubbed off. The police chief stated that he believed the little girl had been recently placed in the closet since the puppy had been fed. Moreover, there was no animal waste inside the closet even though the pup had not been housebroken.
The autopsy revealed that Barker had not eaten since the day she vanished. There were no signs of foul play, violence, or sexual molestation. It was also determined that she lived in the closet for around three days without food or water. The closet also showed marks of an escape attempt. The dog was with her the whole time, and it needed to be put down for a detailed examination of its stomach contents.
Eventually, Barker’s death was ruled as an accident. It was determined that she died due to starvation and exposure. The little girl somehow got trapped inside the closet and died of starvation and fright. She did not suffocate because of a small hole in the closet. (1, 2)
4. Reet Jurvetson, a 19-year-old Canadian woman, disappeared in November 1969 and was found murdered a few days later in Los Angeles, California. She had been stabbed over 150 times, and her body was rolled down into a ravine. Jurvetson remained unidentified for 46 years until a family member recognized an online mortuary photograph in 2015.
On November 16, 1969, a 15-year-old birdwatcher discovered the body of a white female in dense bushland near Mulholland Drive in Los Angeles, California. The victim was fully clothed and had over 150 stab wounds, mainly to the neck, chest, and torso. Her carotid artery was severed and she had defensive wounds on her hands.
It was determined that she died around two days before her body was discovered. Investigators believed that the killer had transported her body to the location and dumped her in the ravine where her body was discovered in an upright position. There were no signs of robbery or sexual assault, and she did not have any drugs or alcohol in her system.
Initially, she was thought to have been murdered by the Manson family, mainly because of how close her body was found from where the Tate–LaBianca murders took place just three months prior. Moreover, a woman who resembled the victim had been seen with various members of the Manson family just days before. Charles Manson was interviewed multiple times, but he denied any involvement.
Because she did not have any ID on her, she remained unidentified and was officially known as “Jane Doe 59.” After a thorough inspection of her clothing and accessories, the investigators theorized that she was from Canada or Spain. Finally, in June 2015, 46 years after her death, friends and family recognized Jurvetson from online mortuary photographs of the then-unidentified woman.
Jurvetson’s older sister then submitted a DNA sample for comparison, and in 2016, it was announced that “Jane Doe 59” has been conclusively identified as Reet Silvia Jurvetson, a 19-year-old girl from Montreal who had been living in Los Angeles for just a few weeks before her murder. (1, 2)
5. Martha Morrison disappeared in September of 1974. Her remains were discovered the following month, but she remained unidentified for over 40 years because her bones were mislabeled. Finally, in 2015, the error was spotted and her remains were identified by means of DNA profiling.
On October 12, 1974, the remains of two women were discovered in Dole Valley near Vancouver, Washington. The bones were examined all over the country to help identify them. Dental records made it possible to identify one of the victims as 18-year-old Carol Platt Valenzuela, but the other one remained unidentified. Despite carrying out several examinations, the second victim could not be identified and was thought to be a 20 to 25 years old female.
The remains were examined by an anthropologist, and the investigators even released the forensic facial reconstruction to the public through a newspaper, but it did not produce a favorable outcome. Further examinations revealed that the women had been dead for at least two weeks before the discovery of their remains. Animal activity and decomposition made it difficult to determine the exact cause or time of death. However, it was presumed that they had been murdered. At one point, notorious serial killer Ted Bundy was thought to be responsible for the murders, but it was later ruled out.
Decades went by without identification, and it was eventually discovered that Morrison’s bones and skull were mislabeled while they were in storage. That is why the initial DNA testing yielded no result. Then, DNA taken from the victim’s father was compared to that of the unidentified remains. That proved conclusively that the remains were of 17-year-old Martha Marie Morrison, who disappeared on September 1, 1974. (1, 2)