The first 48 hours of a Missing Person investigation are crucial because with every hour that passes by, chances of finding the person decreases. When people mysteriously disappear, oftentimes, we assume it’s an abduction, but that’s not always the case. Sometimes people disappear on purpose and start over with a new identity. Other times, mental health issues or amnesia can cause people to wander off and get lost.
Thousands of people go missing in the United States each year, and, unfortunately, most of them will never be seen again- especially if it’s a kidnapping case. Luckily, a small percentage of these people do come back or manage to escape, even if it’s decades later. The chances of finding these people are slim to none, which makes their return even more heartwarming. From The Cleveland Abductions to Gabriel Nagy’s memory loss, these are interesting high-profile missing people who were miraculously found.
If you watched the news in 2002, you most likely heard about the disappearance of 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart. The innocent teenager was sleeping in her bedroom when she was kidnapped by a “friend” of the family, Brian David Mitchell. After breaking into the home, Mitchell abducted Elizabeth at knifepoint.
Mitchell then took his young victim to an encampment where he lived with his wife, Wanda Barzee. Mitchell was a delusional, religious fanatic who thought he was a prophet. Unfortunately, his wife didn’t have one maternal bone in her body and didn’t help Elizabeth. Mitchell “married” Smart, piled her with drugs and alcohol, and continuously raped the poor girl.
If that wasn’t traumatic enough, Elizabeth shared a room with her younger sister, who witnessed the kidnapping but pretended to be asleep. She immediately recognized the kidnapper as a guy named “Immanuel,” who was hired by the Smarts as a handyman. His picture was plastered all over the place, and a nationwide search began.
Eventually, someone recognized Mitchell and Elizabeth when they were out in public- a rare occurrence. After nine long months, Mitchell was arrested, and Elizabeth was finally reunited with her family. Elizabeth grew up to become an inspiring woman. She now works as an activist for child abduction survivors.
Carlos Sanchez Ortiz de Salaza
When someone disappears, people automatically assume they were abducted, but, sometimes, people go missing on purpose. That’s exactly what happened when it came to a psychiatrist named Dr. Salazar from Seville, Spain. He mysteriously vanished in 1995 and was declared dead in 2010, after years of searching.
But then, in 2015, two stunned mushroom pickers found a disheveled-looking man living like a recluse on the coast of Northern Tuscany. Recognizing him as Salazar, the men left him there and immediately contacted the authorities. But when investigators came to look for him, the doctor had disappeared once again, not wanting to be found again.
Hiroo Onoda is basically the Japanese version of Colonel Kurtz from Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. During World War II, Onoda was sent on what was essentially a suicide mission in the Philippines. Almost all of the soldiers on the mission were either killed or taken prisoner. Somehow, Onoda managed to escape with a few other men into the foothills.
In 1945, when the war finally ended, Onoda was involved in a guerilla campaign against the Philippine locals. The Japanese government dropped leaflets over the jungle where Onoda was hiding to inform the locals that the war was over. However, Onoda thought it was a trap.
They continued to fight for years, and, by 1972, all of the men Onoda was hiding with had been either captured or killed, and he was left isolated and alone. It was assumed that he had died during the war. But then, in 1974, Norio Suzuki set out to find, “Lieutenant Onoda, a panda and the Abominable Snowman,” in that order.
Suzuki was a young hippy traveler hoping to find him, and he did. Onoda was found in Lubang Island. He surrendered and then went back to Japan as a hero. He returned home safely but died in a Himalayan avalanche in the pursuit of the Abominable Snowman. Unfortunately, he never found it.
After suffering from domestic abuse, Lula Cora Hood left her family in 1970. She was missing for years, but, in 1996, police thought they found her. Investigators contacted her three children and told them that they thought they had found their mother’s remains in an Illinois brickyard. Hood was declared dead, and they held an official funeral for her.
But a decade later, DNA testing confirmed that the remains did not belong to Hood. The case was reopened, and three weeks later, Hood was found alive and living in Jacksonville, Florida. She had twelve more children during her time missing. After 40 years apart, Hood was finally reunited with her oldest daughter, Grace.
The Cleveland Abductions
In the early 2000s, Ariel Castro abducted three women: Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry, and Georgina DeJesus. The girls were held captive and raped for over a decade. Berry even gave birth to her kidnapper’s child. But, luckily, in 2013, Castro went out and forgot to lock Berry’s door.
All three women and Berry’s daughter ran downstairs and managed to get the attention of Castro’s neighbor, Charles Ramsay. He helped the girls open the front door and rescued them. Berry contacted the police, and the girls were finally free. Castro was sent to prison where he belongs. Unfortunately, he didn’t suffer the consequences he deserved because he hung himself.
Steven Stayner had a devastating, short life. In 1972, when Stayner was just seven years old, Kenneth Parnell kidnapped him. He had already been convicted of sexual crimes against minors, He repeatedly raped the young boy. He also changed Stayner’s name to Dennis Parnell and signed him up in several schools.
When Stayner turned 14, he was getting too old for Parnell, who abducted five-year-old Timothy White. Stayner didn’t want to see another child suffer the way he did, and, in 1980, he managed to escape and took White with him. Sadly, Stayner was never able to get back to normal after his kidnapping. He was addicted to drugs and alcohol and died at 24 years old in a motorcycle accident.
Petra Pazsitka, a 24-year-old German national, went missing in 1984. After searching for her for five years with no luck, the authorities pronounced her dead. However, decades later, in 2015, she was found in Dusseldorf alive and well after calling the police to report a burglary in her home. Authorities needed proper identification, and she was forced to confess.
Pazsitka went really out of her way to keep her identity a secret, and it’s unclear how she even made an income. She never opened a bank account, and all her bills were paid in cash. Interestingly, when her family got the news that she was still alive, Petra wanted nothing to do with them and refused to make any contact.
The disappearance of Gabriel Nagy is arguably the most famous case of Dissociative Fugue. The Australian native lost his memory after a car crash in 1987. For 23 years, he worked odd jobs and lived on the street with no memories of who he was. Right before he was officially declared dead, Medicare documents surfaced with the name Gabriel Nagy.
Nagy needed cataract surgery, so the pastor he was working for helped him set up his Medicare insurance. That’s when an investigator came to meet Nagy with letters and photos of his family, and his memory came flooding back. That’s so heartbreaking; I can’t even imagine living without my memory, and for 23 years?!
Nguyen Thi Van
In 1992, Nguyen Thi Van’s parents tried teaching their daughter a lesson about missing curfew, and, unfortunately, they will never be able to forgive themselves for it. When she didn’t come home on time, Van’s parents locked the house door so she couldn’t get in. What they didn’t expect was that she wouldn’t come home again until decades later.
With nothing else to do, the young Vietnamese woman decided to go to a local bar with some friends. They took a ride with an older woman and ended up in China. Then things took a horrific turn for the worse. Nguyen was tortured, terrified, and sold into marriage. After 21 heartbreaking years, she finally managed to escape.
Robert McDonough, a 73-year old man, suffering from dementia, wandered away from his house in Maine in 2013. Due to his condition, police launched a 14-hour-long search after his family reported him missing. The next morning, the ABC news crew reported McDonough’s disappearance.
As Journalist Norm Karkos was about to go live with the story, guess who wandered into the shot? Yes, it was Robert McDonough! Talk about being in the right place at the right time. Thankfully, he was found unharmed, but wandering off is not uncommon when it comes to dementia. Thankfully, this story had a happy ending.
This is a story that makes me so angry every time because it could have been avoided. In 1991, 11-year-old Jaycee Dugard was kidnapped by convicted sex offender Phillip Garrido and his wife, Nancy. Within two weeks of getting off on parole, Garrido kidnapped the girl. She was held captive in a tent in his backyard for 18 years, despite frequent parole checkups.
Since he was a registered sex offender, neighbors were worried when they saw children playing in his back yard, and they notified the authorities. They also saw that his ankle monitor showed frequent activity in the backyard, yet authorities seemed to ignore it because it was never investigated.
Dugard even gave birth to two of his children in the backyard with no medical attention. It wasn’t until 2009 when Garrido brought Dugard and the kids to the UC-Berkley campus to preach that two campus officers had a bad feeling about him and ran a background check. That’s when they discovered that Garrido was a sex offender and in violation of his parole.
The officers immediately informed the authorities about his two daughters, but they explained that he didn’t have any kids. Police immediately arrested Garrido and his wife and finally rescued Dugard and her two daughters. Despite everything, Dugard loves her kids and has been trying to reclaim her life ever since.
Lucy Ann Johnson
Lucy Ann Johnson disappeared from her Surrey, Canada home in 1961, leaving behind her husband Marvin and her 8-year-old daughter Linda. Linda tried to reopen her mother’s case in 2013 by putting an ad in the Yukon News about her. Linda was hoping someone might recognize her mother, and they did.
In a strange twist of events, Linda got a call from a woman named Rhonda, who informed her that she was also Lucy’s daughter. After 52 years, Linda and her mother finally reunited. Can you imagine wondering where your mother is for more than half a century? Lucy explained to Linda that the only reason she left was that Marvin was abusing her.
10-year-old Natascha Kampusch was kidnapped from her home in Austria in 1998. She was held captive by Wolfgang Priklopil, who kept her tied up in a secret cellar under his garage for eight years. One day, while Priklopil was forcing his victim to vacuum out his car, he received a phone call and stepped away for a second so that he could hear better.
The 18-year-old Kampusch took the one chance she had and ran away and managed to call the police. She was finally safe, but Priklopil was on the run. He ultimately threw himself in front of a train before getting caught. Kampusch has since written a book about her captivity called 3,096 Days.
When Edgar Latulip disappeared from a mental institution in 1986, everyone assumed that he had killed himself. Lutalip was mentally ill and had attempted suicide on various occasions. Due to his mental health and history of self-harm, Latulip was pronounced dead. However, he turned out to be alive and not far away from his home.
In a surprising turn of events, Latulip suffered a head injury and completely lost his memory. After three decades, memories slowly came to him in flashbacks, and he remembered his name. He told his co-worker, who looked up the name and discovered that he was a missing person. DNA tests confirmed who he was, and authorities helped him make contact with his surviving relatives.
One morning in 1992, Winston Bright left for work like he always did; only this time, he didn’t come back. His wife, Leslie, was left with no husband, and his three kids were left without a father. After eight years of searching, a judge declared Bright dead in 2000. Since he was officially dead, his widow and children started collecting his pension.
Then, 20 years after he vanished, Bright showed up at his wife’s door going by the name Kwame Seku, and he demanded his pension money. Bright claimed to have amnesia for 20 years, and, apparently, he tried getting his pension money from Verizon, after working for the company for two decades (before he disappeared).
Nothing he said added up. Needless to say, nobody bought the amnesia story. The judge and his wife believed he was a deadbeat dad who had abandoned his family and was now trying to get a payout for it. His wife, Leslie, proclaimed that “He’s Winston Bright and he’s a scammer. When he came back, it was only for him to get money from the company.”
During his time suffering from “amnesia,” Bright ended up in San Diego. A judge gave him a new identity, and he started a new life as a teacher. At the end of the day, he was denied all benefits. I’m no expert, but there seems to be a lot of holes in his story. I mean, he magically returned from the dead when money got involved.
Many times, if someone is abducted, they try to escape, but that wasn’t the case with Carolina White. In fact, she didn’t know she was a missing person until she solved her own kidnapping case.
This is her story.