THERE are plenty of cases of vanished people who have seemingly stepped off the face of the earth to leave abandoned vehicles behind.
However, even more curious is those cases where the disappeared have gone off to take a drive and completely vanished along with their vehicles, never to be seen or heard from again. It is one thing to have a person disappear, but for them to just melt away from the world along with their vehicles and never have a trace found is truly odd indeed. Here are some of the myriad, bizarre cases of people who got into their cars to go driving, and keep going seemingly right off the face of the planet.
Our first case finds us at the Sheraton Hotel in Chicago, Illinois, on May 15, 1970. On this evening, there was a cocktail party going on in full swing, and among the various people mixing and mingling were 63-year-old Edward and Stephania Andrews, of Arlington Heights, who were there because of a trade convention sponsored by the Woman’s Association of Allied Beverage Industries. At some point at around 9:30 p.m., Edward made some complaints to other party goers about feeling rather ill, and he was described as looking noticeably pale and under the weather, although if this was a result of alcohol some sickness is not known. Some witnesses who asked what was wrong claimed that he had told them he was just hungry.
Not long after this, witnesses say that the couple made their way to the parking garage, where Edward was seen to be stumbling, staggering, and practically unable to walk. As he fumbled with the car keys, his wife was seen to cry and beg him not to get behind the wheel, but despite this objection the two were seen to head off in their vehicle, a black-and-yellow 1969 Oldsmobile, smashing across the garage door to scrape it on their way out. The couple were last seen driving down Michigan Avenue against traffic, and then they just vanished off the face of the earth.
When the couple wasn’t heard from and could not be located afterward, it was feared that they had been driving under the influence of either alcohol or medication, or that they had been otherwise disoriented, and somehow had driven their car clear off the road into the nearby Chicago River to sink down into its depths, and a pair of skid marks on a bridge seemed to point to this dire possibility. A search of the river was immediately launched, but no trace of the car was found despite all efforts. It was all considered to be very odd, as the Andrews’ were a happy, well-off couple who were not known to drink heavily and they did not have any known enemies or ties to criminal activities. A search of their home turned up no sign of any foul play or theft, with their valuable still there, and there was absolutely no activity with their credit cards or various stocks and bonds. None of it made any sense. Ron Van Raalt, a detective who worked on the case at the time, mused:
Two people in their 60s, in a car, just don’t vanish off the face of the earth. Not intentionally, at least.
In the years after the disappearance there were no further leads, and a complete clean-up of the Chicago River in 1980 served to dismiss any ideas that this was their final resting place. During the operation, the river bottom was thoroughly dredged, and although this turned up a total of 12 submerged vehicles, none of these turned out to be the one that had belonged to the missing couple. The best possible lead came forth in 1994, when a 36-year-old man from Knollwood contacted police with information on what he claimed had really happened to the couple.
The man claimed that the couple had been murdered in cold blood, and that their bodies had then been stuffed into the trunk of their car and the vehicle intentionally sunk into a nondescript pond located south of Atkinson Road and east of the Tri-State Tollway near Green Oaks. Police were apparently impressed enough with the man’s claims and knowledge of the case to warrant a search of the stagnant pond, and it was thoroughly dredged and scoured by divers, but no sign of the missing car was found. The search was eventually called off, with the cold case no closer to being solved. Interestingly, a large, unidentified object was allegedly discovered lodged deep in the muck of the bottom, but there was no way to tell what it was and police were unable to reach it with the equipment they had at the time. It is uncertain whatever became of this possible lead, and the strange disappearance remains unsolved. Neither the Adrewses nor their car have ever been seen again.
The following year, in 1971, there would be a similarly bizarre vanishing involving a couple in a vehicle, this time in Corbin, Kentucky. On May 21, 1971, 37-year old Claude Shelton and his 27-year old wife, Martha Sue, left their beloved children sleeping and headed out from their home in Gerry’s Trailer Park for unknown purposes in their car, a Ford Galaxy. When they failed to return there was much concern as to their whereabouts. It was at first thought that they had just gone off to the King’s truck stop in Corbin, but no one there remembered having seen the couple passing through.
At the time, it was completely baffling, as everyone who the authorities spoke to were adamant that the couple had loved their children and would have never simply abandoned them. In light of this testimony, it was thought that something dark must have happened to them, but no one could figure out just what that could be. A spooky clue would come when the daughter, Sheila, claimed that her father had whispered to her, “Are you going with me or are you going to stay here?” before driving off of the face of the earth, with neither the couple nor their vehicle ever found.
Decades would pass before any sort of lead would come up. Months after the vanishing, a body was found in Oregon which was thought to have an uncanny resemblance to Sue Shelton, but there was no technology in place at the time to test this, and in 2009 DNA samples were finally taken to test for a possible match. It was widely though at the time that this was the big break that everyone in the family had been waiting for to give them some form of closure, but the body was ultimately found to not be hers. There have been no other leads whatsoever into the strange case, and no clue at all as to why this happy couple should lovingly tuck their children into bed and then drive off into the dark unknown. The now grown Sheila Shelton has lamented:
Maybe someone knows if they were killed. Maybe the person that killed them is deceased now, or is getting older and wants to make right with the Lord. Anything. We need some closure.
In another case, in April of 1980, a Charles Romer and his wife Catherine were on a trip back to their home in Scarsdale, New York from their winter house in Miami, Florida. The wealthy couple checked into the Holiday Inn located along I-95 and U.S. 341 in Brunswick, Georgia, on April 8, 1980, after which they unloaded their luggage and headed back out in their vehicle, a black 1978 Lincoln Continental. It would be the last time anyone would ever see them. A highway patrolman would later report that he had seen the missing vehicle south of Brunswick parked near a group of restaurants, but this was not verified.
An examination of their abandoned room in the wake of the disappearance would show that nothing was really amiss at all, everything was untouched, and indeed it seemed that they had not spent much time in the room at all. The beds were still made, no one had slept in them, and the untouched luggage was still sitting there exactly where they had dumped it, as well as a healthy amount of valuable jewels owned by the wife. A diary written by Charles was found in which it was written that they had planned to be back in New York by April 10th, a date they would not ever make. Authorities went about a major search of the route the couple had last been seen on, questioning various service stops along the way all the way up to Savanna, Georgia, but there were no clues as to what had become of them and no one could recall having come across the couple. Private investigators hired by the family were similarly unable to turn up any evidence of where they might have gone. They were just totally gone.
Many theories and conspiracies swirled about in the aftermath of the vanishing. There was of course the idea that they had come across nefarious parties and been the victims of foul play, but this was uncertain. However, since Charles had been rather well-off and a big shot oil executive it was seen as not a totally far-fetched idea. Another theory is that they had set out to simply have dinner, but at some point had veered off the road and become entrapped in one of the many bogs and swamps of the area, after which their vehicle would have sunk down into the muck to never be seen again. Whatever the case may be, neither the Romers nor their vehicle have ever been located, and there is no evidence at all as to what became of them.
In 1982, there was also the case of Judith Chartier, of Chelmsford, Massachusettes, who on the night of July 5 went to a party in the nearby town of Billerica along with her fiancé. They apparently didn’t have the best of times, as they got into an argument and Judith drove her fiancé back home, dropping him off and then heading right back to the party they had come from. At around 2 a.m., Judith was witnessed to leave the party and drive off in her black Dodge Dart, and that was the last time either her or her car would every be seen again.
After the vanishing, there were a myriad of strange leads and evidence. Police at the time received an intriguing tip from none other than the U.S. Secret Service, saying that a suspect in a counterfeiting operation, who was also suspected of multiple murders, had been apprehended with a map of the Chelmsford area, along with several pictures of various women engaged in depraved, sadomasochistic acts, all brunettes just like Judith, and a receipt from a local hotel dated July 4, 1982, just one day before Judith’s disappearance. It was all very incriminating indeed. The suspect, a James Mitchell DeBardeleben, also turned out to have known some of the people at the party Judith had gone to, but there was no real hard evidence to link him to any wrongdoing and he was eventually dropped as a suspect in the vanishing.
At around the same time, Judith’s mother came forward to say that her daughter had recently been the target of relentless sexual harassment from another employee at the fast food restaurant where she had worked, to the point that she had expressed discontent and hesitation to even go to work at all. Regardless, it is uncertain if this has any connection whatsoever to the case or not. Judith’s father also came forward with his own information, saying that he believed his daughter had become mixed up with a bad crowd and was perhaps being used as a drug mule, even claiming that on the night before her disappearance Judith had asked him to look in the trunk of her car because she was afraid to but there is not much evidence to back any of this up. As it stands, no one has a clue of what became of Judith Chartier, and both her and her vehicle remain irrevocably missing.
Even more recently is one of the most baffling such cases in recent years, and indeed had proven to be one of the most mysterious missing persons cases on the East Coast of the United States ever. On the evening of February 19, 2005, 34-year-old Danielle Imbo and 35-year-old Richard Petrone Jr., were out having fun drinking with friends at Abilene’s bar, on South Street in Philadelphia. Later in the evening, at around 11:30 PM, the young couple left in Richard’s black 2001 Dodge Dakota pickup truck on their way to Danielle’s home in Mount Laurel, New Jersey. They seemed to be in good spirits and displayed no real signs of anything being amiss, yet they drove off in that truck and off the face of the earth.
A search turned up nothing of the couple, and their account activity was carefully monitored but nothing came up. Even their cellphones remained silent, not even being turned on. It was thought at first that they had simply run off together to start a new life, but each of them had a child from a previous relationship and family members doubted that they would just abandon their children like that. Another theory was that they had careened off the road to crash and sink into the Delaware River, but when the water was searched and dredged there was no sign of the vehicle.
Police then eyed Imbo’s estranged husband, who had had altercations with Petrone on the phone in the past, as a possible suspect of foul play, but he proved to have a solid alibi for the night in question and there was no evidence at all that he had had anything to do with it. It has also been suggested that they were just in the wrong place at the wrong time and fell victim to some random violent crime, but this does little to explain what happened or where that truck went. There has been a lot of speculation in recent years that this was some sort of elaborate murder conspiracy such as a hired hit, with one FBI investigator on the case, Christian Zajac, saying:
This didn’t just happen. We feel this was an orchestrated act. A 3,000 pound truck and two people do not simply go missing.
Even if this is the case, there is no clue of who would want either one of them dead or what they could have done with the bodies and the truck. Since the vanishing there have been some further clues and leads, but nothing substantial, and the investigation is active and occasionally reignited to little effect. It has been featured on numerous crime shows and a $50,000 reward for information remains in effect, but none of this has led anywhere, and the missing couple and their truck remain completely unaccounted for. They have simply driven off into mystery.
For people to vanish is one thing, but what are we to make of these cases where they have just gone off driving into the vague fog of unsolved mysteries? Where did they and their vehicles go? There seems to be no known answer as of yet, and these are just more spooky accounts of people who seemed to have just more or less blinked out of existence. They got into their cars and drove off into the unknown, and just kept on driving, leaving us to puzzle and ponder over what has become of them.