far, one of the most well-known and widely covered cases of a mysterious disappearance concerning travelers is the tragic vanishing of 3-year-old Madeleine McCann, who in May of 2007 was on vacation in Portugal with her parents Kate and Gerry McCann of Leicester, England, her younger 2-year-old twin siblings, and a group of family friends and their children.
On May 3, Kate and Gerry left their children asleep in their holiday apartment in the resort area of Praia da Luzat at around 7 p.m., and went to go have dinner with some friends at a restaurant a mere 50 yards away. According to the parents, they made regular check-ups on the children every 30 minutes, and a check at 9:05 p.m. showed them all to be sleeping peacefully. Then, at around 10 p.m., Kate went to go check up on her children again and found that little Madeleine was nowhere to be found.
Madeleine’s parents were initially treated as suspects by the Portuguese police, despite a complete lack of evidence that they had had anything to do with it.
24 days after Madeleine had gone missing, one of the specialized cadaver dogs picked up a scent in the car the family had been renting, and DNA samples were invariably taken. Even though these tests turned out to be wholly inconclusive, Portuguese authorities nevertheless went on to make the confident and bold proclamation that they were a 100% match for Madeleine McCann. This led to a whole scenario concocted by police that said Madeleine had been killed accidentally by giving her too much of a sedative to sleep, after which they had essentially made up an abduction case and then moved the body in the rental car to hide it in an unknown location. It got so bad that Kate McCann was told by police that if she just confessed to the crime she would only serve 2 years in prison and her husband would be let off completely. Then, suddenly in July of 2008, the McCanns were released as suspects.
Throughout the investigation, a few suspects other than the McCanns themselves have been apprehended. One was a property consultant by the name of Robert Murat, who was finally cleared after extensive questioning and a thorough search of his apartment that turned up nothing suspicious. Another was convicted burglar Euclides Monteiro, but he too was released and died in 2009, any secrets he might have held taken to the grave with him. There have been other persons of interest as well, but none of these have led anywhere at all.
Theories range from Madeleine being killed in a botched burglary, being whisked away by human traffickers, or wandering out of the apartment to die in an accident, but there is no evidence at all to support any one of these and no one has any real idea of what happened to her. The disappearance and ultimate fate of Madeleine McCann remains a complete, impenetrable mystery.
Certainly, one of the stranger unexplained cases of a vanishing traveler is that of 20-year-old Charles Horvath. In the spring of 1989, the adventurous resident of England decided to take an ambitious journey to the wilds British Columbia, Canada, where he planned to spend several months traveling around by hitchhiking, and also to meet his natural father, Max A. K. Horvath Sr., and his godfather in Ontario, after which he meant to fly over to Hong Kong to visit his mother, Denise Horvath-Allan, for his 21st birthday. On May 11, 1989, Horvath was in British Columbia staying at a campground in Kelowna. From here, he would send a fax to his mother in Hong Kong to finalize his travel plans. It was the last time anyone would ever hear from him.
Several months went by without further contact from her son, which was highly odd for him, as the two were close and up to that point he had frequently contacted her, and Denise officially declared him missing on August 10, 1989. The Kelowna Detachment RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) launched an extensive search of the area where Charles had last been known to be, but no trace of him was turned up. In the meantime, Denise traveled to Canada to aid in the search efforts, and she would be joined by her husband Stuart Allan, “Charles” Nana Austin-Thorpe, and Step Grandfather Tony Thorpe. Flyers and missing person announcements and advertisements were placed throughout the country and in various newspapers worldwide in a desperate effort to glean any pertinent information from the mystery. It was partly due to these flyers that a woman by the name of Joanne Zebroff came forward claiming to have known Charles, and that her family had allowed him to temporarily stay with them, after which he had gone off to s
tay at a campground called Tiny Tent Town, on Lakeshore Road in Kelowna.
The Zebroffs claimed that the last time they had seen him was when he had unexpectedly arrived during a family reunion, and they had been forced to decline his wish to come up to see them. When the campground was investigated, it turned out that Charles had left his tent, sleeping bag, and all of his belongings behind, including all of his clothes, as wells as his wallet, cash, ID, and family photos, and additionally other campers at the site claimed that Charles had suddenly left the campsite in a hurry. There seemed to be no reason why Charles, who had been very close with his family, should want to disappear, and there was no sign of foul play.
In March of 1992, Denise Horvath made her second trip to British Columbia in a desperate effort to dig up clues on her missing son’s whereabouts, and it was as she was staying at the Pandosy Inn that she received a very odd anonymous letter that had arrived by taxi of all things. The handwritten note held the chilling message that Charles had been partying with other campers at Tiny Tent Town when a fight had broken out and he had been knocked out, after which he had died and his body disposed of from a bridge into nearby Okanagan Lake. The note claimed that the body was still there floating in the cold depths, prompting a search of the area by divers, but no such body was found. Bizarrely, not long after this dive search, a second anonymous note arrived saying that they had been looking on the wrong side of the bridge. With this new tip, authorities searched again and this time did find a body, but it turned out to be not that of Charles, but rather that of a 64-year old Kelowna resident who had probably co
Another rather odd vanishing occurred in November of 2001, when 86-year-old Leo Widicker, of Bowdon, North Dakota, was on his 41st humanitarian trip for a Seventh-day Adventist organization called Maranatha Volunteers International. This trip took Leo and his wife to Tabacon Hot Springs, in Costa Rica to paint two churches and a school, and despite their advanced age, the couple was described as being incredibly healthy and active for their age, having travelled around the world to such far flung destinations as India, Nicaragua, and Peru. On November 8, 2001, Leo and his wife were at a luxury resort beach, and as his wife waded about in the beachside hot springs, he reportedly sat down on a nearby bench to rest. When Leo’s wife returned around 30 minutes later, her husband was nowhere to be found.
When hotel guests and staff were questioned, they reported that Leo had been seen wandering around asking where his wife was, and guards at the resort gate claimed that he had approached them and asked if it was alright to leave. The guards had then opened the gates and claimed that the last time they saw him he had been walking slowly down the main road. Just 15 minutes after the time when the guards claimed they had let Leo out, a friend of the couple drove off down the road to retrieve him. Since Leo was known to be a very slow walker, and indeed did not seem to like taking walks in the first place, it was assumed that they would quickly find him, and there was no particular panic at this time. However, after driving up and down the main road up to 10 miles away from the resort there was still no sign of Leo.
At the time, it had been raining heavily, making it seem odd that Leo should suddenly decide to go for a walk. Some suspicion has been leveled at resort workers, with Leo’s daughter, JoAnn claiming that the story they were given does not make sense, and that even if he had decided to go for that uncharacteristic walk in the rain, he could not have possibly gone far, yet there is no trace of him. It is as if he just walked off the face of the earth.
Spooky vanishings of travelers abound, and another concerns 23-year-old Karen Denise Wells, of Oklahoma, in the United States. In April of 1994, Wells decided to rent a car and take a cross country road trip to visit a childhood friend living in New Jersey, a Melissa Shepard. The evening of April 12 found Wells staying at the Pike Motel, in Carlisle, PA, and at 7:30 p.m. that evening she called her friend to tell her to come meet up with her. During the phone conversation she was in good spirits, and mentioned that she was going to go to a nearby McDonald’s to get something to eat and then go to bed. Shepard claims that when she arrived at the hotel in the early morning hours of April 13, her friend was not there. Hotel staff let the concerned woman into the room when repeated knocking went unanswered, and within the room were found Wells’ belongings and the hotel room key. Authorities were contacted, and it was found that the hotel room itself and the bed had not been disturbed in any way, with no sign of forced entry or a struggle. The missing rental car was located abandoned and out of gas around 35 miles away, in the middle of Route 274 near New Germantown. Inside of the car was found a small amount of marijuana, some empty bottles, and an uneaten box of McDonald’s french fries, meaning she had gone out for that bite to eat after all. There was no sign of blood or a struggle in or on the vehicle. Bizarrely, the car had an extra 700 miles more on the odometer than should have been there considering her route, and it was in the westbound lane, suggesting that she had been headed east when she ran out of gas. It is unknown just why the missing woman would have driven an additional 700 miles totally out of her way and then double back. Authorities believe that she had driven almost all the way to New Jersey, before inexplicably turning back around to make her way back to Carlisle. But why? No one knows.
First, it seems odd that at no point did she contact her 16-year-old son, with whom she was very close. There is also the fact that it was reported that Shepard was with two unknown men when she filed the missing persons reports, and at one point Shepard herself was questioned by police, but was quickly dismissed as a potential suspect, after which she stopped talking to authorities and then sort of vanished herself. Apparently there was also a strange voice message left on Thanksgiving of 1994 for the wife of a man Wells had reportedly been seeing, which said “Tell Mike I’m not coming home. I’m already married.” Authorities have come to the conclusion that she may have met up with foul play and been killed, possibly during a drug deal gone bad, but there is no particular evidence of this and she is still officially listed as missing.
While a cruise may seem to be the height of vacation luxury, the fact is that nearly 200 people have mysteriously vanished from cruise ships over the past decade. One such person is 63-year-old book store owner John Halford, of Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire in the United Kingdom. Halford was enjoying a week-long Egyptian cruise in 2011 and would never make it back home.
He had departed on March 31, 2011, after saying goodbye to his wife, Ruth Halford and his three children, completely unaware that this would be his last time to see them. On April 6, John mailed his wife to remind her to come pick him up at the airport the following day and to give his flight details. As Ruth prepared to go to the airport the next day, she was informed by the cruise company that her husband was gone, and that he had never made that flight.
According to witnesses, John was last seen at a bar aboard the ship, the Thomson Spirit, at 11.45 p.m. on April 6 drinking cocktails. Witnesses describe him as being in good spirits and friendly at the time, as the ship approached its final port, Sharm-el-Sheikh.
When the ship arrived, Halford was nowhere to be found, and ship records showed that he had not gone ashore. I can only assume there was a freak accident and he somehow slipped into the sea.
Another equally baffling case aboard a cruise ship is the strange vanishing of a Vietnamese-American couple by the name of Hue Pham and Hue Tran, of Westminster, California. In May of 2005, the couple was aboard a Carnival Cruise Line ship along with their daughter and granddaughter, on a one-week cruise between the islands of Barbados and Aruba for what was supposed to be a Mother’s Day gift. The cruise was going great until May 8, when Hue Pham and Hue Tran just up and vanished into thin air. When the ship was searched, the only thing that could be found was the surreal sight of the couple’s empty flip flops casually lying on the deck as if the couple had simply evaporated out of them.
In the wake of the disappearance, the crew of the cruise ship showed an impressive amount of neglect in pursuing the case. According to the family, the ship crew seemed to be far more interested in planning the next day’s activities at St. Martin island than looking for the missing people. In fact, when the ship reached its final destination of San Juan, Puerto Rico, the family was issued no apology and the cruise line refused to speak to them again on the matter.
What happened to these people? Perhaps some day, we will glean from the inscrutable clues the answers we seek, but until then, these are prime examples of vacations to nowhere; a place from which they will seemingly never return.