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15 Disturbing Disappearances That People Have Survived

15 Disturbing Disappearances That People Have Survived

When someone goes missing, the chances of them returning alive is usually very slim. Unfortunately, they are normally brutalized and battered in either a physical or mental way, many times it’s both. With the help of TV shows like America’s Most Wanted, some victims have been found and criminals all over the world have been found for various crimes. Some of the most heartbreaking crimes are the loss of a love through kidnapping. Not only do the people left behind have no idea where to start looking, they are also in a constant state of panic. The fear of never seeing a loved one again is traumatizing for both parties involved. However, sometimes when people go missing it’s because they want to start anew. There have been more scenarios than one would assume where “victims” turn up years later, and the only explanation they can offer is that they didn’t want to be found. These are a separate case that always leaves those involved baffled. There are also real victims of heinous crimes out there that had the strength to persevere, and have outwitted and escaped their captors that made their lives a living hell. In some cases, it took decades to plan the perfect escape, or for a chance opportunity to present itself. Some of these stories are more publicized like Elizabeth Smart and Jaycee Dugard, but there are also other victims out there who disappeared only to return alive and somewhat well. These terrible crimes will forever have them looking over their shoulder.

15. Brenda Heist

via Berliner Zeitung

Brenda Heist was in a Pennsylvania park in 2002, crying uncontrollably. She was worried about how she was going to support her two children; she was recently divorced and turned down for public housing. Who wouldn’t be worried? She was reportedly approached by three strangers who offered help, saying that she could come with them. No one heard from her again until late 2012. Everyone thought she was dead, including her husband who was arrested for her disappearance. He later legally declared her dead in 2010, but all the while she was cleaning other people’s homes. She bounced back and forth between campers and men, and she was arrested a bunch of times for drugs. When she surfaced she wanted to start anew with her family but, they weren’t having it.

14. Jaycee Dugard

via Good Morning America

For 18 years and 2 months, Jaycee Dugard was held in closets, storage rooms, and a basement. She had been kidnapped at 11 years old, while walking home from school. Her kidnapper was Phillip Garrido and his wife, Nancy Garrido. She was shot with a stun gun and carried to their home where she spent 18 years. She was assaulted repeatedly over the years, she became pregnant at 13 and again at 16, and her daughters thought she was their sister. Dugard was finally found in 2009 but due to Stockholm syndrome, she did not want to tell on her captors. She has since moved on with her kids, and was able to educate herself and her children. She was luckier than more children gone for that period of time, she got out.

13. Steven Stayner

via Merced Sun-Star

Steven Stayner was kidnapped by the worst kind of person, a pedophile. Convicted child molester Kenneth Parnell, approached a then 7-year-old Stayner, in 1972 posing as a minister. He asked Stayner if his mom was willing to donate anything to a charity, he said yes and accepted a ride home from Parnell. Parnell instead took the child to a cabin and proceeded to assault him. He told Stayner that his parents couldn’t afford him and his 4 siblings, so they gave him away. The duo moved around for years, however, when Stayner reached puberty, Parnell wanted a new, younger victim; so he kidnapped 5-year-old Timmy White. Stayner who had gained Parnell’s trust was left alone while Parnell went to work and he took Timmy and left. He walked into a police station and reported what happened. He saved Timmy. He died however in 1985 from a motorcycle accident.

12. Petra Pazsitka

via NBC News

Petra Pazstika was a 24-year-old university student when she went missing. Pazstika was supposed to be heading home from school for the weekend but for some reason she never made it. Police immediately assumed that convicted murder, Gunther K, was the culprit because he lived in the area at the time. When he was confronted, he admitted to kidnapping and murdering the student. However, he lied. It turns out Pazstika only needed some downtime. She had been secretly saving money so she could rent an apartment. Once she was able to rent the apartment she took off and wasn’t heard from for years. The only reason why she was found, was that her apartment in Dusseldorf was broken into and she called the cops. She refused to tell anyone why she took off.

11. Timothy Carney

via Patch

After 7 years missing, Timothy Carney was found safe and sound. Carney went missing in 2004 at the age of 25. The last person to see him alive was his roommate. Carney called his job the day he went missing to say that he was running late; he was never heard from again after that. His car was later found abandoned on the side of the road near Newark. Carney was eventually found in 2011, but did not want his whereabouts known. His parents never gave up looking for him, and even worked with the Kristen Foundation to try to locate their son. When he was found he didn’t seem phased and wanted nothing to do with anything from his past life. His parents, however, believe that he was brainwashed by The Gospel Outreach an organization that is run by Jim Lethbridge.

10. David Leggat


David Leggat was 55 when he went missing under mysterious circumstances. He literally entered a bowling alley bathroom and never came back out. Leggat was missing for a total of 4 days he had somehow gotten himself stuck in the bathroom. He described it as “cold”. He was finally rescued when one of the cleaners eventually showed up to do their job. So how exactly did he get stuck? Apparently, the handle of the OUTDOOR washroom broke off. Leggat said he had done a survival course once, so he knew how to stay warm. He would every so often place his feet in the basin and run hot water over them. He survived on water seeing, as there was nothing else to eat and he was starving.

9. Missing Children In Philidelphia


In 2011, fifty plus children were found in what people assumed, was an abandoned home in Philadelphia. They were being held captive and abused. Twelve of those children had been reported missing, and had family members and friends desperately searching for them. Ten out of the twelve reported missing had been assumed dead. because of the length of time they were gone and the lack of evidence to find them. The house was described as a dungeon. Even after finding the initial child trafficking ring, they later located over fifty more children in another location. The captures even kidnapped four disabled children in order to cash in their government assistance check. Ultimately a total of four people were arrested. Needless to say, their home for the rest of their lives will be a jail cell.

8. Colleen Stan


In 1977 Colleen Stan was hitchhiking when she accepted a ride from a man who had his wife and kids in the car with him. Everything seemed normal until during a rest stop, Stan began to feel uneasy. The man and his wife took her to an isolated location which would become her home for the next 7 years. Stan spent many years with a box over her head to prevent her from seeing, smelling and she could only hear very little. Her captor, Cameron Hooker, began to trust Stan after a few years, and allowed her to visit her family with him posing as her boyfriend. However, his this moment of trust freaked him out, and he reverted again to locking her up. A few more years passed by and he allowed her to get a job. She still stayed loyal to the kidnapper and his family. In fact, they ultimately kicked her out! Stan took the bus home from work that day, and the only reason why her kidnapper was caught is that his wife finally squealed on him.

7. Jessyca Mullenberg


In 1995 Jessyca Mullenberg was kidnapped by her neighbour, Steve Oliver. Oliver was a 38 year old English teacher, who had told Mullenberg’s father that he was going to submit some of her work to Random House. He instead took her across state lines to Houston, Texas where they were held up in a Days Inn motel for 101 days. Oliver repeatedly assaulted her almost every day. He was ultimately caught when a maid who worked at the motel, saw Mullenberg’s story on America’s Most Wanted. She alerted police to the girl’s whereabouts. Oliver went to trial in 1996 and was sentenced to 40 years in prison (not long enough!). Mullenberg was able to move on with her life, she attended the University of Wisconsin and is now married with children.

6. Tanya Kach

via Pittsburgh Post Gazette

Tanya Kach was not only a victim of her kidnapper, she was also a victim of a crappy home life. Her parents were divorced, and her father constantly had girlfriends moving in and out of the home. This crappy home life forced her to form a bond with the security guard at her middle school. She was 13 when they began a weird relationship of sneaking kissing, and spending alone time together on school grounds. He eventually asked her to move in, but, he lived with his parents. He held her captive in the closet in his room for 4 years, allowing her to shower once a week when his parents were sleeping. He eventually introduced her to his parents, and asked if she could “move in”. He began letting her leave the house to run small errands with him; it was then she made her move and confided in a local deli owner. Her kidnapper, Thomas Hose, was sentenced to 5 to 15 years.

5. Erica Pratt

via In Touch Weekly

Erica Pratt’s kidnappers said that word on the street was her family came into some kind of insurance money. They wanted in on this imaginary money, and kidnapped Pratt on her way home from school when she was 7-years-old. The best part of this story, is how smart and quick Pratt was in aiding in her own release. She took her time and chewed through the duck tape on her lips. She then kicked out a small board covering a window, and yelled out to two boys playing in the street. The boys showed the police exactly where Pratt yelled from and she was rescued. If this story sounds quick that’s because the whole ordeal lasted 24 hours. The kidnappers received what is basically life sentences in prison.

4. Wu Ruofu

via Flickr

Wu Ruofo is a well-known actor in China so it’s kind of crazy that he was a victim of kidnapping. None-the-less, in 2004, he was pulled over by the kidnappers posing as police officers. Ruofu was transported to an isolated location, and help captive for over 20 hours. His kidnappers used this time to negotiate a ransom. At the time, the kidnappers supposedly did not know that Ruofu was an actor, they only knew that he drove an expensive car, a BMW. When the police finally caught up to the kidnappers they were in the act of strangling Ruofu. Ultimately, seven people were arrested, three of those people were sentenced to DEATH; which the Chinese court system wasted no time enacting. They were dead by the next year. Ruofu admits the incident still traumatizes him. A film was made about the kidnapping in 2015.

3. Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight


The three young women were all kidnapped at different times, and at different ages beginning with Michelle Knight at age 21, then Amanda Berry at age 16, and finally Gina DeJesus at age 14. All three were repeatedly assaulted and attacked by their captor Ariel Castro. Castro had the entire community fooled, they all believed he was a good man who lived alone and helped out in the community whenever he could. A neighbour was shocked when they heard Berry screaming from the accidentally unlocked screen door. By this time: Barry had a 6-year-old daughter and had been in captivity for 10 years, Knight for 12 years and DeJesus for 9 years. Castro ultimately killed himself in jail, serving only 30 days of his 1,000 years sentence.

2. Lisa Theris

via People

In August of 2017, Lisa Theris became the most talked about person in Alabama. She had gone missing over the weekend, and her family reported it right away because Theris is legally blind. She spent 25 days wandering around the woods, wringing water out of her hair to drink for survival. She was eventually found naked on the side of a road by a motorist. Theris did a number of interviews detailing how she managed to stay alive by eating berries and mushrooms she found in the woods. However, since her miraculous recovery, many people have doubted her story. In fact, two men came forward admitting that they were on a meth binge, and initially thought they killed her they were throwing one another under the bus to the police. Theris hasn’t said if she recalls any meth use, but some people are pretty convinced including the police.

1. Elizabeth Smart

via NBC News

We all know the horrifying story of Elizabeth Smart. She was 9-years-old when she was kidnapped right out of her bed in 2002. For nine long months, she was living in the woods with her captor Brian David Mitchell and his wife Wanda Banzee. Smart was forced to “marry” Mitchell (a ceremony performed by his wife), and she had been assaulted many, many times. Smart was eventually spotted by a man who saw a sketch of Mitchell on the news, and saw him walking with Smart and Banzee in public. Smart’s case was national news; it was covered heavily by news organizations like CNN and MSNBC. The boldness of Mitchell’s ego to abduct a child, who shared a room with her sister, is crazy yet he was able to pull it off for nine months. Now, he is rotting in prison and his wife got 15 years.

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