What is more surprising than a person presumed dead reappearing after decades?
It happens more often than we think. A person disappears mysteriously; cops do the routine, and after 48 hours, the victim is officially declared lost. Sadly, these people vanish without a warning or discernible reason and leave sadness in the void they have left behind.
These unannounced departures can be due to a number of reasons, but the most common ones are to attempt to fake one’s own death, to run away from stressful situations, or to run away from responsibility. When the missing soul is out of sight long enough, rumors emerge. Eventually, memories fade, and the individual is presumed dead. That is long after the police close the case.
After a decade or more, the missing person makes an enigmatic entry from the fringes of mystery, and everything comes to a standstill because everyone is in shock.
These incidents happen all the time, and while some go unsolved, others end with the victims showing up after several years. These victims often return with convincing stories and leave us with numerous questions and answers, which are sometimes as strange and surreal as their disappearance.
Arthur Jones, for example, ditched his family for more than 30 years and was declared dead in 1986. But investigations revealed that he had been living and working in Las Vegas using fake documents. His reason for ‘leaving’ the comfortable life was that he needed a fresh start; apparently from his troubled marriage and his massive gambling debts. There are others with a similar story. They include:
15. BAKHRETDIN KHAKIMOV
Khakimov, an Uzbekistani from the city of Samarkand, was a former Soviet Army soldier who had been presumed dead in Afghanistan. When he disappeared, he was only 20 years old and had been severely wounded during a battle near the city of Herat in Afghanistan.
The Soviet Army had invaded Afghanistan in December 1979, and Khakimov was seriously injured during a fierce battle in September 1980. Apparently, Khakimov had been assisted by a local who healed his injuries and taught him some medical skills. He later married an Afghan woman, but his wife passed on before the couple had conceived.
33 years later (2013), Khakimov was found by a Moscow-based organization. The widower had transformed into a semi-nomadic member in the western Afghan city of Herat and had acquired a new name, Sheikh Abdullah. He was barely able to speak any Russian and was making a living as a herbalist.
14. LUCY ANN JOHNSON
26-year-old Lucy dropped out of sight in 1961 from her home in Surrey, British Columbia, and left behind two children, including an 8-year-old daughter, Linda.
The police were convinced that her husband, Marvin Johnson, was responsible for her murder though they were unable to recover her body. Marvin had failed to report her absence until 1965, but he later died in the 90’s.
The case went cold, only to be reopened in June 2013 by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). The police had nominated her case as part of their “missing of the month” and appealed to the public for any information about her.
Her kids were aware that she had some links around the Alaska region and went ahead to place adverts there. They gave all the details about her leaving and hoped for the best.
They received a call from Rhonda; a woman living in Whitehorse, Yukon, who claimed to be their half-sister. Indeed, Lucy had started another family in Yukon, and she was reunited with her former family in 2013. She disclosed that she had left because of an abusive relationship.
13. RACHEL ELKAYAM
Rachel Elkayam vanished from her Israeli home in 1947, when she was only 16 years old. Rachel had eloped with her Arabic lover, Fuad, and was already pregnant. Unfortunately, Fuad died shortly after, leaving Rachel heavily pregnant. There were rising tensions in parts of Israel and Rachel was forced to relocate to Syria with Fuad’s family.
The man’s parents then assigned Rachel one of their sons as her husband. At the time, it was hard to contact someone who was far away, so her family assumed she had passed on during the skirmishes.
But she was stranded in Syria.
She had to endure a difficult marriage with the new husband and gave birth to eight children. Her efforts to contact her family proved futile until she eventually managed to contact her sister, Gelua. This happened when one of her grandsons traveled through the Israeli Embassy and asked for help for his Jewish grandmother.
12. RICHARD HOAGLAND
Richard escaped on February 10, 1993, leaving behind his wife and his two sons Doug and Matthew. 23 years later, he resurfaced and had no idea what had happened.
After a divorce, Richard had remarried Linda Iseler, and the couple had a great life in Indianapolis. They had a steady income and a spacious house and would sometimes go on vacations. But after 11 years of marriage, Hoagland was missing in action, leaving Iseler with many unanswered questions.
After numerous follow-ups, the police started to lose interest in the case, and Richard was declared dead ten years later. His wife moved on and remarried.
But in 2016, Iseler received a phone call that Hoagland was in custody.
It turned out that Richard, who now had a new wife, had changed his name to Terry Symansky, a fisherman who had succumbed in 1991. But Symansky’s family soon caught up with him, and he was arrested.
11. LULA CORA HOOD
Officials thought they had solved Hood’s mystery when they found human remains in an Illinois backyard in 1996.
Hood, also known as Cora, had fled in 1970 after a family argument and had left behind her 15-year-old daughter, Grace Kivisto. It wasn’t the first time Hood had left the family after a confrontation, but this time, she never returned. Her family was left guessing what had happened to her.
After the discovery of the body, Hood’s family was convinced that she had been found even though the body could not be identified using DNA at the time.
However, further tests revealed that the remains were not Hood’s. The case was reopened, and Hood was later found in 2011. She was 84 years old and was living in Jacksonville. Kivisto received the news about her missing mom on June 30, 2011, from a Knox sergeant who came to her home.
10. RICHARD WAYNE LANDERS Jr.
Richard was only five years old when he found himself in a serious custody battle. It was in 1994, and at the time, his mom was jobless, and he was living with her and his stepfather in a car. His paternal grandparents became concerned about the fights and decided to take him without his mother’s knowledge. They left Indiana and disappeared into thin air because they were worried about the outcome of a court case involving their grandson.
But in 2013, two decades later, Landers showed up in Minnesota after police officers were able to identify him using a social security number. The officers from Todd County Sheriff decided to tour the residence of his errant grandparents and held a meeting with Richard, who had changed his name to Michael.
9. XIAO YUN
Xiao Yun disappeared for ten years and was presumed dead only to be found living in an internet café on November 20, 2015. Yun had allegedly left her home of Zhejiang after allegedly quarreling with her parents.
She was found when police officers decided to conduct a routine check at a café in the wee hours of the morning. Yun, then aged 24, had been using a fake ID and when she was taken into custody, she revealed that she had been living in internet cafes since 2005.
She further revealed that she was a big fan of multiplayer game CrossFire, and she mostly relied on handouts from strangers. She also admitted that she mostly slept in cafes and bath houses and that sometimes she would work as a cashier to earn extra income.
After her capture, she was fined 1,000 yuan, and the police contacted her parents. Her mother revealed that she had not changed her phone number since her daughter’s departure because she hoped Yun would reach her one day.
8. CARLOS SÁNCHEZ ORTIZ DE SALAZAR
Carlos Sanchez Ortiz De Salazar, a former psychiatrist from Seville, Spain, vanished in 1995 when he was aged 26, and was declared dead in 2010.
Carlos suffered from severe depression and avoided contact with other humans.
However, in 2015, two mushroom pickers claimed they had stumbled upon his camp on the Maremma coast in Tuscany when they were looking for mushrooms in a nature reserve. The men described finding a man who was unkempt and becoming fearful. But they returned later with a forest guard and the mysterious loner greeted them and told them he was a Spaniard.
He had been living in solitude and claimed he had lived there since 1997. He was aged 47 and even showed his documents but admitted that he did not want to live among people. Carlos then concluded that he needed a ‘new place’ since the men had discovered his hideout.
The foragers contacted an association for mission persons and were able to track down Salazar’s parents after one month. However, by the time his parents got to Italy to reunite with him, he had vanished again.
7. LULA GILLESPIE-MILLER
Lula Gillespie-Miller left her home in Laurel, Indiana, in 1974 after handing her children to her parents. She was 28 years old and had felt she was too young to mother three children after she had just given birth to her third child.
She sent a letter the following year, and her family never heard from her for the next four decades.
Her existence continued to be a mystery until one Indiana detective, Scott Jarvis, was given the cold case in January 2014.
The Doe Network, an international center that deals with lost people, had registered her name, and it is this organization that reached out to assist Scott. The police officer followed the trail that had been set by the 1975 letter. He followed up a case about a dead body but discovered it did not belong to Lula.
He then picked another hint of a woman who matched Lula’s description and sent officers to the woman’s Texas home in 2016. Scott had taken two years to crack Lula’s case.
6. SAVANNA HARRIS TODD
Savanna Harris Todd left her grandparents’ home in Isle of Palms, South Carolina when she was barely a year old. After her disappearance, her mother, Dorothy Lee Barnett became the primary suspect. Barnett lost a custody case to her ex-husband and had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
Savanna’s dad, Benjamin, seemed to be the only person determined in finding her.
Benjamin carried on with his investigation for two decades before they bore fruit. Savanna and her mom were tracked to Queensland, Australia, and Savanna was 19 years old. The two had been working together in hiding their identities and had moved to various places, including South Africa and New Zealand.
Both Savanna and her mother were extradited to the U.S authorities, and her mother served a jail term of 4 months for her unlawful actions. Savanna was on her mom’s side, but she eventually reconciled with her father.
5. EDGAR LATULIP
Edgar Tulip was living in a home for people with disabilities in Ontario, Canada, before he left abruptly in 1986; never to be heard from. He was 21 years old and was declared missing, but his family and the detectives feared the worst because he had a learning disability and had tried to take his life a few times.
The detectives tried their best but eventually gave up and closed the case.
30 years later, a 50-year old man who had suffered a head injury started having memory flashes about his long-forgotten life. He revealed the bits that he could remember to a social worker and this lead to a series of DNA tests and research to determine his identity.
It was then discovered that he was Edgar Latulip and he was reunited with his family. He had been living in St. Catharines, just 80 miles from his original home. Doctors believed that his head injury may have triggered amnesia that made him depart home.
4. WINSTON BRIGHT
Winston Bright left his New York apartment in Peter Cooper Village, on October 12, 1990, never to return. He had called his wife, Leslie, the same day, to let her know he would be home around 5:30 p.m. But that was the last message from this switchman.
Leslie cooperated with the NYPD in tracing her hubby, and despite the difficult situation, she soldiered on and raised her three kids single-handedly. She even relocated to a housing project to save money.
Ten years later (in 2000), Leslie moved to court to request that Winston be declared so that she could collect his insurance payouts and pension.
However, things changed in 2007. Leslie received a strange phone call from a Kwame Seku in San Diego. The call came out of the blue, and the 65-year-old mysterious man claimed he was Winston.
3. PETRA PAZSITKA
Petra Pazsitka mysteriously left her college accommodation in the city of Braunschweig, Germany, in 1984. She was a 24-year-old dedicated computer student, and her absence was only discovered when she failed to show up at her brother’s birthday party.
After her disappearance, several searches were conducted, but no one had a clue about her whereabouts. Petra’s family was later informed that their daughter had been killed by a carpenter’s trainee. The apprentice had been charged with killing a 14-year-old girl and had confessed to killing Petra, according to the cops. Petra was officially declared dead in 1981.
But Petra resurfaced some 30 years later, and she had her old ID to back up her claims. She was 55 years old and claimed that she had secretly set aside money and had fled to start a new life away from her family and old friends. She claimed she had been living in various cities in Germany under the name “Petra Schneider.” While her family achieved closure, she still did not want contact with them and continued living in Dusseldorf.
2. ARTHUR GERALD JONES
Arthur Jones was a commodities trader who disappeared on May 11, 1979. It was not clear why the happy father of three had left behind a lucrative career, but he had told his wife that he was going to a meeting.
The police later found Jones’ car abandoned at an airport with all his belongings intact. It later emerged that before he vanished, he had sold off his seat with the Chicago Board of Trade to offset gambling debts that exceeded $200K. Worse, another trader, Carl Gaimari, had been killed some days before his ‘departure.’
Authorities became convinced that his absence was foul play, though there was no evidence to support this belief. The case went cold, and Jones was declared dead in 1986.
However, in 2011, the police discovered that 72-year-old Jones had been using a fake identity. Further investigation revealed that he had been living under the alias “Joseph Richard Sandelli” and had settled in Las Vegas where he had been working for ten years.
1. BRENDA HEIST
In 2013, a 54-year-old Pennsylvania woman, Brenda Heist, mysteriously resurfaced after being lost for 11 years. Heist’s excuse was that she had been running away from her life, her family, and her problems.
She turned herself in to authorities in Florida because she had a feeling she was wanted in another county. When the responding officer in Key Largo checked the records, Heist was indeed there and had been declared missing and possibly dead.
Brenda left her family in 2002, after an ugly divorce with Lee Heist and being turned down for public housing where she was trying to look for accommodation. She was desperate because she had two kids to support.
She was sobbing in a Pennsylvania park when two strangers approached her and offered to let her come with them. She had been invited to hitchhike to Florida, and she welcomed the idea.
Brenda worked briefly as a live-in housekeeper but had spent most of her time as a vagrant who survived through begging. She had been arrested several times for drug-related crimes but eventually got tired of her new-found life.
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