PEOPLE DISAPPEAR - it’s an unsettling fact. On any given day in the United States, there are close to 100,000 active missing person cases. The reasons are several - parental abductions, suicide, mental health issues, foul play (human trafficking, homicide, domestic violence, kidnapping), and much more. But what happens when there is no known reason behind the disappearance, and what if further investigation leads to more questions than answers? Below are four cases that stupefied even the most seasoned detectives and private investigators.
In 2004, Maura Murray was a 21 year old student studying nursing at the University of Amherst. On February 9 of that year, her life took a strange turn. Maura told her professors and boss that she had to leave town due to a family emergency. She would be gone for a week, she said. She then looked up and printed directions to New Hampshire and Vermont, packed her car, and drove away. But something was off - there was no family emergency, nor did she have a clear reason as to why she left so abruptly.
While en-route to New Hampshire, Maura withdrew $280 from an ATM and then purchased about $40 worth of alcohol at a nearby liquor store. She was alone at both locations. She continued driving for several hours on the highway until she crashed into a snow bank in Haverhill, New Hampshire. According to witnesses, Maura emerged from the crash uninjured, told a bystander that he didn't need to call the police, and left the scene before responders arrived. Did she develop amnesia from the crash, or was she abducted? We may never know, as there have been no sightings of Maura since.
Asha, a nine-year-old from Shelby, North Carolina, was last seen inside her home at 2:30 a.m. on February 14, 2000. She shared a room with her older brother, and when their mother went to wake the children at 6:30 a.m., Asha was not in her bed. There was no break in, as every window was locked. The police did an extensive search but could not find her; they concluded that she left home on her own accord. She took with her a book bag, purse, a change of clothes, and sneakers. Two truck drivers reported seeing her walking on the highway and then into the darkness between 3:30 and 4:15 a.m., about a mile from her home. This was the last confirmed sighting of Asha.
On February 17, three days later, Asha’s pencil, marker and hair bow were found lying on the ground in the doorway of a tool shed at Turner's Upholstery on the highway (one mile away from her home). Other belongings were also found, this time near the stretch of road where Asha was seen walking right after she disappeared. In August 2001, a contractor discovered Asha’s book bag buried off the highway, double-wrapped in black plastic trash bags; this area was located 26 miles from her home and in a different direction from where she had been walking. Upon discovering the book bag, foul play was suspected and her disappearance was considered a criminal matter. Asha is still missing.
Diane Augat left her apartment in Odessa, Florida on April 10, 1998, in the late morning. She was seen by a witness on April 11, walking on the highway near New York Avenue in Hudson, Florida. This was the last time she was seen. Diane was bipolar and did not bring her medication; several weeks prior to April 10 she was released from a mental health facility. Her mother claimed that her 40-year-old daughter should have stayed inpatient, as she was still mentally unstable.
On April 13, Diane's mother received a voicemail from a missed call. In the voicemail, Diane can be heard saying, "Help, help, let me out," and then, "Hey, gimme that," before the call ended. Caller ID showed that the call came from a business called Starlight in Odessa, Florida. Diane’s mother dialed the number back, but no one answered. Two days later, on April 15, another strange incident occurred. The severed tip of Diane’s right middle finger, with the nail painted red, was found in the New York Avenue area - the same area that the witness saw Diane four days earlier.
Two weeks after Diane’s disappearance, a bag of her folded clothing was found inside a convenience store’s outdoor freezer in Odessa. And two years later, one day after a local newspaper ran a story on Diane, another bag was found at another convenience store in Pasco, Florida. Oddly enough, it was found by Diane’s brother’s girlfriend. The bag was labeled “Diane” and contained a number of personal hygiene items. These odd and final clues led investigators to believe that foul play was involved in her disappearance. Sixteen years later, her case remains unsolved, and no one knows of Diane’s whereabouts.
Nicholas was playing basketball with his friends in San Antonio, Texas, on June 13, 1994, when he decided to go home. He called his house, wanting his mother to pick him up. Unfortunately she was asleep, and Nicholas’s older brother neglected to wake her. When he didn’t come home, investigators assumed Nicholas left on his own accord. They believed that the troubled 13-year-old had run away to avoid an upcoming sentencing hearing set for June 14. No one really knew what happened to Nicholas for sure - did he really run away? Was he abducted, or did someone in his family harm him?
In October 1997, something strange happened. Police received a call from a man at a youth shelter in Linares, Spain. The man claimed that Nicholas had escaped a child sex ring operation and was currently staying there. Nicholas’s sister flew to Spain to identify Nicholas and brought him back to Texas. But was he really Nicholas? He had brown eyes, and spoke with a French accent; Nicholas was born with blue eyes. When asked to provide blood samples and fingerprints to confirm his identity, Nicholas refused, and in February 1998 the FBI issued a court order. The fingerprints identified the man as Frédéric Pierre Bourdin - a 23 year old French man. Apparently, Bourdin had a criminal history in Europe as a con artist. In Nicholas’s case, he decided to take up his identity after getting his information from a missing child center. He made conflicting remarks about Nicholas’s whereabouts, and it was concluded that he had never met him. So, what happened to Nicholas? No one really knows, and his case remains unsolved.