10 Criminals Who Mysteriously Vanished

Criminals who are caught typically want to vanish, escaping the long arm of the law and living out their days in freedom - say, fixing boats in some remote Mexican beach paradise - instead of behind bars. While the vast majority don't succeed (some don't even try), occasionally, a clever criminal will somehow manage to simply disappear.

These are just a few of the most well-known criminals who mysteriously vanished. Some of the names are notorious: D.B. Cooper, Lord Lucan, and so forth. Others remain safe in obscurity. The names on this list represent some of the most intriguing disappearances and cold cases ever.

Who are the most notorious elusive criminals? Take a look and see for yourself what criminals have never been caught and have managed to successfully elude capture.

  • D. B. Cooper vanished after hijacking a Northwest Orient Airlines jet in November 1971. Cooper, who gave his name as "Dan Cooper," demanded $200,000 and two parachutes from the US government, which he received.

    Then, as the plane flew over the Pacific Northwest, Cooper strapped on his parachute, secured the ransom money to his person, and jumped from the Boeing 727, into the cold, night sky over the Cascade Mountains. In the years since the hijacking, the FBI has pursued literally thousands of leads without ever making a single arrest. Some believe Cooper couldn't possibly survive the jump he made; others theorize that Cooper did escape, possibly with the help of an accomplice. Either way, Cooper mysteriously vanished. And yes, this is definitely the stuff that movies are made of!

    To date, the D. B. Cooper case remains the only unsolved skyjacking in aviation history. Although the FBI officially announced an end to their investigation in the case in 2016, a private investigation led by author and filmmaker Thomas Colbert and a 40-person team, many of whom are retired FBI agents, has developed the theory that former Vietnam veteran Robert Rackstraw was responsible. They claim to have proof in the form of a series of letters written by the criminal and sent to various newspapers following the hijacking. Rackstraw was once a person of interest in the case but was eliminated as a suspect by the FBI in 1979. Although the FBI has declined to reopen the case in light of Colbert's findings, Colbert considers it closed and believes he found the man responsible.

  • Joseph Shexnider
    Video: YouTube

    Joseph Shexnider

    After missing a district court hearing for possession of a stolen vehicle in January 1984, the family of 26-year-old Joseph Shexnider suspected he was on the run from the law. Shexnider had also disappeared a few times before, including one incident when he had run off to join the circus. But was he truly running, or was he the victim of foul play? For 27 years, the Shexnider disappearance was a mystery - he'd simply vanished.

    Then, in May of 2011, Joseph Shexnider's remains were found inside a brick chimney at a bank in Abbeville, Louisiana. Police say they aren't sure why Shexnider climbed into the chimney - and they aren't sure exactly how he died, though they suspect starvation/dehydration. Did Shexnider get stuck during a bank robbery attempt gone horribly wrong? Was he practicing for the all-important role of Santa at the following year's Christmas Pageant? We may never know.

  • Frank Morris And John And Clarence Anglin

    No list about criminals who mysteriously vanished would be complete without including three names: Frank Morris, John Anglin, and Clarence Anglin. Their escape remains one of the greatest unsolved mysteries in American history.

    These three men were prisoners at San Francisco's famed Alcatraz maximum security prison who somehow managed to escape. Morris, along with the Anglin brothers, plotted their daring escape for years before carrying the plan out on June 11, 1962. 

    Using homemade tools fashioned from items obtained at the prison, they gradually scraped at and widened the air vent openings in their cells. Once able to fit through the openings, they crawled up the plumbing system to reach the prison's roof, where they shimmied down a large smokestack to eventually reach the shoreline. They concealed their absence from their cells by placing blankets and life-like dummy heads in their beds. To cross the frigid Pacific waters surrounding the prison, they reportedly created a makeshift raft out of 50 raincoats stolen from or donated by fellow inmates. Whether they survived their escape remains a mystery. Many believe the men died before they reached freedom, drowning in the swirling currents of San Francisco Bay. A massive manhunt ensued, but their bodies were never found. The story is featured in the 1979 Clint Eastwood movie Escape from Alcatraz. Eastwood played Frank Morris, Jack Thibeau played Clarence Anglin, and Fred Ward played John Anglin.

    There have been several claims made that evidence exists of the men's survival, including a 2013 letter supposedly written by one of the escapees as well as a photograph of the two brothers living in Brazil (revealed in 2018). However, forensic testing was inconclusive and definitive proof remains elusive. 

    If the men survived, it marks the only successful escape during the remote prison's 29-year history.


  • Abbie Hoffman

    Political activist Abbie Hoffman already had a rap sheet (for political protests) when he mysteriously vanished in 1974, skipping bail after his arrest on drug charges. Hoffman was not seen for seven years, though investigators tried to find him and various sightings were reported. Hoffman went to great lengths to conceal his identity, changing his name to "Barry Freed" and even having plastic surgery to change his appearance. 

    In 1980, Hoffman/Freed turned himself in to police and gave an interview to Barbara Walters. Released in 1982, he remained involved in activist causes and progressive politics for the remainder of his life. He took his life in April 1989.

    • Age: Dec. at 52 (1936-1989)
    • Birthplace: USA, Massachusetts, Worcester
  • Boston Corbett
    Photo: Mathew Brady / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Thomas P. "Boston" Corbett was the Union Army soldier who shot Abraham Lincoln's assassin, John Wilkes Booth, to death in April 1865. Corbett, a member of the 16th New York Cavalry Regiment, and other soldiers were assigned to apprehend Booth, but not to kill him, based on strict orders from Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton.

    Instead, when Booth was discovered at a Virginia farm, the regiment set the barn on fire and then Corbett shot Booth through a crack in the wall. Corbett was arrested for violating orders, but by that time, he had become something of a national hero, so the charges were eventually dropped. Corbett's share of the reward money worked out to be $1,653.84.

    Corbett didn't really get to enjoy his earnings or newfound fame, though, as his life slowly began to unravel. Some have theorized that his regular employment as a hatter and ensuing exposure to high amounts of mercury led to his madness. But it's also possible that the fame and notoriety of being Booth's killer got to him. Either way, over the following years, his behavior became increasingly erratic, and it's said that he threatened several people over the years with guns. While working as an assistant doorman at the Kansas House of Representatives, Corbett became upset and brandished a firearm.

    As a result of his erratic behavior, Corbett was committed to the Topeka Asylum for the Insane, from where he escaped the following year.

    Corbett was never officially heard from again. He told a fellow inmate that he planned to head for Mexico, but it's believed he may have moved into a cabin in the woods near Hinckley, Minnesota. No one knows for certain how or when he died, but it's theorized that he was among the 400 people who perished in the Great Hinckley Fire of 1894 in Minnesota. Records list a Thomas Corbett among the dead. 

    • Age: Dec. at 62 (1832-1894)
    • Birthplace: London, United Kingdom
  • Rocco Perri
    Photo: Wiley

    Rocco Perri

    Canadian organized crime boss Rocco Perri entered a life of crime as a young man after losing his job working on the Welland Canal Project and working a variety of odd jobs in the intervening years. After the Ontario Temperance Act of 1916 cut off the legal sale and distribution of alcohol, Perri found his calling and began a bootlegging operation along with wife Besha Starkman. He eventually came to be known as "Canada's King of the Bootleggers," though he never did get the respect of his American counterparts. 

    Perri disappeared in April 1944 in Hamilton, Ontario. He was never seen or heard from again. It's commonly believed that he was killed and his body deposited into the Hamilton Bay, possibly by rival bootleggers looking to gain more control in the Canadian market.

    • Age: Dec. at 56 (1887-1944)
    • Birthplace: Platì, Italy