No matter the circumstance, a missing persons case is always mystifying, eerie, and heartbreaking. That is seldom more true than when people vanish in the midst of seemingly mundane activities, such as these people who disappeared from cars, often left in the middle of the road - sometimes with the engine still running. Some of these missing people who left their cars behind were later found, either as victims of foul play or simple misfortune. Others remain missing to this day.
Whatever the circumstances, these strange and haunting tales of car vanishings leave us with more questions than answers. Within the abandoned vehicles are often a plethora of clues, but they rarely piece together a satisfying image of these people's last known sightings. Whether abducted midday or simply gone without a trace, these eerie tales of people who disappeared from cars are pretty much all unforgettable.
An Oxygen documentary series, The Disappearance of Maura Murray, called the mysterious 2004 vanishing of this then-21-year-old New Hampshire nursing student the "first crime mystery of the social media age." Indeed, Murray's disappearance came on February 9, just five days after the launch of Facebook. Yet the moniker has less to do with social media playing a role in Murray's disappearance itself than with the role that social media - and a transformed internet - had on the number of amateur sleuths who became interested in the case, even while Murray's whereabouts remain unknown decades later.
The circumstances surrounding her disappearance are certainly mysterious enough: On the day she disappeared, Murray emailed her professors at the University of Massachusetts Amherst College of Nursing to say that she would be out for a week because of a death in the family - though her family later said they had experienced no such tragedy. She packed all of her things and got into her car.
Sometime after 7 pm, her car struck a tree in Woodsville, NH. A bus driver who lived in the area stopped to offer assistance, later saying that the young woman in the car did not appear to be hurt but nonetheless asked him - some reports say "pleaded" with him - not to call the police. Upon arriving home, he did so anyway, but when the police arrived nine minutes later, Maura Murray was nowhere to be seen. She still has not turned up in all the years since, despite the work of numerous detectives (both amateur and professional) and several potentially promising leads.
- Video: YouTube
Bryce Laspisa's Parents Were Waiting For Him To Come Home When His Car Was Found On Its Side In A Ravine
At around 2 am on August 30, 2013, Karen and Mike Laspisa received a phone call from their son, Bryce. The 19-year-old had been driving to their home in Laguna Niguel, midway between Los Angeles and San Diego.
In recent weeks, according to his roommate and girlfriend, he had begun drinking heavily and using Vyvanse, an amphetamine derivative sometimes prescribed for ADHD, which Bryce did not have. Concerned, his parents had asked him to come home. When he called that morning, he was on his way, but he said that he was too tired to continue and was going to pull over into a rest stop and take a nap. This was the last time his parents ever heard from him.
Six hours later, the doorbell rang, but it wasn't Bryce. Instead, the police were at the door to inform the Laspisas that their son's car had been found abandoned and on its side in a ravine near Castaic Lake, with his phone, wallet, and laptop still inside. Even more chilling, there was no sign of Bryce.
Police dogs tracked his scent to a nearby truck stop, and authorities dragged the lake, but no body was ever found. Even so, Bryce's parents haven't given up hope, and a Facebook page dedicated to his disappearance continues to receive updates from people keeping the search alive.
Phoenix Coldon's Car Was Found In The Middle Of The Road, But She Was Nowhere To Be Seen
Her car was found in the middle of the street just 25 minutes from her family's home, yet she was nowhere to be seen. On December 18, 2011, Phoenix Coldon's parents watched their daughter pull out of their driveway and never saw her again. This marked the beginning of a nightmare for the Coldon family. Though the car was impounded that very night, her parents didn't learn about it until weeks later. Alleging police negligence, Coldon's parents began a search for her themselves, spending tens of thousands of dollars in the process, but were faced with costly hoaxes that wound up costing them their home and life savings.
Despite their dedication, Coldon has never been found. A 2018 Oxygen documentary, The Disappearance of Phoenix Coldon, featured revelations about the young woman's personal life and a Snapchat video that she had recorded about a month before her disappearance. "I just want to be happy, man. I can't remember a time when I was happy," Phoenix Coldon says in the video, which Oxygen describes as showing a "girl in crisis."
Did Phoenix Coldon run away from home to start a new life, or did something more sinister happen to her on that chilly December afternoon? To this day, her parents still don't know.
Brandon Swanson Vanished After Exclaiming 'Oh, sh*t!' Over The Phone
"Oh shit!" were the last words Brandon Swanson uttered on a phone call with his parents. On May 14, 2008, he had accidentally driven his car into a ditch after celebrating the end of spring semester with his friends. He called his parents to come pick him up, but when they drove to where he said he was, there was no sign of him. The conversation continued on and off, with both parties trying to locate one another to no avail. After 47 minutes, the call cut off abruptly, and Brandon uttered that final expletive before the line went silent.
Though the Swansons phoned the police right away, officers didn't immediately get involved, pointing out that it wasn't so uncommon for young men to stay out all night after the end of college classes. When authorities finally did investigate, phone records showed that Brandon Swanson had been nowhere near the location he had described to his parents. Instead, his cell phone calls had bounced off a tower some 20 miles distant, where authorities eventually found his abandoned car. Of Brandon himself, however, there was no sign.
Though there have been no breaks in the case since, Brandon's parents haven't given up hope. In fact, perhaps one good thing has come from Brandon's disappearance: A year after their son vanished, the Swansons helped convince the Minnesota Legislature to pass Brandon's Law, which "requires authorities to conduct a preliminary investigation without delay when a missing persons report is received."
Leah Roberts Embarked On A Soul-Searching Journey But Never Returned
By the time Leah Roberts disappeared in March 2000, she had already suffered more tragedy than most. Then 22 years old, Leah had already lost both of her parents. Her mother had died when Leah was a sophomore in college, and her father passed the following year. "Leah was a young woman who was lost," her older sister, Kara, later said on Larry King Live. "You know, by the time Leah was 22, she had lost both of her parents, and here she is on the verge of graduating from college, and I think she just felt really lost and didn't have a lot of direction, and I feel like she took this trip as a soul-searching trip."
That trip was the beginning of Leah's disappearance. Inspired by the writings of Jack Kerouac and having already dropped out of school, Leah began driving across the country, heading west from her home in Durham, NC. She left behind enough money to cover her rent for a month, along with a note reading, "I’m not suicidal. I’m the opposite." That was on March 9.
Her sister was able to trace Leah's route by the expenditures made on her debit card, but those stopped on March 13. Five days later, Leah's Jeep was discovered, crashed at the bottom of an embankment in Washington State. Leah was not inside.
In the years since, numerous investigations have failed to yield any substantial clues as to Leah's whereabouts, but her disappearance partially helped inspire the On the Road to Remember Tour, an annual pilgrimage that traces Leah's known route to raise awareness of her and other missing persons, sponsored by the Community United Effort (CUE) Center for the Missing.
- Video: YouTube
Kori Gauthier's Car Was Found On A Baton Rouge Bridge, And Her Remains Were Found A Week Later
Kori Gauthier's car was already empty when another vehicle struck it on the Horace Wilkinson Bridge over the Mississippi River in Baton Rouge, LA. Police later determined that the car had been abandoned for at least an hour. When her car was found on April 7, 2021, Kori herself was nowhere to be seen.
The 18-year-old LSU freshman had been reported missing after not showing up for work or classes, but her family didn't learn about her car until it wound up in a Baton Rouge salvage yard after the accident. A week later, a tugboat operator spotted her body in the river. By then, police had already ruled out foul play, and the preliminary coroner's report seemed to support them, pointing to drowning as the most likely cause of Gauthier's death.
As for what happened between the time Gauthier last spoke to her loved ones and the moment her body was pulled from the river, no one is really certain.