We’ve all had the itch of a wild hair to dis­ap­pear. Toss your unpaid park­ing tick­ets to the wind and ditch town. Most peo­ple nev­er attempt it. Some have died try­ing, and a few have actu­al­ly pulled it off — or so we think. Here’s a run­down of the top five who have tru­ly dis­ap­peared into the wilderness. 


D.B. Coop­er – Plane Hijack­er Who Dis­ap­peared in the Cas­cade Range
In 1971, a man in Port­land, Ore­gon, known as D.B. Coop­er board­ed a Boe­ing 727 that was head­ed for Seat­tle, Wash­ing­ton. He wore a black suit and sun­glass­es and ordered a bour­bon and soda. Then he passed the stew­ardess a note that read, “I have a bomb. Please sit next to me.” He showed the stew­ardess the red cylin­ders and fus­es in his bag, and he demand­ed a ran­som of $200,000 to be deliv­ered to the plane when they touched down in Seat­tle. When the plane land­ed, all pas­sen­gers dis­em­barked, police deliv­ered the ran­som, and Coop­er direct­ed the flight crew to refu­el and fly toward Mex­i­co. At 8:13 p.m., Coop­er jumped out of the aft door of the plane into a thun­der­storm wear­ing a back­pack para­chute with the bags of cash strapped to his leg. Detec­tives esti­mate that he jumped into 200 mph winds, and that accord­ing to the flight path he would have land­ed in the rugged moun­tain wilder­ness of south­ern Wash­ing­ton State. Despite the most exten­sive ground search ever con­duct­ed at that time, Coop­er has nev­er been seen again; although nine years lat­er, a boy camp­ing in the Washou­gal Riv­er Val­ley in south­ern Wash­ing­ton dis­cov­ered a small por­tion of Cooper’s ran­som mon­ey buried neat­ly in the creek bed.

Utah’s Grand Stair­case Escalante Nation­al Monument

Everett Ruess A Vagabond Artist Who Dis­ap­peared In Escalante 
In 1934, the 20 year-old artist, poet, and wan­der­er Everett Ruess packed up two bur­ros and head­ed up Davis Gulch in what is now known as Escalante Nation­al Mon­u­ment in south­ern Utah. Ruess’ trav­els led him through the High Sier­ra, Ari­zona, New Mex­i­co, and final­ly Utah. He cre­at­ed beau­ti­ful prints, wood­carv­ings, poems, and let­ters about the nat­ur­al envi­ron­ments through which he trav­eled, and often trad­ed them with peo­ple to main­tain his lifestyle. In one of his final let­ters home to his par­ents in Oak­land, Cal­i­for­nia, Ruess prophet­i­cal­ly exclaimed, “I don’t think you will ever see me again, for I intend to dis­ap­pear.” Ruess carved the word “Nemo” on a Moqui cave entrance before he dis­ap­peared up Davis Gulch. No one has ever seen or heard from Everett Ruess again, although in 2009 they exhumed a skele­ton from the region where an old native man tes­ti­fied that he once wit­nessed the mur­der of a young, white man by a group of Ute Indi­ans as they stole his two bur­ros. The DNA evi­dence of the skele­ton con­clud­ed that it was not Everett Ruess.

The air vent through which Mor­ris escaped

Frank Mor­ris – Alca­traz Escapee Who Dis­ap­peared in San Fran­cis­co Bay
On a fog­gy, moon­less night in 1962, Frank Mor­ris and two accom­plices broke out of Alca­traz. They had spent the past year dig­ging with a spoon through an air vent in their cell walls to reach a util­i­ty cor­ri­dor. In their jail cell beds, they had left life­like paper-mache heads they had built using glue and their own hair. Once out on the North­east­ern shore of the island, they inflat­ed a 14-foot raft they had con­struct­ed out of near­ly 50 prison-issued rain­coats. At 10 p.m. that night, the three pris­on­ers pad­dled into the strong cur­rent of the 53-degree, noto­ri­ous­ly shark-infest­ed waters. The prison guards dis­cov­ered their ruse ear­ly the next morn­ing and a full-on man­hunt began. Rem­nants of their raft and pad­dles were dis­cov­ered on Angel Island, which, accord­ing to an inmate famil­iar with their plans, was their des­ti­na­tion. They had planned to swim the half-mile Rac­coon Strait to the main­land, steal a car, rob a cloth­ing store, and dis­ap­pear. After a 17-year inves­ti­ga­tion, the FBI offi­cial­ly closed the case and no trace of Frank Mor­ris and his accom­plices has ever been seen again. 

Butch Cassidy circa 1894
Butch Cas­sidy cir­ca 1894

Butch Cas­sidy – Old West Out­law Who Dis­ap­peared In Patag­o­nia
Robert Leroy Park­er, aka Butch Cas­sidy, had a long his­to­ry of escap­ing into the wilder­ness with his boun­ty from train rob­beries and bank heists. He fled to the Robber’s Roost near Cap­i­tal Reef Nation­al Park and Hole In The Wall in Wyoming for years before he final­ly went to Patag­o­nia to evade the law with the Sun­dance Kid in 1901. The duo are sus­pect­ed to have robbed a few banks and min­ing pay­rolls while in South Amer­i­ca; the last of which was the Cia Sil­ver Mine pay­roll in Bolivia. The com­pa­ny suf­fered a heist by two masked Amer­i­can ban­dits. A small dis­patch of local police offi­cers fol­lowed the ban­dits to the house where they were lodg­ing. A fire­fight ensued and last­ed through­out the night. The next morn­ing the offi­cers entered and found the two ban­dits dead from mul­ti­ple gun­shot wounds, but author­i­ties could not pos­i­tive­ly iden­ti­fy the two men. They were buried in an unmarked grave, and attempts to exhume their gravesites have nev­er con­clud­ed with match­ing DNA. There are many sto­ries, how­ev­er, from close friends and doc­tors of Butch Cas­sidy that say he trav­eled to Paris after Bolivia and had plas­tic surgery on his face. Some say he set­tled down in John­nie, Neva­da, and lived there peace­ful­ly until he passed away in the 1950s.

The Golden Spruce in 1984. Photo by by Mike Beauregard
The Gold­en Spruce in 1984. Pho­to by by Mike Beauregard

Grant Had­win - Envi­ron­men­tal­ist Who Dis­ap­peared in British Colum­bia
On a cold morn­ing in Jan­u­ary, 1997 on the Queen Char­lotte Islands of British Colum­bia, Grant Had­win cut down what many con­sid­ered the most unique tree in the world. The tree was a Sit­ka spruce that had a muta­tion that caused all of its nee­dles to glow a gold­en hue. Had­win, a pro­fes­sion­al log­ger who had grown dis­grun­tled with mech­a­nized, clearcut log­ging prac­tices in British Colum­bia, cut down the gold­en spruce with a chain­saw at night in an act of protest. He then wrote a let­ter that was wide­ly pub­lished by local and inter­na­tion­al media explain­ing that he cut down the 300-year-old tree that was sacred to Hai­da natives because he want­ed to alert every­one to the sys­tem­at­ic destruc­tion of old growth forests through­out the region. His act enraged the native and local com­mu­ni­ty, and many peo­ple thought Had­win would be mur­dered before his court date in Mas­set, British Colum­bia. Had­win, fear­ing for his life if he took a plane or fer­ry to his court appear­ance, opt­ed to kayak across the noto­ri­ous­ly dan­ger­ous Hecate Strait. The wide, yet shal­low strait fea­tures extreme tidal cur­rents and is noto­ri­ous­ly sus­cep­ti­ble to vio­lent storms. Had­win, by all accounts a bril­liant forester and skilled back­coun­try sur­vival­ist, set out for his Feb­ru­ary 18th court date in the teeth of a nasty win­ter storm. He was last seen pad­dling 25 miles north of Prince Rupert, but he nev­er appeared for his court­room hear­ing. Five months lat­er his kayak and belong­ings — includ­ing a 15-page man­i­festo that philo­soph­i­cal­ly railed civ­i­lized soci­ety’s short­com­ings — was dis­cov­ered 70 miles north­west of Prince Rupert. Grant Had­win has nev­er been seen or heard from again. 

We may nev­er know what tru­ly hap­pened to these men. Their lives have become blurred by their leg­ends. Some peo­ple are sure they died; oth­ers believe they escaped. What­ev­er you think hap­pened to them might say less about their sto­ries, and more about your own beliefs.

By Tim Gib­bins