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.
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.
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 – 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.
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