Top 20 Missing People Who Were Eventually Found

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Top 20 Missing People Who Were Eventually Found

VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton WRITTEN BY: Nathan Sharp
These kidnapping / missing persons stories will send a chill down your spine. For this list, we'll be looking at the most dramatic reports of individuals who disappeared but were eventually found safe. Our countdown includes Robert McDonough, Julian Hernandez, Michele Whitaker, Jaycee Dugard, and more.
Transcript

Top 20 missing people who were eventually found


Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 20 missing people who were eventually found.

For this list, we’ll be looking at the most dramatic reports of individuals who disappeared but were eventually found safe.

Which of these stories do you find the most amazing? Let us know in the comments below!

#20: Robert McDonough

If you saw this in a movie, you would think, “Nah, there’s no way.” In May of 2013, an elderly man named Robert McDonough went missing from his Limington (limming-tin), Maine home. The danger was compounded by the fact that McDonough has dementia. The authorities were called and searched the nearby woods throughout the night, but found nothing. The next morning, a local news crew stationed themselves outside McDonough’s house to report on his disappearance. And that’s when McDonough quite literally strolled into the shot and asked the news crew what was happening. McDonough was safe and healthy, and it was reported that he had wandered out of his house and likely into the neighboring forest. The rescue team may’ve just missed him during their search.

#19: Timothy Carney

A young New Jersey man named Timothy Carney went missing in September of 2004 after calling his employer and telling them that he would be late for work. That night, Carney’s empty vehicle was discovered near Newark. His parents searched years for their son, and he was finally found safe on September 23, 2011 - nearly seven full years from the day he disappeared. Unfortunately, not much information was given regarding his situation. Carney’s parents believe that he was influenced by a religious organization known as The Gospel Outreach to abandon all contact with his family.

#18: Carlos de Salazar

A Spanish doctor by the name of Carlos Sanchez Ortiz de Salazar (carlos sanchez orr-TEEZE day salla-SAR) disappeared from the city of Seville in 1996. The story goes that de Salazar was severely depressed and fled his home country to begin a new life elsewhere. There was no further news, and de Salazar was even declared legally dead in 2010. Five years after that, mushroom pickers found de Salazar living in the woods of Tuscany, Italy. De Salazar told them who he was and proved it by showing them some documents. Photos of these documents were later shared with a missing persons organization. Unfortunately, this story has a frustratingly ambiguous ending. After being found, de Salazar had taken down his makeshift home and once again fled into the wilderness to be on his own.

#17: Jan Broberg

Today, Jan Broberg Felt (as spelled) is a professional actress, having found success on stage and fame on The WB’s “Everwood,” in which she portrayed Nurse Louise. Unfortunately, Broberg suffered a harrowing childhood that involved multiple kidnappings. Back in 1972, Broberg’s parents met the Berchtold (birtch-told) family through church. Broberg quickly developed a father-daughter relationship with Robert Berchtold . Unfortunately, Berchtold kidnapped Broberg and took her to his trailer home in Mexico. She was eventually rescued, but then kidnapped again two years later, and the now-teen proceeded to live with Berchtold in California for four months. She was eventually rescued by the FBI, and her story was later turned into the Netflix documentary “Abducted in Plain Sight.”

#16: Petra Pazsitka

Back in 1984, Petra Pazsitka was due to arrive at her brother’s birthday party. She never made it. A suspected criminal then confessed to killing Pazsitka. The case was closed in 1989, with many believing that Pazsitka had been killed. There was no further news until 2015, when police were called to a home burglary in Düsseldorf. The victim said her name was “Mrs. Schneider” but eventually came clean - she was actually the presumed-dead Petra Pazsitka. She had been living under a false identity for over 30 years. When found, Pazsitka refused to give a reason for her disappearance and explicitly asked not to be reunited with her family. However, she also claimed that family troubles were not the reason for her sudden departure.

#15: Harold Lovell

This is another person who was presumably killed. But this wasn’t at the hands of some random criminal - it was at the hands of John Wayne Gacy. Many believed that Harold Wayne Lovell was killed by Gacy back in the late ‘70s, but his body was never identified. In the early 2010s, police were attempting to identify some unknown Gacy victims when they started looking into Lovell. Their search took them across the country to South Florida, which is where they made a shocking discovery. Lovell was alive and well, and he didn’t even know that he was presumed dead, let alone a victim of Gacy’s - whom he had actually met and worked for before his disappearance! According to Lovell, he had fled Chicago following some family troubles and stayed out of contact for the following 30 odd years.

#14: Julian Hernandez

In this case, a simple college application uncovered a 13 year long ruse. In August of 2002, young Julian Hernandez was taken by his father, Bobby. Bobby had left behind a note for Julian’s mother, saying only that he had taken their son. No other details were given, and father and son seemingly disappeared into thin air. They had actually gone to Cleveland and developed new identities, with Bobby obtaining a social security card under the name Jonathan Mangina. The ruse finally ended when Julian applied for college in 2015. A school counselor discovered that Julian was legally missing and notified authorities. 19-year-old Julian, who has forgiven his father, was then reunited with his mother, and Bobby was sentenced to four years in prison.

#13: Steve Carter

Imagine this: you’re browsing online when you come across your own picture on a website of missing children. That’s exactly what happened to Steve Carter. After reading about a kidnapping, Carter found himself on the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s page, after which he saw an age progression photo of a missing child. He thought that the grown man’s face bore a startling resemblance to his own, so he contacted the police and they got to work. Turns out that Steve Carter was actually Marx Barnes, and he had gone missing over 30 years earlier after going for a walk with his mother. It’s believed that Carter’s mother took him to an orphanage and put him up for adoption under a false name. She then disappeared herself, leaving behind many frustrating questions.

#12: Denise Bolser

It’s amazing how much trouble money can cause. Back in 1985, 24-year-old Denise Bolser went missing while working as a bookkeeper. The only clue was a note left to her husband which read, “We have your wife.” While the police received many tips over the years, Bolser was eventually tracked by a private investigator and found in 2002. She was living in Florida under the name Denise James. According to Bolser, she had fled to hide from her old boss. Bolser had skimmed more than $10,000 from the company of her boss’ wife, allegedly on the orders of her employer. When Bolser began discussing the ruse, her co-conspirator reportedly threatened to kill her. She fled to live a new life, and has since been reunited with her parents.

#11: Brenda Heist

On the morning of February 8, 2002, Brenda Heist dropped her children off at school and disappeared without a trace. The family was understandably devastated, and Heist’s husband petitioned to have her declared legally dead. The case was solved in 2013 to …mixed results. Heist intentionally left her family in Pennsylvania behind to live as a vagrant in Florida. She had hitchhiked there with a group of homeless people and spent the next decade working odd jobs in the state. According to Heist, she had abandoned her family for stress-related reasons. But this story does not have a happy ending. Heist’s husband claimed that he had no desire to see her, and her now-grown daughter doesn’t think her mother “deserves to see [her].”

#10: Michele Whitaker

South Carolina woman Michele Whitaker went missing in August of 2002 after a friend gave her a lift to a truck stop. Her case later turned into a homicide investigation, and police suspected a man named Jonathan Vick. Vick was the boyfriend of Whitaker’s co-worker, and she had also gone missing. However, police were unable to prove that Vick killed Whitaker. The case went cold until 2008. An Oregon woman was watching a “Forensic Files” episode about Vick when a picture of Whitaker flashed on screen. The woman recognized Whitaker as her neighbor and contacted the authorities. Her neighbor was indeed the missing Michele Whitaker, and she later told her family that she had fled South Carolina to start a new life in Oregon.

#9: Gabriel Nagy

When one hears “fugue state,” they probably think of that “Breaking Bad” episode where Walt walks around a supermarket in his birthday suit. Well, that was reality for Gabriel Nagy. Back in January of 1987, the husband and father disappeared under mysterious circumstances. He was reported missing after he failed to return home for lunch, and his burnt-out vehicle was later discovered. Nagy remained missing until 2012, when a police officer tracked him down and found him alive and well. Nagy had seemingly suffered a dissociative fugue state, a rare psychiatric disorder characterized by a loss of memory of one’s identity and personality. Put simply, Nagy forgot who he was and wandered away to start a new life.

#8: Lula Hood

There’s just something about Florida that apparently attracts people. A woman named Lula Hood went missing all the way back in 1970. According to Hood’s relatives, she simply disappeared from Illinois without a trace. No word was heard until 1996, when Hood’s family was told that her remains were found in a Florida brickyard. That remained the official story until 2009, when the remains were tested for DNA. Surprise - they didn’t belong to Hood. The case was reopened, and investigators eventually tracked Hood to another place in Florida, where she had been living for the last 40 years. According to Hood’s daughter, Hood got into a squabble with a family member and was told to leave. She did - going all the way to Florida and living her life in complete anonymity.

#7: Nguyen Thi Van

Vietnamese high school student Nguyen Thi Van vanished in 1992. Van returned home but found herself locked out because of the late time, so she relocated to a nearby karaoke bar. The next morning, a disoriented Van woke up in China. She had been taken to the country by a woman named Thanh (TAYN / TINE), who tortured her and her friends and forced them to marry older, local Chinese men. She eventually fled with the help of a local driver and returned to Hanoi. In a moment that would be too unbelievable for fiction, Van approached a man on the street and asked for directions. That man happened to be her uncle. He took her to the family home, and Van was reunited with her family after 21 years.

#6: Amanda Eller

Yoga teacher and physical therapist Amanda Eller decided to go for a hike through the Hawaiian wilderness. She never returned home, and her boyfriend quickly reported her missing. Her vehicle was found abandoned near Maui’s Kahakapao (kuh-HAWKA-pao) Trail, but there were no signs of Eller. She had accidentally wandered off the trail and found herself in the middle of the remote wilderness. When it was obvious that help wasn’t coming, she was forced to live off wild plants, berries, and rainwater. After over two long and grueling weeks, Eller was finally located by a search party and rescued via helicopter. She was in surprisingly good condition and was treated at a local hospital for a fractured leg.

#5: Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry & Georgina DeJesus

This is easily one of the most famous kidnapping stories of our time, having attained fame through its dramatic conclusion. Between 2002 and 2004, a man named Ariel Castro (airy-ull) kidnapped the three young women off the streets of Cleveland by offering them lifts. They remained in his house for roughly a decade and were subjected to various forms of horrible torture. It wasn’t until May 6, 2013 that Berry saw her chance of escape. Castro had accidentally left a door unlocked, and Berry was able to contact passing neighbors. They helped Berry and her daughter escape the house, and she telephoned the police to report the kidnappings, after which the other two were rescued. Castro was arrested that same day, and he would later take his own life in his detention cell.

#4: Steven Stayner

On December 4, 1972, young Steven Stayner was abducted by Ervin Murphy and Kenneth Parnell. Stayner proceeded to live as Parnell’s son while being continuously subjected to his depraved whims. Parnell attempted to use Stayner in other kidnappings, but Stayner was uncooperative. In fact, on the night of March 1, 1980, he and a young boy named Timmy White escaped Parnell’s house and made their way to a local police station. Stayner was finally reunited with his family the following day. He wasn’t the boy they remembered, but a teenager now. He found it difficult to adjust and mostly kept his experiences to himself. After Stayner died in a motorcycle accident at 24, Timmy White served as a pallbearer.

#3: Jaycee Dugard

Little Jaycee Dugard was tased and snatched off the street while approaching her school bus on June 10, 1991. The perpetrators were husband-wife duo Phillip and Nancy Garrido (guh-REE-doh). Despite numerous people witnessing the kidnapping, the trail quickly went cold, and no one heard anything of Dugard for the next 18 years. In that time, Dugard was consistently assaulted by Phillip Garrido and bore him two daughters. The case was finally broken by a special events manager named Lisa Campbell. Garrido was visiting UC Berkeley with his two daughters, and their “erratic” behavior caught Campbell’s attention. After getting his name through the booking of an appointment, she notified the police, which eventually led to Garrido’s arrest. Dugard was finally rescued and reunited with her mother on August 27, 2009 - now almost 30 years old.

#2: Bowe Bergdahl

In May of 2009, soldier Bowe Bergdahl was working counterinsurgency in Afghanistan when his friend and fellow officer Brian Bradshaw was fatally hit by a roadside bomb. This likely tarnished Bergdahl’s outlook on the war effort. He wrote to his family a few days later, and his email was full of critical language against the US army. Bergdahl subsequently disappeared under mysterious circumstances on June 30. No one knew where he was, and it would be almost a month before an insurgent group revealed that they were holding Bergdahl prisoner. He served as a POW until May 31, 2014, when he was freed in exchange for Taliban prisoners. Later investigations showed that Bergdahl was likely snatched after abandoning his post. He was subsequently court martialed and demoted. Talk about a not-so-welcome home.

#1: Elizabeth Smart

Back in June of 2002, a man named Brian David Mitchell broke into the Smart household and abducted teenaged Elizabeth Smart from her bedroom. Her sister, Mary Katherine, was also in the room at the time of the abduction, but faked being still sleeping. Elizabeth remained with Mitchell and his wife for the next nine months. Mary Katherine suddenly realized that the man who took her sister was the same man who had worked on their house as a general laborer one day. A sketch of the man was drawn up and released to news outlets. One day while walking in Sandy, Utah, several eyewitnesses recognized Mitchell’s face and notified police of his location. He and his wife were successfully captured, and Smart was finally rescued.
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