10 Historical Figures Who Disappeared And Have Never Been Found
Most people who go missing turn up safe and well, within a few hours or days. Some, unfortunately, are found dead. When people do leave, the reason is often obvious, too—because they are running away from something (debt or the police, for example) or to something (a new partner or a fresh start).
It is very rare for people to disappear entirely completely and forever, but occasionally, even prominent figures seem to vanish without a trace for no reason at all. Here, we look at some very cold cases indeed.
10: John Lansing Jr.
In 1829, John Lansing Jr., former chief justice of the New York State Supreme Court, popped out to mail a letter and was never seen again. Lansing had had a glittering legal career. He was a member of the Congress of the Confederation in 1785 and was part of the Constitutional Convention in 1787. Lansing was said to have suffered from a stammer, which hindered his political career, but he still managed to become the chancellor of New York in 1801. In 1800, Lansing presided over People v. Weeks, the first formally documented murder trial in American history.
On the night of his disappearance, December 12, 1829, John Lansing left his hotel in Manhattan to mail a letter via boat. It was the last anyone saw of him. A number of theories were proposed at the time of the disappearance: that he had tripped and fallen off the dock, that he was mugged and killed, and his body was hidden somewhere, or that he was murdered by political enemies. The last theory gained some weight when the grandson of the publisher Thurlow Weed maintained that his grandfather had evidence that Lansing was murdered by powerful political enemies, though he refused to name them.
It is unlikely that we will ever know the truth, and Lansing’s body has never been found. If it were to be found, there is an empty tomb in his hometown of Albany, New York, with Lansing’s name on it, just waiting for him to come home.
9: Solomon Northup
Solomon Northup, the author of the famous book Twelve Years a Slave, disappeared without trace in 1857. His book, made into an Oscar winning-film in 2013, recounts the true story of his kidnapping and subsequent sale into slavery. His treatment under the brutal Edwin Epps makes especially difficult reading. Northup’s book was an immediate success, selling 30,000 copies in the first two years.
After his escape, Northup was said to have worked on the Underground Railroad, aiding other slaves to escape, and spent much time unsuccessfully trying to bring a suit against his kidnappers. In Washington, DC, Northup was not allowed to testify in the case because he was black. He was later allowed to file the suit in New York, but after a number of delays, the case was dropped.
He embarked upon a speaking tour in Canada in 1857 and never returned home. He was never heard from again, though a letter written in 1863 claimed he was alive. A number of theories have been proposed as to what happened to him: that he became a spy for the Union Army and was captured and killed, that he was kidnapped and made a slave again, or that he had just wandered away and died where no one knew him and is buried in an unmarked grave somewhere.
Whatever happened to Solomon Northup, he made a contribution to the abolition of slavery and the conscience of the United States and the rest of the world that lived long after him.