Thousands of people go missing in the United States every year, and the majority of those people will never be seen again. However, a small percentage of those missing people do come back. Here’s a list of some of the most high-profile and interesting cases of miraculous returns for you.
In 2002, 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped in her home by Brian David Mitchell. Mitchell had broken into the Smart home and abducted Elizabeth at knife point from the room she shared with her younger sister. Mitchell took Smart to an encampment that he shared with his wife, Wanda Barzee. Mitchell, a religious fanatic who believed he was a prophet, married Smart in a bogus ceremony and he raped her continuously and plied her with drugs and alcohol.
On the night of the kidnapping, Smart’s younger sister was pretending to be asleep and she recognized Mitchell as a handyman who used to work for the family under the name “Immanuel.” After obtaining his photo, a nationwide search followed. A passerby eventually recognized Mitchell and Smart out in public, and he was immediately arrested. After nine long months, Smart was returned to her family. She has gone on to become an activist for child abduction survivors.
Not all the cases on this list are of kidnapped people. Sometimes people go missing on purpose. That is what happened in the case of Dr. Salazar, a psychiatrist from Seville, Spain. Dr. Salazar suddenly disappeared in 1995, and after years of searching, was declared dead in 2010. But in 2015, two shocked mushroom pickers discovered a disheveled-looking Salazar living like a recluse on the coast of Northern Tuscany. The two men left Salazar there and contacted the authorities, but when investigators came to look for him, Salazar disappeared again, not wanting to be rediscovered.
Hiroo Onoda is like the Japanese Colonel Kurtz. During WWII, Onoda was sent to the Philippines on what was essentially a suicide mission. Most of the soldiers in his mission where either taken prisoner or killed, but Onoda was able to escape into the foothills with a few men. When the war ended in 1945, Onoda continued a guerilla campaign against the locals in the Philippines. The Japanese government even dropped leaflets over the jungle where Onoda was hiding to inform them that the war was over. However, Onoda thought it was a trap. They kept fighting for years and, by 1972, the rest of Onoda’s companions were either killed or captured and Onoda was left completely alone. Many assumed that Onoda was dead. But, in 1974, a young hippy traveler named Norio Suzuki set out to find “Lieutenant Onoda, a panda and the Abominable Snowman,” in that order. Suzuki found Onoda in Lubang Island. Onoda surrendered and returned to Japan as a hero. Suzuki died in an avalanche in the Himalayas in the pursuit of the Abominable Snowman.
In 1970, Lula Cora Hood left her family after a domestic dispute. In 1996, police contacted Hood’s three children and said that they believed human remains they found in an Illinois brickyard belonged to their mother. They held an official funeral for Hood. But ten years later, DNA testing proved the remains did not belong to Hood. Just two weeks after police reopened the case, Hood was found living in Jacksonville, Florida. She had a dozen more children since she disappeared, and after 40 years apart, Hood and her oldest child Grace were reunited.
In the early 2000s, Ariel Castro kidnapped three women: Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry and Georgina DeJesus. He held the women captive for nearly eleven years, Berry even gave birth to Castro’s child. In 2013, Castro forgot to lock Berry’s door while he was out. The women, and Berry’s daughter, could run downstairs and attract the attention of Castro’s neighbor, Charles Ramsay. He helped them open the front door and Berry was able to contact the police.
Steven Stayner had an incredibly tragic and short life. In 1972, Stayner, then seven, was kidnapped by Kenneth Parnell. Parnell, a convicted pedophile, had repeatedly raped Stayner. He had changed Stayner’s name to Dennis Parnell, and enrolled him in various schools. When Stayner was 14-years-old, Parnell said that Stayner was getting too old, and he kidnapped 5-year-old Timothy White. Stayner did not want to see another boy go through what he experienced. In 1980, he decided to escape with the boy.
Steen Stayner was never able to readjust to life after his kidnapping. He suffered from addiction to drugs and alcohol. He passed away in a motorcycle accident when he was just 24-years-old.
In 1984, 24-year-old German national Petra Pazsitka went missing. Five years later, she was presumed dead. But, in 2015, Pazsitka was discovered alive and well in Dusseldorf after she reported a burglary in her home to police. She was forced to show proper identification, which lead to her confessing to her true identity. Pazsitka had gone far out of her way to keep herself from being discovered. It’s unknown how Pazsitka made an income. She never opened a bank account and had paid all her bills in cash. When her family was informed that Pazsitka was alive, she refused to have any contact with them.
Gabriel Nagy’s disappearance is perhaps the most well-known cases of Dissociative Fugue. In 1987, the Sydney, Australia native lost his memory following a car accident. He lived for 23 years doing odd jobs and living on the streets. Just a couple weeks before he was to officially be declared dead, a final sweep of the Medicare records came up with the name Gabriel Nagy. A pastor Nagy was working for had helped him set up the Medicare card after he needed cataract surgery. After an investigator came out to meet Nagy and presented him with letters and photos of his family, Nagy’s memory came flooding back to him.
Nguyen Thi Van’s parents will probably never forgive themselves for trying to teach their daughter a lesson about missing curfew. In 1992, Nguyen Thi Van’s parents locked her out of the house after she failed to come home on time. Nguyen Thi Van decided to go to a local bar with some friends, and after accepting a ride with an older woman they found themselves in China. On the threat of death, Nguyen was sold into marriage. She remained married to her captor for 21 years before she managed to escape.
Talk about being in the right place at the right time. In 2013, Robert McDonough, a 73-year-old man with dementia wandered away from his home in Maine. After his family reported him missing, police launched a 14-hour-long search. The following morning, an ABC news crew filmed a report about McDonough’s disappearance outside his home. Journalist Norm Karkos was about to go live with the story when McDonough wandered into the shot.
In 1991, Jaycee Dugard was kidnapped when she was 11-years-old by Phillip Garrido and his wife Nancy. She remained captive for 18 years and bore two children by Garrido. In 2009, Garrido brought Dugard’s children onto the UC-Berkeley’s campus to proselytize. Garrido aroused suspicion in two campus officers who subsequently ran a background check on him. Garrido, a sex offender, was in violation of his parole. When the concerned cops informed his parole officer about his two daughters, they revealed that Garrido didn’t have any children. Police then arrested Garrido and his wife, and rescued Dugard and the children. Since her rescue, Dugard has been trying to reclaim her life.
In 1961, Lucy Ann Johnson vanished from her home in Surrey, Canada, leaving her husband Marvin and her 8-year-old daughter Linda behind. In 2013, Linda tried to reopen the case by placing an ad in the Yukon News about her mother. A woman named Rhonda contacted Linda and informed her that Lucy was her mother, and that she was Linda’s half-sister. After 52 years, Linda reunited with Lucy, who told her daughter that she left because Marvin was abusing her.
In 1998, Austrian native Natascha Kampusch was kidnapped from her home. Wolfgang Priklopil had held her tied up in a secret cellar for eight years. While Priklopil was forcing Kampusch to vacuum out his car, he received a call and stepped away from Kampusch to hear better. She took that opportunity to run away. She was able to phone the police. While on the run, Priklopil threw himself in front of a train.
Everyone assumed that Edgar Latulip had killed himself when he disappeared from a mental health hospital in 1986. Latulip was mentally handicapped and had tried killing himself on several occasions. He was presumed dead, but in fact, Latulip was very much alive and not far from his home. He had suffered a head injury and lost all memory of his life. Some 30 years later, he started having flashbacks and remembered his name, and shared it with a social worker. The social worker ran the name and discovered he was a missing person.
One day in 1992, Winston Bright left for work in the morning and never returned home to his wife and children. In 2000, a judge ruled that Bright was dead and his widow and children began collecting his pension. Then 20 years after he disappeared, Bright showed up at his wife’s door calling himself Kwame Seku, and demanding his pension money. He claimed to have amnesia for twenty years, and tried to win his pension from Verizon, a company he worked with for two decades before his disappearance. Well, his wife and the judge weren’t buying the story. It seems like this guy just abandoned his family and was hoping to get a major payout for it. He was ultimately denied benefits.