18 People Who Vanished While On Vacation

No one who embarks on a travel adventure thinks they're going to end up disappeared, but it does happen. Sometimes lost travelers turn up unharmed, sometimes they're found injured or dead, and sometimes those poor unfortunate souls join that unenviable "disappeared forever" club, having gone without a trace. While this might sound like a potential hazard associated with exploring remote regions, such as mountains and jungles — and it is — vacationers have also gone missing from more unlikely locations, such as packed cruise liners, a resort bench, and even a busy airport.

Despite the best and sustained efforts of the authorities, the media, and the missing people's families, decades later, many of these disappearances have still yet to be solved. Many are likely to remain unsolved, too, with only scraps of often confusing and unhelpful clues left behind. Here are some of modern history's creepiest and most puzzling vacation disappearances.

Li Yinglei

Cruises are the ultimate in luxury vacation destinations. For just a few thousand dollars, you can have a decadent stateroom, three square meals a day, free entertainment, and as much shuffleboard as you can play. Cruises are fun, but there's a very sinister truth about them — if someone wants to get rid of you, well, you are very, very small, and the ocean is very, very big. So when you vanish from a cruise ship, there's not usually much hope you'll ever be found.

Li Yinglei was on a luxury Mediterranean cruise with her husband and two children in 2017 when she mysteriously disappeared. No one remembers seeing Li after the first day of the cruise, and her husband, Daniel Belling, didn't exactly radiate panic or even mild concern — he never even bothered to report her missing to the ship's crew, which is ultimately what got him arrested.

Belling told authorities that Li "quit the trip" while he was on an outing with their kids. "I thought she was returning to Dublin. She was acting weird lately," he reportedly said, per the Irish Independent. Belling was later released for lack of evidence and allowed to return home. His wife's disappearance remains unsolved.

Natalee Holloway

If you're planning a vacation, maybe don't go to Aruba. Just don't. Aruba sounds all tropical, beachy, and relaxing, but VisitAruba.com has an entire page dedicated to missing persons, so vanishing is a thing on that island.

The most famous of all of Aruba's missing persons is Natalee Holloway, who was on a senior class trip when she vanished in 2005. There were actual chaperones on the trip, but they missed the fact that Holloway left a nightclub at around 1:30 in the morning with a trio of local men. She was never seen again.

The prime suspect in her disappearance is Joran van der Sloot, who was convicted of murdering a woman in Peru exactly five years after Holloway's disappearance and is now serving a 28-year sentence. That seems pretty damning on a number of levels, but there's also the part where one of his friends said van der Sloot paid him $1,500 to dig up Holloway's remains and cremate them with a bunch of animal bones. In October 2023, van der Sloot confessed to Holloway's murder as part of a plea bargain, also admitting to pushing her body out to sea after beating her to death. 

Madeleine McCann

There is nothing worse than losing your child, which is why parents usually keep their little ones within arm's length or with a trusted babysitter. On the night of May 3, 2007, Madeleine McCann's parents did neither — they left her sleeping in their rented apartment in Portugal and went out for tapas with some friends. Now, lots of people tsk-tsk that decision right off, but keep in mind that the McCanns were literally across the street — the tapas bar was just 50 yards away from the apartment. Still, it was too far away for them to notice what happened that night. Somehow, Madeleine disappeared, and no one knows how or who might have been responsible.

Worse, the McCanns were initially treated as suspects by the Portuguese police, who were so sure that Madeleine's parents were responsible for their daughter's disappearance that they bungled the early investigation — around 20 people went in and out of the apartment before it was sealed off as a crime scene, and there were no roadblocks put into place until long after whoever took Madeleine would have been out of the area. So it's probable that the police missed important leads and that evidence was contaminated or destroyed, thus making the task of finding the missing girl a lot more difficult.

There have been many theories but very little evidence about what actually happened to Madeleine McCann. The only thing police know for sure is that she's still missing.

Kris Kremers and Lisanne Froon

In 2014, Kris Kremers and Lisanne Froon were Dutch tourists on the adventure of a lifetime in Boquete, Panama. On April 1, they left on a hike into the Talamanca Cordillera and were never seen again. Two months later, Froon's backpack and some of their clothing were found in the forest, then five bone fragments that were identified through DNA testing.

The official government opinion is that the two women fell into the river and got "dragged" by the current, and that scavengers scattered their remains. However, the bones were found at 2,300 feet above sea level in an area with few large animals, and decomposition happens slowly. At least one investigator believes the remains were treated with lime, which suggests they were murder victims, not victims of a tragic accident.

And because this story isn't eerie enough already, the backpack (which was found downstream from the women's remains, casting further doubt on the "dragged by the river" theory) contained both women's phones and a camera, still in working condition. And on the camera were 90 consecutive images, all taken at night within two hours of each other. Perhaps the two were using the camera's flash to light their way. Even more sinister, one of the photos appears to show Kremers with a head wound. After that, the trail is cold. No one knows how the pair died, or who, if anyone, killed them.

Lars Mittank

Lars Mittank was a pretty typical German tourist traveling in Bulgaria with some friends, until he got into a strange altercation with four men in a pub. Mittank suffered a ruptured eardrum in the fight and was advised to stay in Bulgaria a little longer while the injury healed.

Here's where the story gets weird. The doctor who saw Mittank prescribed cefuroxime, an antibiotic. After that, Mittank became paranoid — he reportedly called his mother and told her that there were men following him and that they wanted his medication. Concerned, his mother booked him a flight home, but he never got on the plane. Mittank made it to the airport and visited medical services, but the doctor who saw him said he became anxious and declared, "I don't want to die here," before sprinting out of the terminal without his luggage. Witnesses say he ran across the parking lot and climbed a fence. He was never seen again.

So, what happened to Lars Mittank? Medical journals have noted cases of psychotic reactions to the antibiotic cefuroxime (per the Medical Journal of Malaysia). His extreme paranoia could have also been compounded by a head injury sustained in the fight. Or maybe someone really was following him. Either way, what happened to him after he scaled that fence and disappeared is a mystery.

Leo Widicker

Leo Widicker, 86, was with his wife at a resort in Costa Rica when he disappeared in 2001. Widicker sat down on a bench while his wife went to the resort's hot springs. Witnesses say he seemed fine, but he may have nodded off while sitting there, and when he woke up, he became confused and disoriented. When his wife returned 30 minutes after leaving him, he was gone.

Hotel workers remember him asking if anyone knew where his wife was. He approached the resort guards a few minutes later and asked to be let out, and he was last seen wandering down the road in the rain. Friends and family say the behavior was wildly out of character — Widicker wasn't the type of guy who would go off for a walk, and he wouldn't have walked off the road, either. The family believes someone might have picked him up, though it's interesting to note that one side of the road where he was last seen was a "steep volcanic hillside," so a fall doesn't seem totally out of the question.

Fifteen minutes after he left the resort, friends drove out to look for him and found nothing. The Red Cross searched for four or five days, also without results. Local police searched, too. But Widicker was never seen again.

Mel Nadel

Sixty-one-year-old Mel Nadel was on a hunting trip in the Santa Fe National Forest in September 2009 when he vanished. On the day he disappeared, he told friends that he was just planning to venture out a short distance and would be back before nightfall. (Although conflicting sources say he stayed behind at the campsite while his friends went out to hunt and was gone when they returned.)

Nadel left most of his gear, including his GPS unit, inside his locked Jeep Cherokee and carried only a revolver and a hunting bow with arrows. The prevailing theory is that he became lost or injured, though his family doesn't think that adds up. And it's not like the guy was especially frail — he was a fitness instructor who owned a pilates studio and a first-degree black belt in tae kwon do.

It gets even weirder. Shortly after Nadel's disappearance, dogs followed his scent into the woods for about 150 yards, and then the trail suddenly just ended, as if he'd vanished in place. Three years later, his wife said the family was still looking for answers. "Even a trace of his belongings would help," she said (via the Charley Project). "We are in limbo."

Ryan Singleton

Ryan Singleton didn't stay missing, but his body was found in extremely bizarre circumstances after he vanished while traveling to Las Vegas in 2013. Singleton left Atlanta in July of that year, hoping to land an acting job in Hollywood. His mother said he traveled by rental car to Los Angeles, then to New Mexico, Arizona, and Las Vegas. His rental car was eventually found in Death Valley. Joggers located his decomposing corpse in the desert on September 21.

Singleton's disappearance and reappearance is especially bizarre not just because the coroner couldn't find a cause of death, but also because Singleton's body was mostly decomposed and his organs were missing. "There were no eyes, there was no heart, there were no lungs, there was no liver, there were no kidneys," Singleton's mother told Fox News in Atlanta (via Atlanta Daily World). And although the coroner speculated that the missing organs might have had something to do with scavengers, Singleton's mother wasn't so sure. "I don't know of an animal that comes to a body and just picks out certain parts of the body," she said. "I don't think it was animal activity at all."

No one has ever been able to figure out what happened to Ryan Singleton, but at least his remains were returned to his family. That's a small comfort, but it's something, considering so many other missing persons are never found at all.

Stacey Arras

Yosemite is a beautiful place, but as far as national parks are concerned, it does seem to have some sociopathic tendencies. According to National Parks Traveler, there are "at least" 60 unresolved cases of missing travelers in the American national parks system as a whole — and Yosemite alone has had 30 plus missing persons cases since 1909, 12 of which are considered cold or unresolved with no active leads. One of these is 14-year-old Stacey Arras, who was on a mule pack trip in 1981 with her father and eight other people, when she wandered off to take photographs and never came back.

More than 100 people, including 50 volunteers, six dog teams, professional search and rescue teams, divers, and mountain climbers, scoured the area in search of the missing teen. A helicopter spent 40 hours searching for some sign of Arras, but no trace of her was ever found. 

Officials said she could have fallen into a number of different places where searchers would be unable to find her, and it was also possible she might have hiked to the road in search of help. Or she could have been abducted — given that nothing but her camera's lens cap was ever recovered, that does seem like the most likely scenario. The lens cap wasn't a helpful clue, though, and the search was called off 11 days after Arras' disappearance. She was never seen again.

Charles Horvath

Twenty-year-old Charles Horvath was on a backpacking trip from Quebec to British Columbia when he suddenly stopped calling his mom back in the U.K. "I knew something terrible had happened to him," Denise Horvath-Allan told CBC News. She and her son were close, and she was sure he wouldn't have let her worry.

Horvath-Allan flew to British Columbia a year after her son disappeared to find answers. She placed ads and posted flyers, and eventually learned that some of her son's clothing had been found at a local campsite, but other than that, the trail was cold. When she spoke to the campground manager, she was told that her son had departed the site quickly, leaving his tent and belongings behind.

But the most sinister clue came in the form of a note left at her hotel, which read, "I seen [your son] May 26. We were partying and two people knocked him out. But he died. His body is in the lake by the bridge." When divers searched the lake, though, they were unable to locate Horvath's remains. According to Unsolved Mysteries, there is a chance that Horvath might be alive — police said they spoke to his relatives in eastern Canada, who told them he'd visited and relayed his intentions to "disappear off the face of the Earth" where "his mother would never find him." Ouch.

Karen Denise Wells

For a lot of people, solo travel is cathartic. But people who travel alone are especially vulnerable to just about every travel-related danger there is, from ill-intentioned strangers to accidents to getting lost in the woods. Karen Denise Wells was traveling alone when she vanished in April 1994. 

She was 23 years old and planning to visit a childhood friend in Bergen, New Jersey. On April 12, she stopped at a motel and called her friend to say she was planning to pick up dinner at McDonald's and then go to bed. Just after midnight, Wells' friend arrived at the motel and tried to wake her, but Wells wasn't there, and her bed hadn't been slept in. 

The next morning, her rented car was found damaged and covered in mud in the westbound lane of Route 274, with both the passenger and driver doors wide open. The battery was dead, the car was out of gas, and there were uneaten french fries, empty soda bottles, and a pair of shoes inside. Stranger still, the car had an extra 700 miles that couldn't be accounted for based on Wells' travel plans. So, what happened to Karen Denise Wells? Decades later, we still don't know.

Bison Dele

In 1997, NBA player Brian Williams won a championship with the Chicago Bulls. In 1998, as a nod to his Cherokee background, Williams changed his name to Bison Dele. And in 1999, he retired and then traveled extensively, spending time in Lebanon, Indonesia, the Philippines, New Zealand, and Australia, where he bought a boat and learned how to sail it.

On July 4, 2002, Dele, along with his girlfriend Serena Karlan and boat captain Bertrand Saldo, departed Tahiti on the ex-athlete's catamaran, setting sail for Hawaii, traveling through the South Pacific's Marquesas Islands and Tuamotu Islands. Relatives of Dele and Karlan lost contact on July 8. In early September 2002, their boat washed up in a Tahitian harbor, bearing a new name, a fresh paint job, and no trace of Dele, Karlan, or Saldo. Their bodies were never recovered.

The FBI filed an arrest warrant for Miles Dabord, Dele's brother, who had briefly joined the excursion before returning to the U.S., where he was arrested on forgery charges after trying to use Dele's checks and credit cards. However, he was released through lack of evidence. On Sept. 14, officials near the U.S.-Mexico border found a naked, unresponsive Dabord on a beach. Less than two weeks later, Dabord was taken off life support and died. Officials believe Dabord had something to do with the death of his brother, but no one will ever know for sure.

Brittanee Drexel

In April 2009, 17-year-old high school student Brittanee Drexel, of Rochester, New York, took off for a spring break road trip with some friends. Drexel left without announcement, bound for beachside partying in the resort town of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Her mother didn't give permission, but Drexel departed anyway. She made it to Myrtle Beach and was heading to a hotel to meet her friends on August 25, 2009, when she vanished. On that day, her cell phone pinged a final signal from Georgetown, an area 60 miles outside of Myrtle Beach. She was never seen alive again.

More than seven years later, the FBI officially presumed that Drexel had died. An investigation suggested that she'd been falsely imprisoned for a few days before her death. In May 2022, Raymond Moody confessed to Drexel's murder and directed authorities to her remains. He entered guilty pleas on charges of murder, kidnapping, and rape, and was sentenced to life in prison.

Alfred Beilhartz

The Beilhartz family of Denver, two parents and 12 kids, decided to spend the long Independence Day weekend in July 1938 in Colorado's Rocky Mountain National Park.Along to enjoy nature activities like camping and hiking was four-year-old Alfred Beilhartz. On the morning of July 3, Beilhartz was seen near the shores of the Fall and Roaring Rivers. The child moved on to another spot along the water, and then after his father lost sight of him, he never reappeared. Also reportedly noticed on a nearby peak, park rangers didn't think it possible for a small child to climb to that height, and dismissed the notion.

Believing Beilhartz to be somewhere in the forest or river areas, authorities launched a massive search mission, calling in National Park Service workers, employees of the Civilian Conservation Corps, and bloodhounds from the state prison system. For three days, a search party numbering in the hundreds scoured Rocky Mountain National Park, but were unable to locate Beilhartz, nor find any evidence that he had traversed the area. Even the construction of a makeshift dam to reroute the flow of the Fall River to uncover what may lay beneath the water didn't reveal the whereabouts of Alfred Beilhartz.

Sister Eileen Christie

A Roman Catholic nun and theology teacher at St. Anthony's High School on Long Island, New York, Sister Eileen Christie retired in 2015, and in the summer of 2016, took a solo, multi-stop vacation to Austria. It wasn't the 72-year-old Christie's first time traveling alone, nor her first trip to Austria. On July 6, during a planned six-day stay in the town of Hallstatt, Christie sent a check-in email to her nephew, Bill Freda, as she'd done throughout her vacation; she told him she was going grocery shopping. After he failed to receive any more emails, Freda got worried and reported his aunt missing. Authorities in Austria investigated Christie's room at the Haus Jodler hotel and found the missing woman's wallet, passport, and phone, which included recent photos of a visit to an Alpine area. Police also discovered that Christie never made it to her next scheduled stop, in Innsbruck, and that her credit card wasn't used after the day of the disappearance.

After a week-long search, it was evident that Christie had simply and inexplicably vanished. "The authorities in Austria have conducted extensive investigations for her, but to no avail," Christie's parish priest, Rev. Joseph Mirro, told the Long-Islander News. "We'll be praying for her safe return." "Either it was a hiking accident, a swimming accident or foul play," Freda added. "We really don't know which of those is the ultimate answer."

Norman Lee

Comic book artist Norman Lee worked for DC Comics and Marvel, contributing to "Supergirl" for the former and "X-Men" for the latter. In early 2015, the 47-year-old Lee and his wife took a vacation to the Cayman Islands, and, during a March 5 snorkeling jaunt off the east coast of Grand Cayman Island, Lee disappeared. His spouse lost track of Lee, last seeing him at a marker delineating relaxed inner waters from the more treacherous outer waters. "The inner waters are quite calm because the reef adds protection," Cayman Islands reporter Joe Avery told CBS News. "It isn't uncommon for snorkelers to encounter trouble in the water."

Royal Caribbean Police Services authorities feared that Lee had been hopelessly pulled out into the sea by a powerful current. After a three-day search of the area that involved expert divers, rescue boats, and helicopters that yielded no leads or evidence of Lee or his fate, authorities closed down the mission. At that point, Lee was presumed to have died at sea.

Hue Pham and Hue Tran

In May 2005, Hue Tran received a lavish Mother's Day gift: a Caribbean Cruise. She took the trip onboard the Carnival Destiny with her husband, Hue Pham, along with their daughter and granddaughter. Sometime during the May 12, 2005, leg of the trip, when sailing from Barbados to Aruba, both Hue Tran and Hue Pham vanished. When their absence was first noticed and reported, a ship-wide search ensued, but it didn't result in any sign of the couple or their potential whereabouts. The Destiny then repeated its journey in order for authorities to look along its sailing route for the couple or anything associated with them. The U.S. Coast Guard aided in that search, but nothing or nobody was found — the bodies of Hue Tran and Hue Pham were never recovered.

Their son, Son Michael Pham, told an investigator that it was unlikely that they died by suicide: his parents were in the midst of planning a family reunion in their native Vietnam, and they didn't exhibit any outward signifiers of being in a crisis, such as stress over health or money. The married pair of more than 30 years was just ... gone.

John Halford

In the spring of 2011, John Halford's marriage of 25 years was coming to an end. Just before he moved out of the home he shared with his wife in Milton Keynes, England, the 63-year-old Halford abruptly booked a solo vacation — a week-long Thomson cruise around Egypt. It's been established that Halford consumed two mixed drinks in a bar-and-casino room on the ship on the evening of April 6. When the cruise ended and the ship docked in Sharm El Sheikh the next day, Halford was gone, and he'd left his wallet and passport in his stateroom. According to a police investigation, sometime overnight, Halford either accidentally fell off the ship or died by suicide.

Over the next seven years, Halford was never seen alive again, nor were any remains ever recovered. In June 2018, a U.K. High Court judge allowed for the issuance of a death certificate, marking Halford's demise official but never quite solved.

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