Missing & Kidnapped in America

Missing & Kidnapped

Missing & Kidnapped

One minute they’re here, the next they’re gone. The history of infamous kidnappings in America is long and stretches back centuries. In some cases, the missing are released and recovered alive, while others are not so lucky. Other disappearances remain unsolved.

According to the NamUs database, there are 600,000 people declared missing in the United States every year. Fortunately, many missing children and adults are quickly found, alive and well. However, tens of thousands remain missing for over a year – what many agencies consider “cold cases.” Alongside that statistic, there are 4,400 unidentified bodies discovered every year, with approximately 1,000 remaining unidentified after one year.


Bennington Triangle – Between 1945 and 1950, Middie Rivers, Paula Jean Welden, James Tedford, and Paul Jepson vanished under mysterious circumstances, leaving behind little evidence. This section of southwestern Vermont, centered around Glastenbury Mountain, has long been known for strange events, including UFO activity, bigfoot sightings, strange lights, and sounds. The area is said to be cursed, according to Native American lore.

Ambrose Bierce

Ambrose Bierce

The Riddle of Ambrose Bierce – An editorialist, journalist, and short story writer, Bierce traveled to Mexico in 1913 to gain first-hand experience of the Mexican Revolution. While traveling with rebel troops, he disappeared without a trace.

Chowchilla Bus Kidnapping – On July 15, 1976, three gunmen abducted 26 children and a driver off a Chowchilla, California school bus. They kept the victims in a box truck buried in a local quarry while they demanded ransom. After 16 days, the driver and children started to dig themselves out.

Adolph Coors III – On February 9, 1960, a milkman finds an abandoned car, still running, on a Golden, Colorado bridge with a bloodstain nearby. The car belongs to the 45-year-old heir to the Coors Brewing Company fortune. The FBI and state investigators track Joseph Corbett and his son, a recently escaped fugitive, for the kidnapping.

The Disappearance of Joseph Force Crater – An allegedly corrupt New York State Supreme Court judge, Crater vanished soon after then-Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt named him to the bench. After hailing a cab, he was never seen again.

Eddie Cudahy – A local butcher abducted the 16-year-old son of the millionaire owner of the Cudahy Packing Company in Omaha, Nebraska, on December 18, 1900. The ransom note demanding $25,000 referred to the Charley Ross kidnapping, and the family hired the Pinkerton Detective Agency to lead the manhunt.

Dorothy Ann Distelhurst – After Dorothy never makes it home from kindergarten on September 19, 1934, in Nashville, Tennessee, the Distelhurst family is bombarded with ransom letters threatening to burn out the little girl’s eyes with acid if the $6,000 ransom is not met.

Bobby Dunbar – Four-year-old Bobby disappears during a family fishing trip to Swayze Lake in Louisiana on August 23, 1912. After a massive manhunt, a boy is found that the family claims to be Bobby, yet another woman says the boy is her son in a case of mistaken identity.

Bobby Franks – On May 21, 1924, the four-year-old son of a millionaire vanished, leaving an after-school baseball game in Chicago, Illinois. The next day, the Franks family receives a ransom note demanding $10,000 for the boy’s safe return. Two young men from affluent families are arrested and claim they committed the crime to demonstrate their perceived intellectual superiority.

Paul Fronczak – On April 26, 1964, a woman disguised as a nurse in Chicago, Illinois, snatched the one-day-old baby from a hospital maternity ward. The abduction sparked a manhunt that captivated the nation. Two years later, the FBI believes that an abandoned toddler found at a New Jersey shopping center is the Fronczak boy.

Bobby Greenlease with his father.

Bobby Greenlease with his father.

Greenlease Kidnapping in Kansas City, Missouri – In 1953, six-year-old Robert Cosgrove Greenlease Jr. was kidnapped from Kansas CityMissouri, murdered, and ransomed for $600,000. One of the more tragic and fascinating crimes of the mid-20th century, this get-rich-quick scheme led to a massive investigation that captured the pair of culprits and the disappearance of half the $600,000 ransom his family paid for his release.

Brooke Hart – The eldest son of one of the most prominent businessmen in San Jose, California, was reported missing after he failed to pick up his father to drive him to a Chamber of Commerce meeting on November 9, 1933. After ransom demands were made, two suspects were arrested and confessed to the crime, leading an angry lynch mob to seek justice.

The Kidnapping of Patty Hearst – On February 4, 1974, 19-year-old Hearst was kidnapped from her Berkeley apartment. She is the granddaughter of American publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst. A small urban guerrilla left-wing group called the Symbionese Liberation Army claimed responsibility for the abduction.

The Disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa – Hoffa was an American labor union leader from 1957 until 1971. The corrupt leader allegedly had links to the mob and spent time in prison. Four years later, in 1975, he vanished from a Detroit-area restaurant. His body was never found.

Lindbergh Baby Kidnapping – Believed to have been taken from his nursery bed while he slept, the infant son of famed aviator Charles Lindbergh was found dead about two months after going missing from his family’s New Jersey home.

Charles Mattson – On December 27, 1936, a masked man armed with a handgun abducted  10-year-old Charles from the living room of his home in Tacoma, Washington. The boy’s father, a well-known physician and surgeon in the area, makes every attempt to reach the kidnapper and pay the $28,000 ransom for the boy’s safe return.

Mary McElroy – On May 27, 1933, the 25-year-old daughter of the City Manager of Kansas City, Missouri, was kidnapped by a masked gang at gunpoint while taking a bubble bath.

Cynthia Parker, 1861 with infant daughter

Cynthia Parker, 1861, with her infant daughter

Cynthia Ann Parker – Nine-year-old Parker, a Texas girl, was kidnapped by Comanche Indians during a surprise attack on her family’s homestead on May 19, 1836. She was spotted four years later living as a member of the tribe but was unwilling to return to Anglo society.

Marion Parker – On December 15, 1927, William Hickman abducted the 12-year-old daughter of a prominent banker in Los Angeles, California, from school. Hickman sent a series of three ransom notes to the Parker home signed “Fate,” “Death,” and “The Fox.”

Elsie Paroubek – The little Czech-American girl disappears while walking to her aunt’s house in Chicago, Illinois, on April 8, 1911. Police were convinced that gypsies from a nearby encampment were involved.

June Robles – On April 25, 1934, an unidentified stranger abducted the 6-year-old daughter of one of Tucson, Arizona’s wealthiest citizens. For 19 days, she was held in captivity while her parents negotiated with her kidnappers.

Charley Ross – Two men kidnapped the little boy, promising to buy him and his brother candy in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on July 1, 1874. The kidnappers demanded $20,000 in ransom, and the case became the crime of the century.

The Kidnapping of Frank Sinatra, Jr. – On December 8, 1963, a group of amateur criminals hoping to strike it rich engineered one of the most infamous kidnappings in American history. Frank Jr. was released when the elder Sinatra paid the $240,000 in ransom. In the end, kidnappers Keenan, Amsler, and Irwin were all convicted, and though sentenced to long prison terms, all three served less than five years for the crime.


Sodder Children Reward

Sodder Children Reward

Missing Sodder Children in West Virginia – Early Christmas morning, December 25, 1945, tragedy struck the Sodder family in Fayetteville, West Virginia, when their house went up in flames. The parents and four children escaped, but five children disappeared. Did these kids die in the fire, or are they still out there somewhere? No one knows.

Steven Stayner – On December 4, 1972, the seven-year-old was abducted in Merced, California, by stranger Kenneth Parnell, who said he was collecting church donations. Steven was forced to pretend to be Parnell’s son for seven years.

Peter Weinberger – In Westbury, New York, when Mrs. Weinberger checked on her sleeping 1-month-old son on July 4, 1956, all she found was an empty carriage and a ransom note promising the baby would be returned “safe and sound” once the $2,000 demand was met. The kidnapping shocked middle-class Long Island suburbia and made nationwide headlines.

Disappeared Into Thin Air – In 1854, farmer Orion Williams vanished while walking across his property in Selma, Alabama.

© Kathy Alexander/Legends of America, updated October 2023.

Also See:

True Crime in America

Mysteries in American History

Scoundrels Across American History

Who’s Who in American History


Federal Bureau of Investigation
Library of Congress