Welcome to the first edition of Modern Mysteries, a series chronicling unsolved mysteries from the 21st century. Here, I am sharing a number of posts dedicated to unexplained occurrences from the last 20 years. I initially intended to make this just one list as I assumed there were only so many unsolved mysteries still occurring today. However I quickly found that despite our modern tracking systems and technology, there are still many questions out there that are left unanswered. Too many for one list in fact! So I broke it down into different categories and will be sharing them throughout the year. First up, unexplained deaths and disappearances.
Unexplained Deaths and Disappearances
As you probably can guess by the title, in this post I review well known deaths and disappearances that are yet to be resolved. I searched high and low to find the best presentations out there of each individual case. Some of these you have probably heard of but do not know the whole story. Others may be totally new to you. No matter what you think you know, I bet you will learn something new from each of these episodes.
In the words of the immortal Robert Stack, “perhaps you may be able to help solve a mystery.”
1. Madeleine McCann
The vanishing of 3-year-old Madeleine McCann is a popular yet heart wrenching case. Her picture was one of the most widely circulated photos on the Internet following her disappearance. Despite this the girl’s whereabouts remain unknown.
On May 3, 2007, Madeleine’s mother reported her missing from her bed in the apartment her family had rented while on vacation. Originally from the UK, they had been in Portugal with friends and their families. Each night after the kids went to bed, the parents all convened at a tapas restaurant close by for dinner and drinks. They would then take turns checking on the children throughout the night. The routine worked up until the last night of their stay. It would turn into one they would never forget.
The Portuguese police wasted no time or resources with the investigation that soon lead them back to Madeleine’s parents. Canine units were brought in, DNA was analyzed, witnesses were sought. Eventually the family was released from suspect due to lack of evidence. However the media was quick to blame the parents and in some respects continue to do so (thanks in part to the peculiar actions of the family). The Scotland Yard took up the case believing Madeleine was taken by a stranger. They shared photos and sketches of possible perpetrators, but unfortunately have not made any arrests and ten years later this little girl remains missing.
There are many, many podcasts that cover this intriguing story. It is a twisting tale that makes it hard to tell where the facts stop and speculation begins. I wanted to find the most accurate, least biased version out there. For this, we turn to Those Conspiracy Guys. Although this episode was released a few years ago, I really like their approach to the case. They stick to the facts and do their best to keep the story objective as well as entertaining. Give this show a listen to help understand such a winding tale.
*Some new information has been released in recent years, so you may want to do some follow up research after listening to this episode.
2. The Jamison Family
This unsolved case involves not one unexplained death, but three. Bobby, Sherilynn and their daughter Madyson seemingly disappeared on October 8, 2009 while checking out some property for sale near their home in Oklahoma. Four years later their bodies would be found. However the finding would only bring with it more questions yet to be answered in this curious incident.
In the months leading up to their disappearance, the Jamison family planned to move to a storage-locker-turned-tiny-home. They had been seeking out property to set up their new homestead on outside of town. Initial searches for the family lead to their pickup truck parked in that area. The doors were locked. The parents’ IDs were found inside, along with family’s dog (alive) and $32,000 in cash. Investigators believed they had left on their own but could not make sense of it all.
It wouldn’t be until November 2013 that all three individual’s remains were found by hunters merely 3 miles from the Jamison’s truck’s last location. Due to exposure a cause of death could not be determined. It still remains a mystery whether they left the truck on their own accord, or if others were involved in any of it. If they were, what were they doing out in the middle of nowhere and what caused the need to take all three lives?
This is another case circled with speculation, due in large part to the curious actions of the parents leading up to their disappearance. Drugs, demons and even witchcraft have been suggested to be involved. Once again, many podcasts cover it. However some stray a little too far from the facts for me and are clouded with personal beliefs and hunches. The ladies of In Sight do a great job at dispelling all that and sticking to what really happened. Although we may never know the true fate of Bob, Sherilynn and Madyson, this episode breaks down the curious timeline of events and addresses far out theories to help get as close to the truth possible.
3. Emma Fillipoff
The vanishing of Emma Fillipoff is full of questions, twists, and possible sightings. The 26 year old was last seen on November 28, 2012. She had just moved across the country from Perth, Ontario to Victoria, BC. She was seen barefoot outside of a local motel, and then being interviewed by local police who found no reason to hold or arrest her, eventually letting her go. Later her car was found with nearly all of her belongings inside including her passport.
Did she voluntarily walk away? It is hard to say. Her actions prior to disappearing do not make complete sense and can be difficult to pin down. She was staying at a women’s shelter for some time but the reasons for that are not clear. Some suggest mental illness was a factor but it is not determined. She had called her mom days before asking to move back home, although she did not explain why. She had a male friend who also recently relocated cross country from Perth. According to him, his moving to Victoria was a coincidence and had nothing to do with Emma. However the timing of the move is compelling.
In 2014 a man was seen taking down Emma’s missing person flyers at a clothing store. He claimed that the woman on the flyer was not missing, that she was his girlfriend and wanted to be left alone. Investigators followed up on the incident but the man was never identified. He is now known only as the green shirt guy and the lead quickly went cold.
This case has been extensively gone through by the Night Time Podcast, a show that reviews the strange and unusual happenings of Canada. The multi-episode series is binge-worthy and very informative. The host reaches out to all characters involved in the case and stops at nothing to get to the bottom of each lead, question and piece of evidence. This is one of those cases that has so much information but so little answers. Emma could even still be alive today. Her family has not given up and continues to search for her whereabouts. For more information on Emma’s disappearance visit www.helpfindemmafillipoff.com.
4. Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
This case involves the most missing people of the entire list, and may just be the most puzzling. On March 8, 2014, an entire Boeing 777 disappeared along with its 239 passengers and crew. The plane itself and the reasons behind its disappearance are still unknown.
Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 was en route from India to China traveling over the South China Sea when it dropped from radar of Air Traffic Control. Military radar was still able to locate it but reported the flight to be off its scheduled course. It soon dropped from military radar as well. A secondary surveillance radar was the last to pick up its signal in the Southern Indian Ocean, but a specific location was not determined.
What followed was the most expansive aviation search in history. By March 24, Malaysia concluded the aircraft would not have made it to land and it must be in the Indian Ocean. After 46,000 square miles of ocean floor near Australia was combed in the preceding years yielding no evidence, pieces of plane crash debris turned up off the coast of Africa. It was later identified as parts of MH370, though no sizable pieces or persons have ever been found. Critics speculate the debris’ true origins also, despite the government confirmation.
If you feel like you are watching Lost all over again, you are not alone. The peculiarities of this event are compelling. The information about this case involves lots of aviation talk and can be overwhelming. This episode of Unfound lays out what happened step by step with the help of an author of a book covering the case–an expert on this mystery. They review what could have gone wrong, whether or not it was intended, and where the plane may be today. For a great review of one of the greatest aviation mysteries of all time, be sure to give this one a listen.
5. Elisa Lam
Elisa Lam’s disappearance is one of the most discussed incidents online, with speculations running wild. She disappeared from the Cecil Hotel in Los Angeles in January 2013. Authorities later found her body in the building’s rooftop water tower. Many view this as a sad case of suicide and consider it solved. However the reasons behind her death still remain a mystery.
The Canadian college student was alone on vacation in the US, traveling down the West Coast. On January 31, she failed to call and check in with her parents as she had done every other day of her trip. Authorities were notified and searched the building with no luck in finding her.
After weeks of searching, police publicly released surveillance footage of her in the elevator the night of her disappearance. Elisa is alone and behaves oddly and erratically. It is truly creepy to watch. They hoped the footage would help someone identify her. Unfortunately grimmer circumstances would soon emerge.
During the time of the investigation, guests at the Cecil Hotel complained about poor water pressure. On February 19 the hotel checked the roof’s water tanks, only to discover Elisa’s body floating in one. They found her clothes and watch nearby. Police attributed her death to drowning with bipolar illness believed to be involved.
However they did not account for how she got into the tank or onto the roof. They found the tank with the heavy metal lid closed. It is almost impossible to close it from the inside. And they did not uncover a reason for why she would climb into one on her own.
All these questions and more are addressed in this comprehensive Thinking Sideways episode. Although this episode is a few years old, they do the best job I can find at reviewing the backstory as well as all the theories out there. The crew also reviews the elevator footage and the speculation surrounding it. The show is dedicated to unsolved mysteries, so they are no amateurs when it comes to covering unexplained death.
All in all, this is an intriguing yet sad story that will have your at the edge of your seat looking for reasons and watching that dang video on repeat.
6. Brandon Lawson
This unexplained disappearance is one that has stayed with me ever since I first heard about it. It is truly baffling. Brandon Lawson, a 26 year old father from San Antonio was driving from his home to his father’s house late at night on August 8, 2013. He soon ran out of gas and called his brother for help. Some time after that he called 911 and had a confusing conversation with the dispatcher about a run-in with other people and the need for the police. Not long after that, a trucker made another 911 call who noticed Lawson’s deserted truck on side of the road. There were no signs of Brandon. No one has seen or heard from him since.
The most intriguing part of this mystery has got to be the audio from Brandon’s 911 call. At times it is hard to understand what he is saying. It is also hard to tell if he is alone or talking to someone else simultaneously. At some points it appears that the recording may have been altered, leading to speculation that there might be a police coverup. But why? Others have guessed that Brandon was actually running away from the police. But then why would he call 911 in the first place? And what about his family–would he really desert them like that?
Like so many of these cases, you will find many podcasts covering Brandon’s disappearance. These episodes of True Crime Garage are the most comprehensive I could find. The guys go into great detail in reviewing the call. They play it multiple times, slow it down, and alter it as best they can to retrieve any fragments of the truth. They also go over details of Brandon’s home life and past offenses, looking for any reasons why he might voluntarily leave.
This is one of those cases where you feel like you can find something relevant if you keep looking. Unfortunately, authorities have yet to find Brandon or even a good lead. Where did he go? Who was he with? Listen to this episode to address these questions and so many more.
7. Natalee Holloway
The disappearance of Natalee Holloway is one of the most reported incidents of the last decade. The high school student was in Aruba for a senior trip with her classmates in May of 2005. On May 30th, she failed to show up on time for her flight. The last sighting of Natalee was the night before when she reportedly got into a car with some local boys and drove off. One of them, Joran van der Sloot, would become the center of attention in this interesting case.
I am just now realizing this is the third story on this list where the victim was on vacation. Be careful on holiday, people!!! Anyway…
A massive search ensued with the help from the FBI and the Dutch Air Force. Natalee’s father spoke out to the media multiple times about his missing daughter, urging her possible captors to release her. A body turned up as late as 2017 and was tested for her DNA. Unfortunately it was not a match and her remains were never found.
When questioned, van der Sloot claimed he dropped her back off at the motel that night. Officials arrested and questioned him and the other boys but let them go due to lack of evidence. Years later video emerged of him professing that Natalee had died while with him and he and a friend disposed of her body. He went on to make further, more outlandish claims about her vanishing. He later denied any of what he said was true. In 2010, van der Sloot was found guilty of murder in Peru. This has lead most to believe he was responsible for Natalee’s death as well, although it has not been proven. Her case is now considered closed, but unsolved by authorities.
The guys at Generation Why do a great job of covering the lengthy timeline of this story. While they do lean toward the assumption that van der Sloot is guilty, they also go over other possibilities. They cover the prospects of what happened to her body if she did die. They play audio from her family as well as Joren to give a deep look into this mournful disappearance. I had obviously heard about this case as it was happening, but did not have a complete grasp on the full story until I listened to this episode. If you are at all intrigued, be sure to listen to this one.
And there you have it! Thank you for reading the Unexplained Deaths and Disappearances edition of Modern Mysteries. Each of these stories is fascinating yet heartbreaking. As much as I love contemplating what might have happened, I cannot forget that behind each story a life (or lives) was interrupted or lost. I urge you to spread these stories so that others will hear about them. Maybe they will reach someone who has some answers and the families can finally get some closure.
I want to also thank all of the podcasts featured here today. This was my first post that was not primarily centered on podcasts themselves so I had to do a lot more writing and research than usual. However I know that my labor was only a fraction of what went into each of these shows by their producers and hosts. They put in so much time and effort to creating them. Do not overlook their hard work!
What is your favorite modern mystery?
Let me know what you think of my list! Did you enjoy learning about these mysteries? Do you have any updates on these stories? Are there any missing person cases you think I should include? Leave a comment below with info or feedback, or to just say hi.
Also let me know about any more modern mystery topics you think I should cover. I will probably put out another edition of the series in the next few months, so now is the time to start brainstorming. Feel free to email me with your ideas. Be sure to sign up for my newsletter and follow me on Twitter to stay up to date with your favorite podcast blog!