I enjoy reading about fascinating unsolved mysteries year-round, but especially in autumn. As the days grow shorter and Halloween nears, I spend hours researching unexplained phenomena and mysterious disappearances.
This year, I’ve found several accounts of novelists, poets, and other writers who disappeared under unusual circumstances. Some of them were emotionally or financially troubled; others were activists, soldiers, and criminals. Some have recognizable names, while most have been lost to history. All of their fates are unknown.
Barbara Newhall Follett
Follett was a child prodigy – her debut novel, The House Without Windows, was published in 1927 when she was only 12 years old, to rave reviews from the New York Times and others.
But her writing career was short-lived; when she was 14, she was devastated by her father leaving their family for another woman. She found a job as a typist and married a man who she later suspected to be unfaithful.
Her husband claims that she left their home after an argument with nothing but a few dollars in her pocket and never returned. This claim is a striking parallel to her debut novel, which is about a girl who leaves home and disappears into nature. [Link] [Link]
Northup was a free man and professional violinist who was kidnapped and sold into slavery while on a traveling musician gig. His experience was immortalized in his memoir, Twelve Years a Slave.
While on tour lecturing about abolition, he disappeared. One of the more common assumptions is that he was kidnapped back into slavery. [Link]
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Saint-Exupéry was an author best known for his classic novella Le Petit Prince, which was partially inspired by his experience as an aviator pilot crashing into the Libyan desert. While he was saved from this near-death experience, he is assumed to have died in a crash while serving in the French Air Force during World War II. [Link]
Yda Hillis Addis
Addis was a short story writer heavily influenced by Mexican folk tales. She was also the first American writer to translate those same folk tales into English.
She had a turbulent romantic life, involving claims of adultery and a situation in which her fiancee (a former California governor) was kidnapped by his own sisters and sent to Ireland so the two would not wed.
She eventually married a newspaper owner, Charles A. Storke, who she claimed abused her. He claimed that she was insane and filed for divorce. During the divorce process, Addis learned that her own lawyer was on her husband’s side and shot him! (But he survived.) Storke ultimately refused to pay alimony and forced her into an insane asylum. In 1902, she escaped the asylum and was never seen again. [Link]
This Dadaist playwright and poet had a mysterious life – so mysterious, in fact, that some believe that he never existed at all!
At the age of 30, Torma allegedly entered the mountains of Tyrol in Austria and never returned. [Link]
Bierce is one of the most famous short story writers and journalists of the 19th century. He’s also one of the most infamous disappearances in U.S. history.
He disappeared in the later years of his life: around the age of 70, he crossed the border to follow the events of the Mexican Revolution…or so historians believe. It is thought that his fate was anything from facing the Mexican Army’s firing squad to suicide to an accident. [Link] [Link]
Gellner was a Czech poet-turned-anarchist. He was known for his political satire and scathing critiques of the bourgeoisie.
He was among the first to be drafted by the Austro-Hungarian Army at the very beginning of World War I. He was last seen during the army’s retreat on the Galician front in September 1914. As he was suffering from poor health and serious apathy, theories run rampant about Gellner’s fate. [Link]
A young Ultraist writer who hung out with the likes of Jorge Luis Borges and Ricardo Molinari, Carracosa was a poet and short story writer whose work was not published until after his disappearance. In fact, we don’t have much of his work, as he burned most of his journals before his disappearance.
It is believed that he left Buenos Aires to search for proof of his family’s long-lost fortune; it had become a recent obsession for him. While some writers claimed to have sighted him in the years following his disappearance, there is also the possibility that he was murdered; an unidentified stabbing victim was found in an abandoned church a year after he vanished. [Link]
An inspiration to beat writers like William S. Burroughs, Black was a career criminal who spent most of his life in jail. He is most famous for his memoir, You Can’t Win, which details his life as an outlaw and his time spent in prison. His book was an instant hit, even being turned into a play.
He disappeared in 1932; the most popular belief is that he sailed into New York Harbor and drowned himself. [Link]