Legions of the Disappeared: Real-Life Missing Persons (Part IV).

This is the fourth article in my ongoing series profiling real-life missing persons cases. (Here are links to the other three: Part I, Part II, Part III). I began this project last fall when I started posting links to Charley Project case files on my former Twitter account. Now, I am in charge of the official Charley Project Twitter feed. I often use the hashtag #disappeared on these tweets. If you’re interested in missing persons cases and aren’t following CharleysMissing, think about clicking the “follow” button.

It’s been several months since my last Legions post, and there are so many bizarre, strange and sad missing persons cold cases to choose from. Here is a scattering of the ones that have caught my eye in the past few months. In reverse chronological order:

Wojciech Fudali

Missing Since: December 2008

Sometimes missing persons cases stand out because of an odd or inexplicable detail. A case I profiled several months ago, Joseph Bushling, was like that; he was last seen with a T-shirt wrapped around his feet. In the case of Wojciech Fudali, a 22-year old Polish-born graduate of the University of Rhode Island, he was last seen naked—outdoors in December.

On the evening of December 5, 2008, Fudali attended a party on East Shore Road in Narrangansett, Rhode Island. He stayed overnight, and it must have been quite a party, as his friends didn’t awaken until the next afternoon. When they did, he was gone. His clothes, shoes, money and cell phone were neatly stacked on the floor.

Fudali was last seen running through Galilee Bird Sanctuary about 10:30 AM—still naked. He had been seen two hours earlier sitting on a dock.

Police searched the sanctuary and dragged the body of water within it, but there was no sign of Wojciech. There’s no telling how long he could have lasted outdoors, naked, in 38-degree weather.

What could have driven this young man to do something like this? Friends said he was “acting oddly” prior to his disappearance and had been depressed. Evidently he had recently become very religious and read the Bible a great deal, and he was also fascinated by nature.

One theory is that he jumped into the water in the Bird Sanctuary to cross over to the other side, perhaps to view wildlife. But his body was not found in the water.

Suicide by drowning? Accidental drowning? Exposure? Foul play? Or is Wojciech still alive somewhere? We don’t know.

If you know, call the Narrangansett Police Department at 401-782-0661.

Myoung Noah

Missing Since: May 2007

The case of Myoung “Mike” Noah (or Noh) is one of the most baffling disappearances I’ve ever come across. I’ve turned this one over and over in my mind for years and I can’t even come up with a reasonable guess about what happened.

Mike Noah, age 60, was a Korean immigrant, happily married with a 15-year-old son. He ran his own business, a town car service in San Bruno, California (near San Francisco). On May 1, 2007, Mike left home about 7PM, telling his son he was going to pick up a passenger. He departed in his brand-new Lincoln town car. Mike was never seen again.

Because he worked not far from a big city airport, much of Mike Noah’s business consisted of trips to and from San FranciscoInternationalAirport. In fact, he was there so frequently that he had a transponder installed in the car to register when he entered the airport grounds, for fee purposes. The transponder did not trip on the evening of May 1. Wherever Mike Noah was going, he didn’t go to the airport.

All the records of his business were kept in his car. Because his car vanished with him, authorities have no idea who he picked up on the evening of May 1, or where they were going. It seems at least possible that his last fare may have had something to do with his disappearance. Repeated attempts by police, and many public pleas for the passenger to come forward, have yielded nothing.

Of course there may not be a final passenger. Something might have happened to Mike Noah on the way to pick him (or her) up, but whatever it was, it would have to be catastrophic enough to account not only for his disappearance, but that of a very large and prominent Lincoln town car. It is much less common for people to disappear in their vehicles, though certainly not unknown; what is unusual is that a car registered and licensed as a taxi should completely vanish with no trace.

Whatever happened to Mike Noah, the trail has gone cold. This case remains as baffling and bereft of clues today as it was the night Mr. Noah vanished more than five years ago.

If you know anything, contact the San Bruno Police Department at 650-616-7100.

Asha Degree

Missing Since: February 2000

(Left, Asha Degree as she was; right, Asha Degree as she might look today)

Nine-year-old Asha Degree was a shy, quiet girl and a good student. She lived with her family in Shelby, North Carolina. At about 2:30 in the morning of February 14, 2000, Asha’s father looked in on her as he went off to bed. Asha slept in the same room with her brother. Everything was fine at 2:30 AM. When Asha’s mother entered the room four hours later, she was gone. The brother said he “heard noises” in the early morning hours but was not aware that she’d left.

Someone saw Asha walking along a road at about 4 AM. That was the last anyone saw of her. Evidently she had a book bag and various personal belongings with her.

Three days after her disappearance, some of the child’s belongings, including a hair bow, were found in a tool shed near the road where she vanished. More eerie still, in 2001, more than a year after her disappearance, someone found her book bag—wrapped in a black trash bag—nearly 30 miles from her home.

What happened? It seems likely that Asha left home of her own accord, though no one is sure why. There was speculation that she was emulating the plot of a children’s book called The Whipping Boy, which involves a child running away and discovering some sort of magical secret, but why she would choose to do this at 4:00 in the morning is unknown. And no one can know what happened to her after 4:00. It seems that someone out there knows, but this case remains unsolved.

If you know anything about Asha Degree, call the Cleveland County, NC sheriff’s office at 704-484-4822.

Benjamin Cannon

Missing Since: March 1995

The case of Benjamin Cannon is sad and shocking. The 20-year-old resident of Omaha, Nebraska left his parents’ home in March 1995, after an argument that ensued when his parents found him smoking pot in the basement. Yet it was not until 2004, nine years later, that he was even reported missing.

A friend of Ben’s allegedly told the family in 1995 that he had run away with the “Rainbow Family,” a loose nomadic organization of hippies and young people that travels around the country. The group has been known to attract persons who wish to sever ties with their family.

In July 1995, a young man about Ben’s age, and resembling him, was found dead near Atlanta after a Grateful Dead concert with no identification. He had been killed in a traffic accident. There was speculation that it was Ben Cannon, but according to Project Jason, DNA analysis proved it was not him.

Likely the Omaha police refused to take a missing person’s report on Ben Cannon because he was over 18 at the time he went missing and it seems that he ran away of his own accord. Perhaps the law changed by 2004; now many law enforcement databases will actively search for persons under 21 especially right after they go missing.

Is Ben Cannon still alive? If he is, he would be nearing 40 now; it seems unlikely that anyone would hold a grudge against their family over pot smoking for nearly two decades, but of course we have no idea what the totality of the situation was when Ben vanished. In any event, it seems that, by the time authorities got around to investigating, the trail was very, very cold. Ben’s family is still looking for him.

If you know anything, contact Omaha police at 402-444-5818.

Anna Waters

Missing Since: January 1973

(Left, Anna Waters as she appeared in 1973; right, as she might appear today).

Anna Christian Waters was five years old when she vanished from the front yard of her family’s home in San Mateo County, California. Her mother was making soup for lunch at the time, looked out the window of the kitchen and noticed her daughter was no longer there. The Waters family lived near a creek which was at flood stage at the time. Authorities dragged the creek bed for days, but Anna was never found. Not long before, a family member witnessed an unidentified couple trying to lure Anna into a car. The girl did not go, and the couple was never identified.

One of the suspects in the girl’s disappearance—at least at first—was her biological father, George. Evidently George had mental problems and had been diagnosed with schizophrenia. He was also frequently in the company—and allegedly under the control of—a man possibly named Brody, whom George supported financially. This Brody (probably an alias) engaged in much strange behavior, such as persuading Anna’s mother to change the child’s name so that the letters of her name would add up numerologically.

The police couldn’t link George or Brody to Anna’s disappearance; however, George was strangely uninterested in the fate of his daughter. When Brody died of cancer in 1981, George destroyed a bunch of Brody’s papers, some allegedly related to Anna’s disappearance. Then George himself committed suicide by drinking poison. If he knew anything about Anna’s disappearance, whatever he knew died with him.

After nearly 40 years, Anna’s case remains unsolved. If you know anything, call the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office at 415-364-1811.

Ruth Baumgardner

Missing Since: May 1937

This is another very ancient disappearance, like that of Joseph Crater, who I featured in my first article. While not nearly as famous, 75 years after she vanished, the fate of sorority girl Ruth Baumgardner remains a total mystery.

Ruth, a pretty 22-year-old art major at Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware, Ohio, was a member of the Delta Delta Delta sorority. She lived in a dormitory on the college campus.

She was last seen about 11PM on May 4, 1937, with her hair up in curlers, studying for a test the next morning. She did not have a roommate, so no one saw her go to bed. The next morning she was gone. Classmates reported Ruth missing when she didn’t show up for classes the next day.

Ruth’s dorm room showed no sign of struggle. In fact, it was perfectly tidy—too tidy, which was not characteristic of her. The bed was made and everything was in order. But despite her bed appearing not to have been slept in, her alarm clock, set for 6AM, was run down. Given the way clocks worked in the 1930s, this indicates that the alarm did go off and she reset it, suggesting she got up at 6AM and left her room like normal. But why, then, did it look like her bed hadn’t been slept in? And why did she leave her dorm room key on the stairs?

Did she meet with foul play? If so, when? If she was abducted before going to bed, someone must have come back to Ruth’s room to straighten up and cover traces of the struggle, if there was one. If she met with misfortune after leaving her room as normal on that morning, why was everything so perfectly in order? The clues are very contradictory.

Nevertheless, whatever happened left no trace. Although there were unconfirmed sightings of Ruth after May 4, they are not necessarily reliable. Whatever happened to her will probably remain a mystery for all time.

Conclusion

A surprising number of people—most of them adults—go missing every day of the year. People become lost in the wilderness, get swept away by rivers, voluntarily decide to drop off the grid, or are victims of foul play. Despite best efforts at searching and detective work, a fair number of these cases become “cold cases,” and many are never solved.

Behind every one of these missing faces is a family racked by uncertainty and usually devastated by loss. It’s hard to quantify the effect that an unexplained disappearance has on those left behind. I think it’s worth it to publicize these cases. You never know when someone might come forward with a crucial piece of information. Until then, the families of the disappeared continue to wait, and uncertainty becomes an unpleasant and constant reality.

Thanks for reading.

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