There are few things as haunting as child abductions. Whether they end in awful circumstances or remain unsolved, their lingering effects blight families and communities alike. Here are 10 such tragic cases plucked from the annals of crime.
Little Pauline Picard, aged two, disappeared from her family’s farm in Brittany, France in April 1922. An exhaustive search failed to find her, but several days later, police received news that a little girl who matched Pauline’s description was found wandering in the town of Cherbourg, about 320 kilometers (200 mi) away from the Picard farm. Pauline’s parents arrived to examine the girl and announced that she was indeed their missing Pauline.
A few unusual facts stood out about the otherwise happy reunion. First, the girl did not seem to recognize her parents. Second, she did not respond to them when they spoke to her in their native Breton. Dismissing these peculiarities, Pauline’s parents took her back to the farm, where the neighbors quickly affirmed that she was Pauline, and the whole ordeal seemed to end on a happy note.
About a month later, a neighboring farmer walking near the Picard farm stumbled upon something horrifying: the mutilated and decomposing body of a young girl next to her neatly folded clothes. He alerted the authorities, who arrived at the gruesome scene along with the town’s inhabitants, among them Pauline’s parents. Although the young girl’s face could not be identified, the Picards made an unsettling realization: the folded clothes were exactly what Pauline had been wearing on the day she disappeared.
The area where the remains were found had been searched thoroughly when Pauline first disappeared, which suggested to detectives that someone had placed the body there fairly recently. The case became even more perplexing when the skull of an adult male was discovered next to Pauline’s body, adding a second potential victim to the case.
Early reports from the investigation indicated that there was one possible suspect. A few days prior to the discovery of the body, a middle-aged farmer visited the Picard farm and asked them whether they were sure that the girl from Cherbourg was really Pauline. He then stated “God forgive me, I am guilty,” erupted into hysterical laughter, and was hauled off to an insane asylum.
Even so, a myriad of questions still baffled officials and Pauline’s parents. If the body in the woods was Pauline, as the evidence suggested, then what had happened to her? Was the laughing man the killer? How was the unidentified skull related to Pauline’s murder? And who was the little girl from Cherbourg who had been living with the Picards for a month? It remains unclear whether these questions were ever answered: No definitive records exist of a resolution to this story.
In August 1911, five-year-old Elsie Paroubek left her home in Chicago to walk to her aunt’s house a block away. Hours later, her alarmed parents realized that she had never reached her destination, and police launched a massive statewide investigation to find the missing girl. The prevailing theory was that Elsie had been snatched by a caravan of gypsies, and every gypsy encampment within a 160-kilometer (100 mi) radius was scoured, but there was no sign of the girl.
Two days later, workers in the town of Joliet made a grim discovery: the body of a young girl floating in a drainage canal. It was Elsie. The medical examiner found that she had not drowned in the canal but had likely been suffocated. There were cuts on the left side of her face and indications that she had been “attacked” before her death.
Despite the Chicago PD’s resolve to find the killer, the investigation was hindered by conflicting eyewitness reports and a number of dead ends. In the end, Elsie’s homicide was never solved. Her father passed away two years later on the anniversary of his daughter’s funeral, never knowing what really happened to her.
There’s an interesting addendum to this case: Elsie’s photograph from The Chicago Daily News was the main inspiration for Henry Darger’s The Story of the Vivian Girls, which is considered one of the most bizarre books ever written.
Four-year-old Michael Dunahee disappeared from a playground in Victoria, British Columbia in March 1991. At the time, he was playing just feet away from his parents. Michael’s father momentarily turned his attention away from the playground, and when he looked back, Michael was gone. Police presumed that Michael had been abducted, but no one witnessed him being taken from the area.
Canadian police launched a massive search for Michael and amassed a number of tips from the public, none of which panned out. Twenty years after his disappearance, the Victoria police department continues to investigate. Most recently, there was widespread speculation in a small British Columbia town that a young man who bore a striking resemblance to Michael may have been the missing child, but DNA tests determined that he was not.
The last unconfirmed sighting of Michael was in June 1991, when a man attempted to abduct a seven-year-old girl in New Jersey. The girl and a friend claimed to have seen a little boy matching Michael’s description in the backseat of the man’s car. However, this sighting has not brought police any closer to discovering Michael’s fate, nor have any of the hundreds of other tips from the public throughout the years.
Marjorie West was a four-year-old Pennsylvania girl who was last seen on May 8, 1938. On that day, Marjorie attended a Mother’s Day picnic with her parents and older sister. At some point, Marjorie and her older sister, Dorothea, wandered off to a nearby trail to pick flowers, and Marjorie was left alone briefly when her sister walked back to the picnic. When she returned, little Marjorie was gone.
On the night of her disappearance, a cab driver in West Virginia witnessed a distraught girl matching Marjorie’s description riding with an unidentified man in a green car. The man asked for directions to the nearest motel but left when he was told there were no vacancies. The same man was also seen at a nearby gas station earlier in the evening with a child bundled up in his backseat. Neither the child nor the man were ever identified. Speculation was rife that Marjorie may have been kidnapped and sold to a childless couple by a corrupt adoption agency, but no evidence has ever backed up this claim.
6Alessia And Livia Schepp
Alessia and Livia Schepp are six-year-old twin sisters from Switzerland who were last seen on January 30, 2011. Their father, who was separated from their mother, picked up the girls from their home for a scheduled weekend visit. When he failed to return with the girls at the end of the weekend, a manhunt was launched that spanned three countries.
The investigation found that the twins’ father, Matthias Schepp, drove to France with the girls and withdrew cash from several places before taking a ferry to Italy. A few days later, his body was found on a set of train tracks in Italy, where he had committed suicide. However, there was no trace of the girls. Before killing himself, he sent a postcard to his estranged wife stating that the girls were “resting in peace,” but there was no definitive proof that they were murdered, and their bodies have never been found.
On the morning of June 4, 2008, 14-year-old Fernando Marti, the son of one of Mexico’s wealthiest businessmen, went to school as usual in an armored sedan. The car was stopped at a police checkpoint, where men dressed as federal police officers ambushed the vehicle and took everyone inside. They tortured and killed the chauffeur, strangled the bodyguard, and kidnapped Fernando, allowing him to place one last harrowing phone call to his father.
Fernando’s father was prepared to pay a hefty sum to save his son. According to reports, a ransom of over $2 million was paid, with no response from the kidnappers. After weeks of waiting, Fernando’s decomposing body was found in the trunk of a car. He had been dead for a month. The investigation revealed that a number of corrupt police officers were complicit in planning the abduction and that gang members had executed Fernando shortly after the kidnapping.
The abduction of Morgan Nick is one of the most haunting cold cases in Arkansas history. On the evening of June 9, 1995, six-year-old Morgan went to a Little League game with her mother. She played with a group of children only 45 meters (148 ft) away from the baseball field where her mother was sitting. When the other children returned to the field, Morgan was not among them.
Witnesses reported seeing a strange man watch the children play, and some of the children in the group stated that a man had spoken to Morgan directly. A red pickup truck with an attached camper was also seen leaving the parking lot around the time Morgan disappeared.
Police have a composite sketch of the unidentified man who was seen talking to Morgan that evening but little else to go on. Almost 20 years after her disappearance, they are still actively searching for Morgan. Her bereaved mother founded the Morgan Nick Foundation to aid families of missing children.
Masego Kgomo was a South African schoolgirl who was abducted near her home on New Year’s Eve 2009. Her almost unidentifiable body was discovered nine days later, hidden in a dense stretch of foliage in the township where she originally disappeared.
Police quickly cornered five suspects but only had enough evidence to officially try one of them. Meanwhile, an angry mob burned down two of the suspects’ homes and protested outside the courthouse in waves, demanding swift, vigilante-style justice.
The protestors were outraged by the particularly brutal nature of Masego’s murder. The trial featured grisly testimony about how she was abducted and mutilated alive by a sangoma (a traditional health practitioner) so her organs could be used to make medicinal remedies. The accused, who showed little remorse during the shocking testimony, was sentenced to life in prison for Masego’s murder, but due to scant evidence against them, the other conspirators ultimately walked.
Marion Parker lived a privileged life as the 12-year-old daughter of a wealthy Los Angeles banker in 1927. In December of that year, a man arrived at Marion’s school claiming that he needed to speak to her immediately because her father had been in an accident. There was no accident, but by the time school officials discovered the ruse, Marion was gone. For the next few days, the man sent a series of threatening notes to her family demanding large sums of money for Marion’s return. He signed these notes “The Fox.”
After several terrifying exchanges, Marion’s father agreed to meet the kidnapper in downtown Los Angeles at night, where he would hand over $1,500 for his daughter. At the meeting, Mr. Parker could faintly see his daughter sitting in the passenger seat of the kidnapper’s darkened car, appearing to be alive and well, and quickly handed over the cash. Marion was dumped on the sidewalk, and the car sped away. When Mr. Parker approached his daughter, however, he was horrified by what he saw. It was Marion’s lifeless torso. Her legs and arms had been severed, her eyes had been sewn open to give the appearance that she was alive, and various organs had been removed from her body and dumped all over Los Angeles.
The extensive manhunt for “The Fox” quickly narrowed in on its main suspect, a disgruntled former employee of Marion’s father named William Hickman. He was apprehended a week later, brought back to Los Angeles, convicted of Marion’s murder, and executed a year later at San Quentin.
1The Frog Boys
The “Frog Boys” were five South Korean boys aged 9–13. On March 26, 1991, the boys decided to walk to Mount Waryong together to catch frogs. When they failed to return at day’s end, the boys’ alarmed parents reported them missing, and an exhaustive search mission began in which more than 300,000 police and troops were called to scour the area. Meanwhile, the boys’ pictures were plastered on milk cartons, South Korean companies offered millions of dollars as rewards for their safe return, and schoolchildren across the nation sang odes to the lost children.
These efforts proved fruitless, and 10 years passed with no sign of them. Then, in 2002, two men picking acorns on Mount Waryong discovered the remains of the five boys not far from where they had originally disappeared. The bodies appeared to be huddled together, so police initially believed the boys had died from exposure. However, a number of disturbing clues arose during the forensic investigation.
The boys had sustained severe damage to their skulls, and forensic specialists soon concluded that they had been murdered. The cause of death was attributed to cranial injuries from various objects, including a screwdriver. Police pledged to find the person or people responsible for the depraved crime, but no suspects have ever been arrested. In 2006, the statute of limitations for their murder passed. The case was officially closed, the mystery of what happened to the Frog Boys no closer to being solved than when they had first disappeared.
K. Fane spends her free time pursuing obscure tangents and indulging in useless hobbies. She lives in California.