Photo by Eberhard Grossgasteiger from unsplash.com

I sit this evening perplexed by mysteries, personal puzzles that really have no point in being discussed here. Pull one thread, however, and it catches another and then another, whether they be in the material or intangible world. So it is that I occasionally obsess for a few moments about a couple of local puzzles that are commemorated to varying degrees on the anniversaries of their occurrences.

The first of these occurred — or at least manifested itself — within walking distance of my home. I live two blocks away from Hoover Reservoir, a body of water consisting of five square miles which is by turns a water source, park, and recreation area. A gentleman named Rob Mohney also lived nearby until 1996. He abruptly disappeared one evening in July, leaving the door to his home unlocked and the supper on his table untouched, a still-life, landlocked model of the Mary Celeste. He was still missing when his car was noticed at the reservoir a few days later. One of the initial theories of explanation regarding his disappearance was that he had parked at the reservoir, then walked to the pedestrian crossing over the dam, where he had done a Peter Pan for whatever sad reason into the waters crashing beneath. We are not talking Niagara Falls, however, and the waters in question quickly give up their own when there is anything to give. Mr. Mohney was never found.

Local law enforcement still pursues the case. A tip led them to a nearby rural plot of land where a backhoe failed to give up any secrets. Mohney still lives, however, in the local lore. A year after his disappearance a group of drunken seniors from one of the local high schools reported seeing his shade wandering late at night on the far banks of the reservoir, and sightings are still reported by their successors some twenty years and change later.

Thousands of people are reported missing each year. Most are found in one condition or another, either reunited with loved ones or bound over to the state of deep and seemingly unending mourning, depending upon circumstance. The truth, however, is that some people just…disappear. There is no law against it if the person missing is an adult and the absence appears voluntarily. While the occurrence often raises suspicion of what is known as “foul play,” it isn’t always. Some people tire of their lives and decide to up sticks and reinvent themselves elsewhere. Stories abound of how the quick-witted and -footed took advantage of the 9/11 terror attack in New York and left a hated job or a tired relationship behind to go on permanent vacation in the Mohave.

It is hard to classify the second and better known mysterious absence which has occurred in my area. Theories about the perplexing disappearance of Brian Shaffer abound. Shaffer, a 27-year-old medical student at the Ohio State University in Columbus, seemed after a deep personal tragedy to have the world by the tail with a downhill pull. On Saturday, April 1, 2006, as he and two friends began a bar crawl through the North High Street campus area. Shaffer needed the break. His mother had died a few weeks earlier following a long battle with cancer and his life seemed to be entering a new and better chapter. Shaffer and his girlfriend were scheduled to leave the following Monday for Miami, and he had planned to propose to her after they reached their destination. The evening was a way of properly lubricating the beginning of the much-needed spring break. The trio entered a loud and boisterous two-story establishment named “The Ugly Tuna Saloona” (a dive bar with pretensions). Shaffer became separated from his friends soon after they entered. Their calls to his cell phone went straight to his voice mail. They eventually left the bar, assuming that Shaffer had gone home to bed. Their assumption was partially right.  He was gone.

The area in question was — and is — heavily blanketed in security cameras and monitors. Columbus Police detectives assigned to investigate the case repeated reviewed hours of video from the night in question and were able to account for the exit of each person who entered the bar that night but for one, that being Shaffer. Cadaver dogs went through every inch of the building but found nothing. The Saloona has gone to that great tavern in the sky, and the empty premises have been examined again, but it still refuses to give up its secrets. Shaffer went in but apparently never came out.

A disappearance such as this leaves its own uncomfortable ripples behind. Shaffer’s father died two years later as a result of a home accident without knowing what happened to his son.  An online memorial posting following his father’s death, allegedly from Shaffer and purportedly from the Virgin Islands, was concluded to be a hoax. Elaborate tips phoned into the detectives led nowhere. Rumors continue to this day, the most persistent being that Shaffer is pursuing a different life in a suburb of Atlanta. There have been “Where’s Waldo” sightings of him literally all over the world. Each false tip is a fresh wound for Shaffer’s brother, who understandably remains haunted and perplexed by the incident. The oddest post-disappearance manifestation, however, was experienced by Shaffer’s girlfriend, who is no doubt haunted to some degree by what occurred and what might have been. She continued calling his cell phone on a nightly basis after his disappearance. Her calls went straight to voicemail, each and all but for one that she placed approximately six months after he vanished. That call rang four times. It was found that the call had “pinged” off of a cell phone tour in a suburb southwest of Columbus. It was, unfortunately, another dead end.

Where did Shaffer go? And how did he get there? I’m repeating myself, but that area of High Street is heavily covered by surveillance. He was not seen leaving the building. It is all but obvious, however, that he did. I have my own theory, one that is unkind in some ways and that I accordingly keep to myself. Someday there might be an answer. Or not. There is no rule of the universe that states that all questions will one day be answered, that all mysteries will be revealed, other for than for the divine. The lesser ones, however, will still matter.

I’ve prattled on long enough, perhaps too long. Disappearances. What is the most puzzling unsolved one near you? Please share. And thank you as always for stopping by…

…and, like Columbo…I’ve got just one more very important item: Chag Urim Sameach to all of our many friends celebrating the Festival of Lights commencing tomorrow! We join you in spirit!

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About Joe Hartlaub

Joe Hartlaub is an attorney, author, actor and book and music reviewer. Joe is a Fox News contributor on book publishing industry and publishing law and has participated on several panels dealing with book, film, and music business law. He lives with his family in Westerville, Ohio.

29 thoughts on “MISSING

  1. When I hear something like this I think of the many stories of people who could disguise themselves and fool others. Who knows how many homeless are on files as among the missing. They have suffered mental breakdowns and many probably forget who they are. The care of mentally ill people in the U.S. is morbid for a country that wealthy. My husband was bipolar and went on a trip to the U.S. that ended in big problems for our son. He had to work hard to keep his dad in a facility until he agreed to come back to India where he has family members besides me. My son was afraid he’d lose his job as his dad was picked up twice for thumbing rides as he couldn’t drive. The police called and he had to take off work to go and get him. He finally hospitalized him. Mental hospitals turn anyone out who they think isn’t dangerous. A good number just become homeless and the police probably don’t try to identify everyone. It would be a huge job. —- Suzanne

    • Thanks, Suzanne, for sharing that story, which is individually tragic beyond words but all too common. The problem isn’t so much one of funding as legality. The tip of the spear is the case of O’Connor v. Donaldson, 422 U.S. 563 (1975). I don’t want to make everyone’s eyes glaze over but the crux of the decision in that case is that the state cannot confine an individual who is not a danger to themselves or others. There are qualifiers and exceptions to that is the main point. I happened to attend a legal seminar where one of the attorneys involved was asked about the unintended result of the mentally ill homeless on the streets. His response was, “Not my problem.” It was in fact his problem, as future events have borne out. Thanks again.

  2. Wow, Joe. What an intriguing mystery. Thanks for sharing this story. I’m writing about “the missing” in my WIP, and you’ve given me insight into a side I hadn’t considered.

    Right outside of town there’s a billboard of a murdered woman, middle-aged, bright smile and kind eyes. In rural New Hampshire billboards are a rarity, so the words WHO KILLED ME? catches you off-guard. Each time the reward increases, the family’s desperation squeezes my heart. I hope someday they can find solace, but sadly, they might never know what happened to their daughter.

    • Who killed me? Sounds like an intriguing title, Sue.

      Your storytelling is always compelling & poignant, Joe. Love your posts. Have a good weekend.

    • Thanks for sharing, Sue. I’d like to read that story. And I’ve seen billboards similar to the ones you’ve described. That’s one of the ripples I mentioned. I don’t know how the people who are left behind are able to put one foot in front of the other every day after something like that happens.

  3. Joe, I can’t come up with a good ‘unexplained disappearance’ story, though I am currently writing about an unexplained, or at least grossly misunderstood, parting of the ways between two people.
    That said, I wanted to thank you for this share and for all the others thoughts you’ve shared in your previous writings. You are a giving person and I really appreciate it. Ed

    • You’re welcome, Edward. Thanks so much for your kind words and for sharing the plot of your work in progress. We’ll be looking forward to it.

  4. With so much mystery abounding in your neighbor, I would think your writer muse is inspired at all times, hopefully. Chag Sameach and Happy Holidays

  5. The other side of Joe’s stories involves dead persons who cannot be identified. As patriciaruthsusan and Joe note, people go missing, either intentionally or simply because those who know who they are lose track of them. When such a person shows up dead, it may well be impossible to identify them.

    I’m currently working on a novella dealing with the effort to identify such a victim. It involves a dog.

  6. Eric, thanks for the reminder about those found but unnamed. They are legion. For those intrigued by this topic, google “U.S. killing fields” for more information. You’ll be shocked.

  7. The Mary Celeste type disappearances make me think of “the victim” putting up all this misdirecting widow dressing as a final snicker before he disappears. It’s so dang theatrical. Life and death are weird, though.

    I’m reminded of the story of two men who disappeared while driving. Years later during a drought, they and their vehicle were found at the bottom of a local lake. Apparently, they decided that it would be a brilliant idea to drive across the frozen lake to cut down their drive time, and they fell through.

    • Marilynn, your story gave me chills for a couple of reasons: 1) a gentleman who had been missing since 2005 was found in his car three years later at the bottom of the same reservoir that I mentioned. His death was ruled a suicide; 2) in southern Ohio two residents of a retirement community went missing one weekend after leaving to go Christmas shopping. They were found dead six months later. It was concluded that they had gotten lost in a snowstorm and driven onto an abandoned farm where they took shelter in a barn. We can all think up macabre scenarios, and have, but reality always surpasses us. Thanks for the reminder.

  8. Good morning, Joe. I’m afraid I don’t have any good disappearance stories for you. The only disappearance stories I have are about tools and books I can never find.

    I do live in Logan County, Ohio. And back in the day of Paul Harvey, he always said, “If you want to commit a crime in the U.S., do it in Logan County.” So there are probably some skeletons hiding somewhere around here. I’m just not familiar with the stories.

    Your stories are always so interesting, and so well told. Thanks for your posts. And, oh, I’d be interested in hearing more about you and Jordan “behind the lobby’s potted plants.” Ahem.

  9. Funny you should mention this today since I am working on my WIP in which a disappearance is the central plot catalyst. I know HOW she disappeared but not sure WHY yet. Which makes me a pantster, I guess.

    In “She’s Not There” one of my protags is a skip tracer, a profession I knew little about until I started researching. Fascinating stuff. Especially one book I relied on a lot “How To Disappear” by Frank Ahearn, a pro skip tracer. He really made it hard for me to plot because apparently it is really really hard to truly fall off the face of the earth on purpose these days. Too many digital footprints. But the main reason is more basic — our unquenchable need for human contact. People who try to disappear inevitably screw up and are found because they can’t help but try to contact a loved one. One is, indeed, the loneliest number.

  10. Good morning, Steve! I had heard Paul Harvey say that Logan County. Jay Leno and Johnny Carson said it about other areas, as well. All of the statements were apparently hyperbole, and nothing more. Now…Sunbury, Ohio…that’s another story.

    Thanks for your kind words about my stories. Re: the potted plants…Jordan and I happened to attend a writer’s conference and found that, for reasons that escape me after lo these many years, someone had kind of latched onto us individually, and quite aggressively so. Jordan joked about hiding behind a potted tree in the lobby of the host hotel to avoid them and it has become a joke that has endured over the years.

    Same conference, same night: Jordan and I were meeting some folks for dinner and fell in together in the lobby (same hotel). I had the bright idea to get to the restaurant by cutting through the casino next door to the hotel. Jordan, who in appearance and demeanor resembles the sweet younger sister of your best friend — the one who you admired from afar — was braced by the security guard at the entrance, made to open her purse, was wanded, etc. He let me through with a smile and a nod. Jordan, good-humored as she is, thought that this was extremely funny, especially since I was, as always, expecting the best but prepared for the worst, if you know what I mean. That was quite a conference.

  11. Thanks, Kris. That sounds like a very interesting WIP, as always from the Parrish team.

    It is certainly harder to disappear than it used to be, but still not impossible, as long as one is not engaging in a sudden or impetuous “get out of Dodge” scenario. It takes time, planning, patience, and wisdom in equal measure. The “planning” part includes buying Visa gift cards by the handful, acquiring an account and a debit card through the China Construction Bank (this can be done through a surprising number of convenience stores located in parts of town you probably do not frequent), setting up a bitcoin account, and buying a vehicle at a used car lot within a block or so of a major airport. It will take you anywhere from six months to a year to set it up properly (that includes finding a residence at the other end of your journey) but it can be done. Good luck!

    • That bit about buying a car near the airport…ha! That’s exactly what I had my character do who was trying to disappear. But even then, the unscrupulous car lot owner had to sort of “look away” when it came to handing over a title to someone with no ID. I did find out that Greyhound bus is about the only way to get out of dodge without an ID. 🙂 You can pay cash and no one asks you anything.

      • Re: the Greyhound, Kris…they don’t ask questions but they do have security cameras. They don’t always work, but they’re there. Wear a hat.

  12. Disappearing people is always a frightening thing.

    It is a real phenomenon, apparently all over the world. But our concern is obviously North America and, especially, the U.S.

    The work of Dave Paulides is extremely important in this regard. Mr. Paulides is retired from law enforcement and business.

    Initially, Mr. Paulides’ interests and work was in the matter of looking for bigfoot. He teamed up with an active law enforcement forensic graphic artist who is also a member and traditional leader of the Southern Cheyenne tribe. Together, these men contributed their knowledge to the matter through field research, lectures, and consultations. Because of his involvement in a subject that is replete with controversy, misunderstanding, hoaxes, and ridicule, some have tried to attack Mr. Paulides as he turned his knowledge and skills to another matter.

    The matter of missing people in the United States.

    Mr. Paulides was approached by employees of the U.S. national park service to tell him that disappearances of people inside the national parks are basically ignored publicly by Park service officialdom. To make a long, convoluted story short (there are many recordings about the subject on YouTube–I think the interviews by investigative reporter George Knapp are the best), he discovered this to be true. In fact, his own efforts to look into these disappearances have been officially rebuffed and many roadblocks have been put in his way by the U.S. government to try to get information and facts.

    His efforts are recounted in several books which are available through his website on the matter, missing411. The URL is: http://www.canammissing.com/missing_411.html [.] The canammissing means Canadian American missing. (If you go to the website, scroll down a little bit after reaching it because it momentarily appears not to be there, but the information starts lower.) Mr. Paulides Missing 411 books are available on his website at about $25. Books sold through other sites by resellers are usually outrageously priced.

    Joe, you will find if you look up his research, that the circumstances of the subjects your two stories fit patterns of many other missing people.

    As I say, this subject is personally frightening to me. I have asked my sons and sons-in-law not to take their children to certain areas that Paulides calls cluster areas. (There are three such areas in our state.)

    So sorry for and about the disappearances of Mr. Mohney and Mr. Shaffer.

  13. Jim, thanks for sharing those sources. What bothers me is that skeptics of Paulides’ work say that the disappearances he reports are not unusual. Does that mean that there are “usual” disappearances? I think that any area where there seem to be clusters of any sort of untoward activity need to be examined more closely. Urban planners call locales — such as addresses or intersections — where high rates of violent crime occur as “hot spots” and study them. Paulides’ results as to disappearances should be taken seriously. The reason behind them is a separate issue, but that should be sorted out.

    There are some students of the Shaffer disappearance who believe he fell victim to the Smiley Faced Killer(s), although in most cases victims classified under that moniker are found. Indeed, this area has had three incidents that are often grouped under that classification. Some law enforcement personnel say that the SFK is named “Bud Weiser” given that the victims are usually found in a body of water, apparently drowned after a night of drinking, but the other demographic elements — college age, male, gay — would seem to indicate deliberate targeting. College-age straight males, as well as college-age females of all orientations, can be found in various states of intoxication in campus area bars in great numbers on any weekend. Why aren’t they experiencing death my misadventure in bodies of water? Anyway, I’ve prattled on too long. Thanks again for the links and other information, and I hope your children heed your wise counsel.

  14. Addendum: I forgot to include the following link when I was responding to Jim. This case has haunted me for decades, so much so that I cringe when I see anyone walking/running while wearing headphones. The case involves a young woman named Tara Calico who went missing while jogging in New Mexico. Please read the article:


    One can only conclude that there are some really, really bad people out there. Be well and stay safe.

  15. Pingback: MISSING | Loleta Abi

  16. Joe, these are simply chilling. I’ve followed the Shaffer disappearance on and off, and am intrigued by the notion that he may be a victim of the SFK.

    I read the Tara Calico Wiki, and am struck by a couple of things: she regular went bike-riding with her mother, but her mother stopped going along after she (the mother) believed she was stalked by a motorist. I know teenagers believe they’re invincible, but talk about a huge warning sign. Also, if a couple of guys accidentally hit her on her bike and then killed her, where’s the body? Amateurs don’t usually get that lucky. The photos are truly disturbing, and the detail about Tara’s favorite book–a writer couldn’t make that up and get away with it…

    You are often the bearer of hard realities. Thanks for that. xx

    • Thank you so much, Laura. Re: Tara Calico, here’s another angle on the truck accident. If a truck did hit her, and the driver/passengers killed her, then who is the young woman in the picture? The photo has been distributed enough that if it were someone else a relative would have come forward, I would think.

      Laura, I can’t even get close to hard realities. The things that people do are beyond the imaginations of most authors. And that’s a good thing. I say “most” authors. That factory in the HOSTEL film? I am assured that it exists.

      Be safe and well, Laura. I cannot wait for your new book, THE STRANGER INSIDE, coming at last on February 5! xx

  17. I can’t read or hear about missing-persons cases without immediately thinking of the one behind that poignant song by the Fastballs, “The Way.”
    I loved this song, creepy as it seemed even without knowledge of the lyrics, but I can no longer listen to it now that I know the real truth.
    Thanks for the fascinating read, Joe! And to those who have left great comments!

  18. You’re welcome, Cyn, and thanks so much for sharing that story. I’m familiar with the song, of course, but I had NO idea of the backstory. I won’t be able to listen to that again either. What a sad tale!

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