Gone in a Puff of Smoke: Three Unsolved Vanishing Cases


Bruce Campbell, aged 57 and his wife Mabelita were travelling from their home town of Northampton in Massachusetts to visit their only son, Bruce Campbell Jr, who taught chemistry at MacMurray College in Jacksonville, Illinois, and see their newborn grandchild.

They arrived in town on the afternoon of 13 April 1959.  The long drive had taken its toll on Bruce Sr.  Since there was no room for them to stay with their son they checked into a room at the small, family-owned Sandman Motel on Walnut Street, on the north side of town.   Bruce was immediately put to bed.  Bruce Jr arranged for a doctor to see him, who prescribed sleeping medication.  Bruce Sr rested all the following day.

Bruce Jr described his dad’s state of mind that evening to be “rational but still disoriented”.

On the night of 14 April he was restless and paranoid, according to Mabelita’s account. Before 1 a m he woke her up twice to ask if the car was locked.  She assured him it was and told him to get some sleep.

Each room had a door which opened directly to outside and the cars were all parked directly outside the rooms.

The Sandman Motel at the time of Bruce Sr’s disappearancesandman motel

When Mabelita woke up with a start at 02:15 she was alone in the room – there was no sign of her husband in the other bed.  With panic mounting by the minute she searched the room and the car but found no sign of him.  He’d left his money, glasses, keys and all his clothes behind.   Nothing was missing except the bright green pyjamas he was wearing to bed.

The door to the parking spot was unlocked but the car was safely locked, as she’d assured him it was.  The desk clerk didn’t see anyone walking past the office.

She immediately contacted the police.

Police chief Ike Flynn and his deputy, officer Charles Runkel responded immediately and initiated a diligent search of the area.  The next day, 150 students from MacMurray joined local firefighters in the search.  On the following day the Dean suspended classes and the entire male contingent of staff and students from the college, plus 50 high school students, combed the area without finding any sign of the tall 6’4 man, who walked with a slight limp.  No one had spotted him.

The search included all waterways in the area in case he’d drowned.

The police followed up dozens of leads about tall hitchhikers but left them none the wiser after all these hitchhikers had been located and accounted for.

A fortune teller told the cops to look seven miles northeast or northwest of the city but this also proved fruitless.

A farmer northwest of Jacksonville told cops he’d been awakened by shouts on the night Bruce Sr disappeared.  The police followed up on this seemingly promising lead but came up empty handed.

The FBI as well as expensive private investigators hired by the family were roped in but were equally unsuccessful.

The distraught Mabelita returned home two weeks after the disappearance.  Police Chief Flynn retired shortly after this but never ceased taking an interest in the case.

A woman at Bruce Jr’s church began accusing another female congregant of being responsible for the disappearance, but Runkel said she had a history of mental instability.

There are always unsubstantiated rumours in a case like this, of course.  One or two local residents who chose to remain nameless suggested a girlfriend picked him up to begin a new life away from Mabelita. In his pyjamas?

According to Bruce Jr his parents were happily married and had no history of depression, financial hassles or other things which could have a bearing on the case.

Perhaps he had become ill following the long drive and what would explain his uncharacteristic paranoia the night he disappeared?

In that we never found anything one way or the other, I suppose you might say the case is still open, but I don’t think we are going to learn anything now,” Runkel told reporters. “It was just the darnedest thing.

Mabelita finally received her husband’s insurance benefits eight years after his vanishing act, but until her dying day she never found out what happened to her husband.



May 1970.  It was a Friday evening and Edward, a bookkeeper and his wife Stephania, a credit investigator, both 63, were attending a trade convention cocktail party at the Sheraton Hotel in Chicago.  They arrived at about 6:15 pm but clearly weren’t enjoying the party much.  Edward was complaining of feeling ill and attributed this to feeling hungry, as there were only small hors d’oeuvres being served while the liquor flowed.

If he were feeling really sick his condition would hardly have improved after a few drinks on an almost empty stomach…

But he had lunch with his brother-in-law that day, who reported that Edward was feeling ill then already, but returned to work after their meal.

Leaving the party at 9:30 pm they made their way to the parking garage and got into their car.  The parking attendant said Edward looked ill, while Stephania seemed upset and looked as if she was crying.  Had there been an argument on the way to their car or was she just worried about what could be wrong with her husband?


As they left the garage Edward scraped the car’s fender against the exit door but didn’t stop.

A garage manager saw them driving in the wrong direction: northwards on the southbound lanes of Michigan Avenue.  This clearly indicates that Edward was in no condition to drive: either through illness (disorientation) or liquor which could have had a worse effect than usual given Edward’s state of health.

michigan avenue chicago
Michigan Avenueis just a short way upstream from enormous Lake Michigan

Did he suffer from a sudden heart attack or stroke while driving home?  They didn’t have far to go as they lived in Arlington Heights, an outlying suburb of the city, yet the attendant was the last person to see them dead or alive.

Arlington Heights, their presumed destination:  extreme top left of map

Police were only called on Monday when neither Stephania nor Edward arrived for work at their respective companies.  The next door neighbours had a spare key to their house, but the police found nothing amiss except for the uncollected mail in the postbox and a few unread newspapers scattered on the lawn.

As the investigation got underway police suspected that Edward lost control of the car, drove off a bridge and landed in the nearby Chicago River but no evidence of such an accident would ever be found, and even dragging the river revealed nothing.  The Andrews couple had vanished without a trace, together with their car, and are still missing to this day.

Did the police perhaps look in the wrong spot and did the car get washed down into the murky depths of Lake Michigan?  It’s not that far downstream and once in the lake there’d be very little chance of finding it.

No one will ever know for sure.  The case remains an open and unsolved one on the books of Arlington Heights Police Department.

News report at the time the couple vanished


Thursday 8 April 1980.  The Romers were one of those well-off elderly New York couples who spend half the year in the sunny South: in this case, an apartment in Miami.  Charles was 73 and his wife Catherine was 75.

They were on their way back to their summer home in New York.  Leaving Miami on 8 April in their black 1979 Lincoln Continental Town Car with the licence plate CRR-CBR, they drove as far as Brunswick, Georgia where they checked into the Holiday Inn on I-95 and U.S. 341 at 15:51 pm and dropped off their luggage.

lincoln town car charles and catherine romer
A black Lincoln Town Car like the one the Romers were driving

A while later they then drove off again, possibly to grab some dinner at a restaurant.  A patrolman claims he spotted their car at around 5 pm near a restaurant complex to the south of the town.  If so he was the last known person to do so.

Two days later, on Saturday 10 April when the maids noticed the beds weren’t slept in the hotel management contacted the police.

The only lead, small and insignificant as it was, was another guest who saw the couple outside their room, having a friendly chat with a young couple with a small dog.

brunswick holiday inn today
The Brunswick Holiday Inn as it appears today

There was a lot of Catherine’s jewellery in the room worth thousands of dollars.  This was apart from the expensive jewellery she was in the habit of wearing.  The rest of the room’s contents seemed comparatively commonplace – a few potted plants they were taking up to New York, assorted clothes, a pair of spectacles, a novel, a travel diary.

In the last entry of the travel diary dated the 7th he wrote of his intention to be back in New York by the 10th.

Being a rich couple no stone was left unturned.  An intensive air, land and water search involving authorities from local to federal level began. Back roads and swamps were combed, and all restaurants and service stations all the way from the Florida state line up to Savannah were diligently checked.  Their son hired a private eye to assist in the search.

There were two theories. One was that they were victims of foul play due to their wealth.  But no evidence of this has ever been found.

The other theory says they planned to go to an out-of-the-way restaurant and lost control of their car, landing in a river, swamp or patch of quicksand, such as is common in the area.  Some fishermen near Jekyll Island claim to have seen a couple matching their description but investigators say the timing was out.

No one remotely involved in the search, whether cops, FBI, private eyes or psychics came up with a positive lead to their whereabouts.  A local law enforcement officer commented that they had “disappeared from the face of the earth.”

brunswick ga area map
There’s a lot of water around Brunswick: could they and their car still be submerged somewhere in the depths?

Expert local diver George Baker never gave up the search and dived in countless rivers, ponds, lakes and creeks without any results.  By 1998 he had made 315 such dives.
You know what drives this thing?” Baker said to the Press. “Two nice elderly people came to our county and they never left. Maybe the good Lord will allow me to find them before I get too old so they can have a nice burial.

In November 2004 a woman recalled that her late husband was run off the road by a black Lincoln Town Car matching descriptions of the Romers’ car while making deliveries.  She supplied a delivery ticket as evidence, so Baker did a few more dives in the area without finding anything.

If this was the Romers’ car, this could indicate foul play since an elderly couple like them are unlikely to have run anyone off the road, so maybe a criminal had been driving it?  Supposing they resprayed the car and equipped it with false numberplates, and it was never under any water?

Both Charles and Catherine were declared legally dead during the mid 80s and their estate was divided among their two sons.  The case remains an open and unsolved one on Georgia’s books.

Their seven granddaughters still regularly light candles and pray for their grandparents.

Perhaps no one will ever know what happened to this unfortunate couple.


Published by: envirozentinel63

Diagnosed with asperger syndrome. Keen runner and writer who wants to share the ups and downs of all my many experiences and maybe reach out to someone who needs encouragement.

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