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Intriguing mysteries: Missing people


1st Jan 2015 Life

Intriguing mysteries: Missing people

We've collected three of the most fascinating stories about public figures who vanished. Whether they faked their own death, disappeared in suspicious circumstances or remain a mystery, these case are sure to intrigue you. 

Hunter S. Thomson’s Dr Gonzo

Hunter and Gozo missing
Hunter S. Thompson (L) and Oscar Zeta Acosta (R) at Caesar’s Palace, Las Vegas in 1971. Image via Justin Maurer

In 1971 Hunter S. Thompson wrote his most famous novel, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, in which he describes a drug-fuelled trip to Las Vegas undertaken by Raoul Duke (Thomson's alter-ego) and his attorney Dr Gonzo, real name Oscar Acosta.

The story has since been made infamous through Terry Gilliam’s film adaptation, which starred Johnny Depp as Duke and Benicio Del Torro as Acosta. What’s less commonly known, however, is that the real Acosta disappeared without a trace in Mexico shortly after the book’s release, in 1974.



"Too weird to live, and too rare to die"



Acosta was very active in the Chicano Civil Rights Movement, defending and extending the rights of Mexican Americans, and he wrote two books about his political and legal activism.

However, Acosta was also a heavy drug user, addicted to amphetamines and regularly using LSD. It has been speculated that he was either murdered by drug dealers or the victim of a political assassination.

While the media were keen to spin his character as a drug-addled fool, like Hunter S. Thomson himself, there was a really substantial figure at the heart of the madness.

Hunter S. Thompson once described him as, “One of God's own prototypes. A high-powered mutant of some kind never even considered for mass production. Too weird to live, and too rare to die."


Patrick McDermott

Patrick McDermott went missing
McDermott with Newton-John at an event. Image via Extra TV

Cameraman Patrick McDermott had been dating Hollywood superstar Olivia Newton-John for nine years when he vanished during an overnight fishing trip off the coast of San Pedro, California on 30 June, 2005.

Despite the boat having 22 other passengers, no one claimed to have seen him go overboard. Olivia Newton-John was in the middle of a press tour at the time of his disappearance, and so he wasn’t noted missing until the 6 July.

Local coastguards launched a search, but declared in 2008 that he had ‘most likely drowned’. This is where it gets more interesting. McDermott was apparently in debt for $30,000 at the time of his disappearance and owned several thousands to his ex-wife in child support.

Investigators uncovered other unusual behaviour. He’d secured a second passport under a different name and had withdrawn his life savings from two bank accounts before his disappearance.

Believing that he’d faked his own death, these investigators continued their search. After a few months, they received a letter from an anonymous source which read,

“Pat has asked that I portray to you his innocence. Pat has committed no crime. Pat simply wishes to be left alone. Let him live his life in peace and harmony. He is safe and has started anew again in a new place both physically and mentally. Stop this search immediately.”

Earlier this year, more than a decade after his apparent death, McDermott was in fact spotted in rural Mexico. He’s allegedly working in small village as a deck hand, living with a German lover ten years his junior.

Newton-John has never commented on the situation. And in 2008, she married businessman John Easterling.


John Stonehouse

john stonehouse went missing

Labour and Co-operative Party politician John Stonehouse worked as a junior minister under Harold Wilson. He was so popular in his youth, that he was even tipped as a future party leader.

When John Stonehouse’s clothes were discovered by the water’s edge on a Miami beach, the world assumed that he was dead. Many thought he had taken his own life, while others speculated that he had accidentally drowned. A few were even convinced that he had been killed by sharks. This was the year Peter Benchley released his novel, Jaws, after all.

A minute’s silence was held in a shocked Westminster, where of late Stonehouse had been treated with suspicion due to his dodgy business deals and links to the Soviet bloc. By the time of his disappearance, he owed debts that would today amount to around £10 million and he was being investigated by the government for fraud. 

On Christmas Eve 1974, just 34 days after his apparent death, Stonehouse was arrested in Melbourne. He was with his former Commons Secretary Sheila Buckley, who was now his mistress.

In a bizarre twist, police initially believed they were hot on the tail of another notable Brit, Lord John Lucan who had also disappeared in November after allegedly murdering the family nanny. Stonehouse was instructed to drop his trousers at the site of his arrest, so he could prove he didn’t have Lord Lucan’s distinctive thigh scar.

Stonehouse's fall from grace was swift and irreversible. After engaging in a six-month battle to escape extradition to Britain, he refused to resign his seat in Parliament, much to the frustration of the Labour Party.

When his trial finally rolled around, he provided his own defence and was convicted on 18 counts of theft, fraud and deception. He was sentenced to seven years in prison. He died in 1988 at the age of 62.

It was revealed, 20 years after his real death, that Stonehouse’s life was even more bizarre than the public first thought. He had actually been a secret agent for the communist Czechoslovak Socialist Republic military intelligence. He'd been exchanging government secrets for around £5000.

To hear more fascinating stories about missing people, listen to our latest podcast:


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Feature image via Extra TV

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