A long-term disappearance is still hard for me to grasp. I get it in theory—I mean, why else would NamUs, The Charley Project, and The Doe Network be in my most frequented sites?—but, when I try and put myself in that person and his or her family’s shoes, I’m left with a series of unanswered questions:
Where did they go? Was it on purpose? Did they vanish by choice, force, or accident? Is that how I’d act in that situation? Did they seem mentally well? Were they actually mentally well? Can we ever rule out suicide with any certainty? Did anyone see anything, and if so, why hasn’t anyone talked?
It’s even harder to conceptualize how a group of people can go missing without a trace. When it’s more than one person who disappears, I’m more generally inclined to lean towards an accident, especially when there’s a car involved. But, I’m also cognizant that we can’t know with even 90% certainty that each missing person met the same fate at the same time: just because Person A disappeared voluntarily doesn’t mean that Person B did, too. What if Person A disappeared because something happened to Person B? Or, like in the case of non-custodial parent abductions, what if Person A wants to keep Person B hidden away?
This post marks the first in my List the Missing series, in which I hope to bring some attention to lesser-known missing persons cases based on their similarities. This week, I’m exploring the stories of four families who disappeared together.
What’s interesting that nearly every family or group of family members who have simultaneously vanished were last seen in their car. When the car itself has yet to be found—especially if there’s a nearby body of water—again, I’m more inclined to suspect a tragic, underwater accident. What really muddies the water (no pun intended) is when the car is later found, only without the missing family.
The Martin Family: December 7, 1958 from Portland, Oregon
Barbara and Kenneth Martin disappeared with their three daughters—Barbie (14), Susan (13) and Virginia (11)—from Portland on December 7, 1958. Like so many other missing families, they were last seen in–you guessed it—their a red-and-cream 1954 Ford County Squire station wagon with the license plate number IG-7156.
That morning, they set out to collect Christmas greenery from the Columbia River gorge, and were last seen leaving a restaurant in Hood River, Oregon on their way back to Portland. Everything in their home was left undisturbed and a sizable sum of money was left untouched in the bank.
In February 1959, searchers in The Dalles, Oregon discovered tire tracks matching the station wagon’s heading off a cliff and into the Columbia River. That May, a heavy, metallic object—possibly the missing station wagon—attached itself to a river drilling rig’s anchor near the tire tracks, but came loose before it could be pulled to the surface. A few days later, Susan and Virginia’s bodies were recovered downstream, near Bonneville Dam. Both deaths were attributed to drowning.
Police initially speculated the family’s car may have crashed into the river, though the surrounding circumstances could not be wholly explained. Multnomah County police consistently suspected foul play based on the evidence of the tire tracks that indicated the family’s vehicle was deliberately pushed from the cliff, while the Hood River police were unsure of the family’s fate. Further complicating the case was the discovery of a stolen handgun and the arrest of two ex-convicts nearby, on the day after the family’s disappearance; however, investigators were unable to determine if the incidents were in any way connected.
The search for the rest of the Martin family was called off after a diver nearly died in the process. While the bodies of Barbara, Kenneth, and Barbie have never been recovered, authorities believe the entire family went into the Columbia River and drowned, and the case was closed. They were survived by Donald Martin—Barbara and Kenneth’s eldest son—who, in 1957, was in the navy and stationed in New York.
The Guthrie Family: February 5, 1977 from Katonah, New York
29-year-old Leslie Ann Guthrie disappeared with her children Julie Anne (6) and Timothy Patrick (3) on February 5, 1977. The trio was last spotted at 1:30 PM, traveling in Leslie’s white 1974 Ford Maverick with a green top and the license plate number 636-WNA.
That day, Leslie picked up her children from their father’s home on Grandview Avenue in Katonah, New York—roughly two hours north of Manhattan—but did not return home. Neither the Guthries, nor their Maverick were ever seen again.
At the time of her disappearance, Leslie and her husband Timothy
Guthrie Sr. had been separated for an undisclosed amount of time. Leslie was confirmed to be living with her mother in White Plains, New York, but it’s unclear with whom the children lived. Timothy Sr. reportedly had an amicable relationship with his estranged wife, and was ruled out as a suspect. He reportedly exhausted his savings searching for his family and employed private investigators.
According to the Charley Project’s blog, the police do not believe the car wound up in a lake somewhere. The 1977 winter was severe, and law enforcement states the ice was sufficiently thick that a car could have driven on it without it breaking. However, locals who commented on the the Charley Project blog post disagreed with law enforcement’s conclusion.
The Stuart Family: December 10, 1977 from Honeydew, California
32-year-old Mary Elizabeth Stuart and her daughters Fannie (2) and Jessie (3) were last seen in their red Opel station wagon reportedly heading from their Honeydew, California home to get groceries and run errands.
Byron M. Stuart—Mary’s husband and Fannie and Jessie’s father—did not report the three missing when they failed to return before dark as planned. In fact, Mary Stuart was reported missing to the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office by a concerned friend the following Tuesday.
On January 19, 1978, the Opel was found abandoned on an old logging road a few miles from the family home. According to a January 20th Times-Standard story, groceries were still in the car and the its gas line was broken. Yet the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office initially reported that there was neither evidence of foul play, nor any sign of a struggle near the car. Foul play is now suspected in their disappearance, and the three are most likely deceased.
The case was reopened by the Humboldt County DA in 2009, 13 years after Mary’s husband and the main suspect, Byron, died at 48 in Santa Rosa, California. Byron, who reportedly had a “hot temper,”was 28 at the time of the disappearance. The Humboldt County DA said that, while Byron was initially considered a suspect, the Sheriff’s Office lacked sufficient evidence to prosecute.
Mary Stuart was survived by an older daughter from a previous marriage, who lived in the area in 2009 and was in contact with the DA’s office. The search effort is now focused on finding a burial site.
The Burhans-Garcia Family: March 15, 1982 from Los Angeles, California
40-year-old Carmen Maria Burhans Garcia, her husband Diego Garcia, and her daughter Barbara Burhans (8) were last seen driving away from their Division street home in Los Angeles in their 1977 brown Toyota Corolla. Diego was Carmen’s second husband and Barbara’s stepfather.
They were last seen by Carmen’s mother—who lived upstairs in the same building —at breakfast that morning: Carmen had been crying, according to her mother, but her mother didn’t think to ask why. Around noon, the trio left home in the Corolla, without taking any of their belongings or even the family dog. According to Carmen’s mother, everything in the house looked untouched.
The Toyota Corolla was discovered on April 25, 1982, abandoned in a snowbank at the bottom of a gorge in the San Gabriel Mountains. The only road from which the car could have fallen had been closed since March 16, the day after the trio vanished. While the car’s front end was crushed, law enforcement could find no blood or sign of foul play, and theorized the empty car had been manually pushed off a cliff in an attempt to conceal it. They also considered the possibility of an inattentive snowplow operator accidentally “bumping” the car off the roadside.
The disappearance was the subject of various unsubstantiated rumors: Carmen and Barbara were recent converts to Mormonism, but there were whispers of Carmen’s involvement with a very different religion prior to her disappearance and may have been involved in sacrificing a chicken. Others suggested that Diego had gotten involved in either drugs or gambling, and that the family up and vanished to Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood for some related reason.However, no rumor or sighting could be substantiated. Law enforcement has been unable to find evidence of their whereabouts after March 1982, and their cases remain unsolved.