10 Tragic Missing Persons Cases That Ended in Unlikely Places

According to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons database (NamUS), more than 600,000 people go missing every year in the United States alone. While the vast majority of missing persons cases are resolved quickly, such is not always the case. Sadly, the families left behind are filled with heartbreak and uncertainty and forced to endure an emotional rollercoaster as they desperately await any news or updates. Unfortunately, that also does not does not necessarily mean that families will find their loved ones alive and well.

In the instance that a loved one is found deceased, the outcome still may not bring much closure, especially when circumstances seem to defy any sort of rational logic. In some cases, the tragic fate of those who have vanished seems to elude authorities.

This list tells the stories of ten tragic incidents of missing persons where the search for truth proved much stranger than fiction. From tales of weird statues, confined spaces, and sea creatures, the cases of these vanished souls led investigators to eerie, unbelievable, and heartbreaking discoveries. Here are ten tragic missing persons cases that ended in unlikely places.

Related: 10 Missing Persons Cases Solved by YouTube Divers

10 Decorative Dinosaur Statue

On May 22, 2021, an unnamed father and son noticed a smell coming from a paper mache Stegosaurus statue in Santa Coloma de Gramenet, a suburb of Barcelona, Spain. When the father looked through a crack in the dinosaur’s leg, he saw a body and contacted authorities.

Three fire brigade teams were called to the scene to help cut into the statue and remove the body. It is believed that the 39-year-old man—who was not identified—was trying to retrieve a cell phone, which he dropped inside the statue. He entered the statue head first but became trapped in the statue’s leg, unable to get out.

The man was a Spanish national whose family hadn’t heard from him for several days. Sadly, he had been reported missing just a few hours before his body was discovered. The decorative statue, used to advertise an old cinema, has since been removed from outside the city’s Cubic Building.[1]

9 Behind Cooler in Closed Supermarket

On November 28, 2009, 25-year-old Larry Ely Murillo-Moncada became upset and ran out of his Council Bluffs, Iowa, home during a snowstorm. Despite the cold weather, Murillo-Moncada left wearing only blue jeans and a blue long-sleeved shirt, but no shoes, socks, or coat. The man’s mother, Ana Moncada, and a friend went searching for Murillo-Moncada but found no sign of him. Ana reported her son missing on November 29, 2009.

Before his disappearance, on November 27, 2009, Murillo-Moncada had returned home from work at the No Frills Supermarket and seemed disoriented, so Ana took him to see a doctor. Murillo-Moncada was prescribed an antidepressant for anxiety, but his parents believed the medication he was taking caused his irrational behavior. She said, “He was hearing voices that said ‘eat sugar.’ He felt his heart was beating too hard and thought if he ate sugar, his heart would not beat so hard.”

Sadly, it would be nearly ten years before Murillo-Moncada would be found.

On January 24, 2019, a contracting firm was removing shelving and coolers from the No Frills Supermarket, which had closed in 2016, when they discovered a body behind a cooler. They then contacted the police. The clothing on the body matched what Murillo-Moncada was wearing when he disappeared, and his parents’ DNA was later used to confirm his identity.

Investigators believe that after Murillo-Moncada ran away, he went into the storage area in the supermarket and climbed on top of one of the coolers. Former employees of the supermarket stated it was common for workers to be on top of the coolers since the space was used for storing goods. Employees would even sit on the cooling units when they wanted to take an “unofficial break.”

Unfortunately, after scaling the 12-foot (3.6-meter) cooler, it is believed that Murillo-Moncada fell into an approximately 18-inch (45-cm) gap between the cooler and the wall, leaving him trapped. Additionally, the noise from the coolers’ compressors would have muffled any sounds. An autopsy found no signs of trauma, and Murillo-Moncada’s death was deemed accidental.[2]

8 Inside a School Shark

Just before midnight on February 18, 2023, 32-year-old Diego Barría was riding his ATV home in the Patagonian province of Chubut, Argentina. However, Barría stopped to greet some fishing friends and texted his partner, Virginia Brugger, to let her know he would be home later than expected. Unfortunately, Barría never returned home and was not responding to text messages or phone calls. On February 20, 2023, his family reported him missing.

As agents began to search the area on February 20, 2023, they discovered Barría’s damaged all-terrain vehicle, along with his cracked helmet, on a beach near Rocas Colorados. Sadly, there was still no sign of Barría. (Link 12)

On February 26, 2023, two fishermen went to the coastguard to report that they had caught three school sharks—also known as tope or soupfin sharks—near the beach where Barría’s ATV was located. Sadly, “when they were cleaning them, they found human remains in one of them.” Barría’s family identified him based on a tattoo visible in the fishermen’s findings.

Officials stated they would continue to investigate what happened to Barría. However, given that there had been a strong tidal surge the weekend Barría disappeared, police suspect that Barría had an accident in which he collided with a rock while driving his ATV, and then his body was washed out to sea.[3]

7 Hotel Pool Pipe

Jose Daniela Jaico Ahumada rented a room at the Doubletree by Hilton Houston Brookhollow Hotel in Houston, Texas, so that her family could enjoy a day of swimming, an activity that her daughter—eight-year-old Aliyah Jaico—loved. Unfortunately, what should have been a day of fun turned into a missing persons case with an even more tragic ending.

On March 23, 2024, Aliyah was enjoying the “lazy river style” pool of the hotel with her family. Ahumada stepped away for a brief moment, and just before 5 pm, Aliyah “disappeared in a split second” in the lazy river. Ahumada frantically searched for Aliyah for approximately one hour, even asking hotel staff to look at the CCTV footage. However, Ahumada claimed that the hotel management “denied her request and explained that police would have to be present to view the video surveillance.” Around 5:45 pm, Ahumada then contacted police to report Aliyah missing.

Once police arrived, investigators reviewed security video showing Aliyah had gone underwater but never resurfaced. The search crew drained the pool, and Texas EquuSearch was called in to inspect the pool’s pipes. At 11:30 pm, Aliyah’s body was found 20 feet (6 meters) inside the piping, and it took crews approximately 13 hours to recover her body. Aliyah was pronounced dead at the scene as a result of drowning and mechanical asphyxia.

An inspection by the City of Houston’s Health Department revealed that the “Operator failed to obtain a pre-opening inspection prior to placing the pool in operation after a remodel.” While it was not certain when the remodel occurred, the new piping appeared to be malfunctioning, and rather than pushing water out, it was pulling water in. The pool was also not in compliance with federal laws meant to protect drain entrapment and child drowning, along with multiple other violations.

Ahumada has since filed a lawsuit against Doubletree’s parent company, Hilton, and the local operator of the hotel, Unique Crowne Hospitality, for $1 million.[4]

6 Laundry Cart

On January 18, 2023, 21-year-old Rosa Chacon left her home in Little Village—a neighborhood in Chicago, Illinois—and got into an Uber. Chacon left without her coat or ID, and the only thing she said to her mother was, “I’ll be back, Mom. I got the Uber ride there and the Uber ride back.” However, Chacon never returned home.

Chacon was reported missing, and on January 23, 2023, the Chicago Police Department issued a missing person bulletin to the media. Chacon’s mother stated that Uber refused to give her any information about who ordered the ride for Chacon or her destination. She also claimed that authorities did little to assist in their search, so after months of searching on their own and handing out flyers, Chacon’s family hired a private investigator.

Sadly, around 10:45 am on March 15, 2023, Chacon’s body was found in a laundry cart, just 2 miles (3.2 km) from her home. Unfortunately, the medical examiner’s office has been unable to determine the cause of Chacon’s death. To date, the case remains unsolved.[5]

5 Department Store Bathroom

Sixty-three-year-old Bessie Durham of Columbia, South Carolina, worked for KBS, a company contracted to clean the Columbiana Mall. Durham clocked in for work at 7 am on the morning of September 15, 2022, and went into a family bathroom of the Belk department store in the mall. However, Durham never clocked out from work that day.

After not hearing from Durham for four days, her family reported her missing. Columbia Police called the store in hopes of locating Durham, but sadly, on September 19, 2022, Durham’s body was found by store employees locked inside the bathroom she went in to clean. An autopsy later revealed that Durham died from a cardiac event.

On September 19, 2023, one year after Durham’s tragic death, her family filed a lawsuit against the Belk chain for negligence, as well as the contractor Durham worked for. Durham’s family questioned why none of the store employees thought it suspicious that Durham’s cleaning cart remained outside the restroom for four days, given that the store was open for regular hours the entire time. They also claimed that a store policy—which was enacted earlier in 2022 due to a mall shooter—required that the restroom door be locked, which “further exacerbated the problem.”[6]

4 Community College Ventilation System

On October 25, 2023, 36-year-old Jason Anthony Thompson of Clinton Township, Michigan, told his family and his girlfriend that he was running from the police. In an attempt to evade arrest, he was hiding on the roof of a building at Macomb Community College. Unfortunately, the text messages from Thompson to his family stopped, and on November 1, 2023, he was reported missing.

On November 7, 2023, Sterling Heights police asked the Macomb College police to check the performing arts center’s roof to see if anyone had entered the ventilation system, but there was no evidence of access or anyone on the roof. Sterling Heights police reached out to college police again on November 17, 2023, asking them to review video footage of the area around the facility. Unfortunately, that area had no camera coverage.

It wasn’t until November 26, 2023, over a month after Thompson’s disappearance, that police were called to look for “the source of a foul odor” coming from part of the campus building. Hours later, it was determined that the odor was coming from a mechanical room not available for public access. Using X-ray equipment and a small camera, the Michigan State Police Bomb Squad was able to determine that there was an inverted body in the vent, which was later confirmed to be Thompson.

It is believed that after entering from the roof, Thompson traveled through the ductwork, essentially burrowing deeper into the HVAC system. However, as he came to a downward vertical duct, he entered head first and became stuck in a narrowed section. Thompson’s cause of death was deemed to be accidental asphyxia/entrapment/environmental suffocation.

Although Thompson was indeed a fugitive and had five warrants for his arrest, authorities later stated there was no evidence he was being actively pursued.[7]

3 Truck Bed Toolbox

Forty-nine-year-old Jannell Martensen of Spokane, Washington, struggled with drug addiction and had been in an on-and-off relationship with 37-year-old Colton Russell. Sadly, the relationship was riddled with violence. In one particular incident in 2021, Russell drove Martensen to a rural area, severely beat her, and simply left her there. Thankfully, a stranger found Martensen and took her home.

In June 2023, the couple called it quits. Martensen moved in with a friend, and Russell found a new girlfriend—23-year-old Kiara Morgan-Weiland. Despite the tumultuous relationship and Russell’s seemingly moving on, Martensen didn’t stay away from Russell.

On November 18, 2023, Martensen left to go camping with Russell and Morgan-Weiland. In the early morning hours of November 19, 2023, Martensen texted her cousin, Alisha Galbreath, and several other friends with messages such as “Please come get me I’m scared to death” and “I’m afraid he’s going to kill me please.” Unfortunately, because Martensen had made similar calls in the past but then refused to leave Russell, no one went to get her.

When Martensen failed to show up for Thanksgiving with her children and grandchildren and stopped answering her phone, Gilbreath reported her missing. In the following days, Martensen’s friends questioned Russell regarding her disappearance, but he frequently changed his story, claiming to have last seen her with several different people. Russell and Morgan-Weiland became suspects in Martensen’s disappearance, but before either Russell or Morgan-Weiland could be questioned, they were found dead on December 8, 2023.

On December 9, 2023, authorities searched Russell’s house and found blood splatter on the living room walls, a bloody sponge in the garbage, and large sections of carpet that had possible traces of blood. Detectives also discovered that Morgan-Weiland had been performing searches on YouTube, which included “serial killer couples” and “how to dispose of dead bodies.”

On December 14, 2023, detectives seized Russell’s truck and a truck bed toolbox, which had been abandoned on a residential property because it allegedly broke down. Sadly, Martensen’s body was discovered inside of the toolbox. Her cause of death was later revealed to be due to blunt force injuries.

On December 16, 2023, the couple’s friend, Brandon Kenny, admitted to shooting Russell and stabbing Morgan-Weiland 51 times. Kenny stated that Russell admitted to “accidentally killing” Martensen but then put a gun in Kelly’s mouth and told him he “had to move her body” or he would be killed too.

Kenny claimed he “needed to kill” Morgan-Weiland because “she was the only other person who knew anything about the situation.” Kenny has been charged with two counts of first-degree murder.[8]

2 Asian Restaurant

Twenty-nine-year-old Mingming Chen and her husband, 34-year-old Liang Zhao, had a daughter named Ashley Zhao. However, rather than raising the child together, Zhao’s mother cared for Ashley until she turned four so he could focus on his business—Ang’s Asian Cuisine in North Canton, Ohio. Unfortunately, after the couple began caring for Ashley, Chen became frustrated with how disobedient her daughter had become.

On January 9, 2017, Chen became angry with five-year-old Ashley after she had an accident, striking her on the head several times. Zhao tried to revive Ashley, but instead of calling for help, the couple drove to their restaurant and hid Ashley in a salt container in the restaurant’s freezer.

Twelve hours later, Zhao called the police and claimed that Ashley was missing. Chen and Zhao told police that they last saw Ashley sleeping in a makeshift bed near the restaurant’s back door, leading investigators to believe the little girl had wandered off. After a frantic daylong search, Ashley was found in the family’s restaurant on January 10, 2017.

On January 11, 2017, Chen was charged with first-degree murder and felonious assault. Zhao was charged with complicity to commit murder and complicity to commit felonious assault. In January 2018, Chen was sentenced to 22 years in prison after pleading guilty to involuntary manslaughter and other charges through a plea agreement. Chen, who was in the U.S. illegally, will also be deported to China after serving her sentence. Zhao was sentenced to 12 years for obstructing justice and corpse abuse.[9]

1 Convention Center Walls

On the evening of August 22, 2020, 40-year-old Joseph Edward Mejica disappeared in Oakland, California. He was later reported missing by his mother, the last person believed to see him alive. Mejica was homeless at the time of his disappearance and was “known to frequent unsheltered encampments.” His family also offered a $5,000 reward for any information about his location.

Unfortunately, Mejica was not found until March 9, 2022, when a construction worker was tearing out a wall inside the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center, which had been closed since 2005. While investigators were not able to immediately identify Mejica, the coroner matched a serial number on a tubular implant in Mejica’s leg to records at Highland Hospital, where he’d had surgery nearly two decades prior. From there, officials were able to confirm his DNA.

His mother said that “Mejica would often try to steal copper wiring from construction sites for money.” Therefore, authorities believe that Mejica may have fallen from the roof area above, and over time, his body slipped toward the bottom of the cavity space. His death was believed to be accidental.[10]

Comments are closed.