Those of you who’ve been following this blog for a while know that I’m one of those Investigation Discovery channel addicts. I can’t help it—the mystery of the unknown intrigues me, as it intrigues many people, especially readers. One of my favorite shows on the channel is “Disappeared,” which chronicles the stories of people who have essentially vanished off the face of the earth. Sometimes the stories are resolved, and updates are recorded sharing that the people have been found, but more often than not, the stories end on a somber note. Some of the cases that stand out in my mind involve:
The CFO of a large construction company, who appeared to have a successful and happy life with his wife, left for work one morning around 5 a.m. and never returned. His car was later found in the parking lot of a local state park, and his family and rescue crews searched for him for weeks. His family insisted he never would have harmed himself, even though he had been under an enormous amount of pressure at work, but his remains were was found by hikers more than five years later. Authorities concluded foul play was not involved, but to this day his family has no idea what led him to that mountain in the early morning hours or what happened to him.
In 1995, a local morning news anchor in Iowa overslept for her shift one morning and was awakened by a phone call from a colleague asking where she was. After throwing her things together in a bag, she rushed out of her apartment. She never got to work. Police found her bag of items and car keys scattered across the parking lot of her apartment complex, and when they interviewed the residents one reported hearing a scream at around 4 a.m. Investigators believe she was abducted while trying to get into her car. This anchor was never found and her disappearance remains the biggest mystery of the town.
Another story I followed on this show was that of Tara Grinstead, a beauty queen from Georgia who also worked as a high school teacher. She disappeared in 2005 after returning from a barbeque one night, and authorities deduced she had met foul play after finding all her personal items at home and she failed to go to work the next day. I was surprised a few weeks ago when I saw an update that a former student at the high school she worked at had been arrested for her murder and subsequent disappearance, and a few days ago yet another student turned himself in claiming involvement in the case.
People are drawn to the mystery of these stories. They develop theories, suspects, and conjecture about what could have possibly happened. Sometimes these theories prove to be right, sometimes they have endings you never saw coming. I like to use the intrigue of these mysteries to build suspense in my own writing. In a YA manuscript I’m working on, the villain has a troubled brother who left home and never returned, and the story behind that disappearance shapes much of who he is and the dynamics of his family. After looking over the first draft of the book, I’ve realized I need to play up that backstory even more to provide more substance for the reader to analyze.
What sort of mysteries are you drawn to? Are they fictional or do you follow real-life mysteries such as the ones above? Do you use mysterious elements in your own writing?