Haunting Mysteries

Monday, March 06, 2017

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?

Renee Roberson is an award-winning writer and editor who has often thought about tackling one of these real-life mysteries in a non-fiction book. Visit her at FinishedPages.com.


Angela Mackintosh said...

Those stories make for great writing prompts, Renee! I have used pieces of real life mysteries in my fiction. Most recently, a story about a teen boy who went missing while walking home from school that a neighbor reported on NextDoor (a neighborhood social network) inspired a partial story about abduction in the valley, but then they found him a week later on an island in the LA River, swept away by recent storms. So sad and unexpected. Often the real life outcome is so different than what you imagine.

Sioux Roslawski said...

Renee--I do NOT put mysterious elements into my stories. I don't read them and I don't have any talent writing them. I do enjoy some of those shows like "48 Hours" and I love the show "Sherlock" on PBS, but otherwise...

(A bit of a family mystery: my great-grandfather disappeared for years. Finally someone who knew him saw him in a nearby town, spoke to him and told him he had a wife and daughters, and my great-grandfather said, "I've been trying to get back to them for so long" in a bewildered way. Apparently he had had amnesia...)

Margo Dill said...

I used to watch the show Unsolved Mysteries all the time until I lived by myself. Then it freaked me out too much!!!

Renee Roberson said...

Angela--That story about the missing boy in your area is so sad! But yes, there are so many ways we can take these stories we read about and use them for intriguing storylines.

Sioux--Are you sure you don't want to include your great-grandfather's bout with amnesia in a story somewhere? That sounds fascinating. :-)

Margo--I think I have every episode of "Unsolved Mysteries" memorized!

Mary Horner said...

One of my favorite shows was Mysteries at the Museum, but I haven't watched it for a while because we got rid of cable. But there were so many interesting stories that I thought almost every one would make a great backstory for a novel!

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