This week I wrote about the D. B. Cooper case for the Washington Post. (I’ve written about another airborne mystery before, that of Amelia Earhart). I’ve long had a fixation on missing people. One of the first news stories I remember being aware of as a child was the disappearance of a girl my age. It was a big deal at the time, with the police putting a mannequin in the same clothes by the bus stop in case it jogged the memories of passers-by. I remember wondering if they would do that if I vanished. Despite their efforts, her loss remained unsolved for years, with occasional reminders in newspapers on anniversaries—the same photo in which she remained 9, while I grew up. I thought about her now and then, and know her name, while I would struggle to recall the names of my classmates from that year.
"Disappearances collapse both time and space" is a great distillation of what uniquely colours these events. As a journalist I had disappearance cases that haunt me long after. Another aspect that is hidden from public awareness is the insane number of leads that come in for high profile cases. I once researched for a documentary about Ben Needham, a toddler who disappeared on Kos. Interpol gave us their sighting reports for, maybe (I can't recall now) 2 or 3 years. Every continent was represented. The awful thing was that one theory held that he'd been taken by travellers. So every sighting was potentially salient. I still think about Ben, who would be 32 now. And his mum, Kerry.