I remember reading as a kid about Benjamin Bathurst, David Lang and Oliver Larch. All three have strange stories of inexplicable disappearance.
There are no accounts of UFO's carrying them off, no portals to other dimensions, and no murderous intrigues. They simply were there one moment, and gone another. I recently revisited these stories with a skeptical eye to see what I could come up with.
It was the night of November 25, 1809. The world was at war with Napoleon Bonaparte and uncertain frantic alliances were being formed across Europe to counter him. Vienna had fallen, and Britain's diplomat in the area, Benjamin Bathurst, was on his way north to Hamburg to return to Britain.
Not far from Berlin in the town of Perleberg, Bathurst stopped in the evening under an assumed name with an assistant to take on fresh horses and to have dinner. It was nearly 9 pm when the horses were prepared. Bathurst, wanting to get to Berlin as soon as possible, left his assistant and went outside to wait in the carriage. That would be the last time anyone would ever see Benjamin Bathurst.
Moments later his assistant left the Inn only to find the carriage empty. No sign of Bathurst was to be found, and one of the strangest stories in history of a disappearance was born.
Word reached England some weeks later when the assistant arrived in London. Bathurst's wife herself went to Germany and coordinated with the police investigation into the matter. The river Stepnitz was scoured to no avail. The village was searched exhaustively several times with only a coat reported to belong to Bathurst found in an outhouse, and a pair of pantaloons thought to belong to him found some distance away in the woods. Even after an exhaustive search with dogs of the entire area, no other trace was found.
Thinking French agents were involved, Mrs Bathurst took her search to Napoleon himself. She somehow gained access to the Emperor, and asked him what happened to her husband. Surprised, Napoleon said he had no idea, and offered his help to the search. Bathurst's remains, never the less, were never conclusively found. While there is no proof, it's highly probably that Bathurst was simply murdered, no dimensional shifts or aliens needed because no suggestion of them was ever involved in the story.
Another famous tale is that of David Lang of Tennesse, a farmer who in full view of his family vanished in thin air. One second he was visible, the next he was not as he walked across a field. We need not recount this very famous story in detail here, but it remains one of the greatest examples of inexplicable human disappearance in the annals of the paranormal. Problem is, it appears to be entirely concocted, first appearing in an article in Fate magazine . No evidence of Lang or his family ever having existed has been presented, and the records of the time say nothing. Further, a similar story of one Oliver Larch is likely a rehash of the David Lang legend.
So lies the problem with disappearances into thin air, more is often made of them than is really there and more mundane explanations are often ignored. The more notorious cases seem to have never happened, and the historical ones seem to have rational explanations. This is not to say that people do not disappear without a trace, but that those cases put forth as flagship examples seem shoddy on second glance. It would appear that people do not disappear into thin air. There is always a reason. When one gets into those reasons, that is where valid paranormal questions arise.