“CELEBRITY DISAPPEARANCES AND VANISHING STARLETS” #WeirdDarkness
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IN THIS EPISODE: Showbiz is full of not just celebrities, but also of crime and murder. But even stranger are those cases where someone famous simply disappears without a trace, and without an explanation. *** (Originally aired February 22, 2021)
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A frighteningly common phenomenon is that of people who, for whatever reasons, have suddenly and without explanation simply vanished without a trace, never to be seen again. There are countless cases of this throughout history, and such accounts never fail to incite curiosity, speculation, and wonder. We are somewhat macabrely drawn to the idea that someone could just seemingly cease to exist, and the desire to have some closure and explanation can be alluring to the point of obsession, a gnawing need for answers that may never come. While many of these vanished people have become famous simply because they have disappeared so inexplicably, there are others that were well-known even before these incidents. Tonight, we will look at famous actors, musicians, and writers who had promising futures, but who have mysteriously disappeared and left a legacy of both artistic endeavors and strange mysteries.
I’m Darren Marlar and this is Weird Darkness.
Welcome, Weirdos – (I’m Darren Marlar and) this is Weird Darkness. Here you’ll find stories of the paranormal, supernatural, legends, lore, the strange and bizarre, crime, conspiracy, mysterious, macabre, unsolved and unexplained.
Coming up in this episode…
Showbiz is full of not just celebrities, but also of crime and murder. But even stranger are those cases where someone famous simply disappears without a trace, and without an explanation.
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STORY: CELEBRITY DISAPPEARANCES=====
Hollywood has had its fair share of mysterious crimes and unsolved mysteries over the decades, and some of the most baffling have been actors who have just seemed to have stepped off the face of the earth to never be seen again. One odd and tragic case is that of the child TV and movie actor Joe Pichler, perhaps most recognizable for his film roles in the Beethoven series, The Fan, Varsity Blues, Children and their Birthdays, and When Good Ghouls Go Bad. Starting acting at 6 years old, Pichler had a bit of success in Hollywood and was making a name for himself, particularly with his role as Brennan Newton in the 3rd and 4th Beethoven movies, so it was disappointing to him when his family inevitably made him move back to his hometown of Bremerton, Washington in 2003 in order to finish high school.
After graduating in 2005, Pichler had planned to go back to Los Angeles and continue his acting career, but the plan was delayed due to his desire to wait until his braces were out, which was scheduled to take about a year. He grudgingly went about getting a normal job in the meantime, and settled into a normal life in Bremerton. On the evening of January 5, 2006, Pilcher was hanging out drinking and playing cards at a friend’s house, which was a pretty usual night for them. On this evening nothing seemed to be amiss, and Pichler would later be described as having been cheerful and in good spirits all evening. After the party Pichler drove some friends home and then headed home himself, but he would never arrive.
At around 4 AM Pichler called his friend in a bizarre call during which he would be described as delirious and crying inconsolably before hanging up. This would be the last time anyone would ever hear from him. On January 9 his abandoned car was located near a river, and it was found to hold all of his belongings except his wallet and car keys. As to where Pichler himself had gone there was no clue. His apartment was found to be unlocked and the lights had been left on, which seemed rather odd for him, but stranger still was a handwritten note by the missing man which lamented not being a strong enough brother and requested that all of his belongings be given to his younger brother. Authorities at the time believed that he had committed suicide by jumping into the river, but not only had he been looking forward to pursuing his acting career and had never been suicidal, but no body was ever found despite intensive searches of the river and surrounding areas. Joe Pilcher’s disappearance has never been solved.
Another actor who famously vanished under strange circumstances was Sean Flynn, perhaps better known for his father, legendary actor Errol Flynn. Although he started out with an acting career, he was forever in his father’s shadow and he got bored with acting, deciding to branch out into something new, going through a slew of different careers, including a safari and big game hunting guide in Africa, a game warden in Kenya, and a singer, before really finding his footing with photojournalism. He was quite good at it, working for such big publications as Time Magazine, and he was most well-known for his intense photos from war-torn areas of the world, in particular during the Vietnam War. It was perhaps this constant putting himself in harm’s way that would lead to his mysterious disappearance.
In April of 1970, Flynn was in Cambodia on assignment along with a group of other photojournalists, and he got the ill-advised idea in his head to travel by motorcycle with a colleague, Dana Stone, rather than ride in the more protected limousines like the others. Hoping to get up close photos of Viet Cong guerillas, Flynn and Stone rather recklessly made their way up Highway 1 to a known Viet Cong checkpoint alone. They were never seen again. It was not necessarily a surprise, as many other reporters had been kidnapped at around that time by the Viet Cong as well, but in this case there was no ransom ever demanded and no bodies ever found. It is believed that the two men were held captive for up to a year before being killed, but no one knows, and no sign of either one of them has ever been found, despite massive search efforts.
There have been just as many strange and famous disappearances, if not more, in the world of music. One of these cases revolves around the artist Connie Converse, now widely revered by many as being one of the first modern singer-songwriters. Converse got her start in the 1950s, and was known for her acoustic guitar skills and her haunting, melancholic ballads, which she crafted from her humble apartment in Greenwich Village at a time when future musical legends such as Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell were still little kids. She gained quite a bit of respect from her contemporaries for her poetic, intimate style, and subject matter of loneliness and love and loss, which was rare in an era when traditional folk music, upbeat jaunts, and political ballads were the order of the day.
Sadly, although she was beloved amongst other artists of the time her career never really took off, and she remained obscure, finally quitting music altogether in 1961 without ever having had a hit. By 1974, Converse had dropped off the musical radar, and had spiraled into depression and alcoholism, made worse by the fact that her health was ailing her and she had been told she needed a hysterectomy. Then, in the summer of that year, she sent a series of letters to her family and friends, informing them that she was done lamenting her life and failures, and that she was going to go off and start fresh. She then packed up all of her things, hopped into her car, and drove off the face of the earth. Connie Converse has not been seen since, nor has any clue as to what happened to her ever been found, with even her Volkswagen Beetle remaining missing. Her mysterious vanishing has spawned a variety of theories, such as that she committed suicide or that she really did drop completely off the grid and start her life completely anew, but no one knows.
Interestingly, Converse would enjoy the fame, success and recognition she had so craved only after she dropped off the face of the earth. In 2009 some of her obscure songs that she had recorded in 1954 in the kitchen of her friend Gene Deitch were released on the record label Squirrel Thing Recordings, as an album entitled How Sad, How Lovely. People took notice, with many wondering who this lovely new artist was with the haunting voice and eerily beautiful songs, and very few were aware that she had long been a washed up musician who disappeared into thin air. She is now widely considered to be a musical legend and pioneer, one of the first modern singer-songwriters, and the record producer who started it all, David Herman, has said of Converse:
“The music, considering when it was recorded, sounds eerily contemporary. Her voice is really compelling. Add to that the fact this was a woman writing singer-songwriter-style music in the mid-50s, before being a singer-songwriter was a thing, and before a female songwriter was something people were used to. And with the mystery of the disappearance, the whole thing leaves you with more questions than answers.”
Connie Converse wasn’t the only well-known musician to mysteriously disappear in the 1970s, and it perhaps isn’t even the strangest case. In the 1960s, folk rocker Jim Sullivan burst onto the scene in Los Angeles, where he worked the club scene playing to sold out crowds, especially at the prestigious club Raft, in Malibu. Before long Sullivan was palling around with big shots in the industry, as well as Hollywood stars including Lee Majors, Lee Marvin, and Harry Dean Stanton, and he even had a small role in the cult classic film Easy Rider.
It seemed he was destined for greatness, and in 1969 he was able to scrape together the funding for his seminal album U.F.O., which had the talent and backing of the sessions musicians The Wrecking Crew, who’d played with acts like the Beach Boys and Simon & Garfunkel on some of their biggest hits. Despite this talent on board, the record couldn’t find a major label, and so was released on the small label called Monnie Records, which had been cobbled together by Sullivan’s friend Al Dobbs for the purpose of getting it released. At the time the album released to little fanfare, and his second album, the self-titled Jim Sullivan, didn’t fare much better, and they were both considered to be flops, although U.F.O. would acquire cult status in later years.
Nevertheless, at the time he had bombed, and as with Connie Converse, Sullivan sunk into a thick depression and faced the demon of alcoholism. His marriage began to fall apart and he became increasingly paranoid that his music was being copied and stolen by other artists. On March 4, 1975, Sullivan packed up his stuff into his car, a Volkswagen Beetle strangely enough, and headed out on the road towards Nashville, Tennessee, where he hoped to revitalize his lagging music career. At some point during his adventurous journey he checked into the La Mesa Motel, in Santa Rosa, New Mexico, and the following day he was allegedly spotted wandering around at a ranch about 26 miles away. This would be the last anyone saw of him, and his car would be found at the same ranch, locked, abandoned, and containing his wallet, money, guitar, clothes, and a box of his unsold records. Jim Sullivan himself was nowhere to be found, and hasn’t been since, despite intense searches and investigation. In later years it has been speculated that Sullivan was murdered, that he got lost in the desert and died, or even that he was abducted by aliens, but no one really has any idea.
In later years we have the strange disappearance of the British rock icon Richey Edwards, best known as being the guitarist and lyricist for the alternative rock band Manic Street Preachers. Edwards was known almost as much for his offstage antics and publicity stunts as he was for his music, with his most infamous being a time when he carved the words “4 REAL” into his arm with a razor when a journalist accused him of being a poser. Brooding, moody, and wild, Edwards was once deemed “a lightning rod of sorts for adolescent angst,” but his legacy would get even stranger still wish his vanishing.
On February 1, 1995, Edwards was getting ready to travel to the United States as part of a tour, along with Manic Street Preachers vocalist James Dean Bradfield. However, he would never get on the plane, and Edwards vanished from his hotel room, with his abandoned car later found on February 14 next to the Severn Bridge, which connects England and Wales. In the meantime, his hotel room was found to contain his suitcase, most of his belongings, and strangely a box wrapped up and decorated like a birthday present, which was inexplicably filled with books, videos, and a copy of the play Equus, all tied up and adorned with a note addressed to a “Jo” that simply said “I love you.”
During the investigation into the odd disappearance some other strange clues would come forward as well. It was found that Edwards has steadily withdrawn cash from his bank account in the days before his vanishing, although it is unknown if this was merely for his scheduled trip or not. There was also a witness who claimed to have seen Edwards hanging around the Newport passport office and at Newport bus station in the time frame between when he left the hotel and when his abandoned car was found, although he did not realize the famous musician was technically missing at the time. A taxi driver also claimed to have driven Edwards around after his disappearance, saying that his mysterious passenger had been asked to be taken to Pontypool railway station and had gotten out at the Severn View service station. Strangest of all is the claim that on the night before his vanishing Edwards gave his friend a book called Novel with Cocaine, which tells of a man who goes to a mental asylum and vanishes, and told her to read it.
The official police consensus was that the musician had committed suicide by jumping from the Severn Bridge, a popular suicide spot, but his body was never found, and despite his flamboyant and shocking ways there was little to show that he was actually suicidal in any way. Indeed, he had actively derided suicide in the past. In more recent years Edwards has been sporadically spotted in places around the world like some sort of cryptid. He has allegedly been seen is such places as Goa, India, and on the islands of Fuerteventura and Lanzarote, among others. It is unclear what any of these clues mean, if anything, and the disappearance of Richey Edwards remains an impenetrable mystery.
We have looked at some odd disappearances in the worlds of movies and music, and now we come to the literary world, which has a few of its own. One of the most colorful players in literature has to be Oscar “Zeta” Acosta, an American attorney, politician, novelist and outspoken activist in the Chicano Movement. Although Acosta wrote several novels of his own, he is perhaps most famous for being friends with the more successful author Hunter S. Thompson and the inspiration for the character Doctor Gonzo, in his 1972 novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. By all accounts Fierro was a larger than life character indeed, with a prodigious appetite for drugs, booze, sex, fighting, and all manner of debauchery. Thompson would once say of Fierro in a 1977 article in Rolling Stone magazine:
“Oscar was not into serious street-fighting, but he was hell on wheels in a bar brawl. Any combination of a 250 lb Mexican and LSD-25 is a potentially terminal menace for anything it can reach – but when the alleged Mexican is in fact a profoundly angry Chicano lawyer with no fear at all of anything that walks on less than three legs and a de facto suicidal conviction that he will die at the age of 33 – just like Jesus Christ – you have a serious piece of work on your hands. Especially if the bastard is already 33½ years old with a head full of Sandoz acid, a loaded .357 Magnum in his belt, a hatchet-wielding Chicano bodyguard on his elbow at all times, and a disconcerting habit of projectile vomiting geysers of pure blood off the front porch every 30 or 40 minutes, or whenever his malignant ulcer can’t handle any more raw tequila.”
In May of 1974, Acosta was taking a trip through Mazatlán, Mexico, when he simply vanished off the face of the earth after calling his son to cryptically inform him that he was “about to board a boat full of white snow.” There is no trace of what happened to him after this, and this would be the last time anyone ever spoke to him or saw him. It was immediately presumed that the volatile Acosta had gotten himself into trouble with the wrong people while in Mexico and was probably murdered and buried in a shallow grave somewhere out in the desert or that he overdosed on drugs, while others have speculated that he may have decided to leave his life behind and live in Mexico, and still others insist that he moved to Miami, where he has been sporadically sighted. Hunter S. Thompson spent many years earnestly looking for his lost friend without any success, lamenting that he had probably been killed by drug dealers or a politically charged assassin, but Acosta’s body has never turned up.
Another influential writer from an earlier era was Barbara Newhall Follett, a novelist who was considered a child prodigy, writing the critically acclaimed novel The House Without Windows (1927) when she was just 12 years old and The Voyage of the Norman D. (1928) when she was 14. She was, and still is, considered a masterful writing genius, her novels beloved and influential within the literary world even now. This success was somewhat tainted by family problems, with her father, who she had been very close with, abandoning her and her mother to run off with another woman when she was just 14 years old. By all accounts Follett would never recover from this betrayal, and her writing dried up entirely.
While she was held up as a rising star in her youth, by the time she was in her 20s her life was beginning to unravel a bit. Her marriage to Nickerson Rogers was beginning to disintegrate and she found herself in a deep depression due to being convinced her husband was cheating on her. On December 7, 1939, the two got into an argument, and at some point Follett left the house to never return, only taking with her $30 in cash, or around $500 in today’s money. Her husband, Rogers, must have been pretty sure she would come crawling back, because it would be 2 full weeks before he finally contacted authorities to report her missing. Oddly, the whole case would not be seriously pursued until years later, and it was sort of be swept under the carpet, not being widely reported on in the media until 1966, decades after the actual disappearance. It is unclear why this should be, but no trace of this once great child prodigy author has ever been found.
Here we have looked at but a few of the many actors, musicians, and writers who seem to have simply blinked out of existence, and added a certain shadow of mystery over their already intriguing lives. What happened to these people and where did they go? Was this foul play, suicide, or simply a desire to shuck off an old life for something new? Will we ever find out the answers we seek or are these cases doomed to forever remain unsolved, these people’s fame tinged with dark puzzles we may never unravel? There is no way to know, and these individuals have grown to become just about as famous for their sudden vanishings as they were for anything else.
Before becoming a well-know celebrity, you first have to be a rising star – and there is no shortage of strange, unexplained disappearances of rising starlets either. We’ll look at a few cases when Weird Darkness returns.
STORY: THE VANISHINGS OF RISING STARLETS=====
Show business has always had a bit of a sinister, unpleasant, and twisted side. Countless people have traveled far and wide to try and make it in the business only to have their dreams dashed or, more ominously, to rise high only to be devoured by the system and the decadent lifestyle of it all, swallowed up into a sea of drugs, partying, disillusionment, and eventually irrelevance, obscurity, and nothingness when the machine has no more need for them. This is an industry that is known for its voracious appetite to chew people up only to spit them back out again, but on some occasions rising young stars do not emerge at all, instead vanishing off the face of the earth.
One early case of a vanishing starlet hoping to make it big, which is of course surrounded by weird clues and intrigue, is that of 26-year-old Jean Spangler in 1949. Born in Seattle, Washington on September 2, 1923, Spangler was a stunning model, dancer, and aspiring actress who found her way to Hollywood and appeared in various bit parts before finally able to land an influential agent. Her career looked set to explode into the big leagues and things seemed to be going nowhere but up for the beautiful rising star, but Spangler was not without her personal problems and demons lurking in the background.
In 1948 Spangler had just gone through a messy divorce with husband Dexter Benner, amid allegations of infidelity on her part and displeasure from Benner over her complete embrace of the Hollywood hard partying lifestyle at the expense of their family. Subsequently, Jean’s beloved 5-year-old daughter, Christine, was turned over to Benner since it was determined that she was not a suitable mother figure for the girl. By all accounts Jean was devastated by this, and Benner did not let her see her daughter much after that, even threatening to cancel their rare visits altogether, but then a stroke of luck came when a fierce custody battle put the girl back with her mother. Yet things were about to take turn for the bizarre.
On the evening of October 7, 1949, Jean told her sister-in-law, Sophie, that she was going to go meet her ex-husband for the purpose of trying to get increased child support payments and to discuss the issue of an overdue payment, after which she was going to drop by a film shoot and then come home. She left her daughter in Sophie’s care, since her mother who she lived with was out of town, and headed out from her Wilshire, Los Angeles home at around 5PM. A clerk at a local shop claimed that they had seen Jean and that she had appeared to be waiting for someone outside, but after that there were no further sightings of her. Jean Spangler had simply disappeared without a trace.
When she did not return home that night, Benner was contacted but he claimed that he had not met with Jean that evening and had had no knowledge of any plan to talk about child support. Indeed, he claimed that he had not seen his ex-wife for several weeks. Furthermore, her agent said that there had been no film shoots scheduled for the evening in question, and no one working on any of her shoots had seen her that night. When authorities launched a search for the missing actress they were able to locate her purse lying on the ground in an area of Los Angeles’ sprawling Griffith Park, and it was found to have a broken strap that was surmised to be the result of someone tearing it from her by force. Although it seemed like burglary, oddly no valuables were missing from it, and within the purse was an unfinished, unsigned note written by the woman that simply said:
“Kirk, Can’t wait any longer, Going to see Dr. Scott. It will work best this way while mother is away.”
This alarming discovery prompted a full and extensive search of the park and the surrounding area, which was scoured by hundreds of police and volunteers, but there were no further clues as to what had happened to the budding actress. The only real piece of evidence was that purse and its cryptic note. In light of this weird clue, every doctor named Scott in the Los Angeles area was approached by police, but none of them had ever met Spangler or even knew who she was. They also heavily interviewed friends and family of the missing woman and it came to light that Jean may have been pregnant at the time of her disappearance, but it wasn’t clear as to who the father might have been. This led to the grim theory that she had perhaps been seeking out an illegal abortion, and that the “Dr. Scott” mentioned in the note was the one who was going to covertly carry it out, in which case it could have been anyone.
With the doctor angle not getting anywhere, one puzzling detail of the note that was looked at was the identity of the “Kirk” that was mentioned. Interestingly, actor Kirk Douglas came forward specifically to tell police that it wasn’t him, perhaps fearing that the connection would be made that Jean had been working on a small role in one of his movies, titled Young Man With A Horn. Interestingly, this attempt to clear his name would have the opposite of the intended effect when authorities began to consider Douglas a possible person of interest, but with a lack of any evidence he was dropped as a potential suspect. Other than that, Kirk was such a common name that it was practically useless as evidence and Jean apparently did not know anyone else by that name that anyone knew of.
Authorities looked into Jean’s sordid love life as well in a search for possible leads, and there were many to choose from as she was known to get around. One friend of Spangler’s told authorities that she had been recently dating an actor named Robert Cummings for a couple of weeks, but there was no evidence at all to show that he had anything to do with it. There was also a man named Scotty with whom she had allegedly been intimate, which was compelling considering the name resembled the one for the doctor in the note, but Jean had apparently long ago broken up with him. Another relationship she had had proved to be even more intriguing, as she had been romantically involved with a man named David Ogul, who was a local mobster. It also just so happened that Ogul had also gone missing just two days before Spangler and they were claimed to have been sighted together after their vanishings in both Palm Springs and Texas. However, there has never been any evidence to prove this, and it has remained just another curiosity in this now long cold case.
In the end, no suspect in the disappearance of Jean Spangler has ever been detained and no solid evidence has ever turned up. Theories range from that she died from an illegal abortion that went wrong, that she was killed by a serial killer, one of her lovers, or even her ex-husband, that Kirk Douglas indeed did have something to do with it, or that she just simply disappeared to get away from her life, and her vanishing has gone on to be discussed and picked apart to this day. Whatever happened to this once promising young actress, Jean Spangler’s strange disappearance remains a profound mystery.
Another bizarre vanishing of a beautiful young starlet occurred in 1983, when 18-year-old model and actress Tammy (also often spelled Tami) Lynn Leppert, of Rockledge, Florida, went missing without a trace under rather strange circumstances. Tammy had been modelling since she was 4 years old, and her striking good looks had won her 280 beauty pageants by the time she was 16. Her stunning beauty helped her to land various small roles in Hollywood films, and she is probably most well-known for her brief role in the 1983 movie Scarface, starring Al Pacino, in which she played the gorgeous blonde who distracts Tony Montana’s friend, Manny, at the beach during a drug deal that goes horribly wrong, as well as her perhaps lesser known role in the 1982 film Spring Break.
It seemed that although she had the potential and all of the assets to make a name for herself in the movie business, and had actually been planning to move to Hollywood to pursue this, there were also some bizarre incidents swirling about her. Not long after filming her role in Spring Break, Tammy went to a party and came back visibly shaken. Although she wouldn’t say exactly what had happened to her it was obvious that she had been deeply disturbed by something, and her friends and family claim that she became increasingly paranoid, withdrawn, and irritable in the coming days. At one point she approached her mother and confided in her that she thought someone was trying to kill her, but she would not give any further details. In the meantime, Tammy’s behavior kept getting increasingly bizarre and erratic, and she was prone to sweeping mood swings, all of which were very uncharacteristic of her.
It was around this time that she was offered her role in the movie Scarface, which was shooting in Miami, Florida. At one point during the shoot, Tammy suffered an inexplicable full mental breakdown during a violent scene involving fake blood. According to the filmmakers, upon seeing the blood, the young woman became completely and uncontrollably hysterical, and had to be physically restrained. She would then storm off set and quit the film, although she still appears in the movie, and when friends and family urged her to talk to police about what was going on she complied, but refused to mention to them that she felt someone meant her harm. Nevertheless, with her family she was just as paranoid as ever, telling them that someone was stalking her and trying to poison her. She began to refuse food or drinks in unopened containers, did not eat food that she didn’t see prepared herself, such as in restaurants, and would even shy away from sealed containers at times, but there was never any evidence at all that this was anything more than a profound paranoid delusion.
One incident in particular caused a good amount of concern, when one evening Tammy flew into a rage-fueled tantrum in which she began smashing windows and acting hostile towards all around her. After this rather frightening breakdown, Tammy was brought in for a psychiatric evaluation, but she displayed no signs of drug or alcohol abuse and doctors could find nothing really wrong with her. She was released after a 72-hour period of observation and returned home. The day after this, she reportedly had an argument with a friend as they visited the beach, and she demanded to be dropped off in a parking lot at Cocoa Beach, which was about 5 miles from her home. The friend did as he was told, and that is the last anyone ever saw of her.
No clues as to what happened to Tammy turned up, and the friend who had dropped her off was not seen as a person of interest. Curiously, Tammy’s mother claimed that on the day she disappeared she had gone out without putting on make-up or doing her hair, which was seen as strange considering she always spent a good amount of time on her appearance no matter where she went. The significance of this is far from clear. Other than this, there was no absolutely clue as to where she had gone and the theories began to fly.
Police initially suspected that she had simply run away from home, but none of tammy’s friends or family believed that this could possibly be true, as she had never expressed such an urge before. A more sinister possibility was that she had fallen victim to the serial killer Christopher Wilder, who was known to have killed several young woman in the vicinity at the time, but no evidence could be found to link him to the disappearance and he would die in a shootout with police before he could ever be deeply questioned on the matter. Another killer believed to have possibly been the culprit was the murderer and rapist John Crutchley, who had also operated in the area, but again there is no evidence to ever make this stick. There has also been the idea that she may have been killed by drug dealers or a stalker, but this has led nowhere. What happened to Tammy Lynn Leppert and what transpired at that party to change her so dramatically? To this day no one really knows, and she is another actress to vanish before anyone really knew who she was.
Moving into 1994, we come to the strange and tragic case of Ylenia Carrisi. The daughter of Italian pop stars Al Bano & Romina Power, and granddaughter of Hollywood actor Tyrone Power, Ylenia already had roots in show business, and seemed set to follow a path into her own acting career. She started off by becoming the letter turner for Italy’s own version of the popular game show “The Wheel of Fortune,” called La Ruota della Fortuna in Italy, and this gained her wide recognition and a minor celebrity status, with more roles seemingly destined to come her way. At the age of 23, Ylenia became somewhat sidetracked by the desire to write a book, and put her acting career on hold so that she could research and write it. She had it in her head to chronicle the lives of street musicians in New Orleans, which she had become interested in through a trip to the city the previous summer, and she made another trip to the United States for the purpose of immersing herself in this world for her planned book.
Upon arrival, she checked into the low-priced Le ‘Dale hotel, located in the French Quarter, where she shared a room with local street musician Alexander Masakela. The place wasn’t exactly upscale, inhabited by drug addicts, transients, and all kinds of scum and weirdos, but perhaps this was in some way what she wanted. At 11 AM on January 6, 1994, Ylenia left the hotel for unspecified reasons and simply never returned. Within her room she had left all of her belongings, including her backpack, passport, traveler’s checks and cash, as well as notebooks full of her ideas and research for her beloved book. After several days the young woman still had not returned and she was considered to be a missing person. According to her family, the last time they had heard from her was a phone call they had received on January 1, at which time she had seemed to be her normal self.
Oddly, Masakela would be arrested several weeks later after trying to use the missing woman’s traveler’s checks to pay the bill for the room when he finally checked out of the hotel. Indeed, Masakela would become a prime suspect because of this, which was only exacerbated by the fact that authorities soon learned that he had had a history of domestic violence, rape, and drug use. Other street musicians who were asked about the man also claimed that he was a habitual liar and wooer of women. However, when he was brought in for questioning Masakela denied having any idea of where Ylenia had gone, and with no evidence to hold him authorities were forced to release him. He proceeded to fade into the background.
One spooky clue came in several weeks after the vanishing, on January 30, when a security guard at the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas by the name of Albert Cordova claimed that he had been on duty on the evening of January 6 and had seen a woman at Woldenberg Park, near the Mississippi River, who he believed closely matched Ylenia’s description and was wearing a flower-print dress of the same type she had been wearing when she had vanished. According to the guard, the woman had been sitting on a pier and that when he had approached her to tell her it was too late to be in the park she allegedly said she “belonged to the river,” jumped into the river, and disappeared under the waves. At the time the Coast Guard had been notified and a search for the mysterious woman had been carried out, but no body was ever found, making it impossible to know if the woman had been Ylenia or if she had really even drowned at all. Regardless, there were many other alleged sightings of Ylenia in the weeks after the incident, but none of these were ever verified as being her.
Was the mysterious swimmer Ylenia Carrisi and did she drown? If so, why would she have been out there and why would she jump into the river? If it was not her, then just what did happen to Ylenia? Besides the clues pointing to her drowning there have of course been other theories as well. The simplest one is that she committed suicide, but her family denies that she had been suicidal in any way, and have asserted that even if she had been the one who jumped in the river she was an exceptionally strong swimmer and would not have done so to kill herself. Another idea is that she really was harmed or killed by the street musician Masakela, a notion supported by her family, who think not enough was done to investigate him, but with no evidence at all to charge him with it this is a dead end so far. There is also the possibility that Ylenia was kidnapped and forced into human slavery or abducted for some other nefarious purpose, with her mother, Romina Power, saying:
“I’ve heard a lot of strange stories in New Orleans about white slave trade and girls being abducted for black-magic rites. I believe she is being held somewhere against her will.”
Despite all of these sinister possibilities there has been no evidence of any foul play in the vanishing of Ylenia Carrisi, and this is all pure speculation. In the meantime, there have been no new suspects, no new clues or leads, no revelations, no nothing. Indeed, there is no evidence of anything at all other than that Ylenia left her things behind and walked out of that hotel right on off the face of the earth. There is no apparent reason for any of it, and the disappearance remains stubbornly unsolved.
It is rather tragic to see these young, beautiful, possibly quite talented people with big dreams in Hollywood have those visions of a star-filled future cut short. One wonders what would have become of them in the business had they not mysteriously disappeared into the ether. Would they have become major stars, beloved by many? Could they have launched into the pantheon of unforgettable icons and the stratosphere of fame if they had just not veered off into the unknown? Or would they have been used, abused, and disposed of by the show business beast like so many others before them? Unfortunately, considering they have seemingly dissolved into thin air, in these cases we will never know.
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Now that we’re coming out of the dark, I’ll leave you with a little light… “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.” – James 1:12
And a final thought… “Start each day with a grateful heart.” – Unknown
I’m Darren Marlar. Thanks for joining me in the Weird Darkness.