The Case of Juan Pedro Martinez Gomez, Europe’s Strangest Disappearance

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Juan Gomez was a 10-year-old boy in Spain who disappeared under mysterious circumstances in June 1986.

Europe’s strangest disappearance, as Interpol once put it, all began with an innocent road trip. Andrés Martinez  was a truck driver who lived in the south of Spain in Fuente Alamo, Murcia. He sometimes took his wife Carmen Gomez and their 10-year-old son Juan Pedro on his trips. His latest job was to transport 20,000 liters of sulfuric acid far up north to Bilbao, a city in Spain’s autonomous Basque Country. Since Juan Pedro finished the school year with such good grades, his father promised that he could go along to the trip to Bilbao. Carmen would also go to keep an eye on Juan Pedro.

On June 24, 1986,  the family picked up the truck in the city of Cartagena around 7 PM. By 6 in the morning, the truck had entered Somosierra, a mountain pass to the north of Madrid. Perhaps as a result of broken brakes, Andrés was speeding at this point at 140 km (86 mi) per hour. His driving became reckless in the mountains; without slowing down once, he broke off another driver’s car mirror and then bumped into another car from behind. After the car he rear-ended got out of his way, Andrés crashed head-on with a truck that had come down from the opposite direction. The crash caused his truck to overturn, spilling the sulfuric acid out onto the side of the road and covering the area with a toxic mushroom cloud.

When the authorities arrived, they had to quickly act to neutralize the acid before it leaked into a near-by river. After the area was cleaned up, they found two bodies in the crashed truck, those of Andrés and Carmen. Juan Pedro was missing, however, and it wouldn’t be until later in the day that the police even knew that he had been riding along with his parents.

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Andres Martinez’s crashed truck.

Investigators later searching the truck found a tape of children’s songs and some clothes, but no actual sign of Juan Pedro. They checked beneath the truck and the sand and lime they used to neutralize the acid, yet still were unable to find any remains. Could he have been melted by the sulfuric acid? Chemists dismissed the idea. If Juan Pedro really did fall out of the truck and into the acid, he would have at least left behind some hair or nails on the scene. Instead, there was no evidence that he was in the truck or the area at the time of the crash.

The last anybody saw of the family before the crash was at a bar around 5:30. Andrés and Carmen ordered coffee, and Juan Pedro had some milk and a pastry. There was nothing to indicate that they were upset, and the waiter watched their truck leave from the parking lot. Examining the truck, investigators discovered that there was nothing wrong with Andrés’ brakes. Nobody could say why he was speeding so recklessly, but he was doing it by his own choice. Another strange detail was found in his tachometer; the instrument recorded that Andrés had stopped his truck 12 times as he went up the mountain during a period of 20 minutes. Other truckers said that stopping even once on the mountain pass was unnecessary, let alone a dozen times.

So why did Andrés feel the need to drive so fast and stop so frequently? The most popular theory is that Juan Pedro had been abducted, and that his father was chasing after him. Others suggest that Andrés was trying to run away from somebody. After he crashed, his pursuer might have kidnapped Juan Pedro before the police showed up. (It might seem unlikely that Juan Pedro would have survived the crash, but the driver in the other car did actually live.)

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Picture of Carmen Gomez and Andres Martinez.

Moments before the crash, the man who Andrés rear-ended told police that he pulled off the road and was assisted by a foreign man and blonde-haired woman in a white van. The woman was allegedly a nurse and looked over the man’s injuries. Two shepherds in the area, neither of whom the police were able to trace, were said to have seen a white van pull up to Andrés’ truck after his collision with the other car. A man and blonde-haired woman went into the truck and took something out of it, possibly a package or Juan Pedro.

Some believe that the mysterious couple might have been drug traffickers. In 1987, the media reported that traces of heroin had been found in the trailer where Andres was carrying the sulfuric acid. There were rumors that Andrés had done some drug smuggling before, but his family later disproved this with the help of a private detective. If drugs really were involved, perhaps drug traffickers approached Andrés that day and asked him to transport something for them. If he refused, the traffickers might have kidnapped Juan Pedro as ransom. On the other hand, Andrés could have voluntarily accepted because he didn’t want any trouble.

A second theory speculates that there was no drug smuggling or kidnapping at all. Juan Pedro might have survived the crash and left the truck. While looking for help, he stumbled upon the foreign man and blonde woman. The couple tried to drive him to a hospital, but he died on the way there. Another variation of this theory proposes that Juan Pedro was burned by the acid and tried to go to the river to soothe his burns. Considering the gigantic search for Juan Pedro after it was discovered that he was missing, it seems likely he would have been found had he wandered around the area and collapsed or died somewhere.

Juan Pedro’s family believes that he is still alive. In May 1987, a man in Madrid met a blind old woman and a boy who looked like Juan Pedro. The woman was an Iranian refugee looking for the American embassy. She said that she and her family had been in Spain for only 6 months, yet the boy she was with spoke fluent Spanish with an Andalusian accent. (Juan Pedro came from a part of Spain where the people have a similar accent.) When the man complimented the boy’s strong Spanish, the old woman got nervous and wouldn’t explain how he knew the language so well. Although the man didn’t recognize the boy at the time, he was later certain that it was Juan Pedro.

Check out my book “Mexico’s Unsolved Mysteries: True Stories of Ghosts, Monsters, and UFOs from South of the Border” for more interesting mysteries of the Spanish-speaking world.  You can buy the book on Kindle here. 

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14 thoughts on “The Case of Juan Pedro Martinez Gomez, Europe’s Strangest Disappearance

  1. Pingback: New Information Surfaces On The Paris ‘Paranormal’ Crash – Phantoms and Monsters | We Seek the Truth!

  2. Logically it seems that Juan Pedro left the truck sometime between 5.30 and the crash. I don’t think that his parents let him go voluntarily. Did they think that the load they were carrying was dangerous, and there was a chance that they might be involved in a serious accident, and thus wanted to save their son’s life?

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    • Possibly, but Andrés was an experienced trucker. I don’t think he would have let Juan Pedro come along if he was so worried about the load he was carrying. If he was worried, then why did he feel the need to drive so recklessly? Why was he alternating between speeding and stopping so frequently? I forgot to mention this in my post, but there were few other cars on the mountain that morning. There really was no need for Andrés to stop so many times.

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      • I imagined that Andres was hitting his brakes, but he might have come to a complete stop at one point, it’s hard to say. One of the sources I looked at said he stopped twelve times during a 20 minute period, but it doesn’t mention the length of each stop.

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      • And braking a big rig is more involved than braking a regular car. It takes longer to come to a complete stop, and that goes double if the road is rough or hilly

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  3. I don’t know about Spain, but in the US, especially before the prevalence of cell phones, no trucker worth his coffee cup would be without a CB radio. I would think that if Juan Pedro disappeared before the wreck, or if something else went wrong, Andres would have quickly gotten on the CB to alert other drivers within range and summon help. Do you know if this angle was ever investigated?

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    • I had never heard of CB radios before, thanks for the comment! I tried looking back over articles about this case, but I can’t find any references to CB radios. After googling around, I found that CB radios have been legal to use in Spain since 1983. If Andres did have one, nothing I’ve read about the case has mentioned it.

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      • I take it you don’t live in the US or Canada? CB was wildly popular here in the 1970’s and eighties, not just with truckers. My father was a truck driver till just a few months ago when he started driving a school bus, and he says many truckers still use CB’s, since they are less of a distraction than cells.

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  4. Would Andres have had a CB radio? Almost all American truckers did back then. If so, I would think he’d have been on their calling for help if Juan Pedro disappeared before the wreck, or if something else was going badly wrong.

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  5. I take it you don’t live in the US or Canada? CB radios were wildly popular in the seventies and eighties here, not just with truck drivers either. My dad has been a trucker almost all his life and he says many drivers still use CB’s even today, because they are less of a distraction than cell phones.

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    • Sorry for such the late reply here. I’ve lived in the US all my life, but I’m a millennial. Now I can’t believe I’ve never heard of CB radios… Maybe I’ve seen some before when I was younger.

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      • And I apologize for the repeated identical comments; I had a bit of trouble getting the hang of the comments procedure, which seems to work a bit differently on every website. Anyhow, yeah, you really missed out on an important aspect of American culture. Lol Check out the CW McCall song “Convoy” for the ultimate in trucker-and-CB stereotypes. (I have it on good authority they didn’t really talk like that even at the height of the CB craze.) BTW: great site!

        Liked by 1 person

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