The Disappearance of Anthonette Cayedito

Today’s post is a guest article written by Amanda Barber. 

Growing up, my absolute favorite show was the original Unsolved Mysteries. The spooky theme song always gave me the creeps, and Robert Stack’s voice was pure eerie perfection. The ghosts and monsters profiled on the show were scary enough, but it was usually the true crime cases that caught my attention the most. Some of these segments were occasionally updated and solved over the course of the show’s run, and a few have even been solved in the past decade or so.

Sadly, there are still many profiled cases that have remained unsolved mysteries. One of the saddest that I’ve always remembered is the disappearance of Anthonette Cayedito, a 9-year-old girl who vanished from her own home back in 1986. Anthonette lived with her mother Penny and her two sisters in an apartment in one of the poorest parts of Gallup, New Mexico. On the night of April 6, 1986, Penny left the girls with a babysitter and went drinking at a local bar. She came back home around midnight, and let the girls stay up playing until 3 AM.

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Picture of Anthonette Cayedito.

That night, Anthonette slept with her mother in her bed. But when Penny later woke up at 7 AM, she found that Anthonette was missing. At first, Penny thought Anthonette had gotten up early to look for a missing neighbor dog. None of her neighbors had seen Anthonette, however, and a search around the neighborhood turned up nothing.

The authorities didn’t have much luck either, and the case would stay cold for more than a year until the Gallup police department received a short phone call from a girl who said that she was Anthonette. The girl claimed to be in Albuquerque, but before she could explain anything, somebody in the background yelled, “Who said you could use the phone?” Suddenly, there was a scream, and then the call ended. While the call was too short to trace, Penny did get to hear a recording of it. She confirmed that it was Anthonette’s voice.

In 1990, another development occurred when a waitress in Carson City, Nevada reported seeing a girl who looked like Anthonette in the diner where she worked. The girl, who looked about 14-years-old, was eating with a man and woman who looked dirty and unkempt. The girl repeatedly dropped her fork onto the floor during her meal. Whenever the waitress would pick it back up, the girl would squeeze the waitress’s hand. After the trio left, the waitress noticed that the girl had left behind a note she had written on a napkin. “Please help me,” it read, “Call the police.”

That same year, Anthonette’s younger sister, Wendy, told investigators that Anthonette had been abducted. The night of her disappearance, a man knocked on the family’s front door and said that he was their Uncle Joe. Since Penny was sleeping, Anthonette decided to answer it. Two men, neither of whom Wendy recognized, grabbed Anthonette and carried her to a brown van as she kicked and screamed. Wendy did not mention this when the investigation began, because she was afraid that it would upset her mother.

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An age progression done in 2012 of what Anthonette Cayedito might look like at the age of 36.

The Peyotes did have an Uncle Joe, but the authorities believed he had nothing to do with Anthonette’s disappearance. That didn’t rule the possibility that she was abducted by somebody she knew though. Interestingly, Penny failed a lie detector test about her daughter’s disappearance, leading one detective at the Gallup Police Department to suspect that she knew who took Anthonette. There are also rumors, although unconfirmed, that Penny was somehow able to buy a new sports car a week after Anthonette went missing. Where Penny got this money has never been explained.

In April 1999, as Penny laid on her deathbed, investigators wanted to get one last interview from her. She died before they could get the chance. Anthonette’s case languished with no reliable leads for the next seven years, until it was ultimately closed in June 2006.

Personally, I don’t think the few leads the police had were very trustworthy to begin with. The phone call part of the story is very strange. Why would Anthonette, a 10-year-old kid, call up the police all the way in Gallup instead of dialing 911? Wendy’s account is also fishy. Say that Penny really was involved in the disappearance. Could she and the kidnappers have plotted the phone call and Wendy’s account to mislead the investigation?

Then there’s the matter of the Carson City girl. Perhaps Anthonette had been sold off to this couple, but the police were not convinced that the girl the waitress saw was truly Anthonette. She might have been a different girl, or the waitress had made the story up entirely. Looking these leads over, they are very weak. I can’t help but wonder if Penny knew more than she was willing to tell the police. Given that she passed away almost two decades ago, we can only hope that somebody will step forward soon and provide the crucial breakthrough the police need.

Amanda Barber is a true crime buff and Robert Stack enthusiast who dreams of writing a book about the many mysteries of her home state of Minnesota. If you would like to contribute a guest article like Amanda’s, please send a pitch to bizarreandgrotesque@gmail.com. 

 

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The Disappearance of David Guerrero Guevara, A Child Artist

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David Guerrero Guevara was a 13-year-old child painter who disappeared after leaving his house in Malaga, Spain in April 1987.

Although only 13-years-old, David Guerrero Guevara was already a particularly skilled painter. He lived in Malaga, Spain with his parents and two brothers. David was a shy and introverted boy; he didn’t like going outside, and only ever went to school and his art academy.  According to his mother Antonia, David had no friends, didn’t like going to places alone, and always rode the bus with his brother to the academy.

On April 3, 1987, David took part in a religious art exhibition at the prestigious La Maison art gallery. David’s painting, a portrait of Jesus entitled “Christ of the Good Death,” attracted a good amount of publicity because of his young age. On April 6, David was scheduled to meet a local radio host for an interview at La Maison after he got out of school. David was very nervous about the interview, and according to a classmate, complained about having stomach pain and a headache. 

At 6:00 PM, David came home from school, changed his clothes, and left for his interview a half-hour later. David’s father José originally planned to drive him to the gallery, but something came up at his job and David was forced to take the bus by himself instead. After the interview was over, David would go to his art academy and then get picked up by his dad. He left home that evening carrying his bus card and a bag of art supplies.

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David and his painting, “Christ of the Good Death.”

Three hours later, at 9 PM, José arrived at the art academy to take David home. David wasn’t at the academy, however, and José discovered at La Maison that his son never showed up for the interview. When José found that David wasn’t at home either, he drove to the police station and reported his son missing.

The police found David’s disappearance baffling. The bus station was only 10-15 minutes away from his house, yet none of the bus drivers in the area picked him up. Queen Sofia, the wife of the then-current Spanish king, was also in Malaga that day for a special visit, so there were tons of people on the street during the time. Yet nobody reported seeing David at the bus station, and the authorities were skeptical that a stranger could have forced the boy into a car unnoticed.

So where did the “Boy Artist,” as the media nicknamed him, go? The police wondered if he might have run away from home, but David’s family was very skeptical of the idea. After all, David was very close to his family, and he had little connections outside of it. Still, investigators pursed the runaway theory, speculating that David might have left for Portugal to become a bohemian artist. Eventually, a pair of Spanish policemen who searched in Lisbon found no trace of David there. Although there were some sightings of David in the country, including by a pair of Spanish teachers, the police believed the eyewitnesses were mistaken.

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One of the last pictures David drew before his disappearance. The police believed it bore a resemblance to a Swiss suspect.

In 1988, more than a year after David’s disappearance, a Malaga hotel maid approached the authorities and claimed to have found a strange clue in one of the hotel rooms she cleaned. Somebody had written David’s full name on a napkin. When the police reviewed the room’s guests, they found that a 70-year-old Swiss citizen had been the man who rented it during the time of David’s disappearance. This man has never been named in the media, but he was wealthy and interested in photography. He had stayed in several different local hotels between March and April 1987, and he also owned an apartment in a near-by beach town.

By the time the authorities began to investigate this man, he was already dead. In 1990, the man’s widow gave the Spanish police permission to search the deceased’s photography studio. They found plenty of pictures taken in Malaga, but none of them contained David. Some have doubted whether this Swiss man had anything to do with David’s disappearance, yet one of the last drawings David had done was of an old man who bore a strong resemblance to the suspect. Over the years, David Guerrero Guevara has been spotted everywhere from Ireland to Morocco. His case is still open, and authorities are keeping a DNA sample from his family in case they can ever match it to any unidentified bodies that are found.

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. 

 

The Disappearance of Rivalino Mafra da Silva: Alien Abduction or Foul Play?

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Depiction of Rivalino Mafra da Silva’s abduction on an Italian magazine.

Rivalino Mafra da Silva was a Brazilian diamond prospector who lived in Diamantino, a town in the southeastern state of Minas Gerais. Rivalino’s wife had died in 1961, and he raised his three sons Raimundo (12-years-old), Fatimo (6-years-old), and Dirceu (2-years-old) by himself in a shack. On August 19, 1962, the family was woken up during the middle of the night by a shadow in their shared bedroom. According to Raimundo, the shadow was “half the size of a man and not shaped like a human being.” It quietly moved through the room, looked over the Mafras, and then left their house. 

After the shadow left, the Mafras heard voices and footsteps coming from outside. One of the voices said, “This seems to be Rivalino,” and then Rivalino jumped out of bed and went into the living-room. He asked the voices who they were, but they refused to identify themselves. They told Rivalino that they were going to kill him. Eventually, the voices stopped and seemed to have left, but the Mafras couldn’t sleep after this incident. They were so scared that they prayed all night.

In the morning, while fetching his dad’s horse, Raimundo saw two ball-like objects hovering in the air near the family shack. One of the objects was entirely black in color, the other was black and white. Both objects had antennae and tail-like appendages. They also made humming noises, and flashes of light or fire came out from their backs.

Raimundo shouted for his father, and when Rivalino came outside, the two objects combined into one ball and released a yellow smoke. The smoke covered Rivalino and filled the air with a terrible odor. When the smoke cleared a minute later, Rivalino and the ball-like object were gone. Raimundo looked all over for his father, but couldn’t find him. He ran to the local police station and reported what happened. When the police searched the Mafras’ shack, they found drops of human blood, although it couldn’t be determined whether it belonged to Rivalino.

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Drawing by Raimundo of the objects he saw.

Naturally, the authorities didn’t buy Raimundo’s incredible story. They suspected that he killed his father, or perhaps was covering up for the murderer. Joao Antunes de Oliveira, a psychiatrist, thought that Raimundo was perfectly sane. He seemed to truly believe that he saw a ball-like object abduct his father. The police didn’t buy it though. In a cruel trick, they covered a (still living) volunteer with a sheet and told Raimundo that it was Rivalino’s dead body. Raimundo still refused to take back his account. In tears, he insisted that the story was true and that the ball must have returned his father.

While some believed the boy, other residents sided with the police. Elagmano Marques da Costa, a businessman in the area, thought Mafra ran off and abandoned his sons. One popular rumor suggested that he was murdered. Perhaps Raimundo saw the shadows and voices of the murderers, but hallucinated the rest of the incident due to shock. While he might have been deemed sane, Raimundo wasn’t in the best of health. He was badly malnourished, illiterate, and couldn’t even read a clock. Interestingly, Raimundo related the same story over and over. His account is said to have never changed, perhaps confirming the psychiatrists’ observation that he believed what he saw. (Or, if you will, the veracity of Raimundo’s testimony.)

Five days after his father’s disappearance, Raimundo gave an interview to the press. The next day, an article about the story appeared in the newspaper Diario de Minas. A Rio de Janiero-based paper, Tribuna da Imprensa, covered the case on August 29. In a September article for The A.P.R.O Bulletin entitled “Man Kidnapped by Globes,” Olavo T. Fontes translated Raimundo’s press interview, the first report of the case in English-speaking media. Many other articles and books, as listed here, have since covered Rivalino Mafra da Silva’s disappearance, but with distortions and inaccuracies.

One common piece of apocrypha, missing from the earliest sources, concerns alien dwarves.  Slightly before Rivalino’s disappearance, two of his co-workers are said to have seen a pair of three foot-tall beings while walking past his house. The dwarves were digging a hole, and when spotted, ran into the bushes. A red UFO then emerged from the hiding spot and took off into the sky. Others claim that it was Rivalino himself who saw the dwarves.

Many English sources also neglect the fact that Rivalino’s body might possibly have been found. In October 1963, A Estrela Polar reported that a group of hunters found bones near Rivalino’s house in “a place of difficult access.” Due to the belt that was found with the remains, along with the location, the body was identified as Rivalino’s. Of course, some have questioned whether the bones really were Rivalino’s, but this was enough to (partly) satisfy the foul play theory. To my knowledge, however, nobody could come up with the names of the murderers.  Whatever exactly happened to the Mafra boys after their father’s disappearance is also obscure; Raimundo is said to have died in 2001, and the whereabouts of Fatimo and Dirceu are unknown.

 

 

 

 

The Mysterious Montserrat Mountain of Spain

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Montserrat Mountain.

Montserrat is a mountain near Barcelona, Spain that’s long been regarded a sacred and magical place. In 880, it was said that a light floated down the mountains for six Saturdays in a row. When a search party headed by a bishop went to investigate, they found that the light fell on a previously undiscovered cave. Inside the cave, completely intact, was a statue of the Virgin Mary allegedly made in 50 AD. The statue soon attracted pilgrims and monks, and a monastery was eventually established in the mountain. Nicknamed “The Black Madonna,” the figure is venerated as the patron saint of Catalonia.

During the Nazi-era, German occultists believed that the holy grail rested somewhere inside Montserrat. In October 1940, Heinrich Himmler was sent to Spain to meet with Francisco Franco. Aside from being the commander of the SS, Himmler was also a founder of the Ahnenerbe, a pseudoscientific organization that launched expeditions across the world to find holy artifacts and evidence of ancient Aryan civilizations. Before meeting Franco, Himmler made a trip to the monastery in Montserrat. Himmler suspected that the holy grail was in the mountain, but the monastery received him coldly, and he returned to Germany empty-handed.

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The Black Madonna. The current statue might actually be a copy made in the late 12th century.

In recent decades, Montserrat has become a hotspot for seeing UFOs and strange lights in the sky. The mountain’s also been the site of some pretty strange disappearances over the years, some of which involved paranormal and UFO enthusiasts. In 1973, the Civil Guard (Spain’s national police force) found the body of a badly decomposed woman in the area. In a note in her pocket, the woman had written that she was going to meet with the supreme being. Her death was ruled a suicide.

In 1980, a month after a man and his dog vanished in the Montserrat, an 18-year-old girl named Gloria went missing in the near-by municipality of Olesa de Montserrat. Two days after her disappearance, Gloria was found walking in the woods, confused and disoriented. She had never shown such behavior before, but was apparently interested in UFOs and communicating with aliens. After being rescued, Gloria disappeared for a second time and was never seen again.

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Inside of the Montserrat monastery.

Another woman, Amparo Vielda Puig, went missing in Montserrat in 1985. Puig had gone to the mountain several times before, and complained of getting dizzy in certain spots of the area. In December 1990, a man named Carlos Teixidor told his family that he had “a decisive judgement with God and the Devil” and left for Montserrat. Teixidor was also interested in UFOs, and might have gone to the mountain in the hope of seeing one. Three weeks after he left, Teixidor’s body showed up near the Santa Cueva, the hillside cave where The Black Madonna was found.

In a case with a happier ending, a search helicopter was sent to look for a lost hiker. The helicopter was able to locate the hiker, but the man it found actually turned out to be a completely different person. The man said that he had been lost for three days, but was also with a “black woman” he had slept with. The only woman in the area the rescuers ended up finding was the corpse of a lady who had gone missing years earlier.

Nobody has gone missing in Montserrat since 1998, but UFOs are still seen in its skies. Luis Jose Grifol, a contactee who’s claimed to have communicated with aliens for almost 40 years, goes to the mountain to watch for UFOs on the 11th day of every month.

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.  

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. 

The Disappearance of Juliet Poyntz, a Former Soviet Spy

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Juliet Stuart Poyntz was an ex-Soviet spy who disappeared in New York City in 1937.

Juliet Stuart Poyntz was an American activist who had been involved in left-wing circles since her early 20s. Initially, Poyntz was a moderate socialist who fought for labor rights and women’s’ suffrage, but she eventually moved further left and joined the Communist Party USA. Through the rest of the 1920s and 1930s, Poyntz moved up the party’s hierarchy and became involved with other internationalist communist groups. In 1934, Poyntz dropped out of politics and started working as an agent for the Soviet secret police.

Poyntz’s job was to collect information about scientific research in the U.S., but former Soviet spy and dissident Elizabeth Bentley claimed in her autobiography that Poyntz also tried recruiting other American communists for spy work. When Bentley first met Poyntz in 1935, Poyntz was allegedly helping in the organization of communist revolutionary groups in Italy. Poyntz, whom Bentley described as immoral and short-tempered, was looking for somebody to teach her Italian. Her real desire, however, was to recruit Bentley as a spy. Bentley wouldn’t have it though, and after being introduced to a sleazy Russian agent named “Smith”, thought that Poyntz was an anti-communist infiltrator.

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Elizabeth Bentley was a spy for the Soviets from 1938 until 1945. She would later go public and expose two networks of American communists who were spying for the USSR.

Along with a male friend, Bentley went to Poyntz’s apartment and accused her of being a double agent right to her face. Two days later, Poyntz and a woman from the Communist Party USA showed up at Bentley’s apartment and threatened her if she ever decided to go public about what she knew. “Just remember one thing,” Poyntz said to her, “if ever you meddle in my affairs again, I’ll see that you’re taken care of. You’ll be put six feet under and you won’t come back to do any more talking!”
The next year, Poyntz went to Moscow and observed the first stages of the Great Purge. She ended up returning to America bitterly disappointed about the USSR. To the astonishment of her Stalinist compatriots, Poyntz became a vocal critic of the dictator and cut off her ties to the Soviets. Over the last few months of her life, Poyntz appeared increasingly anxious and frightened. On June 5, 1937, Poyntz received a phone call and then left her apartment in New York City. Although some weeks went by without anybody hearing from her, none of her friends were alarmed at her sudden disappearance. They assumed that she had left for Europe or was on another mission for the Soviets. By October, however, her friend and attorney Elias Lieberman had become concerned.

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Carlo Tresca, a friend of Juliet Poyntz’s, believed that she was killed by the Soviet secret police.

Along with Poyntz’s apartment manager, Lieberman checked his friend’s apartment room and found that all her personal belongings were there. Her clothes were hanging untouched in her closet, and her passport and other important documents had been left behind. Lieberman tried conducting an investigation by himself, but decided to go to the police after a newspaper got wind of the story.

Naturally, there was a lot of fervor in the press about Poyntz’s former role as a secret spy. Her friends and other anti-Soviet communists believed that there was a connection. Before she disappeared, Poyntz had told them that she was planning to write a book that would expose other Soviet agents and Communist Party USA officials. According to Carlo Tresca, an American labor activist who would later die under mysterious circumstances himself, Poyntz met a former lover at the park the day she disappeared. The man, a newspaper editor and Soviet agent named Shachno Epstein, lured Poyntz away so that she could be abducted and taken to the USSR.  Years later, in his famous book Witness, dissident Whittaker Chambers repeated a similar story, but said that Poyntz was forced into a car and then murdered to keep her quiet. Although she was ruled legally dead in 1944 by the New York Surrogate’s Court, what exactly happened to Juliet Stuart Poyntz has remained a mystery.

The Disappearance of Yukari Yokoyama, a Little Girl Abducted from a Pachinko Parlor

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In July 1996, 4-year-old Yukari Yokoyama disappeared from a pachinko parlor in Japan’s Ota City.

Pachinko is a pinball-like arcade game that’s been popular in Japan since the early 1950s. Like pinball, you try to shoot little balls into one of the holes in the machine. You win every ball that lands in a hole, and you can exchange these balls for prizes. Because of Japan’s gambling laws, you can’t directly exchange the balls for money, but there are plenty of places where you can trade or sell your prizes for cash. Since casinos are prohibited in Japan, pachinko parlors have essentially taken their place, where millions of Japanese play the game every year.

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A pachinko machine.

With pachinko so popular among Japanese adults, it was once a common sight for a long time to see parents bring their kids with them to the parlors. Things are different nowadays, but I’ve heard that people only stopped doing this back in the 90s, after dozens of incidents where neglected children died while their parents were away in pachinko parlors. (This LA Times article notes that some 30 kids died during a single year between April 1995 and June 1996. According to the article, “They included several who were hit by vehicles in parlor parking lots and an unwatched boy who fell into a water-filled ditch.”)

One of the more infamous cases from the time was the Yukari Yokoyama Missing Persons Incident of 1996 (横山ゆかりちゃん行方不明事件 in Japanese). Yukari was a 4-year-old girl whose parents Yasuo and Mitsuko took her and her baby sister to a pachinko parlor on July 7, 1996 in Gunma Prefecture’s Ota City. While the Yokoyamas split up, with Mitsuko taking their baby daughter and Yasuo going off to play at a machine in a different row, Yukari was left free to roam around and play in the parlor. 

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A pachinko parlor in Japan.

Around noon-time, Mitsuko bought some lunch and took the kids outside to the car to eat. Yukari wasn’t very hungry during the time, but decided that she wanted to eat some more after her mother started to play pachinko again. Mitsuko then sent her daughter off with a snack to eat on a near-by couch where she could keep an eye on her. Sometime after 1:40 PM, Yukari came back to her mother and said something about an “uncle”.  Mitsuko couldn’t hear very well over the sounds of the pachinko machines though, and Yukari went back over to the couch unheard.

10 minutes later, Mitsuko looked up from her game and noticed that Yukari wasn’t sitting on the couch anymore. When she got up to check where Yukari was sitting, she found the girl’s juice and a half-eaten onigiri (rice ball). Mitsuko then told her husband that Yukari was gone. After searching the parlor’s parking lot, the Yokoyamas reported Yukari missing to a near-by police station around 2:10 PM.

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Yukari’s parents, Mitsuko and Yasuo Yokoyama.

While the police searched the area over the next two days, interviewing customers and other people who were in the parlor that day, one witness reported seeing a little girl around Yukari’s age getting into a white car around the time of her disappearance. There were other people who remembered seeing Yukari in the parlor, but nobody paid any attention to her, and nobody could say whether they saw anybody particularly suspicious either.

A big breakthrough in the case came when the authorities reviewed footage from the parlor’s security cameras. At 1:27 PM, a man about 5 feet, 2 inches (158 cm) came into the parlor and went into a bathroom located in the back of the building. The man, whose most distinguishing features were some sunglasses, sandals, and a hat, came out three minutes later and then began to wander the parlor. At 1:33, while Yukari was sitting on the couch, the man came over and sat next to her. He smoked and talked to Yukari, pointing his finger to the entrance a few times until he got up and left the building at 1:42. Yukari then went over to her mother and mentioned something about “uncle”. After her mother paid her no attention, Yukari walked over to the entrance and left the building, after which the security cameras lost sight of her.

yukari2

The man believed to have been Yukari’s kidnapper.

Although the surveillance footage from the parlor was widely shown in the media, and the shady man’s image was included on flyers, Yukari’s abductor has never been identified. Some believe the man might have been a prior customer, or was at least familiar with the parlor’s lay-out. I’ve also read that the man’s sunglasses and hat were meant to work as a disguise, but that might have just been how the guy liked to dress. My two cents is that the guy walked into the parlor, noticed Yukari sitting alone and neglected, and then made a decision right there to lure her outside. A lot of people have condemned Yukari’s parents for how utterly careless they were, and I’ve heard a few offer a completely groundless theory that the kidnapping was a premeditated plan masterminded by the Yokoyamas themselves.

As of February 2016, this case has remained completely cold. If Yukari Yokoyama is still alive today, she would be around 22 or 23. Perhaps, even two decades later, somebody might someday identify the man in the parlor’s surveillance footage. If you’d like to take a look at some of the footage, check out the video below from 1:44 until 3:06.

 

 

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