As of 2020 there are over 500,000 missing persons cases across the US, and sadly many may never be solved. But there are a few cases that do get resolved with the missing person being found alive, sometimes decades later. Here’s 10 cases where missing people were found alive.
Name: Michele Whitaker
Reported missing: August 16, 2002
Status: Found alive in August 2008
Michele Whitaker was last seen in Spartanburg, South Carolina on August 16, 2002. She disappeared after getting dropped off at a truck stop by a friend, and hasn’t been seen or heard from since.
The friend who dropper her off at the truck stop was questioned by police, and after passing a polygraph he was ruled out as a suspect.
At the time of her disappearance, Michele had recently been arrested for a DUI, and had been fighting with her fought with her mother about it. She disappeared after mistakenly being released from jail early, instead of attending court ordered treatment for drug and alcohol abuse.
According to police, checks on her credit report and social security number showed no activity for years after her disappearance.
Investigators were suspicious that Whitaker may have been met with foul play at the truck stop, though they didn’t have any evidence to support that theory.
A month after Michele disappeared one of her co-workers, 21 year old Heather Sellers, went missing. Police immediately focused on her boyfriend, Jonathan Vick, who was already a suspect in an unsolved 1995 rape and murder case.
When police discovered the link between Vick and Michele Whitaker, her missing person’s case turned into a homicide investigation.
In the summer of 2008, six years after Michele went missing, a woman was watching an episode of Forensic Files that featured the murder conviction of Jonathan Vick. The program showed a photo of Michele Whitaker, who police believed had been murdered by Vick.
The woman was shocked; the photo wasn’t of a woman who had been murdered by Vick, it was a photo of her neighbor. She called the police to let them know Whitaker was living in Oregon.
In August of 2008 authorities announced that Michele Whitaker had been found alive and well in Oregon. He did not release Whitaker’s current location or reason why she left the area out of concerns for her privacy. Wright said it didn’t appear Whitaker knew her disappearance had became the subject of a homicide investigation.
She had been living in that location for two years under the same name. Michele Whitaker contacted her family a short time later, and attended her sister’s wedding. Michele told family members she disappeared because she wanted to start a new life.
A public records search shows that a woman with the same name, date of birth, and social security number was living in Victorville, California in 2006.
Name: Lauryn Garrett
Reported missing: May 1, 2014
Status: Found alive in June 2014
23 year old Lauryn Garrett was last seen in Port Townsend, Washington on May 1, 2014. She disappeared on her way to catch a bus home to Sequim.
She never made it to her father’s home, and has not been heard from since.
On May 1, 2014, Lauryn Garrett was on her way home from the Pioneer Center North rehabilitation clinic in Sedro-Woolley. She had just been released from a 60-day drug addiction treatment program, and was heading back home from Port Townsend where she had arrived a day earlier.
Lauryn borrowed a bystander’s cell phone and called her father at around 7:47 pm asking for a ride home, but he suggested she take a bus instead.
Soon after the call ended, she was seen leaving two duffel bags in a wooded area near Haines Place Park and Ride, and walking across the parking lot to the nearby Port Townsend Safeway.
Surveillance camera at the Safeway captured Lauryn purchasing liquor and soda at 8:05 pm. She also attempted to cash a $55.50 check in the store, but did not have proper identification and left.
Lauryn was supposed to catch a bus to Sequim that night, but never made it to her father’s home and has not been heard from since.
On May 7, 2014, one of her two backpacks was found abandoned in the bushes just a few hundred feet from where she was last seen in Port Townsend. It contained many personal items and family photos.
On June 3, 2014, a woman resembling Lauryn was spotted in a Fred Meyer store in the King County city of Shoreline around 5 pm.
She tried to return merchandise for cash, but did not have a receipt and the ID she used was another woman’s. She left the store without the merchandise and did not return.
Lauryn Garrett is no longer considered a missing person. The authorities who were assigned to look for her believe she left the Olympic Peninsula on her own.
Name: Denise Bolser
Reported missing: January 17, 1985
Status: Found alive on May 13, 2002
Another case where a missing person was found alive is that of Denise Bolser. On January 17, 1985 Denise Bolser vanished from her home in Raymond, New Hampshire.
She shared the home with her estranged husband, and when he came home he found a note that read “We’ve got your wife,” along with some footprints in the snow. Denise was nowhere to be found.
Earlier in the day she had dropped him off in Manchester, and driven back home in his truck, as hers was in the shop for repairs.
Several days after Denise went missing police found her husband’s pick up truck abandoned at Logan Airport, with her social security card, birth certificate, and credit cards laid out on the front seat. No evidence as to where Denise had went, or what had happened to her was found.
The note left at her home offered no additional clues; there was no ransom demand or any attempted contact by whoever had written it.
Authorities pursued the theory that she may have been kidnapped and possibly murdered, but could find no real evidence aside from the anonymous note.
They later came to believe that perhaps she had left on her own accord, but her family with whom she was very close with believed foul play was involved.
Denise’s husband filed for divorce after she disappeared, and was never pursued as a person of interest in her case.
In 1986 she was charged with the crimes in absentia, giving police a reason to believe she may have ran off on her own accord. The embezzlement charges against Denise were later dropped, and over the years her family continued to hope that she would contact them.
In 2002 a private investigator named Shirley Casey gave authorities a credible lead about a Denise who was living in Florida that shared the same date of birth as Denise Bolser.
Authorities tracked down the lead, and on May 13, 2002 discovered Denise Bolser living in Panama City Florida, under the name Denise James. She had started a new family who were unaware of her past.
When questioned, Denise admitted that she had decided to run when her ex-boss had threatened her life. She said during the 17 years she was missing she had also lived in the Bahamas, California, South Carolina and Hawaii.
Following her discovery Denise had an emotional reunion with her family.
Name: Michelle McMullen
Reported missing: September 28, 2008
Status: Found alive in January 2011
27 year old Michelle McMullen went missing on September 28, 2008. She disappeared after dropping off her six year old son, Jayden, at a friend’s house in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
After dropping her son off at her friend’s house in Harrisburg, Michelle got back in her car to start the 17 hour drive back to Louisiana, where she was a student at Grambling State University.
She called her friend at 9:00 pm, told her son goodnight, and said that she would call again soon. She never called back, and hasn’t been heard from since.
Before she disappeared, she and her parents had agreed that they would take care of her son at their home in Harrisburg, while she returned to Louisiana to finish her degree.
On October 8 2008, Michelle’s car was found on the side of the road off Maugan’s Avenue in Hagerstown Maryland. Investigators found her cell phone, credit cards, money and purse inside the car.
On October 9, 2008, the Susquehanna Township police announced McMullen was wanted on charges that she stole from the Progress Emmanuel Presbyterian Church. According to court documents, nearly $2,400 was discovered missing from the church after McMullen was fired for poor work performance in July.
In December of 2008, Harrisburg detectives received a tip that Michelle was working at a hotel in Martinsburg, West Virginia. She was spotted by a family friend, and fled before detectives arrived. She had been working at the hotel under the alias Monique Watson.
In February 2010, the Disappeared episode featuring Michelle McMullen’s story aired.
In January of 2011, a woman who had watched the Disappeared episode called in to report that Michelle was working as a hairdresser in Oakland, California under the alias Danielle Jones.
Police responded, and after Michelle was positively identified she was taken back to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
Michelle McMullen was charged with fraud, theft, and forgery. She stated that the $2000 taken was a mistake, and that it was used for schooling. A judge ordered her to pay $6,000 in restitution, and in July of 2011 she was sentenced to time served and probation.
“I’m grateful that my parents never gave up on me,” she wrote in a statement for police. “I was not encouraged to leave Pennsylvania, I was not kidnapped or forced to stay somewhere that I didn’t want to be. The choices I made to leave were mine and mine alone.”
Name: Amber Gerweck
Reported missing: April 9, 2011
Status: Found alive on May 5, 2011
33 year old Amber Gerweck was last seen in Joliet, Illinois on April 9, 2011. She disappeared from her apartment in Blackman Township, Michigan after failing to show up to work for two days.
On April 9, 2011, Amber’s family reported her missing to the Department of Public Safety in Jackson Township.
On April 10, 2011, her 2002 Ford Escape SUV was discovered abandoned in the parking lot of a Dollar General Store in Tunnel Hill, Georgia. Inside the car police found the car keys, Gerweck’s wallet, and other personal items.
The car was located about 25 miles from where her parents lived, in Calhoun, Georgia, but they told police they were not expecting her.
On the evening of May 2, 2011, a woman wandering near Bicentennial Park in Joliet, Illinois flagged down a passing patrol officer. She told the police that she didn’t know who or where she was.
She was brought to the hospital where doctors determined she was not suffering from physical trauma or chemical intoxication. Police couldn’t match her fingerprints within any national databases.
On May 5, 2011, authorities eventually identified the woman as Amber Gerweck after releasing her picture to the media.
Before her disappearance, the last thing Gerweck recalled was driving to a Jackson convenience store for ice cream and not finding the type she wanted. She didn’t remember how she later traveled from a Dollar General Store in Georgia to a park in Joliet, Illinois.
Gerweck was diagnosed with global amnesia. Doctors said she suffered from dissociative fugue, a rare medical condition accompanied by amnesia and wandering, as a kind of delayed reaction to her divorce five years earlier.
Gerweck had reportedly cheated on her husband and abandoned her four children. She said she left the children because she thought she was going to kill herself.
Although most of Gerweck’s memories have returned, doctors say she may never remember what happened during the three weeks she was missing.
Name: Chioma Gray
Reported missing: December 13, 2007
Status: Found alive in 2011
Another case where a missing person was later found alive is that of teen Chioma Gray.
15 year old Chioma Gray was last seen in Ventura, California on December 13, 2007. She disappeared after leaving high school with an older man in his car.
On the morning of December 13, 2007, Chioma Gray was dropped by her father and brother at Buena High School in Ventura.
When her mother arrived at the school to pick her up at 3:00 pm, Gray was nowhere to be found. School officials said she never went to class, and that her friends hadn’t seen her.
By 5:30 pm, Gray’s family reported her as a missing person to the Ventura Police Department.
Investigators found out Tafoya had just been released from jail the night before Gray’s disappearance. He had served 147 days of a 210-day sentence for an unlawful sex with a minor charge.
Tafoya was put on probation for three years, with the condition that he wasn’t to have any contact with Gray or any other minor without a responsible adult present.
Police received a report that a 2008 white Acura with the California license plate 6AXX928 was missing from a car lot in Ventura. Tafoya worked at the car lot as a car washer and was last seen driving that car earlier that morning.
On the day of Chioma Gray’s disappearance, a security camera at Buena High School captured a vehicle matching the stolen vehicle’s description pulling up at the school. The stolen car’s license plate number was later screened passing the Mexican border at around 1:20 pm.
Investigators believed Tafoya took Chioma Gray from her high school that morning and the pair took off to Mexico in the stolen car. Police began investigating the case as a felony for child stealing, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, car theft and unlawful flight to avoid prosecution.
In 2010, a private investigator hired by the family found the stolen car parked in a compound with flat tires near Acapulco, a resort city in southern Mexico. He also discovered where the pair lived and apparently worked. Tafoya taught snorkeling and Gray worked as a waitress at a small vacation spot.
On September 1, 2011, Gray’s mother received a call from Tafoya asking her to come pick up Gray in Mexico. She asked for a location to no avail.
On October 5, 2011, Gray and Tafoya returned from Mexico to California with US Marshals. Gray reunited with her family at the Los Angeles International Airport. Tafoya was arrested and charged with felony child stealing and felony probation violation.
On January 23, 2012, Andrew Joshua Tafoya was sentenced to two years in prison after pleading guilty to one felony count of concealing a child from her parents in November 2011.
In 2012 it was reported that Chioma, who married Tafoya while they were in Mexico, had been living with his parents since their return in October 2011.
Name: Judith Bello
Reported missing: December 13, 1993
Status: Found alive in November 2011
Judith Bello, a 28 year old married mother of two, was last seen at 9:30 am on December 13, 1993, when she left her job at the National Food Corporation in Silvana with a friend.
She didn’t pick up her son from daycare, and never made it back to her home in the 19800 block of Saratoga Drive in Stanwood, Washington.
Later that day her car was found abandoned at the Stanwood Post Office, triggering an investigation that would last nearly two decades.
In 2011 Judith called the sheriff’s department after seeing her missing person’s profile on the sheriff’s office website, telling authorities she was alive and well, and living in California.
The investigation into her disappearance revealed that Judith left Washington state due to domestic issues involving her husband, and had three more sons after she left.
It is unknown why she did not contact her family or the sheriff’s office until 2011, but has been speculated that it was out of fear of her husband.
Name: Tanya Rider
Reported missing: September 19, 2007
Status: Found alive on September 28, 2007
33 year old Tanya Rider was last seen in Seattle, Washington on September 19, 2007. She disappeared on her way home from work after finishing a night shift at a grocery store.
On the early morning of September 20, 2007, Tanya Rider finished her night shift at a Fred Meyer department store in Bellevue, Washington. She was heading home to catch a few hours of sleep before starting a shift at her second job.
Surveillance footage shows Rider leaving the Fred Meyer parking lot and heading onto the motorway, however she never made it home. She was reported missing by her husband on September 22, 2007.
Her case was not immediately classified as a missing person because she was an adult, and wasn’t considered at risk. Her husband remained persistent that she wouldn’t run away, and on September 28 police traced her cell phone to a tower on Highway 169 in Renton, Washington, less than five miles from where she disappeared.
Tanya Rider was found alive, twenty feet down a ravine near 196th Avenue Southeast and Southeast Jones Road off state Route 169, strapped into the front seat of her car.
Once her husband was able to convince authorities that she had not run away, it took them only 20 minutes to find her.
Rider had been trapped inside her car in Renton, a suburb of Seattle, for eight days without food or water. Her condition was critical but stable. She later wrote a book about the accident, ““Missing Without a Trace: 8 Days of Horror.”
Name: Lula Gillespie-Miller
Reported missing: In 1974
Status: Found alive in March, 2016
Lula Gillespie-Miller disappeared from Laurel, Indiana in 1974, shortly after giving birth to her third child and signing over responsibility to her parents.
Other than a letter postmarked from Richmond, Indiana, in 1975, her family had no contact with her for over 40 years.
In 2016, authorities tracked Gillespie-Miller over 1,200 miles away to a town in south Texas where she’d been living since the 1990s under an assumed name.
As she never committed a crime, police say she has the right to anonymity about her disappearance, though she did give permission to give her address to her daughter so they could be reunited.
Name: Timothy Carney
Reported missing: September 28, 2004
Status: Found alive in September 2011
And finally the case of Timothy Carney, a 25 year old who went missing and was found alive 7 years later.
25 year old Timothy Carney was last seen in Butler, New Jersey on September 28, 2004 by his roommate at their Butler Ridge apartment.
He called his employer saying he would be late for work, but hasn’t been heard from since.
Four days after he went missing he withdrew $1000 in cash from an ATM, leading investigators to believe his disappearance was voluntary and did not involve foul play.
At the time of his disappearance he belonged to a church group his mother called “cultish,” saying they were trying to get him away from his family and friends.
Timothy Carney was found alive in September of 2011, 7 years after being reported missing. He was cleared from the missing persons database, but did not want to disclose his location.