More than half a million people go missing each year in the United States, and about 4,500 unidentified bodies are recovered. Some disappearances have to do with foul play, while others die in unfortunate accidents like losing footing on hazardous mountains or going astray on hiking trails.
Interestingly, some states have way more missing people than others. Here are the top ones with the most eerie and mysterious cases of missing residents out of all the other states. From Alaska’s entangled bush to Hawaii’s dense jungles, here are the states with the most missing people.
In absolute terms, California ranks number one on the list of missing people, with a total number of 2,133. According to a report from recent years, the state sees around 390 missing person cases on an annual basis. However, the state’s rate of missing people is pretty average, at 5.4 missing people per 100,000.
Humboldt County is California’s most notorious region, known for the most missing person cases. With an average of 717 missing people per 100,000, these worrying figures have earned the county the nickname “the black hole.”
A large chunk of the missing person cases in Humboldt County, California, deal with disappearing children. Why? According to Vice President of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Bob Lowery, it might have to do with runaway children:
“It could be that the county sheriff and local police are very aggressive in accepting reports and getting them into the system. I’m not aware of any critically missing children in Humboldt County. If you dig into those numbers a little deeper, the reports are generally going to be runaway children.”
There’s a high number of foster children in Humboldt County. And according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, these children are at a much higher risk of becoming chronic runaways and living on the streets.
While most states have been reporting runaways since 2014, Humboldt County has been tracking runaway cases since 2000. According to their database, from the year 2000 through 2016, Humboldt County saw an average of 490 missing kids reports annually for every 100,000 children compared to California’s state average of 280.
As for the missing young adults in Humboldt, a Lt. named Dennis Young reported, “Many people come throughout the state, nation, and world to work in the cannabis industry here in Humboldt County.” These people usually don’t communicate with their friends and family back home.
They often lead off-grid lifestyles and disappear for extended periods of time, leading their families to report them missing. Many of those workers will eventually return home, yet their family members won’t necessarily notify law enforcement that they’re no longer missing.
Many young adults in California remain in the missing people database, like 22-year-old Rebekah Martinez, who was reported missing by her mom after heading to Humboldt to work on a marijuana farm. Apparently, Martinez needed some time to decompress, so she spent a week in the mountains with no phone service.
Then, out of the blue, she appeared on The Bachelor. A viewer who recognized Martinez from the show was surprised to see a picture of her on a missing person’s flyer around town.
“MOM. how many times do I have to tell you I don’t get cell service on The Bachelor??” Martinez jokingly posted afterward on Twitter.
“It’s a fallacy that it has to be 24 hours,” revealed Lt. Dennis Young of the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office. The standards are fairly loose, and every missing person’s file is treated and registered immediately in the database.
“We always take the report. We never delay it,” added Sgt. Diana Freese, one of the detectives from Humboldt County Sherriff’s Office. “If someone calls from Humboldt County and says someone is missing in New York, I will take the report then contact the New York office for them.”
While California has 5.4 missing person cases per 100,000 people, Alaska has 41.8 missing people per 100,000 – that’s five times California’s rate. Interestingly, Alaska is also the state with the highest percentage of people who remain missing.
In other states, many cases involve runaways who ultimately return to their homes or are found in one way or another. But in Alaska, “people just disappear,” according to Alaskan resident Dolly Hills, who lost her son Richard in 2004.
Richard vanished near the town of Sterling, Alaska in February 2004. But sadly, this wasn’t be the first time Dolly Hills lost a loved one. In 1962, near a small village in Western Alaska, her 13-year-old brother William swam in the Kvichak River and never came back.
Authorities assumed he had drowned, so the boy was never reported missing. People in Alaska often vanish by accident, by a quirk of circumstance, or by a surprising fluke of nature. Other times, they vanish due to foul play.
There are countless reasons to get lost in Alaska, and even more reasons to not be found. The land has 5,000 glaciers, 3,000 rivers, over three million lakes, and 39 mountain ranges with nooks and crannies that offer the perfect spot to slip in and remain hidden for eternity.
The snowstorms in the region serve as blankets that cover any tracks and traces, and the mudflats are like fatal quicksand. The people in charge of searching this challenging terrain are the Alaska State Troopers (the state has just over 300 of them).
Alaska’s vast terrain is what makes finding missing people incredibly challenging. “When someone gets lost,” Lt. Craig MacDonald from Alaska stated, “the search areas can be as large as many states and considerably more rugged.”
A lot of the terrain is unknown and dangerous. More often than not, on their quest to recover bodies, searchers find themselves stepping into remote areas for the very first time. The fact that some regions stretch as far and wide as many states makes it even harder.
Even Alaska’s largest cities lie smack in the middle of the wilderness. You can be in a building, walk five minutes across the street, and find yourself deep in the woods. You can decide you want to simply hike out a mile or two and then are never found.
“It happens all the time,” shared Lt. Craig MacDonald. A lot of the missing cases in Alaska begin innocently. People go out for daily strolls, causal swims, and weekend hiking trips that end tragically due to one step taken too far off the main road.
In recent years, Arizona has joined Alaska in having over ten open missing-persons cases per 100,000 people. As of now, Phoenix police have about 700 open missing-person cases, some of which have been passed on to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs).
In cases of worrying circumstances or cases that have been open for more than six months, the state’s police pass on valuable information over to NamUs. With their advanced forensic services, NamUs strives to solve what the local police couldn’t.
One of the most recent missing cases in the region involves 24-year-old Daniel Robinson, a geologist from Arizona who was last seen in Buckeye near Sun Valley Parkway and Cactus Road on June 23, 2021.
The time was around 9:15 a.m., and Robinson was said to have been leaving a job site in his blue-grey Jeep Renegade. He was headed west towards the desert but was never seen again. He was reported missing that very same day.
A month after his disappearance, a rancher found Robinson’s Jeep rolled over on its side with the airbags deployed. There was also evidence in the car indicating that Robinson was wearing a seatbelt when he crashed.
Several of Robinson’s items were retrieved from his car, including his wallet, keys, cellphone, and clothes. But where was Robinson? The Buckeye Police searched over 70 square miles to help find the lost man.
With the use of helicopters, drones, UTVs, and cadaver dogs, authorities covered the vast land in an attempt to solve this missing person puzzle. After the jeep was recovered, Robinson’s family went into a panic (understandably), and decided to hire a private investigator.
The hired detective made a controversial claim that the accident scene had been completely staged. He stated that after the airbags deployed, the ignition was turned on over 40 times and that were was another 11 miles on the car after its so-called “crash.”
Five months after Robinson’s disappearance and his family has still not received the closure they long for. Daniel’s brother, Roger, spoke to CNN and told them: “It just saddens me that it takes this much, you know, to get people’s story out like my brother or anyone else.”
The Robinson family grew upset that Daniel’s story didn’t get as much publicity as, say, Gabby Petito (a young white woman who went missing in 2021). “We shouldn’t have to depend on other stories or other cases to push our own story,” Roger added. “And we just want answers, just like anyone else.”
A recent study (2019) found that Oregon ranked number three on the list of states with the most missing persons cases, with a total of 432 current open cases and an average of 10.4 per 100,000 people.
Lt. Steve Mitchell, a spokesman of the Oregon State Police, revealed that troopers are required to type in every missing person’s case into the FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC). And that database can be used by law enforcement only.
An eerie disappearance case that happened in Oregon was the one of Kyron Richard Horman, a cheerful, young boy who vanished from his elementary school in Portland after attending a science fair. He was just seven years old.
It happened in 2010. Kyron was last seen by his stepmom, Terri, who dropped him off at school that day. Terri then proceeded to run some errands. And Kyron? He was never seen in his first class and was marked as absent.
In the afternoon, at around 3:30 p.m., Terri and Kaine, Kyron’s dad, walked with their daughter, Kiara, to pick Kyron up from the bus stop. However, the bus driver informed them that he hadn’t boarded the bus after school.
The worried parents called the school to check on his whereabouts and received an unsettling answer. As far as anyone knew, Kyron hadn’t been to school that day. Realizing that he was missing, the school’s secretary quickly called 911.
Kyron’s disappearance shook up everyone in the area. The search efforts to find him were extensive, and nearly every person in Oregon tried their hand at helping. After a long period of silence, Kyron’s family spoke up:
They released a statement to the press saying they would like to thank people for their support and interest in their son’s case. “We need for folks to continue to assist us in our goal. Please search your properties — cars, out buildings, sheds, etc.,” they pleaded.
In the summer of 2010, as the search for Kyron was at full speed, a troubling rumor began to spread around town. Kaine, Kyron’s dad, was told by investigators that his wife, Terri, offered their landscaper “a lot of money” to kill him.
Sanchez revealed that Terri approached him at the start of 2010, five months before little Kyron disappeared. However, when Terri was confronted with the newfound details about her plan, she sharply rejected it. On June 28, 2010, Kaine filed for divorce.
Around the time of the divorce, Terri failed two separate polygraph tests regarding Kyron’s disappearance. Later, it was announced that authorities were searching for an individual reportedly seen by two witnesses sitting inside Terri’s car outside the school the day of his disappearance.
Former sheriff Bruce McCain told CBS News: “The identity of that second person, if he or she existed, could be critical in determining what happened to Kyron after 9 a.m. on June 4.” In Terri’s defense, her close friend DeDe Spicher stated:
“There’s this horror that my friend is going through. If I thought for a second that she was capable of [foul play], I would not have been there. She would not have been my friend in the first place.”
Two years after Kyron went missing, his mother, Desiree Young, filed a civil lawsuit against Terri, claiming that she was responsible for the disappearance of her little boy. The grieving mother insisted that Terri had kidnapped Kyron.
She demanded $10 million in damages. During the trial, Kaine (the father) testified, saying that police had told him that “they have more probable cause to think Terri was involved in Kyron’s disappearance than they did two years ago.”
In 2013, Desiree dropped the lawsuit because it was interfering with the ongoing investigation and search for her son.
Eleven years later, and still no Kyron. His mom recently posted a message on Facebook saying: “Things are too quiet, and it sounds like Multnomah County may not even know that they are still searching for Kyron. This is not acceptable, and I will be taking it to their doorstep.”
In response, Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt posted a picture of Kyron and tweeted: “Bringing Kyron Horman home is our number one priority in this case, and we will never lose sight of that.”
A recent report crowned Washington among the top five states in the country with the most missing people per capita. As of 2020, there are 1,901 missing persons in the state of Washington. Of those missing people, 861 are under the age of 17 and 60 are below 10.
So, what’s going on in Washington? Why are there so many missing people? Child abduction and runaways are the two main explanations.
Leslie Briner, consultant for YouthCare stated: “I think ‘runaways’ get painted as impulsive, bad or reckless,” says Briner. “They are doing their best, in very difficult conditions. They deserve our respect, care and support.
During the early hours of November 6, 2011, Sky Elijah Metalwala, a 2-year-old from Bellevue, vanished under mysterious circumstances. His mom, Julie Biryukova said that they were on their way to the hospital because Sky was sick, when he suddenly vanished from her car while she was out seeking help after running out of gas.
Julie reportedly left Sky in the car for an hour and a half to look for gas, and when she came back, he was gone. The police raised a few eyebrows upon hearing the details, because Julie’s car was found with plenty of gas in its tank.
Weirdly enough, the details of Sky’s disappearance were quite similar to a case featured on an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit that had aired in Seattle the night before. Moreover, Julie was in the middle of divorcing Sky’s father, Solomon, and the battle was becoming ugly.
Sky’s dad didn’t hold back and told authorities he believed that his son’s disappearance was related to his and Julie’s custody disputes. But the police didn’t jump on the opportunity to charge Julie with child endangerment. They wanted to get on her good side to learn more about the boy’s whereabouts.
A year before Sky’s disappearance, Julie entered a mental hospital (it wouldn’t be the first time) after confessing to Solomon that she had dreamed of killing their children. The doctors diagnosed her with severe OCD, but they didn’t believe she was unfit to be a mom.
Shortly after her release from the hospital, Solomon filed for divorce. Julie then began bombarding his phone with suicidal texts, which she later admitted were just so she could get his attention. Biryukova was admitted to mental institutions a total of three times.
As of today, Sky is still missing. Solomon believes he’s alive and living somewhere outside the U.S., maybe in the Ukraine with Julie’s family. Solomon’s attorney, Berry, thinks that Sky was never in the car that fateful morning and that Julie’s story was all made up.
“She’s a clean freak, and she probably bleached everything out,” Berry said to the newspaper, pointing to Julie’s OCD. Unlike Solomon, Berry doesn’t believe Sky is alive. She also believes that Julie is responsible for his death, but it may have been a result of unintentional neglect as opposed to a deliberate act of malice.
Vermont has an average of 8.7 missing person case per 100,000 residents in the state. This alarming number raises the question: When it comes to time and resources, how does the state’s law enforcement decide where to put their attention?
According to the Vermont State Police, it depends on the agency handling the case. If it’s state police, the officers will work and work and work until they’re out of leads. However, most missing people cases go through local departments.
Brianna Alexandra Maitland, a 17-year-old teenager from Montgomery, Vermont, vanished on March 19, 2004, after leaving her job at the Black Lantern Inn. Her car was discovered the next day parked near an abandoned house a mile away from her workplace.
It took several days for Brianna’s family to report her missing. Her mother, Kellie, didn’t learn about the discovery of her car until five days after she vanished. She believed her daughter was staying elsewhere because Brianna had left a note saying she was spending the weekend away with friends.
In the weeks following Brianna’s disappearance, several tips were investigated by Vermont’s law enforcement, including a tip claiming that she was being held captive in a place occupied by a group of local drug dealers she knew.
The case grew cold over time, as none of the tips led to her discovery. In 2012, the police investigated a police connection between her disappearance and Israel Keyes, a serial killer who committed numerous rapes and murders, but his involvement was ultimately ruled out.
To this day, no one knows what happened to her.
Number six on our list of states is Maine. In most cases, Maine’s missing people are teenagers who, fortunately, almost always appear within a few days or weeks. But not all the time. True to 2021, the Maine State Police have reported 33 open missing persons cases.
Some of these cases opened in the mid ‘60s and have been left cold and unsolved ever since. Unfortunately, nearly six decades later, it’s hard to believe that those people will ever be found alive. Then again, we should always keep our hopes up.
Anneliese Heinig, of Richmond, Maine, disappeared in the fall of 2019. Her car was spotted on the I-295 on November 26th. In it were her wallet and mobile phone. A number of people reported seeing a person fitting her description strolling along the side of the highway during that time.
Anneliese’s daughter reported her missing to the police on November 28th, after she didn’t show up for Thanksgiving dinner. In the summer of 2020, a search was done in the Falmouth and Casco Bay area, but no traces were found.
Wyoming came in at number seven on the list of the states with the most missing people cases. The study was per 100,000 residents, and while Wyoming has fewer residents than other states like California or Texas, there are still 45 open cases.
Wyoming’s Cheyenne Police Department revealed that locally, missing people are normally young runaways or people prone to wandering off. Those citizens usually qualify for a program called Project Lifesaver, in which they receive a free tracking bracelet.
Amy Joy Wroe Bechtel disappeared on July 24, 1997, while jogging in the Wind River Mountains located around 15 miles south of Lander, Wyoming. Despite widespread and thorough investigative work, her case remains unsolved.
In 2004, her husband, a rock climber named Steve Bechtel, declared her legally dead. For a while, Steve was a prime suspect, but he repeatedly denied that he had anything to do with her disappearance. Another suspect was Dale Wayne Eaton, a murderer on Wyoming’s death row. To this day, no one knows what truly happened.
The Aloha State has the eighth highest rate of missing people per capita in the nation, with an average of eight cases for every 100,000 people living there. Not only do they have a high percentage, but there are also over a hundred cases still unresolved.
Like Alaska, Hawaii’s treacherous terrain serves as fertile ground for hiking accidents and unfortunate disappearances. Many missing person cases in Hawaii are indeed hiking-related, as the jungle is really dense, making it super easy to get lost.
Isabella, a Hawaiian six-year-old was last seen on September 12, 2021, asleep in her bed at home in Waimanalo. The last time any family member saw her was around 9 p.m. It’s been more than a month since her disappearance, and it feels like there are still more questions than answers.
“I don’t want to think the worst-case scenario,” said Alena Kaeo, Isabella’s aunt, “but it’s always a possibility. Again, I’m trying to keep my faith as strong as possible, and I pray — I pray hard that she is safe. I don’t want to think the worst, but it is a possibility.”
As for the states with the least missing person cases, here’s the countdown:
Kansas, Iowa, South Dakota, Indiana, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Illinois, Georgia, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts all have extremely low rates of missing people.
Massachusetts is at the bottom of the list, with only 1.8 people missing per 100,000 residents.
As for cities with the most missing people, Los Angeles takes the cake with 189. Phoenix comes in right after with 170, Houston with 165, San Francisco with 163 cases, and Detroit with 150.