Mysterious appearances and disappearances

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OVER the years I’ve written a few columns about people who have mysteriously disappeared; they’re there one minute, gone the next.

Sometimes there’s a pretty obvious explanation staring you in the face – murder, escape from debt or a failed relationship, or even just a desire to start life afresh.

But then there’s the opposite of mysterious disappearances – strange appearances.

People who just arrive out of nowhere, stay a while and then go back to … well, who knows where?

The first case I recall hearing about was in the 1920s.

A Chicago schoolteacher hired a housekeeper, who promptly arrived for her first day at work.

The schoolteacher showed the young woman – whom he described as extremely pleasant – around his home, and then offered to make tea while she began dusting the bedrooms.

Before the kettle had even boiled, there was a knock at the door.

The chap opened it and found a young woman standing there. “Good morning!” she said, “I’m your new housekeeper!”

Baffled, both the schoolteacher and the second young lady went upstairs to confront the first arrival.

There was no one there, and she was never seen again.

A similar story was attached to the old Ingham Infirmary at South Shields, when a doctor entered one of the wards one day and examined all the patients.

He passed a nurse on the way out and greeted her with a courteous “Hello”.

Not recognising the doctor, she decided to catch up with him and introduce herself.

When she turned the corner of the corridor, he’d gone.

Were these people ghosts? I don’t think so.

The first housekeeper could have suddenly realised she was in the wrong house and quickly fled in embarrassment.

The mysterious doctor at the infirmary could have been a bogus GP – a disturbing number of them have been found practising at hospitals in the past, although modern security measures have made such instances relatively rare now.

But some cases are not so easily explained.

For example, that of the truck driver who pulled into the car park of a diner in Illinois, walked inside and purchased a steak.

He told the girl behind the counter that he’d be back in a minute or two, as he had to use the bathroom.

After he hadn’t re-emerged after five minutes, the owner went into the bathroom to check that he was OK.

It was empty, and there were no windows or other doors by which he could have exited.

His truck still stood outside. The driver, who was later identified as a resident of Cincinnati, Ohio, was never seen again.

“Had he left the restroom then surely I would have seen him,” said the counter assistant, “but I surely did not, and nor did any other. Perhaps the good Lord took him.”

In 1958, a young child was found wandering through the streets of Lima, Peru. She was well-dressed and seemed to be in good health.

She spoke Italian and had no distinguishing features, other than a small scar on the top of her left foot.

Despite extensive efforts to find her parents, the authorities drew a blank.

The Gazette once received an e-mail from a chap in Hylton Castle, who ordered a pizza to be delivered.

It arrived, and he paid the delivery driver. Half an hour later another pizza arrived, and the householder, being an honest cove, told a confused young man that it had already been delivered and almost completely eaten.

Checks were made, and it was established that no one from the takeaway had been to the house previously.

Stranger still, no one recognised the description of the first driver, but the box in which the pizza was delivered was nevertheless identified as having come from the same establishment.

The e-mail was forwarded to me, but I was never able to make any headway in getting to the bottom of the matter.

I suppose we’d all find an experience like that a bit creepy, but if there’s a free pizza in it, who would want to complain?