No matter who you are or where you come from, someone close to you is going to pass away at some point. That’s life. While everyone copes with their grief differently, we all know a similar pain — the terrible dreams, the reoccurring memories: dealing with a loss is something everyone struggles through.
An Australian family was knee deep in the grieving process after the family patriarch disappeared without a trace. Over a decade later, however, an unusual sight sent them on a desperate search for answers that even the authorities felt was completely hopeless.
Australian Russell Jenkins appeared to be building the perfect life. He and his wife, Sandie, had a comfortable home in the suburbs of Werribee, about 20 miles from Melbourne. There, they had even more going for them.
The couple also had two sons, Ethan and Charlie, who were born two years apart; the four of them formed a stereotypical nuclear family. But, one evening, something shattered their tranquility.
On that evening, Russell and Sandie got into an argument. It seemed like no big deal — every couple is bound to disagree sometimes, right? Well, this fight would go on to change the family forever.
With tensions and frustrations escalating between the two adults, Sandie took her two sons to another part of the house to defuse the situation. Russell stayed behind, clearing his head by watching sports on television.
Meanwhile, Sandie and the boys watched a movie to calm down, and the night slowly returned to normal. But, around 9:15 PM, she heard a rumble coming from outside the house. This wasn’t a predator in the bushes — this was a sound she knew well.
It was Russell’s Toyota Yaris starting up and pulling out of the driveway. He hadn’t told anyone he was leaving, but, Sandie figured, it was possible he was mad and wanted to get away for a moment. Of course, he’d be back soon.
But the night came and went, and Russell never returned. That was completely unlike him, as he’d never stayed out late like that before. Still, it was a total surprise when, the next morning, some officers knocked on Sandie’s door.
Russell’s car, the officers said, was found at the Lara Australian Rules Football ground about 18 miles from the house. To make matters worse, the car wasn’t exactly empty.
All of Russell’s possessions were still in the car. Wherever he was, which still was uncertain, he was traveling without his keys, money, or anything beyond the clothes on his back. At this point, Sandie knew she had to do something.
She started searching for any sign of her husband. From knocking on doors and speaking with neighbors to designing and distributing flyers, Sandie did everything in her power to find even the smallest clue.
Despite her efforts, nothing ever turned up. Over the years, the lack of knowledge took a toll on the family. They couldn’t bare the lack of closure. Desperate for peace, Sandie mulled over a difficult decision.
Eventually, she and her sons relocated to New South Wales, roughly 600 miles away from the home they shared with Russell. There, things continued as normal, until the family took a trip to Queensland’s Sunshine Coast.
One afternoon, the three pulled into the Caloundra Stockland Mall and headed inside. After an ordinary shopping trip, they headed into the parking lot, where they saw a figure in sunglasses watching them from across the parking lot.
The lone man “was coming towards us, casual-like,” Sandie told The Sydney Morning Herald. But the encounter didn’t end after he passed by. There was something unsettling about this person.
Maxwell GS/ Flickr
Sandie observed him and, to her surprise, he kept looking back at the family. “He ended up watching us just as much as we were watching him,” she said. Then he took his sunglasses off and everything changed.
When Sandie looked into the man’s eyes, she was sure it was Russell. The man she hadn’t seen in nearly a decade was now within arm’s length! All of her efforts, every phone call and flyer, had led up to this moment.
But Sandie couldn’t bring herself to confront Russell. She was too numbed by the moment to do anything but look on in shock. The family drove away, but they would cross paths with him again sooner than anyone thought.
On the way out of the area, the family got caught up in traffic. By chance, they pulled up alongside the man again. Sandie noticed he was with a woman and driving a utility vehicle, but they began moving again before she could catch his license plate number.
Once at home, Ethan became skeptical that a strange man in a parking lot could be his missing dad. While most of the family’s old photos were lost in a flood, he began pouring over any information he could find. He soon came to an unshakable conclusion.
Despite the man being older and heavier than the photos, Ethan was convinced that his mother was correct: that strange man was Russell! They had found him and simply let him drive away. What could they do now?
The family went to the police asking for help once more, but authorities said their options were limited. Disappearing simply isn’t a crime. All they could do was amplify the family’s plea for Russell to simply confirm he was OK.
Once again, Sandie and her kids were forced to grapple with mystery, and as of 2019, they still never reconnected with Russell. Nevertheless, stories like the one that transpired half a world away gave them hope.
Twenty-six-year-old Carlos Sanchez Ortiz de Salazar had a bright future ahead of him. He was a licensed physician in Spain, had a degree in psychology, and even spoke multiple languages.
Yet even with such a seemingly perfect life, Salazar was not as he seemed on the surface. Despite his reputation for being polite, studious, and responsible, the gifted doctor was also quietly dealing with acute depression.
Then, on an ordinary day in 1996, Salazar disappeared without a trace. For the next fourteen years, both friends and family searched tirelessly for the missing man, but after coming up with nothing, authorities announced that Salazar was “presumed dead.”
But just five years later, there was a break in the case in a place that no one ever thought to look. Just across the Mediterranean, an unexpected discovery was made in the lush wilderness of Italy’s Maremma region.
Bram van Broekhoven / Flickr
In November 2015, a group of hikers set off into the woods just outside of Tuscany in search of edible mushrooms. In a place such as this, the spongy spores grew large and in wild abundance.
The Italian Corner
Yet on this particular afternoon, the mushroom pickers had little success in finding what they were after. Believing they’d have better luck off the beaten path, they split from their route and wandered off into the forest.
After walking only a few yards, the group stumbled across a trail of trash. They initially wrote it off as garbage from some careless campers, but as they followed the litter, they came upon something that definitely wasn’t mushrooms…
In the middle of the clearing ahead sat a small, makeshift camp; tin cans hung from the surrounding trees to catch rainwater, and someone had even strung up a tarp to make a shelter. But as they surveyed the strange sight, the foragers realized they weren’t alone.
From the shelter emerged a single man, whom the hikers described as having “a dirty face and large beard.” This about all they needed to see, however, as before the mysterious woodsman could approach, the pickers fled back toward the path.
Though this wasn’t enough to keep them away, as just a few hours later they returned to the campsite with a forest ranger. He questioned the man, who was simple in his reply: “I’m Spanish, my name is Carlos, and I’ve been living here since 1997.”
But could this truly be the very same man that disappeared all those years ago? The ranger wasn’t so sure, and so he asked for proof. Without hesitation, the man produced several personal IDs. The name inside all of them? Carlos Sanchez Ortiz de Salazar.
How the former doctor had come to this place – let alone survived for nearly two decades in the wilderness – was a mystery, but it was clear that he wasn’t too happy about being discovered. “I don’t want to live among people,” he told the group. “Now that you have found me, I need to get out of here.”
Despite his intent to leave the area, the hikers opted to snap photos of his documents so they could pass them along to the proper authorities. With this newfound information, it didn’t take long for these organizations to track down Salazar’s family and give them the good news.
No sooner did they get the call that the man’s family boarded a plane to Italy to search for their missing relation. Salazar’s mother, Amelia, was particularly moved by the news, telling the Italian press, “It was as if our son had been born again.”
However, the family knew finding Salazar wouldn’t necessarily guarantee he’d come back into their lives. “He’s alive and that is the important thing,” said Amelia. “We will respect his wishes and his freedom, but we won’t go home until we have at least given him a hug, even for a few moments.”
guy clift / Flickr
With the help of local law enforcement, Salazar’s family gathered a search party and set out to where the mushroom pickers had first encountered the missing man. Unfortunately, Salazar had stuck to his word — the campsite was totally abandoned.
In his wake, the missing man had left behind an enormous pile of trash, which included bottles, tarps, shoes, buckets, and a myriad of other survival tools. But Salazar was gone, this was certain, and the local authorities soon abandoned their search.
Local Coast Outpost
“We will continue to keep an eye out in the forest, but we won’t be actively searching for anybody,” said Marcello Stella, mayor of nearby Scarlino. “This is not the responsibility of the council and after all, he is hiding of his own free will.”
Salazar’s family returned to Spain a few days later, likely believing it’d be nearly impossible to find him in the 35 square miles of forest. This was probably for the best — no one has seen Salazar since the mushroom pickers came across him that fateful November day.
Still, there are those in the area, such as missing persons advocate Nicodemo Gentile, that continue to search for the former doctor: “We will continue to follow this case and help [Salazar’s] family with the hope that one day they can embrace the son who left them… all those years ago.”