Boston’s Vanishing Men Mystery – Accident or Murder?


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People go missing every day, and often the cases are not connected. Sometimes these cases are not even reported and a person’s disappearance goes unnoticed. Then there are the cases we don’t really hear about because the media doesn’t report on them. So, what if we were to analyze missing person’s cases on our own? Could a number of disappearances somehow all be related to one another?

When college student Zachary Marr disappeared after leaving a Boston bar on February 13th, I couldn’t help but worry and wonder what happened to the young man. His body was eventually recovered from the Charles River on March 15, and foul play is not suspected by police. His case made many take notice of the amount of similar cases in the area, and the results are alarming.

charles river

An unsettling number of men have gone missing only to be found dead in Boston waters, presumed to have accidentally drowned. On the blog Cryptid Antiquarian, blogger Elise Soper pieced together at least ten other cases of men who have gone missing over the past 13 years in Boston, and noted that many of those individuals were found dead in bodies of water, like the Charles River or Boston Harbor. At least seven of the men vanished after leaving bars or parties, while the others simply just disappeared while doing errands or leaving work.

jonathan dailey
One young man—23-year-old Jonathan Dailey—went missing after hanging out with a buddy one night in 2012. His body was later discovered in the Charles River, tied and chained to a cinderblock.

Police ruled many of the deaths as accidental drownings. However, the alarming amount of men whose bodies were uncovered in water is not just limited to the New England area. Similar situations have also occurred in the Midwest, leaving some to believe there is an unidentified serial killer preying on vulnerable men.

When University of Minnesota student Christopher Jenkins went missing on Halloween in 2002, his body was discovered in the Mississippi River four months later. Police believed his death was an accident, or that he committed suicide. His family insisted that his death was not an accident, and a second autopsy proved that the position in which Jenkins’ body was found was inconsistent with an accidental drowning. The case was re-opened in 2006 and still has not been solved.

Sparked by Jenkins’ murder, retired NY police detectives Kevin Gannon and Anthony Duarte began connecting numerous drowning deaths of men across Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Wisconsin and Iowa. The pair studied evidence from cases dating back to the 1990s, and believe the deaths of at least 45 college males who drowned after leaving parties or bars are all connected.

The former detectives developed the Smiley Face Murder theory after they discovered a smiley-face symbol painted at a dozen of the drowning locations. The graffiti convinced the pair there is a gang of killers who are stalking men as they leave bars, murdering them and then staging their deaths as drownings.

While Gannon and Duarte are passionate about the Smiley Face Murder theory, the FBI insists that there is no evidence to support their claims. In 2010, the Center for Homicide Research released a statement outlining all of the reasons they believe the theory to be false. One reason being that the drowning deaths don’t actually “fit a serial killer motive.”

The Smiley Face Murder Theory may not be valid, but that doesn’t negate the fact that a large number of men are being found dead in bodies of water. The list of drownings extends across the pond where over 60 bodies have been found in canals in Manchester, England since 2007. Like the other drowning cases, most of those bodies were men who disappeared after leaving parties or bars.

The rise in drowning deaths between 2008 and 2015 prompted families and many others to suspect foul play. Eventually, the idea of a serial killer, dubbed the Manchester Pusher, came to light. It is theorized that the serial killer is targeting men at their most vulnerable state and pushing them into icy waters to drown.

Some pointed out particular drowning cases that seemed suspicious, like 18-year-old Souvik Pal. His body was found in a canal three weeks after he vanished leaving a bar on New Year’s Eve in 2012, and CCTV showed him accompanied by an unknown man.

In 2012, David Plunkett’s body was also discovered in a Manchester canal. His death was ruled an accident; however, Plunkett’s parents claimed their son called them before his death, and they heard him screaming in terror.

Manchester authorities insist there is no evidence of a serial killer. Detective Chief Inspector Pete Marsh explained many of the deaths as accidents due to alcohol, saying that the men simply put themselves at risk by placing themselves near the canals.

Mersey ferry Snowdrop at LAtchford locks on the Manchester Ship canal.
And that’s just it: in many of the cases a majority of these men did put themselves at risk. Several of the men disappeared after leaving parties, and many had been drinking. In the Boston cases it’s hard to ignore the fact that the city is surrounded by water. If these men were disoriented and inebriated at night, it’s easy to understand how they could accidentally fall into water.

boston harbor night

To support the notion that all of these cases were simply tragic accidents, information from the Center for Disease Control shows that nearly 80% of people who die from drowning are male, and alcohol is involved in about 70% of those deaths. Men are also more likely to put themselves into dangerous situations when they are drunk.

When looking at these statistics, many of the drownings can be explained as accidental. But, there are a few cases that do seem to be the result of something sinister. Is it due to a serial killer, or a string of killers? Anything is possible. Does the evidence support any of those theories? No.

If anything, the strikingly high number of male drowning deaths should be a cautionary tale. People—both male and female—need to be more vigilant and careful when they go out. Stay with your group of friends and don’t stray. Don’t make yourself vulnerable and become just another statistic the next time you go out on the town.


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