This blog and all associated content is now actively monitored by federal law enforcement authorities. The author of the archived posts, Blake Saunders of Houston, Texas, was last seen at Jorge Chavez International Airport in Lima, Peru. He has been reported as a missing person by his family.
I’m not sure if I’m supposed (allowed?) to post here anymore, but so many of you helped my search for Henna. I can’t leave without telling you… we did it.
I found her.
I’m sorry I can’t tell you how. The important thing is that she’s alive and we’re going to meet.
I’m shaking as I type this. It doesn’t seem real, but it is.
Thank you, everyone. I’ll come back and tell you the rest of the story someday.
Until then, don’t look for me.
When I started researching unsolved disappearances, I started with famous ones—the child prodigy, the explorer, the serial killer, etc. All these cases were notorious in their time and received worldwide media attention. Henna’s disappearance didn’t even make the local news in Vermont. Two years ago, I was too shocked to think about that. Now, I have to wonder… why didn’t the national media eat up the story of a disabled teenage girl vanishing from her home?
I’ve started searching for reports of people around the same age as Henna who disappeared under bizarre circumstances but didn’t receive national media attention. And yes, that’s as hard as it sounds. Most missing person cases have little information to begin with, and it’s not like I can go running around the country solving mysteries in my spare time. At first, I couldn’t find anything. I finally widened my search to include other types of crimes, and that’s when I stumbled on an arson case in Seattle with a weird similarity to Henna.
At 9:33 PM on February 29th, 2012 (Leap Day—weird), six year old Sophie Velis called 911 to report her family home was burning to the ground with her older brother inside. The fire was so intense that the entire house collapsed in on itself less than ten minutes after Sophie’s call. According to Mr. and Mrs. Velis, Sophie’s older brother Lexan had been left in charge of the house and his sister. After the fire was put out, authorities searched the rubble for Lexan’s body. They didn’t find it.
Forensics evidence indicated the fire did start in Lexan’s room, but there was no trace of accelerant. A blaze intense enough to destroy the Velis house so quickly would have needed help to achieve that kind of destruction. Sophie was in shock and had a hard time answering questions about what happened. From what investigators could gather, Lexan was somehow responsible for the fire, but got his sister to safety outside and then ran back into the house and has never been seen again. No evidence of his remains was found and the fire wasn’t hot enough to incinerate his bones completely. I realize they’re very different cases, but I was instantly reminded of Henna. Like her, Lexan disappeared from his own home.
Here’s where it gets weirder: Lexan’s parents have not only resisted official attempts to have their son declared dead, they’ve also never filed a missing person report. Even if Lexan burned their house down, wouldn’t his parents care? Wouldn’t they either want to put the past behind them with a burial or track him down to get some answers? I wonder if Sophie also got a note telling her family to “stop looking”.
I tried emailing Lexan’s friends, but that went nowhere. He didn’t have many to begin with, and the ones who answered my messages were uncomfortable talking about him. I didn’t get the impression they were scared, just confused by what happened. They all agreed he was a talented (and morbid) artist who spent most of his spare time sculpting little animals like rabbits and mice—but twisting them into darker versions. He liked making monsters. One of the friends insisted that Lexan wasn’t a malicious person at all, just “different”. From what I can tell, the jury’s still out on that.
Despite being a straight-A student, Lexan had problems with the law. It was mostly stuff like defacing school property, but some reports are in a sealed file because he was a minor when they happened. I have no clue what that stuff was about. With so many conflicting reports about him, I wonder what Lexan was actually like. People described Henna as a quiet antisocial person, but that’s not how I knew her. It makes you wonder if we ever really know the people around us. If I went missing, what would my classmates say about me? How would I be remembered? Maybe I don’t want to know.
I’m not sure if Lexan’s case has anything to do with Henna’s, but there are too many strange facts that don’t add up.
It’s common to think that everyone who disappears is an innocent victim of some psycho killer. After Henna went missing, I spent months imagining the kind of monster that might’ve taken her away. But sometimes, it’s the monsters that do the vanishing. What happens to them?
Case in point: Béla Kiss, aka the Craigslist Killer of early 1900s Hungary. This guy posted ads in local newspapers all over his home country to attract lonely single women with promises of marriage. He strangled his brides-to-be, drained their bodies of blood, and pickled the remains in metal drums. I could not make this stuff up if I tried. A man with the last name “Kiss” seduced women and drained their blood like Dracula, who was famously portrayed in movies by an actor with the first name “Béla”. That’s only a bizarre coincidence. The weird stuff comes later.
In 1914, Kiss was drafted into the Hungarian army to fight in the First World War, leaving his housekeeper in charge of his property. Two years later, Kiss was serving on the front lines, the war was in full swing, and the army needed gasoline. Somebody found the metal drums on Kiss’s property and had the bright idea to open them in case they contained stockpiles of gas. Instead, they found the pickled bodies of twenty-four women. It was kind of an open-and-shut case for the local police.
And now we get to the weird part. On October 4th, 1916, police arrived at the Serbian hospital where a badly-wounded Kiss was supposed to be recovering from injuries sustained in battle. All they found were the remains of a different soldier in Kiss’s bed. He was already long gone.
Nobody could figure out how this evil bastard knew the authorities were onto him, much less how he escaped while so badly wounded. Kiss shouldn’t have been able to travel very far or quickly, but the police never caught him. He disappeared against all logic, just like Henna.
But unlike my friend, people kept reporting sightings of Béla Kiss for years after. In 1920, a French Foreign Legionnaire named Hoffman—an alias used by Kiss in his letters—was reported boasting of his skills with a garrote (That’s a strangulation device, for all you nice people out there who don’t go around killing people.) And in 1932 a New York police detective claims he actually saw Kiss wandering around Times Square, but lost him in the crowds.
Nothing came from either of these reports or any of the other sightings. A lot of them were probably fakes, like people who talk about seeing famous dead rock stars hanging out at Waffle House in the middle of the night. There are some people who believe Kiss kept killing people all the way into the 1980s and have linked him to all kinds of terrible murders. I even read one crackpot theory saying he’s an actual vampire who is “still alive”. That’s just crazy.
Then again, the more I look into things like this the crazier the world starts to look.
In my memories Henna was always smiling, her nose practically touching the computer screen while she solved my puzzles. Those memories are all fantasies, of course. I never saw her face. I have no idea what she really looked like. Maybe she never smiled. I idolized Henna’s cleverness, so I created an image in my head of who she “must” have been. I couldn’t imagine her not happy, but everything I’ve learned about her since she disappeared has proved me wrong. The sad truth is that a lot of smart and talented people are miserable, and sometimes they just decide to walk away.
One of the more famous historical missing person cases I’ve found is of a writer named Barbara Newhall Follett. In 1918 she was only four years old—and already creating poetry and short stories on her father’s portable typewriter. Barbara was homeschooled, like Henna. Her only real social interactions were with her parents and imaginary friends. Her father Wilson Follett was a renowned critic and editor who became her mentor. By the time she was fourteen, Barbara had written two critically acclaimed novels: The House without Windows and The Voyage of Norman D.
Henna never talked about her parents. I only found out after her disappearance that they were artists and lived on an isolated retreat in the backwoods of Vermont. Was Henna close with her mom or dad? What was it like to live with so little contact to the outside world? I don’t know. They’ve never returned any of my emails or phone calls. One time, I talked to a guest at their retreat who told me Henna’s parents had separated. He didn’t know why.
Barbara Newhall Follett’s family couldn’t stay together, either. Wilson left his wife and daughter for a younger woman, and Barbara was forced to find work as a secretary to support herself and her mother. Before the age of twenty she was married to an engineer named Nickerson Rogers. They were happy for a while, but it didn’t last.
In 1939 the marriage was basically over. Barbara was convinced Rogers was cheating on her. After a bad argument with him on December 7th, she walked out of their apartment with thirty dollars and a notebook. She was never seen or heard from again. Rogers waited a whole two weeks to report she was missing. By then, there was no chance of police picking up her trail. Not that anybody ever really tried. I guess people assumed she didn’t want to be found. Sometimes I wonder if I should’ve searched harder for Henna after she first disappeared.
Barbara Newhall Follett walked out on an unhappy life. Maybe she found happiness someplace else. Maybe Henna did, too. Or maybe that’s just another fantasy in my head. The thing is, I’m learning that a lot of things everyone says are imaginary are actually real.
I’m not giving up until I know the truth.
Henna always talked about visiting foreign countries. She wanted to see the world—all of it. She’d get so worked-up describing the strange places she wanted to visit. At the time, I thought it was wanderlust from living in a small town. When I found out she was confined to a wheelchair, her obsession with travel made a lot more sense.
I’ve been researching famous people who went missing over the last hundred years to see if there’s any pattern to them. One case is British explorer Colonel Percy Fawcett. He vanished with his son Jack on an expedition through the Amazon in 1925. Henna was nuts about this guy. Maybe it was the Indiana Jones thing he had going on, or that she shared his fascination with the unknown. Either way, I can’t believe it’s a coincidence Henna vanished just as mysteriously as he did.
Myth and legend surrounded Colonel Fawcett for most of his career. Many members of his family, including his wife Nina, were caught up in the popular occult movements of the early 20th century. The Fawcetts were avid believers in the Theosophy Movement founded by a Russian woman known as Madame Blavatsky. Members of Theosophical Societies were convinced that hidden cities existed all over the world where “enlightened” men and women foretold prophecies that would benefit all humankind.
Don’t judge them too harshly. You’ve spent time on the Internet. People still believe crazy ideas. “Hollow Earth”, anyone?
The Fawcetts may have taken their beliefs a little farther than most. Percy and Nina believed their son Jack was actually one of these enlightened savior people and belonged in one of the hidden cities. That is why Jack was on the Amazon expedition. Colonel Fawcett was searching for the ancient lost city of “Z”, which he thought was one of Madame Blavatsky’s fabled utopias. The expedition and its eventual disappearance were widely followed by the news media in Britain and North America. Many rescue teams and other explorers have since tried to uncover what happened without success.
I don’t mean to imply Henna is anything like Colonel Fawcett. I can’t see her blindly following some fad philosophy and dragging a loved one into a dangerous situation based purely on faith. But she’s definitely someone who has always intended to go off on some grand adventure.
The problem with adventures is that many of them end badly. An optimist might choose to think Colonel Fawcett and his son made it to the lost city of Z and forgot to tell the rest of us, but it’s more likely they got overwhelmed by the Amazon jungle and died in it. If Henna figured out how to take her around-the-world adventure, that note I received tells me she’s still out there.
I just want her to come back safe.
My best friend disappeared two years ago.
We met in reddit.com/r/puzzles. I started lurking there the summer between freshman and sophomore year. I wasn’t some grandmaster riddle-wizard, just good at math. I was bored and it was a way to pass the time. Once every couple of days, I’d post a pigpen or grand cipher and then time how long it took for someone to solve it. The average speed was thirty minutes(!), and it was always the same user: “WhytheStarsShine”.
No matter how challenging I made my puzzles, that person cracked them all in record time. Pretty soon, we were only posting things for each other because nobody else could keep up with us. After a couple of months, we started chatting outside reddit. That’s when she told me her real name was Henna. I didn’t believe her at first. Guys pretend to be girls all the time online, just to mess with people’s heads. But it didn’t matter to me. By the end of sophomore year we were texting and chatting all day. I could tell Henna anything. I’ve never had that kind of friendship before or since.
We kept communicating in secret codes and made-up ciphers that only we understood. Everything was a game with Henna. She was always looking for something to beat. It was my favorite thing about her, but later on I learned it was also how she coped with her life. She had a hard time making friends where she lived (one more thing we had in common), but that was the least of her problems. I didn’t find out the real truth about Henna until after she was gone.
Our friendship started falling apart on her birthday. I surprised her by revealing I’d saved enough money to fly up and visit her in Vermont, where she lived with her parents at some artists retreat. I thought she’d be excited, but she got so angry. She said it would ruin our friendship and she wasn’t good at dealing with people in real life.
I backed off and tried to make things like they were, but it didn’t matter. She replied to my messages less and less frequently, and then one day she stopped responding completely. A week later, the police showed up on my doorstep and said Henna had disappeared.
Looking back, I don’t blame them for suspecting me. I’m a dude, Henna met me on the Internet, we communicated in strange languages and word puzzles, and I’d tried to come visit her. It makes sense I’d be a suspect, but at the time I completely freaked out.
I thought the cops were going to arrest me, but they figured out pretty fast there was no way I could’ve been involved. But they still had a ton of questions, and I spent the next five hours with my parents and two detectives watching me decoded every message, text, and email I ever sent Henna. They made me explain our entire friendship and talk about things I had only intended for her to hear. It was the worst day of my life.
Finally, the detectives told me what had happened—and that was when I realized maybe I never really knew Henna after all. She had disappeared from her family’s house, which was way out in the middle of nowhere. Her parents were running errands in the family’s only car, and there wasn’t any evidence of other vehicles visiting the property. There also wasn’t any sign of a struggle or break-in. Henna’s cell phone and keys were missing, but the one thing she couldn’t get around without was parked in front of her computer where it always was:
She never told me about that.
Henna hadn’t been able to walk since she was eight years old. There was no way she got up and left the house on her own. But if someone had come in and carried her away, they didn’t leave any tracks. She just vanished.
Listening to the police tell me these things was like getting punched in the face over and over. I didn’t sleep for a week. I researched missing person cases, trying to find a pattern between them and Henna’s disappearance. I posted in reddit and everywhere else I could think of where she might be lurking. Nothing. It messed me up bad.
My parents put me in therapy. The psychiatrist told me denial was the first stage of grief, my feelings were perfectly normal, blah, blah, blah. But I knew better. Henna was still out there, somewhere. I kept looking for her online, posting information to anonymous chat rooms.
Three days ago, I got a reply. But not online—in real life.
I found a handwritten note tucked into my school locker. It contained a single sentence: “Stop looking where you can’t find me.”
The police, my therapist, and my parents say it’s a cruel prank. I’ve never seen Henna’s handwriting before—all our past communications were online text. They tell me that note could be from anyone, but I know it’s her.
We always communicated in code, and that note is a riddle. What does she mean that I’m looking where I “can’t” find her? I’ve been searching all over the Internet. The whole damn planet. If she isn’t here, where is she? The moon?
The only thing I know for sure is that she wouldn’t have left me that note if she didn’t want me to solve her puzzle.
I think Henna’s trying to tell me there’s something much bigger going on than just me and her. I’ve found a lot of strange things in my research over the last year. That’s where this blog comes in. If anyone out there knows more, I could use your help.
Henna, if you’re reading this… I left puzzles for you just like the ones we used to make. Some of them are here. The rest are on this subreddit (/r/SeekingHenna/).
I’ll solve this, I promise. I have to know the answer.