Every March and April, dozens of cities in the southern part of North America are flooded with students. Excited to take a break from learning, they fill their days with beaches, bikinis and booze. Tragically, some of these young people also fall victim to murders and mysterious disappearances.
10 Sarah Ann Ottens
In 1973, the University of Iowa dormitory where Sarah Ann Ottens lived was almost empty, as most students had left for spring break. Sarah had stayed on campus to make some extra money as a waitress. She wanted to go home later to visit family in Illinois. Up until this point, she had the key to a friend's dorm room and sometimes stayed there instead of in her own room.
Just before midnight on the 13th. March, the 20-year-old nursing student was suffocated and beaten in her boyfriend's room. She had obviously been washed because there was blood in the sink. The students of the dormitory had left for vacation. Sarah's body was discovered by the only other student who stayed on the floor that week.
Eventually, police arrested 20-year-old James Hall, a part-time student who was African American. Based on hair, blood and fingerprint evidence found at the scene and on Hall's clothing, he was convicted and sentenced to 50 years in prison.
However, the study was compromised from the start. Racist remarks were allegedly made in grand jury proceedings. Then some jury members were accused of consuming alcohol during deliberations before rendering their verdict. Ultimately, Hall's conviction was overturned on appeal, as it was determined that the prosecution had withheld evidence.
Hall was released and Sarah's murder was relegated to unsolved status. Ten years later, Hall was convicted of strangling a 31-year-old woman. No one else was ever charged in Sarah's death.
9 Susan Jacques
Susan Jacques, a Connecticut high school graduate, went on spring break to Fort Lauderdale in 1986 with nine friends. Towards the end of the trip, Susan left her motel room during the night to allegedly go for a walk on the beach alone. Police later believed she may have met other partygoers at another motel.
Susan was found three days later in a canal 55 kilometers away. Her body was so badly decomposed that medical examination could not determine the cause of death.
Little evidence was found to link her murder to suspects. No witnesses have come forward and no motive has been established. Robbery was ruled out because she was still wearing expensive jewelry when she was found. There was no evidence of sexual assault.
Police were investigating several men who unexpectedly checked out of their motels early and left the state. But each was eliminated as a suspect. Police say their best hope to solve the case is a confession, but nothing has been expected yet.
8 Kim Vaccaro and Lisa Eisman
On 29. March 1985, Kim Vaccaro and Lisa Eisman, 20-year-old students at State University College in Buffalo, New York, went to Fort Lauderdale for spring break. They were going to meet up with a friend who had already arrived.
The two women had not told their families they planned to hitchhike. Kim and Lisa, armed only with a few kitchen knives, boarded a tractor-trailer for a ride-along. They had made it safely to the southern Maryland border, where Lisa sent her boyfriend a postcard.
Apparently her weapons were ineffective. Four days after setting out, the two young women were discovered in an undeveloped area near a Tampa river. Both were beaten so badly they had to be identified by dental records.
Kim and Lisa's bodies were found to have been in the water for two days. They were dressed only in T-shirts. Their money and other possessions were missing. The truck driver who picked them up was never identified.
Thirty years later, the murders remain a mystery. Unfortunately, Kim and Lisa had initially signed up for a bus trip to Florida sponsored by their university. Although they had received money from their families for the trip, the young women had apparently changed their minds to save the money for their vacation.
7 Karen Wilson
In an uncanny coincidence, another student from New York went missing at the same time as Kim Vaccaro and Lisa Eisman. Karen Wilson, a student at the University at Albany, had also planned to go to Fort Lauderdale with her roommate when she disappeared.
Unlike Vaccaro and Eisman, Wilson had purchased airline tickets to fly to Florida. But she never picked them up. Investigators believe she was grabbed off the street by an individual as she returned to campus after a tanning session.
In a fake kidnapping, police found that a man could grab and wrestle a small woman into the trunk of a car in ten seconds. But there is no certainty that this happened to Karen. Without evidence, a body, a crime scene or witnesses, it was difficult to make progress in the case.
An anonymous caller pointed investigators to a 33-year-old truck driver named Brad Woodworth. But detectives thought it unlikely Woodworth would have shown up for his 4 a.m. shift if he had kidnapped and murdered a woman at 8 p.m. the night before. They investigated Woodworth for two years, but he was never charged.
Another tip prompted police to search a wooded area near an abandoned country club near Woodworth. Months of searching turned up nothing. Woodworth died in a fire years later, and Karen's parents do not consider him a suspect in their daughter's disappearance.
Karen Wilson's body was never recovered and the case remains open.
6 Reny Jose
When he disappeared in 2014, Reny Jose, a senior engineering major at Rice University, was on spring break vacation with friends in Panama City, Florida. At about 6:30 p.m. on the fourth day of the trip, Reny left the house he and about 20 friends had rented. His clothes, cell phone and wallet were later found in a trash can behind the house.
Police suspected Reny was tripping on LSD when he waded into cold water and drowned. Some of his friends reported that drug use was common during the vacations and that Reny had made comments about possibly getting hurt. His family denied that he was suicidal. Reny was willing to pay a 4.0 GPA to take out and was supposedly thrilled to find a job.
Authorities searched the water near the beach house, but they couldn't find Reny's body. Reny's friends left the Florida rental house less than a day after he disappeared. No one admitted to seeing Reny leave the house or participating in the search effort. No suspects were named.
A year after Reny's disappearance, his family held a vigil to draw attention to his case as they continued to search for him.
5 Dana Bailey
In March 1987, 21-year-old Penn State student Dana Bailey was planning her wedding and looking forward to her graduation. She had gone to Washington, DC, to visit her fiance for spring break, but had come home early after an argument with him.
For some reason, Dana told her mother that she had gotten a flat tire on the way back to Pennsylvania. Then she asked her mother to call in sick to the restaurant where she worked because she wanted to get a tan. That evening, her fiance called from DC. After a 30-minute conversation, she said she was tired and was going to bed.
At the time, State College was a safe college town with at most one or two murders per decade. The street Dana lived on was quiet because most of the students who lived there were still on spring break.
When her mother Shirley stopped by the next day to drop off a check for Dana's rent, Shirley was horrified to discover that her daughter had been stabbed to death in the chest. Dana's diamond engagement ring was still on her finger, but her nightgown had been ripped off.
Since the area was deserted, there were no witnesses. Investigators refused to release many details of the crime, leading Dana's parents to speculate that there wasn't much evidence of it. One curious detail, however, was Dana's story about the flat tire. Her tires appeared to be fine, and police could not find a garage on the route she was assisted.
Nearly 30 years later, the case is still open.
4 Rachel Taylor
Nearly 50 years before Dana Bailey disappeared, another Penn State student was the victim of a mysterious crime. In 1940, 17-year-old New Jersey native freshman Rachel Taylor was returning to campus from a spring break visit.
She got off the train from her hometown at 1:20 a.m. to walk the 0.8 kilometers to her dorm room. Ten minutes later, Rachel was seen getting into a car right in front of the dorm. A janitor found her beaten body the next morning about 6 kilometers away. She was sexually assaulted and her body was mutilated.
There was speculation that a white slavery ring was operating in the area because another young woman had also been tortured and murdered near Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Friends insisted that Rachel had probably known her killer because she wasn't the kind of girl who accepted rides from strangers.
An autopsy revealed that Rachel had eaten shortly before her death. Since there were no restaurants open in the area at the time, it was more likely that she had known her attacker. However, a search of the entire campus turned up nothing.
Police interviewed jail inmates, psychiatric patients, and a number of alleged suspects in state. A bloody handkerchief and a man's footprint were found near where Rachel's body was discovered.
However, her killer was never identified. Neither the car nor the murder weapon were ever found. Rachel's murder has become one of the oldest cold cases in the region.
3 Stacie Madison and Susan Smalley
Stacie Madison and Susan Smalley, two high school students from Carrollton, Texas, were enjoying their last night of spring. Before their planned overnight stay at Susan's house, they visited friends in the Dallas suburbs, went to the mall and attended a friend's party in Arlington. Typical teenage stuff.
They returned to Susan's house around her midnight curfew. A short time later, however, they decided to stop by the restaurant where Susan was chatting with a boy she had a crush on. They were never seen again after that.
Stacie's 1967 Ford Mustang convertible was found locked and abandoned at a busy intersection a few miles south of Carrollton. Authorities questioned Stacie's ex-boyfriend, who bragged to his new girlfriend that he had murdered both girls and buried them in a cemetery near State Highway 121. But a search turned up nothing. The boyfriend recanted his confession, passed a polygraph test and was released.
In 2010, Shawn Sutherland, a paralegal in the Dallas area, was inspired to write a book about Stacie and Susan's disappearance. Named This Night Wounds Time: The Mysterious Disappearances of Stacie Madison and Susan Smalley, it revealed nothing new, but reignited police interest in the case.
Both police and Stacie's family believe her ex-boyfriend was not fully cleared as a suspect. Sutherland seems to agree with the book.Despite some promising clues that developed in the re-investigation, however, the case is still unsolved.
2 Brian Shaffer
One night in March 2006, Brian Shaffer, 27, had dinner with his father at a restaurant and then met a friend at a local bar in Columbus, Ohio, to celebrate the start of spring break.
Brian was a sophomore studying at Ohio State. He was preparing to travel to Florida in a few days with his girlfriend, Alexis Waggoner. She was a fellow medical student at Ohio State and expected the vacation to include a marriage proposal.
At the bar, Brian was met by his friend William "Clint" Florence separated. Brian was seen on surveillance video chatting with two girls near the bar and then apparently returning home. Brian was unable to reach Brian on his cell phone and assumed Brian had gone home.
However, video surveillance of the bar showed no signs that Brian had ever left the bar. Police even went so far as to account for each person who entered the bar to make sure Brian was not in disguise. His car and apartment were found when he had left them. None of his personal belongings ever turned up.
Twice, Clint Florence refused to take a polygraph test. He was the only person in the investigation to do so. His attorney asserts that Brian is alive and inexplicably causing his family's suffering. But numerous people – including Alexis, Alexis' father and Brian's brother Derek – believe Clint knows more than he's letting on.
1 Brittanee Drexel
The case of Brittanee Drexel, a 17-year-old high school junior from Rochester, New York, is perhaps the most high-profile spring break disappearance since Natalee Holloway vanished in Aruba in 2005.
In 2009, Brittanee asked her mother for permission to travel to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. But her mother only gave her permission to go to Charlotte Beach near her home. The Charlotte Beach trip, which her mother didn't know about, was a ruse for Brittanee to go to Myrtle Beach. Her mother had refused her permission for the Myrtle Beach trip because she didn't know the three friends who were going.
In Myrtle Beach, Brittanee met 20-year-old club promoter Peter Brozowitz, an acquaintance from Rochester. The night before Brittanee planned to go home, she visited Brozowitz at his hotel before returning to her own hotel around 9 p.m.
She had been texting her boyfriend during the back, but then the texts suddenly stopped. Subsequent phone calls went directly to voicemail as well as calls to friends she had traveled with.
Between 9:30 p.m. and midnight, Brittanee's cell phone rang at two towers, the first near Myrtle Beach and the second about an hour south. The area where her phone was eventually tracked (but never found) is full of swamps and alligators, and some fear her body was dumped there.
Brozowitz suddenly checked out of his hotel between 1 and 2 a.m. and returned to Rochester. The four friends he had shared the room with stayed behind.
There are many theories about what happened to Brittanee. Some people, including Brittanee's mother, speculate that she was a victim of human trafficking. Myrtle Beach is known as a hub for human trafficking and South Carolina has documented a dozen confirmed cases.
Some believe Brittanee's friends may have been involved because there was a dispute over a pair of shorts. Brittanee disappeared while returning to her hotel to return it to one of her friends.
The friends who traveled with Brittanee to Myrtle Beach did not contact her family or authorities when she went missing, and did not help in the search for her. Others believe Brozowitz was more involved than the evidence proved. In February 2016, Brittanee was not found.