He let his eyes travel from the crackle of the old videotape, letting his mind wander to earlier days of how his parents had been. They had been so young. They had been so happy. He glanced back at the screen, and that’s when he saw it. The blood drained from his face as the feeling of fear paralyzed him.
The strange man in the old videotape reached out to his mom, and he caught a glimpse of the man’s watch — the kind that told everyone around him that he was wealthy and powerful. But it was his forced smile that gave his horrid facade away.
It was a hard day for 35-year-old Mark Welling as he cleaned out his parents’ house in San Francisco, California.
Mark was an only child who loved his parents deeply. When his father passed, he just could never quite bring himself to go through their stuff. But now, as he planned to sell the house, he couldn’t avoid it any longer.
As far as Mark could remember, he had a very happy early childhood. His parents hardly ever fought and treated him with kindness and unconditional love.
He knew he was lucky to have come from a loving home with parents he always felt he could rely on. But he was about to find out that not everything was as it seemed.
Without A Trace
Mark’s mother had disappeared when he was nine years old. A case was opened, but the police had no leads and the case quickly grew cold. Mark went to live with his grandparents while his father shut himself out from the world. He struggled for years to find closure.
As an only child, his parents’ estate was automatically passed on to him when his father passed on. But the house creaked under the weight of his childhood memories that he couldn’t bear to sift through, so he’d appointed other people to look after it over the years.
Revisiting Old Times
He watched the old wedding tape, smiling at how young and in love his parents were, but then things took a dark turn. The strange ominous figure smiled in the background.
It had been years since Mark was in this house. The last time he was here was to put everything in order and storage after they were gone. He left that day in tears, and the same would happen this time but for all the wrong reasons.
It wasn’t long before Mark found himself looking through boxes of old videotapes. Each one was labeled neatly, except for one.
The videotape with no label got the better of Mark’s curiosity, so he decided to play it to find out what it was. Surprisingly, it was a video of his parents’ wedding day. Why wasn’t this labeled? And why hadn’t he known about it?
A Familiar Face
Mark watched the wedding unfold in delight. He recognized his aunts and uncles, all of whom he hadn’t seen in years. They were all so young and happy.
But then the camera kept filming another man. He looked to be very close to his parents. He also looked vaguely familiar to Mark. Suddenly, a wash of fear came over him. Who was he?
As the footage continued, he noticed that his mom began to look unsettled. There was strange eye contact occurring between his mom and one of his dad’s best men behind him. It was that strange man again.
Suddenly, his mom broke down in tears at the altar and began to shout. Then his father stepped in and suddenly his parents were fighting at their wedding altar before the video abruptly cut out. In shock, Mark wondered what had happened.
Hunting For Clues
Mark remembered his parents very well and this kind of behavior was so unusual for them. He needed to find out what happened, especially since they never ever mentioned anything like this happening on their wedding day.
He started looking for clues. He sensed the strange man was the cause of the tension but he didn’t know why. Then he grabbed another tape and a chill went down his spine.
It was a birth video, dated the 1st of October, 1986. Mark was born and resting sweetly in his mom’s arms, but standing in the room with his mom and dad was that man again. This time, however, they seemed to be a big happy family.
Were they friends? What was happening? Why did he feel like something was very wrong? What he saw next had his memories flooding back.
Deceit And Lies
As the man reached out to hold him in the video, he caught a glimpse of the man’s watch. It was the kind of watch you’d never forget. Expensive-looking, sharp. A watch that told everyone around him that he was a wealthy man. A man more powerful than most.
He watched as the man lifted him to share a kiss on his forehead, and shuddered at his deceitful appearance.
Suddenly, Mark realized that somewhere within his memory lay a hidden box full of forgotten encounters with this man.
He paused the video and studied him again, now looking at his clean suit and tidy haircut. He really did look immaculate. He behaved in such a polite and respectful way that no one could ever have guessed what he did.
To him, the man was his estranged uncle, Gerald. At least, that’s what his parents called him. He was a wealthy man who used to come to his birthdays and other family occasions. He was always bringing big gifts and a welcoming smile.
He had stopped going to family events when Mark was young, maybe about five, and Mark never knew why. What happened to him? And why did Mark feel so strange looking at him?
Mark’s mother always avoided talking about “Uncle Gerald” once he stopped dropping by. He remembered asking about him once only to be met with a soft voice saying not to ask about him again.
Mark always knew he wasn’t as kind and generous as he appeared to be. And suddenly, it hit him. He knew where he’d seen his face before.
An Identikit Sketch
Mark had seen an identikit sketch of the man on television recently, on a rerun of an old crime show from the 80s.
The man was a criminal who operated in the San Francisco area, linked to robberies and gang involvement. Suddenly, everything made sense. Mark’s heart stood still and his breath became shallow.
Judging by his mom’s character, Mark surmised that she must have found out what he was doing on her wedding day and couldn’t hold back her feelings, even at the altar.
Mark never knew where he went, so he Googled his name. He found that he had been arrested years before he was born. But they hadn’t been able to keep him for long.
A Man On The Run
“Uncle Gerald’s” real name was James Kern, a man who had been on the run from police since 1977 when he escaped from a prison bus in North Carolina.
The convict had waited at the back of the bus until it stopped by a forest before making a run for it. Eventually, he started a new life and forged a fresh identity.
A Bank Robbery
“Uncle Gerald” had just begun his 10-year sentence for bank robbery. After falling in with a bad crowd in his youth, he had been tempted into committing more and more serious crimes as time passed.
He was living the high-life until he eventually got caught by police and sentenced. Did this man have something to do with his mom’s disappearance? Sweat dripped from Mark’s forehead as he slowly pulled out his phone and dialed 911.
Handing Them Over
Mark handed the tapes over to the FBI, although he didn’t know if any of the information on them would help them solve the case.
Strange feelings washed over him as everything he thought he knew was turned inside out. His mother had disappeared when he was nine, and that was that. But now he had to come to grips with an unsettling feeling: what if everything he knew was a lie?
The Mystery Deepens
It was a tenuous link at best, but Mark was determined to get to the bottom of the mystery. What if his parents had been inextricably involved in “Uncle Gerald’s” life of crime?
Searching online late into the night, he found reports of sightings of the man who was permanently on the FBI’s Wanted list — some as recent as the 1990s.
The FBI assumed that the man had taken a new identity before he’d appeared in Mark’s life, and had possibly had several aliases since.
Did that mean that his mom could also be alive somewhere? Mark dared to imagine what it would be like meeting her again before his heart hardened. A tear rolled down his cheek. That would mean that she had abandoned him. Or maybe her disappearance was more sinister.
Was the man that Mark knew as Uncle Gerald involved? Had he done something unspeakable? And for what purpose? The only person who may hold some answers was Mark’s father, and now he was gone too.
Mark hadn’t spoken to him much when he moved in with his grandparents, and their relationship had slowly fallen apart after that.
Reopening The Case
With this new detail that Mark had provided, James Kern’s case was reopened — as well as the case of Mark’s mother’s disappearance. The FBI used new technology to age their identikit sketches appropriately and sent out alerts across every state.
There are at least 21,894 women missing in cases that have gone cold in the U.S. Even though these cases are cold, they can be reopened if new evidence is found.
Mark’s father, Carl, had only discussed his wife’s disappearance with his son in the vaguest terms. After all, Mark was only nine at the time.
He was told that his mother Sylvia had packed up and left on his parents’ 20th wedding anniversary, and that was all there was to it. The last time anyone saw her, she was happy, smiling, and surrounded by friends. But now, that made no sense.
Around 100 people were gathered in the parish hall of the local church when Mark’s parents celebrated their milestone anniversary.
“We were wrapping bottles in gold foil and decorating before the party, and Sylvia was pretending she was an opera singer,” said Sylvia’s cousin. “That was what she was always like. She loved people and goofing around.” But other witnesses painted a different picture.
Beneath The Surface
Sylvia’s sister, Janet, told the police what was going on behind the scenes that day. She said that several family members had heard “Uncle Gerald” and Carl threaten Sylvia’s life on several occasions. The police, however, were never notified – at Sylvia’s request.
Janet explained that Carl had a drinking problem. During the years before their 20th anniversary, his drinking and behavior had gotten out of control.
Mark didn’t remember the anniversary. His parents had held the ceremony in the local church and had a wild party at their home afterward. Mark and the other children were sent to bed early so the adults could enjoy their drinking and dancing in peace.
Mark went home with his grandparents in the early evening and spent the night at their home. And staying over at his grandparents wasn’t an uncommon occurrence. But there was something else that wasn’t adding up.
According to the police records, Sylvia had called her out-of-state brother, Matt, that night. She called him to come and pick her up after she and Carl had an argument after the party. But, by the time Matt arrived, she was already gone.
“She told me he was threatening her,” Matt said. “She said to me, ‘If that happens, promise me you’ll take care of Mark.’ I told her, ‘Of course.’ And of course, I said, ‘Well, that’s not going to happen.'” Little did he know, he’d never see her again.
Investigators have not yet made any arrests or breakthroughs in relation to the mysterious man and Mark’s mom’s disappearance.
And, according to a press release from a police spokesman, they’ve been unable to shed any light on the strange reopened case. “Police cannot speculate what happened to the woman,” it read. And then, another potential piece of evidence disappeared.
Six months after the new discovery was made, Mark put his parents’ property on the market. Just a few weeks later, it sold for a little under $400,000.
At the moment, it’s unclear whether or not the new owners know the mysterious history of the home, or if there are more discoveries to be found within. And as time passes, it seems less and less likely that Mark will ever get to the bottom of his mother’s disappearance.