In the early 1970s, Brisker was an all-star forward for the Pittsburgh Condors of the now-defunct American Basketball Association averaging 26 points a game. But his soft shooting touch and quickness were overshadowed by his reputation as a menacing and hot-tempered brawler. It once took four policemen to subdue him in an off-court tussle. After finishing his career in 1975 with the NBA's Seattle SuperSonics, Brisker tried his hand at operating a restaurant, but it eventually failed. In February 1978, Brisker traveled to Africa with a friend, supposedly to lay the groundwork for an import-export business that he hoped would resurrect his fortunes and help to pay off his creditors.
About six weeks later, Brisker made a call from Kampala, Uganda, to his companion, Melvis Diane Williamson, telling her that he would soon send for her and their young daughter. That was the last anyone heard from him. Over the years, rumors have persisted that Brisker was killed while fighting as a mercenary for Idi Amin, or that he was murdered after running afoul of the Ugandan dictator, who had an even worse mean streak than Brisker did.
Other stories have him drifting to Guyana and dying in the Jonestown massacre in November 1978. Or maybe he took on a new identity and is alive somewhere today. As a Seattle sportswriter put it, "All anyone knows is the ungentle giant shone briefly for the SuperSonics and veered out of sight" [sources: Jamieson, Halvonik].
Author's Note: 10 Things That Went Missing Without a Trace
This assignment was an interesting one for me, because I have a personal connection to two of the missing people on this list. When I was 13, I went to pro basketball game and afterward got up my nerve to approach John Brisker and ask him for his autograph. I remember him as a towering, muscular giant, clad in a flamboyant midnight-blue shirt with white polka dots and bellbottom jeans, who despite his fearsome reputation turned out to be surprisingly friendly. Years later, as a magazine journalist, I did a piece on missing heiress Helen Brach and interviewed numerous people who'd known her — including Richard Bailey, the imprisoned con artist who was accused of involvement in her disappearance. I spent a lot of time talking to Bailey, who struck me as more of a grifter than a killer. It's hard for me to imagine that Matlick didn't have something to do with her demise.
- Appian. "The Civil Wars." Loeb Classical Library. 1913. (March 30, 2014) http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Appian/Civil_Wars/1*.html#120
- Art Newspaper. "Return of the Lost Serra." Theartnewspaper.com. Dec. 10, 2008. (March 30, 2014) http://www.theartnewspaper.com/articles/Return-of-the-lost-Serra/16567
- Associated Press. "A look at some passengers on Flight 370." USA Today. March 29, 2014. (March 30, 2014) http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2014/03/29/malaysia-flight-370-passengers/7051605/
- Basu, Tanya. "Have We Found the Lost Colony of Roanoke Island?" National Geographic. Dec. 6, 2013. (March 31, 2013) http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/12/131208-roanoke-lost-colony-discovery-history-raleigh/
- Biography.com. "John Cabot." Biography.com. 2013. (March 30, 2014) http://www.biography.com/people/john-cabot-9234057
- Blumberg, Jess. "Abandoned Ship: The Mary Celeste." Smithsonian. November 2007. (March 31, 2014) http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/abandoned-ship-the-mary-celeste-174488104/?page=1
- Candiotti, Susan. "Feds, again, leave empty-handed in Hoffa hunt." CNN. June 19, 2013. (March 30, 2014) http://www.cnn.com/2013/06/19/us/michigan-hoffa-search/
- Carola, Chris. "'12 Years A Slave' Author, Solomon Northup's, Death Still A Mystery." Associated Press. March 16, 2014. (March 30, 2014) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/03/16/solomon-northup-12-years-a-slave-author_n_4974668.html
- Dizikes, Cynthia. "Ruby ring may hold clue to 1977 disappearance of heiress." Chicago Tribune. Nov. 25, 2011. (March 31, 2014) http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2011-11-25/news/ct-met-helen-brach-ruby-ring-20111124_1_frank-brach-joe-plemmons-jack-matlick
- Encyclopaedia Britannica. "John Avery." Britannica.com. (March 30, 2014) http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/45624/John-Avery
- Enstad, Robert. "Decade Later, Brach Mystery--and Fortune—Intact." Chicago Tribune. March 2, 1987. (March 31, 2014) http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1987-03-02/news/8701170062_1_brach-case-jack-matlick-glenview-home
- Federal Bureau of Prisons. "The Rock." (March 31, 2014) http://www.bop.gov/about/history/alcatraz.jsp
- Heinzmann, David and Coen, Jeff. "Haunted by night Brach died." Chicago Tribune. April 10, 2005. (March 31, 2014) http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2005-04-10/news/0504100385_1_brach-murder-helen-vorhees-brach-richard-bailey
- Goudie, Chuck. "I-Team: Prisoner Richard Bailey claims he was in love with missing heiress Helen Brach." WLS-TV. May 14, 2013. (March 31, 2014) http://abclocal.go.com/wls/story?id=9102657
- Halvonik, Steve. "Brisker ruled dead, but disappearance still a mystery." Pittsburgh Press. July 23, 1985. (March 31, 2014) http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1144&dat=19850623&id=UoMcAAAAIBAJ&sjid=UWIEAAAAIBAJ&pg=7131,3912386
- History.com. "Aug 6, 1930: Joseph Force Crater becomes the missingest man in New York." History.com. 2014. (March 30, 2014) http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/joseph-force-crater-becomes-the-missingest-man-in-new-york
- History.com. "What happened to the 'Lost Colony' of Roanoke?" History.com. Oct. 3, 2012. (March 30, 2014) http://www.history.com/news/ask-history/what-happened-to-the-lost-colony-of-roanoke
- Jamieson, Robert L. , Jr. "Former Sonic Forever Shrouded in Mystery." Seattle Post-Intelligencer. July 1, 2004. (March 31, 2014)http://www.seattlepi.com/news/article/Former-Sonic-forever-shrouded-in-mystery-1148494.php
- Kiger, Patrick J. "The Horse Lady Vanishes." GQ. May 1995. (March 31, 2014) http://www.patrickjkiger.com/the_horse_lady_vanishes_gq_may_1995.pdf
- Konnikova, Maria. "Why We Need Answers." The New Yorker. April 30, 2013. (March 30, 2014) http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/elements/2013/04/why-we-need-answers.html
- McDonell, Michael. "Lost Patrol." Naval Aviation News. June 1973. (March 31, 2014) http://www.history.navy.mil/faqs/faq15-2.htm
- Miller, Lee. "Roanoke: Solving the Mystery of the Lost Colony." Arcade Publishing. 2001. (March 31, 2014) http://books.google.com/books?id=A_T0GyxK9DYC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false
- Mills, Barbara Kleban. "Whoever Knows the Fate of Candy Heiress Helen Brach Is as Quiet as Her Empty Grave." People. May 28, 1984. (March 31, 2014) http://www.people.com/people/article/0,,20087915,00.html
- Molotsky, Irvin. "A Crime Half Solved: Part of Washington's Teeth Reappear." The New York Times. Aug. 30, 1982. (March 31, 2014) http://www.nytimes.com/1982/08/30/us/a-crime-half-solved-part-of-washington-s-teeth-reappear.html
- The New York Times. "Con Man Tied To Killing Gets 30 Years in Jail." http://www.nytimes.com/1995/06/16/us/con-man-tied-to-killing-gets-30-years-in-jail.html June 16, 1995. (March 31, 2014)
- Nolte, Carl. "Alcatraz escapees' family convinced brothers alive." SFGate.com. March 18, 2013. (March 31, 2014) http://www.sfgate.com/crime/article/Alcatraz-escapees-family-convinced-brothers-alive-3626364.php
- Roach, John and Than, Ker. "Where Is Amelia Earhart? Three Theories but No Smoking Gun." Nationalgeographic.com. July 24, 2012. (March 30, 2014) http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2012/07/120724-amelia-earhart-google-doodle-fred-noonan-115th-nation-science/
- Spencer, Beth. "Who's Watching the Children? The Beaumont Case Revisited." The Age. Jan. 21, 2006. (March 30, 2014) http://www.bethspencer.com/beaumonts.html
- Sullivan, Laura. "Return To Alcatraz: Will A Legend End After 50 Years?" NPR. June 10, 2012. (March 30, 2014) http://www.npr.org/2012/06/10/154614456/return-to-alcatraz-will-a-legend-end-after-50-years
- Time.com "10 Famous Disappearances: Jimmy Hoffa." (March 30, 2014) http://content.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1846670_1846800_1846821,00.html
- Tur, Katy and Connor, Tracy. "Latest search for Jimmy Hoffa called off with no remains found." NBC News. June 19, 2013. (March 30, 2014) http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/06/19/19040037-latest-search-for-jimmy-hoffa-called-off-with-no-remains-found?lite
- United Press International. "Washington's False Teeth Taken From Smithsonian." The Bulletin. June 20, 1981. (March 31, 2014) http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1243&dat=19810620&id=Qf1XAAAAIBAJ&sjid=NPcDAAAAIBAJ&pg=3531,1569607
The 100-year anniversary of the end of World War I offers up a second chance to learn from our mistakes. HowStuffWorks looks at what we need to know.