10 Things That Went Missing Without a Trace


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Pro Basketball Star John Brisker
The Seattle SuperSonics are depicted in action around the time John Brisker played for them. Focus on Sport/Getty Images

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.

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