It’s January in Queensland, Australia, and single mom Sandie Gillette is out shopping with her two sons. Suddenly, a man approaches who appears shockingly familiar. And when he takes off his sunglasses, she is left in no doubt. She’s certain that it’s her long-lost husband – a man she last saw ten years earlier and 1,000 miles away.
How was Sandie so sure? Well, the story begins back in 2006, when she and her husband, Russell Jenkin, were living in the Melbourne suburb of Werribee. And from the outside, the couple appeared to be living a perfectly normal life. They shared a home in the sprawling neighborhood some 20 miles from the city’s downtown and had two young sons to care for.
On September 22, 2006, Ethan was four and his brother, Charlie, was two. But even though the boys were still young, they were about to have their lives turned upside down. That day, Sandie and Russell got into an argument. And while Russell continued to watch some sports, Sandie took Ethan and Charlie into another room.
The mom and her sons settled down to watch a movie, and Sandie tried to put the argument out of her mind. But then, at about 9:15 p.m., she heard the sound of Russell’s Toyota Yaris reversing away from the house. Worryingly, he didn’t come back, either, as the hours ticked by.
Then the next day, there was a strange development. Someone had discovered Russell’s vehicle, abandoned at the Lara Australian rules football ground 18 miles away from his home. Inside, they found all of Russell’s possessions, including his wallet, his identification and a sum of cash.
But what could have caused Russell to disappear without a trace? Had the argument, which Sandie referred to as insignificant, really been enough to make him abandon his family? Or was something more sinister at play? Determined to get to the bottom of it all, Sandie took matters into her own hands.
According to Dennis Williams, a detective sergeant with the Wyndham Crime Investigation Unit, Sandie canvassed the neighborhood of Lara, hoping to uncover some clues to her husband’s disappearance. Apparently, she knocked on doors, spoke to potential witnesses and even designed and distributed flyers.
But as the days turned into months and then years, Sandie came no closer to finding out the truth. It wasn’t just Ethan and Charlie who were suffering, either. According to press reports, Russell’s own family were left in the dark, only able to speculate on what might have happened to their beloved brother and son.
For ten years, Sandie raised her boys alone with no idea what had happened to the man they’d barely had time to know. She never found new love, either, and so Ethan and Charlie had to grow up without a father figure in their lives. But despite this difficult situation, Sandie apparently did her best. She’s also claimed that the boys have matured into decent young men.
Then, on January 27, 2017, the family’s world would be turned upside down for a second time. By then, they had left Werribee and moved to New South Wales, almost 600 miles away. At the time, though, Sandie had taken Ethan, now 15, and Charlie, now 12, on a trip to the Sunshine Coast in Queensland.
That day, the family were enjoying a visit to the Caloundra Stockland mall. They were more than 1,000 miles from Werribee, and seeing Russell again was something that Sandie never anticipated happening. Then they saw a vision that left them dumbstruck.
As Sandie, Ethan and Charlie left to return to their vehicle, they spotted a man walking across the parking lot. “We were coming out of the shopping mall, and he was coming towards us, casual-like,” Sandie told The Sydney Morning Herald in 2017. “We then got into the car.” However, this was no ordinary encounter.
Sandie quickly began to suspect that the man was none other than her long-lost husband. And as she observed him, he started to stare right back. “He ended up watching us just as much as we were watching him,” she told 7 News Online in 2017. Understandably, Sandie was too shocked even to speak.
Then the man removed his sunglasses – and Sandie was left without any doubt. In that moment, she became sure that she was looking at the husband she hadn’t seen in ten years. “That was Russell,” she confirmed. However, numbed by the experience, she didn’t approach the man – although she was later quick to point out that he didn’t attempt to talk to them, either.
In any case, a shocked Sandie returned with Ethan and Charlie to her car. Then, as they were leaving, they encountered the man once more. It seems that they got caught up in traffic and spotted him standing by a utility vehicle. According to Sandie, he was with a woman, too, although the mom didn’t manage to record the license plate on the car.
Even so, when the family returned home, they began to investigate. Curious, Ethan dug out an old photograph of his dad to see if it really was the same man they had spotted. “He looked up the missing person’s poster,” Sandie told The Sydney Morning Herald, “and he was 100 percent positive.”
Although the man in the parking lot was grayer and heavier than Russell had been when he seemingly walked out on his family, Sandie was sure that they were one and the same. And even though she could think of no reason why her missing husband might have been in Queensland, she acknowledged that he may simply have been on his way somewhere else.
But what could have caused Russell, now 47, to leave his family and never look back? To Sandie, the answer is a mystery. Now, she regrets not speaking to him when she had the chance. And although Russell’s actions have haunted the family for a decade, she is prepared to hold out an olive branch on behalf of their sons.
In fact, Sandie is hopeful that Russell will at least come forward and confirm that he is alive. “It’s always there, that not knowing,” she explained to The Sydney Morning Herald. “The boys would like to know him, and if he is out there, he doesn’t have to contact us – just the police. They know who he is, and they still think of him as their dad, and they want to know what happened.”
For Ethan, now a teenager, the prospect of seeing his dad again is a confusing one. But police have echoed Sandie’s view that Russell should get in touch. “It is absolutely not a crime to go missing,” Detective Sergeant Williams told The Sydney Morning Herald. “However, it is important to make contact with police to let us know you’re okay.”
Here’s hoping, then, that Russell will eventually reach out to his family. But what’s even scarier than an adult disappearing? A missing child, of course. Kids are more vulnerable, after all. So when Gregory Jean Jr. didn’t return from visiting his father, his mother, Lisa Smith, was likely out of her mind with worry. Four years later, though, police found a very promising lead.
In the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia, a young boy is hard at work in the yard of a comfortable home. That boy is Gregory Jean Jr., and as his neighbors look on, they have no idea that he has been missing for four long years. After he leaves a trail of clues pointing to his whereabouts, though, his extraordinary story is unraveled at last.
Back in 2010, Gregory was living with his mother, Lisa Smith, in Orlando, Florida. His father, Gregory Jean Sr., was not married to Lisa, and the pair were living apart. Nevertheless, they had established an informal agreement that saw Gregory Sr. send funds to help Lisa care for Gregory Jr. and his brother, Samuel.
Although his parents were no longer together, Gregory Jr. made every effort to stay in contact with his father. Each day, when he came home from school, he would speak to Gregory Sr. on the telephone. And despite the family troubles, he admitted that he loved his dad.
Then, that year, everything changed. By that time, Gregory Sr. was living in a suburb of Atlanta, Georgia. He had married a woman named Samantha Joy Davis and started another family. However, he seemed to still want to be a part of Gregory Jr. and Samuel’s lives, and so the dad suggested that they make a trip to see him in Georgia.
Together, Gregory Jr. and Samuel traveled more than 400 miles to see their father and meet his new family. However, something went wrong. By the time that the visit was over, Samuel had returned home to Lisa – but Gregory Jr. was nowhere to be seen.
When Gregory Jr. failed to appear, Lisa informed the Orlando court services; but for reasons unknown, she did not notify the police. Consequently, for the next four years, Gregory Jr. remained missing. And although Lisa spoke to her son on one or two occasions during that period, she had no idea where he was living.
Finally, on November 28, 2014, Gregory Jr. contacted Lisa out of the blue. Apparently, he had been able to get hold of a cellphone and send a message to his family – who had never stopped looking for the boy. So, armed with the address of where her son was located, Lisa got in touch with the police.
Soon, then, police arrived at the address – a comfortable, single-story property with a garage, on the outskirts of Atlanta, GA. However, there was no sign of Gregory Jr. To avoid detection, it seems that Davis had ordered the boy into the garage, where he had apparently been made to hide behind a false wall.
Luckily, though, Gregory Jr. would not be kept down. When police failed to find him on their first visit, the boy contacted his family again. This time, moreover, Lisa was able to tell them exactly where to look. So as her son texted updates, Lisa guided the authorities directly to his hiding place.
At last, then, officers discovered a grateful Gregory Jr. and took him away from his father’s house. That same night, Lisa got in her car and drove all the way to Atlanta to collect her long-lost son. Hence, accompanied by her daughter Tracy Guervil, she had an emotional reunion with Gregory Jr., then 13.
But as television cameras captured the outwardly happy scenes, the awful details about Gregory Jr.’s alleged ordeal began to emerge. According to him, things had seemed normal at first. Apparently, Davis told him that the arrangement was better for his father financially and that his real mom did not want him to return home.
During that first year, Gregory Jr. was even enrolled at middle school in Atlanta. But events at his father’s house soon took a turn for the worse. In contrast to the comforts that his step-siblings enjoyed, Gregory Jr. was made to sleep on a makeshift bed in the garage with only a flimsy cover for warmth.
Moreover, that was only the beginning. It appears that Gregory Jr. was also refused food and subjected to physical abuse. And in a truly humiliating move, the boy was apparently not even allowed to use a proper toilet. “She made me go to the bathroom in a bucket,” he told MailOnline in 2014. “And they would all watch me. It was embarrassing.”
Instead of enjoying his childhood, then, Gregory Jr. was compelled to live as little more than the family’s domestic help. “I felt like a maid,” he said. “I had to clean the house and yard, and if there was even a leaf out of place my step-mom would beat me with a stick.”
According to Gregory Jr., he wasn’t even allowed to watch television with the other children; instead, he was punished for imagined infractions and made to read the dictionary and copy out lists of words. Heartbroken at his situation, the boy apparently spent his nights crying, determined nevertheless to one day make his way home.
In an attempt to escape, Gregory Jr. confided in a counselor at school. However, when authorities arrived at the family’s home, Davis seemingly hid the evidence of the abuse. And despite her prior conviction for child cruelty, by all accounts, she was believed.
Furthermore, as retribution for talking to the authorities, Gregory Jr. was withdrawn from school. Apparently, Davis even prevented him from enjoying Christmas with the rest of the family. Although he still received presents, they were given to the other children to enjoy.
Strangely, too, although Davis’ neighbors sometimes saw Gregory Jr. working outside the house, they never cottoned on to what was allegedly happening behind closed doors. “He kept that yard immaculate,” one of them told CBS Evening News in 2014. “There was no evidence of distress, [and] it didn’t seem like he was reaching out, like, ‘Oh please help me.’”
Still, thanks to his quick thinking, Gregory Jr. is now back in Orlando with Lisa and their family, all of whom are delighted to have the boy home. And happily, it seems that the feeling is mutual. “Whatever anyone else gets for Christmas I don’t care,” Gregory Jr. told MailOnline. “This is my Christmas present, to be back with my family.”
Meanwhile, Gregory Jr.’s father and stepmother are, according to most recent reports, awaiting trial for their alleged role in the boy’s ordeal. Yet, incredibly, he harbors no bad feelings towards the pair and insists that he doesn’t want either of them to end up in jail. Instead, the teenager is focused on living his own life and plans to help others by becoming a lawyer.