In December 1967, then-serving prime minister of Australia, Harold Holt, disappeared while swimming at Cheviot Beach, Victoria. His body was never found, though an inquest held much later stated that the cause of death was drowning.

Has such an occurrence happened in recent history, defined by being recent enough to have rapid communication such as the telegram and widespread recognition of what the individual looked like such as photography, to either a serving head of government, or a serving head of state, for any other country?

I had a quick skim over List of people who disappeared mysteriously and "Real Life" in Never Found the Body in TV Tropes (warning: not productivity safe) and didn't find any other examples.

  • 4
    That incident always struck my fancy as well. I've in the past made the same search as you and come up dry. ...which shouldn't be shocking. Australia is known to be a uniquely dangerous place.
    – T.E.D.
    Dec 18, 2017 at 2:48
  • @T.E.D. I see what you did there. :)
    – Golden Cuy
    Dec 18, 2017 at 7:23

1 Answer 1


Edward V of England might qualify. He was never technically coronated but he was the recognized heir to his father, Edward IV. Edward V was only 12 at the time and his uncle, Richard III assumed the role of regent. Richard kept delaying the coronation while meanwhile word spread that Edward V was the result of a bigamous union thus making him and his younger brother illegitimate and conveniently leaving Richard III as the rightful heir.

Edward V and his brother Richard went in to the Tower of London and were never heard from after the summer of 1483. To this day, historians can only speculate as to their fate although the most common theory is that they were murdered.

Other cases of "recently deposed royal/inconvenient heir is imprisoned and never heard from again" exist such as Louis XVII of France (the "lost dauphin") who spawned dozens of pretenders.

If you mean "without a trace" to apply to the people the sovereign was governing (i.e. we today know what happened but the citizens then did not) and you stretch the "head of state" bit to mean "head of state until very recently prior to disappearance." I think Tsar Nicholas II's brother Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich might qualify. Nicholas abdicated the throne in February 1917 and then abdicated his son Alexei's claim to the throne (due to Alexei's haemophilia). Nicholas' brother was proclaimed Emperor. The provisional government at the time didn't actually agree to that, but as Wikipedia says "the legal position was complicated as the legitimacy of the government, whether Nicholas had the right to remove his son from the succession and whether Michael actually was Emperor were all open to question." His status as "head of state" was murky from the start, but I think it at least falls within the realm of what you were asking.

The provisional government fell to the Bolsheviks and Michael was imprisoned and sent east to Perm. By June 1918, the local head of the secret police decided Michael should "disappear." Michael was murdered and "the Perm authorities distributed a concocted cover story that Michael was abducted by unidentified men and had disappeared." The story was successful enough that "Soviet disinformation about Michael's disappearance led to unfounded rumours that he had escaped and was leading a successful counter-revolution."

  • - It doesn't matter whether someone is crowned or "coronated" as you put it. In monarchies the heir usually becomes king the instant the previous king dies - "The King is dead. Long live the King!".
    – MAGolding
    Sep 11, 2020 at 16:27
  • @MAGolding I believe the "coronation" issue had to do with the fact that Edward V was a child. From Wikipedia: "The council had originally hoped for an immediate coronation to avoid the need for a protectorate. This had previously happened with Richard II, who had become king at the age of ten. Another precedent was Henry VI whose protectorate (which started when he inherited the crown aged 9 months) had ended with his coronation aged seven. Richard, however, repeatedly postponed the coronation."
    – Alex
    Sep 12, 2020 at 23:11

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