Welcome to day 1 of We Just Ghoul Here’s Mysterious Things of the Unknown countdown. I thought we should start out with one of the strangest missing persons cases I’ve ever come across. It wasn’t until poking around the archives on Mysterious Universe earlier this year that I came across it for the first time. Today w’re going to take a look at the disappearance of 10 year old Juan Pedro Martínez Gómez who vanished without a trace on June 25, 1986.
Andrés Martínez was a trucker living in southern Spain. Occasionally Andrés would take his wife C Carmen Gómez and their son Juan Pedro along with him on his trips. On that faithful evening of June 24, Andrés, with family in tow, picked up the truck in the city of Catagena at 7pm and they began making their way north. The trip started out normal enough and the last confirmed sighting of the three occurred around 5:30am on the morning of June 25 when Andrés and Carmen bought coffee for themselves and a pastry and some milk for Juan Pedro. This is where things start to get very strange.
After getting back on the road, the family was driving through the Somosierra mountains around 6am. It is at this point that that the truck begins behaving erratically. Now anybody who has ever driven in the mountains knows that it can get sketchy from time to time. Steep roads, sharp drop-offs, curve after curve after sharp curve. Even for the most experienced drivers, mountain driving can become a white knuckle affair. So when the truck being driven by Juan Pedro’s father Andrés started speeding down the mountain road at 140km/h which is about 80mph. Not a safe speed for a giant truck. Did I mention that cargo the truck was hauling happened to be a tanker full of industrial strength sulfuric acid?
After overtaking a first truck without incident, Andrés attempts to pass a second truck and rips off its mirror, then he rear ends a third truck and forces it off the road before finally the inevitable happens and the truck carrying Andrés, Carmen and Juan collides head on with a truck heading up the mountain. The impact caused the truck to overturn and the tank holding 20,000 liters (5284 gallons) of sulfuric acid to pour over the cabin of the truck and into the surrounding area causing a poisonous cloud to envelope the landscape. Immediately two victims were found in the cab of the tanker hauling truck, Andrés and his wife Carmen. Both of them were slowly being dissolved by the sulfuric acid.
Since there was nothing to be done to save the couple, first responders focused on neutralizing the leaking acid before it reached the nearby Duratón River. It took three hours to neutralize the acid before the bodies of the Andrés and Carmen could be recovered. It wasn’t until a member of Spain’s Civil Guard contacted Carmen’s mother to tell her of the tragedy and she responded with “And the boy?” that authorities were notified that Juan Pedro was traveling with his parents and should have been in the truck. This was the beginning of one of the strangest missing persons cases in modern European history.
A third body was never ever found at the scene of accident or in the surrounding areas. Toys, clothing and even a cassette of children’s songs were found inside the truck and various eyewitnesses had seen Juan Pedro as recently as 30 minutes before the accident so where was he? There was some initial, gruesome, speculation that he had been dissolved by the sulfuric acid but scientists say some evidence of him would have remained at the scene. Investigators checked in and under the truck, under the absorbent limestone and sand used to stop the acid from spreading and even the nearby river for Juan Pedro’s body but he was nowhere to be found.
What caused Andrés to drive so erratically down the mountain? Where was Juan Pedro? What happened in the 30 minutes between having a cup of coffee and the tragic accident? Further investigation led to the discovery that the brakes on the truck were in working order but oddly the tachometer showed that the truck had stopped no less than 12 times in a 20 minute period up the mountain. If you’ve ever followed a truck up a mountain you know that they have a hard enough time maintaining speed without stopping and other drivers who have driven on the same route as the family that night said there is no reason to stop once let alone 12 times. What was going on?
Several theories have been looked at over the years including one that Juan Pedro had been abducted and Andrés was chasing after the kidnappers. Another is that Andrés was a drug trafficker and was smuggling cocaine or heroin. The drug trafficking theory was given further weight in 1987 when the Spanish media reported that traces of heroin were found in the trailer where the acid was being carried.
The man in the truck that Andrés ran off the road before the fatal accident occurred said that he was assisted by a “foreign” couple in a white van, a man and blonde-haired woman who claimed to be a nurse. Another pair of witnesses, two local shepherds, reported to authorities that they witnessed a white van pull up to the truck after the accident and a man and a woman with blonde hair were seen removing a “package” from the truck. Could this have package have been the alleged drugs or could it even have been Juan Pedro?
Another strange theory is that Juan Pedro was thrown from the truck, survived briefly and then attempted to wash off the acid and clean his wounds in the nearby river but passed away and washed down stream. Yet another survival theory is that a Good Samaritan picked up Juan Pedro and was on their way to the hospital when he passed so they disposed of the body to avoid answering questions. It is not entirely out of the realm of possibility for him to have survived the crash. The driver of the second truck survived and since Juan Pedro would have most likely not been wearing a seatbelt, he could have been thrown from the vehicle and survived.
Whether it turns out that Andrés had a medical episode which led to his erratic behavior and the fatal crash or that they were being chased by someone looking to steal the drugs they were allegedly carrying or some other reason, after 32 years the chances of us knowing why the accident occurred will most likely never be known.
Juan Pedro’s family insists that he is still alive somewhere and that the absence of his body proves that. There were some sightings of him in the years following his disappearance but none of them have been substantiated and to this day the truth is still not know. If this case doesn’t scream Unsolved Mysteries material then no other case does. I still don’t know why this case was never featured on the series as it has all the hallmarks of a classic episode. What do you think happened to Juan Pedro Martínez Gómez on the morning of June 25, 1987? Is he still alive or was he the victim of tragic accident?
That does it for day 1 of our countdown. Tomorrow for day 2 I’ll be covering an event that has been shrouded in mystery for more than 40 years. It’s always unnerving when the Emergency Alert Signal interrupts your Saturday morning, but from time to time some truly strange things have made their way onto our television screens. Tomorrow I’m talking the Southern Television Broadcast Interruption of 1977. Until next time, we just ghoul here and now you do BOO!