Unsolved Mysteries Wiki

Madeline and Ada Underwood

Real Names: Madeline and Ada Underwood
Case: Lost Friends
Date: 1941
Location: Tennessee


Details: Charlie Best, his wife, Alva, and children, Zella Mae, Carl, and Verlon, lived on a farm in Eastern Tennessee during the Great Depression. They supported themselves by growing watermelon and tobacco. In spring 1939, they gave refuge to the Underwood family. Tom Underwood asked if he and his daughters, Madeline, 9, and Ada, 7, could stay in their barn, but Charlie insisted that they stay in the house. That evening, Tom told them about how they had fallen on hard times months earlier. His wife had died, so he and the girls had been travelling the countryside while he looked for work. The next morning, they left to go stay with friends in another part of Tennessee.

Zella Mae and Charlie Best

A few days later, however, Zella Mae saw the girls passing by and said that they could come stay with the Bests again. Tom agreed to leave them in their care while he looked for a job. They soon became part of the family; Charlie treated them as if they were his own daughters. They went to school with them and helped shuck corn on the farm. Madeline was especially close to Alva, who had a severe nerve disorder. They finally felt happy with the Bests.
Within the next two years, Tom visited them twice. Finally, in 1941, he came to take them back. He said that he had remarried and needed to leave with them as soon as possible. They had stayed with the Bests for over two years. They were very reluctant to return to him, but he took them away before Charlie returned.
Three months later, the Bests received a letter from them, stating that Tom had left them at an orphanage in Nashville. However, before Charlie could go and retrieve them, Tom took them back once again. The Bests never heard from them again.
Sadly, Alva and Verlon later passed away. Charlie is now 91 years old and in ill health, however, he still wonders about the girls often. He, Zella Mae, and Carl are still searching for them.

(left to right) Zella Mae, Ada, Charlie, and Carl at their reunion

Extra Notes: This case first aired on the January 29, 1992 episode.
Results: Solved. Sadly, Madeline passed away in 1978. However, Ada, who now lives in Indiana, was watching the broadcast. Ten days later, she was reunited with Charlie, Carl, and Zella Mae, at Charlie's home in Madisonville, Tennessee.
Sadly, Charlie passed away eight weeks later, but the reunion with Ada brought him great comfort in his final days. Ada Underwood passed away in 2007. Carl Best passed away in 2010, and Zella Mae passed away in 2014.