Inside the Mysterious Disappearance of Errol Flynn's Son

Sean Flynn, son of Hollywood legend Errol Flynn, disappeared in Cambodia in 1970

Photo: RR Auction

In 1970, Sean Flynn, an acclaimed war photojournalist and the son of golden-age Hollywood superstar Errol Flynn, disappeared without a trace while on assignment in Southeast Asia.

Flynn was the only son of action hero Errol, best known for his swashbuckling escapades in 1938's The Adventures of Robin Hood. Flynn's mother was Errol's first wife, French-American actress Lili Damita.

The younger Flynn pursued a brief acting career, starring in the 1962 sequel The Son of Captain Blood and appearing uncredited in the 1960 film Where the Boys Are. However, he found his true calling in photojournalism, traveling to dangerous war zones, from Israel during an Arab-Israeli conflict to Vietnam and Cambodia, taking pictures for TIME, Paris Match and United Press International.

During the Vietnam War, Flynn parachuted into combat zones with U.S. troops. In 1970, as North Vietnamese troops made advances in the country, Flynn traveled to Cambodia on assignment for TIME.

On April 6, 1970, Flynn and fellow photojournalist Dana Stone were leaving the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh when they got word of a checkpoint on Highway One manned by the Viet Cong, the Vietnamese communist soldiers. Stone and Flynn took off for the highway on motorcycles (turning down the limousines that most journalists used) to get a firsthand look on the way to a press conference in Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City). The pair were never heard from again, and Flynn was declared legally dead by his mother in 1984.

While never confirmed, reports cited by TIME claim that Flynn and Stone were captured by Viet Cong guerrilla fighters and held captive for up to a year before being killed by the Cambodian communist organization Khmer Rouge. However, no remains of either man have ever been found. Remains thought to be Flynn's were discovered in March 2010 but had no DNA match to samples from members of Flynn's family.

Many of Flynn's friends continued to search for the missing adventurer in the following decades, including British photographer Tim Page, who went to Cambodia several times to look for clues about Flynn's disappearance. However, Page died in 2022 without ever discovering what happened to his lost friend.

In 2015, the world had a rare glimpse of Flynn via the keepsakes of Damita, who died in 1994 after exhausting her finances in the search for her son, when her estate went up for auction by Boston-based RR Auction. "Sean Flynn's disappearance in 1970 captivated the country; he was so young," Bobby Livingston, then-executive vice-president at RR Auction, told PEOPLE at the time.

Her collection of letters, photographs and mementos included pictures of the handsome photographer throughout his life and early letters that reveal a young man determined to chart his own path, giving a rare glimpse into the life of one of Hollywood's most daring descendants.

While in high school, he wrote to his mom, "If father and M.G.M. want me to do a picture, they can all go to hell – I just want to be with my family." In another, he wrote about looking for a job in construction "loading cement."

In one haunting letter, Flynn expressed his appreciation for his mother.

"I just want to say 'thanks' for home, the car, and just the fact that you are the best mother that I could ever want; and although you never hear me say it, I love you very much! I actually tried to be with you a lot, but everything just didn't seem to go together."

The collection included a gold-embroidered red silk banner with original packaging sent to his mom from Vientiane, Laos, during his last assignment during the Vietnam War.

The archive also included materials she kept after Flynn's disappearance, such as a "Whatever Happened to Sean Flynn" bumper sticker, along with a "Where Is Sean Flynn" T-shirt with a picture of the late photojournalist.

The archive sold at auction in May 2015 for $2,456. Later that year, RR Auction also sold several other items once owned by Flynn, including his black "Vest Pocket" Kodak camera. The vintage camera sold for $613.

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