Mysterious Disappearances

"Unless the police lines are drawn closer around the inhabitants of our large cities, the number of those who mysteriously disappear from one cause or another will become still more alarming than it is at present."

A similar condition of mind caused a young girl, a few weeks since, to disappear mysteriously from her home in Vermont. She was supposed to have been murdered, and the police far and near instituted a search for the body. It was not long before she was discovered, in boys' clothes, at work on a canal boat. When taken in charge, she disowned her parents, and stoutly maintained that she was a boy, and that she had never known any different life from the one she was then leading. Subsequently, when her mind had been partially restored, she was unable to recollect where she went or what she did after leaving home.

How many of the mysterious disappearances of which we read, and which are attributed to foul play, or to a weak or criminal desire to escape the obligations to one's family or to society, are prompted by the cunning of insanity cannot be known. The number of mysterious disappearances coming under the notice of the police in the course of a single year is almost startling. In Boston alone, last year, there were five hundred and fifty-five cases of missing persons reported to the police, of which about one third were females. Many of these missing persons were of course soon discovered. But a considerable number still remain deaf to the entreaties of "agonized" relatives or friends, and respond neither to the generous offer of being "entirely forgiven," nor to the alluring assurance that they "will hear of something to their advantage." Every issue of the London Times and the New York Herald contains more or less of these pathetic appeals to the absent,—many of the absences being as mysterious and purposeless as that of the London gentleman.

An old police officer recently acquainted the writer with a remarkable case which came under his notice some years ago, the sequel of which has never before been made public. One day, he said, a man pretty well on in years came into the police head-quarters, and asked to have the officers take down a description of his wife and children, who had disappeared from their home. The man told his story in such a simple, unaffected way that he made a deep impression upon those who heard it. He lived in a small town in Connecticut, and had been married five or six years to a woman considerably younger than himself, and by whom be had had two children. On returning from his daily business, a few nights before, he found his home deserted: wife and children had evidently gone out, dressed in their best clothes, leaving no word of explanation. It struck him as being very strange; but, although disturbed, he was not seriously alarmed, as he concluded they must have gone to a friend's house. He got his own tea, and then smoked his pipe, expecting momentarily to hear them at the door. It was late in the evening before his anxiety drove him out to look for them among the neighbors. The next day be learned that they had been seen in the railway station at the next village, and that they had taken the cars going East. That was all he knew about it. He and his wife, he said, had got on pretty well together. He was perhaps too old to be much society for her, but she never complained. Since she had gone off, he remembered that she bad been rather melancholy and moping for some time past. He thought that she had "sort of dwelt on things, bein' so much alone;" that she had become "crazy-like," and had started off with the idea of going to see some people in New Hampshire whom she had known before she was married. But the New Hampshire folks had not seen her or heard of her; and some of the neighbors said "more like she'd gone off with a younger man." "But you see," said the deserted husband, "that ain't likely, as she would n't have taken the children if she was that wicked."

The police gave a good deal of attention to the case, as it was a peculiar one and they had a feeling of sympathy for the man who had suffered such a terrible loss. The wife and children were traced to a town a short distance from Portland, Maine. There a woman and two little children, answering to the description given by the police, were seen by the local station-master to leave a through train and walk off in the direction of the village. It was just at dusk, and snowing heavily at the time. The road led along the banks of a river. Passing out of the station-master's sight into the storm they were seen no more. The inquirers of the police never got beyond that. Those who had been at work upon the case settled down to the belief that the woman had left home during a fit of temporary insanity; that the storm she encountered on leaving the cars increased the confusion of her mind; and that she had either thrown her children and herself into the river, or had wandered out of the road and fallen in with them.

One evening, after this conclusion had been reached, an officer who had worked on the case was asked by a young woman who was visiting at his house to tell her an interesting police case. He told her the story of the deserted husband. The young woman afterwards married, and went to live in a Western city. Some years passed, when, on meeting the officer again, she reminded him of the story he had told her, and asked if anything had been heard of the wife and children. He said the case remained as profound a mystery as ever.

Presented by

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus


How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.


Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.


The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.


Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.


Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses


Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in National

More back issues, Sept 1995 to present.

Just In