This post was published on

Gone Girl – Joan Risch

The extremely perplexing disappearance of housewife, Joan Risch, very closely parallels the New York Time’s Best Seller, Gone Girl, written by Gillian Flynn. The outstanding book (which was later adapted into a movie) follows the disappearance of a young wife.

Joan Risch had a tragic childhood with both of her parents perishing in a fire while Joan was out visiting family. Following their death, she lived with a foster family. A Boston Herald article from 1993 reported that Joan had been sexually molested by her foster father. In 1954, Joan met her future husband, Martin, at a Harvard football game. They were both Brooklyn born and hit it off immediately. Joan ultimately left her career as an editorial assistant at a publishing company in New York City to settle down with Martin and start a family. The young couple had two children – Lillian and David – before moving to a modern home on Old Bedford Road in Lincoln, Massachusetts. Joan was a housewife while Martin was a Fitchburgh paper company executive.

Joan, Lillian and David.

“I think they were extremely happy. They had a beautiful home, two lovely children and they were congenial companions, as far as I know,” said Joan’s foster mother, Alice Nattrass, who had long divorced her ex-husband and the man who was said to have molested Joan.

On 24 October, 1961, Martin went on a business trip to New York, leaving his wife at home with their children. The morning was an uneventful one. Joan took 4-year-old Lillian to the dentist before returning home for lunch. Joan was such a generous woman that not only did she pay for dental care for her own family but she continued to pay for her foster sister’s dental care. She often worried about Alice’s financial situation after leaving her ex-husband.

When they came back home from the dentist, she put 2-year-old David, down for a nap. As David was napping, Joan sent Lillian over to the Baker’s house to play with their son, Douglas, who was the same age as Lillian. The homes on Old Bedford road were spaced far apart and were fenced off with large trees, giving the resident’s privacy.

What took place next is shrouded in mystery and conspiracy.

At approximately 4:15PM that afternoon, Lillian arrived back home. Moments later, she ran back to the Baker residence. When Douglas’ mother, Barbara, opened the front door, Lillian wailed that her mother had disappeared and that there was “red paint all over the kitchen.” Barbara accompanied Lillian back home and was met by a particularly shocking scene.

What Lillian had seen was not red paint but blood.

The walls were spattered with spots of blood and there was a small puddle of blood on the floor. The blood led to David’s nursery, where the toddler remained untouched. It then led out to the car and the trunk of the car. Investigators noted that it appeared as though some of the blood had been wiped up.

Credit: Massachusetts State Police.

The phone had ripped from the wall and tossed into a wastebasket while a phone book sat nearby; it was opened on the page of emergency numbers although phone records showed that no calls had been made. Investigators believed that the blood had most likely come from a superficial wound. On the wall beside the phone, investigators found an unidentified bloody thumbprint. Over the forthcoming years, over 5,000 people would be fingerprinted in an attempt to find a match but to no avail.

Nothing appeared to be out of place and nothing had been stolen, ruling out robbery. In fact, other than the spots of blood in several locations and a tipped over table, the house was practically spotless. It certainly didn’t look like a violent struggle had ensued.

Credit: Massachusetts State Police.

The initial theory from investigators was that Joan had been abducted. However, eyewitness statements complicated this theory.

Barbara Baker told police she had noticed Joan walking or running, with her arms outstretched towards her car which was parked in the driveway at around 2:15PM.1 She appeared to be carrying something red in one hand. From there, she turned back and walked towards her house. Another neighbour told police that at approximately 3:20PM, she saw a grey Oldsmobile Sedan parked behind Joan’s own car.

As news of Joan’s disappearance wended through the town of Lincoln, police started to receive tips from those who believed they had seen her that fateful afternoon.

Several motorists reported seeing a woman who they believed to be Joan. She had been walking along Route 128 in Waltham. Situated nearby was the Cambridge Reservoir. Investigators placed much credence on these reports and had the water searched scrupulously in the hopes that it would turn up some clues. It was an unfruitful search.2

Another reported sighting was at about 2:15PM on the afternoon Joan disappeared. A caller described seeing a woman who looked like Joan walking along the side of Route 2A, approximately 200 yards from her home. She was wearing a loose fitting grey coat that came down to her knees and had a handkerchief tied under her chin in a peculiar fashion. Was she trying to hide her face? She was “shuffling along and hunched over as though she were cold.”

Shortly after this sighing came another. This caller said they too saw somebody who matched the aforementioned description, although this caller said that the woman had blood on both of her legs. She was walking on Route 128 and appeared to be dazed. The caller recollected that she was walking “in a plodding manner with her head down.”

Could this have been Joan and if so, what was she doing? In all of these reported sightings, the witnesses described her as wearing the same clothing and acting in the same obscure manner. After these reported sightings, investigators searched extensively for this woman, making sure they checked each and every hospital. They were never able to confirm or deny if this were Joan.

The case took an even more mysterious twist when instigators discovered that Joan had check out numerous library books in the run up to her disappearance; all of these books were about murders and disappearances. “The Hunt for Richard Thorpe” was one of the books. It is about a schoolboy who disappeared on purpose. Another was “Death of The Heart,” a novel about an orphan who dropped from sight. The book which almost paralleled the so-called crime scene at the Risch household, however, was “Into Thin Air” which follows the story of a woman who planted her own blood stains in her home before disappearing.3

These discoveries sent the rumour mill running wild.

Many people theorise that Joan, bored with her marital life after abandoning her publishing career in New York City, staged her own disappearance. The other theory is much less romanticised: Joan was the victim of a sadistic murder and her body is abandoned somewhere unfound. Her son, David, likes “to think she’s in heaven.”4 Friends and family say that she was a devoted mother and wife and wouldn’t dream of abandoning them.

Over the years, Martin still held onto hope that one day his wife would return home; he came to believe she had potentially suffered amnesia and would one day remember who she was. He remained in the same marital home following her disappearance and kept it the same as it was before she disappeared. Despite the numerous crank calls he received, he refused to change his telephone number just in case Joan called. She never did call and she never did return home; he refused to declare her dead. Martin Risch went to his grave in 2009, never knowing what happened to his wife.

So what became of Joan? Could she have abandoned the life she made to start afresh? That’s the theory that the adventurer in all of of us likes to believe. Is it plausible? Very much so. It’s certainly more alluring than the glaring alternative theory: that she is dead. The bizarre vanishing became the center of one of New England’s greatest mysteries of the 20th Century and to this date, nobody truly knows what happened to Joan Risch.


If you have any information about the disappearance of Joan Risch, please call: 781-259-8113.


Footnotes:

  1. Boston Record American, 12 November, 1961 – “Could You Trace Joan Risch?”
  2. Boston Herald, 5 November, 1961 – “Everyone Knows of Joan Risch”
  3. Boston Herald, 23 October, 1966 – “Joan Risch – Is She Alive or in a Lonely Grave?”
  4. The Boston Herald, 24 October, 1993 –“What Happened to Joan Risch?”
avatar
13 Comment threads
30 Thread replies
21 Followers
 
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
31 Comment authors
JamesTabitha HobbesGypsyTeresatina Recent comment authors
  Subscribe  
newest oldest most voted
Notify me of
John R
Member

Given the information above, I wonder if the poor woman had a miscarriage (or similar)

The attempts at cleaning up, the confused state, the reports of the bleeding

The blood loss and shock may have resulted in confusion and unpredictable behaviour

After that – I do not know. Maybe she tried to wash herself in a river and fell in. Pure speculation except that ‘falling in a river/the ocean’ seems to be a major way people disappear and are not found

(Of course, the report of the presence of another car may suggest someone else was trying to assist with an unwanted pregnancy)

Just a theory. I don’t really think she disappeared to start a new life elsewhere.

vicky
Guest
vicky

Exactly my thoughts when I was reading the story. Though it says the blood stem from a superficial wound.

Tobias
Guest
Tobias

Keep in mind that many modern forensic methods are scientifically doubtful, at best, and that we had several scandals over mishandled, unhandled or simply fraudulent lab tests in evidence labs lately. I’ve no background in medicine, forensic or otherwise, but I wouldn’t take the conclusion as absolutely reliable before confirming with someone knowledgable about forensic methods of the early sixties.

Michelle Bay
Guest
Michelle Bay

I thought the same exact thing.The reports of seeing her walking on the Rd with blood going down her legs and the report of a nieghbor seeing her having her arms streched out with something red all over her arms and walking in the garage and then turns around to go back in made me think of either a miss carrige or a abortion which I thin the person in the gray car was assisting her with either one.im thinking maybe she had an affair and accidentally got pregnant I think the guy in the gray cat might be the father of this unwanted baby and the time of it being in the 50’s it would look so bad on her if people new that she got pregnant out of wedlock.. This is all speculation of course…I just think by what I read that this is what happened..

Todd Jones
Guest
Todd Jones

1+1=1000000 in your book.

Cassie Fitts
Guest
Cassie Fitts

That’s a good theory, but in order for that to happen, she would have had an affair. If she was having an affair, It would be somewhat clear to her family. She was a full time mom, so her kids would know if she was gone. One of her kids is four, so they don’t take naps and therefore would know if their mother was having an affair because the child only sleeps at night. The only way for her to be having an affair is late at night. Her husband would most likely have woken up to see her gone one way or another. My theory is that she was drunk, and hurt herself, probably by accident. That explains the strange behavior and why she was bloody.

Jennifer Keese
Guest
Jennifer Keese

I see no reason to believe your affair scenario is valid. Nothing in the article says her and her husband were abstinent. Nothing in the article indicates cheating or a scorned lover. The article was clear about Joan having a normal life, she was a good mother and wife. It mentions her husband leaving out of town for work, but she disappeared the same day. She could have been weeks, or months pregnant. Your statement” That’s a good theory, but in order for that to happen, she would have had an affair.” is not backed by any evidence in the article. I find the Miscarriage theory to be a good one. They said there was blood in the house but not enough to be more than a superficial wound. superficial wound means nonlife threating and so miscarriage could fall into that category. Which if pained but the loss could have thrown her into a confused, sadden and depressed state. However, I believe she staged the scene and left. I would venture to say that she may have been unhappy behind the scenes of the public eye and decided to find happiness elsewhere. It is tragic for the family but without a body, there really is no way to know what truly happened to Joan.

Peggy Pruett
Guest
Peggy Pruett

She sent the 4 year old to the neighbors. Maybe often?

Todd Jones
Guest
Todd Jones

You really pulled that one out of your ass.

Lawrence Swed
Guest
Lawrence Swed

I was 12 years old when Joan disappeared, and I remember reading about the story in the local Boston newspapers at the time. It still fascinates me to this day. I don’t believe she was kidnapped, nor was there a strange intruder that day. To me, the biggest clue is the two-tone blue car seen in her driveway, by two separate neighborhood residents. The car was observed BEFORE the police arrived. I also read for the first time recently, that the Risch’s regular milkman claims seeing the same car at the house just five days earlier. She had an invited guest and was planning SOMETHING. Her husband Martin acknowledged the empty liquor bottle in the wastebasket, but could not explain the empty beer bottles sitting there in the basket right next to the liquor bottle. Did her visitor bring the beer, or did Joan pick it up on her way back from the dentist? Her home town of Lincoln was a dry town at the time, but she could have bought it at a neighboring town. To date, I have heard no mention as to whether fingerprints were ever taken from the empty bottles. Oh, and let’s not forget that during this time in the afternoon, for some unexplained reason, Joan takes her daughter Lillian and her neighbor’s young son, who had been playing in Joan’s yard, and drops the two of them off across the street at the young boy’s house, tells Lillian “I’ll be back in a little while”…WITHOUT TELLING THE BOY’S MOTHER (Mrs. Barker) that she had even dropped them off!

SaffiEriksdottr
Member

This makes me think it may have been an illegal abortion, too. It would explain both the blood and the mysterious visitor.

LeeLee Bronson
Guest
LeeLee Bronson

I also thought of miscarriage but I also thought of a botched termination even though that doesn’t fit for her lifestyle.

SaffiEriksdottr
Member

Why wouldn’t it fit with her “lifestyle”? She was depressed and had two young kids at home. If she didn’t feel like she could handle another one, that’s plenty of reason to seek a termination.

The other possibility that occurs to me is that she cut herself, not necessarily to fake a disappearance but with the intent of suicide, but then couldn’t go through with it and left instead.

Britt B
Guest
Britt B

While the idea that she was abducted is easier for the family to believe, they should probably consider the real possibility that she left. I think that there is one of two scenarios that are the most plausible. #1. She left. Before she got married, she had a fast paced career. She was on top of the world. Did things, and went places; but then she meets her husband. For some reason, she didn’t think she could be a career woman, and a mother (or her husband decided for her) and she stayed home to raise the children. As any mother would tell you, everything becomes about the husband and children; and she quickly forgets who SHE is. Maybe Joan just got tired of it? Considering that the final story she read, and her “crime scene/disappearance” itself we’re almost exact; it is very likely that she created a superficial wound and spread the blood herself. It could be that she cut herself just a little too deep, in her panic she momentarily forgets her plan and makes a run for the car; and hospital. At the last second, she stops herself and remembers her plan. She goes back inside, dresses in said clothing that every one saw and quite possibly walked to a nearby clinic. (Because, you know, how can you have “disappeared” or been “abducted” if you take your own car?) Clinics generally did not require ID back then. She gives a fake name, gets fixed up, leaves, and starts her new life somewhere else. #2. She’s pregnant. For whatever reason (due to affair, or just not wanting another child) she chooses to abort. Back in her day, abortion wasn’t legal, you had to find someone to do it. A lot of women had to get a hold of “Doctors” through a small group of people fighting for women’s rights. He shows up at her home, performs the “surgery” (most common tools were bike spokes and wire hangers). Something goes wrong, she panics and makes a brake for her car. Realizing she cannot drive, and probably losing a lot of blood at this point. Makes her way back inside. Smears blood on the walls as she attempts to dress herselfWalkndees aimlessly, bleeding heavily, quite possibly fell somewhere, was unable to call out for help and died. Either way, tragic. Especially for the husband. That poor man never gave up hope, and her never stopped loving her.

Lawrence Swed
Guest
Lawrence Swed

So many possibilities here. I don’t believe she was dazed from loss of blood–there wasn’t much blood at all at the scene. Not much in the kitchen, and only a few drops in the driveway and on her car. There were also a few drops of blood both at the bottom and the top of the stairs leading to the upstairs bedroom where her 2 year old son was napping–did the loss of blood start upstairs? If she was in trouble or struggling with a visitor, would she have stopped to try to clean up the blood? Maybe her visitor was the one who tried cleaning up the blood in the kitchen. Why wouldn’t Joan just run across the street to Mrs. Barker’s house to get help?

Judy Metzroth
Guest
Judy Metzroth

Many years ago when I lived in Boston I was approached by detectives questioning me about being Joan Risch.I was approached several times and it was said that I was a stunning resemblance of Joan. I had been kicked out of my home in Maine by my Mother and went to Boston.This continued for sometime and it was hard to convince them that I was not her. I had no id to prove who I was.It continued until I left the area.When I just came across this I was stunned to read this.I had forgotten all about this. I`m so sorry to hear that she was never located.I at least felt proud to think that I looked as nice as Miss.Risch. So very sorry to hear that she is still missing. Judy M.

Lawrence Swed
Guest
Lawrence Swed

Wow Judy, that is amazing. I can see why they would question you since you looked so much like Joan. She still has not been found. I would love to know what really happened that day she disappeared.

Lisa
Guest
Lisa

If you really know.. I know the entire story..my grandfather had jusy retiref as the chief of police in Medford when this happened and my father has spent a fortune researching this case for over 40 years and he and I know the truth as to what happened and where she is and who did what!! And just to let you know she murdered and burried…and we even know where and who

Michael
Guest
Michael

Only a fool or a liar would reveal on an internet forum that they had evidence to solve a case. In your case, I’m going with liar.

Lar
Guest
Lar

So who was it

John Fitzgerald
Guest
John Fitzgerald

I noticed Chief Sacco of the Medford PD announced his retirement earlier this year. He has three grandchildren, none named Lisa. That being said, I know a gentleman by the name of Lawrence Ford also “spent a fortune” looking into the Risch case. Did your grandfather present his finding to Middlesex County DA?

Teresa
Guest
Teresa

Isn’t that against the law, withholding evidence

Shari Kizziar
Guest
Shari Kizziar

I have followed this case for so long now. I have a couple of theories, but the trouble is, the details of this case always contradict just about any theory one can come up with. Botched abortion makes sense…until you think of the logistics of it. Why on earth would she have it at home with her children there. Why would she run off if bleeding profusely and not get help? Kidnapping..not likely, as blood is in her home and then she is seen stumbling along the highway. Why not just flag someone down? Amnesia…I don’t know…seems so far fetched. Left voluntarily…maybe staged it. But to such an extreme as walking along the highway? Why not just leave the bloody mess and leave for good? Anyway, I talked to a woman online a couple of years ago who lived in the neighborhood at the time and she said they were told it was menstrual blood in the kitchen. Does anyone know if that would be the same as blood found in an abortion or a miscarriage?

Lawrence Swed
Guest
Lawrence Swed

I agree, there are contradictions no matter which theory you explore. Contrary to some reports, there was not a lot of blood at the scene. I doubt if she staggered away in a weakened state due to blood loss. Was she really seen stumbling along the road? Several people allegedly saw her, and none stopped to help? Did these people who reported to have seen her wandering around identify themselves to the police? I have never heard of any names, and I can’t help but think the sightings of her were phoned in by accomplices of her in order to steer the police off.

Lisa
Guest
Lisa

My father investigated this case my entire life, my grandfather was chief of police in Medford, he knows what happen and where she was burried..and who did what..u people are way off.

SHARI KIZZIARjyNxR
Guest
SHARI KIZZIARjyNxR

I don’t buy it. If your father knew all of this for sure he would have revealed it. Come on…

Lawrence Swed
Guest
Lawrence Swed

She is off the wall, judging by those recent posts she made.

Michael
Guest
Michael

If you were any more full of crap, your eyes would turn brown. Go get some fresh air and then step back into the real world….

Swankerz
Guest
Swankerz

Lisa, if you truly want to be believed, state the disappearance scenario you are aware of. If you have no viewpoint, then get off the forum. In other words, shit or get off the pot.

Jean
Guest
Jean

Somehow I doubt the veracity of your statements. This sounds more like trolling than honesty.

tina
Guest
tina

Was your grandpa William Grady? Share your knowledge with us.

Park Min - Mi
Member

We need Sherlock.

Lawrence Swed
Guest
Lawrence Swed

Bring him in…….

Tara White
Guest
Tara White

Whatever happened to her is forever shrouded in mystery. Her husband went to his grave in 2009 never knowing where his love went…heartbreaking for him and the children. I believe the botched abortion theory after an affair…sounds plausible. Women who are going to leave their kids certainly don’t waste the day and money at a dental office!
Gone girl certainly was an awesome movie! This lady should get more credit.

Chasity J.
Guest
Chasity J.

Although I have heard of the novel and movie Gone Girl I never knew it was based on a true story. How unfortunate for the husband and kids to lose a wife and mother. A few of the theories are plausible. The miscarriage and abortion bit add up well. I have a theory she may have hit her head in the kitchen causing the bleeding. Head injuries bleed A LOT. She may have been confused and tried to clean it up and in a hazy state was confused about her actions and whereabouts and it may have caused amnesia which would explain running off. I don’t know haha it’s just something I thought of reading the article it may be silly. Anyways my thoughts go out to the late husband and I hope her kids are well and if she is still out there I hope she is as well.

Be ev
Guest
Be ev

I think she was killed inside the house, dragged to and leaned against her own car, first on the front fender and then on the trunk ( there was blood found on the left front fender near the windshield, and on the rear right fender and trunk area – her car was facing the garage/house) to allow the murderer to open his own car that was parked behind hers before loading the body in it for removal from the scene. Witnesses saw a car backing out of her driveway. The house itself was pretty well secluded from neighbors by trees. I have a hard time beleiving she wounded herself and wandered off, never to be heard from again. I think she knew the person or didnt feel threatened by them and let them in. They attacked her, she tried to get to the phone to call for help and was killed in the kitchen by blunt force trauma. Then she was dragged to the murderers vehicle through the open garage. The paper towels were used for cleaning to avoid leaving prints.

Vicki
Guest
Vicki

Just found this case and read several places. What about the police report online that says they thought she was buried in a tract of land that the Barker’s owned? What looked odd to me in crime scene photos was that overturned table. Looks like someone moved it out intending to clean the floor then in staging later turned it over causing books on the bottom shelf to fall off right there. The phone ripped off the wall looks staged, too. That wasn’t necessary. Those phone receiver and cords unplugged at the bottom of the phone. I wonder if the neighbor could have accidentally hit Joan with her vehicle causing some injury which dripped blood on the trunk, kitchen, the stairs , and bedrooms, then back down in the kitchen floor if Joan collapsed and lie there bleeding below the phone then drug further over into the middle of the kitchen.

Vicki
Guest
Vicki

Correction! Someone researching and writing about the case had a theory about the neighbors, the Barkers. NOT the police report.

Gypsy
Guest
Gypsy

I have a total different thought! She still had connection with her foster family? What if she was still being sexually abused? Since there was still a connection, if there was a connection still with her foster father? Did anyone ever check her children for DNA. What if, she was still a victim and the children were his. A thought!

trackback

[…] Article | Feb 21, 1963 | Books New Link in Blood Disappearance Morbidology | Gone Girl – Joan RischDiscovery […]

Tabitha Hobbes
Guest
Tabitha Hobbes

How about you read your article and get rid of the poor spelling and wrong words?

James
Guest
James

How about you politely point out errors instead of being rude for no reason?? Plus I just read this and see no errors or wrong words. Point them out if you are so convinced something is wrong and I am sure the author would fix it.

Don’t understand keyboard warriors. Being kind and polite will get you further in life.

You may also like: