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The Missing Heiress – Dorothy Arnold

Dorothy Harriet Camille Arnold was a wealthy socialite and heiress. In December of 1910, she disappeared without a trace.

She was the daughter of French and Russian perfume importer, Francis Rose Arnold. The family lived in a lavish home at 108 East 79th Street, New York City. Following her graduation from the Veltin School for Girls, Dorothy tried to make it as a writer; her writing career failed, however, much to the amusement of her family. 1

She was a glamour girl of her time and spent her time at elite social gatherings.

At around 11am on the 12th of December, 1910, Dorothy left her home to go shopping in the city for a dress. Her mother, Mary, offered to come with her but Dorothy declined. “If I find anything I like, I’ll telephone you,” she replied to her mother. 2

She never called home and never found anything she liked, other than a box of candy and a book which she charged to her father. Numerous people saw Dorothy on her shopping trip in the city that afternoon. She was last seen on 27th Street at approximately 2PM when she was telling a friend she planned on walking home through Central Park. 3

And in an instant, she was gone.

When she didn’t arrive home for dinner, her family were worried but not enough to report her missing.

Her well-to-do family believed that the disappearance would attract unwanted attention, thus they didn’t report it. In fact, when Dorothy’s friend called that night, her mother said that Dorothy was at home in bed. While they didn’t contact the police, they contacted their family lawyer, John S. Keith, who came to search Dorothy’s room for clues as to her whereabouts. He found that nothing was amiss or missing but found letters stamped with foreign postmarks. He also found folders for transatlantic steamliners. Eventually, the family contact the police several weeks later and offered money as a reward to anybody who could offer any information as to where she was or what happened to her.

Despite an exhaustive and countrywide search, Dorothy could not be found.

Police announced that they believed she was still alive but her family weren’t so sure; they theorised that she had been murdered while walking through Central Park with her body then being thrown into the lake. In fact, at the request of Francis, police conducted a thorough search of the lake in Central Park even though it was frozen on the day of Dorothy’s disappearance and hadn’t yet thawed.

A worker at a local steamship agency contacted police after viewing Dorothy’s photograph in a newspaper article regarding her disappearance. He told police that on the day she disappeared, she had come to his place of employment and enquired about cruises to the West Indies. 4 This combined with the foreign postmarks and the steamliner information found in her bedroom led John S. Keith to theorise that Dorothy may have eloped with a man. However, when she left her home that morning, she had nothing on her other than approximately $25. None of her clothing had been taken and all of her treasured belongings remained untouched in her bedroom.

The case remained at a standstill until the following year when Francis received a postcard stating “I am safe” which was signed “Dorothy.” Her father said that the handwriting was eerily similar to his daughters but nevertheless believed that it was just a cruel prank.

Some others considered that Dorothy may have committed suicide.

Following her knock backs during her attempting writing career, she wrote a letter to a friend in which she said: “Failure stares me in the face. All I can see ahead is a long road with no turning. Mother will always think an accident has happened.”  5 Due to the relentless mocking from her family regarding her declined manuscripts, shortly before her death, Dorothy rented a post box so that she could receive her rejections in secret. Eventually, this was the theory that the family lawyer, John S. Keith, came to believe and he went public with this information following the death of both of Dorothy’s parents.

Another widely believed theory was that Dorothy had become pregnant and had sought an abortion and died during the botched procedure. In 1916, an illegal abortion clinic in the basement of a home in Bellevue, Pennsylvania, was uncovered by police. It was run by Dr C.C. Meredith. Furthermore, several women had gone missing after visiting the clinic, adding more suspicion to the theory. Dorothy’s family, however, thought this theory was far-fetched and called it “ridiculous and absolutely untrue.”

Up until his death, Francis held on to the belief that Dorothy had been murdered. “I believe my daughter is dead. I believe she died the day she disappeared or almost immediately afterwards. The one theory to which I have always leaned is that she was kidnapped and made away with in a short time,” he told The Gazette Times.

Every once in a while there is a disappearance that baffles even the most brilliant minds. The bizarre disappearance of Dorothy Arnold is one of them. She had no enemies. She had no serious lovers. She wasn’t involved with unsavoury characters. She just disappeared without a trace in one of the most populated cities in the entire world. While there were numerous reported sightings of Dorothy over the forthcoming years as well as a thousand theories and a million rumours, what became of her still remains unknown.

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Footnotes:

  1. Spokane Daily Chronicle – 2 January, 1965
  2. Kansas City Star – 12 December, 1915
  3. Evening Star – 31 January, 1911
  4. Evening Star – 30 January, 1911
  5. The Tuscaloosa News – 27 September, 1932

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