Pretty young heiress Dorothy Arnold vanished into thin air from Fifth Avenue and 27th Street, one of the busiest street corners in the world. Hundreds of people surrounded her on that bleak winter morning and yet no one saw anything. She simply disappeared without a trace -- never to be heard from again.
On the cold morning of December 12, 1910, Dorothy left her parent’s home in Manhattan to go shopping for a dress to wear to her younger sister’s “coming out” party. It was the holiday season in New York and a time for festivities, galas and balls and this particular party was a much-anticipated one for the Dorothy, a young and beautiful graduate of Bryn Mawr and the daughter of a prosperous and socially prominent clan.
As she left the house that morning, several acquaintances stopped and spoke with her as she walked west along Fifth Avenue and others saw her going toward a bookstore on 27th Street. They all said that she seemed cheerful. A clerk who sold Dorothy a box of chocolates at Park and Tilford's said that she was very carefree and friends who ran into her outside of the bookstore said that they noticed nothing unusual about her. Strangely though, these acquaintances would be the last people to ever see the girl who came to be known as the “vanishing heiress” alive.
When se failed to return to 79th Street for dinner that night, her family telephoned friends but she had not been seen by any of them. People of high social position like the Arnolds never called the police or informed the newspapers of their troubles. The decided to keep Dorothy's disappearance a secret, conducting discreet investigations through a friend of the family and with the Pinkerton Detective Agency. Her parents spent thousands with the Pinkerton’s but they had no more success than John S. Keith, the family friend did. Keith was the attorney for the family and he had often escorted Dorothy to social functions, so her took her disappearance especially hard. For weeks, he searched hospitals, morgues and jails in New York, Boston and Philadelphia. He inspected patients, inmates and corpses before finally giving up in despair.
The secret investigations continued for six agonizing weeks, before the Arnold’s finally turned to the police and the newspapers. Her father, Francis Arnold, summoned reporters to his office and announced his belief that Dorothy had been “attacked in Central Park” on her way home and that her body had been thrown into the reservoir. As grim and hopeless as this sounds, the rigid and proper Arnold would rather his daughter be dead than the alternative -- that she had run away with a man with whom she had spent a clandestine week several months before. Arnold refused to give out any information about the man so the newspaper reporters tracked him down on their own.
The man’s name was George Griscom, Jr. but he denied any knowledge of Dorothy’s whereabouts. Griscom was a tubby, 40 year-old who lived quietly with his parents on Philadelphia's Main Line. The newspapers soon learned that he had been involved with Dorothy and that the summer before, she had done something that society girls in those days simply did not do. After telling her family that she was going to Boston to visit a Bryn Mawr classmate, she met Griscom instead. The two stayed at separate Boston hotels but at the end of the week, money ran out and so Dorothy pawned some jewels, signing her real name to the pawn shop record. It was this pawnbroker who had tipped off the press to her Boston visit.
By the time of Dorothy's disappearance, Griscom was in Naples with his parents and sent word by cable that he had no idea where Dorothy could be. At a January 22 news conference, Mr. Arnold stated that his wife, a semi-invalid, had gone to New Jersey to escape from the pressures of the search. However, the woman and her son, John, soon turned up in Italy instead, where they sought out Griscom. John was so suspicious of the rich bachelor that he throttled him and threatened to kill him if he didn’t reveal where Dorothy was hiding.
Griscom insisted that he had nothing to do with her disappearance but he did turn over a letter that she had recently written to him concerning her depression over a story she had written that had been rejected by a magazine. She concluded the letter with “All that I can see ahead is a long road with no turning.” Griscom feared that she had been so distraught over this that she had taken her own life. Or so he said. A few friends believed that if Dorothy had committed suicide, she had done so because Griscom refused to marry her.
Meanwhile, back in the states, theories were being floated as to what might have happened to the young woman. Some thought that perhaps Dorothy was in a hospital somewhere, suffering from amnesia. It was thought that perhaps she had slipped an icy sidewalk that chilling morning and had fallen, striking her head on the pavement. A check of the hospitals in Manhattan revealed no one matching her description though. Others suggested that she might have been pregnant and had died on the abortionist's table. The most durable rumor was that she had become pregnant and had been banished by the family to Switzerland in disgrace. The search for her had been merely an elaborate ruse to save the Arnold's from the shame. However, as a New York society girl, Dorothy knew many people who would travel to Switzerland and might recognize her. But she was never seen there -- or anywhere else for that matter.
As the publicity began to spread, reports of “Dorothy sightings” began coming in from all over the country. She was “recognized” in hundreds of cities but all of the reports turned out to be false. Francis Arnold spent more than $100,000 trying to recover his daughter, but it all amounted to nothing. He died in 1922 and his wife passed on in 1928, never knowing what became of the young woman. In Arnold’s will though, a provision stated that he had left nothing for Dorothy “for I am satisfied that she is not alive.”
George Griscom later returned home and he also continued to search, spending huge amounts of money on “Come Home Dorothy” ads in major newspapers. But could this have been an act to throw off a trail that may have led to his own door? Six years after the girl had disappeared, a Rhode Island convict released a story to the press that claimed he had been paid $150 to dig a grave for the murdered heiress. The description that he gave of the man who paid him was strikingly close to that of Griscom, however he never learned the man’s name. The convict stated that Dorothy had died after a botched abortion and that she had been buried in the cellar of a house near West Point. Police unearthed cellars all over the area but they found no sign of a corpse.
And no one ever found any sign of Dorothy Arnold.
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© Copyright 2004 by Troy Taylor. All Rights Reserved.