After Dorothy Arnold Vanished In New York City
The Mysteries of The Paramour, The Manuscripts & Her Family’s Strange Behavior
The Theories On Her Disappearance
Today we conclude the story of one of New York City’s greatest unsolved missing person cases. At the end of part one of the story, on December 12, 1910, Dorothy Arnold said goodbye to Gladys King, an acquaintance she had bumped into on Fifth Avenue. Gladys was the last person to see Dorothy Arnold alive.
From They Never Came Back by Allen Churchill (Crime Club, 1960) is part two of The Girl Who Never Came Back.
Return now to the Arnold home. Never had the well-brought-up Dorothy skipped a meal without warning the family ahead of time. Now when she failed to return for dinner an increasingly worried group ate without her, then began making discreet phone calls to Dorothy’s close friends asking if the girl had dropped in on them. Told she had not, the Arnolds begged that no mention ever be made of the phone call. Later they asked the same girls not to discuss the case with reporters, and it is indicative of the vast difference between society girls then and now that none of the girls ever did.
On this first night Elsie Henry, one of the girl friends queried, phoned back shortly after midnight to ask if Dorothy had returned. Mrs. Arnold answered and committed the first of several acts which caused many to believe that the family knew more than it ever told about the disappearance of a daughter of the house.
“Yes, she’s here,” Mrs. Arnold brightly stated in reply to Elsie Henry’s query. But when Elsie asked to speak to Dorothy there came a pregnant pause. “Oh, she had a headache and went right to bed.”
Mrs. Arnold finally filled in.
Over breakfast the next morning, a distracted family settled on another strange move. It was decided not to summon police.
Instead, young John W. Amold phoned a friend named John S. Keith, a junior partner in the doughty law firm of Garvan & Anderson,
Keith, too, was a young man. Only a year or two older than Dorothy, he had occasionally escorted her to society dances or lectures at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Young Arnold asked Keith to stop at the house on his way downtown that morning. Keith was reluctant to do so. “Can’t it wait?” he asked. “No, this is serious,” John replied.
When he arrived at the Arnold home, Keith was taken directly to Dorothy’s room. Everything there seemed in perfect order, and Mrs. Arnold and Marjorie assured him that all of the missing girl’s clothes were hanging in the closet, except for those she had worn the day before. Opening a desk drawer, Keith found a pile of personal letters, some with foreign postmarks. On the desk-top he noted two transatlantic steamship folders.
Getting down on his knees, Keith peered into the fireplace. Here he discovered a small mound of burned papers. But when he probed with his finger, he saw no writing visible on the charred remains. As Keith rose to his feet again, John Arnold suggested that the burned papers might be Dorothy’s rejected manuscript “Poinsettia Flames.”
Dorothy Arnold’s formidable father had not only inherited a large sum of money, he had made considerably more as the head of F. R. Arnold & Company, importers. To a young lawyer like Keith, Francis R. Arnold was potentially a valuable client. If getting his business meant turning himself into a private eye, Keith was fully prepared to do so. He suggested a search of morgues, hospitals, and even jails. More, he offered to conduct this grisly search himself, still without informing the police. Over the weeks following, he spent days in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia walking lanes of hospital beds, examining nameless corpses, and peering at unfortunate young females languishing in jail.
It led nowhere, and finally Keith was forced to recommend that the family call upon the Pinkerton Detective Agency. Pinkerton officials listened to the story of the disappearance and immediately mailed a descriptive circular on Dorothy to police departments the country over. In addition to describing the girl and her attire, these offered a reward of $5,000 for any information leading to her return.
Presumably the police department of New York City received one of these circulars, but it stood firmly on protocol, refusing to act in the Dorothy Arnold matter until directly appealed to. This did not happen until January 24, 1911, six weeks after Dorothy had last been seen. Then, accompanied by Pinkerton detectives, Keith and Francis R. Arnold called upon Deputy Police Commissioner William J. Flynn. Already familiar with the general outlines of the case, Flynn—who later became head of the United States Secret Service—advised an immediate meeting with the press. This would bring the widest possible notoriety to Dorothy’s disappearance, but it was also a tactic which the staid Mr. Arnold abhorred. Up to now, only the family, the Pinkertons, and a few friends knew that Dorothy was missing. Mr. Arnold preferred it that way. He vigorously resisted two days of intensive argument before he could steel himself to tell the world about Dorothy. Then, on the afternoon of the twenty-sixth, he called reporters to his office.
Francis R. Arnold may truly have dreaded the notoriety this interview would inevitably bring. Or perhaps—as some suspected—he had some secret inkling of Dorothy’s fate. Whichever it was, the elderly chop-whiskered gentleman’s behavior before the assembled press was oddly defeatist. He seemed to wish the interview over as soon as possible, and to this end immediately informed the reporters that he believed his dearly beloved daughter dead. “I believe so absolutely,” he stated, expressing the belief that she had been set upon while walking home through Central Park. Her body, he thought, might have been tossed into the reservoir.
“Assuming,” – he recapitulated, – “that she walked up home through Central Park, she could have taken the lonely walk along the reservoir. There, because of the laxity of police supervision in the park, I believe it quite possible that she might have been murdered by garroters, and her body thrown into the lake or the reservoir. Such atrocious things do happen, though there seems to be no justification for them.”
An awesome dictator at home and in his office, Francis Arnold seemingly considered the interview over at this precise point.
But reporters had grown slightly more importunate than in the days of the Charlie Ross disappearance. To Mr. Arnold’s ill-concealed annoyance, they began asking questions. One thing the gentlemen of the press would not believe was that anyone, even a sheltered heiress, could lead a life as dull as Dorothy’s when described by her stern parent. Cherchez l’homme popped into the mind of one reporter, and he asked any with men, had objected to his daughter’s keeping company with men.
It was an excellent question, for the fierce old man instantly flew into a rage. “It is not true that I objected to her having men call at the house,” he thundered, “I would have been glad to see her associate more with young men than she did, especially those of brains and position: whose work keeps them occupied. I don’t approve of young men who have nothing to do.”
Men who have nothing to do … With this tantalizing phrase to spur them on, newsmen left the Arnold office to delve into Dorothy’s apparently placid existence. Soon they had found precisely the man Mr. Arnold meant.
He was hardly a type to sweep a girl off her feet, or even rescue her from a stifling existence. Instead, he seemed desperately in need of rescuing himself. He was George C. Griscom, Jr., a plump, balding, sideburned forty-two-year-old who lived demurely with his elderly parents in Pittsburgh. Griscom urged all those he met to call him “Junior.” When his parents traveled, he went along too. One report said his doting mother still bought all his shirts and ties.
Even so, Junior had his moments of independence and so, it appeared, did Dorothy. For under the glare of newspaper publicity it transpired that she and Griscom, whom she presumably met while at Bryn Mawr, had at one time called themselves engaged. After this came a real shocker. Only recently the two had spent a week together in Boston!
During the summer of 1910 Dorothy had dutifully gone with her family to the Arnold summer home at York Harbor, Maine. There, in mid-September, she had told her parents that she wished to spend a week in Cambridge with a former college classmate named Theodora Bates.
Her parents extended permission, and on September 16 Dorothy departed. But she did not go to Cambridge. Instead she stayed in Boston, where she was met by Junior Griscom, who had arrived the day before and registered at the Hotel Essex. On the morning of Dorothy’s arrival Junior had gone to a nearby Hotel Lenox, where he reserved a room and bath for her
In the week following, the two were seen together constantly. Looking animated and happy, they made no effort to hide identities, or presence in Boston. At the Lenox, Dorothy registered under her real name, with the correct New York address. Two days before leaving Boston, she entered a pawnshop on Boylston Street, obtaining $60 for $500 worth of assorted personal jewelry. Again she used her right name and address. It was the sharp-eyed pawnbroker who exploded to press and police the story of her Boston sojourn.
On September 24, Dorothy had returned to York Harbor. Griscom went back to Pittsburgh, there to prepare for a trip to Europe in the company of his father and mother.
Early in October the Arnolds returned to New York. It was here that Dorothy made her request for a Greenwich Village apartment, and wrote her two stories and rented her private post office box. Then, at Thanksgiving, she again drew Theodora Bates, into the complicated web of her life. She decided to visit her friend in Washington, where Theodora was teaching.
Dorothy duly arrived at Theodora’s home at 1820 Mintwood Place late Wednesday night. On Thanksgiving morning she expressed a desire to remain in bed.
This was unlike Dorothy—so much so that Theodora immediately concluded the healthy girl was having her menstrual period. She did not specifically inquire about this, but her bit of womanly deduction was in time cited in contradiction of certain inevitable rumors about the vanished Dorothy.
Far more remarkable this Thanksgiving morning was the fact that a bulky envelope came to Mintwood Place for Dorothy. Here indeed is a riddle deep within a riddle! It was Thanksgiving Day, with business closed down and no daily mail delivery. Dorothy may have requested the General Post Office in New York to forward her mail over the weekend but it is unlikely that this would be done with such extraordinary dispatch even if she had left postage for Special Delivery.
Nor did Dorothy ever speak of knowing anyone in Washington who might have brought the package to Theodora’s door. Yet the package did arrive, and Theodora always maintained that it came by regular United States mail. On accepting the package at the door, Theodora jumped to a fast conclusion. She decided that it contained Dorothy’s second short story, “Lotus Leaves,” also rejected by McClure’s.
Yet there is nothing to support this. Dorothy, still lolling in bed, did not open the envelope or even comment on it. She tossed it indifferently to the bedclothes and Theodora, whose curiosity was fully piqued, asked no questions for fear of hurting her dear friend’s feelings.
On Friday, Dorothy already a puzzling guest, further astounded Theodora. She came downstairs for breakfast fully dressed for travel, carrying her bag. “Why, Dorothy,” Theodora exclaimed, “it’s only Friday and you were to stay until Monday.” Dorothy shook her head. “Oh, no,” she said, “I always planned to leave today.”
At the Arnold home in New York, Mrs. Arnold was equally astonished when Dorothy reappeared. “Why, what’s happened?” she demanded as Dorothy stepped through the door. “We didn’t expect you back until Monday.” Again Dorothy answered firmly, “I always intended to come home today.”
She spent the rest of the Thanksgiving weekend at home, reading and sewing. On Monday she paid a visit to her downtown post office box, extracting several letters with foreign postmarks. Presumably these came from Griscom, who with his parents had arrived in Italy. At home, she retired to her room and answered Griscom with a letter which he saved and later returned to the family. For the most part it was cheerful, feminine, and chatty, but at the close appeares an intriguing paragraph:
“Well, it has come back. McClure’s has turned me down. All I can see ahead is a long road with no turning. Mother will always think an accident has happened.”
Dorothy’s emphasis on her mother, the supposed semi-invalid overwhelmed by a domineering husband, was partially explained in the six silent weeks following Dorothy’s disappearance. Mrs. Arnold, it turned out, was not only capable of doing things on her own, but also had plenty of energy to do them.
At the press conference on January 26, Francis Arnold stated that his wife, bad health had been worsened by the shock of Dorothy’s disappearance, had retired to a rest home in Lakeville, New Jersey. There she was remote from the anxious hours of waiting in the Arnold home. Newspapermen were asked not to search for her, and out of deference to the lady’s health, age, and social standing, they did not. Instead, they cabled European correspondents to locate Griscom. He was quickly found in Florence, where he admitted receiving on December 16 a cable from John Keith. It read: “DOROTHY ARNOLD MISSING. FAMILY PROSTRATED. CABLE IF YOU KNOW ANYTHING OF HER WHEREABOUTS.”
Guests at Griscom’s hotel recalled him as acting agitated as he read this. “Arnold is making serious trouble,” some thought he muttered. He immediately replied: KNOW ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. JUNIOR . In the weeks following, he received other messages inquiring whether Dorothy had appeared in Florence. He answered all in the negative. Then, on January 16, a young man and a heavily veiled woman came to visit him. After two hours they departed, taking with them a packet of letters.
It took no master-mind to figure that the young man must be Dorothy’s older brother, John W. Arnold; he could easily have boarded a transatlantic liner in the six weeks before the story of Dorothy’s disappearance broke in the newspapers.But who, the world wondered, was the heavily veiled woman? Was it Dorothy herself?
John Arnold returned alone to New York at the end of January, and refused to talk about his veiled companion. At this, European correspondents applied themselves to detective work and – consternation! The lady was none other than Mrs. Francis Arnold, whose privacy in Lakeville the newspapers still respectfully honored. She and twenty-seven-year-old John had sailed for Europe on January 6. Seemingly she had remained abroad after John returned in the hope that Dorothy might still turn up near Griscom.
John W. Arnold’s arrival in New York added still another angle to the baffling case. Ship-news reporters, who had unexpectedly found him aboard the La Savoie of the French Line, peppered him with questions. He professed to be totally unaware of his sister’s disappearance, saying that since November he had been in Europe on a pleasure trip.
At the law office of Garvan & Armstrong, to which he hastily repaired, young Arnold was angered to learn that his father had a few days before released news of the missing girl to the press. He stated virtuously: “I am sorry my father should have seen fit to give out the story. I do not care to say anything more until I shall have had a chance to consult with my family.” One of the questions he chose to disregard was whether he had fought with Griscom over the packet of Dorothy’s letters, and whether he had obtained it only by knocking Junior down.
While John Arnold evaded questions, the firm of Garvan & Anderson coped with the testimony of New York’s clerk of marriage license records. He declared that either shortly before or shortly after the day of Dorothy’s disappearance—he could not be sure which—Pinkerton detectives had come to his office to ascertain whether Dorothy and Griscom had ever taken out a marriage license. There was no such record, and the private detectives had left. This story was branded by Garvan & Anderson a “direct, downright, and inexcusable lie.” Yet it is interesting to note that Garvan & Anderson, so vehement in this matter, neither denied nor waxed indignant over the provocative question of whether John Arnold had hit Junior Griscom.
In February Griscom returned in company with his mother and father. In New York newspapers he inserted personal ads signed Junior, begging Dorothy to communicate with him. No word came.
The nation’s police, galloping along the path of suicide, elopement, amnesia, and personal rebellion, found only dead ends. Reporters were no more successful. Once the headline DOROTHY ARNOLD FOUND spread across the newspapers of the country, but this turned out to be a hoax. After it Francis Arnold reduced his reward from $5,000 to $1,000, at the same time repeated his stubborn belief that Dorothy had been murdered in Central Park.
Now, fifty years later, Dorothy’s body has yet to float to the surface of a reservoir. Nor has it been found buried anywhere in the ground. There have been no deathbed confessions of identity; Dorothy has not reappeared from a life of shame. Dorothy Arnold, the girl who seemed to have everything has never come back in any shape or form.
What, then, happened to her?
Some believe that she may have slipped and fallen on the icy pavement, giving herself a concussion that brought on amnesia. Yet no one saw a girl fall on Fifth Avenue that day, and no hospital received a girl with a concussion or a blanked-out mind. Others point out that the drugging and abducting of attractive girls was fairly common in 1910. But this could hardly happen in midafternoon on one of the busiest streets in the world. Or to a strong girl like Dorothy, so well able to fight back.
More likely is the possibility that she contrived, or connived in, her own disappearance – —which would make her a girl of unusual complexity and depth, though no one who knew her seems to have been aware of it at the time.
For to disappear, Dorothy Arnold must have been either supersensitive or its opposite, supremely callous. If the former, it was to an extent that would plunge her into suicidal despair by the rejection of the first short stories she ever wrote. Or if not solely this, because the rejection coincided with her righteous father’s forbidding her to live her own life in Greenwich Village or to see more of the idle Griscom.
In favor of a suicide theory, newspapers dredged up the story of Andrew Griscom, a young cousin of Junior’s. Dorothy had met him at Bryn Mawr, perhaps before she knew Junior. Shortly after, Andrew Griscom had leaped from the deck of a trans-Atlantic liner because his Main Line family would not allow him to marry an English governess. On the impressionable Dorothy this may have left a lasting mark. It may have be become her pattern of behavior for disappointment in life and love.
WAS MISS ARNOLD LED TO SUICIDE BY AUTO-SUGGESTION? asked the World , tying her story to Andrew Griscom’s death. This theory might seem to be borne out by the steamship folders found on Dorothy’s desk. At the same time no passengers were reported missing from ocean-crossing liners during the early days of her disappearance. A more reasonable possibility is that Dorothy leaped from the Fall River side-wheeler which left New York at five P.M. daily. Suicides favored these overnight boats, for no passenger list was kept. Passengers merely walked aboard, chose a cabin, and paid on getting off. It would be simple for a morbid Dorothy Arnold her to jump into Long Island Sound in the middle of the night.
But against suicide is the fact that people who are about to destroy themselves usually appear depressed. Dorothy’s steady good humor at home, her lively anticipation of her sister’s debut, the banter with Gladys King outside Brentano’s—all these indicate a normal state of mind, not a desire for self-destruction.
What else, then?
Well, without meaning to tarnish the reputation o a girl unable to defend herself, there is the possibility that Dorothy may have been something of a hybrid in the Arnold family – as Lizzie Borden was in hers before, and Starr Faithfull in hers after. Impulses undreamed of by proper parents may have been fanned into flame by the week with Griscom in Boston. Dorothy may have returned hating her parents her empty life with all the ferocity of a Lizzie Borden. She may have become pregnant by Griscom. He or someone else may have supplied her with the name of an abortionist—perhaps along with the necessary funds, in the package so surprisingly delivered on Thanksgiving Day in Washington. This may have led to contact with the underworld, and the pent-up Dorothy may have seized on this road to a new kind of life. Or she may have died on an abortionist’s table.
But if she did slip into another life, her insensitivity was colossal, for she could not have avoided reading in newspapers of the distress she was causing her family. “It would be bad enough,” the stern Francis Arnold cried out once, “if the daughter I loved so well were lying beside her grandmother in Greenwood Cemetery, but this suspense and uncertainty are a thousand times worse.”
It went on. Francis R. Arnold died in 1922, his wife in 1928. Both left wills saying: “I have made no provision for my beloved daughter, Dorothy H. C. Arnold, as I am satisfied that she is not alive.”
In 1921, the case burst into unexpected life when Captain J. J. Ayers, head of the New York City Department of Missing Persons, told the student body of the High School of Commerce that the real truth about Dorothy Arnold had been known for many months to family and police. By the time he arrived back at Police headquarters the Captain denied that he had ever said this. A complete misunderstanding, he insisted. His tongue had slipped, and he had been misquoted.
On December 12, 1935, the twenty-fifth year after the disappearance, police told reporters that tips on Dorothy Arnold still came in. About six months before, a tipster claimed to have seen her at Fifth Avenue and Fifty-third Street. Despite the fact that Dorothy would hardly be recognizable after a quarter of a century, detectives were dispatched to the corner in question. There they stood around for several hours, peering vainly into the faces of passers-by.
Since that day, nothing. As Edward Henry Smith wrote in his Mysteries of the Missing , the Dorothy Arnold case has been called “a disappearance which had from the beginning no standard in rationality, being logically both impenetrable and irreconcilable. It remains obstinate and perplexing, a gall to human curiosity, an impossible problem for reason and analytical power.”
It is no less that now.
Though out of print for 60 years, Allen Churchill’s They Never Came Back is available from sellers on ABEbooks.