The complex riddle of MISSING PERSONS
Three hundred Canadians disappear every week. Some are found within hours, others not for years. A few vanish forever. Seldom do police, private detectives, anguished relatives or compassionate neighbors ever find the same answer twice to
Mr. Henry Blodgett, 238 St. Clement's Avenue, Toronto 12, Ontario. Dear Henry:
Every week about three hundred Canadians drop from sight. Some of them, particularly the children, remain missing only until they get homesick or hungry but others disappear for months and even years and a few vanish without trace. Around the world uncounted millions are missing because of war and other disasters as well as a desire to disappear.
In 1955. the latest year for which there are national statistics, the police were asked to find 11.771 missing Canadians. All but 549 were found by the end of the year.
Will you look into some of these cases with a view to doing an article for us? When does a person become formally missing?
ASSOCIATE EDITOR. MACLEAN’S MAGAZINE
238 St. Clement's Avenue, Toronto 12. Ontario.
Technically, a missing person is someone who has been gone for an unreasonably long time and can't be found. A man who plays poker all night without letting his wife know, which is pretty unreasonable, could be regarded as a missing
person. As far as the police records are concerned it is someone who has been gone for more than forty-eight hours and whose disappearance has been reported to them.
There are variations as in the millions of cases where families have been filing apart by war and both the searcher and the sought are missing. Frequently a parent and a child, separated by a quarrel, will start to look for each other after a lapse of years when time has made them mellow and sentimental.
A Toronto businessman, now fifty and successful, with a family of his own, recently set out to find his mother who had borne him out of wedlock and had put him out for adoption without going through the legal formalities of the process. When he was sure he had found her he asked a welfare worker to go and sec her and find out if there was something he could do. He wanted to be sure she was not in want.
Children are rarely missing past suppertime and consequently their names don't usually go on the official list of the lost. There are exceptions. In Montreal recently a little boy went to the family attic to explore and fell asleep while his father and fifty other taxi drivers scoured the city frantically with the flags on their meters riding high into the hunt. In London. Ont., another little boy climbed into a cedar chest as part of a game. The lid locked behind him and he was found suffocated.
There is no law against attempting to disappear unless you try to make someone clse’s money vanish at the same time, run out on your responsibilities as a husband or wife or create a public mischief to throw searchers off the trail. Husbands, never wives, can be charged with non-support in these cases and both can be held legally responsible for the neglect of little children.
A few years ago a woman of twenty-two left her home in northern Ontario and went to Toronto to look for work because she wasn't getting on well with her stepmother. The parents appealed to the police for help in finding her. A Toronto newspaper got a picture of her from home and ran it large on the front page in an early edition because she was pretty and news was slow that day. She was soon discovered working in the city but the publicity so distressed her new employer, who felt the whole matter smacked of criminality, that he dismissed her. The girl threatened action against the newspaper, through a lawyer, but did not proceed with it.
A missing person may be declared legally dead, by court order, after seven years of complete absence. This is usually done in cases where the settlement of an estate is pending. But a man or woman cannot shuck off responsibility or liability under the law as easily as they can put aside their continued on page 65
continued from page 24
“The desire to vanish is usually bom of bitterness and failure”
identity, as a Montreal man discovered recently when he was found after being missing for twenty-five years. This deliberate Enoch Arden first wanted to know how they had found him (he had talked about his earlier life to the neighbors) and then said casually, when the police reminded him of an outstanding warrant for his arrest on a non-support charge laid by his wife, “I don't have to pay after all this time, do I?” He did.
Why do people disappear?
The desire to vanish is rarely a romantic one. It is usually born of bitterness, frustration, failure, immaturity and an attempt at partial self-destruction, according to the social worker, police officers and psychologists to whom 1 talked. These people feel that by losing thenidentity they may lose their problems. They are often people who believe that happiness and success are a matter of geography. The chances are, though, that even if they assume the identity of a retired wing commander and take up residence in a well-staffed grass shack in the South Seas, they will discover that the old familiar problems have somehow smuggled themselves aboard.
Some people attempt to disappear without physically taking oil. They do it with drugs or drink or by an extreme kind of emotional withdrawal whereby they continue to live with their problems but refuse to admit they are there. Others, ot course, are mentally ill and by going missing they are taking flight from not only the world but from themselves. It is not unusual for suicides to strip themselves of every vestige of identification.
“Some of these people who might be judged weak or delinquent because of their desire to run away may be shown to have some pathological weakness which science cannot yet determine, said Miss Bessie Touzel, director of the Ontario Welfare Council. There are cases, too, where disappearance for a time has saved the fugitive’s sanity. She told of a case she dealt with as a social worker in an eastern city during the Thirties. This young couple had been plagued by lack of money, bad luck and even tragedy. One of their children was badly hurt and another died all in the short space of two months. The wife became increasingly high-strung, even hysterical. as fate delivered one blow after another. The husband appeared to be strong and calm through it all. Then one day he disappeared. After a couple of months he returned, full of remorse. He told how, under another name, he had ridden the rods up and down and across the continent. This holiday from one kind of reality had been taken deliberately, just short of his breaking point. Unfortunately. his wife could never understand this and while they resumed their marriage she remained bitter.
Young husbands, running away from one woman and often after another, head the lists of vanishing Canadians. Women, immobilized by the care of little children and a feeling of responsibility to them, take off less frequently, and when they do the action is usually an impulse like the one that possessed a mother of four
living in a small Ontario town. Convinced that she could no longer cope without more help from her husband, she went to the bus station instead of the supermarket and spent an unhappy week in Toronto, protected in her flight by the
size of the city, yet frightened by its impersonality and tortured by remorse. By the end of the week she was back home, sick with worry about her children.
Teen-agers, lured by the call of springtime and the open road or made restive
by too much discipline or not enough, make up the third largest group. One Toronto youth, fourteen-year-old Ronald Jaremkow, who was suspended from school for smoking, disappeared from his home for seventy-five days. He was discovered working on a farm fifty miles
in Montreal the fall vies with the spring as a time for youngsters to go over the hill. Just after school starts the police receive many enquiries which frequently lead back to the camp where the youngster has spent a happy summer. He is
found holed up with a few cans of beans trying to prolong his vacation.
T he smallest and most mysterious category is comprised of the few who vanish without apparent cause and without trace.
Canada’s most famous missing person was Ambrose Small, the millionaire theatre-owner, who, with an evening newspaper tucked under his arm, walked down a Toronto street and into oblivion one December day at twilight, in 1919. He had just made a two-million-dollar deal. While the city speculated on Small’s fate the police grew weary of rushing to identify every body that was fished from Lake Ontario or found in a field. Finally they made a routine query that had the effect of squelching speculation before it got a foothold. “Does the body have hammer toes?” the police would ask. If not, it could not be Ambrose Small’s, for he had this minor deformity.
Three young women are also high on the list of Canadians who have vanished mysteriously. One of these is Mabel Crumback, nineteen, who disappeared from her home where she was spending the night alone with her brother, aged eight. Neighbors reported hearing a scream during the night but there were no signs of a struggle. Two years later, in January 1952, a former Montreal model, Huguette Lemay, walked away from her husband while they were fishing in the Florida keys, and was never seen again. In December 1953 a Toron’o stenographer, Marion McDowell, and her boy friend were held up by a hooded thug who surprised them in a parked ear. According to his story she was taken from the seat and stuffed in the trunk of another car. More than two thousand troops and Boy Scouts helped in the search and months later Robert Fabian, the famous Scotland Yard inspector, made his own investigation but no trace of her was ever found.
Occasionally, tragic solutions to old mysteries are revealed, as in the case of Earl Kirk, aged fifty, and his thirty-oneyear-old wife, who in 1940 set out from North Bay to drive to Brandon, Man.
They left their four-month-old daughter Kay with a housekeeper. They were last seen, to be recognized, when they stopped for gasoline outside Sudbury and drove off into the rain. The days, weeks and then the months passed with no word of the couple. Kirk, who was the sales manager for an oil company, had left his records in good order. The search gradually petered out.
Their car, containing the skeletons of the couple, was found in the St. Mary’s River at Sault Ste. Marie in the fall of 1955. Kirk had apparently taken a wrong turning in the dark and had driven off the end of a dock into twenty feet of water.
Sometimes a family quarrel will lead to a disappearance. Eleven years ago Ross Nicho!, then twenty-three, took his twenty-one-year-old wife Effie and their infant son in a taxi from his parents’ farm at Listowel to Toronto’s Union Station where they boarded a train and disappeared. Ross left behind his share of the farm, a bank account and even his car. For eleven years his widowed mother and his three sisters looked for him without finding a trace. Shortly after his mother died last year, leaving her runaway son $1 (),()()() of her $75,000 estate, the Nichols were discovered with the help of a former Moncton woman, now living in Toronto. When she saw their pictures in a Toronto newspaper she recognized them as the couple to whom she had rented a room years before in the New Brunswick city.
She and her husband left the Listowel farm where he had worked for his parents for wages and board, because the
parents “wanted to break us up,” said Mrs. Nichol. “They didn’t think I was good enough for them.”
Under the name of MacNichol they built a new and happy life for themselves in Mohcton, where Ross works as a stationary and refrigerator engineer. They’ve bought themselves a home and another car and they have two more sons.
Hundreds of enquiries from Europe come to the Red Cross and the Salvation Army as well as the police forces of the country; many from behind the Iron Curtain ask for information about relatives. Some, like Olga and her brother Ivan, separated by war, were not even sure that the other was still alive. In their case, Olga made an enquiry through the Moscow Red Cross and her brother was traced to Toronto where he is now living. Failure to write letters leads to many worried queries from overseas. “The Scandinavians seem to be the worst defaulters as correspondents,” said one Salvation Army officer. “When I asked one why this was he gave me the novel explanation that they were so busy learning English that it soon became difficult to write in their native language.”
Criminals are professional vanishers. Two men, both starred on the RCMP’s ten-most-wanted list, were recently discovered after desperate attempts to change their appearance. Jack Hoviansian, twenty-nine, who escaped from Collins Bay Prison in November of 1957, was picked up outside a Hamilton bank where he was parked with a kit of burglar tools and two pistols in his car. Hoviansian had been to a plastic surgeon in the U. S., who had changed the shape of his prominent nose, but his fingerprints sent him back to prison. Daniel O Connor (alias Art Nelson) was wanted for the attempted murder of a Mountie whom he pistol-whipped during an escape near Penticton, B.C., in 1953. Nelson, who was also on the FBI's wanted list, was picked up in San Diego on a theft charge. He had dyed his hair, grown a mustache and added eighty-eight pounds, but his fingerprints gave him away.
How are missing persons found?
There is no central agency by which missing persons are sought in Canada. The International Red Cross, with headquarters in Geneva and representatives around the world, and the Salvation Army with offices in eighty-five countries, provide a far-flung service which has reunited thousands of families. Since the war the Canadian Red Cross has received forty-two thousand requests to trace missing persons believed to be in this country, and the Salvation Army gets more than a thousand a year, half of which are successful searches.
All requests for police help must originate with the local department, which then calls on police forces in other cities, the provincial police and the RCMP for further assistance, depending on what leads develop. RCMP headquarters in Ottawa maintains a laboratory where artists simulate, from descriptions, the features of missing persons. Part of their work consists of reconstructing plastercast facsimiles of the living persons from the facial bones of unidentified bodies. These are made by (he crime laboratory primarily to determine whether or not the body is that of a wanted criminal but in some cases the relatives of missing persons have been able to make an identification from the plaster image.
In Toronto, for instance, four unidentified bodies were discovered last year. Before any search for a missing person can begin the police satisfy themselves that the plea for aid is a genuine one. They will not do any “skip tracing”— the pursuit of men and women who owe money—and they will not collect evidence for divorce cases. This work, together with some tracing of missing persons, is done by private investigators. Families who don’t want to have the police making enquiries about their missing relative can hire a private detective
for twenty-five to thirty-five dollars a day plus expenses.
Even when the missing person is found the police are not bound to reveal the fugitive’s whereabouts unless a charge, such as non-support, has been laid. They will usually advise their quarry that he is causing his family a good deal of concern and suggest that he get in touch, but if the runaway asks that his whereabouts be kept secret they will respect his request. The Salvation Army recently traced the mother of a man in England to a mental institution where she was suffer-
ing from an incurable affliction and was completely out of her mind. It was decided, after much thought, to report that the search had been unsuccessful.
Not long ago the Toronto police, who unlike the Montreal department do not yet maintain a separate missing-persons bureau but spread work throughout the force, received a request from the Vancouver force to trace a missing husband. The request had originated with his wife and was accompanied by a complete physical description, a fuzzy snapshot, details about his other next-of-kin and the
suggestion that he might be in Toronto where he was stationed during the war.
The police first checked their own records and the current population of the Don Jail, for people who vanish are frequently found to be quietly serving a short sentence. Hospitals were also checked.
He had not been in the city long enough to have his name in either the telephone book or the directory but these were checked as a matter of course. Next, used-car dealers were visited to find out if he had sold the car he was believed to have brought east with him. At one of these lots the trail was picked up. The man had used his own name in selling the car but the address he gave proved to be useless. The next clue came from a doctor, an old friend of the family, to whom the missing man had gone for treatment, still using his own name. The doctor remembered the man had made a remark about the line of goods he was selling and by checking all companies in this category the police found him.
He asked the police to say nothing about finding him because he didn't want his wife to know where he was. They complied with his request because there were no charges against him. His wife had not sued for non-support; she was just worried. She would have been more worried, perhaps, if she had known that he was in the middle of a complicated and dangerous deception that could have led to a serious charge.
In Toronto he had met the manageress of a restaurant and had represented himself as a widower. When she asked for proof he sent to the west coast for a copy of the death certificate of a young daughter who had died a few years earlier. With the help of erasing fluid and a draftsman’s pen he altered the document to read as his wife's death certificate When the police advised him to get in touch with his family the missing man did and abandoned his bigamous plot.
Now that you’ve been examining the motivations and the methods of missing persons how would you go about vanishing—for purely adventurous, or romantic reasons, of course?
Even though it's almost a sure sign that you’re sick or a heel I guess most people have thought at times about what it would be like to take off with new baggage with new initials on the side. Cer-
tainly some of the Europeans who have come to this country since the war have taken the opportunity of making a new life with a new identity (and sometimes a new wife, without bothering to get rid of the one in the Old Country) and thereby having two lives in the span of one. Lately, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about how I would go about vanishing.
First 1 would change my name. We’re so hedged about by records and signatures today that you’d be too easy to find if you gave your right name. A name can be legally changed for a cost of seventy-five to a hundred dollars but such a change must be advertised and this publicity would in itself be a handicap. It's hard enough to get lost without running ads about it.
I would go to a big city because people are less curious about neighbors in a metropolis. And if I wanted to make doubly sure 1 wouldn't be found I'd choose a city outside of Canada. It’s not too difficult to get a birth certificate in another name and thence a passport.
I would change my habits, the social ones that could betray me. When Boyne Johnston, the Ottawa bank teller who recently stole $260,000, was picked up in Denver with most of his loot he had been given away by his liking for champagne, which he continued to order in the night clubs of that city. After all, it wouldn't be too great a sacrifice to switch drinks, grow a mustache and even start smoking a pipe instead of cigarettes.
1 would never write to anyone in the old home town. This is an almost certain tipofï to your new whereabouts. One of the leads that uncovered a Toronto man who disappeared with another man’s wife, leaving his own wife and children behind, was a letter to his bank transferring funds.
And another precaution 1 would take would be to stay away from Denver. This Colorado city has always been bad luck for Canadians intent on vanishing. Not only was Johnston picked up there but several other vanishers and fugitives, including a Philip Leg’os, wanted on a bond - theft charge, have been run to earth there.
You know, I don't think it would be too hard to vanish if you wanted to get away from it all.
How about coming into the office one day soon and we'li talk about this material you have gathered together.