New York’s Most Infamous Disappearance
Dorothy Arnold vanished while shopping on Fifth Avenue, triggering a manhunt that continues to this day.
Dorothy Arnold via Wikimedia Commons
Born in 1885 to a wealthy goods importer, Dorothy was one of Mary and Francis’ four children. The Arnolds were considered high society and socialised with New York royalty, including the Rockefellers.
Dorothy was a writer but had found it near impossible to be published in credible magazines. Her family made fun of her failure, and instead, she embraced the socialite life, spending her days lunching with friends and being wooed by suitors.
On the 12th of December 1910, Dorothy Arnold had been shopping on Fifth Avenue, looking for an evening gown for her sister’s upcoming debutante ball. Before heading home, she was seen at Park and Tilford candy store buying chocolates, and further along the street in a book store. She also saw a friend shortly after these stops, and Gladys King confirmed that the pair spoke for a while and that Dorothy was planning to walk through Central Park before she went home.
However, between Brentano’s book shop and Dorothy’s home on 108 East 79th street, the 25-year-old vanished and was never seen again.
Dorothy hadn’t come home for dinner that night, which was quite unlike her. Her family began calling her friends, asking if she’d been seen that day, but strangely, they called the friends back to claim Dorothy had returned home.
Dorothy’s family called in Pinkerton private investigators soon after they realised she’d gone, wanting to avoid the publicity Francis knew would come with his daughter’s disappearance.
Hospitals, morgues and even prisons were checked in search of the young woman, but there was no trace of Dorothy. Finally, after six weeks of fruitless investigations, the Pinkerton investigators urged the family to call in the police to help.
Dorothy’s disappearance was finally made public on the 25th of January 1911 at a press conference in Francis Arnold’s office. Almost immediately, America had a new obsession; where was Dorothy Arnold? Her image was printed in newspapers across the world, and soon, everyone was on the look out for the young woman.
Though the family did involved the police, Dorothy’s father wasn’t convinced she was still alive and said, “I am firmly convinced my daughter has been killed,” he said. “And I will spend every dollar I have in the world to avenge her death.”
A reward of $1,000 (nearly $30,000 today) was offered for information leading to Dorothy. However, that reward has never been collected, and no one’s entirely sure what happened to the socialite.
Dorothy yearned for a writing career, but her stories were constantly rejected by the magazines she loved and read. In fact, there had been burned manuscripts in her bedroom, which was presumed to be further rejections from McClure’smagazine.
The theory that Dorothy had committed suicide due to her failed writing career was considered plausible by her boyfriend, George Griscom Jr. She’d written entries in her journal, stating her disappointment over the rejections saying, “Well, it [the story] has come back. McClure’s has turned me down. 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.”
However, if the young woman wanted a writing career so desperately, she had the money to ensure she was successful in any sector she wanted.
Abduction and murder
During the search for Dorothy, the Arnolds received two ransom notes from people claiming to have abducted their daughter. The letters demanded $5,000 for the safe return of Dorothy. However, the letters were proven to be fake.
Five years after Dorothy went missing, a man named Edward Glennoris came forward while in Rhode Island prison, claiming he’d been paid $250 to get rid of a woman’s body around the time of Dorothy’s disappearance.
He told the prison warden that he’d been hired to transport an unconscious woman to Weehawken, New Jersey by a man named ‘Little Louie’. He claimed that when he arrived at the house, ‘Little Louie’ told him that the woman was Dorothy Arnold, and a signet ring, she was known to be wearing when she disappeared, was on her finger.
The next day when Glennoris returned to the house to kill the woman as per his instructions, she was already dead, and he buried her in the cellar. He told the warden that there were two men at the house he initially picked up the woman from, and one of them matched the description of her boyfriend, George Griscom Jr.
Glennoris claimed the woman had been taken to the house in New Jersey for an operation, and the other man with Griscom Jr. was named ‘doc’.
The police were eventually told Glennoris’ story, but he claimed he didn’t know anything about Dorothy when he was formally questioned. Several cellars were searched, but a body was never found, and even Dorothy’s father told reporters that Glennoris’ story wasn’t true.
Another theory was that Dorothy had become pregnant and had undergone a termination, which went wrong. In April 1916, the rumour took on another life when police searched an abortion clinic. The illegal clinic run by Dr Meredith was known as ‘The House of Mystery’ as many women had disappeared after visiting the home in Bellevue, Pennsylvania.
Dr Lutz, who had an office in the same building as Dr Meredith, claimed the doctor had told him that Dorothy had visited the clinic but had died during the operation. According to Meredith, Dorothy’s body had been incinerated in one of the two large furnaces in the cellar of the house.
Dorothy had around $30 in cash on her when she went missing, over $800 today. Given that the socialite walked through Central Park after lunch in the dead of winter, it’s possible she was murdered for her money.
Dorothy’s father believed this was the fate of his daughter. He ordered Central Park lake and the reservoir to be drained, but both had been frozen since before Dorothy went missing.
“I have believed from the first that my daughter is dead. Since I publicly expressed this belief I have received letters which convince me that my theory is correct. I have two clues, both of which I have communicated to Mr Whitman [the district attorney]. I have given him my word that I will not divulge these clues, but I will say that I have every reason to believe that Dorothy was kidnapped on Fifth avenue on Dec. 12, and afterward murdered.”
Francis Arnold’s statement continues, but never reveals the clues they were given.
The police investigated sightings all over the United States. Postcards were received from cruel fraudsters, pretending to be Dorothy, her handwriting copied from samples printed in newspapers. Even a jeweller in California allegedly sold Dorothy a wedding ring, though this was never substantiated.
Soon after, the New York police department ceased all investigation into Dorothy’s disappearance, claiming she was dead.
Deputy Police Commissioner William Flynn said, “The girl has now been missing for 75 days and in all that time not a single clue has been found that was worth the name. …We have no evidence that a crime has been committed and the case is now one of a missing person and nothing more.”
So, what are we to believe? It seems logical that Dorothy was robbed for her clothing and money, but why murder her? Though plausible, it seems pointless, and the theory of a botched termination may be closer to the truth than we know.
Dorothy’s boyfriend George Griscom Jr. was in Italy when Dorothy vanished and appeared to have nothing to do with her disappearance. He loved her and intended to marry her on his return from Europe.
Those who saw and spoke to Dorothy in the days before her disappearance said that she didn’t seem suicidal and had made plans for the coming weeks.
Over the years that followed, many doppelgangers and women with the same name as Dorothy were found and often marched to police stations by strangers, demanding they’d found the long-lost woman. However, none of them was found to be the real Dorothy Arnold.
Francis Arnold died in July 1922, and Mary followed several years later in 1928, with neither of them knowing what happened to their daughter. Before their deaths, both parents wrote Dorothy out of their Wills, concerned about imposters, stating, “I have made no provision for my beloved daughter, Dorothy H. C. Arnold, as I am satisfied that she is not alive.”
The Arnolds spent nearly $100,000 searching for their lost daughter, almost $3million with today’s inflation. Yet, despite the family’s efforts, alongside the police and everyone who tried to find her, Dorothy’s disappearance remains one of New York city’s biggest mysteries.
Inside The Bizarre Disappearance Of Turn-Of-The-Century Heiress Dorothy Arnold Shortly before Christmas 1910, the heiress to a perfume empire Dorothy Arnold vanished without a trace while shopping…allthatsinteresting.com Weird New York : your travel guide to New York's local legends and best kept secrets : Gethard… 268 p. : 24 cmarchive.org https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s_2QTY0V3Yc&ab_channel=BuzzFeedUnsolvedNetwork