- Historic Sites
The Girl Who Never Came Back
Dorothy Arnold’s baffling disappearance, fifty years afterward, is still unsolved
August 1960 | Volume 11, Issue 5
But people who are about to destroy themselves usually seem 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. Impulses undreamed of by proper parents may have been fanned into flame by the week with Griscom in Boston. Dorothy may have returned with a fierce hatred of them and her empty society life. 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.”
And that uncertainty was never resolved. Francis R. Arnold died in 1922, his wife in 1928. Both left behind them wills which stated: “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. H. Ayers, head of the New York City Department of Missing Persons, announced in a speech before 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 next day the Captain denied that he had ever said this. A complete misunderstanding, he said. His tongue had slipped, and he had been misquoted.
On December 11, 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 it would be difficult to recognize her after a quarter of a century, detectives were dispatched to the corner in question. There they stood 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 so today.