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Into Thin Air: The Strange Vanishing of Dorothy Arnold

Some of the most spectacular and mysterious disappearances are those of people who were of high social standing. Back 1n 1910, Dorothy Arnold was a pretty big deal. The daughter of Francis R. Arnold, a fine goods and perfume importer, she was the heiress to a large fortune, and around Manhattan, New York she was known as a high-profile socialite and aspiring writer who seemed to have the world at her feet. The Arnold family was so affluent that they were listed in the New York City Social Register, and it didn’t seem that Dorothy had much to worry about, despite her writing career not really taking off, and it seemed her future was looking bright whether she achieved her dreams or not. Yet, dark clouds were on the horizon, and one day Dorothy Arnold would take a walk down a busy shopping street and just disappear off the face of the earth, launching a bizarre unsolved mystery that would only get stranger as time went by.

On December 12, 1910, Dorothy went off to go shopping for a dress for a party at New York’s bustling 5th Avenue, deciding to go alone despite her mother offering to go with her. Along the way, she passed through the Park & Tilford’s store at Fifth and 27th then Brentano’s Bookstore on 26th Street, after which she met up with some friends and told them that she was going to take a stroll through Central Park on her way home. At the time it was broad daylight, there were plenty of people out and about, and Dorothy seemed to be in good spirits, so there would have been no idea at the time that as she walked off towards the park this would be the last time anyone would see her again.

Dorothy Arnold

That evening, Dorothy did not return home in time for a dinner her family was having, which was odd because she had always been very good about informing them if she thought she would be late. Calls to Dorothy’s friends turned up that none of them had seen her after that walk though Central Park, and as the hours grew later she still did not arrive. The family became worried, yet tried to cover it all up, telling worried friends who called that their daughter had come home already but had gone to bed with a headache. The following morning, Dorothy still had not come home, and so a family lawyer named John S. Keith was notified and asked to come check things out. He arrived at the home and found that Dorothy had not taken any valuables with her or any of her belongings, which made it all the odder. The only thing odd that was found were some burnt papers in the fireplace, but these were presumed to be the rejected manuscripts Arnold had submitted to McClure’s magazine in her quest to be a writer. The Arnolds knew that something was amiss and that it was very likely that something had happened to their daughter, but at the time they were loathe to tell police about it for fear of tarnishing their sterling reputation.

At this point the investigation was a secret, and largely carried out solely by Keith, who scoured the area looking for clues, visiting hospitals, jails, ship ports, and morgues all over New York City, Philadelphia and Boston, but no trace of the missing woman could be found. It was only after he had pursued every possible lead that Keith admitted defeat and suggested that the Arnolds go to private investigators, who also found no trace of Dorothy despite extensive interviews with friends and everyone who had last seen her. The best the investigators could do was come to the conclusion that she had possibly eloped with someone from Europe, as there were found to be literature for transatlantic ocean liners in Arnold’s room, but this led to a dead end. In the meantime, Dorothy’s parents suspected that her ex-boyfriend George Griscom Jr, had had something to do with it, even travelling to Italy where he was vacationing in order to confront him, but there could be found no evidence at all to that effect and he adamantly denied any involvement. It was starting to look more and more like the time to notify proper authorities, but by this time a full six weeks had passed since the mysterious disappearance.

The official release of the vanishing to the public was exactly what the Arnolds had wanted to avoid. The story was immediately splashed all over newspaper headlines across the country with menacing headlines, and in the meantime the police seemed to lean into the theory that Dorothy had run off with someone and would perhaps return of her own accord. Large rewards were offered for further information, but these only attracted hoaxers and imposters, leading nowhere at all. Dorothy’s family was starting to believe that she had possibly been attacked and murdered in Central Park and her corpse thrown into the Central Park Reservoir, but police were quick to point out that not only was there no evidence of foul play, but the reservoir had been frozen solid at the time. Even when the reservoir was checked after thawing there was no sign of a body, and the case was no closer to being solved.

Manhattan in the era

In early February 1911, a weird clue would come in when the Arnolds received a letter in the mail from “Dorothy” and postmarked from New York. Within the unadorned envelope there was a note with three simple words that said “I am safe.” The handwriting seemed to be that of Dorothy Arnold, but there was no way to verify it, and it became just another frustrating dead end. Curiously, there was also a jeweler who stepped forward to say that in January of that same year a woman matching Dorothy’s description had approached him to have a wedding ring engraved with “To A.J.A. from E.R.B., December 10, 1910.” However, again, there is no way to confirm whether this was Dorothy Arnold or not.

As the years went by and the case grew cold, there would actually be several sightings of the missing heiress all over the place. With one report even claiming that she was an amnesiac in Switzerland, of all places, as well as that she was a patient a sanatorium in Pittsburg, but none of these sightings ever led anywhere. Theories were also flying as to what had actually happened to her. One was that she had died from a botched abortion and was then cremated. Another was that she had been murdered by a man named Edward Glennoris, who in 1916 was serving time in Rhode Island State Prison for extortion. He would apparently confess to having been paid to bury Dorothy Arnold under the cellar of a house in West Point, but when police investigated they found no body there and his story was seen as rather unreliable. Other theories were that she had run off, been murdered, or committed suicide due to depression over her failed writing career, but no one knows, no answers were ever found, and both police and the Arnolds themselves would eventually give up the search altogether, believing her to be dead wherever she was. What happened to Dorothy Arnold? How did this rich socialite so fully manage to vanish without a trace in broad daylight in such a busy, crowded area? No one knows, and her mystery remains a perplexing historical unsolved disappearance that will likely never be understood.