Dorothy Harriet Camille Arnold was one of the earliest high-profile missing persons in the twentieth century. The facts of her case are sparse but suggestive of a darker story. Dorothy was the daughter of a Manhattan millionaire. She was 25 years old when she disappeared.
Dorothy enjoyed writing, and aspired to become a novelist. Manuscripts she submitted to publishers were rejected, a fact Dorothy was anxious to hide. She rented a post office box where she kept the manuscripts, away from the prying eyes of her family and their servants.
Privacy was obviously an issue, and Dorothy wanted to live on her own. She was a clever woman with a college degree, she was fluent in several languages, and she was independently wealthy. Yet she lived with her parents in a mansion on East 79th Street because her father forbade her to move out.
Dorothy disappeared on a December afternoon in 1910. She left home on foot to go shopping for an evening dress around 1:30p.m., wearing a long blue coat over a blue dress and carrying about $25. Her mother offered to go with her, but Dorothy said she wanted to be alone.
When her movements were traced, investigators found she had first stopped to buy some chocolate and then went on to a bookstore called Brentano’s on Fifth Avenue, where she encountered a friend. The girls chatted for a few minutes before parting, and Dorothy purchased a book before she left. This was the last time she was ever seen.
Dorothy was not missed at once. Her family assumed she was staying with a friend when she failed to come home that night. It wasn’t until late the following day that they began to ask each other, Where is Dorothy? After phoning Dorothy’s friends, the Arnolds realized something must have happened to her.
Like most of the upper class of the time, Mr. Arnold had a deep aversion to publicity. Calling the police would garner too much attention, he insisted. The family hired private investigators instead, but they turned up few clues. The people she had encountered prior to disappearing said Dorothy seemed to be in good spirits. At the bookshop, she told her friend she was going for a walk in Central Park. Yet a search of the park turned up nothing.
At least one discovery was made, and it was a most unwelcome one for Dorothy’s family: unbeknownst to anyone, she had a boyfriend. His name was George C. Griscom, Jr., and he was a wealthy engineer who lived in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He was also 44 years old.
Dorothy’s family was stunned to learn that she had spent a week with him earlier that year, when she claimed to be visiting some friends from college. But Griscom was in Italy when Dorothy disappeared, and he was dismissed as a suspect. He said he had no idea what happened to Dorothy but hinted she was depressed about her faltering writing career.
A full month passed, and the Arnolds finally told the police of Dorothy’s disappearance. Just as Mr. Arnold had feared, the case became highly publicized. The story, and pictures of Dorothy appeared in newspapers as far away as Europe. However, no viable leads were generated.
There were a few theories as to Dorothy Arnold’s fate:
Dorothy’s father began to believe she had been attacked and murdered and her body dropped into a reservoir in Central Park. “The one theory to which I have always leaned is that she was kidnapped and made away with in a short time,” he told a journalist. This theory isn’t outlandish, but it isn’t a slamdunk, either. Dorothy was young and strong and may not have been easy to subdue. Also, no witnesses of an attack came forward. And no viable suspects were put forward by people hoping to gain a reward.
Another theory was that Dorothy had killed herself. Griscom believed this might be the case, and we know that she was very sensitive about the rejected manuscripts. Dorothy did want to go out alone that day, and perhaps she was upset about her writing. No one said she seemed upset though, and it seems strange for her to buy a book before killing herself. And, no one ever found her body.
Some people theorized she had died during a botched abortion, but there was no evidence to back up such an assertion. Hospital records showed no one matching Dorothy’s description had come in or been brought in in the days and weeks following her disappearance.
It’s unlikely, but not impossible, that she would have staged her disappearance to start a new life somewhere else. It’s worth noting that Dorothy was a secretive person and there were aspects of her life which she kept hidden from her family. That afternoon, she said she was going out to buy a dress, something she never attempted to do. The $25 in her pocket would not last forever, but perhaps she had been secretly saving money and had more with her. Dorothy’s mother, who lived until 1928, never believed her daughter was dead. Was this mother’s intuition… or wishful thinking? Still, at some point, had Dorothy lived, would she not have eventually contacted her family or Griscom?
The mystery of Dorothy Arnold’s disappearance is still unsolved.