Dorothy Arnold: Frantic Search for Beautiful Heiress

Our case last week was that of mail bomber Walter “Roy” Moody. This week’s case takes us to New York City in 1910, where heiress and socialite Dorothy Arnold mysteriously disappeared.

Dorothy Arnold

Dorothy Arnold was the daughter of Francis and Martha Parks Arnold. Her father, Francis, imported “fancy goods” and was a descendant of English passengers on the Mayflower. Her mother, Martha, had a Canadian heritage. The family was both wealthy and socially prominent.

Dorothy Harriet Camille Arnold (Library of Congress)
Dorothy Harriet Camille Arnold (Library of Congress)

Dorothy attended a private girls’ school in New York and Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania. After graduating from college in 1905, she moved back to New York and lived with her parents while trying to establish herself as a writer. She submitted at least two short stories to McClure’s magazine, but McClure’s rejected both. In October 1910, she asked her father if she could move to an apartment in Greenwich Village to write. Her father flatly refused; unmarried young women of prominent families did not live on their own in 1910.

 Dorothy Arnold lived in a fancy part of New York's Upper East Side much like this one, shown in 1910
Dorothy Arnold lived in a fancy part of New York’s Upper East Side much like this one, shown in 1910

Dorothy Arnold Disappears

About 11:00 on December 12, 1910, Dorothy left the family residence on 79th Street in the tony Upper East Side. She told her mother she was going to shop for a dress for her sister Marjorie’s upcoming debutante ball. At the Park & Tilford store, Dorothy charged a half-pound box of chocolates. Then she walked downtown to Brentano’s bookstore, where she bought a book of humorous essays. Leaving the bookstore, she ran into a friend, Gladys King. The two women talked for a moment, with Gladys later reporting that Dorothy seemed in good spirits.

Dorothy Arnold was last seen leaving this Manhattan bookstore
Dorothy Arnold was last seen leaving this Manhattan bookstore (Alan Aaronson/New York Daily News)

When Dorothy failed to return home for dinner, her parents began to worry. Dorothy never missed a meal without telling her family. However, fearing publicity that would be embarrassing socially, the family did not contact police. Although it’s strange to put social status above locating a missing daughter, there may have been a reason for it. A year earlier, 13-year-old Adele Boas went missing from Central Park. It turned out she had run away to Boston and her prominent Upper East Side family was scandalized and shamed in the press.

Regardless of the reason, instead of the police, the Arnold family contacted John S. Keith. Keith was a lawyer and family friend. Over the next few weeks, he searched hospitals, jails, and morgues in New York, Philadelphia, and Boston. He found no trace of Dorothy. Yet, instead of contacting the police, Keith recommended that the family hire the Pinkerton Detective Agency to investigate.

A Fruitless Investigation

Pinkerton detectives also searched hospitals and places Dorothy was known to frequent. But again, there was no trace of the missing woman. Theorizing she may have eloped, detectives searched marriage records but again found nothing.

An artist for the New York American scketched Dorothy as whe was dressed on the day she disappeared
An artist for the New York American scketched Dorothy as whe was dressed on the day she disappeared

Finally, over a month after Dorothy disappeared, her family filed a missing persons report with police. The police advised Mr. Arnold to hold a press conference, which he did, albeit reluctantly.

George "Junor" Gascom, Jr.
George “Junor” Gascom, Jr.

As the investigation progressed, reporters uncovered a romantic relationship between Dorothy Arnold and one George Griscom, Jr. Griscom was a 42-year-old engineer from a wealthy family who lived with his parents in the Kenmawr Hotel in Pittsburgh. They further discovered that in September, Dorothy had spent a week in a hotel with Griscom. She had pawned $500 worth of jewelry to pay for the week. The discovery was scandalous, but it didn’t lead to finding the missing woman. But there was no hard evidence linking Griscom to Dorothy’s disappearance.

Epilogue

Despite many reported sightings and letters purporting to be from her, no one ever saw Dorothy again. Francis Arnold, who died in 1922, spent nearly $200,000 trying to find his missing daughter. He believed she had been kidnapped the day she disappeared and murdered shortly thereafter. Dorothy’s mother, Martha, believed Dorothy was still alive. Martha died in 1928.

You can read more about the case in The Disappearance of Dorothy Arnold.

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