Dorothy Harriet Camille Arnold went missing on December 12, 1910. The moment that she vanished triggered one of the most enigmatic mysteries of the last century. With so many theories as to what might have happened to her, there are a handful of possibilities that actually carry some weight to them. After she vanished, her worried family conducted a full-blown private investigation, contacting family friends and professionals to try and locate Dorothy’s whereabouts, all to no avail. Join us as we explore one of the most bizarre mysteries of the 20th Century and attempt to break down the possibilities as to why and how she went missing.
The Day That Changed Everything
It has been over a century since American socialite Dorothy Arnold mysteriously vanished on the New York City streets. “The Vanished Heiress,” as the newspapers referred to her, is the subject of one of the most peculiar mysteries of the 20th Century.
December 12, 1910, seemed like any other normal day for Dorothy Arnold. While her parents didn’t think much of it when she went out to do some shopping, she never returned. What was the cause of her disappearance?
She Seemed Perfectly Happy
What made Dorothy Arnold’s disappearance so strange was the fact that she seemed very happy on the day she vanished. This made sense, seeing that she was the daughter of an affluent family.
Dorothy lived a good life, having a graduated from Bryn Mawr College. With close ties to Supreme Court Justice Rufus W. Peckham, the Arnold family were important figures in their NYC neighborhood. However, it was soon revealed that not everything was well in Arnold’s life…
Magazines Rejected Her
In order to understand the nature of Dorothy Arnold’s mysterious disappearance, we need to understand what she was going through building up to that fateful day.
A huge part of her life was her aspiration to become a professional writer. It is believed that her family lacked faith in her writing skills. To make matters even worse, a magazine she had submitted a short story to had rejected her. However, her personal life was also extremely unpredictable…
During her young adulthood, Dorothy Arnold had grown close to a man by the name of George Griscom Jr. Despite their romance, her family didn’t approve of her contact with him.
Matters only got worse when they learned that Arnold had lied to them, going to Boston to visit her lover. Even when Griscom had gone away to Italy with his family, Dorothy exchanged letters with him, sharing with him her disappointment of being let down by the magazine.
She Went Out Shopping
With her writing career stalling, and her family disapproving of her romance with Griscom, Arnold was doing well to keep a smile on her face.
So no one batted an eyelid when she went out on that fateful winter’s day in 1910. Dressed well, Arnold stood out like a sore thumb in the sea of people on the streets of Manhattan. She wanted to buy a dress for her sister’s social debut party. However, there was one person who suspected something was wrong…
As she stepped foot outside her family apartment on 108 79th Street, her mother was there waiting for her. Dorothy was surprised, seeing that her mother was ill at the time and didn’t like going out much.
“Maybe I’d better go with you,” her mom said, to which Arnold replied, “No, Mother, don’t bother. You don’t feel just right and it’s no use going to the trouble. I mightn’t see a thing I want, but if I do, I’ll phone you.”
Setting The Scene
So, on her way she went, carrying very little, except for some money she was planning on using to spend on her dress. Her goal was to reach downtown, via Fifth Avenue and 79th Street.
Unfortunately for Arnold though, the weather wasn’t so good and the streets were treacherously slippery. Nevertheless, she was able to walk for a staggering fifty-two blocks. Along the way, Dorothy managed to buy some candy, and even bump into a number of familiar faces…
During the final few documented hours of her whereabouts, Dorothy Arnold ended up bumping into a number of people she knew. It was clear that her family were like minor celebrities in this part of the world.
Everyone she spoke to recalled how happy she was, from the person who sold her candy to the friends she saw outside a bookstore. However, these strange encounters would be the last ones she ever made. At the very least, they were the last recorded encounters…
The Vanished Heiress
Just like that, Dorothy Arnold had vanished from the world, without a trace. One minute she was there, the next minute, she wasn’t.
One newspaper hit home just how strange the nature of her disappearance was. “She disappeared from one of the busiest streets on earth, at the sunniest hour of a brilliant afternoon, with thousands within sight and reach, men and women who knew her on every side, and officers of the law thickly strewn about her path.”
The next few hours passed, and none of the Arnolds thought too much about Dorothy’s whereabouts. However, when dinner time arrived, the family naturally grew suspicious.
It was extremely unlike Dorothy to stay out for so long without alerting her family. After calling all of her friends, they all confirmed that they hadn’t seen her. Although the next natural move was to alert the authorities, the Arnolds decided to conduct a private investigation through the most unlikely of sources…
Top Secret Investigation
The family’s first port of call was to conduct a secret investigation with the Pinkerton Detective Agency. However, their actions were futile and the family grew impatient.
As a result, they placed their faith in their family friend John S. Keith. The attorney had a vested interest in the case, especially since he had considered Dorothy to be like a daughter to him. After her disappearance, Keith spent many weeks searching New York’s prisons and hospitals, but to no avail.
They Finally Alerted Authorities
After both the Pinkerton Detective Agency and John S. Keith failed to find any leads to uncover Dorothy’s whereabouts, the family knew what they had to do.
Six weeks had passed since her disappearance, and they had no choice but to alert the authorities and get the police involved. This also meant that the press became aware of the case, and subsequentially, the government would also know. Although a nationwide search began, Dorothy’s father had other thoughts on the matter…
Dorothy’s father, Francis Rose Arnold, had a very specific theory as to what had happened to her. After bringing reporters to his apartment, the fine goods importer told them that he was convinced that Dorothy had been “attacked in Central Park.”
Soon after, the attacker took her dead body and threw it in the reservoir. As far as Francis was concerned, he was more accepting of his daughter dying than fleeing the family for a man he despised – George Griscom Jr…
Tracking Down Her Lover
Francis Arnold had continued by saying that his reclusive wife, Dorothy’s mother, was distraught by her disappearance and decided to stay in New Jersey in order to calm herself down.
However, it turns out that he was covering up for his wife and their son, John. The mother-son duo had actually traveled to Italy, where Griscom was on holiday with his family. They tracked him down, violently threatened him and interrogated him about Dorothy’s whereabouts. How did Griscom react?
Although Griscom was quick to deny any involvement in Dorothy’s disappearance, he did share with her mom and brother the letters he had recently exchanged with her.
Not only did she lament about the failed short story she had submitted to a magazine, but she also said some alarming things, suggesting that all wasn’t well. “All that I can see ahead is a long road with no turning…Mother will always think there was an accident,” she wrote. But there was more at play here…
Was She Heartbroken?
While Dorothy’s family were starting to connect some of the dots pertaining to her disappearance, they still didn’t have the full picture.
It still wasn’t confirmed whether she had been taken or deliberately vanished. However, after returning home from Italy, the family learned from a number of friends that Griscom had refused to marry Dorothy, which potentially could have sent her into a downward spiral of depression. And that’s just scratching the surface of the theories people presented to the family…
While there were plenty of factors that could have triggered Dorothy’s decision to disappear on her own accord, they are merely theories.
Other hypotheses suggest that Dorothy might not have been in control of her abrupt vanishing. Some believed that she may have been suffering from amnesia, lying in a hospital somewhere. This is because the streets were slippery on that fateful day. Maybe she had slipped and hit her head. However, no matches were found in any of NYC’s hospitals.
Another theory that floated around during the time of Dorothy’s disappearance was that she might have been pregnant with Griscom’s baby.
However, after he refused to marry her, she decided to abort the pregnancy. As a result of her humiliation, her family had banished her from the country, never to be seen again. Therefore, the search for her body was simply a ruse to cover up what they had done.
It wouldn’t take long before Dorothy Arnold’s disappearance became a nationwide story. As a result, many people across America had alerted the authorities, claiming to have seen Dorothy in a variety of contexts.
However, the authorities confirmed all of the sightings to be false. Moreover, two alleged kidnappers demanded up to $5,000 from the family in exchange for Dorothy, with these also being confirmed as hoaxes. The years following her disappearance would spell bad news for her entire family…
Family Never Found Her…
In the years following Dorothy’s disappearance, her father is believed to have spent over $100,000 in service of her rescue. However, both of her parents and all of her siblings would never succeed in finding her.
In 1922, her father passed away, followed by her mother six years later. Amazingly though, Francis wrote in his will that he would leave nothing from his estate for Dorothy, “for I am satisfied that she is not alive.” This didn’t mean though that the search was over…
The Search Continued
Although her family failed to locate her whereabouts, one more person was still hell-bent on bringing her back home – her past lover, George Griscom Jr. After returning from Italy, he had a heavy hand to play in the search of Dorothy Arnold.
Like her father, Griscom also spent copious amounts of money in an attempt to find her. However, many skeptics believed that he was only doing this to cover up the fact that he killed her.
It seems that the authorities may have found definitive answers to the case six years after Dorothy’s disappearance. A convict from Rhode Island detailed how someone paid him $150 to dig a grave for a body that fit her description.
Moreover, the description of the man he worked for was strikingly similar to Griscom. And that’s not all. The convict also specified that the woman had died after an abortion went wrong and that the person had kept the body in their cellar…
After this earth-shattering revelation, the authorities took note of the convict’s words and searched all over the East Coast in mysterious cellars.
However, they couldn’t find a body. Edward Henry Smith wrote in Mysteries of the Missing, describing the mystery of Dorothy Arnold as “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.”