The beautiful New York socialite and heiress who vanished in broad daylight
Manhattan of 1910 was every bit the busy and bustling city it is today. It is difficult to conceive that a beautiful, quasi-famous, woman could vanish amid a New York City crowd in broad daylight. But on December 12, 1910, Dorothy Arnold did precisely that.
Dorothy Harriet Camille Arnold was born July 1, 1886, In New York, New York, to parents Francis Rose and Mary Parks Arnold. Her father was a Harvard graduate who became a senior partner of F.R. Arnold and Co, perfume, and cologne imports. The Arnolds were fabulously wealthy and proud descendants of Mayflower passenger, William Brewster. The Arnolds were listed in the New York City Social Register and enjoyed a privileged existence in the Big Apple.
Dorothy, the eldest daughter, received her primary education at Veltin School for Girls and went to college at Bryn Mawr College, where she obtained a degree in literature and language. Dorothy’s greatest dream was to become a writer. When she graduated in 1905, Dorothy moved back to her parent’s home in New York at 108 E 79th Street, though her parents were less than supportive of her ambitions as a writer.
In the spring of 1910, Dorothy submitted a short story to McClure’s Magazine. Sadly, McClure’s rejected her work. As if aspiring women writers weren’t hard enough on themselves, Dorothy’s family and friends ridiculed her. Dorothy wouldn’t be dissuaded so quickly. She set up a PO box to secretly correspond with publishers and avoid her family’s teasing.
Dorothy asked her father if she could get an apartment in Greenwich Village so she could concentrate on improving her writing, but he dismissed the idea. “A good writer can write anywhere.” he would say.
That fall, Dorothy submitted a second story to McClure’s, and in short order, received another rejection letter. Dorothy was heartbroken. She ended up sharing this news with her family, and once again, was met with teasing and bullying.
December 12, 1910, Dorothy donned a tailor-made blue serge coat that flowed to her hips. She paired this with a straight-cut skirt and an ornate hat of black velvet, adorned with two white roses and a pale blue lining. The heiress carried a large fox muff to warm her hands on that frigid New York day. Dorothy told her mother she was going to pick a gown for her sister Marjorie’s coming-out party. Mary offered to accompany her daughter, but Dorothy declined. At first glance, this appears suspicious on Dorothy’s part. But her mother was ill, and Dorothy likely didn’t want to cause her any undue stress. So Dorothy said goodbye and walked away.
Dorothy walked from her home to the Park and Tilford store, located at 5th Avenue and 27th Street, where she charged a box of chocolates. She next walked to Brentano’s Book Store, where she bought a book called Engaged Girl Sketches by Emily Calvin Blake. She left Brentano’s around 2 PM and ran into a friend, Gladys King. Gladys said Dorothy appeared carefree, and in good spirits. Dorothy told her she was going to take a walk through Central Park, and the women parted ways. Dorothy Arnold was never seen again.
That evening, the Arnolds arranged to have dinner. Francis and Mary became concerned when the typically punctual Dorothy failed to show. They called Dorothy’s friends in search of their daughter, but no one admitted seeing her. They decided to wait and see if Dorothy returned before taking any action.
After midnight on December 13, a woman named Elsie Henry called the Arnold home to see if there was any new news regarding Dorothy. Dorothy’s mother answered and said that she had come home, but couldn’t come to the telephone because she had a headache. The problem being, Dorothy had not returned. She was still missing and likely in danger. The reason for this deception was never disclosed.
The next morning, it was clear that something was amiss. Dorothy still hadn’t shown up or called. Francis contacted a family friend and lawyer, John S Keith. John came to the home and searched Dorothy’s room. He found nothing out of place, other than some burnt papers in the fireplace, thought to be more rejection letters and brochures for cruise ships going to Europe. If Dorothy wanted to disappear, she didn’t take any of her fine, valuable belongings.
Dorothy had a boyfriend named George Griscom Jr, who her parents thoroughly disapproved of. George was a 42-year-old engineer who, like Dorothy, came from an affluent family.
The couple met while Dorothy was at Bryn Mawr. But George would never be the man the Arnolds wanted as a son-in-law. He was nearly 20 years her senior, but he was shiftless. Francis, when accused of stifling his 25-year-old daughter, said this:
“I would have been glad to see her associate more with young men than she did, especially some young men of brains and position: one whose profession or business would keep him occupied. I don’t approve of young men who have nothing to do.”
A year before her disappearance, Dorothy lied and said she was going to visit an old college friend. In reality, she went to Boston to be with her beau. When her parents learned of her shenanigans, they forbade her from seeing George.
Naturally, the Arnolds suspected George had something to do with her disappearance. However, George was in Italy when Dorothy vanished. December 16, 1910, the family sent a telegraph to George in Italy, asking if he had an idea where Dorothy went. George insisted he did not know where she was.
The Arnolds were not satisfied with George’s answer. Mary, along with Dorothy’s brother, John, traveled to Italy in January to talk to him face to face. They met George in a hotel room in Florence Ital. John put the screws to him. When George professed his love and concern for Dorothy but denied knowledge of her whereabouts, John punched him square in the jaw.
John Kieth searched every morgue, hospital, and ship port for the missing heiress and turned up nothing. John needed more help, so the family called George S Dougherty, head of the Pinkerton Detective Agency, who attempted to conduct a private investigation.
Dorothy’s father did not want to call the police. A man of his social standing and wealth did what he could do to avoid public scandal.
The Pinkertons searched for six long weeks. When they were unable to locate Dorothy, The private investigators suggested it was time to call the police. Finally, in mid-January of 1911, Francis called the police. Unfortunately, the police were unable to find any new clues. They advised the Arnolds to hold a press conference, as this case needed what Francis was most trying to avoid — publicity.
January 25, 1911, reporters descended upon Francis Arnold’s office to hear the press conference. The family offered a $1,000 reward for the return of Dorothy Arnold.
The story of Dorothy’s disappearance was splashed over every newspaper in America. Police received thousands of tips and reported sightings of Dorothy, all of which proved false. As Francis feared, the Arnold family received two ransom notes asking for $5,000 to return Dorothy, and threats against his other daughter, Marjorie. These turned out to be hoaxes.
The search for Dorothy Arnold was nationwide and intense. Unfortunately, it was not enough, and Dorothy Harriett Camille Arnold remains missing. Theories abound as to what became of the heiress.
Did Dorothy Arnold run away and live out her life anonymously? The best evidence that Dorothy ran away is a lack of evidence. There wasn’t any concrete evidence of death, but there wasn’t any evidence she was living either. Her mother insisted that if Dorothy were dead or injured, any morgue or hospital employee would recognize her. Of course, her body was never found, and none of the numerous sightings of Dorothy have ever been confirmed.
However, In February 1911, a postcard arrived at the Arnold home, postmarked New York. It said, “I am safe” and closed with Dorothy’s signature. The writing appeared to be Dorothy’s, but Francis insisted the author merely copied Dorothy’s penmanship.
Since Dorothy had a man in her life, it is feasible that she died during an illegal abortion, and her body disposed of. This theory stems from the 1914 arrest of Dr. CC Meredith, Nurse Lucy Orr, and Dr. Lutz of Pittsburgh, for running an illegal abortion mill.
According to Lutz, Meredith disclosed that he performed an abortion on Dorothy that she didn’t survive. After Lutz claims, Merideth confessed that he cremated her in the hospital incinerator. However, there is some evidence that disproves the possibility of a pregnancy.
November 23, 1910, Dorothy left to spend Thanksgiving with her friend, Theodosia Bates of Washington DC. The next day, Dorothy complained that she was unwell. When Theodosia became concerned, Dorothy confided that she had her period. Since she disappeared on December 12, it is unlikely that Dorothy would have suspected she was pregnant so soon, even if she was.
The family whole-heartedly believed Dorothy was kidnapped and murdered. Francis, in particular, held fast to this oddly specific theory. Dorothy’s father thought she was attacked in Central Park and dumped in a reservoir. He said two clues led him to believe this was his daughter’s fate but never identified the evidence publicly. He wanted police to drag the reservoir as well as Central Park Lake, but both bodies of water were frozen over and had been for days before Dorothy went missing. It might be that his beliefs evolved from the confession of a felon.
In April of 1916, a man named Edward Glennoris was serving time in Rhode Island State Prison for extortion. As convicts often do, he experienced a conversion to Christianity and wanted to confess his sins. He claimed that an acquaintance asked him to transport an unconscious woman from New Rochelle, New York, to a house in West Point. He was met by two other men, one named Doc and a finely dressed gentleman, who many believe to be George. On the drive, Little Luie told him that the unconscious woman was Dorothy Arnold.
Little Luie called Edward the next day to tell him Dorothy died. The rich man paid him $250 to bury her in the basement of a house. Police went to a house that fit the description. Edward stated that he buried Dorothy beneath the cement in the cellar. Police found an area of broken cement, but it was too small for a body. The new owners said the hole was simply access to a gas pipe. A little digging revealed two gas pipes, but no sign of Dorothy.
Francis Arnold called this confession, “Utter nonsense.”
Everyone who saw Dorothy in the weeks before she disappeared claimed she was happy. She had some rejections from McClure’s, sure. But she didn’t appear despondent enough to end her life.
“Many people who commit suicide do so without letting on they are thinking about it or planning it,” according to Dr. Michael Miller, assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. In Dorothy’s case, there may have been a subtle clue that was simply overlooked.
When Mary and John went to Florence to confront George, he gave them a batch of letters Dorothy sent before her disappearance. The last one was mostly upbeat, except for this passage:
“Well, it has come back. McClure’s has turned me down. Failure stares me in the face. All I can see is a long road with no turning. Mother will always think an accident has happened.”
The Arnold family spent thousands of dollars searching for Dorothy, with no resolution. By Valentine’s Day, they made it clear they believed she was dead. On that day, District Attorney Charles S Whitman offered his assistance to the Arnold family with their efforts to locate Dorothy. Francis simply declined. Mr. Whitman thought he misunderstood and explained that he intended to set any and all of his detectives on the case. “Please don’t, please don’t.” He begged Mr. Whitman, “We are not looking for Dorothy any longer.” And that was the end of the search.
Francis Arnold died in July of 1922, and his wife followed in September of 1928. Francis left a will explaining, “I have made no provision for my beloved daughter, Dorothy H. C. Arnold, as I am satisfied that she is not alive.”