100 Years Ago: Astonishing Newspaper Article on Missing People

Excerpts of 1911 article seen below are written by David Friedman February 3rd, 2011.  To be able to zoom in and read entire 1911 article, click here.

Why People Disappear — Some Famous Cases

From February 5, 1911

WHY PEOPLE DISAPPEAR — SOME FAMOUS CASES: Detectives Make Some Surprising Statements About the Causes  — Kidnapping a Rarity, but There Are Some Notable Instances — The Vanishing of Adele Boas. (PDF)

With several cable networks trying to fill 24 hours of news, it sometimes feels like we hear about missing person cases all the time. We have missing kids on milk cartons, the evening news, and TV shows about unsolved crimes. There’s even a prime time drama called Without A Trace that follows a Missing Persons investigation unit. But 100 years ago, people thought disappearances were fairly rare, according to this article. Not so, the reporter learned.

Nothing more common is known to the police or the detective agencies. It is commoner than pocket-picking and not much more exceptional than intoxication. So common is it that at Police Headquarters there is a squad, working the usual number of hours per day, known as the “Disappearance Squad,” and headed by a Police Lieutenant. It consists of about eight men, who work daily on the cases of mysterious disappearance reported to Centre Street. They are headed by Lieut. Finn, an expert on disappearances.

So common is it that the Pinkerton Detective Agency keeps a collection of scraps on “Missing Persons.” Looking over its collection, one is forced to the conclusion that somebody disappears every day. It must be remembered, too, that this collection includes only cases where there is something sufficiently interesting about the disappearance to get it in the newspapers.

So common is it that whenever some dismembered body is found in a river or in a trunk, scores of people shoot up all over the country, identifying the body as that of their lost daughter or sister, who, up to that time, nobody knew had disappeared.

The article goes on to describe several famous cases of disappearances, and explores some of the reasons people go missing.

Written by David Friedman  February 3rd, 2011,  from New York Times Sunday Magazine 100 years ago


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