Tag Archives: detectives

The Disappearance of Dorothy Arnold, one of New York’s strangest mysteries

PODCAST The mysterious disappearance of a young woman becomes one of the most talked-about events over one hundred years ago.

The young socialite Dorothy Arnold seemingly led a charmed and privileged life. The niece of a Supreme Court justice, Dorothy was the belle of 1900s New York, an attractive and vibrant young woman living on the Upper East Side with her family. She hoped to become a published magazine writer and perhaps someday live by herself in Greenwich Village.

But on December 12, 1910, while running errands in the neighborhood of Madison Square Park, Dorothy Arnold — simply vanished.

In this investigative new podcast, we look at the circumstances surrounding her disappearance, from the mysterious clues left in her fireplace to the suspicious behavior exhibited by her family.

This mystery captivated New Yorkers for decades as revelations and twists to the story continued to emerge. As one newspaper described it: “There is general agreement among police officials that the case is in a class by itself.”

ALSO: What secrets lurk in the infamous Pennsylvania ‘House of Mystery’? And could a sacred object found in Texas hold the key to solving the crime?

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Or listen to it straight from here:
The Bowery Boys #205: THE DISAPPEARANCE OF DOROTHY ARNOLD

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The photograph of Dorothy Arnold that was much reproduced in the press after her disappearance on December 12, 1910.

Library of Congress
Library of Congress

 

An example of a missing persons notice that was (eventually) distributed to police departments around the city.

missing-person-1911-granger

On the day of her disappearance, Arnold bought chocolates at the Park & Tilford candy shop.

Library of Congress
Library of Congress

 

She was last spotted at a Brentano’s Book Store on 27th Street and Fifth Avenue. Here’s the interior of a New York Brentano’s store in 1925:

Museum of the City of New York
Museum of the City of New York

 

An extraordinary front page from the January 26, 1911, edition of the New York Evening World. Please note the other unusual headlines on the page:

Courtesy the Evening World
Courtesy the Evening World

 

A close-up of the insanely detailed illustration of her wardrobe:

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From the Jan. 26, 1911, New York Tribune:  “Miss Dorothy Arnold  who has been missing from her home in this city since December 12.”

Courtesy the New York Tribune
Courtesy the New York Tribune

 

The New York Tribune, Jan 30, 1911:  “Miss Dorothy H.C. Arnold who, it is now known, was seen near the 59th Street entrance of Central Park the evening of the day she disappeared.”

Courtesy New York Tribune
Courtesy New York Tribune

 

A Dorothy Arnold related headline, sitting next to a headline involving the captain of the ill-fated General Slocum steamship, which sank in 1904.

Screen Shot 2016-05-26 at 10.54.56 PM

The event soon made newspapers across the country. This is from the front page of the Washington (D.C.) Times, January 29, 1911

Washington Times
Washington Times

 

From the Mt. Vernon Ohio newspaper, January 31, 1911

image_681x648_from_1269,326_to_2984,1960

 

It even made the February 3, 1911, front page of the Missoula, Montana, newspaper!image_681x648_from_1026,415_to_4616,3834

A clue that went nowhere, in the February 4, 1911, edition of the Evening World:

Courtesy New York Evening World
Courtesy New York Evening World

 

A photo illustration of Dorothy Arnold and George Griscom — accompanied by yet another speculative headline — in the February 11, 1911, edition of the New York Evening World:

Courtesy the Evening World
Courtesy the Evening World

 

Even Griscom’s family was harassed by eager reporters. Here are his parents, captured on the Atlantic City boardwalk (February 13, 1911)

Courtesy New York Tribune
Courtesy New York Tribune

 

A headline from July 31, 1911, seems to question the motivation of Dorothy’s parents:

image_681x648_from_1066,1275_to_2699,2830

 

At other times, they went all in with unsubstantiated facts to sell newspaper such as this whopper from October 10, 1911.

Courtesy Evening World
Courtesy Evening World

 

Another false report of Dorothy found in a sanitarium, from February 7, 1912:

Courtesy New York Evening World
Courtesy New York Evening World

 

News of a blackmail from February 21, 1912, but in this case, the woman, Bessie Green, was later acquitted.

Courtesy New York Sun
Courtesy New York Sun

 

Dorothy Arnold was frequently brought up anytime a person went missing, as in this case in July 22, 1912 and another from December 8, 1913.

Courtesy Evening World
Courtesy Evening World

image_681x648_from_2022,735_to_5311,3867

Over five year after her disappearance, her name is brought up again  in a possible unfortunate event described by the Rhode Island convict Edward Glennoris.

Courtesy New York Sun
Courtesy New York Sun

 

This podcast is inspired by an old paperback I found a long time ago called They Never Came Back by Allen Churchill which features the story of Dorothy Arnold:

IMG_9339 (1)

Terror on Sunday: The failed plot to blow up St. Patrick’s Cathedral

On the afternoon of October 13, 1914, a bomb exploded in the northwest corner of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, sending deadly iron shrapnel flying through the room. A stained glass window was shattered and an 18-inch hole (shown in the picture below) was blown into the floor.  While the pews were partially filled with worshipers, there was only a single injury, to a boy whose head was grazed by a piece of flying metal.

That was the second bomb of the day; another explosive, downtown at St. Alphonsus Church on West Broadway, detonated a little after noon.

Photograph shows damage after an anarchist bomb explosion at St. Patrick's Cathedral, New York City. (Source: Flickr Commons project, 2011 and Washington Herald, Oct. 15, 1914) Forms part of: George Grantham Bain Collection (Library of Congress).
Photograph shows damage after an anarchist bomb explosion at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on October 13, 1914. (Source: Flickr Commons project, 2011 and Washington Herald, Oct. 15, 1914)  George Grantham Bain Collection (Library of Congress).

 

Such a disturbing attack in a public space would cause mayhem in the streets today.  Yet this sort of terrorism was disturbingly frequent one hundred years ago, a tactic used by anarchist groups to sow discontent.

Many of the attacks were primarily aimed at New York’s financiers. For instance, on July 4, 1914, a brownstone exploded on the Upper East Side in the Yorkville neighborhood, killing members of the Anarchist Black Cross.  The explosives had accidentally gone off and were intended for the home of John D. Rockefeller.

The interior of St. Patrick's Cathedral, circa 1907 (Clean-up photograph courtesy Shorpy.com)
The interior of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, circa 1907 (Clean-up photograph courtesy Shorpy.com)

No arrests had been made in the St. Patrick’s attack.  But detectives working with the New York Department of Combustibles were on the case, and, in March of 1915, they managed to thwart a second attack on St. Patrick’s with the help of a young detective named Emilio Polignani.

Polignani was only 25 years old. He had been a patrolman for only a few months when he was chosen in the fall of 1914 for a special assignment — to infiltrate anarchist circles and identify the perpetrators of the attack on St. Patrick’s.  His qualifications, according to the New York Times, were “his nationality, his newness to the force and most especially because Captain Tunney had decided that he had the nerve and the resource to carry him through tight places.”

St Patrick's Cathedral 1923 

St. Patrick’s Cathedral 1923

For four months, Polignani lived under cover (possibly not even allowed to speak to his wife) as Frank Baldo, attending anarchist meetings throughout the city, becoming familiar with several of the more radical members. It was in Yorkville that he became friends with an 18-year-old named Charles Carbone.

From the New York Times: “Carbone and Polignani became intimate and used to take long walks together, in which Carbone, according to the detective, inveighed against the rich and suggested bombs as a means of readjusting social inequalities.”

Polignani was even initiated into an anarchist group by swearing an oath administered “on the cross hilt of a dagger to bind him … to his comrades.”

Carbone confided to Polignani details of the botched July 4th bomb meant for Rockefeller. “I am an expert,” he said. “Nothing like that could happen to me.”

Frank Abarno, an Italian anarchist who was charged with planting a bomb in St. Patricks Cathedral, New York City, on March 2, 1915. (Source: Flickr Commons project, 2012) Forms part of: George Grantham Bain Collection (Library of Congress).
Frank Abarno, an Italian anarchist who was charged with planting a bomb in St. Patricks Cathedral, New York City, on March 2, 1915. (Source: Flickr Commons project, 2012)
Forms part of: George Grantham Bain Collection (Library of Congress).

 

On Christmas the detective met another anarchist named Frank Abarno who later professed the wish to bomb St. Patrick’s. Over the next two months, the three men walked along the East River and plotted a new attack at St Patrick’s, seen as the ultimate representative of both religion and wealth.  What Abarno and Carbone did not know was that Polignani sent pages from their bomb manual down to police headquarters.

Plans were finally hatched in late February to again bomb the cathedral. The men gathered explosive materials at a tenement on Third Avenue then wandering around the church the Saturday before, looking for a more effective spot in which to place an explosive.  Their movements were closely followed by other disguised detectives, clued in by Polignani of the anarchist’s plans.

The new attack on St. Patrick’s Cathedral was planned for March 2nd.  Abarno and Polignani left the Third Avenue tenement that morning with bombs placed under coats and armed with cigars to be used to light the fuses. (Curiously enough Carbone failed to show up; he was later arrested.) They headed towards the cathedral which was filled with hundreds of worshipers in the middle of morning Mass.

Luckily, Polignani had alerted his department of the details of the bomb attack. Waiting for them at St. Patrick’s were dozens of disguised detectives, so many that a Broadway theatrical costumer was employed to fashion the various false appearances.

“Of the fifty [detectives] stationed in the Cathedral,” said The Evening World, “[s]ome were disguised as women worshipers, two as scrubwomen, others as ushers.”

When Abarno  prepared to light the fuse on the bomb with his cigar, one of the scrubwomen “suddenly straightened up and seized [Abarno ] by the arm.” Another detective calmly strolled over to the lit bomb and pinched out the fuse. The Mass went entirely uninterrupted. (Read the breathtaking details of the capture here.)

Photograph shows Frank Abarno and Carmine Carbone, who were accused and convicted of an anarchist plot to blow up St. Patrick's Cathedral in March 1915. (Source: Flickr Commons project, 2012) Forms part of: George Grantham Bain Collection (Library of Congress).
Photograph shows Frank Abarno and Carmine Carbone, who were accused and convicted of an anarchist plot to blow up St. Patrick’s Cathedral in March 1915. (Source: Flickr Commons project, 2012)  George Grantham Bain Collection (Library of Congress).

Polignani kept up the facade for most of the interrogation, and his would-be conspirators were none the wiser.  He argued with Abarno in jail, eventually getting him to talk openly about his involvement (to the delight of detectives who were listening in).  Abarno and Carbone both eventually broke down and were promptly convicted.  They were both sent to Sing Sing in April where they both served six year terms.

Newspapers the following day declared “the episode was the culmination of one of the most intricate pieces of detective work ever achieved by the New York police.”

However the bombings would continue.  The most dramatic incident would take place on September 16, 1920, with a bomb detonating on Wall Street, killing 30 people.

 

Owen Eagan (1957-1920), a bomb expert in the New York City Fire Department's Bureau of Combustibles. He is holding a bomb recovered from an attempted anarchist bombing of St. Patrick's Cathedral, New York City on March 2, 1915. (Source: Flickr Commons project and New York Times, March 3, 1915) Forms part of: George Grantham Bain Collection (Library of Congress).
Owen Eagan (1957-1920), a bomb expert in the New York City Fire Department’s Bureau of Combustibles. He is holding a bomb recovered from an attempted anarchist bombing of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, New York City on March 2, 1915. (Source: Flickr Commons project and New York Times, March 3, 1915)
Forms part of: George Grantham Bain Collection (Library of Congress).