I think I might have set a record for “smallest part of a person recovered”

I found out the other day that they discovered an itty bitty piece of Richard William Moss‘s body: a single vertebra (one of the sections of your spine) not far from where his car turned up a little over a year ago.

I think this is the smallest partial remains recovered where I resolved a case. I have a case up where they found a woman’s finger, but you can easily live without that.

Frankly I’m surprised they found even that much of Moss. He accidentally ran his car off a cliff in coastal California known as the Devil’s Slide in May 2017, but the accident wasn’t witnessed and no one realized what had happened until July. The rest of him has presumably been claimed by the ocean.

Moss isn’t the only person on Charley who met his end at the Devil’s Slide. In 1945, a 14-year-old girl named Thora Chamberlain was murdered and thrown off there. They never found her body, only her socks, wedged in the cliff face. Her murderer was identified, confessed and was executed.

My latest Executed Today entries

I’ve had a few entries run recently on Executed Today that I hadn’t mentioned on this blog yet, so here goes:

  1. January 14, 1792: John Phillips hanged for robbery in Dublin, Ireland. Little is known about the case, but he would probably have been reprieved but for a little snafu with the paperwork.
  2. January 18, 1884: Maggie and Maggie Cuddigan lynched in Ouray, Colorado. They had adopted a little girl from an orphanage and proceeded to starve, neglect, maltreat and abuse her for months until she finally died.
    The outrage must have been tremendous even by lynch mob symptoms — how often do you hear of white women, particularly visibly pregnant ones, getting lynched? The dead man’s own brothers did nothing to help him, though they might have been able to stop the lynching, and afterwards, the local priest refused to perform the funeral service and none of the local cemeteries would accept their bodies.
  3. February 20, 1948: Thomas Henry McGonigle gassed in California for the 1945 murder of fourteen-year-old Thora Chamberlain.
    This was a murder-without-a-body case, one of the first in the state. (Though, after I’d already written the entry, Tad DiBiase told me it wasn’t actually THE first.) Thora is featured on Charley.
    I’m really glad they took the risk of prosecuting this. They had a very strong case, but many prosecutors wouldn’t have wanted to touch the case without Thora’s body. McGonigle was clearly a very dangerous man and sounds like a serial killer in the making if he wasn’t one already.

Flashback Friday: Lorraine Chance

Flashback Friday today is Lorraine Judith Chance, or Barrie-Chance according to this Facebook page someone set up for her. Her nickname was Lee. Lorraine’s been missing nearly seventy years: since 1948. On January 3 of that year, she left her only child at a babysitter’s and never came back to get it. This was in Santa Cruz, California.

Lorraine would be about 95 now so it’s very unlikely she’s still alive, but there’s also no evidence of foul play in her disappearance. They know she was alive nearly three months after she left her daughter at the babysitter’s, because on March 28 she applied for VA benefits; her deceased husband had been in the Navy. Her application got approved in August, but by then she was nowhere to be found.

There’s every chance in the world that Lorraine, a recently widowed single mother only 25 or 26 years old (I don’t know her exact date of birth, just the year), simply got overwhelmed and decided to walk away, only to resurface elsewhere and lead a long life. Maybe she remarried and had more kids, and her daughter has half-siblings out there.

I mean, it’s happened before many times. Think of Esther Gavin. Lucy Johnson.

Lorraine’s family would like to know her fate. I wonder if her daughter or any other relatives has tried submitting their DNA to Ancestry?

Let’s talk about it: Mimi Boomhower

This time I’d like us all to discuss one of my oldest cases: Mimi Boomhower, who’s been missing for nearly 70 years. She disappeared from Los Angeles in 1949, at the age of 48, and was never seen again. Her case got a fair amount of attention at the time, probably because her deceased husband had been a wealthy businessman and Mimi herself was quite the socialite. Contemporary press articles often called her “the merry widow.”

Mimi was childless and her closest living relatives were siblings who lived on the East Coast, but she had plenty of friends, and they all swore that it was completely unlike her to just drop out of sight without telling anyone where she was going. Yet I found a seeming contradiction in the news accounts: when she DID drop out of sight, her friends assumed she’d just gone off on a short trip and would be back in her own sweet time, and so she wasn’t reported missing for the better part of a week. I have to wonder if her friends knew more than they disclosed.

The only trace of her they ever found was her purse, which got left in a phone booth with a note saying “We found this on the beach Thursday night.” The police never found out who left it there, but they noted the purse didn’t look like it had been exposed to sand or water. And anyone who’s been anywhere near a beach knows that sand gets into everything.

It’s worth noting that, although she kept up appearances, she was having financial problems and was pawning things and selling other things at a loss and taking out loans and so on. A judge found it necessary to declare her legally dead a whopping eleven days after she was last seen, just in order to allow her attorney access to her accounts so he could keep paying on her home equity loan and the bank wouldn’t foreclose on her house. (The judge subsequently reversed his decision and declared that Mimi was legally alive after all. Seven years later, she was declared dead a second time. Shrug.) Mimi’s furniture and her late husband’s big game trophies were sold off after she disappeared to cover her debts, and I learned that one of the buyers discovered his new elephant head had tusks made of plaster-of-paris rather than ivory — presumably Mimi had sold off the ivory earlier.

Nevertheless, she can’t have been TOO hard-up. She was wearing $25,000 worth of jewelry when she disappeared, after all. That’s $25,000 in 1949 dollars, too. Factor in inflation and that jewelry would be worth over $250,000 today.

Mimi’s friends and associates all said she was neither suicidal nor thinking of eloping. One of her closest friends was quoted as saying, “We’ve ruled out everything but foul play.” Yet they couldn’t think of anyone who had a reason to hurt her, either.

Offhand the only sensible explanation I can think of is this: Mimi had arranged to meet someone, possibly to talk about selling or pawning more of her jewelry or something. Maybe this person was of the sketchy variety and that’s why she didn’t tell her friends about it. And this person, rather than buying whatever Mimi was selling, simply killed her and took it for himself.

But in that case, where’s the body? And can there have really been NO SUSPECTS AT ALL over the years? ‘Tis a puzzlement.

Let’s talk about it.

Let’s talk about it: Ricky Jean Bryant

This week’s “Let’s Talk About It” case is Ricky Jean “Jeannie” Bryant, a child who disappeared from Mauston, Wisconsin on December 19, 1949, five and a half weeks after her fourth birthday.

Jeannie was one of four children. The day she disappeared, the two oldest kids were in school and Jeannie’s grandma was watching her and her brother. That day a fire broke out at the Bryant home and I think the house was a total loss. One of the things that got lost was Jeannie.

Although what happens appears to be no mystery at all, Jeannie’s family thinks she did not die in the fire and was abducted by a strange well-dressed woman whom her five-year-old brother claims he saw that day.  The theory is that Jeannie’s biological father was not the same father as her siblings’, and she was taken to be raised by her father and his family.

I don’t know that much about the case — why her family thinks that, whether there’s any evidence that she was illegitimate, any of that. As far as I can tell, it’s been years since there’s been any press coverage about the case.

What do y’all think? Was this a tragic accidental death, or is Jeannie alive and well and a grandmother, even a great-grandmother, not knowing who she is? If she’s alive she would be 71 today.

Let’s talk about it.