Holy wow!

I was alerted by a comment on my original blog post about the 1952 disappearance of Ragna “Esther” Gavin. She’s been located! Everyone had assumed — and with good reason — that Esther had been murdered by her now deceased ex-husband shortly after her 1952 disappearance. But it turns out she just walked away. The Oregonian has the story:

Esther changed her identity. She altered her name slightly to Radna Esther Isholm, changed her place of birth from Iceland to France, and married Arthur Vickers, who was in the Navy. She never said much about her past, and claimed her parents had been killed in World War II. She had three children, one of whom died in a car crash in his teens. Arthur Vickers died in 1985 and Esther never remarried. She died of cancer in 2002.

This summer, a friend of Esther’s searching relatives found out about her new identity and found her obituary, and contacted her children who were listed as survivors.

Lou Ann LeMaster [Esther’s daughter] exchanged email with Esther’s family. They were full of welcome, although the family couldn’t understand that Esther never let them know she was alive and well. Esther’s sister asked, did she forget us?

Lou Ann could only speculate. “I really do believe it was shame,” she said. “Knowing her as I do, she would have died before she hurt anyone. She probably felt that by saying they were dead, she was protecting her Icelandic family too.”

Lou Ann also decided that one thing kept Esther from retrieving her children in Portland: her fear they would be harmed. She had to let go of them to survive.

“I’m so proud to know that she never let this define her,” Lou Ann LeMaster said. “I have so much pride and love for her right now, I just want to hug her so tight.”

The Oregonian article has a picture of Esther from 1957 with two of her children. She looks like your typical fifties mom. There’s another picture of her from 2002, just two weeks before her death.

This is not exactly a happy ending, since Esther died before she could be reunited with her Icelandic family, but at least they know she had a long and relatively happy life and wasn’t murdered at 23 like they’d thought. It goes to show you should never make assumptions. Like my friend Annie is so fond of saying, look for a body and you may miss a person.

MP case out of Iceland

I found this five-part series in The Oregonian about Esther Gavin, a war bride of Icelandic origin who disappeared in 1952 or so. I found an article in the Icelandic press on the same case.

It’s a very sad story: At 18, Ragna Esther Sigurðardóttir married an American soldier she barely knew, and moved to Oregon, halfway around the world from home and hearth. They had two kids. Her husband, Larry Gavin, beat her badly on a regular basis and it may have been his beating her while she was pregnant that caused their daughter to suffer from mental disabilities that eventually lead to her being institutionalized in childhood. Eventually, Esther (as she was now called) got a divorce, but even though she had custody, her children were taken from her and put up for adoption and their names were changed. It wasn’t until quite recently that Esther’s Icelandic relations tracked them down, and the daughter turned out to have died in 1999.

Robert [Esther and Larry’s son] said his last memory of his mother is watching her cower as Larry held a knife over her. He grew up believing he had witnessed her murder.

I smell something familiar. I’ve read, and written, so many similar accounts on Charley the years.

Ragna Esther Sigurðardóttir Gavin has been missing for sixty years. If she’s alive she’d be 83 today.