The Mysterious Disappearance of Alice Arnold
When four-year-old Alice Arnold disappeared from her Perry County home in the spring of 1911 it sparked one of the largest search missions in the history of Pennsylvania. The search, which lasted for two months, involved hundreds of volunteers, dozens of police departments, an Indian tracker from the Carlisle Indian School and even a clairvoyant.
It was Monday morning, May 22, 1911, when little Alice Arnold was last seen alive at the Arnold family home at Marsh Run, near Ickesburg. By nightfall a search party of two hundred volunteers had scoured the heavy underbrush and mountains but, as the search stretched into its second day, not a trace of the little girl could be found. They did, however, discover footprints in the vicinity belonging to a mountain lion or panther, and the general consensus was that Alice had been dragged away by a fanged predator.
Rain fell heavily on the second day of the search, but the volunteers were undeterred. Neighbors began to fear for Mrs. Arnold, who appeared to be on the brink of nervous prostration. The day ended with no clues or leads.
Alice was the pride of the household, the youngest of seven Arnold children. Bright-eyed and fair-haired, she was last seen wearing a brown gingham dress and no shoes, indicating that she had not planned on straying very far from home. She was last seen by two brothers, Clarence, age 7, and James, age 10, who were driving some cows through the woods on Monday morning when they heard a child's footsteps behind them (a conflicting report stated that it was Mary, age 6, and not Clarence who was with James).
They told Alice to go home having no doubt about her safety; though Alice was young she, like all the other Arnold children, knew the hills and valleys surrounding the family homestead well. By the time Clarence and James returned, Alice had already been reported as missing and thirty-five neighbors were searching the nearby hills and woods. Concerns over Alice's safety were raised around 8:15 that morning when two woodsmen, Nevin Herr and Danny Lesh, heard the sounds of a little girl weeping approximately 300 yards from the Arnold home.
On Tuesday local authorities attempted to procure bloodhounds, but the nearest bloodhounds were miles away and the day's search ended before the dogs arrived. By Wednesday, May 24, volunteers from Newport, New Bloomfield and other surrounding communities had joined in the search. The group of approximately 200 men formed a single line and advanced through the woods one step at a time, ringing bells and blowing bugles. Another group of thirty searchers focused on a stretch of forest near Donnelly's Mills, while a third group covered the wilderness around Run Gap. A neighbor named Ira Smith said that he would ring the big bell on top of his barn to inform the others should one of the groups locate Alice first.
The determination of the searchers was astounding. One of the volunteers, John F. Reisinger, was in bed recovering from burns he had received a few days earlier fighting a forest fire when he learned of the missing girl. On Tuesday he pulled himself out of bed to help find Alice Arnold, combing the rugged mountains with his badly-burned feet in bandages. The pain he must have felt with each step is unimaginable. His bandages were thoroughly soaked in blood when he returned home later that evening. Nonetheless, he assisted in the search until its completion.
But not everyone in Perry County showed the same spirit. A nearby lumber camp, populated by foreigners, refused to join in the search. Naturally, many saw this as a sign that one or more of the lumbermen had played a part in the girl's disappearance.
|Search party members in front of the Arnold house|
The State Police Join the Search
In all this time and in all the number of miles covered not a single trace of the missing baby has been found. The disappearance is as complete as though the earth had opened to swallow the baby and then had closed again.-- Harrisburg Telegraph, May 25, 1911
On Wednesday evening the parents implored Lt. Ed Wetzel of Harrisburg to get the State Police involved. Sergeants Curtis Davies and Francis Markey were soon on the scene, along with a tracker from the Carlisle Indian School by the name of Sylvester Young (other reports list the tracker's name as Jim Long or Sylvester Long). They used the home of Danny Lesh as their headquarters, while the throngs of newspapermen lodged at Rice's Hotel in Ickesburg.
By the start of the following week the State Police had become convinced that Alice was no longer alive in the Tuscarora Mountains-- it seemed that every square inch for miles in every direction had been gone over with a fine tooth comb. Foul play was their leading theory. Davies and Markey told the press that they had a few possible suspects under surveillance. They had interviewed dozens of locals and found conflicting stories regarding the missing child.
By Monday, May 29, volunteers were no longer looking for signs of life, but signs of death. Policemen explored the vicinity for signs of recently churned soil that might indicate a burial. Others kept watch from adjoining hilltops, scanning the skies for a circle of buzzards. Streams and rivers as far away as Duncannon were dragged for the missing girl's body. Sylvester Young, the Indian tracker, announced that he had found a leaf stained with blood not far from the Arnold home.
Mr. Arnold Turns to a Clairvoyant
It seemed the only one who believed that Alice was still alive was her father; over the weekend he had traveled to Harrisburg to hire a fortune-teller, Madame Black.
The fortune-teller said that Alice had been kidnapped by gypsies, whose camp lay between two streams of water. Alice, according to the fortune-teller, had been carried off by a man with a large, black beard. Madame Black, who probably had a little gypsy heritage herself, told Mr. Arnold that the child would be returned unharmed if he offered the gypsies a large cash payment.
She also predicted grave injuries for Sylvester Young, the Indian tracker.
Another new development was the implication of James Arnold, the ten-year-old brother of the missing girl who had told her to go home on the day of her disappearance. The boy told newspaper interviewers several different versions of what had happened. In one version of the story, Alice refused to go home so James struck her on the shoulders with a stick. The State Police gave little credence to the theory that James had accidentally struck and killed his sister, however. It was unlikely that a boy of such a young age would have the physical strength or presence of mind to dispose of Alice's body in such a way that 200 expert hunters and woodsmen could not find it.
On Tuesday, May 30, the commissioners of Perry County offered a $100 reward for any information that led to the discovery of Alice Arnold. Law enforcement began to track down the movements of every gypsy camp, in the unlikely event that Madame Black was privy to some dark, supernatural secret. Police departments and railroad employees across Pennsylvania were told to be on the lookout for any suspicious party traveling with a yellow-haired girl with blue eyes.
Charred Bones and a Mysterious Buggy
Later that morning a startling discovery was made. At around ten o'clock Sylvester Young, accompanied by State Policemen Davies and Markey, found charred human remains on the top of a mountain only a mile and a half away from the Arnold home. The bones were hidden beneath a pile of logs. The policemen believed that the body had been recently burned. After Trooper Markey examined the bones, he declared that they were those of a female child. He was immediately bitten by a snake that had been hiding among the logs and had to leave the investigation to seek medical attention.
Since there were no other reports of missing children in the vicinity, it was widely reported that the remains of Alice Arnold had been found. The offical announcement would have to wait until after the bones had been examined by Dr. Bryner in Harrisburg. Meanwhile, acting on an anonymous tip, the State Police searched the Arnold home as well as the home of the child's uncle, Albert Arnold.
On Wednesday, May 31, Dr. J.H. Bryner announced that the bones found on the mountain were not those of a human, but of a dog. Later that evening, about an hour before midnight, witnesses in the village saw a horse and buggy racing at breakneck speed on the path leading away from the Arnold home. Trooper Markey of the State Police and Sylvester Young ran out of the Lesh house and commanded the driver to halt, but the buggy was already out of sight. It was the belief of many that the speeding buggy was carrying away the dead body of Alice Arnold.
Two days later the State Police called off the search, however, though they promised to people of Ickesburg that detectives would continue working on the case if new clues were discovered.
The Cryptic Statements of the Arnold Family
The story was still being closely followed by the press, however. The Arnold children were hounded incessantly by reporters from the Harrisburg Telegraph. Alice's parents and siblings made more than a few eyebrow-raising statements to the reporters which continued to keep the story on the front pages.
"My mother thinks she knows where Alice is but she won't tell me," said Clarence Arnold to one reporter.
"Some people say that we know all about the child but we don't know anything," Mrs. Arnold insisted to another.
"I don't believe in dreams but last night was the first I have dreamed for months," said Mr. Arnold. "I dreamed that I was sitting on a chair in the room over there when suddenly I heard a window in the next room open softly and the next moment I heard Alice's voice saying, 'Mama, Mama, let me in.' I could hear the child knocking against that door. I made a grab for a revolver and was going after the person who brought the child and put her in the wndow when I was awakened. That dream has impressed me very much."
|Telegraph reporters William Kinderman, Robert Gorman and Anton Benson|
Even Samuel Arnold, a brother Alice's father who was in western Pennsylvania when Alice went missing, couldn't get his story straight. When he came back to Ickesburg a week later he was immediately asked if he had heard about Alice's disappearance. He appeared shocked and surprised and said that no one had yet told him of his neice's disappearance. Yet he told another person that he raced back to Perry County after recieving a letter from his mother telling him about the girl's disappearance.
Reporters tracked down Samuel's mother (Alice's grandmother), who was sharing a home with Albert, and asked her about this conflicting account, but she grew livid and refused to speak to the press. Albert, the brother of Mr. Arnold whose home had been searched by the State Police a week and a half earlier, claimed that he had watched his mother write the letter to Samuel but she had never mailed it. When he volunteered to show it to the reporters, his mother became furious and threw the reporters out of the house.
(Personally, I'm inclined to believe that Samuel had to have known about the disappearance of Alice Arnold. The story had already been picked up by newspapers across the country by the time he returned to Ickesburg in mid-June. As for the peculiar behavior of Alice's grandmother, no satisfactory explanation has ever been produced.)
The Postmistress' Tale
On June 17 a possible clue emerged from the village of Etters in York County, fifty miles south of Ickesburg. The town's postmistress claimed that a few days earlier she witnessed an Italian couple dragging a small child fitting Alice's description through town. The barefooted girl was wearing a ragged dress and her hair had ben cut short, but the postmistress was certain it was her.
Although it had not been made public until after the postmistress came forward with her story, the State Police had followed a lead three weeks earlier when they were told by a Millerstown resident that an Italian couple had been seen in the village with a little girl on the day of Alice's disappearance. Captain Lumb of the State Police immediately dispatched a trooper to Etters to investigate. Lumb stated that his trooper had managed to trace the trail of the Italians from Etters to York, where they boarded a train to Harrisburg. Witnesses told the policeman that the blonde-haired child was struggling to get away from the Italian couple all the way to the station.
But things took a surprising turn a few weeks later when a girl's skeleton was discovered on Tuscarora Mountain.
On the afternoon of July 19, Alvin and Harvey Wallett and Miles Zimmerman were picking huckleberries on the mountain, approximately three miles from the Arnold home at a spot known as Snake Hollow, when they found the remains. The men marked the spot and then raced back to Ickesburg to notify Justice of the Peace C.J. Swartz. Swartz sent the men back to guard the body until the authorities arrived and then empaneled a jury to hold in inquest.
A different account was given by the Harrisburg Telegraph, which stated that Wallett rushed to the Arnold home immediately after finding the skeleton, and Mr. Arnold identified the remains by the hair and dress before Swartz was notified.
The Newport newspaper, on the other hand, reported that Swartz then picked up Mr. and Mrs. Arnold so that they could identify the body. Unfortunately, by the time all parties reached the mountain nightfall had set in, and the berry pickers who discovered the corpse were unable to find it. They searched until 3 o'clock in the morning before giving up.
Things Aren't Adding Up
The following morning they returned to the top of the mountain and found the body in a clump of brush growing in a large clearing devoid of trees. Many thought that it was strange to find the mortal remains of the little girl in that spot because it was at the junction of three well-traveled paths, and the area had been searched thoroughly multiple times by hundreds of volunteers. Several members of the original search party told the Telegraph that they had searched the very same spot on previous occasions, and they scoffed at the notion that a 4-year-old child could have reached that spot on the boulder-strewn mountaintop on her own power.
Common sense supports this theory; the average walking speed of a 6-foot-tall adult on flat terrain is approximately 3.1 miles per hour. An average four-year-old child is about 40 inches tall, or half the size of a fully grown adult. Factoring in Alice's size and the uphill climb she would have to have made, it would have been virtually impossible for her to reach the clearing on top of the mountain, three miles from her home, in under three hours. By that time, more than 50 locals would have been scouring the mountains.
Also strange is that several newspapers gave a description of the girl's clothing and hair that does not match any of the descriptions given previously. By all accounts, Alice Arnold had light blonde hair and had wearing a brown gingham dress when she disappeared. Yet one newspaper account from Newport states:
Nevertheless, the inquest concluded that the body was indeed that of Alice Arnold, and that the child's death had resulted from "want of food, thirst and exposure". On Friday, July 21, she was buried at St. Paul's Cemetery in Eshcol. To mark the spot where the remains were found, a large pine tree near the site was painted white and a streamer was affixed to the trunk as a monument.
Sadly, Alice May Arnold was buried without a gravemarker. Because the cemetery records were destroyed in a fire her final resting place-- if it really was Alice Arnold's bones found on the mountain-- remains a mystery, along with the true cause of her tragic death.
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