The Big Unsolved Mystery of Little Marjorie West

John Swart for AP

Four-year-old Marjorie West was snatched by someone (…or something…?) from a Pennsylvania park in 1938. Her case remains one of the oldest unsolved mysteries in the U.S. and theories still abound — did a she-bear take her? A wildman? Is she still alive? Caren Lissner details the case’s history and the media frenzy it created for Narratively. The tale includes shoulder-to-shoulder searches, John Walsh’s Stranger Danger, and there’s even a mention of professional wrestler Ric Flair.

Her search was one of the largest for a child since the Lindbergh Baby kidnapping six years earlier. Residents of Western Pennsylvania and Marjorie’s surviving relatives still hold out hope she’s alive. If she is, she may yet celebrate her 85th birthday next month.

If Marjorie was snatched, it could have been for profit. During the Great Depression, child kidnappings became a popular, low-tech way to make a buck. “Kidnapping wave sweeps the nation,” blared New York Times headline on March 3, 1932, two days after the abduction of the son of aviator Charles Lindbergh. At the time, some feared that cars, still a relatively new technology, were going to cause an increase in kidnappings, and they weren’t wrong. Abductions did increase with the use of automobiles and with greater highway usage. Still, many of those who believed Marjorie was abducted thought it was not for ransom, but for a different type of moneymaking enterprise.

Harold Thomas “Bud” Beck, a writer, raconteur, and college professor with a Ph.D. in linguistics, researched the case after he heard about it in a bar he used to run. Around 1998, when internet access was becoming more widespread, he posted a $10,000 reward for information about Marjorie. He included up-to-date photos of Dorothea, figuring Marjorie would resemble her.

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