The 1961 disappearance of Joan Risch continues to baffle investigators and puzzle mystery enthusiasts. During the afternoon on October 24, 1961, Risch’s daughter returned home to find her mother was not there.
Instead, there was blood on the kitchen floor, and little trace of Joan. An investigation by police quickly uncovered that Joan had recently checked out several books from the local library on the topics of abduction and murder.
Bizarrely, Joan’s own case bears many similarities to a case covered in one of the books she checked out only weeks before her disappearance. Investigators have seized on this as possible evidence that Risch may have faked her own abduction.
However, the case remains unsolved.
Risch came from a rough background. Her parents were killed when she was quite young in what neighbors described as a suspicious fire. Following this, the orphaned Risch was formally adopted by relatives. She later confided in a friend that she was abused as a child, suffering from sexual molestation at the hands of a relative.
In 1952, Joan graduated from Wilson College with a degree in English literature. She pursued a career as a publisher, and later worked as a secretary. Some time after beginning work for a publishing company, she married executive Martin Risch.
Some have suggested that the Risch’s marriage may have been an unhappy one. However, Martin had an alibi for the day Joan went missing.
The day of the disappearance, Martin was out of town and the couple’s children were staying at their friends’ houses. When one of the children, Lillian, returned home that afternoon, she found her mother was not present. Instead, she found blood in the kitchen. She described the scene to a neighbor through sobs, stating “Mommy is gone and the kitchen is covered with red paint”.
Police ruled out Martin as a suspect, as he was in Manhattan at the time. Some neighbors reported having seen an unfamiliar car in Joan’s driveway that afternoon. Others in the town reported that they saw a woman that looked like Joan walking down the street, looking confused and lost. Others still have speculated that Joan may have faked the incident to flee her home life.
The disappearance in bizarre in a number of ways. Joan’s plain cloth coat and the clothes she was wearing that afternoon were all missing. Numerous empty beer bottles were found in the wastebin, which Martin had no explanation for. The phonebook was open to a page in which to write emergency numbers, but none had been written down.
The disappearance remains unsolved. It is unclear if the blood left at the scene was left by Joan as a way to make her disappearance seem real, or was evidence of an actual struggle. Others have theorized that she may have fallen, hit her head, and then rushed out of the house, confused and dazed.
This could explain the eyewitness accounts of Joan wandering through the town looking lost. In the end, however, the case remains cold and unsolved.