It’s an October evening in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Jules Forstein returns home after an evening out. But as soon as he sees his children, he knows that something is wrong. According to them, their mother has disappeared, snatched by a stranger in the dead of night. But what really happened to Dorothy Forstein? What happened after sundown on that tumultuous day? And will the mystery ever be solved?
Dorothy and Jules had been childhood sweethearts, but the path of their love had not always run smooth. In fact, when he was young, Jules chose to marry another woman. Together, they had two daughters named Merna and Marcy. But sadly, the first Mrs Forstein died while giving birth to the couple’s youngest child.
Now a grieving widower, Jules reconnected with Dorothy soon after his first wife’s death. And in 1941, Jules and Dorothy were married. By that time, Jules was working for the Philadelphia City Council as a clerk. Two years later, he was promoted to the role of magistrate, and Dorothy gave birth to a son, Edward. For the Forsteins, it was a happy and prosperous time.
However, on January 25, 1945, their lives would take a darker turn. That day, Dorothy left the children in her neighbor’s care while she embarked on a shopping trip. Apparently, she was spotted by witnesses visiting the local butcher and catching up with friends. Then, in the evening, a neighbor spotted Dorothy returning to the Fortsteins’ home.
Eerily, she did not appear to be alone. Later, the neighbor, Maria Townley, would claim that Dorothy appeared to be accompanied by someone, or that someone was tailing her, although she could not recall any precise details. “It was getting dark and I didn’t look too closely,” Townley is reported to have said. But no sooner had Dorothy entered her home, than the true nature of this mysterious person became clear.
Shockingly, the intruder pounced on Dorothy, punching her and attacking her with a blunt instrument. Losing consciousness, Dorothy was sent flying to the ground. Fortunately, she knocked over the telephone during her fall, and a concerned operator was able to raise the alarm.
Soon, police officers arrived at the Forstein home, where they found that Dorothy had been severely beaten. Both her nose and jaw were broken, and she had fractured her shoulder and suffered a concussion. Equally worryingly, the woman was unable to shed any light on the identity of her attacker.
Under the Philadelphia Homicide Division’s James A. Kelly, an investigation into attempted murder was soon launched. According to Kelly, a police captain, the intruder had likely intended to kill Dorothy, as they had not stolen anything from the home. And with Jules’ whereabouts verified by a cast-iron alibi, police began searching for an unknown assailant.
However, it was not an easy investigation. Neither Dorothy nor Jules appeared to have any enemies, and Jules was sure that no one connected to his work could have committed such a terrible crime. Ultimately, the case remained unsolved, and the Forsteins were left to carry on with their lives.
Sadly, though, the attack had taken its toll on Dorothy’s mental health. Now nervous and constantly on edge, she took to repeatedly checking that all of the house’s doors and windows were locked and secure. Meanwhile, Jules was dead set against leaving Dorothy and the children alone in their home.
However, on October 18, 1949, Jules decided to spend a rare evening out at a political event. Beforehand, he telephoned Dorothy to check that everything was alright at home. And even though 18-year-old Merna was away for the night, Dorothy assured her husband that she and the younger children were fine. “Be sure to miss me,” she is reported to have said before ending the call.
Later that evening, Jules returned home to a disquieting scene. In the bedroom, he discovered Marcy, nine, and Edward, seven, hunched up in fear. Together, they cried out to their father. “Mommy’s gone,” they reportedly said. Confused, Jules initially believed that Dorothy had left temporarily, perhaps to visit a relative or neighbor.
But as the hours ticked by, and Jules’ telephone calls failed to shed any light on his wife’s disappearance, he began to suspect that something was seriously wrong. Eventually, he contacted the police, and Captain Kelly arrived once more at the Forstein home. Soon, the search for Dorothy was under way.
But even though officers combed local hospitals, hotels, rooming houses and morgues, they could find no trace of the missing woman. Meanwhile, back at the family house, investigators weren’t faring much better. Apparently, there was no sign of a forced entry, and Dorothy had left her keys, money and purse at home.
However, there was one intriguing piece of evidence that officers had initially overlooked – the testimony of young Marcy, who claimed to have seen what had happened. “It was late,” she told Kelly. “I don’t know whether I heard voices or whether I just woke up. I went to the head of the stairs and there was a man coming up. He went to Mommy’s room in the front and through a crack in the door, I could see her lying on her face on the rug. She looked sick.”
Terrifyingly, Marcy went on to describe her mother’s apparent abduction in alarming detail. “The man turned her over on her back and picked her up,” the girl continued. “He put her over his shoulder so her head hung down his back. When I asked him what he was doing, he said, ‘Go back to sleep, little one, your Mommy has been sick, but she will be alright now.’”
After telling Kelly that her mother had been clad in red silk pajamas, Marcy was even able to provide a description of the stranger. Dressed in a peaked brown cap and a brown jacket, he was a man who the girl had never seen before. And strange as it was, Marcy’s account was the only information that investigators had to go on. Furthermore, psychiatrists got involved and declared Marcy to be telling the truth.
Sadly, Marcy’s testimony was not enough to get to the bottom of the mystery. If Dorothy had been abducted, the perpetrator had managed to carry her out of the house without leaving a single fingerprint behind. Furthermore, the miscreant had somehow been able to smuggle an unconscious, pajama-clad woman down the street without attracting any attention.
Investigators were stumped, and Dorothy’s disappearance remained unsolved. Had some courtroom enemy of Jules’ decided to get his own back by kidnapping the latter’s wife – perhaps the same person who had attacked her four years before? Or did some different fate befall Dorothy in her own home?
Just two years later, Jules passed away. Tragically, he would never find out what had happened to his wife. And while Marcy has managed to move on with her life, raising children and grandchildren of her own, her sinister testimony remains the only clue in a mystery that has haunted Philadelphia for almost 70 years.