You may be familiar with the story of Dorothy Arnold, the 24-year-old socialite whose 1910 disappearance captivated the press and still inspires speculation and armchair sleuthery. But, you may not know of the other young heiress who vanished under similar circumstances one-and-a-half years before Arnold disappeared from Fifth Avenue.
Adele didn’t wake up on April 23, 1909 with the intention of running away. But before the sun could set that Friday, she was gone.
However, unlike the still unresolved fate of Dorothy Arnold, the story of Adele Boas‘s disappearance has a happy, if not anticlimactic, ending. But, perhaps the details of Boas’s tale can provide us with valuable insight into missing persons cases of a similar flavor.
Adele Edith was born into privilege in 1896, the second of Arthur and Blanche (nee Hochstadter) Boas’s three children. While not on par with, say, the Astors and Roosevelts, the Boas family name was respected in early 20th-century New York High Society: Arthur was described in the Boston Daily Globe as a “thread magnate,” and her Uncle Emil was an important figure in transatlantic steamship transportation.
Despite the century that’s passed, we know a surprising amount about Adele Boas’s early years. She spent her childhood in the gilded bubble of uptown wealth. Contemporaneous accounts describe Adele as tall and blue-eyed, with a striking resemblance to her father.
The family lived just off of Central Park, in a stone house enclosed by an iron fence at 10 West 88th Street. There, live-in maids diligently attended to Adele, her older brother Percy, and younger sister Edith. (New York Public Library archives suggest that the house on Central Park’s west side was demolished at some point, although City directories show the Boas’s lived there until at least 1925) Adele attended at esteemed Jacobi School—now known the Calhoun School—at 115 West 80th Street.
The early hours of Friday, April 23, 1909 were unremarkable: before the 13-year-old accompanied her mother on a shopping trip, she phoned a friend to make plans afternoon plans. This may explain why—standing in front of a millinery shop at the corner of 81st street and Columbus Ave around 3:30 PM—Adele told her mother she was “tired” and wanted to go home. Blanche gave detailed directions for the eight-block walk, and off Adele went.
In an account published on April 25 in the Chicago Daily Tribune, Blanche Boas recalled she and her daughter’s last interaction:
“My daughter kissed me and started up the avenue when I called her back…I had nothing but a large bill and asked her if she had any money. She told me she had but 15 cents and gave me 5 cents for car fare. She then went on her way and I went to the elevated platform.”
Both parents arrived home by 6 PM, but their eldest daughter had yet to return. That evening, Adele’s father and Uncle Emil called every family friend and relative in possession of a telephone, but came up empty.
She was reported missing to police early the next morning. This is a key difference between this story and that of Dorothy Arnold, and may have contributed to their disparate endings. In the latter, the Arnolds waited six weeks before reporting Dorothy’s absence to law enforcement, fearing unwanted media attention and subsequent social chagrin.
Like with the Arnold case, however, Pinkerton’s Detective Agency became involved in the search, but clues were scarce. The dearth of information in the following days brought about a wide range of theories: Mr. Boas was initially inclined to believe his daughter had fallen victim to an unreported car accident, while Mrs. Boas feared Adele had been kidnapped. There were the typical unsubstantiated rumors of “white slavery.” On April 25, reports of a potentially-transient girl matching Adele’s description sleeping roughly 30 blocks north in Morningside Park invited speculation of “mental troubles.”
Arthur Boas’s initial $1000 reward was raised to $5000 on April 26, 1909. As Arthur paced laps that day around Morningside Park, Adele was just 200 miles away in Boston, nursing a cut thumb as she boarded the 2 o’clock train to New York.
“I ran away from home because I wanted to show my parents that I was self-reliant and could take care of myself.”
A dark-eyed Adele was met at the train station by an uncle and cousin—along with a handful of investigators—who escorted her home. There on the corner of 88th and Columbus, the girl fell sobbing into her father’s arms.
The story she told upon her arrival was so simple and yet so bizarre. She alluded to feeling restrained by her parents and her high-society lifestyle:
“I ran away from home because I wanted to show my parents that I was self-reliant and could take care of myself. I did not decide to run away until after I had left my mother Friday afternoon. The detailed instructions which she gave me as to how I should get home decided me to show my parents that I could take care of myself.
“For a long time, I have brooded over the fact that I had to have a maid accompany me to school. The other girls teased me about it and I did not like it. My parents seemed to think that because my 9-year-old sister had a maid that I should have one.”
Adele’s self-professed motivations for both leaving and returning home an important reminders of how looks can be deceiving: While she may have looked older than her age, Adele was just a kid.
On April 27, 1909, she gave The Boston Daily Globe a detailed account her week in Boston (her account has been briefly edited for clarity):
When I went shopping with my mother Friday afternoon I had no intention of running away. In fact, I had called up one of my girl friends on the telephone to see if she would spend the afternoon with me. I felt my mother in front of the millinery shop at the corner of 81st st and Columbus [Ave]. The careful and minute instructions she gave me as to the exact way I should go home angered me so that I decided too show them I could take care of myself.
I walked up the avenue to the house and rang the bell. The cook opened the door for me and I went to my [toy] bank and took the $14 I had saved. I then took the 86th-st crosstown car and transferred to Lexington [Ave] and took the 5:03 train for Boston. I don’t know why I went to Boston, but it seemed as good as any other place.
When I arrived in Boston I asked a young man in the station where I could get a room for the night and he pointed out Mrs. Paole’s house. He did not accost me. I went up and asked him. I had never seen the young man before in my life and I have never seen him since.
I went over to the house and engaged a room, paying for it in advance and giving a false name. The next day I spent walking around the streets of Boston looking for work. I secured a position as waitress in the restaurant kept by Mrs. Elizabeth Upton on Main at Charlestown, and went to work there Sunday morning. All of the time that I was not working in the restaurant Sunday, I spent in the boarding house and seeing the sights of Charlestown.
The only thing I had to do in the restaurant was cut bread, and when I cut my finger late in the afternoon, I decided that I had had enough.
This only goes to show that all the money in the world can’t stifle the impulsiveness of youth, nor can it stymie the desire for independence. And although poorly thought-out, the stunt may have worked: On April 27, Arthur Boas told the New York Tribune that his eldest daughter had, indeed, demonstrated her ability to take care of herself.
But, was the change lasting? Who knows? The story of Adele Boas fell out of the media’s attention upon her return, and was all but forgotten by the time Dorothy Arnold disappeared late the following year.
- Churchill, Allen. “The Girl Who Never Came Back.” American Heritage, Vol. 11 No. 5, Aug 1960.
- “Reward Raised to $5000.” Boston Daily Globe, 26 Apr 1909, pg. 7.
- “Miss Boas’ Trip to Hub Laid to Childish Whim.” Boston Daily Globe, 27 Apr. 1909, pp. 1, 7.
- “Girl Disappears; May Be Abducted: Daughter of New York Magnate…” Chicago Daily Tribune, 25 Apr 1909, pg. 5.
- “Adele Boas Back home: Ran Away Because of Parental Restraint.” New York Tribune, Vol. LXIX, No. 22808, 27 Apr 1909.