The Case of the Missing Housewife
On the evening of October 18, 1949, housewife Dorothy Forstein was seemingly abducted from her Philadelphia home by an unknown man. Her two young children were present and witnessed the incident, recounting to detectives how the man carried their mother over his shoulder and out into the night. Mr. Forstein was away from home during her disappearance, and police had no evidence, no suspect and very few theories as to her whereabouts. Another incident happened almost five years prior, when Dorothy was attacked by an unidentified assailant and left with significant injuries, but was unable to offer the police a motive for the assault. Her subsequent fate would remain a mystery.
Dorothy Cooper was born in 1909 and her childhood sweetheart would be her future husband, Jules Forstein. He would later go on to marry another woman, Molly and the couple would have two children together, Myrna and Marcy. When Molly Forstein died in 1940, Dorothy and Jules reconnected once more and were later married in 1942. Their home life was a pleasant one and Dorothy was described by her closest friends as a happy, outgoing woman who became a devoted mother to the two children from Jules previous marriage. Her new husband worked as a clerk for the Philadelphia City Council and they lived in a three-story home in an affluent upper-middle class neighbourhood. Jules Forstein was appointed as a magistrate in 1943, shortly before the birth of their son, Edward.
On the January 25, 1945, Dorothy had left the children with neighbours as she intended to run some errands. She went shopping and was seen joking with the local butcher and also chatting to some friends about her plans that day. Later in the evening, she was seen returning to her home by her neighbour Maria Townley. Mrs. Townley thought she saw someone either walking with Mrs. Forstein or closely following behind as she walked towards her front door. Then just as Dorothy Forstein entered her three-story home, she was jumped from behind by someone. Her attacker began to beat her with his fists and also used some type of blunt weapon to knock her to the floor where he continued to viciously beat her unconscious. As she fell, Dorothy dislodged the telephone in the hallway, which allowed the operator to listen to the attack and quickly summon police.
The assailant soon fled when he heard the approaching police sirens. When officers arrived they found Mrs. Forstein on the floor of the hallway, she had suffered a shattered nose, broken jawbone, a fractured shoulder and was suffering from concussion. She was taken to the hospital for treatment. When she awoke she was questioned by police but could offer no explanation for the incident, explaining to detectives, “someone jumped out at me. I couldn’t see who it was. He just hit me and hit me”.
Police investigators suspected the attack was an attempted murder and the case was passed to the Philadelphia Homicide Division under Captain James Kelly. It was believed the attacker had intended to murder Mrs. Forstein because no items such as jewelry, money or possessions from the house had been stolen. When Mrs. Townley was questioned, she told officers about the man she saw following closely behind Dorothy, and it was surmised that this was her attacker, who had possibly followed her home. Initially her husband Jules Forstein was considered as a likely suspect, but he had a solid albi for his whereabouts that day, whilst the children, 14-year-old Myrna, 5-year-old Marcy and 2-year-old Edward were all too young to be involved.
The police were unable to determine the motive, because Dorothy was popular with everyone who knew her, and she was considered a well-liked member of the community. Detectives thought maybe the attack was connected to her husbands work as a magistrate, and was a possible revenge attack. Although every possible lead was investigated, no arrests were ever made in connection with the incident. Dorothy eventually recovered from her injuries, but was left traumatised by what happened and her family noticed a distinct change in her personality. She was no longer care-free and happy, but became more nervous and anxious, whilst the smallest noise would leave her visibly upset and she would often double check the windows and locks before rechecking the entire house, making sure no-one had gained entry.
Life continued like this for some years, but eventually Dorothy began to lead a somewhat normal life and began to venture outside more and relaxed her vigilance when around her family. Several years later on the October 18, 1949, Dorothy was home for the evening with the youngest children whilst Mr. Forstein was away from home. The eldest daughter, 19-year-old Myrna was also away visiting friends. Dorothy spent the evening doing her usual routine with Marcy and Edward, putting the children to bed. At some point Mr. Forstein called and spoke to his wife, “I don’t expect to be home too late, is everything ok?” he asked. Dorothy’s last words to her husband were, “be sure to miss me”.
At 9:00pm Dorothy telephoned a friend to arrange a shopping trip the two had planned for the next day. When Jules Forstein returned home later in the evening he found the two youngest children alone, cowering together in their bedroom crying “Mommy’s gone!”. When he checked the rest of the house he could find no sign of Dorothy. Marcy told her father that only 15 minutes before he arrived home, she had gone downstairs after a being awoken by a noise where she saw a middle-aged man wearing a brown peaked cap carrying her mother down the stairs over his shoulder. She said her mother was still wearing her pyjamas and appeared to be sleeping and the man patted Marcy on her head and told her, “Go back to sleep little one, your mom is fine.”, before he left the house, locking the door behind him.
The police were unsure if Marcy’s story was true until she was interviewed by a psychiatrist who confirmed she was telling the truth. Once more investigators believed the abduction was linked to Mr. Forstein’s profession as a magistrate and was possibly revenge by someone who held a grudge. This theory was generally accepted because of the attempted murder 5 years previously. Once again nothing was stolen from the house, so robbery was not a motive. There was also no sign of forced entry and no fingerprints were left by the intruder, despite the man having to carried Mrs. Forstein down the stairs.
Detectives began a search for the missing woman, and requested other police forces check their respective jurisdictions for any reports of an unidentified woman being admitted to hospitals, hotels, convalescent homes, mental hospitals and morgues all across the country. Meanwhile a description of Dorothy Forstein was circulated to every police department. Nothing came back, no incidents were reported and no-one had seen anything of Dorothy Forstein, she had simply vanished.