35 years ago, an amnesia patient died in a nursing home in Morton, Illinois. This photo and story appeared in the Peoria Journal Star, in Peoria, Illinois on February 25, 1979. We pulled the story from the public library's microfilm and transcribed this article exactly as it was printed in February of 1979 for easier reading, and to honor the upcoming 35th anniversary of the Rick Baker series. Over the next week, we will post the 6-part series that ran in the newspaper so that you can experience the same interest and intrigue that we felt in 1979. Fast forward to today, we hope that our friends and genealogy community can find new clues and help confirm the mystery of Mary Doefour.
The photo’s caption stated: Were these two women the same person? The one disappeared more than 50 years ago in Iowa, and no trace of her was ever found. The other died last year in Morton, and for more than 50 years nobody knew who she was. Rick Baker’s compelling account of “The Search for Mary Doefour” starts today and continues throughout the week.
The Search for Mary Doefour (Part I)
By Rick Baker
Peoria Journal Star, Sunday, February 25, 1979
In early March of 1978, I first heard of Mary Doefour. She was an old woman who had just died. And a funeral home owner was calling in her obituary.
It was the most nebulous death notice I had ever heard. Her parents were unknown. Her birthplace was unknown. Her birthdate was uncertain. If anybody survived her, nobody knew.
And Mary Doefour was not her actual name. Nobody knew her real name.
She died of a heart attack while in bed at Queenwood East Nursing Home in Morton March 2. Intrigued by the vague obituary, I went to the nursing home about a week after the old woman’s death in an effort to find out more about her life.
While nursing home residents sang broken hymns in the background, a therapist at the nursing home, who’d gotten to know Mary Doefour recounted the tragedy of the woman’s life.
The therapist had trouble hiding her emotion. I had trouble hiding my disbelief. The horror of the woman’s life had been incredible. And the fact that she lived such a life in government sanctioned institutions made her story more horrible.
After leaving the nursing home where Mary Doefour died, I had enough information on Mary Doefour to write a rambling, 14-page account of the nightmare the woman had lived for almost 50 years.
That story was published in the March 12, Sunday edition of the Bloomington Pantagraph, a newspaper I worked for at the time. The paper had a circulation of more than 50,000.
And maybe there was a chance – a slight chance – that somebody who knew who Mary Doefour really was would read the story and reveal her identity before she was given an anonymous, pauper’s burial by the state.
While there was no solid information in those 14 pages of who the woman might have been, there was some information that could be pursued. Following that information up would involve a lot of legwork. And it would probably be futile. But there were some unanswered questions.
Much of the information in the original story was a result of piecemeal records that survived the institutions in which Mary Doefour spent for decades. We don’t know how the institutions found some of the information, or why it wasn’t checked further.
Here’s a brief recount of the Mary Doefour story:
- About 50 years ago, a young, attractive woman was found dazed near a road in Northern Illinois. She’d been beaten and raped, and couldn’t remember anything about herself.
- Soon after she was found, she was placed in a state hospital for the criminally insane at Manteno. She wasn’t a criminal, and her only apparent mental problem was amnesia. Efforts to discover her identity were apparently minimal.
- She was pregnant as a result of the rape, and she had a child she probably never saw while at the hospital for the criminally insane. The child was probably put in an orphanage as soon as it was born.
- It was somehow learned during her early incarceration that she’d been an elementary schoolteacher, perhaps first grade.
- Her attempts to convince people she didn’t belong in the institution for the criminally insane were met with efforts to calm her. She was given so much medicine she shook constantly from pseudo-Parkinson’s Disease.
- She was lined up with other residents of the institutions and frequently given electro-shock treatments. When the treatments knocked her out, she was tossed in a large tub of cold water. That revived her.
- After 10 years at Manteno, she was transferred to the state mental hospital in Bartonville. At Manteno she was known as “Mary Doe.” At Bartonville she was known as “Mary Doefour” because there were other Mary Doe’s in the institution.
- At Bartonville, the formerly articulate, well-education woman adapted to her environment, defecated on the floor for lack of a toilet, washed herself in a toilet bowl when one was available, and blew her nose on her dress.
- She was in Bartonville about 30 years, never had a visitor, was kept calm on massive doses of medicine and frequent electro-shock treatments.
- When the state ordered Bartonville closed in 1972, she was transferred to a nursing home in El Paso, then to the nursing home in Morton. In 1977, she went blind. Less than a year later, she died.
That’s a short synopsis of the original story. And I thought it would do something to help find out who she was.
But it didn’t.
Last November, I decided to leave my job at the Bloomington paper. I rummaged through some newspaper clips and picked a few out to send along with a job application to The Peoria Journal Star. I ran across the Mary Doefour story.
It had been almost eight months since she died and seven months since I’d thought much about her. I stuck the Mary Doefour clip in with the job application.
I was hired in early January. And the second week I was on the job, the managing editor brought up Mary Doefour. He said he found the story interesting, and thought it might be worth a follow.
Perhaps by now, there was some indication of who she was. Perhaps the mortician, who’d been ordered by the state to keep her ashes kept in an urn that looked something like a coffee can were due to be buried in six weeks.
No. There had been no inquiries. In fact, Robert Perry the mortician said the only inquiries about the woman since she had died had come from me.
Still, it seemed worth another story. The fact she would be buried soon was enough of a news peg. And the Peoria paper has more than 100,000 circulation. Again, perhaps there was a chance somebody would know her, or make an extensive effort to find who she was.
The story was played well across the top of page. And the Associated Press liked the story well enough to send it to other papers with my name on it.
The story appeared in the Jan. 10 Midwest edition of the Chicago Tribune, in the Metro-East Journal in East St. Louis, and in seven or eight other Illinois papers.
I got my hopes up again. Perhaps Mary Doefour’s identity would be discovered.
But two days later all the response I was to get was on my desk in the form of three letters.
One of the letters was from a woman in Southern Illinois. In the envelope was a clipping of the story that appeared in a Mount Vernon, IL newspaper. The lady said she thought the story was very sad, and her uncle died in a mental institution.
That was no help.
The second letter was from a woman in Wisconsin. That letter contained a clip of the story from the Tribune. The woman was irritated because her copy of the paper was printed poorly and she could read only half the story. She wanted another copy.
That was no help.
The third letter was from a woman in Iowa. There was another Tribune clip in it. She said the story brought back memories of a Mount Vernon, Iowa schoolteacher who got on a train about 1930 and was never heard from again. The teacher’s names was Alice Zaiser. The woman had an aunt in the Clinton, Iowa area. Unfortunately, the aunt was dead.
The best thing to do seemed to be to buy some beer, go home and watch television, and try to forget about Mary Doefour.
At the office about a week after I’d given up any hope in finding who Mary Doefour was, I decided to pursue the story even though it did not seem promising.
I reread the letter from Iowa and decided it could be something. Then I spent the morning re-examining everything I knew about Mary Doefour. And there wasn’t much that I hadn’t already run into the ground.
So I telephoned the woman from Iowa who wrote the letter in response to the article in the Tribune. She said she didn’t know anything more than what she wrote, but was sure someone in Mount Vernon, Iowa would be able to tell me about the case.
I called a secretary in a grade school in Mount Vernon and asked if she knew anything about an elementary schoolteacher from that area disappearing about 50 years ago. She said she didn’t but she’d ask a few people and would call back if she found anything. I didn’t expect to hear from her again.
But I did. She called back and said a few people had heard something about a teacher disappearing back then. They said her name was Alice Siezer, not Alice Zaiser. She gave me the name of a man who she said might be able to help.
I called him, and he said the schoolteacher’s name wasn’t Alice Siezer. It was Anna Myrle Sizer.
By the time I hung up the telephone, I was close to certain I had just talked to Mary Doefour’s brother – a retired banker who had not heard a word of his sister since she’d disappeared more than 50 years ago.
Tomorrow: The story of Anna Myrle Sizer
The Search for Mary Doefour (Part II)
A Possible Clue to Mystery Found in Iowa
By Rick Baker
Peoria Journal Star, Monday, Feb. 26, 1979
The secretary at the Mount Vernon Iowa grade school simply said she thought Harry Sizer might be some relation to the schoolteacher who had disappeared from Iowa more than 50 years ago.
Harry Sizer lives in Lisbon, a small town near Mount Vernon. The secretary gave me his number and I called him from the Peoria office.
After spending several hours making futile phone calls and explaining the Mary Doefour story about a dozen times to no avail, I didn’t want to go through the explanation again.
When he answered the telephone I just said I was told he might know something about an Alice Sizer – a schoolteacher who’d been missing from the area about 50 years.
“Her name was Anna Sizer,” the man said. “Anna Myrle Sizer. Alice was her sister.”
“How do you know that?”
The man hesitated. He wasn’t anxious to talk. “Anna was my sister,” he said.
“Do you have any idea what happened to her?”
“Why do you want to know?” he asked.
“I’m a reporter from Illinois. A lady died down here recently and nobody knows who she was. I’m trying to find out,” I said.
“It’s not my sister,” he said.
“How do you know?”
“Nobody’s heard from my sister for more than 50 years. My parents died waiting to hear from her. My brothers died,” he said.
“Nobody heard from this lady either,” I explained. “Do you have any idea what happened to your sister?”
“She got off a train in Marion, Iowa,” he said. “Somebody saw her get off. That was the fall of 1926. And we haven’t heard a word of her since.”
“Did anybody look for her?”
“Of course,” the man said. “We hired detectives. The state had its detectives. We looked for years. As far as California. But we never found anything. Nothing. Ever.”
“What grade did your sister teach?”
“It’s been 50 years. I can’t remember,” he said.
“Could it have been first grade?”
“I can’t remember,” he said. “What was the name of the woman who died down there?”
“I don’t know. Nobody knows. That’s what I’m trying to find out,” I said. “Was there any chance at all your sister could have run away?”
“None,” the man said. “Our family was very close.”
“No chance at all?”
“None,” the man said.
By now, it appears there’s a chance this man is Mary Doefour’s brother – a good chance, I think. How many elementary schoolteachers simply disappeared about 50 years ago?
“Some things fit,” I said. “The woman who died down here could be your sister.”
“Are you sure?” he said softly.
“No, I’m not. I’m not sure at all. But there’s a chance this is your sister.”
“What happened to the woman who died down there?” he asked.
I can’t tell him over the telephone. It might be his sister. I can’t tell him she was raped, beaten, thrown in an insane asylum, kept so doped up she couldn’t think straight and eventually given a pauper’s funeral by the State of Illinois.
“Do you have a picture of your sister?”
“Yes,” he said.
“I’d like to have it,” I said. “If I can show it to a woman who knew the woman who died down here, we’ll be able to tell if it was your sister.”
“It’s been 50 years,” he said. “She wouldn’t look the same.”
“Yeah. But it’s all I’ve got to go on. This could be your sister.”
“I don’t know,” he said. “It’s been 50 years. We all thought she was murdered. Maybe it would be best to forget about it.”
“I don’t want to bother you. But I need the picture. This could be your sister. Her remains haven’t been buried yet. Maybe we could get this thing straightened out.”
“I’ll think about sending you the picture,” he said.
“You don’t have to send it. I’ll come to Iowa and get it,” I said. By now, I’m all but sure I’m talking to Mary Doefour’s brother. Maybe I’m grasping a straw, but I feel positive.
After 11 months, I think I’ve discovered the identity of Mary Doefour.
I tell the newspaper’s managing editor that, and he OK’s a trip to Iowa to prove it. I tell my state editor that I’m almost sure I’ve found Mary Doefour’s identity. And he OK’s the trip to Iowa.
I’ve got the backing. The paper’s willing to spend the time and money on it. And if I’m wrong I’ll look like a real jerk.
But I’m sure I’m right. I’m sure I’ll come back from Iowa with a photograph of Mary Doefour and the story of her life before it turned into a nightmare.
Tomorrow: What I found in Iowa
The Search for Mary Doefour (Part III)
By Rick Baker
Peoria Journal Star, Tuesday, Feb. 27, 1979
Mount Vernon, Iowa – Situated among the rolling hills of Eastern Iowa, there’s a college called Cornell – a private institution affiliated with the United Methodist Church.
It’s an attractive college of classic brick buildings tucked on and between the hills of Mount Vernon. And in the early 1920’s, a pretty young woman who strolled along the walks between the buildings stood to graduate at the top of her class.
Her name was Anna Myrle Sizer – known to her family and friends as just Myrle. While she was among the top students at the school, she was from a poor, hard-working family trying to make it through some tough times.
Going to private colleges cost money. But Cornell was the college Myrle chose and she was willing to pay her way through.
After three years at Cornell, with a short stint at the University of Colorado, Myrle quit school to become an elementary schoolteacher.
She didn’t want to quit. But she didn’t have the money to continue at Cornell. She planned to save enough money from her teaching salary to soon return to the college and finish her education.
“If she had finished at Cornell, she probably would have been Phi Beta Kappa,” her younger brother, Harold, said recently.
But something happened to Myrle. Before she saved enough money to quit teaching and return to college, Myrle Sizer disappeared. That happened during the fall of 1926, as far as her brother could remember.
The Library in which Myrle Sizer used to study contains microfilm of Mount Vernon’s weekly newspaper, which was called The Mount Vernon Hawkeye Record and Lisbon Herald in 1926.
And I was hoping if I sat in that library long enough, and stared at enough feet of microfilm, I would eventually come across something about Myrle Sizer in the paper.
With no more specific data than “the fall of 1926,” I began looking at issues beginning in August of that year.
Stories about the missing teacher from Iowa could help prove or disprove my theory that a woman who died an anonymous death after 50 years in state institutions and the Iowa teacher were the same woman.
It’s Saturday, Jan. 27, 1979 – more than 52 years since Myrle Sizer last appeared on the campus at Cornell.
From the first of August, I read every article on the front page of each edition, hoping an editor long ago would have had enough news sense to put the story on page one.
Two hours after reading the first headline, I find it. Finally.
The story reports how Anna Myrle Sizer had been missing since Nov. 5, a Friday. The last time she was definitely seen was that afternoon. A friend saw her getting off a train in Marion, a suburb of Cedar Rapids.
She was also believed to have been seen the following Wednesday, wandering in a kind of a daze along U.S. 30 about 75 miles east of Cedar Rapids. U.S. 30 is the main highway between Cedar Rapids and Chicago.
State records indicated Mary Doefour was found wandering in a kind of a daze somewhere south of Chicago.
The news report in the local paper said Miss Sizer’s eyes were blue, and hair was light brown. When Mary Doefour was found, she had light brown hair that later turned silver. Her eyes were blue.
The news account in the local paper is scattered. Information is broken and incomplete. The story doesn’t even contain her age, where she taught or what she taught.
The story is made up of comments like, “The fact she is of a very high character has made her disappearance a mystery.”
About five days after she disappeared, a motorcycle policeman thought he saw her wandering along U.S. 30. The policeman said she appeared to be in a kind of a daze, but didn’t think much about it until he heard about the missing schoolteacher.
The policeman gave Miss Sizer’s parents the description of the woman he’d seen walking, and the fact she’d been wearing a green, plaid coat. Mr. and Mrs. W.R. Sizer said the woman was probably their daughter.
Search parties were organized. Hundreds of volunteers looked for weeks.
A woman who ran a boarding house in Cedar Rapids told police that on Nov. 6, a man came to her house looking for a room, saying he needed it for a young lady who was sick. The woman who ran the boarding house said she didn’t have any room and the man drove off with a lady in his car.
Two weeks later, there’s another front page story about Myrle Sizer in the Mount Vernon Newspaper.
It tells how a formal organization has been formed to spearhead the search for her. The purpose of the group is to raise money to hire detectives and “carry on a systematic hunt.”
Pledge cards are printed and a campaign for solicitation will be made.
The next report in the Mount Vernon paper is in mid-January. It says rumors that Miss Sizer is now home are false. “There is nothing else to report except this wildly false story.”
While detectives traveled as far as California looking for the missing teacher, no trace of her was found during more than 50 years.
And the pretty young woman who stood to graduate Phi Beta Kappa from Cornell College never returned to campus.
That apparently was the end of the Mount Vernon paper’s interest in the case.
So I drove 20 miles to Cedar Rapids where a much larger paper, The Gazette, is published. But I got there on Sunday, and the newspaper was closed, and the building was empty except for a security guard.
I explained Mary Doefour’s story and my situation to the guard. He was fascinated, and quickly agreed to call a list of newsroom employees until one of them agreed to come down and help me wade through microfilm.
The first person the guard called – the paper’s weekend editor, Chuck Fishwild – agreed to sacrifice some of his Sunday off to come to the newsroom and give me access to the paper’s library.
I agreed to give Fishwild what information I had on Mary Doefour after my paper printed her story.
The Cedar Rapids paper had followed the story closely, the microfilm showed. In November of 1926, the story of Anna Myrle Sizer – a respectable schoolteacher – being missing was front page news for several days in a row.
And it has some solid information. Anna Myrle Sizer was 28 years old when she disappeared on Nov. 5, 1926. She was a second and third grade teacher in Maquoketa, Iowa, 40 miles northeast of Mount Vernon.
She customarily traveled, via train, from Maquoketa to her hometown of Mount Vernon every weekend. She regularly withdrew $10 from her bank account each weekend for the trip. And on Nov. 4, 1926, records showed she withdrew $10
On Nov. 5, a friend of Miss Sizer saw the woman get off a train at Marion, a northern suburb of Cedar Rapids. And as far as police knew, that’s the last that she was ever definitely identified.
“She was not the kind of Girl to take a sudden notion to go someplace,” her father quoted as saying in the paper. Possibilities of a love affair were quickly discounted by police.
Miss Sizer had blue eyes and light brown hair. A massive search was organized on Nov. 7, two days after the woman was reported missing.
On Nov. 10, the Cedar Rapids paper carried a report that a middle-aged man was frantically searching for a room to rent in Cedar Rapids. The man said he needed the room for “a woman who has just had a nervous breakdown.” Police thought the woman could have been Miss Sizer.
One of the women who turned down the man asking for a room said she saw the woman who’d apparently had a nervous breakdown sitting in the man’s car. She covered her face with her hands, the woman said. The woman in the car wore a black hat. Miss Sizer was wearing a black hat when she disappeared.
“Her mother is nearly prostrated with grief,” the newspaper said on Nov. 10.
Police said Miss Sizer had an extended “illness of some kind” at the beginning of the school year and missed some of the semester as a teacher. In the same edition as the reported illness, police theorized “she may have become ill and is unable to give her name and address.”
Then I got my first look at Anna Myrle Sizer.
A sad-eyed and pretty young woman looked out from the microfilm of the 10th page of the 53 year old edition of The Cedar Rapids Gazette. Above her photograph was the blunt headline: Still Missing.
This photograph could be the key. If I could get a copy, take it back to Illinois, and show it to those who knew Mary Doefour before she died, perhaps the identities could be matched.
The photograph of Anna Myrle Sizer meant nothing to me, because I’d never seen Mary Doefour. I’d never heard of the old woman until I took her obituary almost a year ago. And the nursing home where she finally died said there was no photograph of her.
All I knew about Mary Doefour’s face was that a social worker who knew the woman said – that Mary Doefour apparently had been attractive when she was found. But 50 years in mental institutions erased that attractiveness.
“We don’t have any machines that will copy that picture,” the weekend editor of the Cedar Rapids Gazette said. “And we don’t have a copy of that photo in our files. We didn’t keep very good files around here until recently.”
As uncomfortable as it might be, I was going to have to approach Anna Myrle Sizer’s brother and get a photograph of the woman.
When I’d called him on the telephone a few days before going to Iowa, Harold Sizer acted as if he wasn’t anxious to find out if the woman who died in Illinois was his sister who had disappeared more than 50 years ago.
Harold Sizer’s hesitation seemed understandable. He and his family had tried several years to find out what happened to Anna Myrle. His mother and father and three brothers had died wondering what happened to her. All that was left was Harold and an older sister.
The family had hired private detectives to aid state detectives in the search. And nothing substantial was ever uncovered. The family eventually assumed she had been murdered and nothing ever would be found.
“We’ve almost forgotten all about it,” the brother said.
But now, the brother was the only option left. I had to have a photograph.
Lisbon is a small town about 20 miles east of Cedar Rapids. Harold Sizer recently retired as president of the town’s bank. Anna Myrle was nine years his senior.
And shortly after meeting Harold Sizer, I realize he has no intention of giving me the photograph unless he’s made to believe there could be a chance the woman who died in Illinois was in fact his sister.
He asked several questions about the woman who died in the nursing home. And, eliminating a lot of details about the shock treatments, overmedication and the conditions of institutions in which she was kept, I told him what I knew.
He goes through his details. I go through my details. Mary Doefour’s birthdate was unknown. But she would have been about the same age as Anna Myrle Sizer. Anna Myrle was a schoolteacher. About all Mary Doefour could remember was that she was a schoolteacher. Anna Myrle was last seen in a kind of daze along a highway.
The highway Anna Myrle was seen walking beside was U.S. Route 30 in Iowa. Mary Doefour was found south of Chicago. Route 30 went to Chicago. Anna Myrle had not been heard of for more than 50 years. Mary Doefour was in the custody of the state, an anonymous woman for more than 50 years.
“I don’t know,” Harold Sizer said. “This woman in Illinois would have been about 90 when she died. People in my family don’t live that long.”
After all the comparisons, that’s all he can come up with as evidence Mary Doefour was not his sister. And that didn’t seem like much at all.
I thought I’d given him enough information to merit his giving me a photograph. But if he chose not to give it to me, there wasn’t much else I could do. He could have just about put a stop to the search right there.
“I’ve got a heart condition,” he said. “This certainly isn’t doing that much good.”
“I’m sorry to have bothered you,” I said, and accepted the fact he wasn’t going to give me the picture.
“My other sister and I have talked,” he said. “And we won’t accept that our sister may be this woman. We simply won’t accept it.”
Then he reached into his coat pocket, pulled out a clear photograph of Anna Myrle and handed it to me.
Tomorrow: I show the picture to people who knew Mary Doefour.
The Search for Mary Doefour (Part IV)
By Rick Baker
Peoria Journal Star, Wednesday, Feb 28, 1979
Hilda Heren is a nurse’s aide at Queenwood East Nursing Home in Morton. And she knew and cared for Mary Doefour the last several years of the woman’s life.
I hand her the photograph of Anna Myrle Sizer – the schoolteacher missing from Iowa for more than 50 years. And Mrs. Heren studies it carefully.
“Yes,” Mrs. Heren says after looking at the photograph for about a full minute. “This is Mary Doefour.” I’d bet anything on it.”
Mrs. Heren has been at the nursing home since it opened and was at the home when Mary Doefour arrived. She knew Mary Doefour longer than anybody now at the home.
Diana Alvis is the head of nurses at the home. She knew Mary Doefour for a few years. And Mrs. Alvis studies the picture and points out similarities between Anna Myrle Sizer and Mary Doefour.
Among those similarities are naturally wavy hair, a roundish face, slope shoulders, high cheekbones and a wideish nose.
On the photograph of Anna Myrle Sizer, a vaccination scar is evident on the left bicep.
Did Mary Doefour have a vaccination scare there?”
Mrs. Alvis looks at the photograph. “Yes. She had a scar like that in the same place.”
A secretary at the nursing home says “We ought to compare that photograph to the one we have of Mary.”
When I tried to get a photograph of Mary Doefour 11 months ago, the nursing home said there was no photo. When I tried again a couple of weeks ago, I was again told there was no photograph.
The secretary goes to her desk and brings back a photograph of Mary Doefour. The hair is strikingly similar, even after 50 years. Other features look like they could match.
While age has taken a lot from Mary Doefour and the roundness of her cheeks has disappeared because her left teeth have been pulled, the two photographs look like they very well could be the same woman.
Holding the photographs side by side, it appeared there was a possibility one of the pictures could have been printed backward by mistake.
In the photograph of Anna Myrle Sizer the left eye appears to be open wider than the right. And in the photograph of Mary Doefour, the opposite is true.
But apparently both photos were printed properly. A corsage was on Anna Myrle Sizer’s left side, as is proper. The lapels of the men’s suits in the background of the Anna Myrle Sizer photograph were buttoned properly. And buttons of Mary Doefour’s dress were on the proper position.
Diana Stroud worked at Queenwood East Home when Mary Doefour was there. Mrs. Stroud knew Mary well and said she became convinced that Mary Doefour should have never been institutionalized.
“Her only problem was amnesia. I’m sure of that. A little counseling would have probably brought her out of it. Instead, she was treated as if she were insane.” Mrs. Stroud said when I did the first story on Mary Doefour about a year ago.
Since the original story, Mrs. Stroud has left Queenwood. She now works at the Galena Park Nursing Home, Peoria. I took the photographs to her. She studied them for a while and said, “Congratulations. I’m satisfied these photographs are of the same woman.”
What about the records kept by the state, then? The birthdate would have been wrong. The date she was found would have to be wrong.
“They’re wrong, then,” Mrs. Stroud said. “That doesn’t surprise me.”
Holding up the photograph of Anna Myrle Sizer, Mrs. Stroud said, “If I were you, I’d feel secure in saying this is Mary Doefour. Everything looks the same. Their backgrounds sound the same. I’m satisfied it’s her . . . . . for sure.”
By now, I’m almost certain I’ve found Mary Doefour’s identity.
I rush back to the newsroom and tell the managing editor people who knew Mary Doefour have said she is the same woman as Anna Myrle Sizer.
And now I’ve got a photograph of Mary Doefour for comparison. I’m elated. I think I’ve done it. Maybe we can get this damned thing straightened out before her remains are buried.
The managing editors looks at the two photographs and shakes his head. “That’s some story,” he says.
“Yeah,” I said. I think it’s her. I really think it’s her.
“I know,” the managing editor said, and handed the photographs back. “You’ve thought it was her for a couple of weeks.
“Now all you have to do is prove it.”
(I thought that’s what I just did. I thought that’s what I’ve been running all over the Midwest doing for the last two weeks.)
“There are other possibilities,” the managing editor said. “I don’t want somebody coming back and asking why we didn’t check all the angles.” So I drive to Chicago.
Professor Charles Warren is an anthropologist and an expert in identifying skeletal remains. A professor at the University of Illinois’ Chicago Circle Campus, he’s currently busy trying to identify remains found beneath the home of accused mass murderer John Gacy.
After getting Warren’s name from another university anthropologist, and the anthropologist’s claim that Warren was the best bet for matching the photographs taken more than 50 years apart, I called Warren.
And he agreed to study the photographs of Anna Myrle Sizer and Mary Doefour.
He said he wasn’t optimistic about his chances of definitely matching the photographs. He could prove or disprove the two photographs were the same person only if he had an X-ray of Mary Doefour’s skull.
Warren used a method of identification that has been accepted as proof in court. He puts a skull X-ray over a photograph of a person the skull is believed to have belonged to.
Skulls are kind of like fingerprints – no two are alike. If the skull fits exactly into the features on the photograph, identification is definite.
But I had no X-ray of Mary Doefour’s skull that could be put over the photograph of Anna Myrle Sizer’s photograph. And there was no chance of getting one. Mary Doefour had been cremated 11 months ago.
Still, Warren agree to look at the photographs. “Even without seeing them, I can tell you I don’t think I’ll be much help,” he said.
It seemed worth a try.
I hurriedly hand him the photographs. He doesn’t look at them right away. He puts the papers already on his desk in neat little stacks. When he does pick up the pictures, he holds them together, upside down and looks at them.
“Eh, excuse me. But you’re looking at those pictures upside down,” I tell Warren.
Warren turns to me, peers over his glasses, and says “I know.”
Features in faces are easier to compare when they’re studied while upside down, he says. When one looks at a photograph rightside up, one sees a person with a personality. Upside down, one just sees a bunch of facial regions.
After looking at the photographs upside down for a while, Warren turns them rightside up and studies them. He studies the photographs about five minutes. Then he takes his glasses off and says, “I can’t be sure. I’m an expert in bones.”
Using photographs of other dead people and X-rays of pieces of skulls, he shows me how he could prove it with an X-ray. But that seems futile. We don’t have an X-ray and can’t get one. Mary Doefour’s skull is ashes.
Accustomed to testifying in court as an expert witness, Warren is hesitant to make any statements he’s unsure of. He doesn’t even want to make comparisons of the photographs.
“How about the chins? The younger woman has a cleft chin. It looks like the older woman might have a cleft chin,” I say.
“Oh Yes,” Warren says without even looking at the pictures again. “Both women have prominent mental processes of the mandible. She’s wrinkling her chin in the later photograph to hide the fact she’s missing her teeth.”
A prominent mental process of the mandible means “cleft chin.”
All right. That’s one more piece of the puzzle.
Thus far, here’s what we know: Both have naturally curly hair. Both have blue eyes. Both have cleft chins. Both have high cheekbones. Both have similar wideish noses. Both have vaccination scars in approximately the same places.
Both have similarly sloped shoulders. Both were taller than average. Both were elementary school teachers. Both had not been heard of by their families for more than 50 years. Both were intelligent women.
Anna Myrle Sizer was believed last seen wandering in a daze along a highway in Iowa in the fall of 1926. Mary Doefour was found wandering in a daze along a highway in northern Illinois about the same time.
Both would have been about 80 when Mary Doefour died last March.
Two women who knew her last said both are the same woman.
Maybe I’ve got enough. Maybe I’ve got all I’m going to get. I go to the managing editor again and rehash all the information.
The managing editor nods his head understandingly, then says “You’ve got to pin it down. I don’t want a story saying this might be her.”
Tomorrow: I go to the Manteno State Hospital
The Search for Mary Doefour (Part V)
By Rick Baker
Peoria Journal Star, Thursday, March 1, 1979
Manteno – “I can tell you this much,” the assistant superintendent of Manteno State Hospital said. “This woman didn’t lead much of a life after 1926.”
Yeah. That’s becoming obvious.
About 30 miles south of Chicago, the mental hospital at Manteno is a sprawling bunch of red brick geometry which makes up a virtual city that appears all but abandoned.
More than 50,000 people have been institutionalized here during the last half century. Mary Doefour spent 10 years here. When she was here, this place had a population of about 9,000. It now has less than 900.
And nobody remembers Mary Doefour here. She was just one more face. One more Mary Doe. There have been 19 Mary Does at Manteno. They either couldn’t remember who they were or decided not to let anyone know.
So they were named Mary Doe. And following their names, a number was attached so people at the institutions could tell which Mary Doe was which.
That seems kind of stupid. There are plenty of female names floating around. Why not give them all different first names, rather than attach numbers to them. It would give them each an identity and make record keeping easier.
“That’s a good questions.” John Steinmetz, the assistant superintendent said. “The medical librarian named them. For a very long time, our medical librarian was a woman named Mary. She apparently liker her first name, and gave it to everyone who couldn’t remember their own.
“Our Medical Librarian now is named Nadine. Pretty soon, we may have a bund of Nadine Doe’s running around.”
Since the institution opened there have been 12 Jane Does. 50 John Joes’, one Charlie Doe, one George Doe, one Sarah Doe, and one Wendell Doe.
And it seems nobody can remember one Doe from another.
There used to be a photograph of Mary Doefour in a file here. And I thought if I could compare the photograph of Anna Myrle Sizer to Mary Doefour as a young woman, I could get some very solid evidence the two were the same woman.
The photograph of Mary Doefour has been burned. She left that institution in the early 1940’s. She transferred to Bartonville. And files at Manteno are kept for 10 years, then burned.
The only evidence of Mary Doefour ever being here is a small index card with little information on it. And some of that information is obviously wrong.
Mary Doefour was probably known as Mary Doe by a different number while at Manteno. A secretary said Manteno records indicate Mary Doefour was a black woman. The Mary Doefour who died in Morton was white.
A woman known as Mary Doefive at Manteno appears to have some of the same information on her card as the woman who died in Morton had in her files. Mary Doefive’s card indicates she was born in 1907 and was from Missouri. That information was also in Mary Doefour’s records when she died.
It appears there were so many Mary Doe’s at the institution, the information could have easily been stuck in the wrong file. Mary Doefive was obviously not the woman who died in Morton. She was released in the custody of the state in 1941, records show.
Mary Lamply has been working at Manteno almost 40 years as a nurse. I show her the picture of Anna Myrle Sizer, and she doesn’t recognize it. “That was a long time ago,” she said. “Back then, there was one staff member for every 155 patients.”
Two other employees who were at the institution when Mary Doefour was there don’t recognize the photographs of either Anna Myrle Sizer of Mary Doefour.
Nothing’s working. Nobody recognizes the women. The records appear jumbled. The photograph has been burned.
“If it’s any comfort to you,” Steinmetz says, “the records that exist from back then have no credibility whatsoever.”
Something’s been nagging me about this story lately. It’s the date state records have her as being found – 1932. Yet she disappeared in 1926.
“She couldn’t have been here since 1926,” Steinmetz says. “This place didn’t exist in 1926. It wasn’t here until 1932. She was probably transferred here from someplace.”
He calls the records office to see if a woman who couldn’t remember her name was transferred from a mental hospital in Kankakee. Yes. One was transferred from a mental hospital at Kankakee. But that’s all the card shows. It doesn’t indicate how long she was at Kankakee.
If Kankakee records indicate she was found about that time she was missing from Iowa, it could be another piece of evidence.
The Superintendent of the Kankakee institution isn’t in. The secretary says he won’t be in for the rest of the day.
I explain my situation to the secretary and hope she’ll find the story interesting enough to look up the date the woman was admitted to Kankakee.
“I can’t do that,” she says. “It’s illegal to give out information like that unless you have the person’s permission.”
“Yeah. But I can’t get her permission. She’s been dead for 11 months,” I explain.
“Then you’ll have to get a court order,” she says.
“Listen, I’ll just give you this date here. It’s November 5, 1926. You take a little peak at that card and just tell me if this lady was brought here about that time,” I say.
“I can’t give out any information like that,” she says.
“But you’re not giving me any information,” I say. “I’m giving you information. All you’d be doing is verifying it.”
“Why are you trying to find who this woman was? Did she leave a bunch of money or something?” the secretary asks.
This is maddening.
Tomorrow back to Iowa
The Search for Mary Doefour (Part VI)
By Rick Baker
Peoria Journal Star, Friday, March 2, 1979
Lisbon, Iowa – It’s Feb 7. This morning I drove to Iowa for the second time in 10 days thinking I could well seal the identity of Mary Doefour and she could be properly buried – that after 50 years of anonymity in state institutions, something would finally be done.
I had information that I thought could convince the missing schoolteacher’s brother that the woman who died in a Morton nursing home last year was in fact his sister. If he was convinced of that, we would sue the state of Illinois for further information.
Two weeks before, the brother had said he simply wouldn’t accept Mary Doefour and Anna Myrle Sizer were the same woman. He said that acceptance would be too painful and that he couldn’t believe his sister was in Illinois institutions for decades without his family knowing.
But since I’d talked to him last I’d gathered a lot more information – stuff that I thought may well make him accept his sister was Mary Doefour.
I’d carried a photograph of Anna Myrle Sizer, taken in the mid 1920’s, to two women who knew Mary Doefour well before she died. And the two women said Anna Myrle Sizer appeared to be Mary Doefour.
Everything seemed to fit. Naturally wavy hair. Blue eyes. Cleft chin. Same nose. Full Face. Anna Myrle Sizer was an elementary schoolteacher. About all Mary Doefour could remember about her life was that she was an elementary schoolteacher.
Anna Myrle Sizer was reportedly last seen wandering in a kind of daze along U.S. Route 30 in eastern Iowa. Mary Doefour was found wandering in kind of a daze near Chicago about the same time Anna Myrle disappeared. US. Route 30 goes to Chicago.
Both had vaccination scars on the lower left bicep. Both were intelligent and articulate.
And if we could get records now being kept in the George A. Zeller Mental Health Center in Peoria, perhaps we could get more information to link the two. But mental health records are private.
One wanting to examine mental health records needs the consent of the person the records are about. And Mary Doefour was dead. But a judge could allow a relative of the person’s to see the records.
For the relative to see the records, he’d have to sue the state government. And the newspaper was prepared to help Anna Myrle Sizer’s brother do just that.”
Richard Ney is a reporter for the Peoria Journal Star. Ney is also a licensed attorney. And he said he would gladly represent Harold Sizer for no charge. Sizer wouldn’t even have to appear in court.
All Harold Sizer would have to do would be sign a form appointing Ney as his attorney. Then Ney would go to court and attempt to convince a judge to turn over the records to Anna Myrle Sizer’s brother. Ney said he thought chances of a judge agreeing to do that were good.
But this morning, Harold Sizer said the information I had didn’t convince him Mary Doefour was Anna Myrle. He said he didn’t see any similarity between a photograph of Anna Myrle and Mary Doefour. And he said he didn’t want it pursued any further. He would not sign the retainer agreement.
He’d accepted the fact that his young, pretty sister was abducted and murdered more than 50 years ago. He’d learned to live with that acceptance. “This is just rubbing salt in the wounds,” he said.
“I don’t want anything more to do with it. I want the picture of my sister back,” he said.
Instead of helping a family, as was the intent of this whole thing, I was instead irritating a family. My information was obviously traumatic for Anna Myrle Sizer’s brother. He’d said from the beginning he didn’t want any part of the search – that he would rather let old wounds stay closed.
But I insisted on opening them. I had telephoned him several times. I appeared at his door unexpectedly. Each contact was obviously painful for him.
And I wasn’t going to push it any more. Instead of bringing relief, I brought pain. Instead of helping the situation, I was apparently hurting it.
All the angles had been covered. Everything that could be done had been done. Almost a year of on and off searching had been, for all practical purposes, an exercise in futility.
While I remained near certain Mary Doefour was in fact the young schoolteacher who disappeared from Iowa more than 50 years ago, I couldn’t prove it.
The search was over. The case was closed. The managing editor said he didn’t want a story that said “this might be her.” But that’s what he got.