Disappearance of Beverly Potts
The best-known photograph of Beverly Potts
Beverly Rose Potts
April 15, 1941
|Disappeared||August 24, 1951 (aged 10)|
|Status||Missing for 68 years, 5 months and 3 days|
|Parent(s)||Robert and Elizabeth Potts|
Beverly Rose Potts (born April 15, 1941) was an American girl from Cleveland, Ohio, who in 1951 became the subject of a famous missing persons case when she disappeared only a few blocks from her home, after attending a show in a nearby park. She has never been found and her disappearance remains unsolved.
Blonde, blue-eyed Potts was described as a shy, quiet and responsible child, fascinated by the performing arts, who was due to enter the fifth grade in fall 1951. At the time she was living on Linnet Avenue with her parents Robert and Elizabeth Potts and her 22-year-old sister Anita.
On August 24, she and her friend and neighbor Patsy Swing were given permission to see the Showagon, an annual summer children's performance event being held that evening in Halloran Park, less than a quarter of a mile from the girls' homes. This was a special treat, as the park was generally considered unsafe after dark, when large trees dimmed the surrounding streetlights. It was also frequented by the local vagrant population.
The two girls initially went to the park on their bicycles around 7 pm. At 8 pm, deciding it would be easier to maneuver on foot through the large crowds in attendance, they returned home to drop off their bikes, arriving back at the show sometime before 8:30 pm. At about 8:45 pm, Swing, who had promised to be home before dark, suggested they leave for home. Potts said that she had been given permission to stay for the entire show, which was not due to end until after 9 pm, so Swing went back to her own house alone. Swing last saw Potts in the crowd, still watching the performances onstage.
At about 9:30 pm, when the show had ended and the park was emptying, a 13-year-old boy who knew Potts saw her heading diagonally across the park in a northeasterly direction, about 150 yards from the corner of Linnet Avenue and West 117th Street. This would have been the quickest route to Potts' home, which would then only be a few minutes' walk away. The boy recognized Potts by her distinctive "duck-like" gait, walking with toes pointed outward. Several other witnesses said they had seen a girl resembling Potts near a battered black 1937 Dodge coupe idling on West 117th Street, apparently speaking to two young men inside. The various witnesses placed this encounter anywhere between 8:30 and 9:30 pm, but none of them had seen the girl entering the car.
When Potts did not return home by 10 pm, her family began searching the area. About an hour later, having found no sign of her, they called the police.
The police immediately began a large-scale search of their own but were unable to find any trace of Potts, even after several days' investigation including door-to-door canvassing of nearby neighborhoods, tracing suspicious cars, searching nearby vacant lots, and using a plane to survey open railway cars. Police received and investigated thousands of telephone tips, which had been spurred by the extensive press coverage of the disappearance, but none provided any solid leads. Potts' family members were quickly cleared; investigators determined that her home life had been stable and by all accounts happy, and there appeared to be no reason for her to have run away.
Potts was known to be unusually shy, especially around males, and particularly cautious of strangers. Investigators theorized that she had most likely been enticed into a nearby house or car on her way home by someone she knew, perhaps with the promise of a babysitting job (despite her youth, Potts was regularly hired as a sitter for neighborhood children) or a request to run an errand. It was thought that Potts might have been killed by a neighbor and buried in or around one of the nearby houses on Linnet Avenue, and at least one search to that effect was carried out in 1973, in the basement of what by then was an auto body shop. However, no signs of Potts were found there or elsewhere, and no plausible local suspect has ever been uncovered.
Shortly after her disappearance, a $1500 reward (equivalent to $14,775 in 2019) was offered by her father's union, AFL-Stagehands, for clues to her whereabouts.
Several suspects emerged over the years, but none can be definitively linked to the case.
In 1955, Harvey Lee Rush, a drifter and Cleveland native, told police in California that he had killed Potts after luring her to a nearby bridge with candy; however he placed the murder in 1952, a year after Potts' actual disappearance. Rush recanted his entire story shortly after being extradited to Cleveland, saying that he had confessed merely as a way to get back to his hometown.
In 1980, two retired Cleveland police detectives, James Fuerst and Robert Shankland, revealed that in 1974 they had received a tip from a local attorney with a client whose brother had supposedly confessed to abducting Potts. The detectives subsequently found and questioned the brother, who, they said, had readily admitted to having lived near Halloran Park in 1951 and making a habit of picking up and molesting young girls there. The man did not remember abducting Potts in particular, but said he had "flashes" of memory involving a girl named Beverly. Fuerst and Shankland were convinced the man was guilty, but the county prosecutors' office refused to pursue the case, citing a lack of evidence.
William Henry Redmond, an Ohio native and former carnival worker, was indicted in 1988 for the 1951 Pennsylvania murder of eight-year-old Jane Marie Althoff. While in prison, Redmond reportedly told a cellmate that he had killed three other young girls. When questioned about the Potts case in particular, Redmond refused to make a statement one way or the other. He was in the general area at the time of Potts' disappearance and had a record of child molestation convictions dating back to 1935; however Potts would have been considerably older than his previous victims.
In 1994, a letter was discovered under a carpet in a Cleveland house, written by a woman who claimed to have caught her husband disposing of Potts' body in their furnace. Upon being traced and questioned by police, the woman said that the allegation was false; she had written the letter solely as a revenge fantasy against her abusive husband.
More letters were sent to reporter Brent Larkin of the Cleveland Plain Dealer beginning in 2000, purporting to be from an elderly and infirm man who claimed that he wanted to confess to molesting and murdering Potts before his imminent death. The anonymous author pledged to turn himself in on August 24, 2001, the fiftieth anniversary of Potts' disappearance, but shortly beforehand wrote again to say he had to enter a nursing home and would be unable to honor his promise or otherwise reveal himself. An extensive investigation failed to turn up any clues to the author's identity; Larkin now believes the letters to have been a hoax.
The enduring mystery of Potts' apparently random disappearance and the extensive investigation quickly captured the imagination of the press and by extension the entire city, becoming notorious especially among parents fearful for their own children's safety. It has since become one of Cleveland's most well-known missing-persons cases. Thea Gallo Becker, author of Legendary Locals of Cleveland, says that it "remains one of the most haunting and heartbreaking mysteries in Cleveland history."
Potts' mother died in 1956—her demise reportedly hastened by "heartbreak" over her daughter's disappearance—and her father in 1970. Beverly's only sibling, Anita, continued to search for her until her own death in 2006. There is a memorial marker to Beverly situated next to the graves of her parents.
- James Jessen Badal (2005). Twilight of Innocence: The Disappearance of Beverly Potts. Kent State Press. p. 165. ISBN 0873388364.
- Bibb, Leon. "Disappearance of 10-year-old Beverly Potts, who vanished 63 years ago, still haunts Cleveland" (Archive) Newsnet5. May 9, 2014. Updated May 12, 2014. Retrieved on September 7, 2014.
- "Search for Girl missing 20 years ends in failure". The Morgantown (WV) Post. UPI. 19 April 1973. Retrieved 30 November 2014.
- "Reward Posted For Child". Mansfield, Ohio: News-Journal. 27 August 1951. p. 1. Retrieved 20 July 2017 – via newspapers.com.
- "Murder story a hoax: Man says he confessed to get back to Cleveland". The Kansas City (MO) Times. AP. 17 December 1955. Retrieved 30 November 2014 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Police may have solved 23-year-old-kidnapping". The Bryan (OH) Times. UPI. 18 August 1980. Retrieved 30 November 2014.
- Roman, John M., "Who Killed Jane Marie?" Archived 2016-08-18 at the Wayback Machine, Delaware County Daily Times, Apr. 11, 1999, p. 7, available online at malloylawoffice.com. Retrieved Aug. 23, 2015.
- Cooper, Cynthia L. and Sam Reese Sheppard. (1995). Mockery of Justice: The True Story of the Sheppard Murder Case. University Press of New England. ISBN 1555532411.
- Good, Meaghan. "The Charley Project: Beverly Rose Potts". The Charley Project. Retrieved 30 November 2014.
- Larkin, Brent (29 September 2012). "Investigators still chasing Amy Mihaljevic's killer". The Cleveland Plain Dealer. Retrieved 30 November 2014.
- Becker, Thea Gallo. Legendary Locals of Cleveland (Legendary Locals). Arcadia Publishing, 2012. ISBN 1467100293, 9781467100298. p. 53.
- "The sad, enduring mystery of the disappearance of Beverly Potts: Brent Larkin". cleveland.com. August 24, 2006. Retrieved 16 July 2017.
- Badal, James Jessen. Twilight of Innocence: The Disappearance of Beverly Potts (True Crime Series). Kent State University Press, 2005. ISBN 0873388364, 9780873388368.
- Cleveland.com article
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