Lawrence Joseph Bader
|Lawrence Joseph Bader|
In 1963, as TV announcer "Fritz" Johnson
December 2, 1926|
Akron, Ohio, U.S.
March 15, 1961 (aged 34)|
September 16, 1966 (aged 39)|
Omaha, Nebraska, U.S.
|Other names||John F. "Fritz" Johnson|
|Known for||Disappeared on fishing trip. Discovered living under new identity. Probable amnesiac.|
Mary Lou Knapp|
(m. 1961; annulled 1965)
Lawrence Joseph Bader (December 2, 1926 – September 16, 1966), also known as John "Fritz" Johnson, was a cookware salesman from Akron, Ohio, who disappeared on a fishing trip on Lake Erie on March 15, 1957. Declared dead in 1960, Bader was found alive five years later, as John "Fritz" Johnson, a local TV personality living in Omaha, Nebraska. The incident is described by author Jay Robert Nash as "...one of the most baffling amnesia disappearances on record, a weird story forever unanswered."
On March 15, 1957, Larry Bader, a cookware salesman for the Reynolds Metals Corporation from Akron, Ohio, rented a 14 feet (4.3 m) boat, kissed his wife Mary Lou goodbye, and went to Lake Erie to go fishing. His boat was found the next day, after a storm. The boat had minor damage and a missing oar. Bader, who was $20,000 in debt and in trouble with the IRS, was never found. The couple had three children, with another on the way.
Four days later, John "Fritz" Johnson made his first known appearance at Roundtable Bar in Omaha, Nebraska. Johnson immediately attracted attention by sitting on a flagpole for 30 days to raise money for polio. His popularity led to his becoming a bartender, radio announcer, and TV sports director at KETV-7. With his flamboyant personality, he became one of Omaha's most popular personalities.
Johnson lived an equally colorful bachelor lifestyle, driving a hearse equipped with pillows, a bar, and an incense burner, aptly naming it his "hunting vehicle". In 1961 Johnson married Nancy Zimmer, a 20-year-old divorcee, and adopted her daughter. Later they had a son together.
In 1964, it was discovered that Johnson had a cancerous tumor behind his left eye. He lost the eye and wore an eye patch, adding to his flamboyance.
On February 2, 1965, Johnson, who like Bader was an archery enthusiast, attended a tournament in Chicago. An acquaintance from Akron saw him and, despite the eye patch and mustache, recognized Bader. He then brought Bader's 21-year-old niece, Suzanne Peika, to have a look. Convinced, she asked him, "Pardon me, but aren't you my Uncle Larry Bader, who disappeared seven years ago?"
Johnson laughed it off, but Mrs. Peika called in his two brothers from Akron, who had his fingerprints compared with Bader's military records. They matched. Johnson was now faced with the fact that all his memories were false and that he had two wives.
It was like a physical shock. Up until that moment, I had no doubt that I was not Larry Bader. But when I heard that, it was like a door had been slammed and somebody had hit me right in the face.— "Fritz" Johnson
Man with two wives
Bader's reappearance caused many problems for Mary Lou, his first wife. She had been receiving $254 monthly from Social Security. She also received $39,500 from Bader's life insurance that would have to be paid back. Also, Mary Lou had been dating since her husband's "death", and had recently accepted a marriage proposal. With the marriage reinstated, her new marriage was impossible, since she was Catholic. Since Bader's reappearance, his marriage to Nancy was regarded as legally null and void. However, she claimed she would stick by him.
A team of psychiatrists examined Bader for ten days. Their conclusion was that Johnson had no recollection of his former life. There was evidence in his past that he might have wanted to "start again". He was from a well-to-do family and never needed money. Later on, he tried various get-rich-quick schemes that failed. He flunked his first semester at the University of Akron because he concentrated more on his hamburger stand than his studies. As an adult, he barely made enough money to maintain the lifestyle he was used to, and got into trouble with the IRS, trying to save money by not paying taxes.
According to psychologists, cases of amnesia lasting several years, in which the person filled the missing time with false memories, are rare but not unheard of. Another theory was that the tumor may have been responsible for Bader's apparent memory loss. This was never determined.
The malignant tumor that cost Bader his eye eventually resurfaced. Bader/Johnson died on September 16, 1966, at St. Joseph's Medical Hospital in Omaha. His death meant that the question of whether he was an amnesiac or a hoaxer was never resolved.
- The Strange Case of John Fritz Johnson The Dispatch Archived 2015-09-05 at the Wayback Machine., February 15, 1965, p. 32.
- The Man With Two Wives- Amnesia or Hoax? Life, March 5, 1965, pp. 41-46.
- Among the Missing: An Anecdotal History of Missing Persons from 1800 to the Present Jay Robert Nash Rowman & Littlefield, 1978, pp. 56–60.
- Local history: TV personality a dead ringer for missing Akron man. Ohio.com