By all accounts, 31-year-old Joan Risch and her husband Martin were well-off, happy in their marriage, and well-liked in the community. The couple shared two happy children for whom Joan was a stay-at-home mother. On the morning of October 24, 1961, Martin (an editing executive) left their house in Lincoln, MA to catch an 8am flight to New York City for a business trip. Joan used the day to do some shopping and run errands with no one reporting anything out of the ordinary. Around 2pm she left her daughter with a neighbor to get some more housework done as her son slept in his crib. By 4pm that afternoon, Joan’s neighbor called the police to report that the interior of the house was smeared with blood, the telephone in the kitchen was ripped off the hook and thrown into the trashcan, a table was turned over, and Joan was missing. Joan’s two-year-old son was left in his crib crying and with a dirty diaper.
When local police arrived on the scene, they were taken aback by the amount of blood smeared inside and the disorderly condition of the house. Large blood smears were on the kitchen walls and floor, which someone had attempted unsuccessfully to wipe up with a roll of paper towels. A single drop of blood was found on the bottom of the stairway, and two more at the top. Eight drops were found in the primary bedroom and one was on the window in the children’s bedroom. A trail of blood led from the mess in the kitchen to the driveway, which ended at Joan’s car. The car had blood smears on the right rear fender, the left side of the hood near the windshield, and right in the middle of the trunk. The blood evidence was noted as particularly difficult to interpret: while it might be consistent with a struggle, it looked more like someone stumbling around with difficulty after an injury. Additionally, there were no bloody footprints, despite how much blood was on the floor, indicating that whoever was walking around was either very lucky or very careful. It was also determined that the amount of blood spilled in and around the house was only half a pint and would not have indicated Joan bled to death.
The police found a few preliminary clues: the phone book in the kitchen was opened to an “emergency contact page,” though no numbers had been written on it. Her pocketbook was found in the house and she would have left with less than $10 in cash. Mysterious empty beer bottles were found in the garbage, which Martin told authorities he couldn’t account for. No nearby hospitals had any patients matching Joan’s description. A neighbor reported seeing Joan around 2:15 that afternoon walking quickly up her driveway wearing a trench coat over her clothing and carrying something red from her car to the house in outstretched arms. This would be the last confirmed sighting of Joan Risch. Finally, a neighborhood girl got off the school bus directly across from the Risch residence around 3:15pm and noted seeing a dirty, unfamiliar car parked there. Another neighbor reported stopping to let this unfamiliar car back out of either the Risch’s driveway or the next door neighbor’s driveway about five minutes later.
As the investigation continued to turn up no significant leads, calls from the community came pouring in with reports of a disoriented woman walking on the side of nearby highways. None of the sightings have been confirmed by police. The first described a woman of Joan’s description wearing clothing similar to Joan’s on the date of her disappearance around 2:45 PM, with a handkerchief around her head. A second report with the same description around 3:15-3:30 PM described the woman as having “blood running down her legs.” A third sighting around 4:30 PM places the woman walking the opposite way. All reports described the woman as unkempt, wandering, and hunched over as if cold, injured, or holding something heavy.
Reports were also collected about the mysterious car neighbors had reported seeing around the Risch residence. The Reisch’s milkman reported seeing it there the morning of Joan’s disappearance while Joan was out running errands around 10-11AM. The vehicle was reported seen parked on a nearby street around 2:45 PM. A woman also reported seeing the vehicle parked around a highway the hunched woman matching Joan’s description was also wandering around. The woman said that around 4:15 PM, a man got out of the car, cut some branches from the forest, and get back in the car with them and drive off. Neither the car nor the driver was identified.
Surprisingly, a local reporter found Joan’s name in a library book about the disappearance of Brigham Young’s 27th wife, indicating that Joan had checked it out in the month before she went missing. The reporter then investigated Joan’s checkout history and found that she had taken out 25 books in the months before her disappearance, most of which focused on murders and missing persons. One book in particular, titled “Into Thin Air,” described a young woman who eerily left behind blood stains and a towel before she disappeared just like Joan. This library history led way to rumors that Joan staged her own disappearance, but her friends and family say she would never have abandoned her own children.
Despite the significant and competent investigation, this case remains unsolved. Joan’s body has never been found. The last detective to work on it passed away in 2009, calling this case “a stone around my neck.” Martin Risch never remarried and never declared Joan legally dead. He raised their two children and maintained that she was “still out there” until his death in 2009.