A faded photograph and the word ‘me’ finally solved a case that had gone cold before even the Cold War did – but it far from solved a 42-year-old mystery.
A 78-year-old woman with dementia who has been missing since 1975 was tracked down by detectives last month, and helped to verify her identity by showing her a picture of herself from more than four decades ago.
Florence “Flora” Harris was last seen by her husband, Robert Stevens, on the night of August 3, 1975, when he drove her to see a doctor at a hospital in Monticello, New York, then a busy tourist center. He planned to pick her up two hours later, but when he came back, Harris was nowhere to be found.
Since that night, then 36-year-old Harris’ whereabouts have remained a mystery, that is, until she was found living at a Massachusetts assisted living facility in October, according to the Associated Press.
Investigators in upstate New York were able to find Harris after they came across the skeletal remains of a woman who matched her general description. Thinking it was her, they searched for relatives, but they then discovered someone was using her social security number at the CareOne assisted living facility in Lowell, Massachusetts. When they arrived, they performed a DNA test and verified it was, in fact, Harris.
They brought along a faded picture of Harris that, when they showed it to her, she immediately whispered, “me.”
They also show her a picture of Stevens, and when she saw that, she uttered, “Robert.” But she became even more animated when she saw a picture of The Concord resort, where she worked for several summers.
“She says, ‘Wow!’” Sullivan County sheriff’s Detective Rich Morgan tells AP. “She wouldn’t let that photo go.”
While the answer to her whereabouts has been answered, mystery still surrounds the case: Investigators say Harris now has dementia, and cannot tell them what she has done over the last 42 years, or how she went missing.
With her husband now dead, and no doubt most of those who once knew her, Detective Morgan tells AP, the mystery may never be solved.
“Most of the secrets are locked inside of Flora and I don’t think we’ll ever get them,” he says.
But that hasn’t kept people from speculating.
“To be honest, I don’t think she ever really wanted to be found,” Festus Mbuva, who helped care for Harris for a decade at the facility, tells AP. “You can tell something happened in her past that she didn’t want any part of.”
Authorities say they cannot release why Harris went to the hospital that night in 1975 because of privacy laws, but they did say there is a bus station nearby, and they implied she could have walked there instead of the hospital.
“She had just been paid, probably had a weekend full of tips in her pocket,” says Detective Morgan.
Harris has lived at CareOne since 2001, and has had a court-appointed guardian from New York who has paid her bills. Mbuva says Harris rarely spoke during his time caring for her at the facility, but was able to piece together a bit of her story. He says Harris tells him she came from a bad marriage and her husband, Stevens, had been abusive. She also said she grew up in Yonkers, was a hairstylist and was one of the thousands at the 1969 Woodstock concert.
But, there was also one other thing that was a key characteristic of Harris, according to Mbuva.
“Her favorite phrase was ‘none of your business,’ ” he says.