Mother, Wife, Editor, Vanished Victim | Disappearance of Joan Risch

Start from the beginning

All Hands on Deck

Arriving nearly a half hour later, Sgt. Mike McHugh noticed the blood lining the walls and floor like horrid new decorations, the phone ripped and placed in the garbage bin, and the hanger resting atop the victim's car. Initially, McHugh believed it to be a suicide, yet as he saw the scene, it was apparent that some sort of foul play was involved (and since no body was found). Realizing he'd need backup, the Sargent called his department and told them to "Pull the plug." on their current investigation. Realizing the true extremity of the case, he decided that the entire department would need to get involved, and maybe some outside help as well.

Down the road, the case was handed over to the Massachusetts State Police, beginning their search by calling local hospitals to see if a woman matching Risch's description came up. In the meantime, Martin Risch was contacted and he caught the earliest flight home from New York. When he arrived, the police were still collecting clues, and asked him to identify some items that were found in the trash can. He managed to identify everything in the bin, except for a few empty beer bottles--having not a clue where they came from. After, investigators began looking into the bloodstains, which had both a thumb and handprint stenciled into it. While the prints were not a match to Joan, the blood was. Besides the small clues given, nothing just seemed to add up-No body, no bloody footprints, and no sign of Joan or anyone who was involved with her vanishing. It was fairly clear that whoever caused this, wanted to leave absolutely no incriminating evidence behind.

The case quickly drew blank on blank as the scene became frozen in time, as well as Martin's memory; bloodstains, disarray, and the realization that a piece of his heart was gone, and more than likely would never return.

A New Chapter

Soon though, a bit of hope and light shone through the cracks, bringing one piece to the horizon that may have birthed the most popular theory about Joan's disappearance. Residents of the Lincoln, Massachusetts area have claimed to check out books from the library and find Joan's name inside. Though, these weren't just any books, these books were about runaways, missing people, and even how to vanish without a trace. One book at the library, titled Into Thin Air, detailed a woman who disappeared, only to leave blood stains behind. Going further, a group of library volunteers managed to locate Joan's records. The records showed that in the summer of 1961, Joan had checked out twenty-five books--the majority falling into the bracket of disappearances.


Before we discuss the theories, it should also be noted that several sightings of a woman fitting the exact same description were linked to the disappearance of Joan Risch. One instance included that of a woman walking on the north side of a highway, a handkerchief in hand. The woman seemed to walk aimlessly, and was hunched over as if cold or injured. A similarly dressed woman was seen with blood running down her legs walking along another highway. This woman seemed to be cradling something along her stomach, trying to shield it from the cold.


Now, with these things and an image of the crime scene in mind, let's wade through some theories of what Joan Risch may have fallen victim to.

The first and most popular theory--lining up with the books that she borrowed from the library--states that Joan was tired of the tedious life she had as a mother and housewife, checked out the books to see what the future could hold for her, and left--abandoning everything she had. The only major issue with this theory is the crime scene. While you could say that Joan went to great lengths to stage the scene (possibly taking a hint from Into Thin Air), not wanting to be found, it's a wonder how she drew at least a pint of blood from herself and smeared it onto the walls and other places on the property. The loss of blood may explain why she may have been dazed (if it, in fact, was her) along the sides of the highways.

The next theory states that Joan had been assaulted in her home (by an unknown suspect), managed to escape in a daze, and walked along the side of the road until she had fallen into a hole at a construction site along Route 128 (one of the places she was supposedly sighted)--being left for dead. Other versions of this theory dictate that Joan was not as lucky. She escaped from her attacker, walked along the sides of the highway, until her attacker managed to locate her and finish the job.

Another theory, admittedly, far-fetched, states that Joan was pregnant, unbeknownst to her husband. Not wanting any more children, she had planned for an abortion to be carried out in the privacy of her home. As a bit of background, abortion was both highly frowned upon and illegal at the time (not to mention dangerous for the mother). Any doctor who was caught to be performing the act would be arrested and, essentially, scorned. The theory explains that the procedure was carried out, but had complications. In an injured panic, Joan reached for the telephone to call for help. Then, for fear of being exposed and convicted, the doctor ripped the phone from the receiver and tossed it away in the trash bin. Joan was then supposedly forced outside and into an unknown vehicle, only to be left on the side of the road. Alternatively, and to explain the unknown vehicle outside, the abortion failed, and the doctor fled the property--leaving Joan to bleed out. As wild as these theories are, pieces of evidence could potentially match up with their stories. The bloodstains outside could match her being forced outside and into the unknown vehicle. The wire coat hanger found atop Joan's car could also have potentially been used. In an actual abortion method, a coat hanger is required to carry out the procedure. The only thing to shoot down these theories are Martin Risch's own testimony that Joan loved her children endlessly, and would not have been the slightest bit upset about welcoming another into the world.


The final theory doesn't relay a scenario, but rather a more zoomed lens on suspects. It is believed that William Barker, the husband of Barbara Barker, may have been linked to Joan's disappearance or possible homicide. While a motive isn't clearly cemented here, it is thought that Joan was killed and buried in a vacant lot in Lexington, Massachusetts that the Barkers owned. Just a month after Joan's disappearance, the Barker family had made plans to build on the lot which to prior knowledge, had not been excavated.


While the majority of these theories should be taken with a grain of salt, what shouldn't be is the fact that for 59 years, two children have been motherless, a husband has been ripped from his better half. Even though the chances of Joan still being alive today are slim to none, the closure still needs to be offered and proper justice needs to be served. While approximately forty to fifty thousand missing persons cases are entered every month (some being solved), her story will forever be immortalized and people will still be asking the question: Where is Joan? Unfortunately, this question is falling to the sands of time, and is slowly becoming nothing more than a fleck of

Dust Beneath Our Feet.


*Anyone with information on Joan's disappeance can contact the Lincoln, Massachusetts Police Department at (781) 259-8113, or the USA Crime Stoppers at (800) 222-TIPS

*Cayleigh Elise's Video was mainly used as research for this piece.

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