31 year-old Joan Risch lived a quiet life in Lincoln, Massachusetts with her husband Martin and two young children1. They were a well-to-do family and to her neighbors, the young, beautiful Joan had the perfect life. On the morning of Tuesday, October 24, 1961, Martin headed out to Logan airport for a business meeting flight scheduled at 8 AM.
After her husband left the house, Joan awoke and went about her morning routine with the children, before dropping her son David off with a neighbor, Barbara Barker, across the street, while she and her eldest child, Lillian climbed into her Mother’s blue 1951 Chevrolet for an appointment at the Dentist in Bedford2.
Joan and Lillian were reported to have returned home from their errands and the appointment around 11 AM that morning. According to local witnesses, both Lillian and her mother were cheerful but tired from their busy morning. Between 11:25 and 11:45 AM, a dry-cleaning delivery driver came to the Risch home to pick up some of Martin’s suits – a regular occurrence. Later, the delivery driver noted that everything seemed normal inside the house, and nothing was amiss1. As around noon, Joan made the children lunch and put her son down for his regular nap upstairs in their home2.
Around 1 PM, Barbara brought her son to the Risch home to play with David, while Joan puttered about putting things away and doing light yard work. However, just before 2 PM, Joan again brought the children over to Barbara’s home asking if she would watch them, and promising she’d be back shortly. Her daughter Lillian later told police that she didn’t see any strangers or anything out of the ordinary at the time, and she and David played on a swing set from which they couldn’t see their house1.
Around 2:15 PM, Barbara reported that she saw Joan wearing a trench coat over her clothing, and carrying something red with outstretched arms from her car towards the garage. Admittedly, it was suspicious, but at the time, Barbara thought nothing of it. Around 3:40 PM (when she knew Joan would be home), Barbara Barker brought the children back to their home and headed out to do errands with her own children. However, when they returned a short while later, Lillian stood outside their front door3.
Curious, Barbara inquired little Lillian as to why she returned back to her house after being brought home.
“Mommy is gone and the kitchen is covered in red paint.” Alarmed with the answer, Barbara headed back to the Risch house, where Lillian told her David was napping.
Sure enough, Lillian had reported with accuracy what she had seen – the red “paint” being Joan’s blood was spattered across the house. The telephone was ripped from the wall, with a bloody fingerprint on it. Police later lifted the print, but weren’t able to match it to anyone. The blood trail winded from the home and ended in the driveway; droplets of blood stained Joan’s parked car1.
“Mommy is gone and the kitchen is covered in red paint.”
Immediately, the thought went to abduction. After all, Joan was young, well-off and beautiful, and police speculated that she was either forced into another car or was chased off into the woods by her attacker – explaining the abrupt stop of the blood trail. One neighbor reported seeing Joan outside looking dazed and running, but had assumed she was playing with her children. Other witnesses said they saw a bloody and cut woman looking dazed near the soon-to-be-built Route 128, but no one had reported pulling over to help her1.
Of course, her husband – in New York at the time – was promptly interviewed, but police ruled him out as a suspect quickly. The Massachusetts State Police took the investigation over and searched local hospitals and analyzed clues like the unopened mail that was brought that day and the open telephone directory in the kitchen with no notes written down. Martin also noticed that beer cans not belonging to him or Joan were in the garbage can in the kitchen3. Police couldn’t place where the blood trail began – upstairs, in the kitchen, or outside – and no one could conclude whether Joan left of her own accord or was taken by force. The lack of bloody footprints around the scene was also alarming3.
With a huge pool of suspects, confusing clues and massive media coverage, news of Joan’s disappearance soon spread nationally. One reporter, Sareen Gerson, headed to the Lincoln Public Library to do research into similar disappearances for a story covering the incident, and in one book about a similar disappearance, she saw Joan had checked the book out a month ago, in September. In another book, “Into Thin Air,” which detailed a woman’s disappearance who left behind blood and a towel when she went missing, Joan’s name again appeared as a past check out. Joan was a regular at the library, and it was discovered that over the summer of 1961, many of the books she checked out centered upon disappearances and true crime3.
Although several appearances of a bloody and disheveled woman matching Joan’s description were reported by residents after Barbara was reported to have last seen her, nothing concrete was ever found. Two major theories that circulate among internet sleuths are that she had become disoriented and fell into a pit along the newly-built Route 128, unable to free herself, and that she had planned her own disappearance in order to escape a secretly dissatisfying suburban life3.
After her disappearance, Martin continued to raise his children in the house where Joan was last seen, and never had his wife declared legally dead. In 1975, he moved to another location nearby, and he never spoke of the case. He passed away in 2009, and the case is officially marked as unsolved4.
If you have any new information pertinent to solving the Joan Risch case, please contact the Lincoln, MA police department.