This is a very old case, dating back to 1930. I normally do not write about cases that old, but this one has always intrigued me. It’s sad that her family never found her.
On May 14, 1930, a young Chicago mother named Catherine Moroney received a strange visit from a woman calling herself Julia Otis. Julia claimed that a social worker by the name of Mrs. Henderson sent her to the Moroney residence to help the family. This did not surprise the 17-year-old mother. Catherine and her husband, Michael, had made a public appeal for a job for Michael in the Chicago Daily Tribune. They already had two children – two-year-old Mary Agnes, a one-year-old girl named Anastasia – plus a third child on the way. The Moroneys were poor, and what they did make was not enough to support their young family.
The two women chatted briefly and Catherine told Julia about their financial difficulties.
The woman appeared to come from out of nowhere. Despite never seeing this woman prior to this day, Catherine instantly felt she could trust her. The woman was very kind, well-dressed, and spoke in a soft, cultured voice.
When Julia spotted two-year-old Mary Agnes playing nearby, she looked at her very lovingly and with yearning. This was noticed by Catherine, who thought nothing of it because people often reacted to her daughter in that manner.
Julia told Catherine that she would love to take the little girl to California, but of course like any normal mother, Catherine wasn’t going to let her toddler go off with a stranger, especially to a place that far away.
Before she left, Julia handed Catherine $2 and suggested Catherine and her husband go to a show that night.
The next day, May 15, Julia returned. She begged Catherine to let her take Mary Agnes to a store to buy her some clothes. The weather outside was decent and Catherine had no reason not to trust this woman. As Julia and Mary Agnes were leaving, the little toddler, sensing something wasn’t right, cried out for her mama as the stranger led her away.
Catherine never saw Mary Agnes again.
When Mary Agnes and the woman had not returned by the time Catherine’s husband returned home from work that night, they called the police. Catherine wasn’t able to give the best description of Julia Otis. All she could say was the woman was beautiful, about 22 or 23 years old, 5’2″, and weighed about 125 pounds. Catherine was able to describe what the young woman was wearing – a gray suit with blue trimmings, and a lace hat. She also wore a pearl necklace, and a jeweled wrist watch.
Police immediately checked buses and trains going to California but to no avail.
Several witnesses reported seeing a woman matching Julia’s description dictating a letter to an older woman in the restroom of a downtown Chicago store. This woman had a small child with her who resembled Mary Agnes.
On May 16, Catherine received a letter and money from Julia:
Please don’t be alarmed. I have taken your little girl to California with me. I have hired a special nurse to care for her. We’ll be back in two months; by that time you will be on your feet again and will be able to care for her. She didn’t even cry a bit. She is outfitted like a princess. In the meantime, I’ll help all I can to get you on your feet. Don’t worry about her or anything else. When you get this letter we’ll be on our way already.
Several days after the first letter, the Moroneys received another letter. This time from a Mrs. Alice Henderson, who described herself as a cousin to Julia. She stated that Julia was a good, young woman who recently lost her husband and child within the last two years, and wanted to raise another child.
Mrs. Otis had pined for the company of a child, due to losing her own, and that is why she took your little girl.
Alice promised that Julia would return the child soon after, but the police never found Julia or the child ever again, nor did they ever locate this woman who called herself Alice Henderson.
One year after Mary Agnes was abducted, a little girl of the same age and description was found with an Indian woman name Martha Thompson, who was arrested in Rockford, Illinois. However, when Catherine went to Rockford with authorities to identify the young girl as her own, she said, “That is not my baby.” She had given a thorough examination of the girl – checked her teeth and other physical characterisitics, but decided this little girl was not Mary Agnes.
Mary Agnes had a red mark on her arm and this little girl did not. However, authorities stated this little girl was tanned from the sun, and that the mark could have been hidden.
Martha eventually told police that the little girl who was with her was not her own child, but begged police to let her keep her. It is not clear if they did so. The little girl’s true identity remains a mystery.
In September 1952, a 24-year-old woman named Mary McClelland claimed she was Mary Agnes Moroney. She was adopted within a year after Mary Agnes was kidnapped and bore a striking resemblance to one of the Moroney children. Catherine met with this woman and was sure this was not her missing daughter.
An anthropologist who examined the teeth of Mary McClelland said she was in fact a relative of the Moroneys. However, a doctor came forward who said his records show that he delivered Mary McClelland at 3:30 a.m. on November 17, 1927. Mary Agnes was born on May 9, 1928. Mary McClelland did not have the scar that Mary Agnes bore which was from a naval rupture at birth.
In 2005, DNA testing proved that Mary McClelland was not Mary Agnes Moroney.
85 years after Mary Agnes was kidnapped, her case remains unsolved and the whereabouts of her and Julia Otis are still unknown.
Source: The Chicago Tribune
True Crime Diva’s Thoughts
It struck me as odd that Catherine could not give a better physical description of Julia. All she said was that Julia was no older than 23, stood about 5’2′, was beautiful, and spoke like a well-educated woman. How could she have not given more of a PHYSICAL description to police? Hair color? Eye color? Shape of nose, lips? Was she wearing glasses? Any birthmarks, scars, moles, etc?
Julia hesitated briefly when Catherine asked what her name was and that struck me as odd, too. Julia was well prepared for this abduction yet didn’t she think the family would ask her name?
How did Julia Otis know that the Moroneys had a two-year-old girl? Was it mentioned in the public appeal? Why did she take Mary Agnes instead of Anastasia? Had she been stalking the family prior to the abduction and had set her eyes on Mary Agnes?
I believe the woman Julia was dictating the note to in the restroom was “Alice Henderson” who wrote the second letter to Catherine. It does make sense that Julia lost a child and that was the reason for taking Mary Agnes.
At the time of the abduction, the Moroney family lived at 5200 Wentworth Avenue in Chicago. Witnesses saw a woman and child matching Julia’s and the toddler’s description in a restroom at a downtown store. Downtown Chicago is several miles away from the Moroneys home on Wentworth, so did Julia live downtown or was she headed toward Union Station? By the time the police were called that day, Julia and the girl could easily have gotten on a train and headed out of Chicago by the time the police got there. The police went to the home first to talk to Catherine and Michael THEN searched the bus and train stations. All of this was after Michael returned home later in the day.
Is it possible that Julia never left Chicago? It’s a big city plus there are the suburbs as well. Even in 1930, the Chicagoland area would still have been rather large. As Mary Agnes got older, her looks would have changed dramatically to the point her family probably would not have recognized her or anyone else for that matter. So, Julia could have easily stayed in Chicago and raised the child there.
This case is definitely mysterious, and we will never know what happened to Mary Agnes. Julia is long gone, and Mary Agnes may very well be deceased. If not, she would be 87 years old.
I could not find any info on Catherine and Michael after 1952. Not even an obituary or death record. I did find that their son Harold died in 2011. He was born in 1945, 15 years after his sister’s abduction. Brother Patrick, died in 2003, and Michael J in 1999. I have no idea about the other five children – Mary Agnes (obviously), Anastasia, Catherine, George, and Bill. At the time of Harold’s death, George and Bill were still alive. George was residing in Chicago and Bill in Phoenix, according to Harold’s obituary. However, I don’t know if that is still the case.