Update per The Charley Project: “In 2023, a DNA test proved Mary was Jeanette Buchard, who spent the first six years of her life in Chicago. She had been raised by Jeanette Celarek Derris Anderson and Frank Ferris as their only child, and in 1934 the family moved to Virginia. In 2003, Buchard’s died in Florida. DNA comparison between Buchard’s daughter, Terri Arnold, and members of Mary’s family has confirmed they are related.”
CHICAGO — On May 14, 1930, a young mother named Catherine Moroney received a strange visit from Julia Otis. Julia claimed that a social worker named Mrs. Henderson sent her to the Moroney residence to help the family.
Catherine and her husband, Michael, had publicly appealed for Michael’s job in the Chicago Daily Tribune. They already had two children – two-year-old Mary Agnes and a one-year-old girl named Anastasia – plus a third child on the way. The Moroneys were poor, and they did not make 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 before 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. Catherine noticed but thought nothing of it because people often reacted to her daughter in that manner.
Julia said 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 left, 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 described the young woman’s gray suit with blue trimmings and a lace hat. She also wore a pearl necklace and a jeweled wristwatch.
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 a downtown Chicago store’s restroom. 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.As ever,
Several days after the first letter, the Moroneys received another letter from Mrs. Alice Henderson, who described herself as a cousin to Julia. She stated that Julia was a fine 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 again, nor did they 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 named 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 thoroughly examined the girl – checked her teeth and other physical characteristics, 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 the mark could have been hidden.
Martha eventually told the police that the little girl with her was not her child but begged the officers to keep her. It is not clear if they did so. The little girl’s real 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 Mary McClelland’s teeth said she was a relative of Moroney. However, a doctor’s records showed that he delivered McClelland at 3:30 a.m. on Nov. 17, 1927. Mary Agnes was born on May 9, 1928. McClelland did not have the scar Mary Agnes bore from a naval rupture at birth.
2005 DNA testing proved that Mary McClelland was not Mary Agnes Moroney.
Eighty-five 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 not have given more of a PHYSICAL description to the police? Hair color? Eye color? The shape of the nose and lips? Was she wearing glasses? Any birthmarks, scars, moles, etc?
Julia hesitated when Catherine asked her name, which 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 before 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 Moroney’s 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 arrived. 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 stayed in 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 that her family probably would not have recognized her or anyone else. So, Julia could have easily stayed in Chicago and raised the child there.
This case is 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.