Ida Dean Richardson-Anderson, age 21, disappeared from Michigan on September 18, 1958.
Ida’s mystery is particularly difficult to navigate, mainly because it was nearly 50 years after the fact when her children, who had been adopted out as children and finally reunited, began inquiring as to their mother’s disappearance. It was then, in the 1990’s that they determined that the missing persons report Ida’s family had filed back in 1958 was nowhere to be found. They took on the daunting task of trying to piece together whatever small tidbits of information they could get access to.
Ida’s children were able to meet their grandparents, as well as Ida’s siblings, in the 1990’s, and eventually located their father as well. Nobody knew what happened to Ida, but they were able to shed some light on Ida’s life prior to her disappearance.
Ida Dean Richardson was raised in Jacksonville, FL. In 1955, she met Kenneth “Jerry” Anderson, and became pregnant. She married Jerry, who was a musician, and they traveled, finally settling in Detroit, MI. There, they had two additional children.
In February 1958, Ida and Jerry separated, and Ida and the children lived at 606 Catherine, Ann Arbor, MI, with a roommate named Carol Moser. Carol, in 1958, was employed as a waitress at Pretzel Bell, a well-known hangout for the college crowd.
In the next couple months, Ida became ill with rheumatic fever, and was hospitalized. The children somehow ended up with their father, who was unable to care for them. As a result, he placed them in a boarding home, and left the state. From there, the children came to be in the custody of the State of Michigan.
Letters Ida had written home, which were saved by her mother, indicated that she, now a single mother of three, was having difficulties trying to regain custody of her children.
Letter #1 (Written in August 1958) reads:
I am very sorry I forgot to mail your letter sooner. But, have been very busy looking for a job. So far I have had no luck.
I found out from a friend of mine in Chicago where Jerry (her estranged husband) is living and I thought I would write him for some money and just pray he will send it to me.
The Court still won’t let me see the kids.
I have to go to Court the 4th of September at 4 o’clock.
I sure wish I knew for sure they were going to let me have the kids back. I have a funny feeling about it. I don’t think they are.
They will have a hell of a fight on their hands if they try to take them away from me. And God help them if they do.
How are you feeling? Fine I hope.
How are Belle and her new baby ?
Is Frank still working? How is Joe and his wife getting along? I am very anxious to meet her.
I can’t wait to bring the kids home and believe me once I get there nothing is ever going to make me leave again.
I am bringing a friend down who is going to watch the kids for me while i go to work.
We are hoping to get jobs so that one of us will be with the kids all the time. She knows Jerry and hates him almost as much as I do, if that’s possible.
Well, mama I guess I had better close for today so that I will have something to say (in my next letter)
According to Ida’s son, he learned that Ida was sent by the court to Ypsilanti State Hospital for 72 hours, to undergo a mental competency evaluation, to determine whether she was a fit parent for her children. We are not sure whether this evaluation took place before or after the above letter was written, but she was found by the psychiatrist to be competent.
We do not know why she was sent there, as she did not have any known history of mental illness – although research shows that rheumatic fever can adversely affect the brain.
At some point, after Ida cleared the psychiatric evaluation, it appears that Ida was asked to present to the court a plan of how she intended to care for her children. A plan was set forth that Ida would take the children back to Jacksonville, FL, where her parents and siblings would be able to assist in supporting them. A reference to this plan is made in Ida’s last letter, written in September 1958.
Ida was in the hospital with pneumonia when she wrote this letter, her last.
When she writes, “did you get to court? What did they say?”, Ida is referring to another order by the probate judge that her mother agree to the plan for Ida to bring the three kids down to Jacksonville Beach to live with Ida’s mom, their grandmother. Grandma agreed to help.
The letter reads:
Sorry I didn’t write as promised but as Belle maybe had told you I am in the hospital again.
I had pneumonia plus my ulcer was acting up again.
This may be very short as I am under heavy sedation.
Did you get to court? What did they say.
After this point, nobody has heard from her again. Everything gets extremely cloudy and convoluded, since her family knows nothing after this point, and the only trail is a sparse supply of court documents that her son was able to access.
As I am going to recount statements made by Ida’s son, I want to emphasize that a lot of these statements don’t make sense. He is well aware of this, but it’s what he has been told and it’s baffling for him as well.
In Ida’s last letter, she asks her mother if she got to court, and wants to know what they said. According to Ida’s son, her mother had to appear in court to attest to the fact that she had agreed to Ida bringing the children down to Florida, where she could help with their care. It is unknown whether Ida would have gone to a Florida court, where she lived, or whether she actually flew up to Michigan. I wonder if Ida missed her own court date due to being hospitalized with pneumonia. It is also unknown to me what hospital Ida was in when she wrote her last letter. Missing Person websites show her missing from Detroit – although I don’t quite get where Detroit comes from. She lived in Ann Arbor, and I’ve seen no indication that she was ever in Detroit after she and her husband separated. It’s possible that the hospital (her last known whereabouts) was in Detroit, but I’ve seen no evidence of this.
According to Ida’s son, “Ida was in Ypsilanti State Hospital for a 72 hour period for a Mental Competency Exam. She was found competent, the probate judge said a plan was set forth for Ida to take the three of us kids back to Jacksonville Beach to live with our grandmother. Ida wanted us kids back badly (we were left at a boarding house by our father while our mother was in the hospital).
Ida’s family was at the Jacksonville airport waiting for us to get off the plane. They never saw us again until I tracked down Ida’s sister and brothers (my aunts and uncles) in 1995.”
He also states, “Ida vanished the day she was due to appear in Probate Court. Prior arrangements had been made for Ida and her children to fly to Jacksonville Beach, Florida. Tickets were purchased, but never used. Ida has not been seen since.”
We don’t know when these plane tickets were purchased, when the flight was scheduled for, or how they ended up in Ida’s possession (assuming they were purchased by her parents, which is most likely). It also appears that the plane tickets were purchased before it had been confirmed that Ida was regaining custody for certain. Further statements from Ida’s son support this unusual sequence of events.
“My Aunt, Ida’s sister, called and called for a few years. The judge told her “you can hire all the private detectives you want, but you’ll never find her”. Why I think this is pertinent is because Ida wasn’t legally declared competent by the Probate Judge until one month AFTER our adoptions were finalized – two years after her ‘disappearance’. The psychiatrists who examined her in 1958 at the judge’s orders determined her to be competent but obviously distressed by the situation.”
She did eventually recover fully, and was working full time in the months approaching the September 19th, 1958 court date when the judge stated she was seen the last time in court (there are differing details about her actually having been at the hearing)
Everytime I look at her case, I have to read the above two statements multiple times, in order to process this obvious ball of confusion.
The probate judge didn’t declare her competent by the Probate Judge until one month AFTER the children’s adoptions were finalized, which was two years after her disappearance? Aside from this backing up the theory that the plane tickets were purchased before a determination had been made, this begs the question, where was she for these two years? Did the judge declare her competent in absentia, not having been seen or heard from by anyone for two years, having presumably abandoned her children? What was the purpose of declaring her competent as a parent after her children were already adopted?
Her son believes that she was institutionalized, possibly at Ypsilanti State Hospital (for the Criminally Insane), as a way to adopt the children to ‘socially acceptable’ families, without her being able to fight back. (Remember, this was the 1950’s and divorce still carried a stigma.)
Much effort has been put into trying to locate the elusive Carol Moser, who was Ida’s roommate in 1958, and who is believed to be the friend that Ida referenced in her first letter, the one she planned to bring with her to Florida to help with the children. Many Carol Mosers have been contacted over the years, but most of them turned out to be Moser by marriage, and had no knowledge of Ida.
There was a brief moment of hope, when a Carol Moser was identified in the newly released 1940 census – the only Carol Moser listed in Michigan at the time, a one year old girl living with her parents in nearby Belleville, Michigan. She would have been a couple years younger than Ida. I sent this information, along with Carol’s siblings (per the census) to TrackMissing.org, who has been investigating her case for years, and who got the ball rolling to get a new Missing Person report filed after the old one could not be found. Their representative was able to get in contact with one of her siblings, only to find that Carol had passed away several years earlier. Her sister did not recall Ida, and was unsure of whether Carol had lived in Ann Arbor in 1958.
Carol may have known something about Ida’s fate. There is no guarantee that this was the right Carol, but my gut tells me it was. The 1958 Ann Arbor City Directory shows a Carol Moser, the 1957 does not. This Carol would have been in high school in 1957, still in Belleville, and likely entered college (University of Michigan) in 1958.
There was another glimmer of hope – if it can be described as hope – when a possible match had been made to an unidentified Jane Doe in Delaware. This woman had given birth at least twice, the facial reconstruction resembled Ida, and serial killer Henry Lee Lucas had described picking up a hitchhiker from Michigan and dumping her in Delaware after killing her. It seemed logical that had Ida been institutionalized, when she was finally released, she would have tried to make her way to Jacksonville, FL, passing through Delaware. Test results, however, ruled Ida out and Jane Doe is still unidentified.
Ida would be 76 years old now. With privacy laws barring access to Ida’s medical records, and the local authorities unwilling to assist in the investigation, there’s no substantiated theory of what happened to Ida.
Ida’s ex-husband is not considered a suspect. He really had no motive to harm her, as he was not seeking custody of the children, and although their marriage was troubled financially, there is no evidence that she was fearful of him, or that any violence had occurred in the marriage.
There has to be a way to get through the red tape, so that her children can access her records, I just don’t know what it is. Would it make a difference if she was declared dead? Would her children be able to file for power of attorney and access them in that capacity? Could the right police detective secure a warrant, given the suspicious circumstances of her disappearance? Does the probate court have any obligation to prove that they knew her whereabouts when they declared her competent?
If anyone with knowledge in these areas would like to chime in, I’m all ears!
Ida, her husband and infant son, ca. 1956
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