The mystery of Rose Lena Cole is one that stays on my mind constantly.  I’ve been putting off featuring her here for a couple reasons.  The first and most significant reason is that, although she has received no press coverage in the media, she is high profile in the MP community, so I have figured that most of my readers are already familiar with this story.   It’s also a complicated one that is difficult to dissect and still have it make sense.

Rose Cole was born on December 23, 1956 and lived with her father and siblings in Flint, Michigan.

In September 1972, at the age of 15, she ran away from home, and somehow found herself at the mercy of the courts.  After a comment Rose reportedly made about selling drugs, she was sentenced to a ‘treatment program’ called Synanon in Oakland, California.

Synanon was later found to be a cult, with its leaders having violent tendencies against anyone who attempted to leave, or help its residents leave.   It was eventually shut down by the government.

We do have some record of her time at Synanon, thanks to some letters she sent home, which were saved by her family.

Much of the writing from while she was in Synanon was poetry, desperate pleas to come home, and feeling that her family no longer wanted her.   She mentioned a girl named Ruth who she had become friends with, and a man named Rick, who she disliked.    Neither Rick or Ruth have ever been identified or located.

Rose eventually ran away from Synanon, and sent a couple more letters home from Chinatown in San Francisco.   These letters expressed some fear of being found by Synanon and brought back.   She no longer signed her full name, but only her initials.   In her last letter, she said she would not be contacting her family again until she turned 18 and could not be ordered back to Synanon.

She additionally stated that she was staying in a big house with an older couple, and that she’d contracted a kidney infection.

The last letter was written on her sixteenth birthday, December 23, 1972.  It was not mailed until February 3, 1973 – she’d added a note saying she’d just gotten a stamp.   This is the last positive contact we have from her.

Interestingly, a court document dated January 1974 was located, which was a dismissal of all charges against Rose.   The document strongly implies that Rose was present at this court date, but her family members all denied that she was in fact present.

During the time that Rose has been missing, her father and step-mother split up, and her father remarried again.   A child of this later wife has recently come forward to say that Rose called sometime between 1979-1982 (the period that Rose’s father was married to this wife) and stated she’d been living on the street for a year.   It is unknown whether she was referring to the streets of San Francisco, or elsewhere.

Here are a couple images of the letters she sent home:

rose cole postcard





And the text from the Court document (with relevant portion bolded by me):

WHEREAS: A petition has been filed for proceedings and disposition in accordance with the Juvenile Code, Chapter 712A of C.L. 1948, as amended, and upon investigation and hearing, upon due notice, as provided by said laws and said child appearing in Court with parent or guardian and from the evidence and admissions of said petition are true and that said child is subject to the power of this Court, which ORDERS, as follows:

ON THE COURT’S OWN MOTION, This matter be and the same is hereby dismissed.


This is one of several cases (Melinda Creech and Ida Dean Richardson-Anderson come to mind) where the missing person was in the custody of the government at the time they went missing.   In each of these cases, including this one, the government has been uncooperative in trying to help the families locate the person THE GOVERNMENT WAS RESPONSIBLE FOR!

I just don’t get it.   I do get that people run away, and that the government can’t watch every single person 24 hours a day, but can you imagine if YOU lost someone else’s child and wouldn’t cooperate with the child’s family?  You’d be locked up in a minute – so why does the government get away with it so easily?

I hope Rose just got on with her life under a new identity somewhere.  I think it’s just as likely as any other scenario.

It’s also possible that she ended up back at Synanon, or that something happened to her on the streets of San Francisco, or that she could still be a part of San Francisco’s massive homeless population.

Many, many wonderful people have worked very hard to figure out what might have happened to Rose, to no avail.   A few former Synanon residents have been contacted, but none could be sure if they’d ever seen her.  A multitude of UID’s have been compared, but all have been ruled out.

I am trying to find someone who may have been familiar with Chinatown in the early to mid 1970’s.   We’ve thought of trying to locate free clinics (since she said she had a kidney infection, it insinuates that she saw a doctor), but the odds of anyone remembering her are so slim… unless Chinatown was less touristy then, where a girl like Rose would have stood out among the Chinese population.

There is also the idea of finding an old San Francisco city directory – and try to contact older Chinatown couples who lived in a house – but, of course, we don’t know how much older (She was 15-16, so 30 would be older!) and we don’t know nationality or anything else.

We would also like to locate Ruth, the friend of hers from Synanon, but we don’t know her last name.

Rose’s parents are deceased, but her siblings are still searching for her.



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18 thoughts on “Rose Cole

  1. From a multi-sectional post, “The disappearance of Rose Lens Cole”

    Click on photo’s for different aspects of the case


    About the times Rose vanished in

    San Francisco – The Haight – The summer of love – 1967

    In 1967, between 10,000 and 50,000 people (“depending on whether you were a policeman or a hippie,” according to one hippie) gathered at the Polo Field in Golden Gate Park for the Human Be-In – the ‘Gathering of the Tribes.’

    Poet Allen Ginsberg and Dr. Timothy Leary spoke, the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane played, and people costumed with beads and feathers waved flags, clanged cymbals, and beat drums. Clouds of marijuana filled the air as a parachutist dropped onto the field, tossing fistfuls of acid tabs to the crowd. America watched via satellite, middle class America shook their heads—it was every parent’s worst nightmare.

    The hippie’s, most in their teens or early twenties, response was “You squares just don’t get it,” Frequently quoting Bob Dylan song, “The Times They Are A Changin“:

    “Come mothers and fathers,
    Throughout the land,
    And don’t criticize,
    What you can’t understand,
    Your sons and your daughters,
    Are beyond your command,
    Your old road is, rapidly agin’

    Please get out of the new one,
    If you can’t lend your hand,
    For the times they are a-changin’.”

    A bit later that year, thousands heeded Scott McKenzie’s song “San Francisco,” which promised,

    “For those who come to San Francisco
    Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair
    If you come to San Francisco
    Summertime will be a love-in there”

    The Summer of Love swelled the Haight’s population from 7,000 to 75,000; people came both to join in and to ogle at the hippie subculture. In true California style soon tour busses were taking people to view that newly found species; “The Flower Child.”

    Middle-aged couples were gap-mouths as they took pictures of young men wearing sandals and bellbottoms, most with hair below their shoulders. Blushed at young girls walking the streets in peasant dresses or micro minis, braless in gauze shirts, some with less.

    But the summer of love was just that, one summer.

    San Francisco -The Haight – 1973

    Within a few years degenerates and pimps had joined the gentle people. The hippie selling loose joints was quickly replaced by hard core drug dealers, and heroin replaced marijuana and LSD. Crime became rampant, and the Haight began a fast slide.

    Young men who at one time talked about living of the land without money, were now panhandling, or robbing convenience stores. Some young women who a few years earlier had declared their independence by skinny-dipping, were now dancing at nude clubs or doing porn for the Mitchell Brothers. And some, both male and female, in desperate need of money for drugs, were turning tricks.

    By 1973, when Rose Cole landed in the area, the streets of San Francisco where the homeless gathered had turned into a real nightmare, one far worse then her parent’s could have imagined.

    The free clinic pictured above could have helped Rose out with her kidney infection, with no questions asked. But there is no indication she went there. The mean streets could have claimed another victim, but again there’s no information suggesting they did.

    Rose simply vanished.

    What really happened to Rose Cole? We may never know. But she vanished before she had a drivers license or Social Security card, so its possible she reinvented herself. As far as we know she never got any letters back, and we know from her letters that she felt her family hated her so maybe she gave herself a new name, and never looked back.

    It may just be a fond dream, but until proven otherwise I like to think that she got married, had children and grandchildren, and that someday she will Google her real name and find out how much her family loves her. Find out – they always loved her.

    Note from Peter: Rose’s DNA profile is in CODIS. Over the years its been suggested that she may be one of a number Jane Doe‘s found in various parts of the country, so far they have gotten no matches.


    Hippie History
    http:// http://www.fodors.com/world/…/san-francisco/feature_30012.html

    The Haight Ashbury Free Clinics

    Bob Dylan – ‘The Times They Are A Changin’ – lyrics: http://www.lyricsfreak.com/b/bob+dylan/#share

  2. Hi. I’m probably the Ruth that Rose knew and mentioned in her letter. She and I were both 15 at the time, and that was as young as Synanon would take kids (unless they were the young kids of “lifestylers.” Heartbreaking. I wish I remembered Rose, but I do not. I like that this article describes Synanon in this way: “Synanon was later found to be a cult, with its leaders having violent tendencies against anyone who attempted to leave, or help its residents leave. It was eventually shut down by the government.” Although some people who lived in Synanon found it to be a good experience, in my mind it was a cult, and very traumatic because of lies told, and how difficult it was to leave.

    • Thank you so much for taking the time to comment here! Myself and a few others have spent years trying to find out what happened to Rose, and have spent a long time searching for anyone who was at Synanon during that time. Are you ok with answering a few questions from us about Synanon during that time period?

      • I would love to see the text of the letters she wrote. I’ve seen images on the web, but they are very low resolution, so I can’t read them. I understand she worked in the kitchen in Oakland. I did as well, in the summer or fall of 1972. I also went to live in Tomales Bay in the fall of ’72. It sounds like she visited, but didn’t go live there. Honestly, I don’t remember the initial visit to Tomales Bay.

  3. Thank you so much, I just wanted to ask first… One quick thing that is jumping to my mind: Do you remember visiting a ranch in Tomales Bay while at Synanon? I remember seeing the letters a long time ago and Rose had mentioned going to visit this ranch with her friend Ruth. (I’ve been trying to get copies of the letters posted again but the person who has them hasn’t been online in a long time)

    • Let me see what I can do about the letters. I can easily transcribe the above ones that I have the images of. (I’ll try to do that tomorrow) I also have text of a couple that were written after she ran away, but those are mostly poems and don’t talk much about Synanon. I can post those as well, if you’re interested in seeing those. The one that mentions you/Ruth is not one of the ones I have. They were online at one time, but I didn’t rush to download or transcribe them, I didn’t realize they would later be taken down. I will try contacting someone else who I think has copies of them.

      Some quick notes I have regarding the letters (I think this from someone else’s summary of the letters, and I just copied it):

      “She visited a ranch in Tomales Bay. She describes the place as beautiful and peaceful. She also called it a Boot Camp. She was interviewed to be sent to live there but only wanted to visit. She lived at the Center.

      Rose and a girl named Ruth were the youngest ones in Oct 15, 1972. They visited the ranch together.

      Fall of 1972. William “Buckwheat” Thomas from the Little Rascals visited the Center. She makes reference to this in another letter. Buckwheat dedicated most of his life to help kids on drugs around the CA area.”

      Tonight I’m going to try to hunt down the rest of the letters, I’ll post whatever I can tomorrow. Thank you again so much for your willingness to help!

      • Tomales Bay was certainly beautiful and peaceful. My understanding was that Synanon had bought 1/3 of Marin County! It was the beginning of the militarization of Synanon: we marched in formation, and were considered to be in an actual boot camp. I remember the big to-do about Buckwheat Thomas, from the Little Rascals, visiting Synanon.
        I do believe that we might have been the youngest in Oakland, maybe anywhere in the Synanon world. I was a juvenile delinquent, on probation in Florida, and my mother and grandparents didn’t know they were sending me into a cult. I was 14, but that was too young, so I lived with my grandparents in the Bay Area, till I turned 15, and then I could enter Synanon. Most everyone was older, for sure.

          • I recognize Chuck and Betty, of course, and possibly the short woman in the front row, 4th person from left. In my mind, the woman in the back row that some think might be Rose: She looks too old to be Rose; she doesn’t look 15 yrs old. But, of course, its hard to tell.

  4. Hi Ruth, i’ve been reading about the disappearance of Rose today. I’ve kind of been shocked at the sheer amount of speculation about her. It’s a little bit morbid, but I was wondering if you could take a look at this unidentified person found in Oregon:


    People have speculated on dozens and dozens of unidentified persons – this was the one that I thought was a possibility, although the eye color isn’t correct.

  5. Ruth Rinehart, why haven’t you contacted authorities to tell them that you think you knew who Rose was? Maybe that can help bring peace to Rose’s family.

    • I am not Ruth, but wanted to mention that Ruth does not remember Rose. Unfortunately, a police department in Michigan has Rose’s case even though she was last known to be in San Francisco. It does not appear that they are interested in actually investigating her case, based on what her family has gone through.

    • Because my contact information is available … and my understanding is that Rose Cole’s family has pulled back. Folks can, and have, contacted me for more information and more understanding, but frankly, I have not much to offer. It breaks my heart that I don’t even remember her. But the facts surrounding her life in the Oakland Synanon home, and our trip to Tomales Bay, and her reference to our work together in the kitchen, does convince me that I did know her. But, in the big picture, it’s not significant, my contribution.

  6. Two years ago, I went back to Tomales Bay, doing a sort of pilgrimage to the Synanon sites (also Oakland and San Francisco). At Tomales Bay, at sunrise, I did a memorial service for Rose. If the family ever wanted it, I would share it with them. I’m happy to share the words with you. It was important to me. I survived, and she probably didn’t. Because of our ages, our being in trouble with the law, having no agency over our own lives and subjected to the abuse that was Synanon (to us, who were minors and couldn’t get out), I’ve come to identify with her. I survived and she probably didn’t. I carry that.

    • Ruth, you should not feel any guilt, it isn’t your fault that either of you were subjected to that. Remember too, she was known to be alive for a time after she left there. I think whatever happened to her, happened on the streets of San Francisco. The one who should feel guilt is the judge who sent her there.

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