This entry is a bit different from my usual entries.
In light of the ridiculous number of unidentified people who seemingly do not match up to those reported missing, it’s apparent that there were many, many more, especially in the 1970’s and earlier, who were never reported missing. Law enforcement rarely took missing adults seriously then, and often refused to take a report.
So, mixed in with my ‘regular’ missing persons cases, will be some attempts to identify the ‘missing missing’ – as in, missing from the Missing Persons sites. It’s my hope that someone will recognize these people and shed some light on whether they’re still missing.
This story starts at a Ringling Bros Circus in Hartford, CT. It was July 6, 1944, and the big top was filled with approximately 7000 spectators, mostly women and children. Just after the lions performed, a band was making its way around the tent. The bandleader was the first to notice a small flame along the wall of the tent. She immediately directed the band to switch to “Stars and Stripes Forever”, the tune that traditionally signaled distress to circus personnel.
Before the fire could be extinguished, a gust of wind caused the flame to accelerate, and approximately 160 people were killed.
One of the unidentified remains from the circus fire was for years known as Little Miss 1565. She was estimated to be about six years old, with blonde hair and blue eyes. Her death had not been caused directly by the fire, but rather by the trampling of the crowds trying to escape. Therefore, she was very recognizable – but nobody claimed her.
In 1946, a woman named Gertrude Landers of Wyandotte, MI contacted the Hartford authorities, and after viewing photographs of the young girl, insisted she was her granddaughter.
Gertrude went on to explain that her daughter, Estelle, and granddaughter, Sherron Lang, had been missing since 1942. She stated that Sherron was four years old, and that Estelle had left Sherron’s father some time prior. Gertrude commented that Estelle loved to wander.
The Hartford investigators, however, did not believe that this girl was Gertrude’s granddaughter, he felt it was someone who lived locally. He theorized that Little Miss 1565 belonged to someone who had inadvertently claimed the wrong body as their child.
In 1991, Little Miss 1565 was identified, through photographs, as Eleanor Cook.
So, what happened to Estelle Landers and her daughter, Sherron?
Gertrude Landers had been married to Charles Woodward Landers from 1914 to 1935, at which point she divorced him on the grounds of extreme cruelty and non-support. The couple had four children: Russell Landers (11/21/1914-9/24/2008), Estelle Landers (married Richard Lang 12/5/1936, divorced 6/21/1940), Virginia Landers, and Woodard Landers (4/19/1923-4/29/1976).
In 1940, per the US Census, Gertrude was a live-in housekeeper, and her youngest son Woodard was with her. Virginia lived with her father.
The photo above is Estelle in 1935, 7 years before she went missing. The divorce from Richard Lang in 1940 is the last record I can find of her. Her mother stated she was last heard from in 1942.
I’d hoped to find an obituary of one of the other family members, which might have made a mention of Estelle or Sherron. I was unable to find any.
Estelle was born about 1916-1917, and Sherron was born about 1938.
It’s also worth noting that there is some confusion about the unidentified remains from the circus fire. The various articles report differently in regard to Gertrude’s claim that Little Miss 1565 was Sherron Lang.
This one states that there were still seven unidentified, but that they had seven reports of missing people. It also states that one of them was burned beyond recognition.
This one states that that there were a total of six unidentified – Little Miss 1565 plus 5 more. Gertrude felt that Little Miss 1565 was her granddaughter, and that one of the others was her daughter, Estelle.
It’s not clear whether they have all been identified.