Heiress on the LooseOn January 6, 2021 by Elyse
Folks, we have another mystery on our hands:
Helen Owen, child of romance and adventure, mysteriously missing. . .– The New York Tribune, May 30, 1921
Is there any other way to go missing? But I digress.
Poor Gladys Mason remains at large, but maybe Second Glance History will have better luck finding 17-year-old Helen Owen, who was last seen in Chicago in 1921. In this case, there’s a powerful incentive for her to be found:
Wealthy relatives wish to bestow upon her a large fortune that has been left to her by an uncle. Three other fortunes have been pooled in the attempt to find her and a large reward has been offered for information that will lead to her return.– The New York Tribune, May 30, 1921
To aid our search and/or help us steal Helen’s identity and fortune, I’ve prepared a Q&A with everything we know, courtesy of one of her uncles, who spearheaded the effort.
Who is this mysterious missing heiress?
Helen is seventeen years old and the image of her mother, a famous beauty, known as “The Rose of Cuba.” Helen’s mother was the daughter of Don Esteban Garcia, a retired major of the Spanish army and member of one of the oldest families of Spain. Her father was Warren D. Owen, former Rough Rider, who fought a duel with Don Esteban before he won “The Rose.”– The New York Tribune, May 30, 1921
That’s so romantic! Did they live happily ever after?
Sadly, not for very long. The couple moved to St. Louis, Missouri, where Helen was born. Tragically, her mother died of tuberculosis a year later. Despite all the family fortunes floating around, Helen was inexplicably placed in an orphanage in Boston.
Not, however, because she was unwanted:
Her grandfather wanted her and had sent agents to take her back to Spain.– The New York Tribune, May 30, 1921
Rather than get tangled in an international custody battle, Helen’s father busted her out of the orphanage one night and spirited her to Chicago. Cue the video montage:
The girl and her father traveled all over the country, changing their name to Gordon. But the girl was growing up and must be educated. The adventuring ceased.– The New York Tribune, May 30, 1921
The pair settled in Oak Park, Illinois where Warren worked as a painting contractor. Fifteen-year-old Helen “managed the house, and did as she pleased. She went to movies, dances and cabarets.”
How did Helen go missing?
The party couldn’t last forever.
She ventured into the Loop [downtown Chicago] one night with a girl friend. It was late. A policeman stopped the girls and questioned them. Helen’s Spanish blood caused her to make angry comment.– The New York Tribune, May 30, 1921
Alas, we’ll never know what that salty retort was. But whatever Helen said, it was bad:
She was placed in the Home for the Friendless. She escaped and was taken back.– The New York Tribune, May 30, 1921
I’d run away too if I had to live in a place that reminded me every day that I had no friends. It must’ve been hell on her self-esteem.
Helen was eventually remanded into the custody of a Mrs. Condley in Chicago. However:
She escaped through a window one night and has never been heard of since.– The Clearwater Republican, September 2, 1921
Her escapades would make Floyd Merrill proud.
When did anyone notice Helen was gone?
Although her father died in Bedford, Massachusetts in 1920, her quartet of presumably wealthy uncles began to search for her. They weren’t the only ones.
Back in Spain an aristocratic old Castilian grandfather is fretting away his last years longing for her, and here in America three wealthy uncles are seeking her to tell her that a fourth uncle has died and left her a great estate.– The Clearwater Republican, September 2, 1921
If she could hear them, what would Helen’s remaining uncles say to her?
Wherever she is, we want her to know that we will protect her from the agents of her grandfather in Spain and that a great house, surrounded by six acres of beautiful estate, and many thousands of dollars are awaiting her.– The Clearwater Republican, September 2, 1921
I’m sorry to once again leave you hanging, but that’s all I can find of Helen Owen/Gordon. A cursory search of U.S. census records did not turn up information on any of these characters, and the story appears to have fallen off the newspapers’ radar after 1921.
As a silver lining, that fortune might still be unclaimed. Perhaps you, er, Helen developed amnesia sometime around 1921? Or maybe she ran off to Spain and missed her uncles’ inquiries? If you have any further information, step on forward. Just don’t forget to send Second Glance History the finder’s fee.
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About This Blog
Welcome to Second Glance History! This blog seeks to uncover the people and the stories forgotten by history and give them another read through a modern lens. Join me every week as we examine the differences that divide and the common threads that connect the then to the now.
Your writing is clever and full of humor! I just signed up to receive new posts.
Helen was such an escape artist, I feel sure sh just got tired of it and ran off to make it on her own. Kind of like the fictional gal from the movie Titanic.
I’d like to think that is what happened anyway
Thank you so much for the kind words, Laurie! And for that theory–I love it. That’s exactly the happy ending I’m choosing to believe as well!
I found a 15-year old “Helen Gordon” listed among the inmates of the Home For the Friendless in the 1920 census, so at least that part of the story checks out. Other than that, I couldn’t find anything about any of these people, either. Pity.
How about that! I’m delighted to know there might be a kernel of truth to the story. Thank you for that stellar sleuthing!