The Child Genius Novelist Who Vanished With Just Her Notebook and $30
Born in New Hampshire in 1914, to an academic father and a writer mother, Barbara Newhall Follett was a child prodigy, who published her first full-length novel at the age of just twelve.
Obsessed with the written word from earlier childhood, Follett completed the first draft of her debut novel when she was eight-years-old.
On her ninth birthday, she gave the typewritten manuscript as a gift to her mother, putting all other offspring with their glitter-macaroni art and their expectations that they get given presents on their birthday to shame for the rest of time.
But in a fittingly novelist twist, tragedy struck and that first manuscript was destroyed in a fire, along with all the rest of the family’s possessions.
Consumed by the imaginative world she had created and in an era before minecraft, the precocious young literary talent set about rewriting the story that would become her first novel.
In clear and luminous prose, The House Without Windows: And Eepersip’s Life There tells the story of a little girl called Eepersip, who leaves her mountaintop home to live among wild animals. It was a runaway success, and, far more than just a literary curiosity, the book has remained a cult favorite ever since its publication in 1927.
Her follow up, The Voyage of Norman D., was also met with critical acclaim when it was published two years later.
Child Genius Peaked Too Soon?
But despite her early success Barbara Newhall Follett’s life was to take a darker turn. Her adored father abandoned the family for a younger woman when Barbara was in her mid-teens. Then the Wall Street crash sunk America into economic depression, and the fortunes of the Follett family further declined.
By sixteen the precocious literary genius was forced to find work as a secretary in New York.
Her relationship with her father never recovered after he walked out on the family, but her previously strong relationship with her mother also hit the rocks, after the two fell out on a sea voyage to the West Indies. Barbara’s mother was disgusted and scandalized
Virtually estranged from her family, in 1934 the now 20-year-old Barbara married a rugged, Vermont outdoorsman by the name of Nickerson Rogers.
But while the former child prodigy adored her new husband, the marriage was not a happy one. The couple traveled together in both Europe and the USA and even took up interpretative dance, but by 1939 Rogers was requesting a separation.
Barbara was adamant that the couple should to try reconcile, but the relationship was volatile.
The Mysterious Vanishing Of Barbara Newhall Follett
On December 7, 1939, following a fight with her husband, the twenty-five-year-old author left their apartment in Brookline, Massachusetts carrying her notebook and with just $30 in her pocket. She was never seen or heard from again.
Rogers failed to report his wife’s disappearance until two week after she mysteriously vanished. When he finally did report her disappearance, it was registered under her married and so failed to attract much attention at the time.
Barbara’s own mother only became aware that her daughter was missing in the mid-1940s.
Many theories been suspected to explain how Barbara Newhall Follett came to vanish so mysteriously. Her husband Nickerson Rogers has come under suspicion for failing to report Barbara’s disappearance when it first happened, especially as Barbara had been so unwilling to allow their divorce. Others have suggested that the author may have taken her own life.
However, there remains a slim hope that like her child heroine Eepersip, who left a small and stifling home to find a better home in unlimited nature or the intrepid sea-faring heroes of her later novel, that this brilliant young woman simply walked out in search of her own house without windows.
The Folk Pioneer Who Vanished With Her VW Beetle
In 1974 a fifty-year-old woman loaded all her worldly belongings into her Volkswagon Beetle and drove away, never to be seen or heard from again.
At the time her name was known only to her family and friends, but in the decades since her disappearance the work of Elizabeth Eaton “Connie” Converse has been rediscovered by a new generation of music lovers.
Converse’s life up until her disappearance had been marked by disappointments.
During the 1950s she had lived in New York, writing and performing her own style strangely-warm, intimately-strange folk songs.
But despite the support of her friends, her music failed to find an audience at the time. Her strict Baptist parents disapproved of her musical ambitions and bohemian lifestyle, and by the early 1960s she had left New York for Ann Arbour, Michigan, after which she seems to have ceased writing new songs entirely.
She found work in academic publishing, from 1963 onward she worked as Managing Editor for the Journal of Conflict Resolution. She took considerable pride in her work and was deeply disappointed when the journal was sold off to another publisher in 1972.
The Mysterious Vanishing Of Connie Converse
Although friends rallied to support her, Connie’s letters from this time express her overwhelming desire for a new life. Her health was failing and she was devastated when doctors informed her that she needed a hysterectomy.
After Connie Converse drove off into the sunset in 1974, her legend has grown.
Her music was rediscovered by a new generation of anti-folk musicians, who were fascinated by her status an outsider artist and her mysterious vanishing decades before.
To this day it remains unknown whether, as Connie’s brother Phillip suspects, the troubled songwriter took her own life, or whether she started a new life elsewhere.
Ten years after she vanished, her family attempted to hire a private investigator to look into what might have happened to her, but the investigator discouraged the family from looking into it explaining that if Connie had decided to disappear, then her decision should be respected.
The Brilliant New Zealand Heart Doctor Who Vanished In Bohemian London
Dr. John C. P. Williams was a respected New Zealand born cardiologist, whose pioneering 1961 paper describing patients with the rare developmental disorder which now carries his name cemented reputation within his field.
People with Williams’ Syndrome have mild to moderate intellectual disability and suffer cardiovascular problems, but are known for their outgoing, engaging personalities and the extreme interest they tend to take in other people.
Children with Williams’ Syndrome can often be recognized by their distinctive facial features, including a short nose, full cheeks, small teeth and a wide mouth, which give them a pixie-like appearance.
Colleagues of Dr. Williams recall his eccentric and sometimes erratic behavior, but he was respected in his field and after leaving New Zealand, was associated with the prestigious Mayo Clinic, in Rochester, Minnesota.
At some point in the mid-1960s he moved to London, where he continued to work as a cardiologist. It was in London that he met fellow New Zealander, the poet Janet Frame in 1967.
The two became close, even living together for a time while Frame recovered from a bout of viral meningitis.
In 1969 Frame was staying with Dr. Williams in his flat in London, during a visit to UK capital having returned to live in New Zealand some time previously.
The Mysterious Vanishing Of Dr. John C. P. Williams
But when Dr. Williams proposed marriage, suggesting that the poet might want to ‘formalise their relationship’ she left his apartment to stay with friends outside of London. Although she felt warmly towards Dr. Williams, the suggestion that they might be heading for marriage had been both unexpected and unwelcome.
But a week later, when Frame tried to reach out to the doctor in the wake of the ill-considered proposal, she found his flat abandoned.
Dr. Williams had vanished without a trace.
Fearing he might have harmed himself, friends tried to track the doctor and he was declared a missing person.
But what seemed like a sad, through straight-forward case of suicide following a romantic disappointment became more complicated in 1970s when Dr. Williams was spotted in Salzburg.
In 1979 his passport was renewed in Geneva, but he was declared “a missing person, presumed dead in 1978” by the High Court of New Zealand after Interpol failed to trace his whereabouts.
In 2000 someone claiming to be acting on behalf of Dr. Williams even contacted Janet Frame’s biography, requesting that any mention of him be left out of the account of the poet’s time in London.