Beverly Rose Potts of Cleveland, Ohio turned ten years old on April 15, 1941. For months, she’d been asking her mother if she could cut her long hair and finally, in June, her mother relented. Elizabeth Potts took the blonde braids of her second daughter, who’d been born a full twelve years after her first, and tied them with ribbon. She wrapped the 12-inch long braids carefully in tissue paper and tucked them away in a drawer.
Beverly vanished on the evening of August 24, 1951.
According to the book Twilight of Innocence: The Disappearance of Beverly Rose Potts, which was published in 2005, Beverly’s braids have been preserved in the Cuyahoga County Morgue. Her parents are long dead, and so is her only sibling, her older sister Anita. Anita has children whose DNA could be matched to the aunt they never knew. Yet there is something poignant in the notion that those braids might someday be used to identify Beverly’s remains, should they ever be found.
Beverly vanished from the same neighborhood on Cleveland’s West Side as Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus, the women who were abducted and held for eleven, ten and nine years respectively by Ariel Castro. They were held prisoner in his home, mere miles from where he took them. On May 6, 2013, when Castro was not home, Amanda Berry took a chance and opened an unlocked door, screamed for help through a barred screen door. Her first opportunity, she has said, in ten years. Neighbors came to her aid and helped her and a little girl who would prove to be her daughter with Castro, escape. The police then liberated Michelle Knight and Gina DeJesus.
Beverly has been gone for almost 62 years.
I first read about Beverly Potts from the website The Charley Project, a database of missing persons. http://www.charleyproject.org. You can search alphabetically; I was looking for Etan Patz. Etan, arguably New York City’s most well-known missing child, disappeared off Prince Street in the Village in 1979. Those long blonde bangs, the upturned lip, became as familiar as a sibling’s, a cousin’s, a classmate’s. Etan was everywhere. Etan was nowhere. Etan with one step, a little boy, with the next less than dust. One step in this world, with the next somewhere else, unfindable.
I invented good reasons for Etan’s disappearance. Not malice, but magic. He stumbled into a far more marvelous dimension. He traveled back in time. Imagine, Etan tagging along with Lewis and Clark. Etan, listening to the Gettysburg address. Etan, on VE day. Someday he would be returned to Prince Street, to the moment before whatever happened happened. Etan would reach the corner of West Broadway and the school bus would come and he would climb aboard, erasing the decades of agony that his family has suffered.
No trace of Etan was ever found. No trace of Beverly was ever found.
The book offers an excellent, detailed account of the crime and its long aftermath. It also vividly recreates Beverly’s world, the time and place. Yet Mr. Badal never lets Beverly, the child who is still lost, get lost in his narrative of an exhaustive, still-open investigation. Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus are briefly mentioned as crimes that grabbed the city’s attention the way Beverly’s disappearance once had decades earlier.
The night Beverly vanished was cool for August. She and her best friend Patsy Swing had gone to watch a talent show in Halloran Park, a five minute walk from their neighboring homes. Beverly had permission to stay until the end of the show but Patsy had to be home before dark. According to Anita Potts, their mother almost certainly didn’t know this. Beverly refused to leave with Patsy and Patsy, annoyed, good-bye to her friend, leaving her in a crowd that was estimated to be at as large as 1,500 at one point. A boy from the neighborhood, the paperboy, believes he saw Beverly leaving the park with the crowd after the show ended. If he was not mistaken, Beverly was quite likely taken from her own street, which very dark because of the way trees obscured the streetlights. Nobody heard anything. Nobody saw anything.
Before her own death, Anita Potts placed a gravestone for Beverly at the foot of their parents’ graves. She left instructions that should Beverly ever be found, she should be laid to rest with their mother and father.
James Jessen Badal assumes, as did the police who investigated the case, that Beverly was murdered. Indeed in early September, about two weeks after Beverly disappeared, her parents released a statement saying they knew they’d never see her alive again. They pleaded for her killer to lead police to her body, to let them bury her properly. It is the logical assumption. And yes, it’s quite likely Beverly did not survive the night of August 24, 1951.
It’s impossible, given the recovery of Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus not to think of Beverly Potts, and wonder if their story might have an even more horrifying version–one where the chance to escape, to call for help, never came.
Today, Beverly Rose Potts would be 72 years old.