The 1902 disappearance of Miss Louisa Nash is one of the strangest Missing Person cases on record.
Miss Nash was 35 years old when she disappeared. She was a refined, well-educated woman, notable for her thick auburn hair. The reserved schoolteacher was unmarried, and preferred reading to parties. She and her mother lived in the family home in Virginia, and Louisa taught school for 15 years. The job wasn’t a financial necessity: the Nash family was wealthy, and Louisa and her mother had plenty to live on without her salary.
Her life was commonplace with a single glaring exception: She often disappeared for days at a time without any explanation. Her strange journeys appeared to be unplanned. Miss Nash would simply leave town, frequently without luggage, and without saying goodbye to her mother or friends. A few days later, she reappeared unannounced, refusing to answer any questions about her whereabouts or activities.
On June 2nd, Miss Nash went shopping and never came back. At first, Mrs. Nash dismissed her daughter’s absence as typical behavior, but after two weeks, she began to grow concerned. She wrote to a Philadelphia college with which her daughter had corresponded. The response was disappointing. Miss Nash wasn’t there, and they had not heard from her for several weeks. Next, a letter was dispatched to family friends in Maryland, but Louisa wasn’t there either.
Although Mrs. Nash was uneasy, Louisa’s friends were surprisingly unconcerned, and pointed to past ‘disappearances’. In mid-July, five weeks after she had last seen her daughter, Mrs. Nash contacted the police and a media campaign unfolded: newspapers covered the story, and published Louisa’s picture. The case was one of the first ever to receive national news coverage, with papers as far away as San Francisco covering it. No one thought Miss Nash met with foul play. Instead, speculation turned to her motive for disappearing. She seemed content at home. Mrs. Nash flatly rejected the notion that her daughter’s disappearance was related to a love affair. Louisa had never been in love, Mrs. Nash insisted. In fact, she didn’t even seem to enjoy the company of young men.
Weeks went by without any news. Once, a former student claimed to have seen Miss Nash in a large department store nearly a month after she vanished. There was no way to verify whether she had seen the missing woman, though. A week or two later, police received a telegram from a hotel proprietor who claimed Miss Nash was registered in his hotel under another name. It was another false lead.
And then one morning in late August, Louisa Nash came home. She had been missing eleven weeks. Her mother was away, but the police arrived immediately. They were taken aback by Miss Nash’s obstinate refusal to provide any details about her absence. “I am old enough to attend to my own affairs,” Miss Nash said decidedly. She was annoyed her photograph had been published, and didn’t understand why her absence caused so much trouble.
Reporters besieged the Nash home the next day and were disappointed to find a note placed over the doorbell saying mother and daughter were away. Later, they learned Miss Nash actually was home, watching with amusement from an upstairs window, as the reporters milled around in frustration.
Nothing is known of Louisa Nash’s fate after this. If she ever did tell anyone where she was during the summer of 1902, there is no record of it. After she came home, she was right to push the police away, but why put her mother so much unnecessary pain, worrying about her safety? And what she was doing all that time? Every idea is improbable. However, Louisa Nash was a bit improbable herself.