Missing: Joan Carolyn Risch

Updated on May 11, 2019
Jade Hassenplug profile image

I am passionate about missing persons cases due to a personal family experience of having someone go missing in my family.

Joan Risch portrait photo.
Joan Risch portrait photo. | Source

Details of Joan

Joan was 31 years old when she went missing on October 24, 1961 in Lincoln, Massachusetts. She was a white female. She was 5'7" tall and weighed 120 pounds. She had blue eyes and short, dark brown hair. She was married to Martin Risch and had two children. She was also known under the name Joan Carolyn Nattrass. She was last seen wearing a gray cloth coat (possibly Peck and Peck brand), a sweater, a blouse, a charcoal-colored wool skirt, blue sneakers with white piping, a slim platinum wedding band with five diamond chips, and possibly a scarf on her head.

Source

Background

Joan was born as Joan Carolyn Bard on May 12, 1930, in Brooklyn New York. She and her family moved to New Jersey when she was nine. Her parents died in 1940 in a suspicious fire, after which she was adopted by her aunt and uncle. She took their last name and even had a new social security number. Some reports say she first lived with foster parents before living with her aunt and uncle. These reports also say that Joan claimed she was sexually abused by her foster father, but these claims have never been confirmed.

She graduated from Wilson College in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania in 1952 with an English literature degree. Joan wanted to go into publishing, but she had to start as a secretary and work her way up in her job until she became the editorial assistant at Harcourt Brace and World. Later she moved jobs to Thomas Y. Crowell Co. While working she met Martin Risch, who she later married in 1956. She left her job to start a family with him.

They lived in Ridgefield, Connecticut in 1959 and had their first child, a girl named Lillian. A year later they had a son, David. They moved to Lincoln Massachusetts just outside of Boston in April of 1961. They easily connected with the community, and Joan even became an active member in the League of Women Voters. Martin began work at the Fitchburg Paper Company. Joan even talked about becoming a teacher after the children got older.

Joan with her two children
Joan with her two children | Source

The Incident

October 24, 1961, the lives of the Risch family changed forever. It was in the morning that Martin had left for a work trip. He drove to Logan Airport to catch his 8 a.m. flight. He was going to New York and intended to stay overnight in Manhattan.

Joan woke the children after their father had left and made breakfast like every morning. Joan dropped off her son David with their neighbor Barbara Barker across the street and left with 4-year-old Lillian to go to a dentist appointment. Joan drove her blue 1951 Chevrolet to the Bedford dentist and after that took Lillian with her to a department store to buy a few things then went back home.

She got home around 11 a.m. and was seen by two tradesmen who both said she seemed to be in good spirits. While they were out, they had their daily mail and milk delivered to the home. Neither the milkman or mailman noticed anything out of the ordinary or unusual about the home that day.

Shortly after 11:15 a.m., a dry cleaner delivery driver came by the home to pick up a few of Martin’s suits. He entered the home to pick them up and claims to have not seen anything unusual or out of the ordinary about Joan, the children or the house.

Joan then made lunch for the children around noon, and after lunch she put two-year-old David down for a nap upstairs in his room. He usually slept until about 2 p.m. Around 1 p.m. Barbara brought her son Douglas over to play with Lillian. Joan came out to prune some plants and do a little light yard work. Before 2 p.m., Joan came back out, led the children to Barbara’s home, and told her she would be back shortly. Lillian and Douglas played in the backyard of Barbara’s house on a swing set and could not see the Risch house. About fifteen minutes later, Barbara claims to have seen Joan come out of the home in a trench coat carrying something red in her arms from the car to the garage. Barbara said Joan looked dazed and was walking quickly, she just assumed she was chasing after David. This was the last time anybody saw Joan.

A daughter of one of Joan’s neighbors got off the bus about an hour later and claimed to have seen an unfamiliar car sitting in front of the Risch’s home. Virginia Keene, the daughter, said the car was possibly a General Motors model, a dirty two-toned car, possibly with gray and blue colors. Police claim this was an unmarked police car and they say the witnesses are wrong on their timeline of when they saw this vehicle. The police said the car was there later in the day not around 3 p.m., so this report has been disputed over the years.

At 3:40 p.m., Barbara returned Lillian to her own home so she could run some errands with her own children. She believed Joan was still home when she left Lillian at the house. When Barbara returned home around 4 or 4:15 p.m., Lillian came running back to Barbara’s home saying “Mommy is gone and the kitchen is covered in red paint!”. Baby David was crying upstairs in his crib when Barbara entered the home to look for Joan. She didn't find her anywhere and noticed the blood all over the kitchen, so she called the police.

The police were called at 4:33 p.m. and Sgt. Mike McHugh was the first to arrive on the scene about 5 minutes later. McHugh saw the blood on the floor and the walls of the kitchen. He noticed the phone was ripped from the wall and thrown in the garbage, and there was an overturned table and chairs. It was very clear a struggle had taken place here. The blood was found to be type O, the same as Joan’s but it was never established if the blood was in fact Joan’s blood. There was no weapon in the house and no weapon was ever found.

It was noticed that the blood from the kitchen trailed all the way to David’s crib and back into the kitchen again. The trail continued out into the driveway and stopped at Joan’s car. They had bloody hand and palm prints but they were not able to identify if they belonged to Joan as her fingerprints were not on file. It also appeared someone had tried to clean up the blood using paper towels and David’s overalls.

Investigators determined that the amount of blood was about half a pint, not enough to cause a severe life-threatening wound. It almost appeared as though someone had tried to make it look a lot worse then it could have been. One other odd clue was that even with the mess of blood, there were no bloody footprints. Whoever was responsible was very careful about their steps to make sure they didn't step in any of the blood. The police also couldn't determine where the incident had happened, if it started in the kitchen or if it started upstairs and continued through the kitchen and into the driveway.

At first, McHugh thought Joan had committed suicide, but they couldn't find her body. He then called for backup for help searching the surrounding areas. He had his officers call local hospitals to notify the police if a woman fitting Joan’s description was admitted or showed up. McHugh called Martin’s workplace to see if he could get in contact with him. When he learned of his trip to New York he explained the situation and he was contacted by his company and made plans to take the next flight back to Boston.

The police found four letters still in the mailbox that had been delivered but never taken into the house. Joan’s cloth coat was missing but her trench coat was still in the home as was her purse. Another odd thing found was several empty beer bottles in the garbage can in the kitchen. There was an empty liquor bottle found as well but Martin had confirmed he and his wife finished it the night before. He did not know where the beer bottles came from, though.

Kitchen crime scene photo
Kitchen crime scene photo | Source
Kitchen crime scene photo
Kitchen crime scene photo | Source
Joan's car in her driveway
Joan's car in her driveway | Source

Suspicious Library Books

Later it came to light that Joan had checked out 25 books over the summer on murders and disappearances. Quite a few of the books she checked out were about women who disappeared without a trace or explained how to disappear. One book had shocking similarities to Joans own case. It described how a woman had left behind blood smears and a bloody towel before she went missing. Her husband claims she was interested in mystery novels and had a taste for mystery themes.

Possible Sigtings

That same afternoon at around 2:45 p.m., several witnesses claim to have seen Joan after she was last seen by Barbara. This woman was seen wearing similar clothing to what Joan was last seen in, but had a handkerchief over her head and looked messy and was hunched over like she was cold.

Another reported sighting was between 3:15 and 3:30 p.m. of a woman dressed in similar clothing to Joan but she had blood running down her legs and was walking along another parkway. This woman also seemed disoriented and had been possibly cradling something at stomach level. At 4:30 p.m., another sighting of a woman matching Joan’s description was seen walking south along Route 128 near Trapelo Road.

The next month in early November 1961, the Risch home got at least a dozen phone calls from an unknown female. Joan’s father in law would answer each time but the caller refused to speak to him each time. That same day one of the neighbors received a call from a “terribly excited” woman. The woman complained that she had been trying to call her home but didn't know the man who kept answering the phone.

This is a part of the road people believe to have seen Joan
This is a part of the road people believe to have seen Joan | Source

Theories

There are a few theories that stick out more than others. One theory is that Joan simply ran away and had staged the scene to make it look like she had been kidnapped or murdered. They believe she was dissatisfied in her role as a simple suburban housewife and missed her job at the publishing agency. Close friends of Joan claim she would never abandon her children and that she was content with being a housewife.

The second most common theory is that she died while walking along Route 128 by falling into a pit in a construction site and wasn't able to get out. Being disoriented she may have gone unconscious and had been accidentally buried by or under the road. No excavation has been done to confirm this theory.

Joan’s husband Martin believed his wife was still alive and that she may have had some sort of manic or psychological breakdown and in turn developed a sort of amnesia. He believes if this happened she may not know who she is or know how to get back home.

One less-believed theory is that Joan may have tried to perform an in-home abortion in the kitchen. Some believe the empty liqueur bottle in the garbage supports this theory. People believe this could be the reason Joan was seen walking dazed and disoriented by her neighbor and witnesses along the road and why she would have had blood running down her legs.

These suspects that have been ruled out in a possible abduction, her husband Martin, the mailman and the milkman both had alibis and the delivery driver who came to pick up the suits to be dry cleaned.

Questions & Answers

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      • Lorna Lamon profile image

        Lorna Lamon 

        3 months ago

        This is such an intriguing article and sadly this case was never solved. I hope that cases such as this will be re-opened and with new technology reveal the truth, and give her family closure. Thank you for sharing Jade.

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