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The Dog Lady: Unsolved Disappearance of Julia Stoddard

1982 and 1983

Some of the readers here may remember back in 1987, a "made for TV" movie was released called Murder Ordained. It told the story of a minister in Emporia, KS. that murdered his wife in July nineteen eighty-three, and disguised it to look like an automobile accident. Then, about four months after this "accident", a man was fatally shot, alongside a rural highway near Junction City, KS.The man's wife had been the secretary in the church where the minister was serving, and if you didn't already know, you probably figured it out that the minister and the murdered man's wife were in an illicit relationship.

The minister was named Tom Bird, and the secretary was Lorna Anderson. The deceased spouses were Sandy Bird and Marty Anderson respectively. The story contained all the sordid elements to keep the cities of Emporia, and Junction City abuzz for years before it finally died down. Bird was charged with murdering both victims, but was acquitted on the murder of Marty Anderson. Lorna Anderson was charged in relation with her husband's death. Trials were held, and convictions delivered, and both served sentences until their paroles were allowed a few years ago.

This story made the big news, nationwide, on all networks and because of this, the movie was inspired. The murder occurred on November 4, 1983 during the evening. By the following morning the news was spreading around to those who lived nearby, and people started locking their doors and taking precautions, Rumors were that a deranged someone had been driving the road and happened upon Anderson, killing him for no reason. As it turns out, that was the original story Lorna Anderson gave to the police, and it had the residents upset. I was planning on accompanying some friends on a deer hunt that morning, and based on what we had heard, we speculated on who or what we might see as the rumors claimed the killer had fled in a direction that would take him near our hunting grounds. We didn't see anything as it turned out, not even a deer, but the entire event served to eclipse an equally mystifying event that was never solved.

Up until that morning, the talk throughout the community had been centered on a local woman name Julia Stoddard. She was a new resident to the area and owned a home about three miles to the north of a small unincorporated town named Delavan. Delavan, KS had been a commercial center before the Great Depression, but since, had shriveled to little more than a small cluster of homes. The schools had closed, there were no banks, and the only businesses at that time consisted of a welding shop, a crop and grain company, and a post office. During WWII , the government had opened an air base for refueling and maintenance also about three miles north of town and a bit to the east of the Stoddard residence. The base closed shortly after the war, and the government sold the property for a song to the nearby city of Herington. You may remember Herington, KS as the place Terry Nichols, convicted Oklahoma City bomber, lived at the time the Murrah Building was destroyed. The city of Herington designated the site as an industrial park, and it was temporary home to a number of businesses including a Beech Aircraft plant and a small farm machinery manufacturer. A commercial cattle feedlot located on the other end of the site , but the park never fully developed and by the time Julia Stoddard arrived, it had deteriorated to a weed infested sprawl of abandoned and razed buildings.

Ms. Stoddard moved to her home sometime during the seventies. By this time Delavan was near it's last gasp, and the rural area surrounding the small town was starting to follow suite. In the earlier part of the twentieth century, the population had been fairly high. Farms in those days were usually small as many were still worked by horses, or small tractors, and the homes were usually located from a half mile to a mile apart. Most families had five or six children and the county population totaled into the thousands. As the population aged, young people began to move away and the number of residents dwindled. Farms were sold, in some instances to other local farmers, and in other cases to owners who lived elsewhere. These "outsiders" were looked at with reservation and in some cases resentment by some of the longtime landowners who had been there for generations.

Morris County traces its history back into the early nineteenth century. Fur traders first came to the area including Seth Hayes, a cousin to Kit Carson, in the eighteen twenties to trade with the local native tribes. Descendants of Mr. Hayes continued to live in the county until recent times and possibly even later. And this same situation applies to numerous other residents of that area as well. Through generations of marrying, bearing children, and those children marrying, a considerable number of people now, are related to one another. They aren't hillbillies, but they are a close knit community, and they aren't always immediately open to others who lack a similar pedigree.

It was into this culture that Julia Stoddard inserted herself. She purchased a home and property that had belonged to a longtime family and became an outsider. She wasn't accepted, but she was observed, even scrutinized, and this gave the locals something to converse about for several years.

A view of Delavan, KS as it looks today. In the distance are the grain storage silos that held local harvests for almost fifty years.

A view of Delavan, KS as it looks today. In the distance are the grain storage silos that held local harvests for almost fifty years.

Stranger in Town

News accounts on TV frequently relay accounts of people abandoning their pets. Sometimes, they just turn them out, but usually with a faithful dog, it's necessary to take them far enough away from their home, that they can't find their way back. It's cruel, and it's inhumane and there are laws against it, but it still happens, and it has been for years.

Morris County KS was no different back in the 1980s and '90s, and it wasn't unusual for this to happen frequently in the farming community. Most of these unwanted animals likely came from some of the local cities and towns, where residents were a little more transient and less settled. Stray dogs were the largest problem and these unfortunate animals would show up at farmstead homes begging for a hand out, or maybe just a friendly face.

Most of the time, the owner's dogs ran the strays off, and a lot of them became victims to coyotes or starved. Few locals were concerned for these victims of their previous owners flighty natures, but the Stoddard women was of a different mindset.

No one knew anything about her. They didn't know where she came from, although it looks like she may have been born in a tiny Kansas town known as Moscow. Prior to her Delavan residency, she lived near Junction City about twenty-five miles north.

The government has a large military installation there called Fort Riley, and she had been employed in some capacity at the base prior to her retirement when she relocated to Delavan. She drew retirement pay, and lived simply, and wasn't an outgoing person.

This probably suited most of he neighbors since they weren't likely to reach out to her either. She had an old truck and was seen driving it into or from town occasionally, but otherwise was reclusive. Generally, she was considered an oddity.

This impression stuck when she started taking in stray dogs that showed up in the area. She fed and kept them and at one time probably had nearly a hundred. People who are willing to care for strays become well known by those that are willing to desert their animals as it assuages some of the guilt they feel when they drop a devoted animal off on a lonely road at night.

At least the poor animal has some small chance is the rationale. Julia Stoddard didn't ask why, she simply took the animals and cared for them the best she could. She even went so far as to walk the three plus miles into Delavan with a wheelbarrow, to buy dog food when her truck wouldn't start. People observed and talked, but didn't reach out to help.

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Missing

In 1982, the winter before Lorna Anderson planned the murder of her husband, a strong cold high pressure set down in the central plains. Snow fell to a depth of nearly three feet in some places and the rural community was hit pretty hard.

When a snowplow has to travel several hundred miles to clear a rural community, it takes time to bring things back to normal. Heavy snow knocks out electric power, threatens livestock and makes everything that needs to be done more difficult. Batteries in vehicles and farm equipment suddenly die, and lubricating oil thickens making engines more difficult to start.

The cold saps a person's strength, and the wind makes it necessary to wear multiple layers of clothing. Most farms have water wells, and use electric pumps to supply water. If electricity is lost, an additional hardship is imposed.

Julia Stoddard was no exception. A neighbor down the road saw her on one day cleaning ice and snow off her truck when he drove by. He simply made a mental note of it and went on about his business. A few days later, noting the truck was still parked in the same place, he realized he hadn't see her since. He called the local sheriff and reported a possible welfare call.

Richard Malik was the elected sheriff for Morris County in 1982, and he responded to the call. It was around a thirty minute drive from his office at the county courthouse in Council Grove, but several days had passed since her neighbor saw her, and his trip time probably didn't make any difference.

But when he did arrive, he was somewhat taken aback by what he found. No one knew much about the lady that lived there, and although he had no idea of what to expect, he probably did have some sort of expectation.

What he didn't expect was to find 20+ dogs tied up in various points around the yard, and even more running free. The was no food, and all of the animals were hungry or in various stages of starvation. The winter was as hard on them as it was on cattle.

He knocked on the door and called out for her but received no response. Since it was a welfare call, he had legal authority to enter the home and did so, probably expecting to find her inside, deceased from hypothermia, or carbon monoxide poisoning or possible heart attack as she was advanced in years. He found nothing. No body, no evidence of a struggle, no break in, nothing.

Now by his own admission, it was hard to determine what had happened, as the home was in an extreme state of clutter. In one room, he discovered books, stacked like bricks to a depth of about three feet, and entirely covering the floor except for a small path that snaked its way inward from the door.

Other rooms were of a similar nature, with other forms of clutter. Clothing, blankets, and a variety of items were piled up everywhere. It seemed nothing was put away. Malik's reaction set the stage for the rest of the investigation. He had no doubt heard the stories from those who gossiped about her and was as prone to thinking poorly of her as anybody else in the neighborhood.

Richard Malik, before becoming the Morris County sheriff in the late '60s, worked for the police department in Wichita. A divorce and move to Council Grove offered an opportunity to use his training and experience to run for office. He won, and kept the office even against local life-long residents for several terms.

Some would say, however, that Sheriff Malik was too much of a politician, long on self-promotion, and short on skills. Of course, Morris County, like most other low population farming communities across the country aren't generally considered high in crime or mysterious disappearances, and no one could be sure that at the time of the investigation, Malik was confronted by either.

Regardless, as the investigation unfolded, he escorted numerous people, some probably investigators, and some, members of the press, through the home. At best, he compromised an investigation, and at worst, destroyed evidence in a possible crime scene. Over the next few weeks, this local sheriff's department ran out of evidence and leads, and were unable to offer any solution to the mystery.

This is Delavan's old elementary school that was used during the depression years. Currently it is a meeting place for community events.

This is Delavan's old elementary school that was used during the depression years. Currently it is a meeting place for community events.

Enter the KBI

When this happened and Sheriff Malik realized he wasn't making any headway, he asked for help from the Kansas Bureau of Investigation. The best and most probable solution offered up to this time was that the poor woman had died and that her body had been eaten by the hungry dogs.

Even today, this seems like it might be the most logical scenario, although as it was pointed out, there should have been evidence of that as well. Even the hungriest dog won't eat heavy coats, or boots, and if this had happened, there should have been organic remains in the form of hair or bones too. Searches of the home, yard, and surrounding fields was conducted, and none were found.

Another proposed possibility was that she had for some reason, emergency or something else, decided to walk into town. It was a little over three miles, by road, although some could be shaved off if she went across country. That possibility required a lot more searching, and to what degree that was done, I have never heard.

The KBI reviewed all the evidence collected to that point before expanding the investigation. They spoke to a lot of people including members of my family, but discovered nothing new. A lot of rumors about their work were spinning around though, and most of those were centered around foul play.

As I told earlier, her home was in close proximity to an abandoned Army airbase, probably about a half mile due west. The base is still there, and is offered by the city of Herington as a place to locate business and industry as well as a legitimate landing field complete with runway and aircraft services.

But although they were working toward this in the early eighties, it was at that time a pretty rough chunk of property. Some speculate that she might have ventured there in search of water, since the water system had been kept operational throughout the years.

The belief is that weather related issues caused her own water supply to become inoperable, and that she might have relied on the old base as a secondary source. This isn't known as fact, but is a strong possibility.

But if that was the case, her body would have been found there or at least the remains yet nothing was. Another suspicion held by some is that the airbase, largely un-patrolled and with few nearby residents was a prime location for criminal activity.

Mainly, its thought, that it was a delivery point for drugs, either by car, or possibly in some cases by plane. That would have been relatively simple, as it was more or less just one more landing strip at the time. and for the most part, unmonitored. My cousin landed his small plane there in nineteen seventy-four, a few years before Ms. Stoddard vanished, and no one from the airport authority even greeted him or questioned his intentions.

As for a market for drugs, there was quite a bit of potential. Wichita, is only about ninety miles from the base, and had a population of just under three hundred thousand back then. Any drug on the menu could have been sold there, but in the early eighties, crack cocaine was becoming a favorite.

Now Wichita wasn't the only place, as about 20 miles north of the facility lies Junction City, with the Army's Fort Riley next door. Junction City was reputed to be a wild town with all the G.I.'s and taverns, and hookers on the street. A few narcotics could have easily found users there.

Furthermore, just a few miles east of the base, sits Manhattan, home of Kansas State University, with an enrollment of around forty thousand students. Another opportunity. And in the opposite direction, lies Emporia, and Emporia State University with about twenty-five thousand attendees, plus four large employers known for good wages. I spent time in Emporia, and became aware of a prevalent drug culture in the years before Julia Stoddard's story developed.

So, as it was told to me, the KBI was considering the possible scenario that while on a trip to get water, the woman may have stumbled on something she shouldn't have. If it actually was a drop, large quantities of drugs and cash were probably being exchanged, and whoever was involved may have been willing to go to great lengths to avoid capture.

The old base from the air

This view is looking south toward what's left of Delavan. Julia Stoddard's home was located about a half mile to the right of the tower seen near the upper right hand corner.

This view is looking south toward what's left of Delavan. Julia Stoddard's home was located about a half mile to the right of the tower seen near the upper right hand corner.

Only hanger left

This is the last standing hanger on the base. At the time of this story, there were three of these in a line from north to south. All were included in the search as was the rest of the base area.

This is the last standing hanger on the base. At the time of this story, there were three of these in a line from north to south. All were included in the search as was the rest of the base area.

The Search Intensifies

The KBI tried several different methods to find Julia Stoddard. There was no body, and no evidence of foul play, so technically, there was no crime. In spite of that, the leading agent worked hard, In one of the hangers, he discovered a large tank, built into the floor like a pool, that was full of water.

The tank was drained to see if there was anything in it, but nothing was found. It measured nearly fourteen feet deep, and required a ladder for investigators to get down inside. Pictures and stories of this event were published in the local newspaper but nothing more came of it.

By this time, the investigation was waning down without determining what had happened, and even the local people were losing interest. The story had been kept alive by the local media, who published numerous articles of a derisive nature, referring to "The Dog Lady" and other names that focused more on her supposed eccentricities, that on the human tragedy and suffering. Then Martin Anderson was murdered, and the center of attention was changed.

1983 was an election year for the local sheriff. It was a hard fought campaign, with a lot of mudslinging, but Richard Malik was voted out, in favor of a man by the name of Corky Woodward. The Stoddard investigation was one of the mud balls thrown, and probably influenced a few people.

I moved out of town before the election was finished, and lost track of things. Then two years later, Corky and his wife Dannette rented a video recorder for an evening and recorded a bedroom scene starring the two of them. The following day, he returned the recorder, but forgot to retrieve his tape.

Within a few days, he had made a bigger news story than Julia Stoddard and the account still circulates on the web. You can check it out on Snopes.

Time Goes On

As I said, I moved away and had no direct knowledge of anything else that went on with the case. Occasionally a few friends and some family that lived in the area would share a small detail, but the investigation had pretty much ended.

An aspiring author approached the missing lady's surviving family members requesting to write the story, but was denied and received some strong hints that the family wouldn't be above filing a lawsuit if they felt they or their missing relative were defamed. The account drifted off into the annals of time, and became just another story few people remember.

If any sign of Julia Stoddard, or her remains were ever found, I never heard about it. Presumably, she was declared dead, and the case closed, as it was never determined a crime took place. An Internet search turns up precious little, and nothing is yielded when looking into the KBI's missing persons records. The local newspaper has no Internet presence, and the other papers that would have carried the story have long ago filed it away in their archives.

If it weren't for the fact that I watched the thing unfold, I would almost wonder if it had really happened. But there is one small thing to support my memory. A look at the Social Security Death Index reveals that a Julia Stoddard died in 1982 at the age of seventy-two. Her last residence was declared as the small town of Moscow, KS, and it fits since it was well known she wasn't a native to Delavan.

Sadly, in the end, it isn't just the fact that she vanished, leaving no trace that should be the thing we remember, but rather that she lived, and was ignored and avoided by the people among whom she lived, to the extent that when she did disappear, it took someone a week to notice.

Some Continuing Thoughts

The months/years that have passed since I originally wrote this article have given a few people a chance to read and remark on it, and I want to tell each one of you thanks in a big way.

I would like to say thanks also to J. R. Sparke who worked for the newspaper in Heringtion at the time. He pointed out an obvious error I made regarding Ms. Stoddard, and a woman with the same name of the town of Moscow, KS.

The individual from Moscow had passed away prior to the event in this hub and was not the same Julia Stoddard known to the people as "The Dog Lady." This was further reinforced by Guylene Stoddard who requested I remove the erroneous information. I defer to these individuals by not only admitting my error but publishing this retraction.

During the research for the original article, precious little could be found of the story except for that which remained either in archives, or in the memories of observers. And for me, writing the story, it almost seemed unreal like an unsubstantiated rumor.

And finding someone with the name Julia Stoddard who was proven to exist, seemed like a bit of support for what otherwise could easily been a fictional story. Since then, the number of people who have commented on the story are verification enough of the event and I apologize to anyone who may have been offended by an incorrect assumption.

At this point, four decades have come and gone, and in May of 2014 the Google street view car drove past the old airbase and down the road where Julia Stoddard lived. I won't bother to post any pictures of this as they're available on Google maps, but one commenter disclosed that her house was demolished, and no trace of it can be seen from the street view.

A lot of the country around there has changed in the same way. I appreciate the comments and input from everyone; they have added much to the story. The disappearance and aftermath will go down in history as another one of those accounts that is incomplete. But somewhere, someone either knows or at one time knew the answer and decided keep it to themselves.

Julia Stoddard, rest in peace.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

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