A little girl left her Eastside Nashville home headed for school. She never returned home; the mystery of her disappearance has never been solved. The little girl was not Tabitha Tuders, who went missing on April 29, 2003, but Dorothy Ann Distlehurst, who went missing on September 19, 1934.
Dorothy Ann was the daughter of a prominent Nashville man named Alfred E. Distlehurst. He was a sales manager for the Methodist Publishing House. It was rumored Distlehurst had received a large sum of money from his late father's estate. Dorothy Ann's mother was identified in the media only as "Mrs. A.E. Distlehurst." Dorothy had a three year old sister and a teenaged step - brother who, at the time of her missing, was living in a Florida "transient camp." He returned home to Nashville upon learning of her disappearance from a relative.
On September 19, 1934, six year old Dorothy Ann left her home in what was then a sparse neighborhood in east Nashville and walked the two blocks to her kindergarten. She was wearing a blue and white plaid dress and held a pink lunchbox. Expected that afternoon at 1:00 p.m., she never returned home.
Dorothy Ann was described as four feet tall, weighing 55 pounds, with brown eyes and brown hair worn in a "bob." Her mother last saw her skipping happily towards school.
It happened several years after the kidnapping/murder of aviator Charles "Lucky Lindy" Lindberg's baby, the most highly publicized crime of the 20th Century. Perhaps this is why local, federal, state, and government agents arrived in Nashville to search for the little Distlehurst girl. The national media arrived as well. Sheriff's deputies, local police, federal and state agents, investigators, and volunteers swarmed into Nashville to supervise and aid in the search for the missing girl. Over 500 people searched the woods and streets of east Nashville on the evening of September 19. The news went national, making headlines to include the Ludington Daily News in Michigan.
When the public learned of the missing child, the ransom letters begin to come in.
A postcard from Georgia, received about a week after she went missing, threatened to burn the little girl's eyes out with acid if a ransom was not paid. Alfred Distlehurst traveled as far as New York City in an attempt to pay a ransom. He exhausted himself traveling in an attempt to retrieve his beloved daughter, but to no avail.
The little girl was found on November 1934. Dorothy Ann's badly decomposed body was discovered buried under only a few inches of soil on the grounds of the Davidson County Tuberculosis Hospital, discover by two men who were digging to prepare flower beds. Dorothy had been gagged, and there were two blows to the left side of her skull by what was suspected to be a hammer. Acid had been poured on her face. She was found nude in a "crouching" position in the shallow grave. Pathologist Dr. Herman Spitz and Dr. Leonard Pogue, Dorothy's dentist, identified the body. She was identified by dental records and recent dental work by Pogue. It was determined she was not kidnapped for ransom, but abducted by a "fiend or pervert" off the street, authorities announced. Trees and shrubs had hidden the grave. Dorothy's clothing, pink lunch box, and books were found near the grave, about 20 feet away.
Funeral services took place at Belmont Baptist Church. Both of her parents collapsed during the ceremony and had to be revived. New York's Alfred Otto Wagner, called the "Misery Chiseler," was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment on July 26, 1935 for mailing extortion letters to relatives and friends of missing children, The Distlehurst family was the last of his victims. Wagner was identified as the person who wrote the letters from New York; he had never been in Nashville. Authorities attempted to find the true murderer, following all leads, but no arrests were ever made.
After Dorothy Ann was located, interest waned and then disappeared. It was chalked up to be a cold case, and no one knows who killed Dorothy Ann Distlehurst. Her case remains one of Nashville's archived cold cases in 2014.
My website & photo credit HERE
More on the Tuders case HERE
An archived 1934 article on Dorothy Ann HERE