"...we should pass over all biographies of 'the good and the great,' while we search carefully the slight records of wretches who died in prison, in Bedlam, or upon the gallows."
~Edgar Allan Poe

Monday, August 19, 2019

Cindy Weber's Final Escape

Photo of Cindy Weber in the "Red Deer Advocate," October 23, 1981, via Newspapers.com


Every missing-persons story is tragic, of course. However, I know of few such cases that are both as heart-breakingly sad and utterly peculiar as the following disappearance. It reads like a psychological horror movie, with an almost Fortean ending.

People inevitably called Cynthia "Cindy" Weber of Edmonton, Canada, "troubled." This seems an almost grotesque understatement. Her descent into an abyss began when she was only twelve. In April 1972, her father Arnott Weber died. Worse still was to come. Soon after Arnott's death, Cindy's brother Kenneth revealed to his mother Edna that he was gay. He said he was tired of living a lie.

Edna Weber was horrified. She was an extremely devout Mennonite who sincerely believed homosexuality was a grave sin. She felt that unless her son changed his ways, he was doomed. After consulting with her other sons--who were all as appalled as she was--they decided that they had no choice but to excommunicate Kenneth from the family. They would have nothing to do with him until he "repented," and agreed to renounce his sexual orientation.

After a year of being shunned by his relatives, Kenneth did indeed give in, but not in the way the Webers had hoped. One evening in November 1973, the twenty-four year-old walked into the family garage, turned on his car, and placed his face directly under the exhaust pipe. One of his brothers discovered his body some time later.

Cindy had been particularly close to both her father and Kenneth, and these twin blows were more than she could bear. She never recovered from them. She tried, as so many psychologically suffering people do, to numb the pain with drugs. During her teen years, drug overdoses sent her to the hospital some five or six times. She was placed in psychiatric facilities, which she loathed. She escaped institutionalization a number of times, but she was always caught and forced back for "help." Being confined in hospitals, instead of aiding her emotional torment, only exacerbated it.

When she was twenty, Cindy decided she had had enough of this life, and she hanged herself. When she was found and cut down, she was still alive.

This proved to be Fate's cruelest trick on her yet. The lack of oxygen to her brain left her severely physically disabled. She could not move unassisted. She could no longer speak, leaving an alphabet board as her only source of communication. She was left nearly blind. Unless she took medication every day, her body would shake uncontrollably. Although her mind remained completely lucid, she had to be fed, washed, and dressed like a helpless baby. This young woman who was desperate to avoid captivity found herself imprisoned by her own body.

For the next two years, Cindy was a patient in Edmonton's Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital. She was miserably unhappy there, but this time, it was impossible for her to flee. Understandably enough, she was a morose person who was described as impossible to get along with. No one outside her family ever visited her. Cindy's old friends never contacted her. She spent long, incredibly dull days on a ward full mostly of older people who had nothing in common with her. She often told her mother that she would "rather die" than remain at Glenrose. Her "citizen's advocate" at the hospital, Edna Shaffler, heard much the same thing. Shaffler later said, "She once spelled out for me on her alphabet board that all she wanted was to be around people her own age...I felt so sad for her because there was hardly anyone around to be with her." Shaffler also said that Cindy was so lonely, "She used to scream and yell when she knew I was about to leave. And it was difficult to calm her because she can't talk and express what she wants."

I have no mouth. And I must scream.

In the summer of 1981, Cindy's desperation increased when she learned that the hospital was canceling her speech classes.  She was making little progress, and they wanted to devote their resources to patients with more potential for improvement. In fact, Glenrose wanted to end all Cindy's therapy and discharge her from the hospital for good. Edna Weber fought with hospital officials over this, but the matter remained unresolved.

Cindy was devastated, realizing that the staff was telling her, in effect, "You will never get any better. You have no hope." Schaffler tried to console Cindy, suggesting that maybe they could work out something, but "Cindy just took a fit and tried to run away from her wheelchair. I never saw her like that before."

This was how matters stood on Saturday, July 18, 1981. Cindy was at home on a weekend visit. It had been a relatively good day for her. She spent the morning sitting outdoors enjoying the sun, and in the evening she and her mother took in a movie. Edna could not recall ever seeing her so happy. At about 10:30 p.m. Mrs. Weber put her daughter to bed, and then retired for the night herself.

At 6:45 the following morning, Edna Weber went to Cindy's bedroom and found that the impossible had happened. Cindy was gone. There was no sign of any struggle. Cindy's clothes, walking sticks, eyeglasses, even the medication to manage her shaking were all there. Everything was where it should be...except for Cindy.

When the police learned that a nearly-blind woman unable to walk without assistance vanished from her bed without anyone noticing, they were as baffled as Mrs. Weber. Where did she go? Why did she go? How did she go?

The only obvious explanation is that someone--with or without Cindy's consent--broke into the Weber home and carried her off, but who? Ever since she became disabled, she had no contact with anyone outside her immediate family and hospital staff, and none of them had any visible reason to kidnap her. Her whereabouts remained equally mysterious. Police dogs were used to search a wide area around her home. Neighbors, Cindy's former friends, and the staff at Glenrose were all questioned, and all passed lie detector tests.  Nobody had any idea where she might have gone. A week after her disappearance, a police spokesperson sighed, "Virtually every angle and theory has been looked into, but nothing factual has come up. We're still at the point where we're trying to get a good lead."

That "good lead" never appeared. Police continued their investigation, but after failing to find even one clue indicating what had become of Cindy, they had no choice but to suspend their inquiries. Edna Weber offered a $5,000 reward for any information about her daughter, and even consulted several psychics, with equally fruitless results. To date, we don't know any more about Cindy Weber's disappearance than anyone did on the morning she vanished: that is to say, we know absolutely nothing. It remains a uniquely puzzling mystery.

If one wants to get fanciful, it's almost as if a tormented young woman lay in bed one night, praying to God to end her misery. "I just want to cease to exist," she said.

So God obliged.

5 comments:

  1. I have read your comments to John at I Have Three Cats and always enjoyed them. I thought I would come and visit. You have fascinated me with this book. I may try to attain it. My guess is family did her in and removed her to an unknown place for burial.

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  2. Very sad, indeed, and very puzzling. Whatever happened, I suspect Cindy Weber was free at last.

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  3. Could Edna have killed her as a form of "mercy killing", and then disposed of the body?

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    1. That's the most obvious answer, and I can't rule it out, but I just don't see it. From what I've read, I sense that Edna was not just genuinely grief-stricken over her daughter's disappearance, she was genuinely puzzled, and not a little frightened. I believe that whoever helped Cindy vanish (and I do think it was with Cindy's connivance) took care to keep the business a secret from Edna. Now, who could this person be? I have no idea. Neither did the police.

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