"...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, January 25, 2021

The Vanishing of Ruth Dorsey

"Montgomery Advertiser," February 24, 1975, via Newspapers.com

It’s hard to say which type of missing-persons case is the creepiest: the ones that are full of sinister clues, or the ones where there are virtually no clues at all.  The following little-known disappearance is an outstanding example of the latter.

Ruth Murphree Dorsey was a typical Southern small-town woman.  The Opelika, Alabama resident was a schoolteacher until her marriage in 1928.  After her husband died in 1965, Dorsey took a job at the First National Bank.  She also played the organ and taught Sunday school at her church.  She was childless, but was very close to her numerous nieces and nephews.  Relatives worried about her living alone on her 350-acre farm--her nearest neighbors were a mile away--but Dorsey was a confident sort who wanted to keep her independence.  She was described as an intelligent, active, conscientious woman who loved dogs and liked helping others.  She saw no danger in being on her own.

Unfortunately, she proved to be very, very mistaken about that.

August 17, 1974 began as an unremarkable Saturday for the 67-year-old widow.  She spent the morning doing laundry and baking a banana pudding for some neighbors.  She also made a vet appointment for one of her dogs.  It is assumed she also studied for the Bible lesson she was to teach the next day, as well as practicing the piano selections that would be sung.  Around 4:30 in the afternoon, she pulled up at a gas station.  She told the attendant that she had just received a phone call from a relative, and she needed to go pick up one of her “kin.”  (It was never publicly revealed who made this call.)  At 6 p.m., a neighbor saw her turn into her driveway.  It was a long, twisting driveway, with her house far back from the road and hidden from public view, so her car soon vanished from sight.  This turned out to be the last time anyone is known to have seen Ruth Dorsey, alive or dead.

"Montgomery Advertiser," September 1, 1974

Dorsey was not reported missing until the following morning, when she failed to turn up for church services and Sunday school.  When police went to her home, they found the side door unlocked and the front door wide open.  The house was tidy, with nothing appearing to be missing.  Her Bible and unfinished lesson plans for the following morning were on the dining room table.  The only sign that something terrible had happened was that Dorsey’s three dogs were all cowering on the bathroom floor.  Someone or something had left them visibly traumatized.

Later that day, Dorsey’s car was found in downtown Opelika, parked in front of a duplex where she and her husband had lived immediately after their marriage.  The door to that residence was also wide open, but there was nothing to indicate Ruth had been inside.  The car keys were still in the ignition, and her eyeglasses and purse containing credit cards and eleven dollars were on the front seat.  Fingerprints taken from the car were too smeared to be of any use.

A search of Dorsey’s farm found no trace of her.  The FBI was brought in, but the lack of forensic evidence left the investigation hopelessly stalled.  It seemed virtually certain that the missing woman had been the victim of foul play--she was just not the sort to leave town without telling anyone--but, to date, it has remained a complete mystery who had harmed this utterly unoffending woman, and why.  As her nephew Walter Dorsey put it, "It was as if she walked out the door, got in her car, drove downtown and then..."

We’ll probably never be able to finish that sentence.

[Note: In October 1976, 62-year-old Louise Mitchell, another Opelika widow who lived alone, also disappeared from her home.  A week after she vanished, her car was found in a remote location, with her dead body in the trunk.  Donald Ray Brown, a 16-year-old who had done yard work for Mitchell, was eventually convicted of her murder, but authorities found nothing to connect him to the Dorsey case.]


  1. The strangest aspect, I think, is the fear of the dogs - yet no sign of violence in the home. That's creepy...

  2. I also opt for the latter type of disappearance (with no clues) as being the creepier. This one certainly ranks up there; especially with that sad, poignant detail of the frightened dogs...

  3. That is one of the creepier disappearances I have heard of, mostly because there is absolutely no reason. And why was her car found where she used to live? What traumatized the dogs? Who was the kin? So many unanswered questions.

  4. "Around 4:30 in the afternoon, she pulled up at a gas station. She told the attendant that she had just received a phone call from a relative..."

    Why would Ruth tell the attendant that she was going to pick up a member of her family?

    1. Maybe she knew the man. In a small town especially, people often chat with gas station attendants or grocery store clerks about what they're doing that day.


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