About 2 1/2 years ago, I wrote about a mystery in my own family. That mystery has - partly - been solved. When our relatives came visiting after Christmas (as mentioned here), we learned that their part-time vanished sister is sporadically in touch, sending more or less cryptic text messages that can be interpreted as her still planning to come to Germany as soon as she has either the money or the necessary documents, or both.
But there are others who have had to deal with mysteries in their families or circles of friends never solved. One of these was brought to my attention in one single sentence in the book about my hometown I read recently: Monika Gwinner.
Reading that name in the book triggered off memories from my own childhood and youth, and made me want to find out more and blog about the matter.
On the 6th of June 1950, seven-year old Monika was out playing in the overgrown palace grounds of Ludwigsburg with a group of children and disappeared from there, never to be seen again.
Her disappearance is mentioned in passing in the book; the author was a child in those days, too, and of course knew of the case, as did my Mum, who was six years old at the time. She told me of the girl that was never seen again most likely during one of our many lovely walks in said castle grounds. Also, I distinctly remember a conversation I had with my uncle (Mum's brother, five years her senior) in my early teens. He knew the missing girl's brother, and together with his friends, the group of boys were determined to get behind the mystery and find Monika.
Many underground passages existed (and most likely still exist) in the area, some leading to and from the castle, some much further afield; most of them were originally built as service passages so that the unsightly servants did not have to be seen by the ladies and gentlemen at the duke's court when they were in the park or looking out from one of the many palace windows. In 1950, when my uncle was 11, the palace grounds had not yet been restored to their modern glory; WWII had ended only five years before, and it would take another four years until the opening of the park to the public, with ornamental flowerbeds, fountains and statues at every corner. The boys explored as many of the passages as they could, but never found anything but rats and rags.
What is such a beautiful park today was an overgrown area of dense shrubbery and thicket - an ideal playground for children. And Monika was one of them. If my memory serves me right and the reports I have collected on the internet are correct, I must have stood more or less at the very spot where Monika was last seen when I took this picture last summer:
Neither my uncle and his friends nor the police were successful in finding Monika, or any trace of her, in spite of the search for her being the largest police campaign up to that point in the history of the country (25.000 men looking for a total of nine missing children who had all dissapeared around the same time).
Two girls who had been part of the group playing with Monika told the police of a stranger having talked to them, promising them cherries if they came with him.
The area was searched with dogs; even the sewage ducts, but all that surfaced were disused weapons from the war. For months, the police collected all sorts of clues, dug up a large area of the park for her body and even resorted to listening to what some clairvoyants said - with no success.
A newspaper report dated 18.7.1950 tells of several witnesses claiming to have seen Monika accompanied by a tall, blond man. Two boys said they'd seen her in a crop of woods, standing with her arms crossed. When they wanted to get closer and talk to the girl, a man darted from the thicket, threatening them and chasing them away. They thought Monika's arms may have been tied.
Three months later, according to a report from 17.10.1950, the police decided to go international with their search for Monika. A woman from Engen, 150 km from Ludwigsburg, claimed to have seen a girl answering to Monika's description at the "Hegnaublick", a place with a panoramic view popular for family outings. She even spoke to the girl who said that she was Monika Gwinner from Ludwigsburg.
This new lead proved to be just as fruitless as all the ones before, though.
In February 1952, 1 1/2 years since that "sighting" (if it ever happened), another report states that the Ludwigsburg police were still following leads, while the throngs of clairvoyants, diviners, fortune-tellers, spiritists and astrologers had given up looking for "Germany's most-searched for child", as Monika is dubbed in the article.
The same article mentions that, as a result from the huge police search, 11 missing children were reunited with their parents - none of their cases in any way related with Monika's. The Ludwigsburg officer in charge even had a ship searched on its way to the U.S.; it carried 630 emigrants from Ludwigsburg, and someone had reported there being a woman with a girl looking like Monika who did not have any papers. The girl turned out to be the woman's own daughter.
The claims of several dowsers had been followed: One told the police to go looking for Monika in a specific house near a lake in Switzerland - and indeed a blond German girl of seven was found there, but she was part of a family on holiday there, and not Monika.
In Hamburg, yet again a specific house was pointed to as the current location of the missing girl, and yet again, the police did indeed find a blond child of seven who was not Monika. After many more similar false clues, the police finally gave up listening to them.
We next read about Monika three years after her disappearance: The girl, now ten years old, was supposed to be with a group of gypsies stopping near Lüneburg, more than 600 km from home. Less than three weeks later, the paper picks up again on the search for the gypsies; at least two eyewitnesses were "certain" to have recognized Monika, and police were trying to find the group - without success, it seems.
At least according to what I was able to find in the online archives, this was the last reported sighting connected to Monika Gwinner.
One year older than my Mum and one year younger than my Dad, she would be 70 this year.