Sunday, 10 February 2013

An Unsolved Mystery

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 L√ľneburg, 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.

30 comments:

  1. As I was reading your story I thought maybe this poor little girl had wandered off and fallen or got trapped and just was unable to get home and did not make it. I was surprised as I read on to hear that there were 9 other children missing at the time too. This changes my thoughts. That poor girl. We hear many stories like this in this day and age but I did not think there were so many in those years. It is sad that such things happen.

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    1. The police did not really treat all of the nine cases as related, but thought that at least some of them could be connected. Some children had run away from home on their own accord, some of them were already teenagers, some were boys, some were girls.

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  2. How sad to hear about Monika. I am sure that her family must have been devastated and never fully recovered from the loss... thank you for sharing the story.

    xoxo Carol

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    1. I was thinking of her family, too, and the toll this must have taken on them - never knowing whether your daughter/sister was still alive or not must have been terrible.

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  3. I wonder what happened to her? Could she have had an accident and was never found?
    Was she abducted? The latter must be the case if there were so many that had gone missing too. This must have been terribly hard on her family. What a terrible thing. Keep us informed on this, Meike, maybe something will turn up about it.
    You should be a reporter!

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    1. It is highly improbable that she had an accident; she would have been found eventually. Even years later, when the overgrown thicket was all cleared and the park landscaped, police were present for the digging work to make sure no trace was overlooked.
      I doubt anything will ever turn up - the case has probably been closed decades ago, and none of the police officers involved back then will still be alive today.

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  4. This is a terrible story, and very similar to one I knew when I was a child. In 1951 a girl named Beverly Potts disappeared on her way home from a park and was never found. Her family never really knew what happened to her. Such things are real tragedies. This case made national headlines at the time and for years afterwards there were newspapers stories on the anniversary of her disappearance. It happened near where I grew up. Beverly was ten years old at the time. For her family, beyond sad. There is still a lot on the internet about her.

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    1. Tragedies indeed, Kristi. Poor Beverly and her family! Not knowing must be the worst.

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  5. I can think of few worse things for a parent. More recently, 2007, nearly-four-year-old Madeleine McCann from England disappeared in Portugal and that is still a high profile case. There are many such cases each year but the high profile ones are relatively few and grab our attention and sympathies.

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    1. Yes, the case of "Maddy" was all over the news for months on end, and I must admit I never quite understood why her case was featured so much more prominently than that of - sadly - so many missing children all over the world. I sometimes wonder how her younger siblings feel about all this.

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  6. Hello Meike:
    This is just one case of a disappearing girl but we are constantly amazed to read of numbers of children over the years who have been lost without trace. And, whilst some cases gather intense media attention, there are so many others which do not.

    One can only imagine the desperate feelings of the parents of these missing children. The constant search, hopes raised and dashed and always imagining that they will, one day, return. How dreadful this is.

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    1. Hello Jane and Lance,
      you said it - it amazes me, too. Not only the sheer number (and that's just the ones reported, who knows how many parents never go to the police because they don't trust them in the country where they live?), but also the difference in how some cases are treated in comparison to others.

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  7. Another reason, as if i needed it, to hold my own children close. It's too awful for families when these things happen.

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    1. And yet, no parent can shield their child from all the risks and dangers; sometimes the most terrible things happen where and when least expected.

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  8. This is so sad. And it seems to happen more often than we think. You must feel quite haunted when you stroll in the location where she went missing...

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    1. Actually, that part of the park does not feel different to the others, except for it offering a bit more shade on a hot summer afternoon.
      You are right, Sonia; this probably happens a lot more often than we think.

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  9. Strange how stories of missing children touch he hearts of so many. A missing child is always a tragedy. I expect Monika is buried somewhere in an unmarked grave and has been ever since she disappeared.

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    1. Possibly, Friko. My sister imagines she's still alive (as mentioned, she'd be 70 this year), not knowing that she is actually Monika Gwinner from Ludwigsburg.

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  10. Hello, my Dear! I've come to you from The "Grow Your Blog" party...it was over before I knew about it, but it was so nice of Vicki to leave the list up! Anyway, I always welcome new blogs to enjoy, and yours is delightful! I am now following you ~ please come and visit me if you get a chance!
    So nice to "meet" you!
    Hugs,
    Anne

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    1. Hello Anne! Thank you for coming over through Vicki's list, and for becoming my latest reader! I am going to have a look at your blog in a minute.

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  11. Have you heard of the search for Madeleine McCann in England? I hope that her parents have the chance to be reunited with her.

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    1. Who hasn't, Jenny? (See also my reply to Graham's comment) I still wonder why her case received so much more attention than any others, and how her younger siblings are handling it all.

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  12. So many missing children every year. Jenny mentioned the most famous one here in the UK - notorious for the press's treatment of the parents.

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    1. Yes, Macy, that one was all over the world (or at least Europe), and I wonder why all the other missing children did not receive the same attention.

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  13. A mystery that no one should be dealt to solve. Yet, it's hard to even comprehend the enormity of suffering for all the missing children in the world...truly one of humankind's great tragedies.

    Glad to have found your page to follow.

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    1. Hello Christopher, and welcome to my blog! Did you find me through Vicki's list, too? I have just had a look at your blog and am now your Reader # 40.

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  14. When I was five, I walked home from school. It was October and I remember I was wearing a red plaid dress, I was alone and home was about four blocks away.
    A man pulled up beside me in his car, he offered me something, some sweets and beckoned me inside. 'I won't hurt you' he said. I remember standing there and looking at his huge hands, his anxious face. I never said a thing, just turned and ran full out all the way back home. I was breathing so labored I had to sort of crumple inside the front door, my mother was ironing and it smelled of steam and fresh clean clothes in the house. I told what had happened and she called the school, and reported the whole thing. So I felt such a chill as I read this story, I hope someday the truth will come out.

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    1. Your story sent a shiver up my spine, too, Julie! I am so glad that you were such a cautious little girl and did not get into the man's car!
      The sad thing is that, according to police reports, most child abuse does not happen by some stranger, but inside the family.

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  15. Libby, what a sad story! It probably is even sadder for the family, never having resolved her dissapearance, always hoping for the possibility she would come home. Child abduction is such a horrible thing, and kidnapping an selling children is more common than we realize. I hope she is sitting in a nice comfy chair somewhere having raised a family and is knitting her grandchildren sweaters and socks! Maybe one of those grandchildren will write a book about her after her death when they find her memoirs! MYSTERY!

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    1. Linda, your scenario of 70-year-old Monica sitting in a comfy chair knitting socks for her grandkids is lovely, and I'd so like for it to be true, but if she is still alive, I very much doubt she knows her real identity.

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