Overview of Joan Carolyn Risch
Joan Carolyn Risch's case is an unforgettable Massachusetts cold case.
Joan Risch was born Joan Bard in Brooklyn, on May 12, 1930. In 1939, her parents died in a suspicious house fire in New Jersey. Adding to her traumatic childhood, Joan also confided to her close friend that she had been molested as a child. After the loss of her parents, Joan moved in with relatives and gained substantial stability to continue her life.
She graduated from Wilson College in Pennsylvania in 1952, obtaining a degree in English literature. She became a secretary for a publishing company, and later an editorial assistant for Harcourt Brace and World and Thomas Y. Crowell and Co. There, she met executive Martin Risch, and they left the company to marry and begin a family together.
The couple moved to Ridgefield, CT, where they had their first child, Lillian. They then moved to Lincoln, Massachusetts, where in April 1961, Joan stayed active and joined the League of Women Voters; Martin began a career with the Fitchburg Paper Co. Joan had aspirations of becoming a teacher once the children were older.
The day of Joan's disappearance was as normal as ever.
Martin woke up early and left for a business trip; Joan stayed behind to do her chores and housework, including tending to the children.
Key witness Barbara Barker described to the police the various stops Joan made throughout her day, and how the neighbors would drop their kids off at each others' homes to run errands periodically.
There was nothing out of the ordinary, until Joan dropped her kids off in the afternoon, just saying she'd be back later with no explanation. Barbara later observed Joan in a trench coat carrying something red in her arms in the driveway. After that sighting, eyewitnesses would report seeing someone who looked like Joan on various local highways and roads, seemingly bloody and in distress. In addition, an unfamiliar car was reported by various neighbors and people in other local communities, trimming branches and in the vicinity of the Rischs' home after her disappearance.
When Lillian Risch ran to Barbara's home, claiming that Joan was gone and the kitchen was covered in red paint, she rushed over to find blood droplets in various states of cleaning up, as well as the phone, ripped off of the wall.
Investigators had their hands full from the jump.
The scene was confusing and contained a lot of working parts and missing details. The phone had been removed from the wall and put in the trash can; there were unknown beer cans in the trash, and there were blood drops and smears over the walls and floor. Someone had tried to clean up the blood with a paper towel. There were blood spots all over the home, in the master bedroom, on her car's fender, and on her son David's clothing in his nursery.
There were no bloody footprints, but three bloody fingerprints. The blood type was type O, which was Joan's. But DNA technology was not sophisticated enough to give investigators more information. State chemists determined that Joan had only lost about a pint of blood on the property, which indicated a deep wound but not a life-threatening injury.
It wasn't until two years later that her library records were discovered.
A journalist doing work for the local paper discovered that Joan had checked out 25 different novels about missing persons the summer before her disappearance. They all varied in story type, but the content was almost all the same, and some key details, such as blood being cleaned up in paper towels, were present in one story called "Into Thin Air".
Theories about her disappearance cannot fully explain the crime scene.
The most popular theory is that Joan was pregnant, but did not want another child, so she hired an under-the-table doctor to do an at-home abortion. She left Lillian with Barbara, thinking it would be quick and easy. The doctor may have made a mistake, or something could have gone wrong, injuring Joan. Fearing losing his medical license, the doctor may have fled the scene, but not before ripping the phone off of the wall to prevent her from telling the police who he was.
If this is the case, why did Joan wander around highways, and was it even her? Why were there beer cans in the trash? Does the dirty blue and white car mean anything in this case, or was it just a coincidence?
Martin kept Joan's case open until her death in case any new leads or developments became available. However, there were never any arrests made in connection with Joan's disappearance.