Se­crets re­main hid­den

Woman miss­ing for 42 years found in care fa­cil­ity, re­vealed lit­tle of her past to any­one

The Expositor (Brantford) - - BUSINESS - MICHAEL HILL

MONTICELLO, N.Y. — The 78-year-old woman’s mind was clouded by de­men­tia. But she rec­og­nized the brunette with a slight smile in the faded pic­ture from the 1970s de­tec­tives showed her.

“Me,” the woman ut­tered in a voice barely above a whis­per.

The pic­ture helped in­ves­ti­ga­tors vis­it­ing an as­sisted-liv­ing fa­cil­ity near Bos­ton, Mass., last month ver­ify they had fi­nally found Flora Stevens. She had been a $2.25-an­hour cham­ber­maid at the grand­est ho­tel in up­state New York’s Catskills when she was dropped off at a hos­pi­tal one sum­mer night in 1975 and van­ished.

The dis­cov­ery of a woman miss­ing for 42 years drew wide­spread at­ten­tion and news cov­er­age, ac­com­pa­nied by a po­lice photo of the smil­ing woman in a wheel­chair with a teddy bear in her lap and flanked by the beam­ing de­tec­tives.

But the ela­tion was mixed with mys­tery. Where did she go and what did she do all those years? Was she run­ning ? From what? In­ves­ti­ga­tors were able to put to­gether some of the time­line, in­clud­ing stints at other care fa­cil­i­ties. But with the woman’s con­di­tion and the pas­sage of time, many other de­tails may never be known.

“To be hon­est, I don’t think she ever re­ally wanted to be found,” said Fes­tus Mbuva, a for­mer worker at the Bos­ton-area fa­cil­ity who helped care for her for a decade. “You can tell some­thing hap­pened in her past that she didn’t want any part of.”

Florence (Flora) Stevens was among the hun­dreds of ho­tel work­ers who once flooded into the lake­laden area north of New York City each sum­mer. She worked for sev­eral sum­mers at The Con­cord, a sprawl­ing re­sort with more than 1,200 rooms that was considered a jewel of the Catskills’ Borscht Belt.

A Con­cord job ap­pli­ca­tion from 1975, signed “Mrs. Flora Stevens” in neat cur­sive, says she went to high school less than two hours away in Yonkers.

The man she listed as her husband, Robert Stevens, worked there, too, though it’s not clear what he did there. Po­lice have not con­firmed they were ac­tu­ally mar­ried. Her ap­pli­ca­tion in­cludes no phone num­ber or lo­cal ad­dress. She listed an ad­dress in Seat­tle, Wash.

On the evening of Sun­day, Aug. 3, 1975, 36-year-old Flora Stevens was dropped off by Robert Stevens at a small hos­pi­tal a cou­ple of kilo­me­tres from the ho­tel in Monticello, at the time a bustling tourist hub.

Two hours later, he came to pick her up. She was gone.

Au­thor­i­ties say they can­not di­vulge why she went to the hos­pi­tal that evening be­cause of pri­vacy laws, and they don’t know what she did once she was dropped off. But there was a bus sta­tion nearby.

“She had just been paid, prob­a­bly had a week­end full of tips in her pocket,” said Sul­li­van County sher­iff ’s Det. Rich Mor­gan.

Robert Stevens re­ported her miss­ing soon af­ter. Tran­sient sum­mer work­ers dis­ap­peared all the time, and this one didn’t even merit a story in the lo­cal weekly. But Art Hawker, a young sher­iff’s de­tec­tive in 1975, said he gave this case ex­tra at­ten­tion be­cause with her last be­ing seen by a com­pan­ion, it raised “red flags.”

The break did not come un­til Septem­ber this year with the dis­cov­ery of skele­tal re­mains east of Monticello that matched Flora Stevens’ gen­eral char­ac­ter­is­tics.

That turned out to be a false lead, but it led Mor­gan and Det. Sgt. Ed Clouse to cross-check more re­cently avail­able data­bases that showed some­one in Low­ell, Mass., had Flora Stevens’ So­cial Se­cu­rity num­ber and a sim­i­lar name, Flora Har­ris.

Flora Har­ris had been at the CareOne fa­cil­ity in Low­ell since 2001. She had a court-ap­pointed guardian from New York state, which paid her bills. The record is spotty be­fore then, though au­thor­i­ties said she had a pre­vi­ous guardian from about 1987 and spent at least part of that time in care fa­cil­i­ties in New York City and New Hamp­shire.

Mbuva, who left CareOne last De­cem­ber, said the woman rarely talked about her fam­ily other than to say she came from a bad mar­riage and her husband had been abu­sive. Po­lice in New York would not com­ment on that claim.

Over the years, Mbuva gleaned a few other tid­bits: Stevens had grown up in Yonkers, had been a hair­styl­ist and went to the 1969 Wood­stock con­cert, held down the road from The Con­cord.

But Mbuva noted she never gave up much about her­self. “Her favourite phrase was ‘none of your busi­ness.’ ”

Last month, Mor­gan and Clouse headed to Low­ell. They were not been able to find any liv­ing rel­a­tives. But they came armed with photos they hoped would trig­ger mem­o­ries.

This, ap­par­ently, was a good day. She rec­og­nized her own pic­ture and that of Robert Stevens — she ut­tered the word “Robert.” She also was shown a pic­ture post­card of The Con­cord with a happy pool­side cou­ple in the fore­ground.

“She says, ‘Wow!’ ” said Mor­gan. “She wouldn’t let that photo go.”

While po­lice were able to close the miss­ing-per­son case, the prospects of find­ing out more are un­clear.

Robert Stevens died in 1985. The Con­cord closed in 1998. The hos­pi­tal where Flora Stevens was dropped off is aban­doned. And the woman at the cen­tre of the mys­tery is re­veal­ing lit­tle. Ad­min­is­tra­tors of the Low­ell fa­cil­ity de­clined re­quests from The As­so­ci­ated Press to in­ter­view Flora Stevens.

“Most of the se­crets are locked inside of Flora,” Mor­gan said.

“And I don’t think we’ll ever get them.”


Above: Flora Har­ris, cen­tre, who was miss­ing for 42 years is seen with Sul­li­van County Sher­iff’s Det. Sgt. Ed Clouse, left, and Det. Rich Mor­gan at an as­sisted liv­ing res­i­dence in Low­ell, Mass. In­set: Flora Stevens is seen in a 1975 photo used to help solve the miss­ing per­son case.

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