Photo leads to woman miss­ing for 42 years

The Oneida Daily Dispatch (Oneida, NY) - - Front Page - By 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 as­sist­edliv­ing fa­cil­ity near Bos­ton 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 wom­an­miss­ing 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 with­mys­tery. 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 this lake-laden 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 from1975, signed “Mrs. Flora Stevens” in neat cur­sive, says she went to high school less than two hours away in Yonkers.

The­man 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.

On the evening of Sun­day, Aug. 3, 1975, 36-yearold Flora Stevens was dropped off by Stevens at a small hos­pi­tal a cou­ple of miles 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, and she might have had some money that Sun­day evening.

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

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 De­tec­tive Sgt. Ed Clouse to cross-check more re­cently avail­able data­bases that showed some­one in Low­ell, Mas­sachusetts, 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 fromNew 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 time 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 fa­vorite phrase was ‘none of your busi­ness.’”

Last month, de­tec­tives 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 cen­ter 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.”

SUL­LI­VAN COUNTY SHER­IFF’S OF­FICE VIA AP, FILE

This Oc­to­ber 2017file photo pro­vided by the Sul­li­van County Sher­iff’s Of­fice shows Flora Har­ris, cen­ter, with Sul­li­van County Sher­iff’s De­tec­tive Sgt. Ed Clouse, left, and De­tec­tive Rich Mor­gan at an as­sisted liv­ing res­i­dence in Low­ell, Mass. Har­ris, who dis­ap­peared from up­state New York in 1975, has been found suf­fer­ing from de­men­tia and liv­ing in the as­sisted-liv­ing fa­cil­ity in Mas­sachusetts, au­thor­i­ties said. Of­fi­cials said they’ve been un­able to fig­ure out de­tails of what hap­pened to her be­tween the time she dis­ap­peared and when she was fi­nally found.

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