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  • Writer's pictureJ. R. Erickson

The True Story That Inspired Helme House

The following is the story of the unsolved disappearance of Joan Rish. This story is part of the inspiration for my latest paranormal mystery, Helme House.

It was a seemingly ordinary day for thirty-year-old stay-at-home mom Joan Risch on October 24th, 1961 at her home in Lincoln Massachusetts. Joan was married and lived with her husband and two children, a son and a daughter.

Joan and her husband Martin had met in 1954 at a Harvard football game. Joan, who’d previously worked as an editorial assistant at a publishing company, opted for the family life and left her position to become a wife and mother. Eventually Martin, Joan and their two children, Lillian and David, moved to a suburb on Old Bedford Road in Lincoln, Massachusetts.

The morning of October 24th, 1961, Joan’s husband went out of town for a business trip. Joan took her four-year-old daughter to the dentist and then did some shopping. At 11 am, Joan and her children returned home for lunch. She put her two-year old son down for a nap while her daughter played outside with another little boy from the neighborhood. Around 2pm, Joan took the neighbor boy as well as her own daughter to the boy’s house and left them to play on the swing set. She did not speak to the boy’s parents or mention that she was leaving her daughter there.

Around 4pm, Joan’s daughter returned home, but soon went back to the neighbors telling them that her mother wasn’t home and the kitchen was ‘covered in red paint.’ When the neighbor visited the house, she quickly realized the red paint the child saw was actually blood. She summoned police.

The kitchen was in disarray with the phone ripped from the wall and tossed in the trash can. There was blood smeared on the floor and walls. There was a phone book lying open to emergency numbers. Blood led to the second-floor nursery where Joan’s two-year-old son, David was unharmed in his crib. There was also blood in the driveway and on the trunk of the car.

Despite what sounds like a large amount of blood, investigators didn’t believe there was enough blood to imply Joan had suffered a major injury.

There were no signs of robbery and the house was tidy except for the blood smears and a table that was tipped over. A fingerprint was found on the wall next to where the phone had been, it has never been matched to anyone. Eventually the blood found in the house was matched to Joan’s.

Initially police assumed Joan had been abducted, but then they started to hear some eyewitness statements that didn’t quite make sense. Barbara Baker, Joan’s neighbor, said around 2:15 pm, she saw Joan walking in her driveway carrying something red, she looked dazed. Another neighbor stated they noticed a grey Oldsmobile Sedan parked behind Joan’s car around 3:20pm. Police also received tips from people driving in and around Lincoln the day Joan vanished. Multiple people reported seeing a woman who resembled Joan walking along Route 128 in Waltham, which was near the Cambridge Reservoir. This area was searched, but so sign of Joan was found.

Other sightings came in closer to Joan’s home. Two separate witnesses claimed they saw a woman that might have been Joan walking Route 2A in a knee length gray coat with a handkerchief over her head. One of the witnesses said the woman appeared to have blood on her legs. The woman walked hunched over as if to conceal her face.

Police launched an exhaustive search for Joan as well as in an attempt to identify the woman witnesses had seen, but they had no luck. They fingerprinted over 5,000 people hoping to identity the print near Joan’s phone – again they came up empty.

Months after Joan vanished, a journalist investigating a historical missing person’s case noticed something strange as she checked out novels about disappearances from the library. The journalist noticed that Joan Risch had checked out a plethora of books that included stories about odd vanishings. One in particular caught the reporter’s eye. It was a book called Into Thin Air. The fictional novel was about a woman who faked her own disappearance and left behind a kitchen smeared in bloods.

The discovery of these books gave life to a slew of theories that Joan had staged her own death. Those who knew and loved her, including her husband, said ‘no way.’ Joan adored her family and would never have abandoned her life and children.

Her husband, Martin remained hopeful that his wife would return. He believed she may have been injured and experienced amnesia.

Unfortunately, Joan Risch never came home and no trace of her has ever been found. To this day, investigators do not know what happened to the young mother who disappeared from her own home on October 24th, 1961.

In 2009, Joan’s husband passed away without ever answering the question – what happened to Joan?

I will be covering Joan’s case in more detail on my true crime podcast Bitter Endings. When that episode is ready, I’ll add a link to this post. Thank you for reading and if you’ve had a chance to pick-up the latest Troubled Spirits novel, I hope you enjoy Helme House.

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