What really happened to Catherine Winters?
When a child goes missing, our hearts sink and we hold our own children closer than ever before. We watch and listen to every breaking news story, for updates, hoping for their safe return.
With today's technology, when a child goes missing, within minutes authorities are notified and an Amber Alert is issued. Social Media explodes, Television and radio stations broadcast the alert. That alert spreads like wildfire, in hopes that someone, somewhere will see this missing child and that child can be returned to their home. Family, friends, and volunteers join in the search.
What happened when a child went missing in another era? It could take hours, possibly days for the information to get to other areas. This was the case, March 20, 1913, in New Castle, Indiana, when a nine-year-old girl named Catherine Winters went missing. Horse and buggy were giving way to the automobile and electricity were making its way into rural areas.
Catherine Winters was the daughter of the late Etta Whistler-Winters, who died at the age of 28 in Colorado Springs, Colorado of Tuberculosis and Dr. William Asa Winters, who was a Dentist. Etta's half sister, Ida Chalfant and Etta's mother, Eliza Whistler, took care of Catherine and her younger brother, Frankie, while Etta was in Colorado for treatment. They stayed with the children and "Doc" Winters, even after Etta passed away. Etta had left Catherine and her brother $3,000 when she passed away Etta was the granddaughter of, Whistler, as in Whistler's Mother painting.
In 1910, Doc Winters marries Byrd Ritter and moves her and her mother, Margaret "Lydia" Ritter into his home. Shortly thereafter, Byrd and Doc Winters sue Ida and Eliza for room and board. They leave and return to their home.
No one is sure what really happened to Catherine the day she went missing. Some information is substantiated other is pure speculation.
Catherine left her home, at 311 16th St, to sell needles for a Church fundraiser. She was seen walking towards Vine St. It was reported that she stopped at one of her friends home to play. Catherine was supposed to be home by six pm. When she didn't return home, Byrd phoned Doc WInter's and Doc Winters, supposedly said, "The Gypsies took her." The police, along with Doc Winters, went searching for the Gypsy caravan, in the biggest rainstorm that led to the biggest flood in the Mid-West. They finally caught up to the caravan at the 38 E Hagerstown Turnpike. They thoroughly searched the caravan and found no evidence that Catherine was there. They returned to New Castle and decided to go back again for a second search. They arrived between three and four a.m. The Gypsy King, Adolph John Spires, was becoming aggravated by the harassment of Doc Winters and the authorities It is reported that Adolph stated, "I have nine kids already in this caravan why would I want another one?"
Now Doc Winters offered a reward of $100 for information leading to the whereabouts of Catherine. Adolph was so angered about the continued harassment that he offered a reward of $1,000.
On March 24th, business shut down and all the workers searched for Catherine. Every business and home were searched, except one, the Winters. Anyone and everyone was interviewed, except the Winters, Byrd's mother and the boarder, William Ross Cooper.
The city formed a special committee, to oversee the investigation. They hired a private investigator by the name of Robert H Abel. Abel reminded people of Sherlock Holmes, he also lugged around a dictograph to listen to suspects. He was offered $3,000 if he solved the case.
With Doc Winters obsession with the gypsies, he wasn't aware, that Abel was focusing on him and his wife. When the investigator became aware of the $3,000, attention turned to the family and the boarder. While Byrd and Doc Winters were away from the home, a search warrant was served at the home and Byrd's mother, Lydia lets them in. They head to the basement and start digging up the basement. They find, a red torn sweater, a crumbled ribbon, and a man's undershirt, that had one armed pinned up and had blood on it. Now, William Ross Cooper had one arm, he had lost his other arm in a hunting accident. All three were arrested. Bond was posted before they were even interrogated. Evidence that was stored at the Mayor's house that was in a safe mysteriously disappeared.
George Barnard was the Mayor in 1913, he becomes the defense attorney for Doc and Byrd Winters. Herbert Evans was the Prosecutor in 1913 and was part of the Grand Jury that had been put together to try to indict the Winters. He walks away after the Grand jury was banned after two weeks. Walter Myers, then becomes the new Henry County Prosecutor in 1914 but refuses to go further with a trial since there wasn't enough evidence.
Several Private Investigators worked the case and they all basically came to the same conclusion. Look at the family. They know more than they are telling.
Now in 1988 and interview was done with a woman who knew, the family. She stated that she remembers Frankie saying that the last time he saw Catherine was at the table. He was on a stool, and Catherine said something, Byrd slapped and knocked her off of the chair. He was told to get off the stool and leave the room, then the doors closed behind him. Frankie never saw his sister again.
In today's society whenever anyone goes missing, they always look at the family first. Back then, the family was the last place they looked. As the 104th anniversary of Catherine Winters comes and goes, historians, researchers and others intrigued by this case, wonder what really happened to her. Was it the family? Was it the mysterious man who took a young girl and returned her, prior to Catherine's disappearance. Was it the creepy man, whose plan was foiled by a young boy, who tried to lure a girl into his buggy? Was it the Boarder? Was it the Gypsies? Even if the questions can be answered, those who were involved can't be convicted, they are long since gone. Catherine's body has never been found.
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A special thank you to Lisa Perry, and her late mother Charlene Perry for the countless years they put into investigating Catherine's disappearance.
Written by Michele Smith & Research by Samantha Taylor