70 years later, missing girl still discussed
KATE DAY SAGER/Olean Times Herald Fifth-grade students at School Street Elementary School in Bradford, Pa., hold up a reward poster that was issued after little Marjory West went missing during a Mother's Day picnic in 1938. The students are researching the story in conjunction with the 70th anniversary of the tragedy that shook the community and is still talked about today.

BRADFORD, Pa. - It was Mother's Day and little Marjory West likely wanted to surprise her mom with flowers she picked all by herself in the woods.

When 4-year-old Marjory didn't return to the family picnic site on May 8, 1938, her family became alarmed and began searching. In the days and weeks that would follow, the thousands who took up the search for the child in the woods south of Marshburg came up empty-handed. And to this day Marjory has never been found.

The mystery of what happened to Marjory West is being revived by the fifth-grade reading enrichment class at School Street Elementary School in commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the tragedy.

In addition to thoroughly researching all aspects of the case, the students hope to make safety presentations to younger elementary students on May 8, the anniversary date of Marjory's disappearance.

Enrichment teacher Tammy Dittman said students in the class were looking at doing research on Bradford history and thought the West story would be interesting. She said the more the children researched the story on the Internet and at Bradford Landmark Society, the more their interest grew. Some of the students also found they had their own connections to the incident. Student Matthew Dennis said that while doing his research, he learned he had a direct link to the tragedy.

"My great-grandpa searched for Marjory West," Matthew said of his great grandfather, Lt. Leth Dennis, who had served on the Bradford City Police Department.

Others in the class were ready to provide all of the details relating to Marjory's disappearance, including the fact that she had been picking flowers that day on Chappel Fork Road near her 11-year-old sister, Dorothea. Her father, Shirley, and brother, Allen, were fishing and her mother, Cecilia, was at the picnic site.

One girl in the class said their research had shown them that Marjory, like many 4-year-olds, had picked the flower heads off the stems for her mom. The flower heads were later found near the road. They also said Marjory's 5th birthday would have been on June 2 of that year. And rewards that ranged from ,2,000 to ,10,000 were offered for her return.

Several young detectives in the group have developed theories on who might have taken Marjory. Some believe the girl was likely taken by someone in one of two cars that were seen driving in opposite directions on the rural road a short time before Marjory disappeared. They also believe that Marjory's red hair, blue eyes and similar appearance to child movie star Shirley Temple might have made her a target.

Some of the students also believe there was a possible connection with the case to a woman named Georgia Tann, a known kidnapper in the country who sold babies to wealthy people.

The group also had found an article on-line that claimed Marjory had been found.

"The kids were excited about this but we didn't know how that could have happened," Ms. Dittman said, noting they are skeptical about that information.

"It's been fun trying to find out the facts about her and trying to find her," added student Dana Kline.

Ms. Dittman said the students also searched the Social Security Death Index and found that all of the West family members, except Dorothea, had died. They said they sent letters to a Dorothea West Nicolson in a town near Pittsburgh but haven't heard back from her.

The class said they hope that their research on the case will, in turn, help children in the community.

The students plan to visit younger children at George G. Blaisdell Elementary School to tell them how to remain safe in their everyday lives. Ms. Dittman said the Pennsylvania State Police also have offered to do fingerprinting of the children during the event.

In addition, she said the class is interested in doing a memorial plaque for Marjory near the site where she disappeared.

"We're looking into that, too," Ms. Dittman said.