Joan Carolyn Risch

Risch, circa 1961

  • Missing Since 10/24/1961
  • Missing From Lincoln, Massachusetts
  • Classification Endangered Missing
  • Date of Birth 08/04/1931 (87)
  • Age 30 years old
  • Height and Weight 5'7, 120 pounds
  • Clothing/Jewelry Description A gray cloth coat (possibly Peck and Peck brand), a blouse, a sweater, a charcoal-colored wool skirt, blue sneakers with white piping, a slim platinum wedding band with five diamond chips, and possibly a scarf on her head. Her shoes have been variously described as blue high heels, flats, or sneakers with piping.
  • Distinguishing Characteristics Caucasian female. Brown hair, blue eyes. Risch's blood type is O. Her birth name was Joan Bard, and she was later adopted by a family named Nattrass and took that name; this was her maiden name. She has a filling in her left upper molar and her ears are pierced. When nervous she may break out in a red rash on her neck below her chin; the rash requires medication to clear.

Details of Disappearance

Risch was a homemaker in Lincoln, Massachusetts in 1961. She was married and had two children. The family had moved to Lincoln from Ridgefield, Connecticut about seven months before.

Her husband was out of town on a business trip on the day of her disappearance, October 24, 1961. She went with her four-year-old daughter to the dentist that morning, cashed a check and went shopping. She returned home for lunch at 11:00 a.m., put her two-year-old son in his crib for a nap. Her daughter played outside with a neighbor boy.

At 1:55 p.m., Risch took her daughter and the neighbor boy to his parents' home and left them at the swingset in the yard, without saying anything to the boy's parents. She told them she would be back, then returned home alone. At 2:15 p.m., a neighbor saw Risch standing next to her blue sedan outside the family's residence on Old Bedford Road. She was carrying something red and appeared to be dazed.

This is the last time anyone saw Risch. Her daughter came home from the neighbor's at 4:00 p.m., then immediately ran back to say that her mother was missing and "red paint" covered the kitchen walls. The "paint" turned out to be type O blood, Risch's type.

The Risches' telephone had been ripped from the kitchen wall and thrown in a wastebasket. The wastebasket had been moved from the corner to the center of the room, and a nearby telephone book was found opened at the emergency numbers section. There was a single bloody thumbprint on the phone mount, and two fingerprints and a partial palm print on the wall; they were not Risch's prints, and have never been identified. The only other sign of a struggle was an overturned chair in the kitchen. Risch's son was still in his crib upstairs.

The blood trail led from the baby's room to the kitchen and then outside to the Risch family' driveway, where it stopped near her parked car. Blood drops were found on the hood and trunk of the car itself, but there were no bloody footprints inside on the kitchen floor. There was no sign of Risch herself inside the residence.

Investigators thought there was about a pint of blood spread throughout the house. Someone had made efforts to clean up in the kitchen with paper towels and a pair of Risch's son's coveralls.

Witnesses reported seeing an unidentified dirty blue/gray 1954 or 1955 sedan parked behind Risch's car in the Risches' driveway at 3:20 p.m. the day of the disappearance. Drivers also saw a woman walking along the road where Route 128 was under construction later in the day. No one stopped to assist the unidentified female, who was disheveled, appeared confused or dazed, and was holding something against her abdomen. Blood was running down the backs of her legs.

After these initial reports, sightings of Risch ceased. She has never been heard from again.

Risch's husband was in New York on October 24 for a business trip; he had left early that morning. He was questioned by investigators but was cleared of any involvement in her disappearance. Authorities did learn that Risch checked out over 25 library books during the previous summer, all of them related to murder or unexplained disappearances. Her husband described her as an avid reader who enjoyed suspense stories.

Some people theorized that Risch chose to stage her own disappearance because she was unhappy with her life. She had worked in the publishing field in New York prior to her marriage. She chose to end her career to raise her family. Although many described her as a devoted mother who had a happy marriage and was deeply attached to her husband and children, some friends claimed  Risch was very ambitious and was not fulfilled with her home life.

Others speculated Risch was attacked and was suffering from amnesia as a result. Another hypothesis in the same vein is that Risch was not assaulted at all, but simply suffered an episode of some type and left her residence.

Both of these theories could suggest the possibility that Risch wandered into a pit on the Route 128 construction site the night she disappeared and was unknowingly buried. She has no history of amnesiac experiences, however, and no history of mental illness in either herself or her family.

Newspaper reports from 1961 state that Risch may have been sexually abused as a child. Another account stated that her parents died in a strange fire in New Jersey in 1940, when Risch was nine years old; she was raised by an aunt and uncle after that. Both of these reports suggest that she may have had personal reasons for wanting to stage her disappearance.

Risch was born in Brooklyn, New York, and graduated from Wilson College in Pennsylvania in 1952, with a degree in English. Her case remains open and unsolved.

Updated 5 times since October 12, 2004. Last updated December 5, 2018; three pictures added, distinguishing characteristics, clothing/jewelry description and details of disappearance updated.