Details of Disappearance Marjorie attended a church service with her family members in their hometown of Bradford, Pennsylvania during the morning hours of May 8, 1938. Her parents decided to have a Mother's Day picnic afterwards in the White Gravel area, which was a 40-minute drive from Bradford.
They drove south along U. S. Route 219, following an old railroad grade from Custer City to Marshburg, Pennsylvania. The Wests entered the White Gravel area from Chapel Fork Road in McKean County.
Marjorie picked wildflowers with her eleven-year-old sister, Dorothea, later during the day. Dorothea recalled that their parents warned them against walking behind a large boulder near the flowers. She said their father and brother checked the area, but there was a chance that rattlesnakes were hiding near the rock.
Dorothea left Marjorie alone while she spoke to their mother at approximately 3:00 p.m. Marjorie disappeared by the time her sister returned to the area. She has never been heard from again. The girls' mother called the police after an initial search of the area by family members produced no evidence as to Marjorie's whereabouts.
Witnesses reported that two vehicles drove past the Wests' picnic site prior to Marjorie's disappearance. Authorities identified the cars and neither was involved in her case.
At first it was believed that Marjorie had merely wandered into the woods and became lost. Hundreds of people searched for her in the countryside and her disappearance received a great deal of publicity. If she had been out in the open for more than a few days, she would have succumbed to exposure.
The searchers found what appeared to be a freshly dug grave deep in the woods, but when they dug it up it turned out to be a buried cask of wine. A scrap of lace was also discovered and some people thought it might be a piece of Marjorie's clothes, but she did not have any lace on her clothing when she disappeared. No footprints or other indications of Marjorie's whereabouts were ever found.
A taxi driver in Thomas, West Virginia claimed that he saw a weeping girl matching Marjorie's description and wearing similar clothes riding in a dark green sedan with an unidentified man in his thirties. The sighting took place at 11:38 p.m. on the night of her disappearance.
The driver said that the individual said the girl was his daughter and asked the taxi driver where the nearest motel was located. The driver directed him to an establishment across the street. The man left the child in the car and went inside the hotel, but there were no vacancies. The man returned and inquired about a local liquor store. The driver instructed him to stop at a bar down the road.
The taxi driver identified Marjorie as the man's passenger several days later. A man matching the description of the unidentified individual refueled at a gas station outside of Thomas and an attendant reported seeing a bundle wrapped in a gray blanket in the backseat of the car. The man's identity remains a mystery.
Investigators determined that the approximate travel time along U. S. Route 219 between the White Gravel area and Thomas, West Virginia was eight hours. If the individual abducted Marjorie around 3:00 p.m., they would have arrived in Thomas by 11:00 and 11:30 p.m. that evening. Authorities were unable to confirm the child's identity.
There was speculation that Marjorie was taken to Canada by other family members, while others theorized that she may have fallen down an abandoned oil well near White Gravel. Some people believed that Marjorie may have been abducted and taken somewhere in the south or southwestern United States.
Additional speculation pointed towards the Tennessee Children's Home Society near Memphis, Tennessee. The facility was operated by Georgia Tann, who was initially lauded for placing at-risk children in adoptive homes. Authorities eventually learned that Tann had kidnapped over 1,200 young children during the years 1932 through 1951.
The majority of victims were abducted from states bordering Tennessee, although some children resided in Connecticut. Judge Camille Kelly approved Tann's custody bids for the majority of the victims. Tann placed most of the children with childless couples in New York City, New York or Los Angeles, California. None of the theories have been proven and no one has been implicated in Marjorie's disappearance.
Dorothea strongly resembles Marjorie and her photos are posted with this case summary. Marjorie's case remains unsolved.
- Pennsylvania State Police
Updated 4 times since October 12, 2004. Last updated October 10, 2015; picture added.