Details of Disappearance
Helen was last seen in Greensboro, North Carolina on April 3, 1963. She dropped her daughter off at high school that morning and reminded her that she had a dental appointment in a few hours. Helen was going to pick her daughter up for the appointment at noon, but she never did; instead, her son picked his sister up.
When the couple's son picked his sister up at school that day, he said his father had told him Helen had gone to a Women's Christian Association conference in Winston-Salem, North Carolina and this was why she was unavailable to get her daughter from school. The children never saw their mother again.
At the time of her disappearance, Helen lived in the 100 block of Muir's Chapel Road with her husband of nineteen years, Donald, and their two teenage children. Donald operated a heating and air conditioning repair business behind their home, and Helen ran her own business, Bonnie's Beauty Shop.
Helen's sister in Dearborn, Michigan received two letters, supposedly from Helen, in April and May 1963, but didn't believe the letters were actually written by her. They were typewritten, and Helen normally hand-wrote her letters; the letters also used phrasing she didn't normally use.
Helen's sister tried to call her at home several times, but each time Donald would say she was not at home. At one point he claimed she had gone off to live by herself and was staying in a motel in Roanoke, Virginia. Helen's sister tried to contact the motel to verify this story, but learned no such place existed.
Helen's sister then went to North Carolina to investigate, and couldn't find Helen. Donald wouldn't let her into the house and wasn't helpful as to her whereabouts. He said she had simply left him, taking a large sum of money with her, and seemed unconcerned about it, but Helen's sister suspected foul play. On August 22, over four months after she disappeared, her sister reported her missing.
When interviewed, Donald said Helen had left him and taken about $20,000 in cash with her, and that he thought she left to have a lesbian relationship with a woman named Wanda Flemming. He said he hadn't seen Helen since she left, but that she did call him sometime in July. When asked why he hadn't reported Helen missing, Donald said he didn't know. He was seeing another woman by this time, and he said he didn't care about the missing money but hoped Helen returned, for the sake of their children.
Police checked on Donald's initial story, that Helen had gone to a Christian women's conference and that's why she didn't pick her daughter up from school, but there was no such conference in Winston-Salem at the time. When police checked on the Wanda Flemming story, they found only one person with that name in the entire state of North Carolina. She said she'd never heard of Helen Dalton, and no one else in Helen's family had heard of her.
The police were suspicious of Donald and his constantly changing stories and asked him to take a lie detector test, but he refused. Investigators searched the Daltons' home and noted Helen's closet was full of clothes, and they found her luggage, her only denture set and only pair of eyeglasses. There was a typewriter in the house, and analysis of the letters sent to Helen's sister showed they were composed on that machine.
There was no evidence of foul play, however, and although authorities thought Donald knew Helen's whereabouts and was lying about the circumstances of her disappearance, they couldn't find any proof of this. The case was reactivated in 1993 and authorities excavated an old well on the Daltons' former property, but couldn't find anything of interest, and the search had to be stopped prematurely because of safety issues.
Donald, who had remarried and divorced twice in the intervening years, was interviewed by the press at the time of the dig and said Helen had left him in 1963. He said she was tired of raising their children and that the beauty shop she ran was a drop point for money from drug sales and sports racketeering. Helen's loved ones disagreed with Donald's description of her and said she was a devoted mother.
Helen's disappearance is the oldest unsolved case in North Carolina history.