Joan Risch was a happily married housewife and mother living in Massachusetts.
To her neighbors, Joan looked like she had the perfect life. She was beautiful, kind, and extremely devoted to her husband and two young children. But, one day, Joan’s family could not find her anywhere and evidence led them to a shocking conclusion…
Who is Joan Risch?
Joan was born in 1930 in Brooklyn, New York and named Joan Carolyn Bard. When Joan was 9-years-old, her family moved to New Jersey, and shortly after moving, something terrible happened to them.
One day when Joan was at school, her parents were home when their house suddenly caught fire. They, unfortunately, did not survive and Joan was without parents and to fend for herself. Being just a child, Joan could not fully comprehend what was happening to her. One day she was happily living with her parents in New Jersey, and the next, they were gone and she was staying with relatives who she barely knew. Joan found it very hard to adjust…
Despite Joan’s new surroundings, she eventually adapted and went on to graduate from Wilson College in Pennsylvania with a major in English literature. It seemed that out of all the turmoil in her life, the one thing that made Joan truly happy was publishing. After graduating, she pursued a career in publishing, starting as a secretary and working her way up to an editorial assistant. Joan was finally living the life she truly wanted, or so she thought.
Meeting The Love Of Her Life
Then, in 1956, Joan married an executive at one of the companies she worked for and left work to raise a family with him. His name was Martin Risch, and together, the couple had two beautiful children- Martin and Lillian. They moved to Massachusetts and life was splendid. Joan stayed at home to raise the kids while Martin continued working. But, on the morning of October 24, 1961, Martin left for a work trip, and everything changed…
October 24, 1961
Martin headed to Logan Airport to catch an 8 a.m. flight to New York City and Joan stayed at home with the kids. She started the day the way she always did- by feeding the children breakfast, taking them to their necessary appointments and handling the household duties. At about 2 p.m. that day, however, Joan asked her neighbor, Barbara Barker if she would watch her kids.
Barbara agreed, and then, at about 2:15 p.m. Barbara saw Joan wearing a trench coat over her clothing carrying something red with outstretched arms from her car towards the garage. While this looked suspicious, Barbara thought nothing of it and continued watched the children until 3:40 p.m. when she knew Joan would be home. Barbara ran some errands with her own kids and when she returned to her home at 4:15, Joan’s daughter Lillian was at her door!
Where Was Joan?
Barbara asked Lillian why she was back at her house and Lillian said, “Mommy is gone and the kitchen is covered in red paint.” At this point, Barbara was very concerned. She walked over to the Risch house by herself and couldn’t find Joan anywhere and there was blood all over the kitchen. David was alone upstairs crying in his crib, and the scene at the home gave Barbara chills down her spine.
The Crime Scene
She immediately called the police at 4:33 p.m. and Sgt. Mike McHugh arrived at the house 5 minutes later. When McHugh walked into Joan’s home, he saw bloody smears on the walls, an overturned table, and the handset of the wall-mounted telephone ripped loose and thrown in the garbage. It was clear some sort of struggle had taken place…
Was It A Suicide?
Upon first glance, McHugh believed this was a suicide, but when he searched the house for Joan’s body, nothing turned up. McHugh realized he would need backup searching the surrounding area, so he called the station and told them to “pull the plug.” This implicated that for a crime scene as bad as this, the entire department would need to get involved.
Massachusetts State Police
This case was handed over to the Massachusetts State Police and they began their search for Joan by calling local hospitals asking to be notified if a woman matching Joan’s description showed up. Then, at 7 p.m. the police called Joan’s husband Martin, who happened to still be in New York…
Searching For Clues
They informed Martin of the family emergency and he jumped on the next flight back to Boston. While Martin headed home, the police searched the house for further clues. The letters delivered that day to Joan’s mailbox were unopened and had not been brought in. In the kitchen, the telephone directory was found opened to the page where emergency numbers could be written down, although none were written.
Who Drank The Beer?
When Martin arrived home from his flight, police questioned him and he cooperated. They asked him if he could identify items in the trash and he identified everything except empty beer bottles found in the garbage. He had no idea where those came from…
In the meantime, investigators were trying to figure out clues from the blood in the home. Besides the blood in the kitchen, another trail led out of the kitchen into the driveway and it ended at Joan’s car, which was stained in three places. The right rear fender was covered with blood along with the left side of the hood near the windshield, and even on the center of the truck. Police found these stains very hard to interpret.
It Didn’t Make Sense
They couldn’t determine where the bleeding might have started- whether upstairs, in the kitchen, or in the driveway. The question remained of whether Joan left under her own power or had she been accompanied or even carried out of her house. Police also did not find any bloody footprints, which means whoever had been walking there was extremely careful or very fortunate…
At this point, everyone was a suspect in the disappearance of Joan Risch, and as you can imagine, the media coverage was huge! While police continued the investigation, a reporter named Sareen Gerson, went to the town’s public library to research similar cases as background info. In one of the books she looked in about another disappearance, she saw Joan had checked the book out in September, a month before her own disappearance!
Planning Her Disappearance?
Then, in another book, “Into Thin Air,” about a woman who left behind blood smears and a towel when she went missing, Gerson again found Joan’s signature on the checkout card! At this point, a group of library volunteers looked through the library records and found that Joan, who was a regular there, had taken out 25 books over the summer of 1961. Many of these books had to do with murders and missing-persons cases! This was particularly disturbing…
Possible Sightings Of Joan
Meanwhile, police spoke with several residents who reported possible sightings of Joan after Barbara had last seen her. At 2:45 p.m. that afternoon, a woman wearing clothing similar to what Joan was last in, along with a handkerchief over her head, was see walking on the north side of the parkway. The woman appeared to be wandering aimlessly, hunched over as if it were cold and she looked messy.
A similarly dressed woman, with blood running down her legs, was seen walking along another parkway between 3:15 and 3:30 p.m. She also seemed disorientated and appeared to be cradling something at her stomach. All of these possible sightings led police to numerous conclusions. One was that the library findings supported the theory that Joan’s disappearance was planned in order to escape a dissatisfying life as a suburban housewife. Another, was that Joan may have become disoriented and fell into a pit along Route 128 construction sites and as unable to get out.
Confirmed alibis proved that Martin, the mailman and the milkman were elsewhere at the time of Joan’s disappearance. Rewards for information that would close the case were offered by the state police, however, no useful leads were developed after the initial investigation.
Martin continued to live in the same house and raise his children. He never had his wife declared legally dead and in 1975 he moved to another home nearby. Martin rarely talked about the case in later years, but in one report claimed he believed his wife was still alive! Maybe, he thought, she had some sort of amnesia episode or other psychological breakdown and forgot how to return home. The last of the original investigators in the case died in 2009, and the case of the disappearance of Joan Risch is still unsolved…