In a nursing home in Massachusetts, a 78-year-old woman smiles to greet her guests. But rather than family, the men are police officers, and their visit marks the end of a 42-year mystery. Flora Stevens first went missing in 1975, but nobody knows how she ended up in a home hundreds of miles away – not even Flora herself.
Flora was born in the late 1930s and grew up in Yonkers, a suburb of New York City. After attending high school there, she traveled 90 miles north to find work in the Catskill Mountains. A resort-strewn region about two hours from New York City, the picturesque area was a tourist hotspot even then.
There, Flora began working as a chambermaid and found a position at The Concord, a luxurious resort in the region’s Borscht Belt. With some 1,200 rooms, the hotel had plenty of jobs to keep her occupied. However, she still found time to enjoy herself and even attended the famous Woodstock Festival, held on a nearby farm in 1969.
At The Concord, Flora made $2.25 an hour – one of hundreds of people who flocked to the resort to find work every summer. Over the years, she worked several seasons there, cleaning the rooms of the wealthy visitors who vacationed among the mountains and lakes. At the same time, a man named Robert Stevens was also working at the resort.
By 1975, Robert and Flora appeared to be married, and the young woman referred to herself as Mrs Flora Stevens on a job application. However, their marriage seems to have had its challenges. Apparently, Flora had psychiatric issues and sometimes needed to see a doctor for treatment.
It was evening on August 3, 1975, when Robert gave Flora a lift to the hospital in Monticello, a tourist town located just a few miles from the hotel. But when he returned to collect her, she was nowhere to be seen. Mysteriously, Flora had vanished into thin air. She was just 36 years old.
When his wife failed to appear, Robert reported her missing to the police. But when they investigated, the mystery only deepened. Apparently, Flora had never turned up for her appointment at the doctor’s that day. And even though it was common at the time for seasonal workers to disappear, the local detective paid extra attention to Flora’s case.
But despite the enthusiasm of law enforcement, Flora’s disappearance was never solved. Meanwhile, the world continued to turn. In the Catskills, tourists abandoned the resorts in favor of suburban living and cheap foreign holidays. By the 1980s, The Concord had been forced to reinvent itself as a boxing venue to make ends meet.
Then, in 1985, Robert passed away, without ever learning what had happened to his wife. The Concord closed its doors for good 13 years later. But as the years ticked by, the mystery of Flora’s whereabouts refused to be solved. Had something awful befallen her, or had she simply run away, never to return?
Amazingly, more than four decades would pass before any light could be shed on the case. Then, in September 2017, the skeleton of a woman was discovered in Orange County, one state away from where Flora had disappeared. Tasked with identifying the remains, senior investigator Yan Saloman began trawling through missing person reports.
However, it was tough going. Apparently, there are more than 20,000 missing women unaccounted for in the United States today. But as he searched the records, Saloman realized that Flora could be a potential match. Hopeful, he contacted police in the Catskill’s Sullivan County for more information.
If Flora had any living relatives, Saloman reasoned, their DNA could be tested to see if it matched the remains discovered in Orange County. Duly, the case was assigned to Detective Rich Morgan, and he attempted to establish if there was a link between the two cases. However, Flora and Richard had never had children, and no family of the missing woman could be found.
Despite this disappointment, Morgan did manage to uncover one interesting piece of information. Apparently, someone in Massachusetts was using Flora’s social security number. Eventually, he was able to trace them to Lowell, Massachusetts, a city some 250 miles away. There, a woman going by the name Flora Harris had been residing in an assisted living facility since 2001.
Tellingly, Flora Harris also had the same birthday as Flora Stevens – although she appeared to be going by a different name. Could the two Floras be one and the same? Morgan was determined to find out. On October 24, he made the trek from Sullivan County to Lowell accompanied by Ed Clouse, another detective.
When the detectives arrived, they were greeted by a smiling woman with shoulder-length gray hair. Showing her a photograph of Flora Stevens taken before she disappeared, they waited to see if she would recognize the young woman in the picture. Amazingly, they were not disappointed.
“She says that’s me, or me, she responded with one word, me,” Morgan told CBS News in 2017. Similarly, when shown a photograph of Robert, the woman recognized him by name. And when the officers gave her a postcard depicting The Concord back in its glory days, Flora reacted with delight.
To the officers, it was clear that Flora Stevens had finally been found. But what had happened over the past 42 years, and how had Flora ended up so far from home? Sadly, the 78-year-old was suffering from dementia, and was unable to shed any light on her mysterious past. “Most of the secrets are locked inside Flora,” Morgan told The Associated Press in 2017. “And I don’t think we’ll ever get them.”
Festus Mbuva, who helped care for Flora at the home, agreed. “To be honest, I don’t think she ever really wanted to be found,” he said. “You can tell something happened in her past that she didn’t want any part of.” And although no one can know for sure, Mbuva claims that Flora told him her marriage had been an abusive one.
Morgan also suspects that Flora might have planned her disappearance from the start. “She had just been paid, probably had a weekend full of tips in her pocket,” he noted. Additionally, Morgan pointed out that a bus station was located not far from where Robert had dropped Flora off that day.
Even with further investigation, the details of Flora’s life since her disappearance remained sparse. Apparently, she had spent time in a New Hampshire nursing home, and had medical records going back 30 years. But beyond that, the trail went cold. And even though Morgan has finally been able to close a 42-year-old case, the details of Flora’s decades spent adrift will likely go with her to the grave.