Missing for 91 years: The case of Mary Agnes Moroney
Updated: Nov 5, 2021
I’ve covered a lot of missing persons cases on this channel, both solved and unsolved. With the exception of Marvin Clark, who I talked about a few months ago, this might be the oldest one I’ve ever covered. Let’s talk about Mary Agnes Moroney, who hasn’t been publically seen or heard from in almost a century.
(Note: I will be calling her 'Mary Agnes' throughout this entry because that's what most sources called her.)
Mary Agnes Moroney was born on May 9, 1928 to parents Michael and Catherine Moroney. She was soon joined by at least one younger sister, though some sources said she had two.
In 1930, two-year-old Mary Agnes lived with her family in Chicago, Illinois, but the family wasn’t doing too well. Michael Moroney had just lost his job a few months earlier, as I imagine was the case with many people during the Depression — and Catherine was pregnant again. So he put an ad in the newspaper asking for help — most sources said he was looking for material things but one said he was asking for a job.
On May 14 of that year, a woman showed up at their door. She said her name was Julia Otis and she’d been sent by a social worker named Mrs. Henderson. Julia bought things for them like groceries and baby clothes. She also offered to take Mary Agnes to California, but her parents didn’t let her go.
The next day, Julia showed up with even more things for the family. She offered to take Mary Agnes clothes shopping and her parents agreed. They left the house and didn’t come back.
The next day, the Moroneys received a letter from Julia, saying she’d taken Mary to California and would bring her back in a couple of months. According to illinoismissing.org, the letter read as follows:
“Please don’t be alarmed, I have taken your little girl to California with me. I have hired a special nurse to care for her. We’ll be back in two months. By that time you will be on your feet again and will be able to care for her. She didn’t even cry a bit. She is outfitted like a princess. In the meantime, I’ll help all I can to get you on your feet. Don’t worry about her or anything else. When you get this letter we’ll be on our way already. As ever, Julia Otis”
Another source said part of the letter read: “Mary Agnes is on the way to California. You can spare her for two months.”
Regardless of exactly what the letter said, the Moroneys never heard from Julia Otis again. They contacted the police the day they received the letter.
About two weeks later, the Moroneys received another letter, this one from a woman named Alicia Henderson. One source said she was Julia Otis’s aunt, another said her cousin. Either way, she told the family that Julia had lost her husband and child a year earlier and that she was “love hungry,” so she’d taken Mary Agnes.
But when police examined the letters — one from Julia Otis, another from Alicia Henderson — they thought the handwriting looked very similar. Because of this, they were afraid Mary Agnes had been killed — presumably by her parents, though it’s never been stated explicitly. Michael and Catherine were actually arrested on May 20 when police couldn't find any trace of Julia Otis, but were let go after an hour. (*article is on page 2)
Not much else happened in the case for over 20 years. Then, in early 1952, a report ran in the Oakland Tribune in California about the case that included Mary Agnes’s picture. A local mechanic named Everett McClelland saw the report and thought the picture looked a lot like his wife, Mary McClelland.
24-year-old Mary McClelland knew she was adopted. Her mother said she had witnessed her birth and adopted her in November 1927, before Mary Agnes Maroney was even born. Her doctor backed her up, saying he’d arranged the adoption in 1927. Mary McClelland also didn’t have a scar on her abdomen that Mary Agnes should have had.
But other sources say McClelland had been adopted after Mary Agnes disappeared. Anthropologist Dr. Bertram S. Kraus examined McClelland’s teeth and said there was a match. And when McClelland’s fingerprints and blood type were tested, they were found to be similar to the Moroney family, indicating she could be a member.
In September 1952, Mary McClelland met up with the Moroney family. Catherine Moroney was skeptical from the start that this was her missing daughter, but they agreed to try and work on a relationship. DNA testing would later prove that Mary McClelland was not Mary Agnes Moroney. She died in 2005. According to a post on an ancestry.com message board that appears to be started by McClelland’s granddaughter, this DNA test happened in 2009.
So despite the early police speculation that Mary Agnes’s parents were involved in her disappearance, most people I’ve come across online discussing this case believe she was kidnapped and raised by someone, probably Julia Otis. The only real question is: Where are they now?
Unsurprisingly, there has been speculation that Julia Otis was a false name. It would make sense; after all, why would you use your real name in the process of committing a crime? And if Julia changed her own name, she almost certainly changed Mary Agnes’s as well. A few people on Websleuths have done some digging and think they may have found either Mary Agnes or Julia, but of course nothing is confirmed.
One interesting thing I want to point out that I haven’t seen anyone else discuss is the first letter the Moroneys received. Assuming it really was from this Julia Otis, I think it’s interesting that they reportedly received it the day after Mary Agnes was last seen. Even today, mail takes several days to get to its intended destination and I can’t imagine it being much better in 1930. I think the fact that it arrived so soon after Mary Agnes’s disappearance could be evidence that the whole thing was premeditated. Julia Otis, whoever she really was, might have seen Michael Moroney’s ad in the paper and, unfortunately, decided to take advantage of their situation.
(Update (May 10, 2021): A few people in the comments section of the YouTube video on this case have said mail didn't necessarily take that long to arrive at its destination in the 1930's and/or that this is still the case in some places. So I could easily be wrong about this.)
Mary Agnes Moroney was two years old when she disappeared from her home in Chicago, Illinois on May 15, 1930. Her case is classified as a non family abduction.
Mary Agnes is a white female, with blonde hair and blue eyes, and was 3 feet tall and 20 pounds at the time of her disappearance. She has a scar on her abdomen and a strawberry birth mark on her face. She is left handed. If she were alive today, she would be 92 years old.
Mary Agnes was reportedly last seen with a woman who went by Julia Otis. She was described as being in her early 20’s, well dressed and with protruding teeth.
This case was a bit difficult to research because it’s so old; a lot of information was either never online or used to be and has since been taken down. There were also a lot of contradictory details, so I did the best I could to be accurate.
The good news is that I came across a lot of people online who claim to be relatives of Mary Agnes and want to find out what happened to her. So with all these people looking, I think there’s a good chance she will be found.