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Catherine Winters, 90 Years Ago

By Eldon Pitts for the Henry County Historical Society 2003 Historalog

Catherine Winters    It has been 90 years since Catherine Winters disappeared, about noon on a sunny spring day in the middle of New Castle. People still are wondering how the bright 9-year-old daughter of prominent dentist W. A. Winters could have vanished, as one private detective said, "as if the earth had opened and swallowed her up."
   Catherine, and her 7-year-old brother, Frankie, were out of school on March 20, 1913 because of a measles outbreak. The girl left home, 311 N. 16th St., about 9 a.m. that day to sell packages of noodles for a charity - and get some spending money for herself - and play with some friends.
   Her father and stepmother, Byrd (Ritter) Winters, had told Catherine to be home for lunch promptly at 11 a.m.
   Dan Monroe, a family friend, said he saw Catherine walking in the 1100 block of Broad Street about 11:45 a.m. He was presumed to be the last person who saw her before she disappeared.
   But investigator Robert H. Abel said he later found a boy who said he had seen Catherine at 16th and Broad streets - 3 blocks from her home - about 12:15 p.m. Another witness claimed to have seen the girl at her home after noon.
   Dr. Winters believed that gypsies had kidnapped his daughter until the day he died, in 1940. It was a popular theory, because a band of gypsies had passed through the city on a regular route of travel the day the girl disappeared.
   But Winters and local police officials tracked the band of gypsies to a location between Hagerstown and Economy, and Catherine was not with them.
   Private Detective A. G. Lunt, from the W. J. Burns Agency, tracked the band of gypsies all the way to Pittsburgh, PA. He was convinced that gypsies had not kidnapped the girl.
   Another popular theory was that relatives had kidnapped the girl for a $6,000-$8,000 inheritance of Catherine's late mother, Etta (Whisler) Winters, who died in a Colorado Springs sanitarium in 1909, when Catherine was 5.
   Relatives in Wisconsin denied any knowledge of Catherine's whereabouts.
   Some believed that Catherine had been kidnapped and murdered by a stranger, because a man reportedly had tried to entice two local girls into his buggy shortly before Catherine disappeared.
   The case pretty much disappeared from the headlines of local newspapers after a few weeks.
Ed Jackson   Then, 7 months later, on October 6, 1913, Henry County Prosecutor H. H. Evans asked Henry Circuit Court Judge Ed Jackson to convene a grand jury to probe the case.
   About 100 witnesses were called to testify, including Byrd Winters, her mother, Margaret Ritter, and Frankie Winters.
   Jackson dismissed the grand jury - which failed to indict anyone - after 2 weeks.
   The case dropped from the headlines again, until May 30, 1914. The community was stunned when Abel convinced the new prosecutor, Walter R. Myers, to file charges against the Winters and William Ross Cooper, a one-armed telegraph operator for the Big Four Railroad.
   Cooper had been a boarder at the Winters' home when Catherine disappeared, and he lived there until about a month before the three were arrested. Cooper said Byrd Winters threw him out for "getting Doc drunk."
   The trio was charged with conspiracy to commit a felony, based on the only physical evidence ever discovered in the case.
   Authorities found a red sweater - with the collar missing and a large burn hole in the back - a red hair ribbon and a man's bloodstained undershirt stuffed in a concrete block behind a basement wall in the Winters home. Dirt and cement had been piled several inches deep on the items.
   Witnesses differed on whether the sweater was the same one Catherine wore when she was last seen. But Dr. and Byrd Winters gave contradictory statements about how the clothing got there and neither could explain the burn hole.
   The charging affidavit alleged that the trio conspired to murder Catherine by "striking, beating and wounding" her and trying to burn her body.
   Abel's theory was that Byrd Winters, 34, had an affair with Cooper, 28, and Catherine found out. The detective claimed that Catherine was killed to keep her quiet and her body was shoved into the furnace at the Winters' home. No remains were found in the furnace, however.
   Cooper told police that Dr. and Byrd Winters had argued the Sunday night before Catherine disappeared. Investigators also found an unsigned letter, apparently from a woman with whom Cooper was having an affair, in his shirt pocket when he was interrogated.
   Abel then asked Myers to file murder charges against only Byrd Winters and Cooper, saying he didn't believe Dr. Winters was involved in the girls murder.
   Myers refused.
   The trio was set to stand trial on July 10, 1914.
   A local chemist who tested the clothing said bloodstains on the undershirt were human, and that they were more than a year old.
   Myers said he would also have the clothing tested by a state chemist, but there was no indication whether that was done.
   On July 7, legendary gunfighter-turned lawman William Barclay (Bat) Masterson arrived in New Castle and registered at the Bundy Hotel. He told reporters that he and seven other private detectives had been hired by an unnamed person who said he had seen Catherine alive 5 days earlier.
   Masterson claimed the charges against the Winters' and Cooper were unfounded and he promised at least five arrests in the case. Those arrests never happened.
   Instead, Masterson himself was arrested on July 10 on a conspiracy charge from an incident in which he allegedly directed a brick-throwing attack on an Indianapolis restaurant where waiters were striking. Masterson also was a strike breaker for the Pinkerton's detective agency.
   Masterson was taken to Indianapolis to face the charge and it was not reported whether he ever returned to pick up his belongings at the Bundy Hotel.
   Myers dropped the charges the day the Winters' and Cooper were to stand trial, claiming there was insufficient evidence to precede.
   Amid all of the theories, the only one supported by the only physical evidence uncovered in the case was that something happened to Catherine Winters in her own home.
   H. H. Evans, the original prosecutor in the case, remained convinced that Dr. Winters wasn't telling all that he knew.
   Investigators believed Dr. Winters tried to mislead them, Evans said. "Detectives say that Winters thwarted their plans in everything they tried to do," Evans said.
   "The half (of the story) had never been told and never will be until Dr. Winters reveals what he knows," Evans told reporters. "Every clue has always come from the same source," he said, referring to the Winters' home.
   Byrd Winters died in 1953 never revealing any private thoughts she might have had about Catherine's disappearance.
   Frankie Winters died in Compton, CA, in 1955 at the age of 49. There were no reports of whether he ever told anyone what he thought happened to his sister.
   Before his death, Dr. Winters reckoned that $50,000 had been spent on the search for his daughter. That included about $2,200 of his own money. Winters, his wife and at least a dozen private detectives traveled nearly 22,000 miles pursuing at least 2,000 false leads.
   Two songs - "Where Did Catherine Winters Go" and "Telephone To Heaven" - were written locally about the case.
   The girl's disappearance gained national attention. At least 70 newspapers across the country, including the Cincinnati Post, Chicago Tribune and Seattle Star offered rewards for information they hoped would solve what many consider the most baffling and extraordinary mystery in the history of Henry County.

Catherine Winters Media

A (silent) movie from 1913 about the disappearance of Catherine Winters of New Castle Indiana. The 9 year old girl went missing and was never located. This film was commissioned by her father and shown in movie theatres in an attempt to locate Catherine. Film by M. C. Films Mfg. of Indianapolis Indiana, year 1913. This video has no sound.

A news story by Howard Caldwell, from Channel 6 News in Indianapolis, IN, discussing the Catherine Winters Mystery. Video from 1990.

Click to enlarge.An article from the February 16, 1914 Cincinnati Post about the Catherine Winters disappearence.

Click to download.The PDF sheet music for the song Where Did Catherine Winters Go?. Words by: Z. F. Gorbett. Music by: Sylvester Gorbett. Published by: Gorbett Bros. 2014 S. 18th New Castle, IN. Right click and choose "Save Target As..." to save the file to your computer. Requires Adobe Acrobat Reader.

UEB 2009

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