Monday, January 7, 2013

The Vanished Cadet

A West Point Mystery

On this date, January 7, 1950, events began in what became one of the strangest disappearances of the middle twentieth century – the vanishing of a West Point cadet named Richard Colvin Cox. As far as anyone could tell, he vanished without a trace while still on the grounds of the legendary military academy, creating a mystery still remains unsolved. To this day, he is the only West Point cadet that vanished and was never found – dead or alive.

West Point, America’s most esteemed military academy, is located on the banks of the Hudson River, about fifty miles from New York City. It is an impressive gothic-like fortress with slit windows, turrets, and stone walls that give the impression of it being an impregnable place. The academy has a rich history and, in addition, has provided America’s armies with its top commanders, as well as a number of notable personalities, including Federal and Confederate Civil War officers like Grant, Lee, Hood, Jackson, Longstreet, Sheridan, Sherman and Stuart; George Armstrong Custer; John J. Pershing; Dwight D. Eisenhower; Douglas MacArthur; and many others.

Still, it must be pointed out that many of the young men and women who manage to get into West Point, have doubts about their decision during the first year. During that time, first year students are known as “plebes,” the lowest of the low. Hazing by upperclassmen is rough and old-fashioned, as are the scholastic and psychological approaches of the academy. The purpose of West Point has always been to mold young people into field commander potential and the idea behind hazing has been an effort to blot out a cadet’s past personality and turn them into West Pointers. Every once in a while, a cadet finds himself or herself unable to bear the pressure and occasionally, a plebe – or even an upperclassmen – goes absent without leave from West Point. However, the tradition and honor code of the academy usually brings them back again, ashamed and penitent. Oddly enough, West Point, usually rigid and severe, has always maintained sympathy for such cases and while a punishment is always meted out, cadets are almost always welcome back into the fold.

West Point, America’s most prestigious military academy – and the scene of the disappearance of cadet Richard Cox

 In 1950, one cadet who successfully weathered the stress of his plebe year at West Point was a young man named Richard Colvin Cox. He was twenty-one years old, with blue eyes, a fair complexion, and light brown, close-cropped hair. Instructors and fellow classmen later recalled that Cox was morose during his first year, but not unusually so. The moods had not affected his studies and he rated in the upper third of his class. All in all, he seemed to be shaping up into top officer material.
Cox was an exceptional student and a promising young man. He grew up in Mansfield, Ohio, with his widowed mother, two brothers and four sisters. He had been an excellent student and the star of his high school swimming team. He had also been the president of his senior class and a member of the National Honor Society, which required good character as well as good grades. Although regarded as shy, Cox began dating Betty Timmons in high school. By the time that he reached West Point, the two were engaged. Cox spent his 1949 Christmas leave in Mansfield, where he and Betty had been inseparable. They talked constantly of their future together.

Dick had always dreamed of being an Army officer. He was in high school during most of World War II and he enlisted in the Army as soon as he graduated in June 1945. After training in Kentucky, he was assigned to the 27th Constabulary Division, a military police unit in Germany, which had recently surrendered. His unit, located in Coburg, Germany, was assigned to patrol the newly created border between East and West Germany. He took to Army life and spent his free time sightseeing and playing basketball on the Army team. He was an outstanding soldier and rose quickly to the rank of four-stripe sergeant. Cox began thinking of West Point and took the competitive exam for the Point. While he was waiting for the results, he received word from his mother. She had applied for a political appointment for him to West Point and had succeeded on getting it for him. This irritated Cox. He had wanted to get into the academy on his own merits, but as his friends told him, at least he would be able to attend. Cox accepted the appointment and arrived at West Point in September 1948.

Nothing especially remarkable occurred to Richard Cox during his first year at West Point. Already familiar with Army life, he found the regimen at the academy not too difficult. He suffered through his share of hazing, just like the other plebes, and went through a period of depression that was noted by his classmates and instructors, but never seemed to have any thoughts of quitting.

In September 1949, as his second year began, Cox was established in Room 1943 of the North Barracks. He shared the space with Cadets Joseph Urschell and Deane Welch and seemed happy to be back at West Point.

When he returned home to Mansfield for Christmas, he took with him two suits of civilian clothing, as cadets were permitted to do. Free of his uniform for a time, he slipped easily into civilian life. He and Betty Timmons at one point talked of eloping, apparently considering it rather seriously. But to do so meant expulsion from West Point, since cadets weren’t allowed to marry, and perhaps even the end of his military career. Cox – or perhaps Betty – thought about this dire penalty and the subject of elopement was dropped.

Cox returned to West Point on January 2, 1950 and the first week back from vacation passed uneventfully. Then on January 7, the first odd – and still unexplained – event occurred in the case. Peter C. Hains was the Cadet in Charge of Quarters at North Barracks on that Saturday afternoon. At around 4:45 p.m., the B Company telephone rang. Hains answered it and a rough man’s voice demanded to know if a fellow named Dick Cox was in the company. Hains replied that yes, Dick Cox was in B Company and the man said, “Well, look. When he comes in, tell him to come down to the hotel. Tell him George called. We knew each other in Germany. Tell him I’m a friend who wants to buy him dinner.”

When questioned later, Hains couldn’t remember much about the call, only that the man said his name was George. He was unsure if it was the man’s first name or last name. There was, however, no question about the hotel. It could only be the Hotel Thayer, which was about a half mile from the West Point grounds. By the academy’s rules, this was the only place other than the mess hall where Cox or any other cadet could eat a meal. Even so, any cadet who wanted to eat at the hotel needed a special dinner privilege pass to leave the grounds.

Several minutes after Hains took the call, Richard Cox walked past him. Informed of the call, Cox looked bewildered. He had no idea who “George” might be and couldn’t remember meeting anyone by that name in Germany. Finally, Cox shrugged off the message and went upstairs to his room.

About 45 minutes after the mysterious telephone call, a man who was about six feet tall, hatless and wearing a tightly-belted trench coat, walked into Grant Hall and asked to see Richard Cox. Visitors who come to West Point to see a cadet must come through the hall, a large lounge that was decorated with an impressive array of paintings and divisional insignia. Visitors were to give the name of the cadet that they wished to see and the cadet was informed. If he was free, he reported to greet the visitor at Grant Hall.

Grant Hall at West Point, where Cox met with the mysterious “George”

Cadet Officer of the Guard Mauro Maresca was on duty that evening and he remembered the man as having blond hair and a lightly tanned face, which was unusual in New York in January. However, Maresca did not ask the man his name, he merely relayed word to Cox that he had a visitor. A few minutes later, Dick entered Grant Hall. He hung his long gray dress overcoat on a rack, as cadets were required to do, and then presented himself to Maresca. The Officer of the Guard called out Cox’s name and the blond visitor stepped forward.

Cox recognized the man and they shook hands. Maresca later remembered that they seemed glad to see each other and after a few minutes, they walked over to the coat rack. While Cox was putting on his coat, the visitor kidded him about how he looked in his uniform. Before leaving Grant Hall, Cox signed out on a dinner pass or DP, which would allow him to dine at the Hotel Thayer. But apparently, he never went there. His DP was signed at 5:30 p.m. and by 7:00 p.m., Cox was back in North Barracks. This would have hardly have given him time to reach the Thayer, let alone eat one of the leisurely meals that the hotel’s dining room was known for, and return to the barracks.

Nor did anyone recall seeing Cox at the Thayer that night. The hotel had two small dining rooms with about thirty tables in each one. No one, not a staff member or another cadet, saw Cox in the restaurant that night.

There was one thing off about Cox when he returned to the barracks the night – he was slightly drunk. This was a foolish and dangerous state for a cadet to be seen in at West Point. He got away with it, though, and when he reached his room he changed out of his uniform and into a sweatshirt and running pants. Then he picked up a book and began to study. When his two roommates came in at about 10:30 p.m., he was asleep with a textbook in his hands.

The curious events of January 7 did not end with the arrival of Cox’s roommates.

A few moments after they walked in the door, the bugle sounded for lights out, startling Cox out of his sleep. He leapt hysterically to his feet, not seeming to realize where he was or who was in the room with him. Incoherent, he ran out of the room before his surprised roommates could restrain him. In the hallway, he leaned over the stairwell and shouted words that sounded like, “Is Alice down there?”
Alice? His roommates had never heard him mention a girl with that name. Later, a suggestion was made that Cox actually yelled, “Alles kaput,” which translates to “All is over!” This might have made more sense, given the events that were still to come.

Cadet Urschell led Cox back into Room 1943, asking him who Alice was. Cox shook his head, unable to explain his bizarre behavior. He collapsed onto his bed, not turning down the covers or undressing, and was immediately asleep again.

The next morning, Cox didn’t speak about anyone named Alice, but he was anxious to tell his friends about the previous night’s visitor. He explained that the man had been in his outfit in Germany and before that, was an Army Ranger. They had not been close friends – Cox considered the man to be quite morbid – and he had had a few drinks the night before, refusing to let Dick out of the car until he had some, too. He told his friends that the man spun terrible stories of his exploits when he was a Ranger, talking of cutting and emasculating Germans and that he’d lived with a girl in Germany, gotten her pregnant and killed her.

Welch and Urschell were as bothered by the stories as Cox seemed to be. He finished the account by expressing his dislike for “George.” He was always boasting, bragging all the time, he said, and he hoped that he would not return to visit again.

Unfortunately, George came back again around noon the next day, and once again, Cox went to meet him. He told Urschell and Welch that he would be back in about two hours, all the while complaining bitterly about the time that George was wasting and speaking again of his dislike for the man. He further characterized him as sadistic, strange and highly strung. He walked away muttering that he hoped to never see the man again.

To Urschell and Welch, Cox didn’t seem to fear his visitor. The mysterious George rated no higher than a nuisance. They attributed the fact that Cox went to meet him two times to mid-winter boredom. After enjoying himself during the holidays, Cox was finding it difficult to adjust to the rigid life of the Point again. Even an unwanted visitor like George offered a distraction from day-to-day life.

In the week that followed, Cox continued to make disparaging comments about George. Urschell and Welch could never remember if they asked Cox about Alice again, but they did recall that, back in December, about two weeks before going home to Ohio, Dick had written a letter to a young woman whom he had met in Germany. Without asking him directly, his roommates assumed this girl’s name was Alice.

On Saturday, January 14 – a week after George’s first appearance – Cox and Welch went together to watch the Army basketball team play against Rutgers. After the game, they walked back to North Barracks. Near the east entrance, Cox told Welch that he wanted to look at his grades, which each Saturday were posted near the company barracks. The two cadets parted ways.

It was later discovered that, just moments later, Cox met with a man who seemed to be waiting for him near the east entrance. It was assumed that this was George, but according to Cadet John Samotis, who witnessed Cox walk up to him, the man was short, had dark hair and was lighter than George. He also wore a trench coat, but it hung casually open.

Cox returned to Room 1943 about twenty minutes after Welch and again informed his roommates that he was going to have dinner with a “friend.” They assumed that he meant George, although he never stated that. He said that he would be back around 9:30 p.m.

Cox left the room at 5:45 p.m. and he took no money with him. In his room, he left behind $60 in cash and $45 in checks. Over his dress gray uniform, he put on his regulation long gray overcoat, which made him a conspicuous figure and one that would have been remembered if he was seen on the street. Unfortunately, though, no one remembered him and it was in this recognizable uniform that Cox vanished.

He did not go to the Hotel Thayer, for no one who dined there that night remembered seeing him. He did not return to the barracks that night, as required by regulations, and his bed was empty at 1:00 a.m. during the final check. The next morning, Cadets Urschell and Welch nervously appeared before the Provost Marshal to report their roommate missing.

Cadet Richard Cox became permanently absent without leave.

What happened to Richard Cox that night is unknown. If he left West Point by automobile, then he would have had to have been in the trunk, because cars were inspected when they exited through the gates. A young man in a West Point uniform would have attracted attention and Cox had to have been in uniform since his two civilian suits were still hanging in his closet. If Cox had been sneaking out, he could have climbed in a car trunk or, worse yet, if George had overpowered him and killed him, he could have hidden Dick’s body there. But, in light of Cox’s physical fitness and dislike for George, this scenario seemed unlikely.

Officials were taking the disappearance seriously, especially in light of George’s strange visits and Cox’s reported hostility towards the man. It was concluded that Cox had met either with an accident or with foul play on West Point grounds. A search was made of the academy by a Special Services regiment stationed at West Point but no trace of the missing cadet came to light on that Sunday.

In Cox’s room, though, an odd discovery was made. On his calendar, the day was circled in red, with the notation “See Kelley,” written in Cox’s neat hand beside the circle. At first, this was assumed to have been in reference to George, but it turned out to be in reference to James Kelley, a boyhood friend of Dick’s from Mansfield and a midshipman at Annapolis, Maryland. Kelley was visiting West Point on February 15 – not January 15 – and Cox had simply made the notation on the wrong calendar month.

On Monday, the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command was notified about Cox’s disappearance. A circular was drawn up with Cox’s description and information was provided to the civilian press the following day. But there was no word from anyone who might have seen Richard Cox. As days became weeks, the hunt for the cadet continued. The Army called in the FBI and local and state police joined in the search, sending out information throughout the country and to Germany.

At West Point, there was a room-by-room search of all buildings and then the search spread out into the surrounding area. Searchers formed in long lines five or six feet apart and moved slowly up and down the hillsides. When the search of the area yielded no clues, both Delafield Pond and the Lusk Reservoir were drained and dragged. The draining of Delafield Pond alone took two weeks.

In Ohio, the Cox family and Betty Timmons were interrogated by the FBI. They had no idea where Richard might be and had not seen him since Christmas, when his mother said that he was anxious to return to West Point.

Then, another odd thing happened. The letter that Cox had written to the young woman in Germany arrived back at the post and across its face were the German words for “Address Unknown.”

Investigators who believed this letter had been written to a girl named Alice got a surprise – Cox had written to a girl named Rosemary Vogel. The contents of the letter were innocent. Cox said that he had been looking through some of his photos of Germany and noticed one of Rosemary and decided to write. Cox’s quarters were ransacked in a search for the picture of Rosemary Vogel but nothing was found. It eventually turned up in Mansfield. Cox had apparently taken the photo, along with the rest of his pictures from Germany, home with him for Christmas.

Although the letter offered no clues of anything other than a young man feeling nostalgic for friends in another country, CID investigators in Germany set out to find Rosemary Vogel. The result was curious. The girl’s mother reported that her daughter had married an American sergeant and was living in a small town in New York. FBI men rushed there, only to find a happily married young woman who barely remembered Richard Cox.

Back in Germany, the CID investigators questioned every man that Cox had bunked or soldiered with. His daily movements were re-created and yet not a single clue of a double life or any suspicious behavior ever turned up. The FBI search in the United States was just as fruitless.

The hunt for the mysterious “George” was just as determined as the search for Cox himself. Military records in Germany were combed for a man who had transferred from the Rangers to the 27th Constabulary – a man who was blond, a braggart, and perhaps the lover of a girl named Alice. At the Army’s dead files center in St. Louis, personnel records of the Rangers and the 27th Constabulary were scrutinized for a man with George as a first or last name and who fit the description of the man who came to West Point. Only one such man was even found and he had an airtight alibi for the nights of January 7 and January 14.

At first, the Cox disappearance got little coverage in the newspapers. The actor Robert Montgomery, who also worked as a news commentator, mentioned the story on his show. Soon, reports of Cox began flooding in from around the country. He had been seen in hotels, motels, swimming pools and nightclubs. A gas station attendant claimed that he had seen Cox in the company of a dazzling blond showgirl. Richard’s brother called the report “absolutely preposterous.”

Every night for two months, the name Richard Colvin Cox was shouted out in the West Point roll call. There was only silence in reply. Finally, on March 15, Cox was formally dropped from the cadet roster. Colonel Edwin N. Howell, West Point Provost Marshal, said, “I am convinced there was foul play. I am sure that we will not find Cadet Cox alive.”

When the spring thaw arrived, another intensive search of the countryside began. It turned up something interesting – an unusual Brazilian-made .38 caliber pistol near the West Point firing range. Someone suggested that it was just the sort of exotic weapon that might be used by a Ranger. There was no way to tell how long the gun had been there, since it was so damaged by the rain and snow of the past winter months.

July 25, 1950 was Richard Cox’s twenty-second birthday. Every other year that he had been away from home, Cox had telephoned his family at some point during the day. Now, the family gathered by the telephone early in the morning and prayed that he would call. The phone rang several times but it was never Dick. At the end of the daylong vigil, his mother sighed, “You just go around in circles and come back to the beginning. There’s no end to it!”

At First Army Headquarters in New York, Colonel Robert J. Murphy said almost the same thing: “In view of the fact that the man has not turned up and we have no evidence to prove that he is deceased, we must hold to the belief that he is alive. Apparently he has no desire to reveal his whereabouts. Therefore, we will search for him until we find a solution of the disappearance.”

On the day that Cox’s class graduated from West Point, the cadet had been missing for two years, four months and twenty-four days. Betty Timmons had decided not to wait for her lost love and she married a man named William Broad. The case faded from news accounts, but it was not forgotten. When Life magazine printed a photograph of a GI in Korea named Cox, hundreds of people wrote in to say that it must be the missing cadet. While it seemed unlikely that the runaway soldier would have used his real name, a CID investigator was sent to question the man. His name was Cox, but he was not the right one, as proven by his fingerprints.

The man named “George” has also never been found. There is nothing to indicate who this mysterious man might have been and whether or not he had anything to do with the disappearance of Richard Cox. The case of Cadet Richard Cox remains open and unsolved to this day. He is the only West Point cadet who ever disappeared without being found, either dead or alive, but what happened to him remains unknown.

The unsolved mystery of Richard Cox appears in Troy’s book, WITHOUT A TRACE – the largest collection of disappearances and supernatural vanishings available. You canclick here to get an autographed copy. It’s also available as a Kindle and Nook edition!

1 comment:

  1. i find this article and almost everyone about this guy soooo interesting. it is rather intoxicating just to read about it and think of what happened to this poor guy. nevertheless, i think it would make a fantastic movie, good thriller or action mystery. maybe one day, even if he is dead by now, we may yet find out what happened to him.