Ruth Elizabeth Baumgardner was a senior art major at Ohio Wesleyan University in 1937 and has been missing and unfound since May 4, 1937 in the Delaware area.
This case was closed in 1939 at the request of Baumgardner’s parents, but there have been so many different theories as to what happened to her, all of which have never been proven for certain. This Delaware case still remains a mystery today. The living relatives of Baumgardner have refused to talk to others who have investigated this case in the past.
Baumgardner was just 22 when she went missing. She was 5’5’ and 110 pounds. She had blonde hair, and blue/gray eyes. She was last seen wearing a brown suit, a sport hat, and brown suede ghillie shoes which tied at the ankle.
Baumgardner was a member of the Delta Delta Delta sorority group and lived alone in room 319 in Austin Hall. On the evening of her disappearance, Baumgardner practiced for a singing competition, and then studied in her dormitory for a test which was scheduled the following day. Her sorority sisters last saw her shortly after 11pm on May 4, 1937. She had her hair up in curlers and pins and was behaving normally at the time. Sometime before midnight she said goodbye to her friends, and has never been seen or heard from again.
Her sorority sisters had notified campus authorities about their friend’s disappearance at 10:30pm the following day, when they had realized she hadn’t attended any of her classes. Baumgardner’s new red Dodge was found parked undisturbed in its regular garage; they key was in the ignition.
It has also been found that she did not leave with an old handbag, but instead left with an overnight case. She had left her dormitory room key on the back corner of an Austin Hill staircase between the second and third floors.
Baumgardner’s room was in perfect order, which was uncharacteristic of her. Her watch, sorority pin, and some loose change were left behind in her room.
At first, it was believed that Baumgardner had suffered an amnesiac episode and wandered away from campus. The theory was bolstered by several reported sightings of her in the Delaware area in the days following her disappearance. None of these sightings were confirmed, however.
Authorities investigated the possibility that Baumgardner left of her own accord, possibly with a boyfriend, since several of the reported sightings placed her with a young man. However, Baumgardner was happily engaged to her boyfriend in Lakewood. There is also no evidence of foul play in her case, however, a local resident living near Ohio Wesleyan campus reported hearing screams between 2 and 3am on May 5.
Several inferences and different accounts of this case have been looked into and considered by investigators. The most popular and believed theory as to what happened to her is backed up by some sources, but the evidence is very vague and this theory hasn’t been fully proven.
The day Baumgardner went missing, she had received three calls from an unidentified male. To this day, this person has still remained unnamed. It is believed that Ruth was probably pregnant and thought she had found an abortionist and set up a time to meet him. This guy made it sound very safe and made himself appear very respectable, as if he were the middleman for a doctor.
It turns out that this man, along with others, were involved in “white slavery” and prostitution, while also involved in the first murder of an Ohio State patrol officer, George Conn. Naturally, when Ruth saw all these men in the car, she probably panicked and wanted out of the deal. However, she had been drugged with narcotics to keep quiet and was taken to a house in Steubenville. A testimony involving Charles Dryer, one of the men involved, has been published and took place on September 19, 1938 in the Harrison County Court room in Cadiz, Ohio. Dryer admitted to drugging Baumgardner and taking her to Steubenville, leaving her in a house, and then driving to Pittsburgh.
However, one of the headlines from a 1938 issue of The Portsmouth Times Newspaper reads “Highway Patrol Chief Labels Colored Man’s Story of Abduction ‘Screwy’”, saying that there wasn’t enough evidence to support Dryer’s testimony. More importantly though was what was found in a 1941 issue of this same newspaper, where “Two persons examining photographs of Miss Baumgardner reported seeing her in Steubenville within the last six months.” Even if all of this is true, Ruth’s body still hasn’t been found since she first disappeared.
Another theory is that Baumgardner was found by police and half insane from the treatment she underwent as a victim of forced prostitution. Another Ohio State patrolman that knew George Conn has said that Ruth was then returned to her family and put into a mental institution. However, her family asked law enforcement to tell the press that Ruth was never found. This might’ve been something that the family would’ve wanted to keep quiet and not want people to know. As for the 1941 articles on a sheriff re-opening the case, perhaps it was nothing more than self promotion to get some free publicity.
There has been contradicting news articles published denying that Ruth had ever been found and that she was still missing. Two women in Zanesville also reported seeing Ruth the day after she vanished walking with a young, white man.
Other theories include Baumgardner running away with someone her parents might’ve disapproved of or her being pregnant. With the little evidence that accompanies this case, it’s hard to say what happened for sure. Many have reported seeing Baumgardner, many have testified this so-called “abduction” of her, but the most important thing is that to this day, Ruth Baumgardner has never been located ever since 1937.
Editor’s note: Above information was obtained (and contain theories) from published reports.
NOTE: Some info contained in this article is cited from charleyproject.org