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The effort slowed when a cold rain fell at one a.m. They waded through the stream and stood 25 yards apart in a mile-long line, ultimately combing four square miles.Police interviewed motorists across an area spanning 300 square miles.Engineers pumped out a muddy well and Native Americans tracked “she bears” – mother bears they believed were prone to carrying off small children – to no avail.Shirley did not leave the forest for a week until, according to the May 16th he “consented to come to Bradford.After the much-publicized Adam Walsh abduction, parents became more fearful about where their children went and who they were with, and government agencies instituted safety programs including taking fingerprints of kids to keep on file.More recently, the hit Netflix series “Stranger Things,” about a fictional 12-year-old named Will Byers who’s snatched into another dimension, prompted renewed discussion about the idyllic times when children roamed free and parents rarely worried.In a op-ed, Ana North wrote, “‘Stranger Things’ is a reminder of a kind of unstructured childhood wandering that [now] seems less possible.” But the Marjorie West case reminds us that decades before mass media coverage of child kidnappings, there were hazards that terrified parents.
Cecilia West stayed at home so as not to miss a phone call.
Residents of Western Pennsylvania and Marjorie’s surviving relatives still hold out hope she’s alive.
If she is, she may yet celebrate her 85th birthday next month.
How free children should be to roam, and how cautious parents should be about young children’s activities, is a debate that still rages today. The girls, Dorothea and Marjorie, wanted to pick wildflowers.
* * * n Sunday, May 8, 1938, the West family – father Shirley; mother Cecilia; and children Dorothea, 11, Allan, 7, and Marjorie – attended church in Bradford, a small city 90 minutes south of Buffalo, New York, and 90 minutes east of Titusville, Pennsylvania, the site of the country’s first oil boom in 1859. Shirley warned them to watch for rattlesnakes behind the boulder nearby. Dorothea headed to the car to deliver them to their mother. The family drove to the nearest phone seven miles away to contact police in the town of Kane.