Monday Mystery: The Vanished Prodigy

Barbara Newhall Follett was writing poetry before most children would even be enrolled in kindergarten. By twelve, she was a published novelist. By twenty-two, she was a bride. And by twenty-six, she had vanished completely.

Follett was awash in the written word before most children even knew their ABCs. Her father, Wilson Follett, was eventually the author of the posthumously-published descriptivist tome Modern American Usage. (The manuscript was largely in draft stage upon his death, but friends who read it thought it was too wonderful to go unreleased.) At eight she was hard at work on her first novel, The House Without Windows; after its publication, at the tender age of twelve, she went on to write The Voyage of the Norman D, released when she was sixteen. Both books were critically-acclaimed, and Follett became a celebrated prodigy of the literary world.

Outside the world in her novels, however, all was not well. In 1928, when Follett was 14, her beloved father announced he would be leaving the family for another woman. Follett was devastated. She busied herself writing Lost Island and Travels Without A Donkey, but with the onset of the Great Depression the next year, the situation only got worse. Follett, celebrated novelist, was forced to take a job as a lowly secretary to support herself and her mother. In 1934, hoping for a better life, she married a man named Nickerson Rodgers, and moved to Brookline, Massachusetts.

Follett's relationship with Rodgers was tempestuous. They fought frequently, and in her letters, Follett spoke often of depression and dependence on sleeping medication. In 1939, she had had enough. Barbara Newhall Follett Rodgers walked out of her Brookline apartment with $30 cash and was never seen again.

Though the case is officially unsolved and without leads, many believe that Rodgers did her in. He was the last person to see her alive, and we have only his word that she walked out after their last fight under her own power. It took him two weeks to report her missing -- although, to be fair, her mother didn't report it either -- and four months to request that the police issue a bulletin about it, under her married name, rather than the name she was known for. It wasn't until 1966 that someone in the media realized "Barbara Rodgers" was also "Barbara Newhall Follett" and set up a hue and cry. Thirteen years after Follett's disappearance, her mother Helen went to police and insisted upon an investigation, claiming she had always been suspicious of Nickerson Rodgers.

No body or trace of Barbara Newhall Follett has ever been found.

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