Unprecedented Use of Television in 1950 Missing Persons Case

On Thursday, January 5th, 1950, 12-year-old Josephine Leech disappeared from her home in Yonkers, New York. She had been last seen at approximately 11:20PM by a neighbor. On Monday, January 9th, some three hundred Boy Scouts and two hundred members of the Police Athletic League joined the search for Josephine [1]. But the search came up empty.

On Wednesday, January 11th, the police turned to television for help. At the time, The New York Times wrote that “the use of television in a missing persons case is unprecedented” [2]. WCBS, New York City’s CBS affiliate, showed a picture of Josephine during The CBS Television News at 7:30PM while WABD, the city’s DuMont station, showed the picture throughout the evening during commercial breaks [3]. NBC would go even further the following day:

Most ambitious use of the medium will come tonight [Wednesday, January 12th] when NBC will try to re-create the appearance and personality of the missing girl on its “Black Robe” program at 8 P.M. Marie Gentille, an 11-year-old girl from the Bronz, will demonstrate the speech and mannerisms of the missing child. Make-up men will mod her appearance to approximate that of Josephine. [4]

The New York Times also reported that Josephine may have been spotted in Mount Vernon attempting to buy a movie ticket at the Biltmore Theatre (she was turned away because she wasn’t accompanied by an adult) 5]. On Thursday, January 12th, Josephine was recognized by the co-owner of the Biltmore as well as by an usher. The co-owner, Harry Kutinsky, had the usher watch to make sure Josephine didn’t run off and then called the police, who arrived and brought her back to Yonkers [6].

Josephine had apparently spent some time at a church in Mount Vernon, where only hours before she was found at the theater, an assistant pastor had come across a “red cap, neck beads and a note” [7]. Although she had left home without any money, when she was found Josephine had $1.15, which she earned by redeeming bottles. She spent the money on movie tickets and candy bars, according to The New York Times [8].

The Black Robe premiered in May of 1949 on NBC and went off the air in March of 1950. An unusual pseudo-reality documentary series, installments of The Black Robe recreated actual trials. There were few true actors in the series; the presiding judge was played by Frank Thomas. Whether Harry Kutinsky, who recognized Josephine Leech at the Biltmore, had seen January 12th broadcast of The Black Robe, or her photograph on WCBS or WABD, is unknown.

Works Cited:
1 “500 Join in Hunt for Girl.” New York Times. 10 Jan. 1950: 31.
2 “Television Employed in Missing Girl Hunt.” New York Times. 12 Jan. 1950: 54.
3 Ibid.
4 Ibid.
5 Ibid.
6 “Missing Girl Found in Movie Theatre.” New York Times. 13 Jan. 1950: 16.
7 Ibid.
8 “Court Detains Girl Missing For Week.” New York Times. 14 Jan. 1950: 20.

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