Disappearances often make the most exciting mysteries. They offer rabbit holes of information as investigators and amateur detectives pour over every possible link in the victim’s life and every potential sighting. They create theories and speculation. Sometimes, these people are the victims of effective killers. Sometimes they remain alive and held against their will. Other times, they simply wished to run away for their own reasons. Yet, these events remain the darkest of days for the families and friends of the disappeared, often suffering for many years without knowing whether their loved one is dead or alive. Some people simply vanish.
One such case is Mimi Boomhower, the “Merry Widow,” whose disappearance has intrigued amateur and professional detectives alike for over 70 years. Some say it was the mob, others say it was suicide, and some theorists even believe it was the work of a then-unidentified serial killer who stalked Hollywood at the height of film noir.
Mimi Boomhower, 48, was wealthy, or so it seemed. She had been married to the linoleum tycoon Novis Boomhower, a noted big-game hunter. Novis had died in 1943. Not only would Mimi become significantly wealthy afterward, but she’d also inherit the sizable collection of trophies that adorned the walls of their lavish Bel Air mansion. As macabre as it was impressive, the house would soon have a whole new specter of death around it.
It was on August 18, 1949, that anyone would last hear from Mimi Boomhower alive. She’d just finished a phone call to one of her friends, and everything was seemingly normal. Indeed, she seemed in good spirits, despite the sixth anniversary of Novis’ death happening just the day before. The call ended around 8pm, and Mimi was about to get ready for a rendezvous, telling her business manager she intended to meet a “gentlemen,” and she would call at 8:30pm. The call never came.
Friends attempted to contact Mimi over the next few days, and none succeeded. As a wealthy and well-connected widow, Mimi had a full schedule of social events, and when she failed to show, questions began to be asked. Mimi had little family in her life; her siblings lived on the East Coast, and she’d never had any children. However, the socialite had a wide social circle, and her friends all stated that her disappearance was totally out of character. Despite the vanishing, those around the socialite had believed that she’d merely gone on a short vacation and would be back soon. It would be a week before anyone realized something was seriously wrong, and the police were finally contacted.
When police investigated Mimi’s lavish house in Bel Air, they were met with an eerie atmosphere. Every single light in the building was on, including those in the backyard. Her car was still in the garage, and an uneaten salad was waiting on the table. It was very much a Mary Celeste. Upstairs, a dress was laid out on the bed suggesting that Boomhower had been getting ready to meet the gentleman that she had mentioned to the business manager. There were no signs that there had been a robbery and no clues left as to where Mimi might have gone.
There were no fingerprints in the house that didn’t belong to Mimi, and, in fact, the only possible clue was a postcard in her mailbox marked as coming from Long Island. The card said, “Olga gave me your news — Lillian.” Olga was Mimi’s sister, yet she was unaware of the postcard, what it was talking about, or who Lillian was. Another useful statement came from Mimi’s gardener, who remembered that a middle-aged man with white hair had been parked in the drive next door; he had been watching the house. The man was never identified, nor the “gentleman” that Mimi had arranged to meet.
Interviewing anyone who may have had possible contact with Mimi, the LAPD spoke with a local furrier with who she’d talked about buying a new fur coat just that past week. Mimi stated that she couldn’t place an order yet as she needed to speak with her husband first. As a widow, Mimi obviously didn’t have a husband, and she was said to have quickly corrected herself in the store to say she would discuss it with her family. This may have simply been her way of brushing off a zealous salesman, yet it was Mimi who had shown her interest in the coat first. Some have speculated that the “husband” comment may indicate that Mimi had engaged in a whirlwind romance and eloped, yet this seems a leap. Although she had dated casually, she had never been serious about anyone else after Novis, and given her wide social circle, it seems unlikely that such a man would not be known to someone.
Indeed, the whole time spent at the furrier is curious. While Mimi may have wanted to keep herself in the custom she was used to, her finances made that very difficult. In 1949, those of status were expected to keep up appearances no matter what and never show society any hint of financial strain. Mimi Boomhower fell right into this category of socialite. She had already taken out a $5000 loan, officially to start a new business, and her house was on the market at way below the actual value. According to friends, she had pawned a $3000 watch for a derisory $100, replaced the ivory in one of her husband’s hunting trophies with plaster, and was even thinking about selling her jewelry.
Mimi’s jewelry included diamond rings, a diamond breast-pin, and a diamond bracelet worth around $25,000. None of the jewels were ever found, and it’s been assumed she was wearing it at the time of her disappearance. She often wore the lavish items, and while it seems possible that she’s have been intending to wear these if meeting a man for romance, it’s also possible that she was planning to pawn some of them. Perhaps the gentleman she intended to see was less of a date and more of a business transaction; after all, she did plan to speak to her business manager at 8:30pm.
In either case, this all suggests a level of desperation and the need for a regular income, and why Mimi Boomhower needed money so urgently was never ascertained. There were rumors of a gambling problem, and the only man suspected in the case, Tom E. Evans, was heavily involved.
Evans was an associate of mobster Tony “the hat” Cornero, acting as a host on one of his floating casinos. He had been seen in Boomhower’s company on the night of her disappearance, with the two spotted having drinks at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel by an unnamed witness. They seemed convivial. While it’s certainly possible that Boomhower owed money to the wrong people, she wasn’t out of cash by far, and while she had to sell her possessions, she still had immense reserves such as her late husband’s trophy collection. It seems unlikely that she would have been killed before she was milked entirely dry. In any case, Evans denied knowing Mimi and stated that if he had been having drinks with somebody, it certainly wasn’t Boomhower. The witness must have been mistaken.
One of the other prevailing theories amongst the police was that Mimi may have simply walked out of the house and committed suicide. While this may seem unlikely, with Mimi being wealthy, surrounded by friends, and known as “The Merry Widow,” this fails to understand depression. Often, those suffering from depression will show few signs to those around them, internalizing their turmoil. Being just a day after the anniversary of her husband’s death and suffering some level of financial difficulties, these strains may have been too much for Mimi. Although she had plans made and many suicides are planned in advance, this isn’t always the case, and something as simple as being jilted by a man she was interested in so close to her husband’s anniversary could have tipped her over the edge.
Yet, there is no evidence for this, and it seems unlikely that such a suicide wouldn’t be noticed. There was no note, and her car was still in the garage, meaning she must have walked to her point of death if it were true. No taxis were sent to her house.
Whatever happened to Mimi is likely to center on the man she was meeting just after 8pm. While it seems like this was a date, with Mimi laying out a dress and possibly wearing her best jewels, that might not be so. Struggling for money, it seems possible that Mimi had attempted to sell some of her jewelry. She’d already started her interest in new furs but brushed off the salesman until she’d spoken with “her husband,” which seems like a way of avoiding the fact that she didn’t have the funds to pay immediately. Inviting a man to her home to buy the jewels, perhaps he simply decided he didn’t wish to pay. Yet, there was no sign of a struggle in the house, and nothing else was missing, including valuables. Indeed, a thief carrying away the body of a victim would be almost unique.
On August 24, police would have a break in the case when Mimi’s purse was found in a phone booth four miles away on Wilshire Boulevard. However, if anything, it would only add to the intrigue. The bag still seemingly contained everything that was supposed to be there, including identification, keys, and money, all be it just $1. On the side of the purse, an unknown individual had written, “Police dept. We found this at beach Thursday night,” yet when the item was sent to forensics, no traces of either sand or saltwater could be found. The conclusion is obvious — somebody wanted everyone to think that Mimi had walked into the sea but couldn’t risk leaving the purse where it might not be found or just discarded as lost property.
A purse would also be a factor in the disappearance of another LA woman, Jean Spangler, just two months later. Spangler’s vanishing was even more of a sensation than Boomhower, with her biography perfectly fitting what the infamously sensationalist LA press of the day wanted to publish. She was a young and budding Hollywood star and already had several bit parts to her credit. She had recently finished filming alongside Kirk Douglas for Young Man With a Horn, and a new agent was generating a lot of promise. She was on the up.
On October 7, 1949, she would disappear after telling family she had gone out to partake in a night shoot. Police quickly ascertained that there was nothing filming that night anywhere in Los Angeles, and why she lied was never known. When her discarded purse was found in a local park a few days later, a strange note was found inside, indicating that Spangler may have been pregnant and seeking an abortion. It was addressed to “Kirk.” Suspicion immediately fell on Kirk Douglas, but he denied having known Spangler personally and was ruled out of inquiries. The disappearance remains unsolved, though some theorists have linked the event to other disappearances and murders across LA during the 1940s, including Elizabeth Short, the Black Dahlia.
The theory suggests that a single man, often identified as Dr. George Hodel, was responsible for all of the killings, many known for their particular brutality. All were young to middle-aged women, all of them attractive and all brunettes. Hodel is alleged to have bisected and disfigured Short alongside carrying out other murders across the area, such as Jeanne French, Georgette Bauerdorf, and Louise Springer. However, while the theory about Hodel might sound persuasive, it works only on the basis that the killings are connected, relying on our immediate suspicion that murders in the same geographic location must be related. This failure of logic completely fails to take into account the state of the LAPD at the time, with internal infighting and corruption causing the collapse of dozens of cases. The city was full of illegal gambling, and abortion rings, mobsters, pimps, and the police were willing to turn a blind eye in all too many cases.
One final theory is that nothing happened to Mimi Boomhower, and she faked her own death. Facing some kind of external pressure, she simply decided to up and leave, possibly through gambling debts. The main clue to this being the case is that Mimi may very well have left the purse in the phone booth herself. A murderer has no reason to return the bag and bring the police closer to a resolution unless they wished to make it look like a suicide. Yet, this was unnecessary, with the law already stumped and no evidence left at the house. There was no sign of a struggle there and no reports of screams. Equally, there was no evidence for suicide. However, whether a known socialite could simply leave without being seen is doubtful, and even with jewels and money, it wouldn’t be enough to maintain her lifestyle. Despite speculation, there was no confirmed reason she may have wished to vanish, but a lack of evidence runs across all the theories in the case.
Bizarrely, it was only 11 days after she vanished that Mimi was declared legally dead, possibly record time. The decision meant that her attorneys could access her bank accounts and continue to pay her debts, including the $5000 loan mentioned earlier. The attorney had to begin selling possessions to pay the bills, attempting to ensure that the bank didn’t foreclose on her home. The same judge would later reverse the decision, believing he had made a mistake. Mimi Boomhower was finally declared officially dead in 1956. Her sister Olga would speculate soon afterward that the jewelry was why she went missing, believing she was deliberately targeted for it. Olga believed the culprit had posed as a man wishing to buy her house.
The vanishing of Mimi Boomhower is sadly one that is almost forgotten in criminal history. The Black Dahlia, Georgette Bauerdorf, and Jean Spangler are all cases that featured far more prominently in the press at the time and have since generated legions of theories, articles, and books. Yet, it is an affair no less intriguing. There was food on the table and clothes on the bed. There were no signs of a struggle and no evidence for suicide. With the significant proof of financial difficulties, it is a case where the answer seems tantalizingly close at hand, yet also entirely out of sight until one final piece of evidence reveals itself. With 71 years having passed, that evidence is unlikely to arrive without the luck of potentially finding a body. Sadly, one of LA’s biggest mysteries looks set to remain unsolved.
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