Raymond and Zorah Horst experienced the worst horror imaginable for a parent on December 27, 1928. Someone had abducted their four-year-old son Melvin. The Horsts lived with their three children in a modest home in Orrville, Ohio. Melvin had left his red firetruck beneath the Christmas tree before going outside to play near the schoolyard with his friends.
Boys’ playtime lasted until 5:15 o’clock. After everyone had left for dinner, Melvin walked home by himself. A back alley was part of Melvin’s route home. After 5:30, Zorah started to get concerned. Melvin, where are you? This puzzled her. In spite of the fact that he enjoyed spending time with his pals, he never failed to make it home in time for dinner.
Brother Roy Horst, the Orrville City Marshal, was contacted by Raymond Horst. A large group of people started looking for Melvin. Orrville had a population of less than 5,000 at the time. Disappearances were unusual occurrences in the small town of Orrville.
The next day was dedicated to continuing the search for Melvin. Over the course of several hours, Marshall Horst’s worry over his nephew caused him to become ill. He concluded that his nephew must have wandered off and drowned. The hunt turned up nothing. Now Melvin was nowhere to be found. Because Roy’s brother was not wealthy, kidnapping was out of the question. Zorah appealed to the radio audience. As a result, she pleaded for Melvin to come back.
Who abducted little Melvin Horst?
The police went back to the back alley Melvin frequently used to get home. It was about a mile long and went by a few homes and garages. Somebody claimed to have seen Melvin walking down the alley, but they never saw him emerge from it.
Melvin’s aunt and uncle did some research on local sex offenders. Three of them were located by him. Their whereabouts were investigated, and their dwellings were searched, and they were found to be free of suspicion.
A group of companies pooled their resources to offer a reward. Due to Marshal Horst and his men’s inability to locate Melvin, Mayor Weygandt and Prosecutor Walter J. Mougey hired private investigators Ora Slater and John Stevens to track him down.
The detectives tracked down a potential eyewitness to Melvin’s disappearance four days later. Junior Hanna, an eight-year-old boy, has claimed he saw Melvin’s kidnapping take place. Junior said a family member kidnapped Melvin.
Marshal Horst frequently ran into Junior’s relatives, the Arnolds, a gang of criminals. Junior’s uncle Elias Arnold and cousins William and Arthur and their wives Dora and Bascom McHenry were there.
Junior claimed that he and Melvin played together before Melvin vanished. He stated that he and Bascom McHenry saw Melvin enter the Arnold residence and then leave in a car. Melvin’s route home, via an alley, also passed close to the Arnolds’.
Worrisomely, Junior’s story kept shifting. Junior couldn’t have seen McHenry take Melvin because, according to his dad, Junior was at dinner at the time Melvin went missing. Then, Junior changed his story. Even stranger, he seemed certain that he had seen Melvin and McHenry leave together, which was a bit unexpected.
The court granted Mougey’s request to detain Junior as a material witness, and the prosecutor complied. Junior’s alleged sighting was believed by law enforcement. Taking revenge on Marshal Roy Horst could have been the impetus for kidnapping Melvin.
The bricklayer and rumrunner Elias Arnold. Arnold and Roy Horst had many arguments because of Arnold’s illegal activities as a bootlegger. Families like the Arnolds and the McHenries were arrested and locked up. Elias claimed that he would target Marshal Horst himself rather than any of his family members if he were ever motivated by vengeance.
Mougey, the prosecutor, believed that if he put members of the Arnold and McHenry families in jail, one of them would eventually talk about Melvin. Given that Mougey had no evidence that Melvin had been kidnapped, he was taking a chance by doing so. In this case, the ploy backfired because nobody admitted guilt.
No one, that is, besides Elias Arnold and his son Arthur. Ultimately, Mougey, the prosecutor, let everyone go. Each man was accused of kidnapping Melvin Horst because they had no plausible explanation for where they’d been at the time. The trial for the men took place in March of 1929. To testify for the prosecution, the state summoned Junior Hanna. Once again, his story shifted. Specifically, he stated that Melvin was taken by Arthur Arnold this time.
After more than seven hours of deliberation, the jury returned a guilty verdict for both defendants. They could have received one year to twenty years in prison. Arnolds filed an appeal. Due to the lack of trustworthiness in Junior’s testimony, the court ordered a new trial. A jury found both defendants not guilty of kidnapping Melvin Horst after the second trial. The news was devastating to Zorah and her husband.
The prosecutor’s office continued to receive bags of mail after the trial ended, all of which contained theories and suggestions about what had happened to Melvin Horst. What happened to Melvin Horst after he vanished is still a mystery. A profile of Melvin Auten-surviving Forney’s sister Elgie Auten-Forney appeared in The Plain Dealer in 2019.
The disappearance of Melvin occurred when she was only two years old. Her only remembrances of her brother after 90 years are his red firetruck and some old photographs. It’s sad to think that she probably won’t learn what happened to her brother. That’s terrible, by the way.