Tuesday, January 14, 2014
Oblivion The Mystery of West Point Cadet Richard Cox by Harry J. Maihaifer
On Saturday, January 14, 1950, shortly after 6:00 p.m., popular, accomplished, and handsome 21 year-old cadet Richard Colvin Cox left West Point Military Academy to dine with an unidentified friend after telling his roommates that he would return early, most likely between 9:00 and 9:30, and was never seen again.
Cadet Cox seemed to have fallen off the face of the earth. The newspapers and magazines gave the story of his disappearance extensive coverage, rivers were dredged, all 15,000 acres of West Point were exhaustively searched, leaving no stone unturned, all ponds, lakes, and the reservoir were either dragged or drained, a helicopter was even brought in for an aerial search. J. Edgar Hoover even took a personal interest in the case and assigned some of the FBI's best agents to investigate, but not a trace of Richard Colvin Cox was ever found though sightings of him continued to be reported for several years, some with an intriguing ring of truth about them. Every tip--and there were hundreds--was followed up, no matter how unlikely or ludicrous, by either civilian or military investigators. Details of every aspect of the young man's life were gone over with a fine-toothed comb, searching for a clue, either in his past or present, and thousands of people were interviewed, all to no avail. No one who knew Cox could shed any light on his disappearance, and he never contacted his family, fiancee, or best friend.
Richard Cox gave every appearance of being a devoted son to his widowed mother, strong-willed Christian Scientist Minnie Cox, and his letters showed that he was very much in love with his fiancee, Betty Timmons, whom he planned to marry after graduating from West Point. His grades were excellent, he was one of the top men in his class, and there was every indication that he had a bright future ahead of him; there was nothing to suggest he had any reason to just walk away from his life and disappear. His occasional expressions of discontent with West Point life in letters to his mother and girlfriend were typical cadet complaints and, though taken into account by investigators, were not deemed serious enough for him to pull a vanishing act and cause his family and others who cared about him so much distress.
Many felt the key to unlocking the mystery lay in the identity of his mysterious visitor, who had also visited Cadet Cox the weekend before his disappearance, a man who came to be known only as "George" based on a possible phone call he may have made to Cox prior to his visit. Cox himself, in the week before his disappearance, was reluctant to discuss this man and never divulged his name, referring to him only as "he," or "him," or "my friend," though his roommates felt the last was rather odd as he gave the distinct impression of disliking the man and even being uncomfortable with or even afraid of him. Everything Cox said seemed to indicate that his visit was an unwelcome one, and he reportedly described the mystery man as a braggart and a bad apple who boasted about killing a girl in Germany, where the two had served together in an army intelligence unit. Cox claimed this man was "capable of anything."
Despite intensive searching, "George" was never identified, and rumors swirled about murder, suicide, amnesia, revenge, abduction, homosexuality, cover-ups, the CIA, and Russian spies. One persistent rumor claimed that while serving in Germany Cox had testified at a court-martial against a fellow soldier, possibly the man known only as "George," who, upon release from prison, had come to West Point in pursuit of Cox to exact vengeance, but no records to substantiate this were ever discovered. The mystery was never solved and in 1957 Richard Colvin Cox was declared legally dead and the case was officially closed, though it continued to intrigue armchair detectives and readers of books about unsolved mysteries and mysterious disappearances in which it often shared space alongside chapters about Amelia Earhart, Jimmy Hoffa, and Judge Crater.
Thirty-five years later Marshall Jacobs, a retired history teacher, decided to take on the mystery as a research project to help while-away his retirement. What followed was an eight year odyssey to find the truth and rescue Richard Cox from the oblivion of those lost without a trace. Jacobs obtained all available documents via the Freedom of Information Act and even tracked down and interviewed all the living witnesses he could find. And, despite a rather--to my mind at least--unsatisfying conclusion, where Mr. Jacobs seems content to take the word of one informant without any proof or facts to back up his assertions, "Oblivion" is a riveting tale from start to finish.