The strange disappearance of Melvin Horst

What happened to Melvin Horst?

The strange disappearance of Melvin Horst
Melvin Horst

On December 27, 1928, Raymond and Zorah Horst experienced the worst horror any parent could imagine. Someone had abducted their four-year-old son Melvin. The Horsts lived in a modest home in Orrville, Ohio with their three children. Melvin had left his red firetruck underneath the Christmas tree and then went outside to play with his friends near the school yard.

The boys played until 5:15 p.m. Melvin walked home alone after his friends went home for dinner. Melvin’s route home took him through an alley that led to his house. By 5:30 p.m., Zorah began to worry. “Where’s Melvin?” She wondered. Whenever he played with his friends, he always returned home in time for dinner.

Raymond Horst, contacted his brother Roy Horst, who was the Orrville City Marshal. A large search party began searching for Melvin. At the time, Orrville’s population was just under 5,000 people. It wasn’t a common occurrence for anyone to disappear in Orrville.

The search for Melvin continued into the next day. As the hours passed, Marshall Horst became so worried about his nephew that he became physically ill. He thought his nephew must have either gotten lost or fell into a pond. The search was fruitless. Melvin had just vanished. Roy ruled out kidnapping because his brother wasn’t wealthy. Zorah made a plea over the radio. She begged for Melvin’s return.

Who abducted little Melvin?

Authorities returned to the alley Melvin often took home. It was roughly 1,000 feet and passed by a few buildings and garages. A witness said he saw Melvin walking in the alley, but he never saw him leave it.

Melvin’s uncle checked records for local sex offenders. He found three. After checking into their whereabouts and searching their homes, they were cleared.

A few businesses got together and put up reward money. After Marshal Horst and his men failed to find Melvin, Mayor Weygandt and Prosecutor Walter J. Mougey supervised detectives Ora Slater and John Stevens, who were hired to find Melvin.

Four days after Melvin’s disappearance, the detectives found a witness. An eight-year-old boy named Junior Hanna said he witnessed Melvin’s abduction. Junior claimed one of his relatives had taken Melvin.

Junior was related to the Arnolds; a family of criminals who constantly crossed paths with Marshal Horst. The family consisted of Junior’s Uncle Elias Arnold and cousins William, Arthur, Dora and her husband Bascom McHenry.

Junior said he played with Melvin before he disappeared. He claimed he saw Melvin enter the Arnold house and then leave in a car with Bascom McHenry. Additionally, the alley Melvin used to get home was near the Arnold home.

Junior’s story disconcerting as he changed it several times. His father also said Junior was eating dinner around the time when Melvin disappeared so he couldn’t have witnessed McHenry take Melvin. Junior then recanted his story. This seemed unusual because he seemed convinced about seeing Melvin leave with McHenry.

Prosecutor Mougey received the court’s permission to keep Junior in a detention center as a material witness. Law enforcement believed Junior saw something. The motive may have been to kidnap Melvin to get revenge against Marshal Roy Horst.

Elias Arnold was a bricklayer and a bootlegger. Arnold’s illegal activities as a bootlegger led to much friction between him and Roy Horst. The Arnold’s and McHenry’s were rounded up and placed in jail. Elias said if he wanted revenge against Marshal Horst, he would go after him personally and not his relative.

Prosecutor Mougey hoped that locking up the Arnold and McHenry family members would convince one of them to talk about Melvin. It was a risk because Mougey couldn’t prove anyone had taken Melvin. The ploy failed as no one confessed.

Except for Elias Arnold and his son Arthur. Prosecutor Mougey released everyone else. He charged both men with taking Melvin Horst because neither man had an alibi. The men were tried in March 1929. The state called Junior Hanna to testify. He changed his story again. This time he claimed Arthur Arnold took Melvin.

Denied justice?

The jury deliberated for over seven hours and found both men guilty. They faced prison sentences from a year to twenty years. The Arnolds appealed. The court granted a new trial as it didn’t think Junior’s testimony was credible. After the second trial, a jury acquitted both men of abducting Melvin Horst. Zorah and her husband were devastated.

After the trial, the prosecutor’s office continued receiving bags of mail with theories and suggestions about what happened to Melvin Horst. Today, the disappearance of Melvin Horst remains a mystery. In 2019, The Plain Dealer newspaper published a story about Elgie Auten-Forney’s, who is Melvin’s surviving sister.

She was two when Melvin vanished. After waiting 90 years for justice, all she has left to remember her brother is his red firetruck and some old photos. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely she will ever find out what happened to her brother. And that’s a real tragedy.

Marc Hoover
Marc Hoover
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Marc Hoover

Marc Hoover is a Hooper award winning columnist for the Clermont Sun newspaper in Ohio. Contact him at or through Facebook: Marc also has a podcast called Catch my Killer.

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