CONNECTIONS: Unsolved case of the missing bank president

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By Tuesday, Oct 3 Life In the Berkshires  1 Comment
William L. Adams, president of Berkshire Savings Bank, went missing on April 10, 1933.

About Connections: Love it or hate it, history is a map. Those who hate history think it irrelevant; many who love history think it escapism. In truth, history is the clearest road map to how we got here: America in the 21st century.

Disappearing acts: they are always mysterious and sometimes suspect. The ability to disappear is, in some measure, a function of both transportation and communication. In the days before telephones and railroad trains, planes and the Internet, disappearing was so easy it could be inadvertent. In this surveillance camera-laden world of selfies and instant messages, is disappearing even possible? Perhaps not; however in the early part of the 20th century, there was more than one disappearance in Berkshire County. There was the Shaker elder who succumbed to the twin charms of a lady and the money over which he had fiduciary responsibility and off they went. Eventually he returned to the fold. There was the postmaster who absconded with the funds and returned contrite. These were stereotypical cases with motives and resolutions, but what of the bank president?

On the morning of April 10, 1933, William L. Adams was reported missing by his housekeeper. Upon receiving the report from Mrs. Mary McGinnis, Inspector Daniel McColgan of the Pittsfield police went to Adams’ home at 16 West Housatonic St.. There he interviewed McGinnis and the maid.

Neither woman reported anything unusual happening on the preceding day. It was Sunday – and a typical Sunday, at that. Adams went to church just as usual. After church, he ate a good Sunday dinner. In the evening he did not attend the evening concert as he sometimes did; instead, he settled in a chair to read. He ate a light supper and returned to his book. Both women retired at 10:30 p.m. and noticed Adams was still reading in his library. When the alarm was sounded and the investigation began in earnest, one neighbor was found who saw Adams at 11 p.m. walking on West Housatonic Street as far down as the train bridge. There was more to discover.

North Street in Pittsfield as seen from Park Square, circa 1905. Berkshire Savings Bank, of which William Adams was president, can be seen back left.

McGinnis and the maid agreed that his bed was not slept in. A search of his room disclosed that he took nothing: not watch, wallet or keys. He took no additional clothing. The only clothes missing were those he was wearing. Apparently, he went out for a walk before retiring to bed and never returned. Rewards were offered for any information leading to his whereabouts. There were no claimants.

William L. Adams was 78 years old. He was president of the Berkshire Savings Bank. He followed in his father’s footsteps at the bank, moving from treasurer to president as his father had. A native of Pittsfield, a graduate of Williams College, a member of the Bar, Adams was considered a pillar of the community. He had no apparent problems. By any measure he was a successful man. True, there was a slowing down as a function of age, but no serious health issues. His wife died two years earlier and, while it was reported to be a happy marriage, he seemed to have adjusted to the loss. No friend or fellow worker could offer a hint to explain the disappearance. Police, real and fictional, look to similar cases for patterns. If we look at stereotypical cases, is there a hint to what happened in the Adams case?

Clifford H. Dickson was the postmaster who absconded with the funds. He took approximately $16,000 from the post office and ran first to New York City where he was seen by two Pittsfield girls. He was never seen after that. He returned of his own free will years later, stood trial and served three years in prison. We understand the lure of money and, if the person succumbs, we understand the need to run. Mystery solved – or was it? It was discovered some time after that the $16,000 was not spent by Dickson but used to repay a defalcation in the tax collector’s office that occurred when Dickson was tax collector. He was dipping into public funds for a long time. Still the disappearance is less mysterious than his returning. Does it help us with understanding Adams? An audit of the bank was carried out after Adams disappeared and no funds were missing. So Dickson sheds no light on Adams.

Daniel Offord, at left, after he returned to the Shaker Community in New Lebanon, New York. He came back to the community alone having left with a woman with whom his fellow Shakers claimed he was bewitched.

Shaker Elder Daniel Offord ran off with Mabel Franklin. Her charms were said to be obvious and plentiful. We can understand falling for a woman. We can understand, if you are a Shaker who took the vow of celibacy, leaving the community may be necessary. Again, no real mystery – or was there? Offord returned; Mabel was never seen again. Apparently, no one cared: no one asked and no one kept a record. As Dickson, perhaps Offord’s sins extended beyond what he admitted to, but does it shed light on Adams’ disappearance? In the case of the 78-year-old Adams, there was no woman in the story – alive or dead. Offord offers no insight into Adams’ motivation.

What happened to the aging bank president? Assume the worst and what do we learn? On a coroner’s report, there are only four choices for cause of death: natural causes, accident, suicide or homicide. In the ordinary course of events, the first two – natural causes or accident – would yield a body. Adams’ body was never discovered. There was no indication of foul play. There was no hint of Adams being forcibly removed from his house. There was no evidence of violence anywhere along the path from his house to the train bridge. And yet, there was no apparent cause for suicide. Adams, in the purest form, disappeared. He was and – poof! – he was no more. Without motivation or explanation, from that day to this, Adams disappeared.


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One Comment   Add Comment

  1. Jim, Lodge says:

    This is such a great who-done-what story…as much as history may be a road map of our past, a newspaper’s ‘morgue’ of old newspapers is a great place to bring back the dead.
    As for Mr. Adam’s disappearance, I’d like to know more about the relationships between Mr. Adams, the chamber maid and housekeeper.
    A person does not disappear. Either he ran away, with meticulous planning, or he was murdered, again with meticulous planning.
    So, it’s back to Aristotle’s means of analysis: motive, means and opportunity.
    Thank you, Ms. Owens, for bringing the dead back to life…even if it is for entertainment’s sake.

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