The Case of a Missing Novelist Recalls Earlier Literary Disappearances
You may know about Agatha Christie ... but do you know the strange tale of Barbara Newhall Follett?
Good news. Romance novelist Faleena Hopkins has been discovered safe. Hopkins had disappeared in January, three days after being arrested for fleeing officers who approached her vehicle parked in Grand Teton National Park.
A member of her family reported her missing, with police in Jackson, Wyoming, saying “there is some concern by her family members that she’s in danger.” Surveillance cameras tracked her to Jackson Airport on January 30th. Before taking off, she allegedly purchased a cell phone with a new phone number.
There was no sign of Hopkins until Valentine’s Day when her new cell phone pinged on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. Then on Friday, Jackson Police Department’s Lt. Russ Ruschill released a statement that as of February 17, “Faleena Marie Hopkins has been located. She is safe and her family has been notified.” Police did not reveal where exactly Hopkins was found.
Lt. Ruschill thanked law enforcement, members of the press and the citizens who “ultimately assisted in locating Ms. Hopkins.”
While we do not recommend Hopkins’ steamy works, her vanishing act does remind us of two other fascinating literary disappearances. And the difference that can be made when citizens are involved. And the toll from unfaithfulness.
The Disappearance of Agatha Christie
Of course, talk of legendary literary disappearances must start with the queen of mystery writers, Agatha Christie.
Agatha had scored professional success at age 30 with her debut novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, followed by The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. However, her personal life was in shambles. Husband Archie had fallen in love with his secretary and wanted a divorce.
Agatha was devastated. Late on December 3, 1926, she kissed daughter Rosalind goodnight, jumped in her car and vanished. A massive search party consisting of 1,000 officers and countless volunteers was formed. Headlines about the missing mystery writer splashed across the U.K. and indeed the world. There were concerns she had fallen or jumped into the sea. Especially after her vehicle was found abandoned.
For 11 days, Agatha Christie was gone. However, on December 14 she was discovered at a resort in Harrogate, checked in under the name “Theresa Neele” … the name of her husband’s mistress. Apparently, she’d been recognized by the hotel’s banjo player from photographs in the newspaper.
What a great relief. The great author was found safe! Agatha would accept the divorce from Archie. Three years later, on a trip to Iraq, she met and married young archeologist Max Mallowan. They would remain together until her death in 1976. Christie would go on to write dozens more mystery classics, including Murder on the Orient Express, Death on the Nile, And Then There Were None and the perpetually running play The Mousetrap.
For the next half century, Agatha Christie refused to talk about her disappearance, beyond claiming to have no memory of her 11 missing days. That didn’t stop Hollywood from trying to fill the blanks, with several movies including Agatha, starring Vanessa Redgraves and Dustin Hoffman, and the more recent Agatha Christie and the Truth of Murder.
It’s a wonder nobody has made a movie yet about this next literary disappearance. Because it is strange, strange, strange.
The Disappearance of Barbara Newhall Follett
Our tale involves a precocious young novelist named Barbara Newhall Follett and again traces to a husband abandoning his family for another woman. The daughter of a publisher and a writer, Barbara was a child prodigy. She was furiously writing by five, creating at age seven her own world called Farsolia with all the detail of a J.R.R. Tolkien. Unique language included.
In 1927, at age 12, Barbara published her first novel, The House Without Windows, to great acclaim. This was a fantastical work about a young girl named Eepersip who runs away from her family to live totally in tune with nature.
The writing triumph landed Barbara on the cover of Time magazine. Young Barbara Newhall Follett was nationally famous.
Her second work, the part fiction, part travel memoir The Voyage of the Norman D, was published at age 14 to equal acclaim. No doubt, the twentieth century was fixed to see one of its great literary figures.
But then her idol, her beloved father Harry, not only divorced her mother to run off with his mistress, he cruelly cut off all contact with his daughter. Barbara was shattered. Not just personally, but professionally. “Can I do it without him?” she wondered. The answer was “no.” Her spark was extinguished. No subsequent fiction of hers was published in the coming years. Barbara shut down her gift.
“My dreams are going through their death flurries,” she wrote, “They are dying before the steel javelins and arrows of a world of Time and Money.”
In 1934 she married Nickerson Rogers. By 1937, the marriage was in trouble. Barbara feared that Nickerson was unfaithful.
On the evening of December 7, 1939, by Rogers’ account — the couple had a fight. 25-year-old Barbara Newhall Follett headed out into the night … and was never seen again.
Unlike with Dame Agatha, there was no public outcry, no massive search, no headlines. Why? Because Rogers waited two full weeks to go to the police, figuring Barbara had just wandered off as she was apt to do, and would wander back when she was good and ready.
However, even more inexplicably, he gave police her married name, Barbara Rogers. He did not say that Barbara Newhall Follett — famed child author, Time magazine cover girl — was missing. The media did not pick up on her disappearance.
The public was utterly unaware, thus incapable of helping find the missing author. Amazingly, it would be nearly three decades before someone doing an article on child prodigies realized that the famous author of The House Without Windows had vanished without a trace.
What Happened to Barbara Newhall Follett?
So what happened to Barbara Newhall Follett?
Barbara’s mother seemed to think Rogers had killed her, given his lack of interest in finding her over the ensuing days, weeks, months and years. One theory held that Barbara headed up into the hills near her home and committed suicide. Her body never found.
In 2019, writer Daniel Mills offered compelling evidence that Follett travelled from Brookline, Massachusetts, to a place called Pulsifer Hill in Holderness, New Hampshire, and committed suicide there. A body was found in 1948 next to a bottle of barbiturates, but for years was identified as that of another woman who had vanished in the region.
Mills’ analysis of the available records show the body size was more consistent with Barbara’s. Glasses had also been found, which, unlike the other woman, Follett did wear. Also, Barbara knew the area well. In fact, she and Rogers had a long-standing rental agreement for a cabin just a half-mile way. Unfortunately, the bones are not at hand to test now.
However, we still have reason to believe — okay, hope — that Barbara took off to invent a new life. That’s been the belief of surviving relative Stefan Cooke, who runs Farsolia.org.
If you wanted someone who had the gifts, the temperament, the experience, the wanderlust, the motive to leave behind everyone and everything she knew to invent a new life, or lives, it would be Barbara Newhall Follett.
In fact, as crazy as it sounds, there is an outside shot that Barbara Newhall Follett is still out there. Yes, she’d be nearing 109 years old. But one can’t help but imagine that somewhere in a nursing home is a very old lady with a still vivid imagination, spinning fantastic, hallucinogenic tales, speaking in a language no one has ever heard of … perhaps even telling a disbelieving orderly that she was once nationally famous.
Did Barbara Newhall Follett go on to lead a full life, traveling the world, assuming different identities? Could she have gone on to write works we know under an assumed name? The more you study Barbara Newall Follett, the more you read her letters, the more feasible it seems. And the more you hope.
We leave the final passage of The House Without Windows to tickle your imagination.
And, when the sun again tinged the sky with colour, a flock of these butterflies, of purple and gold and green, came swooping and alighted on her head in a circle, the largest in front. Others came in myriads and covered her dress with delicate wing-touches. Eepersip held out her arms a moment: A gold-and-black one alighted on each wrist. And then – she rose into the air, and, hovering an instant over a great laurel-bush, vanished.
She was a fairy – a wood-nymph. She would be invisible for ever to all mortals, save those few who have minds to believe, eyes to see. To these she is ever present, the spirit of Nature – a sprite of the meadow, a naiad of lakes, a nymph of the woods.
Al Perrotta is the Managing Editor of The Stream, chief barista for The Brew and co-author, with John Zmirak, of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Immigration. You can follow him at @StreamingAl at GETTR, Gab, Parler, and now at TRUTH Social.