The case of Mary Flanagan is probably the oldest missing person case in the United Kingdom. There is very little online about this case. That’s why I made this the Case of the Month for March 2018.
Let’s start with a description of Mary. She is 5 feet 2 inches tall, white, medium build, hazel brown eyes, with dark, wavy hair when she disappeared. In the picture you see age progression images of what we think she might look like now if alive.
It is December 31, 1959. Mary Flanagan (16) looked forward to the New Year’s Eve party at work. So, the teen left home in Wallace Road, West Ham, UK, at 1pm. She kissed her family goodbye. “She didn’t normally do that, but we thought nothing of it,” said sister Brenda. And then Mary was gone.
What do we know? Mary was born into a London-Irish catholic family. She had two sisters, Eileen and Brenda, and a brother Kevin. Mary was outgoing and full of live. Opinion is divided whether she just flirted with Tom McGinty, a fellow Irish immigrant who allegedly served in the Merchant Navy, or whether they were engaged. Nobody has ever been able to firmly establish his identity despite the fact that the man people knew as Tom helped search for Mary after she vanished.
Mary attended Holbrook Road Secondary school. Did anyone there ever noticed changes in her behavior? Girlfriends? Any gossip? According to the papers, Mary occasionally worked at Haymes Optical Frame shop in Stratford and she volunteered with the Blind Association. I wonder whether they noticed anything. She also had another job. More about that below.
1: The engagement
Mary never wore an engagement ring or made a formal announcement. Neither did the man called Tom. If they were engaged there is always the option that they eloped and wanted to start a life of their own. Maybe away from people who would disapprove of their union? Is there any evidence? Yes, said Brenda. Mary kissed them all good-bye before leaving for the party. Maybe it was a good-bye, maybe it was a “Happy New Year” smack, maybe not. This is a teenager and they can do unexpected things. I am not sure we should read anything into this.
2: There are several reasons why a teen could run away. We do not know if she had trouble at home or at work but I suspect she did. Why?
A: For some time before she vanished, Mary left home and returned as if she had gone to work. The truth is that she had not been at work for either two days or two weeks: the BBC and Telegraph say two weeks but the Evening Standard says two days. Click on the pictures and they will enlarge.
The company thought that she was sick. Now this is strange to me. You employ a teenager and she doesn’t show up for either two days or worse two weeks and not once do you call or ask the parents whether everything is ok? Yes, the 50s were a different time but I’d like to believe that common sense dictates you check on your employees out of concern.
This company was the Tate and Lyle sugar refinery in Silvertown. It is described as “a large” company so I gather it had a finance and accounting department. Have we checked how Mary was paid? Daily, weekly, monthly? If she was a day-worker I can imagine less concern but if she was on a weekly or monthly payroll, someone should have noticed that the numbers didn’t add up. If Mary didn’t work who covered for her?
B: How did Mary met Tom? According to the papers, they were introduced by Mary’s father a year earlier. Note that it says introduced and not that Tom had dad’s blessings for a marriage.
Suppose they were indeed introduced to each other by her dad and that he approved of a marriage, it was the 50s and this was not uncommon. What is uncommon though, is that dad would introduce a mystery man to his daughter. Reputation, standing in the community, being able to provide for his daughter, all that mattered. So where did dad meet Tom McGinty? Did other family members know him?
According to the papers, there is no record of a Tom McGinty in the Irish Navy. Add to that what sister Brenda said. The last things she remembered was arguing between Mary and Tom. Mary had found out that he lived with his mother instead of independently with a landlady. Did we try to find the mother? How did Mary find out? Would this not be something dad knew about the man who was about to become his son-in-law? This comes down to reputation and financial independence. Brenda said that Mary was so upset about Tom lying that she broke up with him on Dec 30, 1959. This break-up also caused a fight with her dad, said sister Eileen. She went to bed crying. Because of all this, Mary slept in later on Dec 31.
It is unclear to me whether the arguments with Tom and Mary’s dad were separate or if at some point, Tom was in the Flanagan home and then they all argued. I wish we had more details and a clear timeline.
3: Pregnant run-away
On forums and in comments below articles I read that Mary may have been pregnant with the child of someone other than Tom. They may have left together to avoid an arranged marriage, the shame of a child out-of-wedlock and, to just be together. Maybe. Did any of her male classmates disappear around the same time? In fact, did anyone Mary knew disappear at the same time? Frankly, I do not believe this theory as Mary didn’t take any money with her. Nothing at home seemed disturbed, no bags packed, etc. If she intended to run and take care of a baby or get an abortion, would she not need money?
Kindly note that if Mary is ever found alive and does not want to contact her family, standard operating procedure is that police will respect her wishes.
If you have any information about Mary, please call the Newham Police Missing Persons Unit in the UK at 0208 217 5728. You can also call Missing People at 116 000. Mary’s reference number is 94-000632.
In the series “Case of the Month” I highlight old cold cases. These posts are not an in-depth analysis and often more information can be found online and in newspaper archives. The goal of these posts is just to get the cases back in the spotlights, to get people talking again, and if anything to make sure that we do not forget the victims. Just because their cases are cold does not mean that we can forget about them.
If you have any thoughts about Mary Flanagan’s disappearance I urge you to post them on your own social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, etc. Every time we mention Mary Flanagan’s name online we enhance her digital footprint.
We must make sure that Mary keeps her web presence if we ever wish to find answers in her case. You can help by linking to or sharing this post. If you do, the post will show up in new news feeds, reach new people and networks with new connections. And who knows, we may reach someone who can help advance the case. And that is the goal.
Thank you for remembering Mary Flanagan with us.
Note: a reader pointed out it was not usual at all for firms to call and check on employees and that in the time Mary disappeared, not everyone had a phone at home. Good points.
This reader also said I wrote this post from an 2018 standpoint, not from a 1959 point of view, and am posting misleading information. On my blog, I wonder aloud what would be on my to-do list if the case was mine to review. With those question I hope to jug people’s memories, get people to talk about the cases again, and hopefully get renewed media attention for these stories. That is it. No misleading.
As always, if you have newspaper clippings that answer some of the questions I pose in this case (or in any other on my blog) contact me and I will read them, correct where applicable, and credit you for making the post better.