The terror of a parent whose child has vanished is hard to imagine. Is it possible that parents in that situation could convince themselves of anything to avoid the horror of the truth? That may be the only explanation for the strange disappearance of Pauline Picard.
Pauline was only two years old when she disappeared from her family’s farmhouse near the rocky end of Brittany in France in 1922. Volunteers scoured the countryside to no avail.
Then two weeks later, when hope was nearly lost, word came from the town of Cherbourg, 250 miles away, that a little girl had been found wandering alone. The Picards raced to Cherbourg. They recognized their daughter immediately and embraced her.
But, oddly, the little girl did not seem to recognize her parents. What’s more, she did not respond when spoken to in Breton, the regional dialect spoken by the Picards at home. And there was no explanation of how a toddler had managed to travel 250 miles.
But neighbors back in Brittany accepted the girl as Pauline, as did the police officer who accompanied her from Cherbourg. Her strange behavior was put down to trauma.
Questions were pushed aside, and life returned to normal. But then there was a gruesome discovery. The badly-decomposed body of a little girl was found not far from the Picard farm. The area had been thoroughly searched, so it appeared someone had put it there recently. The body was naked and the head was severed. The girl’s clothes were folded neatly near the body. They were the clothes Pauline had been wearing when she disappeared.
Newspapers from around the world wrote about the dark twist, including The New York Times. Adding to the mystery, local reports claimed the skull discovered with the body was not that of a little girl at all, but a grown man.
The Picards accepted the grisly discovery as proof that their biological daughter was dead. A month later, the little girl who had lived with them was sent to an orphanage. The Picards never learned what happened to their daughter. The police never found her killer. And the fate of the mysterious little girl found wandering in Cherbourg is lost to history.