The Mystery Remains

Photo of pianist Leopold Godowsky
Leopold Godowsky (1935 Photo by Carl Van Vechten)

Polish piano virtuoso Leopold Godowsky had disappeared.

On September 4, 1915, Godowsky left his home in Avon, New Jersey, telling his wife, Frieda, that he was going to New York to deposit $1000 in the bank. When he failed to come home, Frieda contacted the police, who determined that Godowsky had never been to the bank, although he had been to his hairdresser and had left saying that he was on his way to Pennsylvania Station to take the train back to New Jersey.

Godowsky had been missing for five days when events took a darker turn. A friend remembered the pianist saying that his $130,000 worth of life insurance would make him more valuable dead than alive.

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Harbor police dragged the waters of the North and East Rivers.

The newspapers were full of speculation. Various crackpots came up with solutions of their own.

On September 6, five days after the pianist’s disappearance, the telephone rang in the Godowsky home. A caller claiming to be the pianist said that he was quite all right and would return home when his work was done. He said that he had left a letter explaining his absence. Then he hung up.

Was it Godowsky? No one was quite sure.

On the evening of September 7 the police commissioner announced that the investigation was at an impasse.

Half an hour later Frieda Godowsky received a letter.

It was from a mortified and contrite Godowsky, writing from Hackensack to explain that he had been in seclusion for six days, working to finish his piano adaptations, and had just seen the newspaper stories about his disappearance.

He insisted that he had left a letter for Frieda explaining his intentions, but none was ever found.

Although the case of Leopold Godowsky’s disappearance was closed, some of the mystery would remain.

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