Elizabeth (Betty) Arand was the daughter of prominent Newport pharmacist and state senator George Wilhelmi and his wife Rosa. The Wilhelmis wielded considerable influence in the community, through their business and philanthropic work. In addition to being quite involved with their church in Kentucky, they served as missionaries in China in the early part of the 20th century. George continued to visit Shanghai, working for a drug import and export company. Betty grew up with these experiences, living a life of plenty, not wanting for anything.
In February of 1932, Harry Arand succumbed to tuberculosis at the age of 26. He had been sick for more than a year. Consequently, having just turned 21 years old, Betty Arand found herself a widow with a 4 month old daughter. Never one to have developed a strong maternal nature, Betty may have felt overwhelmed by the prospect of raising Marcia herself. She relied heavily on her parents and her in-laws for help. In particular, Harry’s sister Helen spent a lot of time as a mother figure to Marcia. Although Betty was nominally her parent, it’s likely that Helen Arand did more of the work of raising Marcia.
This unique arrangement was made even more evident after Marcia’s disappearance. Certainly distraught at the loss of her daughter, Betty nevertheless relinquished the spotlight to Helen to play the role of frantic mother. And when it came time to seek custody of Marcia’s infant daughter Sharon, it was not Betty who stepped up to take on the guardianship. Instead, it was Helen who again filled that role. Betty remained a fixture in the life of Sharon Nolan and her family, but it was as a grandmother.
Betty’s seeming lack of interest in raising her daughter or granddaughter leaves me with some unanswered questions. In the wake of her daughter’s disappearance, what was her involvement in trying to find her? The Wilhelmi family had plenty of resources, so it seems strange that they were not more diligent in searching for her or finding out what happened to her. Did the family’s political influence factor into the investigation? Or into the disappearance itself? As I dive deeper into this investigation, these are questions that I hope I can answer.