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Melvin resided with his family near Vine Street and Paradise Street in Orrville, Ohio in 1928. He went to play with four neighborhood friends during the late afternoon hours of December 27, 1928. Melvin was carrying a small red toy truck or wagon at the time of his disappearance; he had received the toy as a recent Christmas gift. His friends said that they played in a vacant lot off of Chestnut Street near the railroad tracks. The boys told authorities that, sometime during the evening hours, Melvin announced it was late and said he had to walk home. He was approximately one block from his family's house at the time. Melvin never arrived and has not been heard from again, but the toy he had been playing with was found in his front yard.
Melvin's mother, Zora Horst, called him inside for dinner at approximately 4:30 p.m., and he did not arrive. She sent her older son to look for Melvin at neighbors' homes but the search turned up nothing. When Melvin's father, Raymond Horst, arrived home from work at 6:00 p.m., he and Zora began looking for their son in their neighborhood. The Horsts summoned authorities by 7:00 p.m. and an extensive search was initiated by 8:30 p.m. that evening. Many of Orrville's 4,500 residents assisted in the process, which was led by Raymond's brother, Roy Horst, the village marshal. The search lasted weeks and covered about 100 square miles, including house-to-house searches in Melvin's neighborhood. No sign of the child was uncovered.
Melvin's disappearance made nationwide headlines and the media followed his story closely at the time. He vanished during the United States's Prohibition era and Roy was a particularly zealous enforcer of liquor laws, which incited considerable enmity against him in Orrville and the surrounding area. It was theorized that bootleggers kidnapped Melvin to get revenge on Roy, who had lived with Melvin's family until shortly before the child disappeared and was very fond of his nephew.
A bootlegger, Elias Arnold; his children, William Arnold, Arthur Arnold, and Dorothy McHenry; and his son-in-law, Dorothy's husband Bascom McHenry, were arrested and charged with Melvin's abduction on January 2, 1929. Elias had spent much of 1928 in jail as a result of liquor arrests, as had several members of his family, and he reputedly bore a grudge against Roy Horst. The family lived around the corner from Melvin's family at the time. Charles "Junior" Hannah, the eight-year-old son of Elias's brother-in-law, told investigators that he saw Melvin being lured into the Arnold home on the day he disappeared. The story was corroborated by a nine-year-old neighbor.
The Arnolds maintained their innocence in Melvin's disappearance and they had alibis for the time the child vanished, but Elias and Arthur were convicted and spent three months in jail before authorities learned that Junior could not have seen what he claimed he had seen from where he said he had been standing at the time of the abduction. The men were found innocent of involvement in Melvin's case during a second trial shortly thereafter.
Junior subsequently accused his own father, Charles Hannah, and a neighbor, Earl Conold, in 1930. He stated that they had killed Melvin and then asked him to make up the story accusing the Arnold family. Both men confessed that they murdered Melvin inside of a garage after he caught them drinking whiskey. Neither of the suspects admitted being the actual murderer and it was later determined that their confessions were coerced by law enforcement officers. There have been no arrests in connection with Horst's case since 1930.
Some people believed that Melvin had been abducted and/or murdered, or that he was hit by a car and the driver panicked and concealed the evidence. Others thought that one of Roy Horst's enemies attempted to scare the marshal by instigating his nephew's disappearance. No evidence has been located to support any of the theories. Melvin's parents moved to Florida after his disappearance and are now both deceased. His brother and sister still live in Orrville.
Authorities have stated that they never officially closed Melvin's case, but they doubted that any new information would lead them to his whereabouts. It is unlikely that any skeletal remains that may be located in the future could be identified as Melvin's body, as poor dental records were kept at the time he disappeared.
by John Stark Bellamy II