On the second day of 1942, a Friday, 21-year-old Sue Chapman set out from Washington DC, where she had been training as a physiotherapist, to spend a fortnight with her parents in northern Texas before being assigned to an army hospital to work for the war that had just begun. Traveling overnight, she got as far as Fort Worth, where she checked her baggage at the railway station and sent a wire asking if her father might be able to collect her:
‘Arrived safely, if you do not come before 3 p.m. will take next bus or train.’
Back on the homestead in the small hours of Sunday, there was still no sign of Sue. Her anxious father drove to Fort Worth, but she was nowhere to be found and her luggage lay unclaimed at the station. A frantic 12-hour police search proved fruitless, and eventually the despairing Harold Chapman had to drive back home, wondering all the way how he was going to break it to her mother. But there was a happy ending when he arrived, to find Sue safe and well and waiting for him. Whether it was quite such a happy ending for Sue is a moot point:
She had inadvertently left two words off the end of her wire: ‘will take next bus or train to Denton’. When her father didn’t pick her up at the specified time, she did just that, forgetting her luggage in the excitement of being back home in Texas, and spent the night with friends. Chapman drove right past the front door on his way to Fort Worth.
The following day, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, having run a ‘missing girl’ scare story in its morning edition and issued a description to prospective Sue-spotters (5’7″ tall, brown hair, blue eyes), sent its reporter Charles Boatner to get the full story of the disappearance that never was.
‘I was madder than a wet hen,’ Chapman told him. And according to Sue, when she bounded out of the house to greet him, he looked as if he was going to spank her. ‘I still think I will,’ said Chapman, and provided the paper with a golden photo opportunity.
Sue was embarrassed to have been the subject of police attention; ‘I hope it doesn’t hurt my record with the hospital,’ she blushed. Whether she also blushed at the following morning’s front page is a matter lost in oblivion:
It is pleasant to record that Sue went on to enjoy a good, long life. After the war the family moved to Mesa, Arizona, where she got married in 1946 to a husband seven years her senior. He died relatively young in 1954, leaving her with a baby daughter to care for; but Sue herself lived on until 2011, when she was 90. She probably never expected to be remembered for being spanked on the front page – but this is history, and them’s the breaks!