Retro 1949: Vanishing Act

copy pic of Molly Mozelle, who went missing from Empire Theatre, Sunderland 1949''Retro 1949
copy pic of Molly Mozelle, who went missing from Empire Theatre, Sunderland 1949''Retro 1949
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THE mysterious disappearance of a dancer and entertainer from a Wearside theatre sparked a real-life drama in 1949.

It was on January 14 that Molly Moselle – an assistant stage manager for Ivor Novello’s show The Dancing Years, then running at the Empire – vanished while on an errand.

The 33-year-old, whose real name was Mary Burslem, had left her lodgings in Eden Street in the late afternoon, after telling her landlady she was popping out for a birthday card.

But the card for Barry Sinclair, the show’s leading man, never arrived. And Molly, a bright, lively and popular girl, was never seen again.

Tom Kershaw, then a dresser at the Empire, is thought to have been the last person from the theatre to see her alive that day.

“It was about five in the afternoon. I was at the window of my flat and saw Molly going across the road,” he later recalled.

“She had an orange jacket on, and orange slacks and a hair band. I told my wife that it was the assistant manager from the Empire.”

Molly quickly disappeared from view into an alleyway, which in those days linked Eden Street with Garden Place, and Tom thought nothing more of it.

But, when he arrived at the theatre later that night, he found that Molly hadn’t turned up. “No-one ever saw her alive again,” he said.

As fears for Molly’s safety soared, so detectives quizzed her theatrical pals. “She was very popular with everyone,” leading man Barry Sinclair told the Echo.

Peter Braid, the Empire’s stage manager, added: “She was an extremely happy girl. She was a girl with a strong personality.”

Beneath Molly’s bubbly and vivacious personality, however, lay a troubled soul. Indeed, she was deeply depressed after two failed relationships.

Her 16-year affair with comedian Bunny Doyle had finished only months before, while a romance with businessman Walter Hattersley had just ended in tears.

Mysteriously, according to old newspaper reports, Molly had received a letter from Walter on the day she disappeared – but she refused to reveal the contents.

“The police search for Molly has been extended across Britain, with many people reporting sightings of her at various railway stations,” reported the Echo. “No trace, however, has been found.

“Investigations into the possibility of suicide or murder have drawn a blank too, as have interviews with past boyfriends and her family back in Merseyside.”

Numerous suggestions for her disappearance were put forward. One rumour had her snatched by the white slave trade, another that she had stowed away on a ship to start a new life.

But, despite the many offers of help from the public, Molly’s trail soon went cold. After weeks of investigations, no further evidence could be found – although the police file remains open.

** Almost 21 years after Molly was reported missing, a badly decomposed torso was found in the River Wear on October 12, 1960. A post-mortem examination revealed the body to be that of a woman, aged from 25 to 50, who had been dead for many years.

“A note made at the inquest suggested the body may ‘explain the disappearance’ of Molly, although proving the theory ‘would be impossible,’” reported the Echo.

Eventually, when police inquiries failed to shed any further light on the identity of the river body, the remains were laid to rest on October 17, 1960.

* Molly’s disappearance remains just as much of a mystery as it was 62 years ago, although legend has it that she now haunts the Empire Theatre. As it was never proved that she died, it could just be possible that a 95-year-old Molly is living out her final years away from the spotlight.