Cast of Characters

Dr. William Asa Winters

Catherine’s father. Born in Illinois in 1877, he is 36 when his daughter disappears. The New Castle dentist marries twice, first Etta Whistler Winters, Catherine’s mother, who dies of tuberculosis, then to Byrd Ritter Winters, Catherine’s controversial stepmother. The press of the time describes him variously as a heartbroken and devoted father who travels thousands of miles and impoverishes himself chasing leads, and as an alcoholic who gets in frequent tussles with reporters and town officials. He and his wife will be charged briefly with Catherine’s murder, but the case never goes to trial. He dies in 1940, his last words, “Now I’ll find out what happened to Catherine.” He is buried next to his second wife in Miller Cemetery near Mooreland.

William Ross Cooper

A boarder in the Winters home. Born in Maxwell, Indiana, in 1883, he loses one of his arms in a serious hunting accident. He goes on to become a telegraph operator for the Big Four Railroad Company, living as a paying boarder with the Winters family until shortly before Catherine’s disappearance. When he and his former landlords are charged with the child’s murder in 1914, the press accuses him of having an affair with Byrd that was discovered by Catherine. After his release, he moves to Maxwell, then Greenfield, marrying and continuing his work with the railroad.

Frankie Winters

Catherine’s little brother. He is born June 22, 1906, in Henry County to W.A. and Etta Winters, and is 7 when his sister disappears. The press calls the siblings “great playmates” and often describes scenes of his desolation after her loss—for example, refusing to eat his dinner the night she vanishes, saving a special Easter egg for her for more than a year. He graduates from New Castle High School in 1925, leaves home and is believed never to have visited again, working as a ward attendant in a hospital in Compton, Calif. He dies in 1955 of cirrhosis and is cremated.

Eliza Whistler

Catherine’s maternal grandmother. She is born in 1842 in Pennsylvania, eventually settling in Wisconsin and marrying twice. When a daughter from her second marriage, Etta Winters, becomes ill and seeks cures at western sanitariums, Eliza and a daughter from her first marriage, Ida Chalfant, move to New Castle to care for Etta’s children.  They stay in that role until Dr. Winters remarries and Byrd Winters sues them in a local court for room and board. This family acrimony causes many to believe Eliza and Ida to be behind Catherine’s disappearance, taking her out of their great love for the child and hatred for her stepmother. Described as an invalid in 1913, hounded by detectives and publicity seekers, Eliza dies in the middle of the search for Catherine.

Mrs. Levi Godfroy

Extortionist. Going by many aliases, Mrs. Levi Godfroy writes an extortion letter to Dr. Winters in July 1913, offering fictional information in exchange for money. She is quickly tracked down and, despite an extremely convoluted story, found to be a fraud inspired by widespread media coverage of Catherine’s disappearance. But the episode distracts and confuses the searchers of the lost girl.

Samuel Ralston

Indiana governor in 1913. The democrat is approached by Dr. Winters and others to take a more active (and fiscal) role in the search for Catherine, but he refuses—perhaps because he already considers it a lost cause.

Robert Abel

Detective with the Louis Wein Detective Agency. Abel takes up the case early in 1914 and quickly zeros in on the parents and the boarder as the most likely culprits in Catherine’s disappearance. He serves the search warrant in May 1914 that turns up a torn sweater, crumpled hair ribbon and bloody man’s undershirt in the family basement, the only physical evidence in the case. He and Dr. Winters trade jabs in the press, but Abel is ultimately frustrated in his attempts to land the father behind bars.

Tommy Ritter

Byrd’s brother. The saloon keeper, cigar-store owner and baseball player spends much of his time and money in 1913-1914 trying to find his lost niece and stands by his sister’s family when they’re accused of murder. He believes a “degenerate” took the girl.

Etta Whistler Winters

Catherine’s mother.  She is born in Arlington, Wisconsin, in 1881 and grows up in nearby Poynette. It is not known how she meets W.A. Winters, but they marry in 1904 in Chicago, where he has been in dental school, and move to New Castle. They have two children, Catherine and Frank, who are 5 and 3 respectively when she dies, aged 28, in Colorado Springs, Colorado, a city believed to benefit sufferers of tuberculosis.  She is buried in a family plot in Poynette, Wisconsin.

Edward Jackson

Henry County circuit-court judge at the time of the disappearance. A Republican seeking his party’s nomination for Secretary of State, he disbands the grand jury investigating Catherine’s case before it can finish and release its findings in fall 1913. He also oversees the aborted murder trial of Dr. and Mrs. Winters and W.R. Cooper the following year. He rises in state politics to become Indiana’s 31st governor, though he leaves office in shame in 1929 after it’s revealed he had taken bribes from the KKK. Escaping jail on a technicality, he is widely considered the worst governor in state history.  He dies in 1925.

Margaret “Lydia” Ritter

Mother of Byrd Winters. Born in Virginia in 1850, she works as a servant before marrying, having four children and running a boarding house. She moves in with Byrd and her new son-in-law, Dr. Winters, after their marriage—she opens the door for the detectives who purport to find damning evidence in the Winters basement in spring 1914. She also speaks to the aborted grand jury in fall 1913. She dies in 1932.

Helen Millikan

Eight-year-old victim of an attack by a stranger the week before Catherine’s disappearance. The daughter of a furniture dealer living close to the Winters home, Helen is lured into a rented buggy by a strange man who drives her out of downtown New Castle, into the country, and “insults” her. He eventually returns her to town, gives her a dime, and disappears. She goes on to be a lifelong teacher and dies in 1983.

Gorbett Brothers

New Castle musicians. Sylvester and Z.F. Gorbett, who together own a grocery story in New Castle, pen the song “Where Did Catherine Winters Go?” in 1913, and copies of the sheet music circulate widely. They follow it with “Telephone to Heaven” the next year.

Samuel Ralston

Indiana governor in 1913. The democrat is approached by Dr. Winters and others to take a more active (and fiscal) role in the search for Catherine, but he refuses—perhaps because he already considers it a lost cause.

Walter Myers

Henry County prosecutor in 1914. The democrat is present at a supposedly secret meeting of party leaders in spring 1914, after which he refuses to press forward with the murder trial of Dr. and Mrs. Winters and W.R. Cooper, saying he doesn’t have enough evidence to win. An unpopular figure, viewed as wishy-washy in the press, he will leave New Castle politics.

Herbert Evans

Henry County prosecutor in 1913. Evans conducts the fall 1913 grand-jury investigation and is incensed when it’s disbanded by Judge Jackson. Frustrated in his attempts to make the jury’s preliminary findings known to the public, he takes an openly hostile stance against Dr. Winters, accusing him of knowing more than he lets on.

David “Bat” Masterson

Wild West lawman and sports writer. The notorious friend of Wyatt Earp, now a New York City sports journalist, briefly turns up in New Castle to crack the case, but he is arrested in Indianapolis for some unrelated union-busting activities and never retrieves his suitcase from New Castle’s Bundy Hotel.

Dr. Johnson C. Winters

Dr. Winters’ brother. Also a dentist, the two Dr. Winterses lived together in Chicago while attending dental school. He makes several visits from his home in Kankakee, Ill., to help his brother during the search. He believes Catherine to be a victim of white slavery—that era’s greatly exaggerated preoccupation with the problem of virginal young country girls being coerced or kidnapped into lives of sexual slavery in the cities.

Byrd Ritter Winters

Catherine’s stepmother. She is born in Henry County, Indiana, in 1880, and works in her mother’s boarding house, at the Bundy Hotel and in downtown department stores.  She marries Dr. Winters in Indianapolis in 1910. The press of the time describes her variously as a devoted stepmother who sews beautiful clothes for Catherine in anticipation of her return and as an adulterous murderer who conspired to kill the girl. Along with her husband and a boarder in their home, she will be briefly charged with murder. Though the case never goes to trial, she bears the majority of suspicion and blame in the case, up to the present day.

Catherine Winters

Briefly the most famous missing child in America. Born on Feb. 10, 1904, in Henry County to W.A. and Etta Winters, she is 9 years old when she disappears on March 20, 1913, while selling sewing needles door to door for a church fundraiser. The fourth-grader at Holland School has a beloved doll, a favorite spot in a certain window seat at home, an independent streak—but press and relatives mostly describe her in glowing, generic terms, making her something of a blank spot at the center of her own mystery. Her body is never found.

Ida Chalfant  

Catherine’s maternal aunt. Born in Wisconsin in 1862, she is the half-sister of Catherine’s mother and took care of the children during Etta’s sickness and after her death. In the press, the single woman is described  as “a short, dumpy person, with black eyes, and is about fifty years ago,” a slightly hysterical figure of mockery. Investigated many times for some connection to Catherine’s disappearance, she lives in Wisconsin and seems eventually to marry and move to California, though the record is unclear.

W.H. Blodgett

Staff correspondent for The Indianapolis News. Married to a New Castle native, he takes a special interest in the Winters case and writes many colorful front-page accounts of developments, even traveling to Wisconsin to personally investigate her maternal relatives. The Illinois native works for the News for 37 years and becomes a member of the Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame. He dies in 1924.

Charlotte Thomas

Eight-year-old victim of a near-attack by a stranger the month after Catherine disappears. Charlotte is visiting an aunt and uncle in New Castle on May 1 when an older man approaches her on the street, asks her about Catherine Winters and tries to get her into his “very shabby” rig. When a boy passing by on a bicycle intervenes, the man speeds away. Police briefly make a connection between Charlotte, Catherine and Helen Millikan, but nothing comes of it.

George Barnard

New Castle mayor in 1913. The lawyer and son of a former congressman, Barnard takes a central role in the search for Catherine as New Castle’s mayor. When his term of office ends halfway through the search, he returns to law practice and will represent Dr. and Mrs. Winters and W.R. Cooper when they’re accused of murder in 1914.

J. Leb Watkins

New Castle mayor in 1914. The rotund, jovial mayor is a popular leader but faces ribbing in the press when he attempts to distance himself from the case against Dr. and Mrs. Winters as it collapses in spring 1914. His house—which may have stored the highly sensitive evidence found in the Winters basement—is completely destroyed by the 1917 tornado.

Jane Hyde King

Catherine’s cousin. A niece of Byrd’s, the little girl famously plays with Catherine the morning she disappears and can be seen in the 1913 news film that circulated to theaters around the region. As an adult, she is among the staunchest defenders of her maligned aunt.