Okay, I have been delving deep into every bit of info I can find on this one, I was certain that it could be solved beyond a reasonable doubt and I have just now finished “A kitchen painted in blood” and I have to say what an extremely well-researched and excellently written account. Steven J. Ahern has done an excellent job and I am thoroughly convinced by his argument (I was starting to lean that way even before reading the book). I always suspected it was a family member or close friend and with the brilliantly researched facts about the various problems in the Nattrass family, it seems only logical. (I don’t want to give too much away for those who haven’t yet read the book).
I was originally under the impression that the original investigation was not very thorough, but I now realise that LE did a very good job and seemingly left no stone unturned. The fact that Joan’s cousin/stepbrother was the only person out of quite a long list of potential suspects whose alibi didn’t check out, that he had apparently fallen in with dubious characters and that he and Joan were already on opposite sides in the family argument lends itself to this theory. Knowing that Joan’s Uncle did ,in the end, move to California to join his wife and daughter after Joan had disappeared, the very thing Joan had been trying to prevent, leads me to believe that the opposition to this move (ie; Joan) had been “removed”.
There are just a couple of points where I would go further than Mr. Ahern. The book never says never and only cautiously dismisses theories, but I just cannot seem to shake the importance of the Oldsmobile and the sightings. It seems to me that it is just too much of a coincidence that there was a bloody woman dressed in similar clothes to Joan wandering around dazed and confused who was never identified and eliminated from enquiries.
Therefore it is my theory that it was indeed Ben Nattrass and a friend (perhaps his roommate who was apparently a “dubious character”) who visited Joan that fateful day, probably driving in the two-tone Oldsmobile that was seen in her driveway, possibly it had been stolen earlier by them (we know that the car was stolen at some point, we don’t know if it was before or after the 24th October and we don’t know where from). Despite not getting along, Joan probably did let Ben into the house as he was her step-brother/cousin. Ben would have been trying to get Joan to stop influencing his mother and sisters to remain in California and to stop making accusations of sexual abuse against his father, to whom he remained loyal. I doubt we will ever know the sequence of events in the kitchen but clearly there was an argument and someone was injured, though I suspect this injury was not life threatening at first and blood was trailed around the kitchen. Joan probably attempted to call someone for help at which point either Ben or his accomplice panicked and ripped the phone’s handset off the wall. I don’t think Ben ever meant to harm Joan but to scare her, and at this point I think the decision was made to take Joan to hospital. A bleeding Joan was taken out to the Oldsmobile in the drive. At this point she either made a run for it and left her blood on her own car, or else she leant on her car for support in her weakened state. The Oldsmobile backed out of the drive and headed North, seen by Hilda Ziegler. Again the sequence of events from here is pure speculation on my part; but I think that Ben and his accomplice, by now panicking and possibly arguing with each other as well, let Joan out of the car somewhere along or near Route 128. They probably hoped that she would be found or taken to hospital by someone and, as long as she didn’t mention their names, they would be in the clear. They may have threatened something in order that she wouldn’t accuse them.
Unfortunately Joan never made it to a hospital and no one who saw her helped her. She wandered, dazed and getting weaker and weaker from an injury that, although not at first fatal, untreated left her closer to death and exhausted. I think this is why the police described Ben as so distressed when they first told him that Joan was missing and questioned him; because he had assumed that Joan by now was probably back at home and on the mend. It may also explain why LE couldn’t find him later for a second round of questioning; I think he fled in fear until the investigation had died down a bit. I don’t think Ben intentionally murdered Joan, but certainly his actions led to her death. I would be interested to know what the relationship between the Risches and the Nattrasses was after Joan’s disappearance. Like LE, I get the impression that Martin Risch knew more than he let on. I think he may have been aware that Joan was alive when she was last seen by Ben and that’s why he always held out a hope that she was alive somewhere with amnesia. I can’t say why he didn’t tell anyone if he did know.
I am aware that this theory leaves several things unexplained which some may find annoying (me included) but it does seem that every theory about this case seems to leave something out…it seems impossible to explain all the things in one theory. Mine doesn’t account for:
- Sniffer dogs and searchers finding no evidence of Joan. I can’t explain why, except to say they don’t have 100% success rate and I guess they just missed her.
- The lack of a body. Honestly I tried to find her. I trawled the unidentified decedents on NAMUS for several states and the closest I could come up with was that a fair amount of bones have been found that, unless DNA tested, will probably never be identified. If not her, then I think it is possible that Joan is still were she died and was just never found-I notice how much thick woodland covers the area and I think she is still I there somewhere.
- The blood in the bedrooms. I can only surmise that someone went up to the bedrooms while bloody, maybe not even Joan, it may have been Lillian later on.
- The apparent clean-up. I am of the opinion that little Lillian tried to clean up the mess in the kitchen and then went upstairs. Either that or Joan herself began cleaning up during the confused time before she was abducted.
- The sighting on Route 2A. I don’t think this was Joan. If it was then it means that she either made it that far on her own without trying to get help, or that she was taken and let out of the car twice, which doesn’t seem likely.
- The “red” thing that Joan was seen apparently chasing after. I think that this was either David who had woken up from his nap and maybe was wearing red, or Barbara inadvertently saw Joan greet her visitors when they arrived (maybe one was wearing red) but she failed to see the car or people clearly. I don’t think Barbara can have been as eagle-eyed as we have been led to believe since at this point the children had been back in her yard for 20 mins and she apparently wasn’t aware of the fact.
Well I am sure there are more things. Again, to reiterate, just my own theory, but it works for me and has made some semblance of all the different strands in this case that were going through my head! Since we don’t know then everyone’s theories at this point are equally valid I suppose.
If nothing else, then I hope you all enjoyed the read. For tjose of you that haven’t yet, I strongly recommend getting your hands on a copy if “A kitchen painted in Blood” by Stephen J Ahern.