Case of the Missing Tourists
George Lorius was a successful coal company president in East St. Louis, Ill. In May 1935, Laura and George Lorius, both 45 years old, left on vacation with their lifelong friends, Tillie and Albert Heberer. They often went on vacations together. This year, they decided to spend their vacation out West.
We know their travels took them along Route 66 from St. Louis to Oklahoma City and Amarillo, and then U.S. 60 to Vaughn and Socorro. One must remember that in 1935, these “highways” in New Mexico were not yet paved.
After four days on the road, the couples from Illinois arrived in Vaughn, N.M. That evening, they sent postcards home to family and friends, explaining that they were going to drive on to Boulder Dam after exploring some areas in
Boulder Dam, now known as Hoover Dam, had just been completed and opened to the public in May 1935. It would
have been a unique experience to be one of the first tourists to visit the newly completed dam — at the time, it was considered to be the greatest engineering achievement of the century.
On the fifth day of their journey, the couples left Vaughn and continued their travels along U.S. 60, and stopped in Socorro for gas.
Six days later, on May 29, the Lorius car was found abandoned in Dallas, Texas – the first sign that something went very, very wrong. Contacting the Lorius family in Illinois, Dallas Police learned George and Laura were on vacation in New Mexico, although they hadn’t been heard from since the family received the postcard from Vaughn. They simply vanished. Even today, not a trace of their whereabouts has been found.
In 1934, Congress passed the Lindberg Act, which made kidnapping a federal crime. This allows all kidnappings to be investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which was then called the Bureau of Investigations — J. Edgar Hoover’s agency that “always gets their man.”
The Lorius disappearance case was ruled a kidnapping and quickly turned over to the FBI. The case was given to the Albuquerque Field Office with Detective Albert Raymond Gere placed in charge of the case. It was one of the first major abduction cases given to the FBI since the Lindberg Act went into effect.
Gere immediately went to work.
His first task was carefully checking George Lorius’ car in Dallas for clues. There was no evidence of violence, such as blood or signs of a struggle. He did find receipts and odometer readings that George Lorius kept during the
trip. Gas receipts were found from St. Louis to Vaughn, then Socorro, with the last receipt dated May 23 at an unknown location.
The last positive location of the party was a service station in Socorro. Where did they go from Socorro?
A few days later, traveler’s checks belonging to George Lorius had been forged and cashed in and around Vaughn. The investigation quickly shifted to the small railroad town.
A gas station owner in Quemado recognized the photograph of the four missing vacationers and identified his handwriting on the gas receipt. He was also able to recall the make and model of the car precisely.
Gere then compared the odometer readings from the car found in Dallas to the mileage recorded on the receipt at
Quemado. Less than 50 miles were unaccounted for, thus leading the FBI to conclude the car was turned around within 25 miles west of Quemado.
A massive search of the roads, canyons and arroyos around Quemado turned up nothing. As the search around Quemado was going on, the last known solid clue in the case surfaced.
Luggage belonging to Laura and George Lorius was found in a burning heap near Albuquerque. Few other clues have ever surfaced over the years. Every time an unidentified body was found anywhere in New Mexico, or around Dallas, it was always hoped it would be that of one of the missing vacationers.