The Amazing Disappearance of Sarah Smith


 Sarah Smith has not been heard from for two years.  She is the very rich 73-year-old largest stockholder in the Hecla Mine.   When her husband died in 2016, James left her a lot of Hecla stock.  He was a successful Chicago businessman, and an investor in mines.

The Hecla Mine

The Hecla Mine was discovered in 1892 by prospector James Lapp in the Burke Canyon, Idaho.    He followed a promising ribbon of silver 700 feet into the mountain.  But the mine lacked depth and with no proven ore reserves, his exploring stopped as his money ran out.   In 1895 his claim changed ownership. 

Johnnie Van Dorm took out a 2-year lease.  He sunk a deeper  shaft 100 feet straight downward following the ore and also digging alongside  a side drift which showed promise.  Considerable ore was shipped that year, mostly of low grade.   

But time ran out, as well as money.   The lease was too short to justify putting in the expensive machinery needed to further develop the mine.    Van Dormwanted to turn back ownership to the earlier company.  By 1898 he was desperate and broke.

Van Dorm sold the Hecla stock to a newly reorganized Hecla group of investors.  Only the name Hecla remained.  Wealthy successful mine developers bought the mine.  John Finch, Amasa Campbell, and Patsy Clark all experienced mine owners bought new stock.   One million shares were issued at 30 cents a share.  

Each man found investors.   Finch organized a Youngstown group of investors.  Campbell did the same in Chicago.  Patsy Clark had friends in Helena that bought in.  

James Smith was part of the Chicago investment group.  With serious money invested, he relocated to Spokane and became the financial person for the group.  He made development decisions. 

 James Smith bought 100,000 shares of Hecla for $30,000 .  He often traveled from Spokane to Wallace to oversee the group's investment.  His job was to make the mine profitable.

The new owners spent a lot of money putting in machinery, a concentrator, and lengthening the mine's tunnels.   

Shipments began.  The Hecla ore was rich, and the mine was extremely profitable by 1899. 

In March 1900 Hecla paid its first dividend - $20,000.  In May 1901, the stock was in demand at $1.60 a share in the Spokane Stock Market.    On April 1903, the mine declared another $100,000 dividend.  From this point onward, Hecla always made a lot of money for the stockholders.

Sarah Smith

In 1909 Fred Grinnell built a very beautiful group of new houses on the edge of the South Hill on a 1 block long street called Short Court, just east of Grand Boulevard at 12th Street.  Each house cost $10,000.   Fred Zimmerman bought the house at 123 Short Court.   By the end of 1912, Smith wanted an elegant Spokane house.   He paid Zimmerman $60,000 in early 1913 for that elegant colonial showcase house at 123 Short Court.

Later in 1913 Smith bought the Wharton Block for $60,000 at 411 W 1st.   He was in the pinnacle of his life.

James died 3 years later on September 3rd, 1916 at 56 years old.

Sarah Smith became the heiress and the largest Hecla stockholder.   She bgan receiving $30,000 a month from the mine profits.   At 53 years old Sarah was entering a new exciting time in her life -  middle aged woman that was free and wealthy.

In October, 1916 she met charming Ralston Wilber, a much younger athletic man.    James had only been dead a month.  Wilber was a member of the Yale football team and a well-known boxer in the exclusive Olympic Club of San Francisco.    he represented the Hallidie Machinery Company of Spokane, selling mining equipment to Hecla.

They two married two months later on December 14, 1916. 

Later in December, 1916 Ralston bought the couple a Hillsborough California mansion as a present for his wife, paying $100,000.   

At the time Hillsborough was considered one of the very top wealthy San Francisco suburbs and the house was an extravagant present.

On December 1, 1916, the couple bought 3 acres on the south side of 17th Avenue.  Soon afterward they built an dramatic stone country house at 2526 E Seventeenth Avenue,.  In later years it would be owned by Dr Rudolf Hahn.

In September 1917, while in San Francisco, the couple had a vicious fight.  They permanently lived apart from that time onward - only 9 months into their marraige.

On April 13, 1917 she divorced Ralston Wilber, then reconciled, and for a second time on August 24, 1918 she totally divorced him.  This time it was forever..

In her divorce complaint she alleged she had entrusted him with her money to invest. She had given him $140,000 to buy himself a business, which he never did.  He fraudulently used all the money for squandering lavishly.

In March 1919 Sarah sold the house at 2526 E 17th Street for $45,000.

            2526 E 17th Avenue

In 1924 she married George Scollard.  The marriage was stormy.  In 1927 they created sensational news when each hurriedly started a frantic race on separate boats hurrying from South America to Seattle.  Each was trying to beat each other to grab Sarah's fortune - consisting of lots of cash and bonds.  That was the dramatic final climax to their domestic troubles.  

Sarah Smith won the race.  She was just striving to save her fortune which Mr Scollard was throwing away.  She divorced him in 1928.

The Mystery Woman

In 1931 she was indicted by the federal Government for defrauding them on her 1929 income taxes.   She declared her income to be $179,080.  The Government claimed it was $261,842.   The indictment was made public for two years, after which a bench warrant was filed by the United States Marshalls with a "not found" notation.  They had publically hoped she would be told and come in voluntarily.

Now federal agents combed the nation without success.  They followed many rumors that she was hiding out in Canada or in the eastern United States.   One well traveled rumor was that she was being held by kidnappers demanding to give up her fortune or die.

Seattle Mayor John Dore was Mrs Smith's personal attorney for years and remarked:

"$1 million dollars of bonds and money were recovered from Mr Scollard at the end of their 1927 boat race to Seattle."   "After that she was distrustful of everyone in her later years."

"At one time she carried $500,000 of cash on her after she closed her bank account."   

As recently as January 1933 her name was brought up in another court case trial.  Federal agents replied at that time that they did not know whether she was dead or alive.  But they knew she was traveling and not easily found.


The government admitted the case of the disappeared Sarah Smith is one of the most puzzling in their history.

The case was never solved.   At 73 years old her whereabouts were still a mystery and her trail had grown very cold.


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