SIOUX CITY | Thomas Myles Dougherty went missing 52 years ago. His family still grieves, wondering whatever happened to the Sioux City man who lost both arms fighting in World War II.
Dougherty, 45, was last seen on Lower Fourth Street in Sioux City during the early morning hours of Jan. 12, 1961. No trace of him, or his specially outfitted Ford Tudor, has ever been found.
His niece, Jackie Bland, 78, of Sioux City, longs to know the truth about her uncle’s disappearance. She fears he was killed.
“It’s just so sad,” she said.
Dougherty’s disappearance is considered a missing persons case, as no body was found, but is “highly suspicious,” said Sioux City police Sgt. Pat Breyfogle. He went over the half-inch-thick file a few months ago with Bland and two of her siblings at Bland's request.
Police suspected a 29-year-old man in Dougherty’s disappearance. Witnesses said he was with the Army veteran at the last place he was seen -- the former Metropolitan Café, 801 Fourth St., now the site of the Sioux City Convention Center.
However, the man claimed he was in Illinois applying for jobs the night Dougherty vanished, Breyfogle said. He also met with Illinois investigators and passed a lie-detector test.
“The problem (was) he had an alibi and he passed whatever a lie-detector test was back in the day,” Breyfogle said.
Some aspects of the suspect’s story don’t sit well with Breyfogle. He said investigators noted the suspect was “very smooth and has a hard time telling the truth about anything.”
“It bothers me they never found that (job) application he supposedly filled out on the 12th,” Breyfogle said.
Bland’s heard various rumors over the years and said although she suspects the Illinois man was involved, she hasn't drawn any solid conclusions. She does worry that someone robbed her uncle, who had a history of carrying large amounts of cash. They may have thought they could take advantage of his condition, she said.
Dougherty, who went by “Myles,” lost both hands in Normandy, France, on July 5, 1944, according to weathered newspaper clippings Bland brought to the Journal.
A shell exploded over him and other members of a machine gun crew while they were firing into a German position. Several of his crew members were killed, the clippings state, and Dougherty’s hands were so badly maimed they were amputated.
He recovered at hospitals in France, Britain and Battle Creek, Mich. He told journalists he kept the injuries from his family until he knew how to use his prosthetic arms, which looked like hooks.
He told his mother, Elizabeth Dougherty, not to cry. She never did.
“Not when he first came home, or since,” she told the Omaha World Herald. “After the first shock we find these things are not as bad as we expected. Miles (sic) is so full of courage and determination that it seems foolish for me to be otherwise.”
Bland doesn’t remember talking much about her uncle’s disappearance back when he vanished. She lived in Colorado at the time and only recently returned to Sioux City. It has come up over the years at family gatherings, she said, and everyone always wonders what happened.
Unresolved cases like Dougherty’s are particularly difficult on family members, said Shannon De Clute, an assistant professor of psychology at Morningside College.
There’s no grave for loved ones to visit and no funeral to attend, which stunts the grieving and acceptance process, she said.
“You don’t know how to react, because you don’t know what happened,” De Clute said.
Suspecting foul play, police tried for years to find Dougherty’s body.
Assistant Police Chief Russell White and officer Robert Rol searched for the missing man with an airplane. The pilot, municipal airport manager Richard Wolf, flew them all the way to Decatur, Neb., and over the Omaha and Winnebago Indian reservations as well as the Sioux City area, according to an undated newspaper clipping.
In 1964, police trolled the river from Virginia Street to the Floyd channel.
Details of his missing car were entered into a national database. Police contacted the FBI, receiving a letter back from agency director J. Edgar Hoover.
All efforts came up empty.
Bland has come to realize she probably will never know what happened to her uncle.
Evidence is likely long gone by now, she surmises, and anyone who may have hurt Dougherty, if that’s what happened, could already be dead.
“How would you ever know, really?,” she asked.