Unsolved Mysteries Wiki

Dorothea and Robert Allen

Real Name: Dorothea Allen (at the time of broadcast)
Case: Lost Heirs
Location: Sutton-under-Brailes, England
Date: January 4, 1990


Details: On a dreary January day in 1990, in the tiny English village of Sutton-under-Brailes, a notoriously mysterious woman was laid to rest. It was rumored that Dorothea Allen, the wealthiest, most famous resident of the county, had once danced with Fred Astaire and had dinner with Gary Cooper. But when she died at eighty-nine, only five people came to mourn her. In her prime, she was considered a great beauty. By all accounts, she was devoted to her husband, Robert Langwell Allen. He died in 1965 and the couple was childless. When she died, she left no will, only an intricate mystery.
Dorothea's saga boasts a plot and characters rivaling any Dickens novel. The most intriguing character was Dorothea herself. She had a quirky mystique; she was a wealthy business executive and a beauty who hobnobbed with movie stars. Yet to some, she was a shrew, mistreating the people who worked for her and hoarding money like a miser. Her $4 million fortune remains unclaimed. Because she had extensive ties in the United States, some think her heirs may be there.
After Dorothea's death, the British government assigned investigators to search her home, Sutton Manor, in an effort to locate the rightful heir. What they found instead was evidence of a woman who had attempted to obliterate all traces of her past. Investigator Christopher Proudlove spent hours searching through her house, hoping to find clues to her identity. He found very little. Her passport had pages ripped from it. It is believed that the missing pages had important information that would have led to her identity. Upstairs, they found dressing rooms stashed with expensive clothes and shoes. In her photo albums, they found that she had cut off the heads of people in the pictures so that no one could be identified from them.
At that point, the investigators had few clues to go on. Dorothea and Robert had always been elusive people. Intensely private, they had kept their backgrounds shrouded in mystery. Even those who knew them best knew little about their past. The Allens had made their fortune manufacturing plain surgical corsets for women, then adding frills, lace, ribbons, and bows to make them more feminine. They sold like hotcakes and Dorothea oversaw every detail.
Dorothea's companion, Bronwen Hanks, recalled that Dorothea had an eye for beauty and used it to make their factory a success. She was also an absolute perfectionist. She would count the stitches to the inch on everything that was done and let her employees know if they had done it incorrectly. Journalist Candy Atherton described her as a "nasty piece of work". She reportedly ran her servants ragged and did not pay her employees well. She also ran a strict regime, demanding people to walk out of her office backwards. Proudlove believed that she was a ruthless business woman who had a business plan that made herself rich. When she got rich, she spent her money freely and enjoyed herself.
For example, the Allens went on the Queen Mary in great extravagance all over the world. Photographs were taken of them while they were onboard; those pictures are a rarity, as they usually refused to have any taken. At Christmas, the Allens entertained only those employees who had reached a specific productivity quota. A select few were actually allowed to speak to the Allens, who felt free to indulge their illusions of grandeur. Dorothea's secretary, Dorothy Kearse, recalled that at the parties, they would sit at the end of the room behind a rope and act like royalty.
In 1965, Robert died after a long illness. Dorothea's whole life had been built around him and their business. She seemed unable to cope with his death. Kearse believes that Dorothea always counted on him for support; without it, she was lost. Hanks recalled that Dorothea was very upset after his death because they felt that they were each other's worlds. After his death, one of her habits was to get his cigars, light them, and leave them burning in the hall and in the library, so that it would feel like he was still there.
Dorothea began to neglect her business. The American parent company, Berger Brothers, finally forced her out. She spent more and more time alone. After an accident in her Rolls-Royce, she never left her estate again. No one was allowed in there except for her gardener and her housekeeper. As her health began to fail, she became obsessed with eliminating all traces of her past. According to her lawyer, she mutilated photographs of herself and Robert. She destroyed the page in her passport that contained her place and date of birth. On January 4, 1990, she died in her bed. She had been a recluse for more than twenty years, steadfastly refusing to make a will.
Before Dorothea's death, she reportedly told some people that she thought "people have too much money anyway," and, therefore, "they don't need to be left money in a will". Atherton believes that she had something to hide, especially because she most likely knew that her money would be going to the government if it did not go to her heirs. She believes that Dorothea thought that, by not leaving a will, she would be able to disguise her life after she died.
There appeared to be no record of when or where Dorothea was born, or even what her maiden name had been. Then, a smallpox vaccination certificate surfaced. On it, her birthdate was listed as January 21, 1901. Her last name was listed as Farquharson. Finally, there seemed to be a clue to her true identity. Hanks confirmed that Dorothea had told her several times that Farquharson was her maiden name and that she had been born in Scotland. Genealogist Cecil Humphery-Smith, however, believes that "Farquharson" is a red herring that was put forth early on by Dorothea. He could find no record of a "Dorothea Farquharson" being born between 1891 and 1911. In fact, investigators could not find any record of a female British citizen named Farquharson born anywhere near her date of birth.
Proudlove suspects that Dorothea was a woman of "lowly birth", possibly having worked as a seamstress or a barmaid. He suspects that she wanted to keep her past quiet because she did not want people to think less of her. Another theory is that she and her sister were born in Berlin and got out right before World War I. According to the theory, Dorothea was educated at an Ursuline convent in Belgium. She then made her way to either Great Britain or the United States.
Atherton believes that Dorothea met Robert in northern England in the 1920s while he was still married. They fell in love and he left his wife and child to be with her. They then had to keep up the charade of being a married couple. As she became older, she became convinced that the infidelity would come out and did whatever she could to protect it. Proudlove believes that she was married in the United States, possibly Connecticut. He is not certain of the date of that marriage.
Proudlove assumed that Dorothea and Robert were married, but he is not sure. In fact, there are theories that the two were actually brother and sister. That would be something that they would want to keep quiet, since incest is punishable by law in England. Rumors from their staff have indicated that they always slept apart. However, the sibling theory is almost impossible to prove. His background is nearly as obscure as hers.
Who were Robert and Dorothea Allen? Did they have some dark secret to cover up? Or were they simply obsessed with wealth and possessions, cut off from their fellow human beings?
A genealogist hired by the British government later found evidence that Dorothea's real name could have been "Mary Ruddick". Her company was called Spencer Corsets and was in partnership with the Berger Brothers in New Haven, Connecticut. Investigators believe that records in that state may hold the key. If no heir is found, her $4 million estate reverts to the British government in 2002.
Extra Notes:

  • This case was featured as part of the December 5, 1990 episode.
  • It was also featured on Good Fortune! and Heir Hunters.
  • Some reports state that Dorothea's husband's first name was Eric.
  • Dorothea's husband is not to be confused with missing person Robert Allen.
  • Atherton went on to serve as a Member of Parliament for Falmouth and Camborne from May 1, 1997 to May 5, 2005. Atherton, who was a member of the Labour Party, passed away of a stroke October 30, 2017, at the age of sixty-two.

Results: Solved. In 1995, wartime pilot Cedric Bowell recognized Dorothea in a newspaper photo and identified her as his childhood sweetheart, Dora Brammer. She was born in Sheffield on January 21, 1895, and was the daughter of steelworker Amos Brammer and Emily Whitham (who later went by Mary Forbes). Her parents were identified as a couple that was in a picture found in her home. She had two older brothers, but both died at a young age. She built her corset business with money Amos made in real estate. At some point, for reasons unknown, she adopted the surname "Farquharson". She became involved with Robert in the 1920s while he was still married. He was unable to obtain a divorce from his first wife, so he and Dorothea were not able to get married. Instead, she took his name and they lived together as a married couple.
Since neither Dorothea nor her siblings had any children, investigators had to search for descendants of her aunts and uncles (of which she had eighteen). Amateur researcher Ken Jarrett, who had worked on the case for several years, soon located one of Dorothea's cousins, Basil Whitham, in Sheffield. Through him, more than seventy other relatives were located. After analyzing a single gray hair that was taken from a hairbrush left at her home, investigators were able to confirm her identity and that of her heirs. Each received about $40,000.