It was during a conversation with my aunt about family history that I heard the words, “Little Gordon is a murderer.” She was relaying a statement made by my grandfather, Wesley Henshaw, and it’s these words that started my investigation into my cousin Gordon G. Henshaw and the 1959 cold case disappearance of his wife, Mary Ann, and the 1962 fatal stabbing of Joyce Kent.
Mary Ann Lee was a twenty-two-year-old popular young woman living in Tampa, Florida and working in the city treasurer’s office in 1958. She met Gordon Henshaw, a 29-year-old divorcee and ex-Marine from New York, while he was visiting with friends in Tampa. In March 1959 the couple eloped to Pennsylvania and then settled in Gordon’s home in Depew, a suburb of Buffalo. Three months later Mary Ann was a missing person.
According to Larry, Mary Ann’s brother, Gordon was abusive and “knocked the heck out of” his sister who at one point fled to Larry’s home for safety. Mary Ann’s friends reported that she complained of being afraid and spoke of her husband’s extreme jealousy. One such friend, Carol Portner, recounted how Gordon became so jealous of Carol’s husband and Mary Ann joking around together during a visit in Clearwater, Florida, that Gordon abruptly whisked Mary Ann back to New York.
It may have been an early morning phone call with a Tampa girlfriend, Gloria Lopez, on May 28, 1959, the day of Mary Ann’s disappearance that sealed her fate. According to Gloria, the two women were planning Mary Ann’s escape from her abusive husband. Did Gordon overhear their conversation? Later that day the couple began arguing. A guest in the home and witness to the argument left with the understanding that Mary Ann would join her in a home down the street within an hour. Mary Ann never arrived and was never seen again.
Several days later Mary Ann’s mother, Ida, arrived in Depew looking for her daughter but instead found Gordon having a party in his home and no sign of Mary Ann. Gordon told Ida that Mary Ann was mentally ill and had just walked off. Strangely, he hadn’t reported her missing.
Police questioned Mary Ann’s friends and family at the time and none of them had seen or heard from her. According to Gordon, Mary Ann left the home wearing a blue dress and carrying only her billfold. She left all of her clothes and belongings behind. The case went nowhere.
It wasn’t until an incident on February 16, 1962, that police began looking at Mary Ann’s disappearance as much more than a runaway wife. On that night, about 11:15 p.m., Depew police received a phone call from Matilda Henshaw, Gordon’s stepmother, reporting an accident at her stepson’s home at 14 Michele Drive.
Police arrived and discovered Mrs. Joyce Kent’s lifeless body on the living room floor. According to newspaper reports; “She was on her back, arms outstretched. The knife was on the rug near her left hand.” Gordon told officers that he and Joyce were kidding around when she came towards him with a 6-inch hunting knife and he tossed a stuffed animal in front of her which caused her to stumble and fall. “He said he thought she was fooling when she didn’t get up and was horrified when he rolled her over and saw the knife in her chest.”
Joyce (Baggs) Kent was a 30-year-old divorcee who, along with her two young children and her grandmother, Margaret Smith, had been living with Gordon for about six months at the time of her death. Margaret reported that Joyce and Gordon frequently argued over Joyce’s plan to move to California and that the two would also quarrel “whenever Joyce would receive a letter or write a letter.” Joyce was corresponding with a man named Eugene Boesl, a former Buffalo resident who was living in California. It seems the two were talking about getting married.
Surprisingly, the stabbing occurred at approximately 9:30 p.m., almost two hours before the police were called. Gordon told police that he left Joyce’s children, who were asleep in the home, drove to Buffalo to get his father and stepmother and contacted a lawyer. I have a difficult time believing these were the actions of an innocent man and I’m not alone. Gordon was arrested and charged with first-degree manslaughter in the stabbing death of Joyce Kent.
The case against Gordon was eventually dismissed due to insufficient evidence. However, I feel it’s important to note what Judge Latona had to say about the matter. Latona addressed Henshaw directly, “You are going to live a long time and you are going to carry with you in your own conscience just exactly how this happened. There is no way for the police or the people to prove it happened other than how you told them it happened. The testimony of the doctors – both of them – was in their opinion that the wound was not self-inflicted.”
I’d like to add an event that I find curious especially since Gordon enlisted the aid of his father and stepmother after the fatal stabbing. In 1948, while working in his restaurant, Gordon’s father fainted, falling on a knife and stabbing himself. If, as many suspect, Gordon stabbed Joyce Kent in “an act of passion” could this be where he got the idea for his defense?
One more thing that may have some relevance in this story is that Gordon’s Uncle Melvin Henshaw was a Buffalo police detective during this time, having worked for the force over forty years. I think we have to consider that this might have impacted how Mary Ann’s disappearance was handled by the police. Would they have trusted Gordon, nephew of a fellow officer, more so than the average Joe?
I contacted the Depew police department about Mary Ann’s missing person case specifically, but also mentioned Joyce’s stabbing death. Although I realize the cases are over fifty years old I was surprised to learn that no files exist today. The officer explained that since nobody was convicted of a crime in either case that the files would have been destroyed after thirty years.
I reached out to Mary Ann’s family and located a nephew who confirmed that she was never found but didn’t know anything else about his Aunt Mary Ann. He said nobody talked about her. Unfortunately, Mary Ann’s living siblings weren’t up for speaking with me.
My reason for writing this post was to make sure that Mary Ann would never be forgotten. I hoped to share more about who she was; her personality, hobbies, likes, dislikes, all those little things that normally live on in loved ones’ memories and are passed down from generation to generation but without the help of her siblings, that isn’t possible. Still, I hope this post will help to keep her memory alive.
To those reading this, if we know nothing else about Mary Ann we know that she was a young woman full of hopes and dreams for her future, with friends and family who loved her dearly and missed her deeply. If you have a moment to visit Mary Ann’s Find a Grave memorial , I invite you to scroll down and use the “leave a flower” option. I’d love to see her page filled with flowers!
Buffalo Evening News, Buffalo, New York
February 17, 1962
November 23, 1962
The Tampa Times, Tampa, Florida
February 28, 1962
March 1, 1962
March 3, 1962
Buffalo Courier-Express, Buffalo, New York
July 12, 1948
February 17, 1962
February 18, 1962
February 21, 1962
Poughkeepsie Journal, Poughkeepsie, New York
March 6, 1962