The Disappearance of Lawrence Bader

On March 15, 1957, Larry Bader, a cookware salesman from Akron, Ohio, rented a 14-foot boat, kissed his wife Mary Lou goodbye, and went to Lake Erie to go fishing. His boat was found the next day after a storm. The boat had minor damage and was missing an oar. Bader, who was $20,000 in debt ($215,070 today) and in trouble with the IRS, was missing. The couple had 3 children and another one on the way. Four days later, a charming, elegant, and well-dressed gentleman entered the Roundtable Bar in Omaha, Neb., introducing himself as John “Fritz” Johnson. He became a radio station announcer, a TV sports director, and one of Omaha’s minor celebrities. In 1961, he married Nancy Zimmer and adopted her daughter from a previous marriage. The couple welcomed a son in 1963. Johnson eventually developed an eye tumor and had to have surgery. Afterwards, he wore an eye patch. Meanwhile, Larry Bader had been declared dead in 1960 by an Akron Court, and Mary Lou began receiving monthly Social Security checks and cashed in his insurance policy. In 1964, Fritz Johnson was in Chicago at a sports convention when he was spotted by an man from Akron. Bader/Johnson described the revelation as a “physical shock” comparable to being hit in the face. He had no memory of being Larry Bader, and now his memories of being Fritz Johnson were apparently false. The repercussions were far reaching. Bader/Johnson was now, in theory, a bigamist. His second marriage was annulled and Nancy left him. Meanwhile, Mary Lou had to endure unwanted media attention and was faced with having to pay back the Social Security and insurance money. Because she was technically still married to Larry Bader, she even had to break off her engagement to another man. Intense medical tests were never able to determine whether the eye tumor may have caused Bader to have amnesia, or whether this was all an elaborate scheme to get out from under the mountain of debt and threats by the IRS. Bader took that answer to the grave with him when he died on Sept. 16, 1966.