Her name is Francis. She was a teller from a small bank in Smithville Texas and she is the subject of one of my uncle’s most memorable portraits. It hung on his studio wall for years. I lost count of how many times he told me her story.
He photographed thousands of people over three decades but said he’ll never forget the girl with the curly hair and hazel eyes. “She was always energetic in front of the camera but on this day, something was very unusual. She sat motionless and quiet as if she was somewhere else. It wasn’t the Francis I knew” he said.
I asked why she would allow him to take this photo when she was clearly upset. He replied “I don’t know why she was upset. I asked her if she wanted me to stop but she said ‘no no keep going’ so I did. That’s when I took this shot. I had no idea it would be her last photo… but maybe she knew.”
What was she thinking?
Just a week before this photo was taken, Francis was present during a robbery at the bank. She was unharmed.
Just two weeks after my uncle took this portrait, she disappeared and was never seen again.
Photographer and filmmaker Andrew Shapter is making a narrative feature about the disappearance of Francis Wetherbee. Watch a preview here.