Brent Swancer April 23, 2021
For all appearances, the Salomons were a normal suburban family. Immigrants from Israel, 35-year old Sol Salomon, his wife Elaine, their 9-year old son Mitchell, and Elaine’s 15-year old daughter from a previous marriage, Michelle Hochman all lived in a quiet area of Northridge, California, where Sol worked as a fire extinguisher repairman and refiller. They were by all accounts a content, perfectly ordinary and well-adjusted family, and October 12, 1982 started as just an ordinary day. They spent the day visiting with Elaine’s parents, and at around 6 PM, Sol casually told everyone he was going off to a car auction with a business associate by the name of Harvey Rader and left. There was nothing unusual about this at all at the time. Elaine’s parents left at around 10:30 PM, and then Elaine made a call to her friend, during which she said she had to go because Rader was at the door. She hung up and that is the last anyone has heard from anyone in the Salomon family. And so a whole family would disappear off the face of the earth, launching a strange mystery that has never been solved.
The next evening, neighbors noticed that the Salomon’s pool had overflowed and was spilling into other yards. When people went to the house the door was locked and the interior was dark. In the driveway sat Sol’s fancy shiny burgundy Rolls-Royce and his work van, although his Mercedes Benz was gone, and in the backyard was the family dog, just causally lounging about. It soon became clear that no one had seen any of the Salomons that day. Elaine had not shown up to work as a volunteer counselor at a clinic, Mitchell and Michelle had both not been to school that day, and the feeling that something was not quite right began to spread as it became obvious that no one had heard from them since that phone call the night before. It was at this time that the police were finally called in.
The Salomon family
When authorities arrived at the scene they did so to a house eerily still, normal, and seemingly all in order. The door was locked, the burglar alarm had not been activated, and there was no sign of a break-in. A look around showed nothing out of order, no signs of a struggle, nothing seemed to be missing, and indeed all of it looking like someone would come home at any minute. In the bedrooms the beds were all neatly made, which Elaine’s mother would later claim was not something they would usually do, but it all seemed like a normal house until they reached Michelle’s room. Here there would be some odd clues in the fact that the pillowcases, sheets and bedspread were missing from the bed, there were small blood splatters on the bedroom wall and mattress, and oddly a piece of carpet had been cut from the floor and then covered with a bathroom rug. In the backyard it was found that water seemed to have been set to flow into the pool on purpose, and there was further found a baseball bat near the wet bar. This was all quite unusual, but police were still not treating it as foul play for lack of any evidence to that effect.
A few days later, on October 17, more clues would be found, when passports, wallets and photos belonging to the Salomons were found haphazardly strewn about along a lonely freeway 15 miles away from the house. This was enough to convince police that they were possibly dealing with foul play, that they had been kidnapped and possibly murdered and that these belongings had been dumped by the perpetrator. At around this time the news of the disappearances was hitting headlines in a major way, fueling all sorts of rumors. There were whispers that Sol had been involved with the Israeli mafia, that something from his past as an ex-commando in the Israeli armed forces had come back to haunt him, or that he was an Israeli intelligence agent or a drug dealer. The public was going nuts with these theories, but police were mostly interested in one man, and that was Harvey Rader, the last known person to have been with Sol Saloman, and if the phone call to her friend was any indication, he very may have been the last one to see Elaine as well.
Rader himself was a British national who owned a car dealership in Reseda, California, a business which Sol had invested $20,000 dollars into, and he also happened to have a rather robust criminal record. It turns out that Rader had been convicted of more than a dozen crimes in England, been to prison several times, and had been involved in armed robberies and an elaborate insurance fraud scheme involving setting fire to the home of the Saudi sheik Mohammed al-Fassi, for which he had avoided jail time by ratting out his associates. Still, this wasn’t evidence that he had erased a whole family, so police went about questioning him and feeling out the situation. Things were immediately suspicious when authorities arrived to find Sol’s missing Mercedes sitting in a garage at Rader’s dealership, so police were very interested to hear an explanation from Rader himself.
The Salomon family home
According to Rader, the night he had met Sol, they had gone to a car auction in Sol’s van, and after the auction Sol had asked him to take him to an Israeli restaurant. Rader dropped him off there and took the van back to the Salomon home, where he got the keys to the Mercedes from Elaine, planning to take it to his shop for repairs. He adamantly denied having anything to do with the disappearances, and even told police that Sol was a gun runner selling illegal Uzis, revolvers, and automatic handguns. There were some discrepancies in this version of events which sent up some red flags. For one, the restaurant Sol allegedly was dropped off at turned out to have been closed on the night in question, and there was also the fact that, although they had left the Salomon house at 6, the car auction had actually ended at 5. His story was also inconsistent, at first saying that Elaine had handed him the keys, but later on saying that he had gotten them out of the mailbox. Nevertheless, there wasn’t any evidence to hold Rader, and at the time he was not arrested or brought in for further questioning.
The case had hit a dead end, with no new leads or suspects, until Rader popped up on the, ahem, radar, again in October of 1983, when police were contacted by Rader’s cousin, a man named Ashley Paulle, who had a very curious story to tell. According to Paulle, he had actually seen Rader and some “Italian” accomplices shoot Sol and his family on October 12, 1982, and had then helped them to bury the bodies out in the desert. Apparently Sol had been killed during a heated financial dispute about Sol’s investment in the car business, and the family members were taken out of the equation simply to silence them. Paulle also said that Rader was responsible for the vanishings of a British couple named Peter and Joan Davis, who had gone missing on March 17, 1982. Paulle even led police out to the locations where he said the bodies were buried, but police found nothing. One investigator would say:
We went out to the desert area, and he was trying to show us different areas where he thought the bodies were buried, but nothing worked out. He was lying, or he didn’t really want us to find the bodies because he thought if we’d never find them, nobody could be prosecuted.
Paulle told police that he was willing to testify against Rader in exchange for immunity, but this did not go through when he failed four polygraph tests. Police dropped him as a witness and he headed back to England, but armed with this potential groundbreaking lead they nevertheless pursued Rader in a major way. Rader was arrested and charged with the murders of the Salomon family, just as he was dealing with a charge of passport fraud, but the trial would not go smoothly at all. Not only was all of the evidence against Rader circumstantial, but there were several witnesses who claimed to have seen Sol in California after the family had disappeared. Paulle would be called in to testify after all, but at this point he refused to do so. The prosecution had nothing to go on. No bodies could be found despite intensive searches in the area Paulle had told them and even digging around in and under Rader’s car dealership, there was no concrete evidence to link Rader to any crime, and in the end, after two mistrials he was ultimately acquitted to walk away a free man. Nearly everyone involved with the case was sure that he was guilty, labelling him as a shady con man and a criminal, and there was outrage among friends and family of the Salomons, but the court had spoken.
To date, the Salomons remain missing, no trace of them has ever been found of them in spite of repeated searches, and there are no new leads or tips despite efforts by friends and family to use private investigators to dig up more information. The case is completely cold, and will likely remain that way until there is some breakthrough. For now, a whole family has simply vanished off the face of the earth. What happened here? Were they the victims of foul play, and if so, then who was responsible? Was it Rader, as many think, or someone else? Or was something else going on here? How could they so completely vanish without a trace? It is spooky that a whole family could disappear like this, and it remains a chilling unexplained case that may never be solved.