Mystery of vanished heiress: Was she murdered — or ‘dematerialized’?
When Marcia Moore disappeared without a trace on a bitterly cold night in January 1979, her family received several “bulletins” from psychics across the country. One of them said that the heiress to the Sheraton Hotel fortune was “stuck in the fourth plane in the 12th dimension” and having trouble getting out.
At the dawn of the New Age movement in the 1970s — when many were experimenting with crystals, astrology and personal transformation — the explanation seemed oddly credible to Marcia’s circle of friends. The missing 50-year-old was a yoga teacher and astrologer of some renown who had spent time at an ashram in India and written six books, including one on reincarnation. With her neatly cut bangs, the lithe Radcliffe College graduate believed she shared a past life with Cleopatra.
Before her disappearance from her home in Seattle, Marcia had been experimenting with ketamine, a hallucinogenic drug, and brainstorming a project to “dematerialize” herself, according to Hollywood writer and director Elisabeth Bentley, who is working on a limited documentary series about Moore’s life. The heiress’ story is also told in “Dematerialized: The Mysterious Disappearance of Marcia Moore” (Post Hill Press), by Joseph and Marina DiSomma, out now.
The hocus-pocus, along with her conservative family’s embarrassment over Marcia’s obsession with New Age philosophies, as well as her own marital history — Marcia was on her fourth husband when she disappeared — all worked to derail the investigation into her whereabouts.
“A lot of things Marcia did was mortifying for the family,” said Bentley, who is friends with Marcia’s niece, Elizabeth. “If she were alive today, she would have been an Oprah-like person. She was one of the first to bring yoga to this country, and likely the first person to use the phrase ‘Age of Aquarius.’ Some of her conclusions have also been proven right. She intuited things that are being studied more rigorously, such as the use of hallucinogenic treatments for PTSD.”
But Marcia Moore may have been too ahead of her time — and the embarrassment her powerful family felt would ultimately benefit her presumed killer. In 1981, when Marcia’s remains were finally discovered near her home, the trail had already gone cold.
“Her story fades with each passing year,” write the DiSommas, a husband-and-wife investigation team who spent years piecing together the story of Marcia Moore after Marina DiSomma discovered her books in a garage and became fascinated with her story.
“Every drive by a Sheraton hotel is a reminder of how few people know the unusual, hidden story of Marcia and the Moore family,” they write.
Marcia Sheldon Moore was born on May 22, 1928, the only daughter of Sheraton Hotel chain founder Robert Lowell Moore and his wife, Eleanor Turner Moore, in Cambridge, Mass. The clan could trace their lineage to the 1600s, and Marcia and her three brothers were raised in a Colonial mansion on a two-acre estate in tony Concord. According to the DiSommas, the Moore family home was “complete with servants’ quarters, Japanese garden, grape arbor, raspberry patch and apple orchard,” and there was also a summer home on Cuttyhunk Island, west of Martha’s Vineyard.
Although Robert Moore had dabbled in Theosophy, a 19th-century spiritual movement that dictated that knowledge of God could be achieved through meditation and transcendence, the patrician family discouraged the same kind of interests in Marcia. Her mother favored eldest son Robin, who would achieve global fame in 1969 with the release of his book, “The French Connection,” which inspired the Best Picture winner at the 1972 Academy Awards.
From an early age, Marcia was obsessed with the occult and reincarnation.
“She was often misunderstood and far ahead of her time in fearlessly exploring metaphysics with new, sometimes controversial ideas,” write the DiSommas.
Shortly after abandoning her studies at Radcliffe after her freshman year (she would complete her degree a decade later), Marcia married her first husband, a struggling writer named Simons Roof. They took off to India for a year in 1955, traveling around with their three young children as Marcia studied yoga and was blessed by the Dalai Lama.
After their return to the US, Marcia began to blossom as a writer and yoga instructor, often turning her front lawn into an open-air Hatha yoga studio. But her marriage was falling apart, and in 1962, Marcia and Roof filed for divorce.
‘If she were alive today, she would be an Oprah-like person.’Hollywood director Elisabeth Bentley, who is working on a documentary series about Moore’s life.
Marcia took on a series of lovers before marrying her second husband, a 21-year-old student named Louis Acker, whom she had met through her astrology circle. The couple “affirmed the engagement based predominantly on their compatible astrological charts,” according to the DiSommas. Acker, a towering redhead, was 12 years her junior, and although the couple happily practiced yoga and lectured on astrology together, the marriage was over after three years.
Weeks after divorcing Acker, Marcia wed Mark Douglas, a Korean War veteran and grifter she claimed to have met in a previous life. He was also, according to “Dematerialized,” a hustler jailed for failure to pay child support for his two kids from a previous relationship. Douglas saw potential in Marcia, and encouraged her to write books. He started a publishing company and opened a health-food store in York Harbor, Maine, where she could sell her wares.
He also soon began to control much of Marcia’s income from trust funds and stock that she held in her family’s hotel company. When she walked out on him in 1966 after suffering a black eye, among other physical injuries, Douglas had already cashed in more than $120,000 worth of Marcia’s stock as well as taking over her mansion, the store and an apartment they had owned together, according to “Dematerialized.”
Marcia then retreated to California and plunged into meditation and experiments with hallucinogenic drugs. She was partly influenced by Timothy Leary, the Harvard psychologist and counter-culture hero who became famous for his advocacy of LSD for therapeutic use in psychiatry.
Marcia began to experiment with ketamine hydrochloride, an anesthetic also known as “Special K” — and notorious for later becoming a date-rape drug. She took the “psychotropic substance for what she hoped would be the next consciousness expanding breakthrough,” according to the DiSommas.
Marcia felt that the drug would allow her to explore past lives — a process she called “returning to the bright world.” She would later co-author a book with her fourth husband, medical doctor Howard Alltounian, titled “Journeys into the Bright World” and published a year before she died. Marcia called ketamine “the goddess” and often brought along the drug and needles to give herself inter-muscular injections while the family vacationed on Cuttyhunk Island, according to Bentley.
“She wasn’t hiding it,” Bentley told The Post. “The whole family was just mortified by her behavior because they had a prominent social place on the island. The fact that she was running around shooting ketamine and behaving bizarrely was deeply mortifying.”
Marcia’s niece Elizabeth Moore, an entrepreneur who spent summers on the island as a child, remembers her aunt at that time as “distant, elusive, radiant.” Elizabeth, now 58, told The Post that she last saw her aunt about five years before Marcia’s disappearance.
“We used to spend our summers on Cuttyhunk Island,” recalled Elizabeth. “One summer she was there, and one summer she wasn’t.”
The next time Elizabeth saw her aunt was at a supermarket in the summer of 1979 — on the front page of the National Enquirer under the headline, “Missing scientist has become invisible and is somewhere out in the cosmos.”
“In retrospect I wonder why we didn’t question it much,” said Elizabeth of her aunt’s disappearance. “It really was a sign of the times. It was such a quintessential patriarchal society and we were a patriarchal family.”
On Jan. 14, 1979, hours before she was to leave on a 20-hour car journey to Ojai, Calif, Marcia Moore simply disappeared. Her husband Howard Alltounian, an anesthesiologist she had married 14 months before and who supplied her with ketamine, didn’t call police until early the following morning. He told police that Marcia had gone to the movies and had never returned. He said she was distraught, a manic depressive and had developed a mental disorder from her use of ketamine. She had also, he claimed, threatened suicide.
But Alltounian’s characterization of his wife was strange to her closest friends, who said that Marcia was over the moon about moving to Ojai — “a nexus of mystical forces,” as the book described it — and was planning to start a magazine about reincarnation. What her husband failed to mention to police was that he and Marcia had a troubled relationship.
Alltounian seemingly should have been the primary suspect in her disappearance, but evaded real scrutiny until his death in 2006.
“I can recall my uncle who was the executor of her estate, talking to my father and suspecting that it was the husband who killed her,” said Elizabeth. “There was concern, but no rage. There wasn’t enough passion to find out the truth. They were all gentlemen and they took care of business.”
At the time, Alltounian seemed grief-stricken by his wife’s death. He told an Enquirer reporter for the 1979 piece that they had an idyllic marriage and were inseparable. He said he was planning to take a vow of celibacy until she returned — reincarnated.
The vow didn’t last long. Soon after her disappearance, Alltounian started dating. In fact, police were investigating him for serial rape, although he was never charged with a crime, according to “Dematerialized.”
By the time police discovered Marcia’s remains — only the upper portion of her skull, containing several gold crowns, was found — in March 1981, two miles from her home, the investigation into her disappearance was hopelessly stalled.
Although the detective leading the investigation suspected Alltounian was to blame, he could never muster the necessary proof, according to “Dematerialized.” The couple’s home had never been thoroughly searched after she was reported missing and Alltounian was never rigorously re-interrogated.
“It must be acknowledged that the supernatural elements as they pertain to the investigation were heavily sensationalized, and clouded the judgment of Marcia’s friends, family, fans, even law enforcement,” write the DiSommas. “They served Howard well as an immense distraction from a conventional missing persons case, potentially forestalling a criminal indictment.”
In September 2021, the body of Marcia’s son Christopher Roof, 59, was identified a decade after he had been reported missing, in Stacyville, Maine. As with his mother, the cause and manner of death were undetermined.
The truth about what happened to Marcia Moore on that freezing night in 1979 is still not known to this day.
In 1981, her novelist brother, Robin, revealed his own theory to the UPI: “I don’t for one minute believe that my sister died a natural death. I think her demise was assisted perhaps by a cult we don’t even know about. Marcia was targeted by these people on several occasions.”
He added that in 1977 Marcia had claimed that a “witches’ coven” was trying to off her.
But Alltounian certainly had an explanation he promoted.
“It all,” he told the Enquirer, “points to dematerialization.”