I ran away from home to chase the Beatles – and triggered a trans-Atlantic manhunt

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On Sept. 15, 1964, Beatles superfans Janice Mitchell and Martha Schendel attended the band’s concert in their hometown of Cleveland, Ohio — then set in motion a plan that led to a trans-Atlantic manhunt, newspapers headlines on both sides of the pond and the attempted intervention of Paul McCartney.

Over the previous six months, the 16-year-olds had formulated a secret scheme to leave Cleveland after the gig and hop a flight to London. Their mission? Meeting the Fab Four.

Now, almost 60 years after the wild escapade, Mitchell (née Hawkins) has written a memoir, “My Ticket to Ride: How I Ran Away to England to Meet the Beatles and Got and Roll Banned in Cleveland” (Gray & Company), out now.

Her obsession with the Beatles began in late December 1963 when she heard “I Want to Hold Your Hand” playing on her local radio station and introduced Schendel, who lived across the street, to the group. They spent hours obsessing over the bands’ records and fanzines like “Teen Scene” that delivered a never-ending stream of information about John, Paul, George and Ringo.

Janice Mitchell (née Hawkins) at The Rock ’n Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, where she still lives..
Janice Mitchell (née Hawkins) at The Rock ’n Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, where she still lives..
Angelo Merendino

“We read that they hung out in Soho a lot,” said Mitchell, now 73, referring to the neighborhood in London that was the epicenter of the Swinging Sixties.

“I was the planner and it was my idea to go to England,” she added, explaining how she persuaded Schendel to come along for the ride. The duo truly believed they would meet the Fab Four on the trip. Mitchell even wrote to their manager, Brian Epstein, to ask for a job in his office.

"My Ticket to Ride"

Part of the desire to escape was fueled by her “difficult start” in life: After her parents abandoned her at the age of seven, she was taken in by her elderly great aunt Toots. “I had learned to be a survivor and a quick thinker,” Mitchell recalled. “I was always trying to figure out how to make things happen — and happier — for me.”

In the mid-summer of 1964, she and Schendel secretly got passports. Then they went to the Schendel family’s bank and cashed in the girl’s $2,500 college fund to buy two one-way plane tickets from Cleveland to London.

The day after the concert, the girls put their plan into action. Instead of going to class, they caught a cab to the airport and flew first to New York City and then on to London.

“It was the biggest day of our lives,” Mitchell said.

In England, the search for their heroes began on the streets of Soho.

“We’d seen the movie ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ which showed how clever they were [at avoiding mobs of fans],” Mitchell said. “But I knew I’d recognize them — even if they were wearing disguises like they do in the film.”

Best friends Martha Schendell, left, and Mitchell, both 16, spoke to newsmen outside the American Embassy in London, England on Oct. 8, 1964 — after they vanished from their Ohio homes weeks before.
Best friends Martha Schendell, left, and Mitchell, both 16, spoke to newsmen outside the American Embassy in London, England on Oct. 9, 1964 — after they vanished from their Ohio homes weeks before.
AP

The runaways used their remaining money, including cash saved from Mitchell’s babysitting duties, to rent a studio apartment in the Holland Park area of London. “It was just a short ride on the Tube [subway] to Soho,” said Mitchell.

They spent two weeks frequenting the trendy clubs they’d read about in the fanzines. Every night, they thought they’d encounter at least one of The Beatles. “I wanted it to be Paul [McCartney],” Mitchell said. “I liked him the best.”

Soon, however, the young Americans were befriended by a group of slightly older guys who told them a few home truths.

The girls went to London, then Liverpool, in search of the Beatles.
The girls went to London, then Liverpool, in search of the Beatles.
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

“They said The Beatles were much too big now to play at the clubs anymore,” Mitchell remembered. “They said the only performances they gave were at huge venues like the London Palladium in front of the queen.”

So the girls hitch-hiked to the group’s native city of Liverpool. “We knew for a fact that the Beatles were back in the UK after touring America,” Mitchell said. “We assumed they’d want to go home to see their families.”

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to them, the girls had become celebrities in their own right, as their disappearance from Cleveland had triggered a manhunt.

This poster was distributed by Cleveland Heights police to police stations and London.
This poster was distributed by Cleveland Heights police to police stations and London.

American and British police were on high alert, after torn-up copy of Mitchell’s letter to Epstein was found in her bedroom trash can. The unfolding drama led to local headlines such as “Girls Lost on ‘Beatle Hunt” and “Ohio Girls Elude Scotland Yard.”

“Missing” posters showing the teenagers’ faces were dispatched to police stations in London and Liverpool.

Which is how, on Oct. 8, 1964, the whole adventure came to a screeching halt. A cop recognized Mitchell as she walked along Oxford Street in London and asked if she was from Cleveland.

“There happens to be two girls from Cleveland, Ohio, on holiday here,” he told her. “They haven’t written home in a couple of weeks, and their parents are quite worried about them.”

Schendel and Hawkins left Cleveland in search of the Beatles after this Sept. 15, 1964, concert.
Schendel and Hawkins left Cleveland in search of the Beatles after this Sept. 15, 1964, concert.

“Why are you asking me?” Mitchell challenged the cop. “There must be hundreds of girls from Cleveland on holiday here.”

In reality, she told The Post, “Neither of us had a clue that people were looking for us. There was no TV or radio in our little apartment and we didn’t read newspapers.”

But reality started to bite when she was taken to the police station and the officer pointed to the runaways’ missing poster on the wall. “I was so mixed with emotions,” Mitchell recalled. “I knew I was going to be sent to a place I never wanted to go back to. In my teenage mind, I thought my relatives were happy I’d left.”

Schendel was picked up at the apartment soon afterwards and put in a holding cell with her partner in crime. “She was furious with me,” Mitchell said. “It felt like I’d ruined everything.”

A newspaper story covering the girls' capture shows Mitchell waving at reporters.
A newspaper story covering the girls’ capture shows Mitchell waving at reporters.

Newspaper editors had a field day coming up with jokey headlines like “Two Girls Fine; Yeah, Yeah, Yeah.” The die-hard fans were taken to the American Embassy, where a stern diplomat warned that they could either agree to leave England or be deported and banned from the country for good.

Even then, Mitchell refused to give up her desperate hope of meeting The Fab Four. “I asked him [the embassy official] if we could get a phone call with The Beatles,” she said. “But he said, ‘That’s not going to be possible.’”

The escapees were driven to Heathrow in a limousine with blankets over the windows in an effort to curb the attention from the press. Still, one photographer managed to snap a picture of Mitchell smiling and waving from the car.

Mitchell and Schendel were taken to the US Embassy in London.
Mitchell and Schendel were taken to the US Embassy in London.
Library of Congress

Back home in Cleveland, however, there was nothing to laugh about. The girls were taken to a juvenile detention center and charged with delinquency. They appeared before a judge who blasted them for their behavior and blamed it on their “exposure to this rock and roll music.” Further, he warned parents that pop concerts were “narcotics for teens.”

The mayor of Cleveland jumped on the bandwagon and decreed that bands like The Beatles and the Rolling Stones had no place in the city. Big acts were forbidden to play there for around two years, Mitchell writes: “What a huge mess. And it was all my fault.”

Toots told Mitchell she had “dragged the family’s name through the mud.” Meanwhile, the school principal told the girls never to talk about the episode again.

Before escaping to England to search for the Beatles, Mitchell and Schendahl collected all the info they could about the band.
Before escaping to England to search for the Beatles, Mitchell and Schendahl collected all the info they could about the band.

“We were silenced. The adults closed us down,” said Mitchell, who is divorced and never had children.

She said she found her voice when she started writing her book. “I’d had to live with these unnecessary guilty feelings,” she explained. “And I thought this would be a good way to be free of them.”

Mitchell is former federal investigator who now works as a part-time private eye. She and Schendel lost touch after their escapade and, at this point, Mitchell doesn’t know where her former friend is. She once tracked down Schendel and called her but, Mitchell said, “It seemed like she just wanted to put it behind her and move on with her life.”

Three years ago, while working on the memoir, Mitchell came across a newspaper cutting from October 1964. It had been sent by the British researcher she’d hired to sift through the media coverage of her adventure.

“I nearly fell off my chair,” she said about reading the story that had been published in The Daily Mail.

The teens drained one of their bank accounts to fly from the US to London.
The teens drained one of their bank accounts to fly from the US to London.
Jon Proctor collection / GNU Free Documentation License

The article reported: “As they [Mitchell and Schendel] took off for New York, a Beatles spokesman explained: ‘We arranged to get Paul McCartney to see them off, but then the Embassy told us they did not want to encourage the girls.’”

She could have met a Beatle after all.

Mitchell later found out surprising news about Paul McCartney regarding her adventure.
Mitchell later found out surprising news about Paul McCartney regarding her adventure.
Angelo Merendino

“It broke my heart and angered me just as if it had happened in 1964,” Mitchell said.

She still yearns to meet McCartney and has sent him a copy of her book. But, no matter what, she will always treasure her memories as a Beatlemaniac.

“Most people with a dream aren’t able to fulfill it,” she said. “But nothing was going to stop me until I did.”

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