THE REAL GIRL
This photo of Sall
Horner, taken by h
captor, Frank La Salle
discovered at a hous
Atlantic City in Aug
1948, six weeks after
How an 11-year-old girl’s kidnapping in Camden
became the basis of a controversial novel. By Shelby Vittek
In the summer of 1958, Russian- American novelist Vladimir Nabo- kov’s book Lolita made its U.S. debut.
Americans were introduced to the novel’s
narrator, a middle-aged man named Hum-
bert Humbert, who tells the story of his
obsession with a 12-year-old girl named
Dolores “Dolly” Haze—Humbert calls her
his Lolita—and the sexual relationship
he forces her into during a cross-country
journey. Lolita, with its lyrical prose,
would become one of the most celebrated
and controversial books of its time.
Now, 60 years later, in her new book,
The Real Lolita: The Kidnapping of Sally
Horner and the Novel that Scandalized
the World (Ecco Books), author Sarah
Weinman shines a spotlight on the
long-forgotten girl from New Jersey who
inspired the tale.
“Knowing about Sally Horner’s story
helps us not only understand what is
really going on with this iconic piece
of 20th-century literature,” says
Weinman, “but it highlights all
the ways in which we have failed
girls and women.”
The Real Lolita arrives at a
crucial moment in our culture,
as the #Me Too movement
highlights stories and experiences
of girls and women who have been
victimized by men. Sally’s story is part of
On June 14, 1948, Ella Horner watched
as her 11-year-old daughter, Florence
“Sally” Horner, boarded a bus from her
hometown of Camden to Atlantic City,
supposedly for a weeklong beach vacation
with a friend. Sally wouldn’t return home
for almost two years.
What Sally hadn’t told her mother
was that, just a few months earlier, she
had been caught stealing a notebook
from the Woolworth’s in Camden. Act-
ing on a dare from some of her class-
mates, Sally had picked up a five-cent
notebook and shoved it into her bag.
Before she could leave the building, a
middle-aged man grabbed her arm. “I
am an FBI agent,” the man told Sally.
“And you are under arrest.”
The man was not with the FBI or
any other law-enforcement agency. He
wasn’t a security guard for the store.
He was Frank La Salle, a 50-year-old
convicted child molester. He had been
released on parole two months earlier
after serving time for the statutory rape
of five girls, ages 12 to 14.
Of course, Sally didn’t know this and
feared she was about to be thrown in jail.
The man told her he’d let her go as long
as she reported back to him “from time to
time.” If she didn’t, he would place her in
a reform school. Sally agreed to his rules,
relieved she wouldn’t have to call her
single mother from prison.
In mid-June, La Salle stopped Sally
again, this time on her walk home from
Northeast School, where she had just
finished fifth grade. He had new instruc-
tions: Sally had to go to Atlantic City
with him. She was to tell her mother she
had been invited on a week-long Jersey
Shore vacation with a friend’s family.
Ella agreed to let Sally go and
walked her the few blocks from their