37-year mystery to be reopened
THE parents of a toddler who went missing on her birthday in a supermarket 37 years ago have spoken of their heartbreak as a new search gets under way.
Katrice Lee vanished on her second birthday in November 1981 from a shop in Paderborn, Germany when she was with her mother, near a military barracks where her father was stationed at the height of the Cold War.
Now more than three decades on, British military police have announced a new five-week search will be carried out along the banks of the Alme River which flows near the town.
Senior investigating officer, Richard O'Leary, said they will concentrate on a green car seen near the supermarket that day.
"Thirty-six years have passed and allegiances may have changed," he said. "We are appealing to members of the public and the military community, including veterans and retired civil servants in both Germany and the UK. Do you know what happened to Katrice?"
Katrice's father, Richard Lee, told the BBC he believes his daughter was snatched and the investigation was botched from the beginning.
"My heart has been in my mouth for 37 years, that's the only way I can describe it.
We were never listened to from day one," he said.
"I'm 100 per cent certain that Katrice was abducted and either sold for profit to a childless couple or taken by a childless couple."
"She's quite possibly speaking another language and equally so I could be a grandparent and I'm sat here and I don't know it," he said.
His former wife, Sharon, described the ordeal to The Sun as a "living nightmare" making them members of an "exclusive club we didn't ask for membership of - we became parents of a missing daughter. I would dearly love to be able to revoke that membership."
"The next five weeks is a double-edged sword for us as a family. We desperately want Katrice to be found but we also know that if anything is discovered during this search then my daughter's life would have been ended in very unsavoury circumstances."
Katrice disappeared a month before Christmas from the supermarket where her mother had taken her shopping. Sharon told The Sun she carried the child around but realised at the checkout she had forgotten to get chips.
"I put Katrice down and said to my sister Wendy, 'Just keep an eye on her while I go back to the crisps stand.' It wasn't far away. It took me about 40 seconds, a minute at most. When I got back I asked, 'Where's Katrice?'" she said.
"My sister said, 'I thought she was with you. She ran and followed you.'
"I went back down the aisle and she wasn't there. Panic started to set in. I couldn't see her anywhere. There was so many people. I was calling her name. Katrice couldn't be found - she wasn't there."
At the time, authorities assumed the girl had been drowned. The case was reopened in 2000 and 2012 but each hunt proved fruitless.
Richard and Sharon believe she was abducted, with Sharon saying: "I can't believe ... that a two-year-old walked out and disappeared off the face of the Earth and no one saw what happened.
"You can't live with it 24/7. You have to push it to the back of your mind. But first thing in the morning and last thing at night, those are the times it gets to you."
UK Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said: "The disappearance of a child is every parent's worst nightmare and I have been struck by the courage and dignity of the Lee family who have never given up on their search for Katrice.
"As this major dig gets under way, the efforts and expertise of the Royal Military Police are behind the family. I urge anyone who was in the Paderborn area at the time of the disappearance to contact the helpline - even the smallest detail could be the key to solving this heart-wrenching case."