Disappearance of Katrice Lee
28 November 1979
|Disappeared||28 November 1981 (age 2)|
Schloß Neuhaus, Paderborn
|Status||Missing for 38 years, 8 months and 13 days|
Katrice Lee was born 28 November 1979, at the British Military Hospital in Rinteln, West Germany. Her father, Richard Lee, was a sergeant major in the 15th/19th The King's Royal Hussars of the British Army stationed in West Germany, along with her mother Sharon and her elder sister Natasha, who lived in the Schloß Neuhaus area of Paderborn.
On 28 November 1981, Katrice's second birthday, the family decided to go to the nearby NAAFI shopping complex in Schloß Neuhaus to buy things for her birthday party. Katrice's elder sister Natasha decided that she did not want to go shopping, while her aunt Wendy and uncle Cliff, who also worked for the British Army, had come over from Bielefeld for the birthday party. Wendy went to the NAAFI complex with Katrice and her parents while Cliff stayed at home with Natasha. Ritchie Lee drove them to the NAAFI and waited for them in the car-park. The day was the last payday before Christmas, so the NAAFI complex was exceptionally busy. Katrice decided she did not want to ride in shopping cart, so she was carried around the supermarket by her mother Sharon, who placed her down at the checkout. Sharon briefly left the checkout before returning to find Katrice was nowhere to be seen. Her aunt Wendy thought Katrice had followed her mother down the aisle, but she had vanished.
Katrice had curly light brown hair, brown eyes, a pink birthmark slightly to the right of the base of her spine which looked like a rash, and strabismus in her left eye. At the time of her disappearance she was wearing red Wellington boots, a turquoise duffel coat, a green and blue tartan pinafore dress with frills around the shoulders, a white blouse underneath, and white tights. Despite spending her life in Germany, Katrice could only speak English.
The military police were effectively in charge, but had to negotiate with the German civil police because the NAAFI building was within a German town, not on military premises. Both the military and German police believed Katrice had fallen into the nearby River Lippe and drowned, but no body was ever discovered. The German police refused to go to the press, and it was six weeks before an item appeared in the local newspaper. The investigation produced little result, and despite dredging the river and conducting house-to-house inquiries, no trace of Katrice was found.
Police re-opened the case in 2000, after computer technology helped them to form an image of how she could look now. People came forward who had never been interviewed, including a young man who had been standing behind the Lees at the checkout, and one of the checkout ladies. One woman also came forward to say that her boyfriend at the time, who was in the same regiment as Katrice's father, had confessed to murdering a child. The man now lived in Northumbria, and the military police interviewed him but he denied it, and the woman who gave the details died soon after, therefore ending the lead. Afterwards the military police told the family they thought he was probably a fantasist.
Three possible sightings of Katrice Lee came after her story appeared on the BBC television show Missing Live, where during the show a digital rendering of the potential appearance of Katrice as a 29-year-old was shown. Natasha Lee, Katrice's elder sister, appeared on Crimewatch to highlight the appeal, after which an anonymous woman phoned and left a message on Richard Lee's answer machine, saying to "look for your daughter in France". The police took the answer machine tape away, but there was nothing more to the investigation. Major Kevin Bell-Walker, who was leading the inquiry, said: "With the advances in crime detection like search techniques, forensic archaeology and DNA profiling, it does suggest the case can be progressed after all this time".
One line of enquiry followed by the police is that Katrice was intentionally abducted from the NAAFI complex, and has possibly been raised by another family in Germany, the United Kingdom, or elsewhere in Europe, unaware of her true identity. Lee was born with a distinctive condition in her left eye which would have required two medical operations to correct, they were appealing for medical personnel with knowledge of such operations to come forward if they had operated on a child. In April 2018, it was announced that the British Military police, in conjunction with the German police, would spend five weeks undertaking a forensic search on the banks of the Alme river. The search did not uncover any new information. In September 2019, a man living in Swindon, Wiltshire, England, was arrested in connection with her disappearance, though subsequently released without charge.
- Charter, David (1 May 2018). "Police scour German riverbank in hunt for toddler missing since 1981". The Times (72523). London. p. 19.
- Katrice Lee, Missing People, retrieved 21 February 2010
- Fielding, Nick (24 November 2007), "Without a Trace", The Daily Telegraph, London, retrieved 21 February 2010
- James, Fiona (4 March 2001), "Pounds 10,000 Reward in Hunt for Girl Missing 19 Years", Sunday Mirror, archived from the original on 4 May 2018, retrieved 21 February 2010 – via HighBeam (subscription required)
- "Dad's New Hope of Finding Katrice", Hartlepool Mail, 2 May 2008, archived from the original on 4 May 2018, retrieved 21 February 2010 – via HighBeam (subscription required)
- "Our Katrice is Still Alive", Hartlepool Mail, 28 November 2006, archived from the original on 3 May 2018, retrieved 21 February 2010(subscription required)
- "Heartrending 'snapshot' of a girl lost 19 years ago", Daily Mail, London, p. 29, 27 November 2000
- Gayle, Damien (30 April 2018), "German riverbank to be excavated in search for missing child", The Guardian, London, retrieved 3 May 2018
- "Katrice Lee: Dig finds no clues in 1981 missing girl case". BBC News. 28 May 2018. Retrieved 13 June 2018.
- "Arrest in 38-year-old mystery of vanished toddler". BBC News. 24 September 2019. Retrieved 24 September 2019.
- "Katrice Lee: Former serviceman released without charge". BBC News. 25 September 2019. Retrieved 6 May 2020.