Amid holiday season, cold cases on missing loved ones haunt the heart

FBI poster Jennifer Keese missing person

It’s every parent’s worst nightmare. One minute your child is there, and the next, he or she is gone forever. The pain of loss stays with you, and it sharpens during the holidays. A number of cases haunt me, including one famous case in Florida dating to 2006.

I thought about Jennifer Kesse as I was doing my daily 2 mile walk yesterday. I was listening to a podcast on,  CASE 163: JOANNE RATCLIFFE & KIRSTE GORDON. Two girls, one preschool age and the other a tween, disappeared in South Australia at what the host called a “footie” game, a colloquialism for soccer. The little girls disappeared in 1973. To date, no one really knows what happened to them. Joanne’s sister Suzie remains committed to finding out what happened.

Listening to the podcast, I remembered a day years ago as my husband and I were traveling north on I95, heading to see family. There was a vehicle ahead of us with a poster on it. The poster had a photo of Jennifer Kesse in an appeal for information.

Many of us who live in Florida are familiar with Jennifer Kesse’s case. She disappeared in January, 2006, and was last heard from when she phoned loved ones from her condo in Orlando. The FBI has a synopsis of Jennifer’s case on the ‘Wanted’ poster:

“On January 24, 2006, Jennifer Joyce Kesse was reported missing by family members, when her place of employment notified the family that she had not shown up for work that day. Kesse worked at Westgate Resorts in Ocoee, FL. Kesse has had no contact with family or friends since her disappearance in 2006, and her disappearance is considered suspicious.

Surveillance image to the right shows a person of interest in the disappearance of Kesse. The image shows the suspect walking away from Kesse’s 2004 Chevy Malibu after parking it at an apartment complex approximately one mile from Kesse’s condo.”

The TV show 48 hours recently featured a segment about Jennifer’s case. Her parents had to sue the Orlando Police Department to get the case file so they could continue to search for her on their own. One theory is that workers at her condo complex could have information, but as the show host noted, some of the workers may have been in the US without documentation. It’s a hard road to travel, but if it’s your loved one who is missing, you’ll travel it as long as possible in hopes of getting answers.

In quite a few cases involving missing persons, authorities have been slow to act. That was the case with Joanne Ratcliffe and Kirste Gordon. That was also the case with Jennifer Kesse. If there was suspicion about workers at Jennifer’s condo, time would be of the essence since temporary laborers often work for a short while before returning to their home country. Authorities haven’t searched a small lake near her condo despite the fact “about a month after her disappearance, someone was reportedly seen dumping a rolled up piece of carpet into a small lake near her condo.” The ’48 Hours’ host said authorities never even talked to the workers. Her family is bearing the expense of searching the lake. You’d think authorities would’ve talked to the work crew right off the bat, not just because of potential for guilt, but because they might have seen something or someone suspicious.

The FBI maintains a Most Wanted List of Kidnappings and Missing Persons. Scroll through the list and consider the vast amount of hearbreak suffered by those whose loved ones remain unaccounted for.

As the holidays approach, perhaps we can shine a light on these cases. Viewing the posters at the FBI and following links on the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to state resource agencies give an idea of just how many adults and children go missing in our country. The missing are, like America, a melting pot of diversity in education, income ranges, ages, and ethnicity.

In any missing case, someone somewhere knows something. For instance in the botched case of Joanne Ratcliffe and Kirste Gordon the delay by officials at the game and by authorities obstructed efforts to find the girls. One concessions worker saw a child he thinks was Joanne arguing with a man who was walking out with Kirste, but the worker thought it was a parent dealing with his children. Tragically, too much time elapsed between their disappearance and an announcement at the soccer match despite the parents’ anguished appeals during the game.

As we drove on I95 that day I studied the poster of Jennifer Kesse. She was a lovely young woman with a bright future ahead of her. I pray her parents and any parents with a missing loved one get answers they need if for nothing else than closure.

Much information exists about the missing. Sometimes media bring attention to it. Hopefully we can do more to promote information about these cases in hopes that someone who knows something will come forward and do the right thing by sharing that information.

I plan to start featuring on a regular basis information about cold cases on missing persons. Maybe that small gesture will turn up some information to help grieving families.

(Kay B. Day/Dec. 1, 2020)


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