My Child Is Missing a Third Time

John Edward Gill 

I raised Margie, my daughter, until she was twenty-three and had finished college.

It was hard because Estelle kept telling her that she had left us because I was horrible. Yet my ex-wife never came to those school events, not even Margie’s graduations–from high school, junior high, elementary school–not even when our daughter was in plays, both in high school and college. She never came to Long Island for Margie’s birthday, either, or for Christmas, which depressed our daughter.

She couldn’t accept her mother’s leaving her, and since the age of fourteen had become angry at me.

“You put me in the middle of a divorce,” she said one summer after visiting with Estelle.

“That was many years ago, Margie,” I told her. “Your mother loves you.”

Margie stayed angry, though, yet wouldn’t go to therapy with me or move in with Estelle. She was insecure and didn’t even take driving lessons until she was almost eighteen. I took her out to the College where I teach writing and, reluctantly, she enrolled in an acting course while still in her senior year in high school.

That course gave her confidence.

“The other students think I’m a college kid, Dad,” she said one evening. “They don’t know I’m in high school.”

So I bought a used car and she began taking lessons, receiving her license that summer and going to my College in the Fall. Two years later, mature and feeling independent, she and a girlfriend transferred to a university in the town where we lived. I let her use that car even though she moved into the dorms, which were only two miles from our house.

I still kept it in my name for insurance purposes and paid for maintenance, registration, insurance, repairs, etc.

During her senior year she went to Paris and visiting her there was the best time of my life–seeing her independent and happy and enjoying France. She’d majored in French, with a minor in political science, and I looked forward to her twice-weekly collect calls from all over Europe–Ireland, Scotland, England, Holland, etc.

Estelle had re-married sometime in the mid-1980s and had lived in San Francisco since 1981. But Margie had continued seeing her only once a year, for two weeks every summer. Her new husband was a man convicted in civil court of false and malicious prosecution in a real estate case. Courts in San Francisco made him pay nearly $30,000 in damages and costs, so, although I always wanted Margie to see her Mom, I was glad, in a way, that she spent little time with Estelle and that new husband.

In Paris, once, Margie told me she wasn’t going to visit San Francisco any more, but I didn’t think anything of it. In the summer of 1992 she lived with me, got herself a part-time job as a computer operator, attended summer school and graduated, and met Bill Clinton and Al Gore at the Democratic Convention in Manhattan.

That September she moved to a nearby town to live with friends. She would return home, often when I wasn’t there, to take extra clothes from her old room, wash laundry, cook herself snacks, visit with our cats. When seeing her, I kept asking what her plans were and she spoke of joining a Ralph Nader Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) in Boston or Chicago, or going to Washington, D. C., to live with friends and work for the government.

All of this would happen after the November election, she said.

By mid-October, though, I became concerned with her vagueness and worried about my car. On Halloween I went in the early morning to where she lived and took it back. Margie never contacted me, and on November first I tried calling her, but the line had been disconnected. Her landlord said she didn’t live there any more and he didn’t know where she’d gone.

A week later my bank called and said a replacement credit card, mailed in late October, had been used and reported stolen. I began to receive notices from mail order houses about clothes purchased by Margie using numbers from two other cards.

Immediately, I called the banks and canceled those orders.

That first bank, Household Credit Services, in Salinas, California, sent a bill of all items purchased with that first card, but never investigated. And another mail order house sent me a bill with her name on it.

There were many emotions I had…anger at her stealing that card and those other card numbers, sadness that she had done this, fear that I didn’t know where she was, and terror that something awful had happened to her.

Mainly, I worried that she was missing, and for the third time.

Again, police were no help. She was an adult then, hadn’t been missing that long, and I didn’t have any proof of foul play. I mentioned credit card fraud, hoping that would make them look for her, but they refused to take a complaint.

So I began having trouble sleeping. Where was my daughter?

From being in the missing child field since the late 1970s, having started a small, local support group, I’d heard and read horrible stories of young women–beaten, raped, killed–and kept thinking something terrible had happened to Margie.

Investigative work had kept me stable during the first two abductions. But now, I couldn’t help remembering Margie as a child: one day when I picked her up from the day care center, she ran to me, excited, “Daddy, Daddy, I learned how to climb a tree”; her elementary school held a United Nations day and Margie’s first grade class represented Israel. Margie and another little girl led her class, holding a banner of the Israeli flag. I cried for happiness to see her succeeding without her mother; the day she saw the Pope on television in Yankee Stadium and asked if he went to Brownies because he wore that little beanie; how she would get up before me on weekends and I’d ask about “the morning cat report”, who was in, who was out, who was fed, who was hungry; while in the fifth grade she started cat-sitting for neighbors and would count money on the kitchen table, saying it made her feel “grown-up and independent”; one day there was sand in geranium plants we kept indoors and Margie said, “the cat did it”; the day she held my hand at the bank when we opened up her first account.

But I couldn’t become emotional. Remembering the past wouldn’t find her.

For all of November, then, I waited to hear from her, calling my ex-in-laws and their friends again, but they said nothing.

Then at four a. m. on a gray mid-December morning I went to work again at finding her, still just plain scared that she might have been harmed. I hoped she was with Estelle, but also thought of Boston, Chicago, and Washington, D. C., and remembered stories of young women found lifeless beside highways or in deserted back streets.

Estelle’s phone in San Francisco had been disconnected, which left three other cities.

I’d learned that with parental abduction, I should always look for the absconding parent, not the child.

Luckily, I knew Estelle’s new married name, and, with still more luck, found it listed with Information in Washington. Teaching and jogging through restless hours, I called that evening after supper.

Margie answered on the first ring.

I asked what was going on and she said she wanted to live with her mother.

“You could have done that ten years ago,” I said.

“I needed a place to stay in Washington.”

“Why the secrecy?”

“My mother said not to tell you anything.”

Margie made many excuses for not moving in with Estelle until now.

“My mother didn’t have a job. She didn’t have a place to stay. She said police would come after me as a runaway. And that you wouldn’t pay child support.”

“She never sent child support to me.

“She wasn’t working.”

“With two post-graduate degrees?”

When I told her about Fargo and Iceland and credit cards, I heard Estelle come on the phone, telling me not to call again, then hanging up.

They didn’t answer when I called back.