The women who've been missing for decades – and the heartbroken families desperate for them to come home for Christmas

IT MAY be on a smaller scale but many of us will be looking forward to spending Christmas with their loved ones.

However, for these families there is little hope of them having a family reunion this festive season.

In new podcast The Missing journalist Pandora Sykes meets the families who have been waiting for the return of a loved one for years.

The podcast works with the families of long-term missing persons who their siblings, parents and children have been searching for, for up to four decades.

Producer of The Missing Darrell Brown told Fabulous: “The issue of Missing Persons is, sadly, one that continues all year round. But for many families of the long-term missing, it’s occasions like Christmas which are the hardest to bear – those times when we would ordinarily be with our family, or speaking to them, sharing gifts and toasting the new year.

"For the families of the missing there will always be that empty space at the dinner table.

"And that constant wonder of whether they are safe and well. While this Christmas might be different for all of us – for the families of the missing it’s a recurring nightmare – of being alone and in the dark over the fate of their loved one."

Here Fabulous Digital looks at the women who won’t be home for Christmas…

KATRICE LEE

This is a tale of every parent’s worst nightmare come true. 

The British Toddler had been shopping for birthday tea treats with her mum Sharon at the Schloss Neuhaus NAAFI supermarket when she disappeared in 1981.

While mum Sharon was paying for party treats she realised she had forgotten crisps, so asked Katrice’s aunt to watch the youngster while she went to get some.

When she got back Sharon’s “lovely little child” was gone.

Katrice’s anguished family, including Sharon dad Richard and big sister Natasha have never stopped hoping for answers that will end their heart ache.

Sharon previously told The Sun: “We became members of an exclusive club that 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.

“And although I would like a fairy tale ending to our story, I fully appreciate that might not be.

“But at the end of the day we will have closure, and any emotions that come from that closure we will learn to live with and deal with as we have for the past nearly 37 years.”

Almost 40 years on her disappearance remains a mystery.

Katrice’s family have never given up hope and are still campaigning for answers – they believe Katrice could have been abducted and brought up by a different family.  

FATIMA MOHAMED-ALI

What would you do if a loved one nipped out one morning and never came home? That’s the scenario faced by Mohamed Mohamed-Ali, after his wife disappeared from their Newhaven home in February 2016. 

The devoted Muslim mum-of-three spent the last morning before she vanished praying and making her husband breakfast before he headed to work.

On that Friday — as she did every week — she planned to stay at home for afternoon prayers.

But when Mohammed returned from his electronics job at 1.30pm, he found the house deserted.

By chance, a neighbour had installed private CCTV which showed Fatima walking towards the town centre alone at approximately 8am.

She has not been seen in the four years since.

The disappearance has left a hole in the tight-knit family who are desperate for Fatima to meet her granddaughter Sophia, three, for the first time.

“I went through absolute turmoil — I was shaking and crying," says Mohamed.

Fatima had no history of mental illness and had been excited about an upcoming family wedding.

SUZY LAMPLUGH

For more than three decades, the disappearance of Suzy Lamplugh has disturbed and baffled the nation.

The 25-year-old estate agent disappeared in 1986 in broad daylight, and in the middle of a working day, following an appointment with the mysterious unidentified Mr Kipper – whose identity still remains a mystery. 

Seven years later, Suzy was pronounced dead, presumed murdered.

Suzy’s parents, Diana, then 49, and Paul, 55, and her siblings Richard, 26, Tamsin, 24, and Lizzie, 16, were frantic.

Diana choked back tears as she said during a TV appeal: “There has never been a time when I did not know where she was.”

But her body has never been found and no one has been tried for the crime. Police are certain they know who did it, but they can’t prove it without a corpse or a confession.

The prime suspect is convicted rapist and murderer John Cannan, with police receiving eye-witness claims that he may have put her body in a suitcase before throwing it into a canal.

Timeline from the last day Suzy was seen

JULY 28, 1986: Estate agent Suzy is abducted and killed after going to meet client “Mr Kipper”, E-fit above.

OCTOBER 7: Cannan rapes a woman after abducting her at knifepoint in Reading. He also tries to abduct a woman at gunpoint in Bristol.

OCTOBER 8: Kidnaps and murders Shirley Banks in Bristol.

OCTOBER 29: Arrested trying to rob a shop in Leamington Spa, Warks.

OCTOBER 30: Media speculation that Suzy’s murder could be linked to Shirley’s.

FEBRUARY 1988: Quizzed for first time over Suzy’s murder.

APRIL 1989: Given whole-life sentence after being convicted of rape, attempted abduction, murder and attempted robbery. Later reduced to 35-year minimum tariff.

1999: Police begin Suzy cold case review.

2000: New probe by homicide team.

JUNE 2002: File sent to CPS recommending Cannan be prosecuted for Suzy’s murder.

NOVEMBER 2002: CPS says insufficient evidence. Police name Cannan as prime suspect.

JUNE 2008: Cannan loses appeal over 35-year tariff.

OCTOBER 2018: His mother’s old home is searched for body.

JULY 2019: Search of a field at Pershore, Worcs. New witness then approaches retired Met chief Jim Dickie.

ANNE SIMPSON

When the Simpson family waved goodbye to their Grandma Anne one Autumn afternoon in 2004, no-one realised it was the last they’d ever see of her. 

Jo Hill, one of Ms Simpson's daughters, told the BBC: "It's been awful. Every day you imagine what's happened to her and how it's happened.

"We can't put an end to it until we get her back with us at home or something, anything, any answer."

So what happened to the charismatic Anne Simpson, who’d recently relocated to a Lincolnshire seaside town to start a new life? Was she a victim of the sea or circumstance?

 LANA PURCELL

Lana Purcell was  a young mum who vanished from central London ten years ago. 

She was last seen late in the evening of January 2011, believed heading to West End or Soho.

Her daughter Meghan was just six at the time of her disappearance. 

Her father John, previously told the Standard: “It’s been awful, every day I wake up with a knot in my belly and I struggle to get out of bed sometimes. It’s terrible, absolute hell.

“I get quite angry sometimes about what’s happened to her.

“I hate myself for not being able to stop it, not being able to find her – it’s driving me mad.”

As police renew their interest in her case, we follow them into dark territories of depression and drugs in the hope of discovering what happened to her. 

BERNADETTE COOPER

Bernadette Cooper was last heard from in January 1993. 

She rang a friend from a pub in London, telling them she’d found the money she needed to save her bar in Spain, which was in dire straits. 

No one has heard from her since, and no one knows where she found the money, whether she did return to Spain, or what happened to her. 

Producer of The Missing Darrell Brown said: "These cases in this series are just the tip of the iceberg – there’s 4,500 cases in the UK of someone who has been missing for more than a year. And each one of those has a family will find the Christmas period particularly tough.

"We hope that this series helps to spread awareness of these cases. But also – that it can harness the minds of listeners who can come together to discuss and share these stories. And that with increased awareness some families may one day get the answers they’ve been craving."

The next episode of 'The Missing' is out on 4th January.  Subscribe here https://www.themissingpodcast.org/. 

Listeners can get involved by joining the discussion, at the Locate International Community Board here: https://locate.international/podcasts/.

In other real life news, this mum of a Manchester terror victim is having shrapnel from his body made into a tiny heart.

And this family had depression, cancer and open-heart surgery.

Plus this mum carried her baby for seven months knowing she would die so that she could save her twin.

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