Katrice was the little daughter of a UK army sergeant and who lived in what was West Germany (now Germany). Katrice disappeared 37 years ago and has never been seen since. Sadly, the story of Katrice’s disappearance has never been given the attention it deserves and to highlight that point, during my research I could only locate one small article regarding her disappearance in a UK newspaper archive. However, a renewed appeal by her family and the case being reopened has finally allowed her story to be told.
Katrice was born on 28th November 1979 in Germany where she lived on a UK military base in Schloss Neuhaus just outside Paderborn, with her father Richard, who was a Sergeant in the 15th/19th The King’s Royal Hussars, her mother Sharon, and her sister, Natasha, who was 7 and to whom Katrice was very close.
Sharon describes Katrice as being a happy, delightful little girl who adored her older sister.
28TH NOVEMBER 1981
It was Katrice’s second birthday and the family had planned to celebrate with a small tea party along with Sharon’s sister, Wendy and her partner, Cliff, who were visiting the family. At 10:30am an excited Katrice, Sharon and Wendy were dropped off at the NAAFI store by Richard to buy party food. Natasha stayed home with Cliff and Richard remained by the car in an extremely busy car park.
Many people were out doing their Christmas shopping and so the shop was full of people. As they went to pay for their goods, Sharon realised she had forgotten an item and momentarily left Katrice with Wendy at the checkout whilst she quickly dashed back to grab crisps. However, when she returned, Katrice wasn’t there and Wendy claimed that Katrice had immediately chased after her mother down a shopping aisle.
Sharon and Wendy searched around the food hall and clothing hall calling Katrice’s name before realising she was nowhere to be found. It was at this point Sharon began to panic. Richard immediately headed home to alert Cliff and Natasha as to Katrice’s disappearance, grabbed a photograph that could be used to show shoppers in the hope of someone having spotted her, and the three of them headed back to the store where Natasha recalls seeing her mum screaming in panic.
On the day she disappeared, Katrice – with her brown curly hair and sweet doll-like features – was wearing:
- Turquoise Mothercare duffle coat with fur trim
- White blouse
- Blue and green tartan pinafore dress
- White tights
- Red wellington boots
- Birth mark on her lower back at the base of her spine
- Katrice had a problem with her left eye that would have required future surgery.
Katrice’s disappearance was investigated by both the German and Royal Military Police (RMP), who conducted a search of the nearby area. However, their initial belief was that Katrice had fallen into the nearby swollen River Lippe, but despite using divers, no evidence to back up this theory was found. The family were also insistent that Katrice would not have headed towards the river as she had a phobia about water, so even bath times upset her, and they didn’t find the thought of her navigating her way there to be feasible.
In an interview given to British Forces News, Sharon said:
I still cannot understand to this day how my daughter managed to push her way through a crowded NAAFI – bearing in mind she was only two that morning – to walk down a ramp on her own, past a woman selling raffle tickets who never saw her, what would have been then, (if she had reached the ramp on her own) across a crowded car park, through a small hedge, through a river, and if you follow the German police line, my daughter disappeared as an accident and not a crime – she fell in to the river – according to the German Police Authority. That’s their theory.
On 28th November 1981, my world as I knew it, stopped. Not just my world, but obviously Natasha’s world as she was only 7, my husband’s, and all of our families. Life has never been the same and can never be the same. You keep going because at the end of the day I had another child and because I want to find out what happened to my daughter.
I want justice for my daughter.
No clues as to Katrice’s disappearance has ever been unearthed and no item of her clothing has ever been found. The family have maintained that their daughter must have been abducted and the intolerable torment of her disappearance saw her parents finally separate and they returned to England in 1993.
Since the initial investigation, the Military Police have admitted that mistakes were made at the time, and the investigation was seriously flawed, including:
- RMP didn’t bring sniffer dogs in to the area until 24 hours after they were alerted to Katrice’s disappearance;
- RMP failed to alert border guards for 48 hours;
- RMP failed to take any witness statements from the staff who were working on the check outs until six weeks after Katrice went missing, apart from one, who was not interviewed for 20 YEARS!
- Military personnel who had been on duty weren’t inteviewed by RMP;
- The NAAFI store was only meant to be used by families of serving military personnel, and although the official rules were that identity must be shown whilst purchasing goods, Richard stated that there were never regular inspections and German, Polish, Czech and Italian people had regular and complete access to the store.
- Nothing was included in the local newspapers for six weeks;
- When they appeared on Forces TV, an officer was stood in the background telling Sharon and Richard what they could and could not say;
- Both Sharon and Richard have stated that the family were given no support and blames the system for failing Katrice.
- Richard also explained how, during the initial investigation, the family alerted the RMP about the problem with Katrice’s left eye and to alert hospitals and doctors as she required a couple of operations to rectify the condition, just like Natasha had. Some time later, when the family asked RMP if this had been done, they received a written statement by the officer in charge who said that their claim to have said that to police was ‘a figment of their imagination’. This is a small illustration of the shocking incompetence and poor practice the family had to contend with, for which there is no excuse.
Many of Richard’s colleagues could see the ineptitude of the investigation almost immediately and so they decided to go out searching on their own accord.
In 2012, the British government apologised to the family for the flawed original investigation.
CASE REOPENED – 2000
In 2000 the case was reopened and a man was interviewed by German Police. He was subsequently released due to lack of evidence.
In 2012 a woman was given a police caution after she sent a number of abusive messages to the Lee family on the Katrice Facebook page. The woman, who came from Durham, claimed to be Katrice, but this was disproved. She also sent a message blaming Sharon for Katrice’s disappearance.
Unbelievably, in 2014, the same woman once again began targeting the family, breaking the restraining order she had been given a year earlier. Donna Wright found herself back in the dock for her malicious campaign of abuse and was jailed for 14 weeks after pleading guilty.
The Lee family remained unable to accept the official line given by the German police and decades later they approached their local Gosport MP, Caroline Dineage, to ask for help. She agreed that the initial investigation left a lot to be desired, and assisted their calls in asking the Prime Minister to reopen the case.
The Royal Military Police refused to allow the family access to the original investigation files because ‘the investigation remains ongoing.’ However, the officer in charge of the new investigation stated they were working with the German authorities to reexamine the circumstances of Katrice’s disappearance. Maj Clive Robins, Senior Investigating Officer, said:
“This truly is a tragic case and one that the Lee family have had to live with for over thirty years. It is my hope and ultimate aim that by applying modern investigative techniques we can shed some light on what happened to Katrice and therefore bring closure for Richie, Sharon and Natasha.”
The new investigation spans 50 countries and includes assistance from Interpol due to the possibility that Katrice was abducted in a car with a major motorway close to where she disappeared.
A BREAKTHROUGH, OR SOMETHING MORE SINISTER?
In 2017 the case of Katrice’s disappearance appeared on BBC’s Crimewatch. The police issued an e-fit of a man who was apparently seen carrying a small child into a green saloon car at the time Katrice disappeared. This was hailed as a breakthrough, But was it this really? A few questions have arisen since it was released.
The first and most important being – when was this e-fit generated? The RMP have so far refused to say
- Was it found amongst the original files? (If so, it would then beg the question – why on earth was is never released?)
- Was it newly generated from information pieced together from the review of the original files (which would then beg the question – why on earth were these details not released at the time?)
- Or has this been newly generated through false information?
I am extremely sceptical about this e-fit for a number of reasons. All I can say is that it seems totally out of kilter from the investigation and there is too much ambiguity surrounding its sudden and unexplained appearance. So dubious am I, I even hesitated in including it in this blog post. More clarity should be available in the not too distant future. Sadly it adds to distract from the main focus of this investigation, and that is to find out what happened to a two-year old little tot who disappeared without a trace and give her family the answers they’ve fought so hard for.
Generated images of what Katrice may have looked like growing up:
As I said at the beginning of this blog post, I found one small news article regarding this case in a UK newspaper archive, and until recently I had never even heard Katrice Lee’s name.
During an interview on This Morning in November 2017, Richard quite rightly stated that he felt it unfair that his daughter’s disappearance was never given the attention it warranted and highlights the point that the thousands of children that go missing each deserve the same level of media and police attention.
It’s a point I’ve made numerous time before on Twitter when referring to Martin Allen’s disappearance in 1979. The example in hand is Madeline McCann, whose disappearance has received extensive coverage, whereas children like Katrice Lee, Vishal Mehrotra, Andrew Gosden and Damien Nettles, to name but a few, have received very little in comparison. The families have been forced to push relentlessly in their pursuit for answers and highlighted flaws in original investigations whilst doing so.
The family continue to maintain hope that Katrice will one day be found alive. Natasha works tirelessly to draw attention to her sister’s disappearance.
If you have any information that could shed light on Katrice’s disappearance, please contact the team working on Op Bute:
Telephone: 0800 616 888
To report any information on the other cases I have mentioned, you can contact the following:
- Martin Allen: Operation Malswick
- Vishal Mehrotra: Metropolitan Police
- Andrew Gosden: Website
- Damien Nettles: Operation Ridgewood
- Facebook account run by Natasha on Katrice’s disappearance
- Operation Bute Facebook account
- Operation Bute Twitter account
- YouTube – Katrice Lee Disappearance
- YouTube – BBC News report
- YouTube – Richard’s interview on This Morning.
- YouTube – ITV News report
- YouTube – News report – Family march to Downing Street, 2012
- YouTube – British Forces News, Case reopened, 2012
- Reinvestigation “a sham” says father, BBC 2016
- Where is Katrice Lee Twitter account
- Forces Network, 2017
- Army Rumour Service Forum (ARSSE)
Excerpt from ‘Without a trace‘ – Daily Telegraph, 24th November 2007:
Natasha Lee and her family believe that the investigation into what happened to Katrice fell victim, in part, to ‘politics’. The military police was effectively in charge, but had to negotiate with the German police because the Naafi building was in a German town. And the Army was not too keen to make much, in public, of the event. It was six weeks before an item appeared in the newspaper. ‘There’s still a lot of anger in our family,’ Natasha says. ‘No one has a good word to say about the military police and the German authorities. The Germans were convinced she had drowned in a nearby river and refused to believe anything else.
‘A couple of months after she disappeared, Mum and Dad stopped receiving child support. When they did eventually appear on the forces TV network, there was an officer in the background telling them what they could and could not say.’
The investigation did not get very far and despite dragging the local river and conducting house-to-house inquiries, no trace of Katrice was ever found. Ironically, it was only when Crimewatch mounted a reconstruction of Katrice’s disappearance, on what would have been her 21st birthday in November 2000, that some idea of the weakness of the investigation was revealed.
‘People came forward who had never been interviewed,’ Natasha recalls. ‘There was a young man who had been standing behind them at the checkout, and even one of the checkout ladies.’ One woman also came forward to say that her boyfriend at the time, who was in the same regiment, had confessed to murdering the child. He lived up in Northumbria and the military police went to interview him. He denied it and the woman who gave the details died soon after, so nothing ever came of it. The military police told us they thought he was probably a fantasist.’
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