Families search for missing relatives, sense of closure Annual Mass is reminder others share their grief

September 30, 1996|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

Sometimes when Jean Hall is driving, she sees the back of a head of blond hair that reminds her so much of her missing daughter that she turns her car around for a second look.

"It's not knowing what's happened that's the worst. There's no sense of closure -- you're always wondering what happened," Hall said yesterday at Our Lady of Hope Roman Catholic Church in Dundalk.

As she talked, Hall held a photograph of her daughter, Billie Jean. The 19-year-old's photo was one of several brought yesterday to the church, where a Mass was offered for those with missing relatives.

The Mass is held every year to remind people with missing family members that they are not alone in their grief and their stress, said Patricia Stevenson, an organizer of the event.

Stevenson set up the group in 1986, when her 23-year-old daughter, Bernadette Stevenson Caruso, disappeared after leaving work at a jewelry store in Eastpoint Mall.

Stevenson said that she knows her daughter wouldn't have absconded because she had a 3-year-old daughter.

"She wouldn't have disappeared on her own. She was a loving mother to that girl," Stevenson said.

But Stevenson said agencies set up to deal with missing children, such as the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, did not offer much support because her missing relative is an adult.

"It seems like no one will even talk to you if what you're concerned about is a missing adult," said Stevenson. But she found she is not alone.

Her son-in-law Lt. Sam Bowerman, head of the Baltimore County police criminal profiling unit, which handles missing persons cases, estimated that as many as 10 adults are missing in the county.

Bowerman said that many of the missing children's cases that inspired milk carton portraits and a frenzy of media attention years ago involved children taken during custody disputes.

"There was a mutual agreement that because the problem was so serious that a lot of these cases involving parental abductions were lumped in together with the stranger abductions," he said.

Stevenson's group works with the Lutherville-based Missing and Exploited Children's Association and is made up of relatives of missing adults and children taken during custody battles.

Bowerman, who investigated the Caruso case and attended yesterday's Mass, said adult abductions also deserve attention.

"It's a serious problem, if for no other reason than these families never get over it," he said.

Hall says she has never given up hope that Billie Jean is alive. But time has tempered her family's hope with realism.

"We thought at first that maybe she had hit her head and gotten amnesia or something. But as time went on, it seems more and more like it was something else," Hall said.

On Feb. 28, 1995, Billie Jean left her parents' Jessup home in her camper to attend a Biker's Week convention in Daytona Beach, Fla. Police traced her to a motel in Brunswick, Ga., but from there the leads ran cold, Hall said.

Pub Date: 9/30/96

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