Lee Jan Kratzer was just 20-years-old when she left her daughter, Katherine, with some family members and went out, telling them she’d be back soon. But she never did return, and Katherine never saw her mom again. Oddly, the family never filed a missing persons report — until Katherine, now an adult, finally did so just last year.
After that, it didn’t take long to find out what happened to the missing mom. But perhaps an even more pressing question remains unanswered — why?
That question will likely never be answered, because as it turned out, Lee Jan Kratzer was dead — of cancer, since 2008. But the results of DNA tests came in on Wednesday, October 14, and they proved that Katherine Kratzer had a sister she never heard of, and that her mom had another life.
The family of Lee Jan Kratzer, in Roanoke, Louisiana, a small community in Jefferson Davis Parish, knew that the missing mom had not died when she disappeared back on June 25, 1982. According to a report on KPLC TV, approximately a year after she walked out on her home, the family received a phone call. It was Lee Jan.
Then 21-years-old, Lee Jan told her worried family members that she was at the New Orleans Airport. She asked them to come pick her up and bring her home. So they did. Or at least, they tried to do so.
But when the Kratzer family members arrived at the airport, there was no sign of Lee Jan. She had simply vanished. Again.
They never heard another word out of Lee Jan Kratzer. They hired private investigators to find her, or at least find out what might have happened to the young mom, but none of their research turned up any results. She had left her whole life behind.
Katherine Kratzer was not even aware that Lee Jan was, in fact, her biological mother until she reached the age of 13, when her parents told her. She spent much of her life wondering what happened, but only when she made an official missing persons report did some semblance of an answer start to come together.
Due to the missing persons report, the Jefferson Davis Sheriff’s Department posted a three-decade-old photo of Lee Jan Kratzer on an internet missing persons site run by Louisiana State University.
That’s when Elizabeth Neese, a woman in Tennessee who was searching for answers about her own mom, saw the picture. Since the death her mother, Lisa Neese, six years earlier, the Tennessee woman had come to believe that there was something mysterious about her mother’s past. She knew that Lisa Neese grew up in Louisiana, but she didn’t know much else.
“There was something that was funny in her obituary,” said Jeff Davis Sheriff Ivy Woods, in an interview with KSLA TV. “That made her daughter look into it.”
After receiving a call from Elizabeth Neese, Woods took photos of Lisa Neese — including the photo that appears at the top of this page — along with photos of her missing mom, to Katherine Kratzer.
“He laid all these pictures out in front of me, and I just burst out into tears,” Katherine recalled. “I just knew it was her.”
Sometime after Lee Jan Kratzer abandoned her family and her daughter, she moved to Tennessee and started life all over again, with a new identity, a new name — and a new family, living under the name Lisa Neese for 26 years.
The DNA tests proved that Katherine Kratzer and Elizabeth Neese, two women who lived in different states and had never met, were half-sisters. Lee Jan Kratzer was their mother.
“The truth? No. Only she could honestly tell me… There’s closure there, but at the same time, there’s anger there. I’m glad I didn’t give up, because I have more now — might not be what I wanted — but I know more now than I did yesterday.”
“It is unfortunate that Lee Jan Marie Kratzer was not discovered before her passing, but the connection of her two daughters will bring closure to the family and an opportunity to share memories,” the sheriff concluded.
[Featured Image: Jefferson Davis Parish Sheriff’s Office]