Army police dig up German riverbank in hunt for British toddler

The real-life ‘Missing’: Army police dig up German riverbank in hunt for British soldier’s two-year-old daughter who disappeared 36 years ago while out shopping with her mother

  • Katrice Lee went missing from a shop near a military base in Germany in 1981
  • She had turned two years old that day and was shopping with her mother Sharon
  • Royal Military Police today said it would be carrying out a dig on the River Alme’s banksat Paderborner Str, Paderborn

Military police searching for a British toddler who disappeared 36 years ago are to launch a ‘major forensic search’ of a riverbank in Germany.

Katrice Lee vanished from the NAAFI shopping centre in Schloss Neuhaus, close to the military base where her father was stationed for the Army, on November 28 1981.

She turned two years old that day and had been shopping with her mother Sharon.

Despite a vast search effort undertaken at the time by the Royal Military Police (RMP), German police, British troops and volunteers, the trail went cold.

The case, which has chilling similarities to season two of BBC drama The Missing, remains unsolved. 

Katrice Lee vanished in 1981 on her second birthday at the base in Paderborn where her soldier father was stationed 

Katrice’s mother Sharon, now 64, said the toddler was ‘gone in a matter of seconds’. She added: ‘It’s living a nightmare that you never wake up from.

‘Nearly 37 years ago we became members of an exclusive club 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.’

She told The Sun: ‘The next five weeks is a double-edged sword for us as a family. We desperately want Katrice to be found but we also know that if anything is discovered during this search then my daughter’s life would have been ended in very unsavoury circumstances.

‘That’s another emotion we have to learn to live with.’ 

The case was reopened in 2000 and led to the arrest of a former soldier. 

But he was released without charge and the case closed again after three years. There were further inquiries in 2012 when Royal Military Police chiefs admitted mistakes were made during the initial investigation.

Katrice went missing on 28 November 1981 – her second birthday – while out shopping with her mother Sharon

Katrice Lee was snatched from a supermarket while out shopping with her mother (pictured)

The RMP today announced it would be carrying out a dig on the River Alme’s banksat Paderborner Str, Paderborn.

It followed a reanalysis of evidence gathered during the original investigation, which pinpointed the river as an area of interest, the force said.

Senior investigating officer Richard O’Leary, of the RMP, said: ‘On this basis, a team of military personnel and civilian forensic experts will be carrying out a detailed excavation of the site, which is expected to last approximately five weeks. The aim of the search is to find evidence that could finally shed light on what happened to Katrice.’

A man was seen climbing into a green saloon with a child matching Katrice’s description (pictured: the photo-fit of the man)

He renewed an appeal for information about a man seen at the shopping centre placing a child matching the toddler’s description into a green saloon car.

‘A green saloon car was also seen on the River Alme Bridge near the NAAFI the day after Katrice disappeared. It may or may not be the same car, but we are very keen to identify this car,’ he added.

A photo-fit of the man has been reissued as part of the fresh appeal.

Anyone from the Paderborn area who owned such a car at the time is asked to approach police so they can be ruled out of the inquiry.

But the possibility remains that Katrice is still alive – now aged 38 – having been abducted and raised with little memory of her early years, investigators believe.

This is what police believe Katrice would look like today – she went missing in November 1981

She was born with a distinctive eye condition in her left eye which would have required two medical operations to correct.

Mr O’Leary said: ‘An age progression image of what Katrice may look like now, aged 38, has been produced.

‘If anyone feels they know someone who looks like this, or believes they could be Katrice, then we would encourage them to come forward.’

Katrice’s father Richard, now 68, who has split from Sharon, had criticised the RMP handling of the case, but felt his voice had ‘finally been heard’ at a summit with Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson this year. 

He said, during the initial investigation, border guards were not informed when Katrice disappeared, statements from shop workers were not taken until six weeks later and information about an eye condition Katrice had was not made known. 

He added: ‘Hopefully, we can resolve issues and find out where my daughter is.’ 

Anyone with information for the Operation Bute team, should call the UK helpline on 0800 616888 or the Germany helpline on 0800 184 2222.

Katrice disappeared from a supermarket aisle in the city where her family were stationed through her soldier father Richard’s role with the British Army 

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