Official Website | Find Kathy Sue Wilcox

“When the world says, “Give up,” Hope whispers, ‘Try it one more time.'”

New website launched to help find woman missing since 1972

The CUE Center for Missing Persons has launched a new website in the search for Kathy Sue Wilcox

Kathy-Sue-Wilcox3-184x300(NEWSCHANNEL 3) – The CUE Center for Missing Persons has launched a new website in the search for Kathy Sue Wilcox.

Wilcox went missing from Otsego in 1972. She was 15-years-old at the time of her disappearance.

The CUE Center for Missing Persons is a non-profit organization located in Wilmington, North Carolina. It provides free assistance and services to families that have a missing loved one.

Tips to the website can remain anonymous. You can find the site here:

Tips can also be called in to the Otsego Police Dept. at 269-692-6111.


A Sister’s Search: The Kathy Sue Wilcox Case

There are moments that can haunt us, seconds that stay with us forever, words spoken that then replay year after year.

And that’s how the evening of July 17, 1972 is for Karen Wilcox. That was the night her sister Kathy Sue walked out of the house, never to return.

43 years later, Karen, who was just 16 at the time, remembers she was sitting outside her Otsego, Michigan home on the porch swing. Inside, she heard her younger sister Kathy Sue engaged in a heated argument with their stepmother.

Arguments were common in the Wilcox childhood home. Their parents had divorced and their father remarried. Karen described the family dynamic as “dysfunctional.” Kathy Sue, however, usually stayed out of the tumult.

But that night was different.

“Kathy Sue never got into those kinds of arguments with our stepmother,” Karen Wilcox told Dateline NBC. The fight, apparently, was over their stepmother’s disapproval of Kathy Sue’s new boyfriend. The teen stormed out of the house.

“When she walked away that night, she said ‘I’ll never talk to you again.'”

She left with just the clothing on her back, a simple purple T-shirt and jeans.

That July evening was the last time anyone saw or heard from Kathy Sue. She was 15 years old.

According to police, community members reported seeing her later that evening and the following day, but detectives have found no sign of her since.

For Karen, time has not healed the pain of losing her only sister.

“Everybody loved Kathy,” Karen remembers. “She was brave, she was adventurous.”


In the early 1970s, standards for missing persons were much different than they are today. Although the Wilcox family conducted their own search effort for Kathy Sue, they were reportedly told they must wait 72 hours to report her missing.

“1972 was way before any of what we know is customary today,” said Karen Wilcox. “It was before Amber Alerts and everything we have available for families now.”

As that summer came to a close and kids headed back to school, Kathy Sue’s case quickly went cold.

Karen says her sister’s case was open for just two months.

Many at the time believed Kathy Sue had run away. Even to teenage Karen, growing up in a family riddled with frequent arguments and stresses, she thought Kathy had perhaps chosen to escape.

“She was considered a runaway. It seemed plausible,” said Karen. “But lately, I don’t believe she ran away. I think about how loved she was. I believe there is someone in that town who knows something.”

A Perfect Stranger

Karen has since moved away from Otsego. She married in 1976, and now works as a counselor in Billings, Montana.

With the rise of the internet, Karen felt new-found hope that her sister was out there somewhere and she could find her. She would consistently type Kathy Sue’s name into search engines hoping for some type of hit.

Then, in 2011, Karen came across a comment mentioning Kathy Sue on Facebook from a woman named Shannon Froeber, a stranger to Karen at the time.

“Otsego is such a small town, everybody knows everybody,” Shannon told Dateline NBC. “So I couldn’t figure out how I didn’t know about this missing girl, and nobody else did either.”

A lifelong resident of Otsego, Froeber had stumbled across the Kathy Sue case online. She was captivated enough by the young girl’s story and photograph that she decided to dedicate herself to spreading awareness about the case in the local community.

With Karen’s permission, Shannon established a “Find Kathy Wilcox” Facebook page. A community more than a thousand strong has since formed and continues to grow. Others have now jumped in to lend themselves to the cause.

The renewed interest has brought hope to Karen and Shannon, who have become allied in their wish to someday find Kathy Sue.

The Unending Search

The detective currently assigned to the Kathy Sue’s case is Bruce Beckman of the Otsego Police Department.

“She is the only cold case for Otsego,” Detective Beckman told Dateline NBC. “I would hope if she is alive, she would contact somebody. And if she isn’t, I would hope that we can find whatever is there.”

According to Beckman, DNA obtained from members of the Wilcox family allowed Kathy Sue’s case to be added to the Missing Persons of America system. That DNA can be tested against unidentified remains that are discovered.

But until then, or until an Kathy Sue is found alive, police say there isn’t much more that can be done.

Karen is not quiet about her unhappiness with the investigation into her sister’s disappearance. Several posts online question the actions police took all those years ago. Whatever occurred in the initial search, Karen still yearns for the investigation into her little sister’s case to move forward.

“I am not going to leave any leaves unturned when it comes to finding her,” said Karen. “And I know that I might not find her alive. I know that today. I know that’s a possibility.”

Anyone with information about Kathy Sue Wilcox is encouraged to call the Otsego Police Department at (269) 692-6111.

Sister and friends of Otsego woman missing for 43 years renew efforts

OTSEGO, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3) – Efforts to find an Otsego woman, missing for 43 years, are picking up steam prior to her birthday.

Kathy Sue Wilcox disappeared at the age of 15 and her case is the longest running missing person investigation in Allegan County.

Her sister reached out to NewsChannel 3’s Alex Jokich, on the eve of Kathy’s birthday.

Wilcox was born on Christmas Day and will be turning 59 years old and her family and friends have just one wish this year: to bring Kathy home.

“We just miss her, you know? Very much,” says former classmate Ronnie Marks.

In July of 1972, police say Wilcox got into a fight with her stepmother.
Her older sister Karen, 16 years old at the time, tells NewsChannel 3 she had tattled on Kathy for something and recalls the final words Kathy muttered to her as she stormed out of the house.

“She said, ‘I’ll never talk to you again,'” Karen says. “And indeed she hasn’t.”

That was 43 years ago when Kathy was declared a runaway. Her story remains a mystery.

“How does somebody just disappear? And nobody knows anything?” Karen cries.

Karen now lives in Montana but recently ramped up efforts to find her long, lost sister.

She is flooding Facebook with a Find Kathy Sue Wilcox campaign, which has created place mats with age progression photos to distribute at restaurants and is working with Kathy’s old classmates back in Otsego to plaster the town with posters.

“We’re hoping she’s out there being a grandmother and that she’s safe,” Marks says. “That’s the best we can hope.”

Kathy’s best friend Eva Thompson has never done a TV interview, until now, and she is hoping, somehow, Kathy sees it.

“Call me, Facebook me, something, you know?” Thompson pleads. “Let’s talk. It’s been a long time.”

Everyone agrees, dead or alive, they just want to know what happened.

“Not that I think I’m that important or my family’s that important,” Karen adds, “but the fact that here we have a child who’s been missing in my community, I think that’s important.”

The Otsego Police Department is still actively investigating the Wilcox case.
Detective Bruce Beckman says there’s no evidence of foul play and they have no leads as to whether Wilcox is dead or alive.

If you know anything about the whereabouts of Kathy Sue Wilcox, contact the Otsego Police Department or the Silent Observer right away.

To follow the case on Facebook just follow the links in the story or click here.


Woman recalls details about sister missing for 43 years

Kathy-Sue-Wilcox1OTSEGO, Mich. — June 17 marks 43 years since Kathy Sue Wilcox was last seen.  She was just 15 years old when she left her home in Otsego after a heated argument with her step mother. Kathy’s older sister Karen spoke to FOX 17 about some things she still believes hold the clues to what happened to Kathy.

Karen last saw her sister one night in July of 1972. “I know that it is a very real possibility that she might not be with us,” Karen said.

“I always felt like people thought I should know what happened to her, like I was keeping a secret somehow or something,” she said.

Karen was only one year older than Kathy, and they shared secrets just as they shared a bedroom. The last secret Kathy Sue shared with Karen was one Karen was unable to keep.

“I blame myself though, because if I hadn’t told, you know, she would still be here.”

Kathy Sue had just finished ninth grade the night she left the house and never returned. Karen says she had just gotten a job babysitting for a Christmas tree farming family. Karen could not remember the details, such as the family’s name nor their location. She couldn’t even recall how Kathy got back and forth from the home, but she did remember some disturbing stories that worried her.

“It involved boys,” Karen said. “It was significant enough — the things that she was telling me — I was scared for her. So I told on her to our step mother.”

Karen believed Kathy was experimenting romantically with a couple boys while at the other family’s home.

Their step mother confronted Kathy when she returned home, and it turned into a heated argument.

“Kathy went down the steps. She turned around and said ‘I will never talk to you again, ever.’”

They didn’t know it then, but that statement would hold true 43 years later.

“I think there’s some connection between the Christmas tree farming family and what happened to her,” said Karen, “maybe not the family themselves but what was taking place out there, because Kathy started to change about that time, and it seemed like it happened so fast.”

Karen still remembers the pain when authorities closed Kathy’s case before school started that same summer.

“My thoughts were we weren’t rich enough, we aren’t important enough, and my sister’s life doesn’t matter. It was a helpless feeling. I was thinking there wasn’t anything we could do.”

Kathy Sue’s case would later be reopened. Her name was put on the National Center For Missing and Exploited Children, with age progression pictures. Today, She would be in her late 50s.

A Facebook page has been created for any tips people might have about what happened to Karen’s baby sister.

Karen says as long as there is not a body, there’s still hope.

“Somebody knows something. Somebody knows something.”

If you have any information about Kathy Sue Wilcox and her disappearance, call the Allegan County Silent Observer at 855-SILENT-0.


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Woman holds out hope for sister who vanished in 1972


A West Michigan teen walked away from a family fight and vanished. But her sister still hasn’t given up hope that she’s alive somewhere.


Some people think she’s crazy. Others just feel sad for her. But Karen Wilcox remains convinced that her little sister is still alive.

Even though she disappeared 43 years ago.

She’s held firmly to this belief ever since Kathy Sue stormed out of their house after a family argument one afternoon, walked off and vanished without a word or a witness.

Long after nearly everyone else grew resigned to the likelihood that something very bad probably happened to the 15-year-old, Karen has refused to accept it. Whether it’s protective denial or bottomless faith, the 58-year-old believes her then-teenage sister managed to escape a troubled family and start a new life — somewhere.

“Do I think Kathy Sue could’ve gone out and made it? Yes I do,” Karen said confidently.

Nobody has heard from her sister since the day she vanished back in July 1972. Her body was never found. And no real clues have ever emerged.

But that lack of closure leaves a door open just a sliver, just enough for Karen to maintain a flickering hope, a faint belief, that against all odds the almost impossible still has a chance to be true.

For 43 years, Karen has scanned the faces of people in crowds, trying to spot Kathy Sue, who would be 57 years old now. She flips through local phone books when she travels, looking for her sister’s name. And to this day, the residents of Otsego can see flyers made by Karen posted around their little downtown, imploring people to share anything they know about a girl few remember.

For 43 years — the bulk of a lifetime — it has been an agonizing, lonely search.

“Everyone asks me what keeps me going, and I tell them hope,” Karen said. “It’s the one thing that saves me and protects me from the things I can’t bear to think about.”

In 1972, Kathy Sue was a 15-year-old country girl who played softball, listened to the Who and had a thing for dating older boys from the high school.

“I was like Miss Priss, and she was the tomboy,” said Karen, a year older than Kathy Sue. “She was a daredevil, she was rebellious, and yeah, she hung with a rough crowd. Her friends were, I’ll just call them ‘unsavory.’


After a family fight, Kathy Sue Wilcox, then 15, ran out of her Otsego house, saying, “I will never see you again.” No one admits to knowing where she went or what happened to her. (Photo: Ryan/Garza/Detroit Free Press)

Their parents divorced, their dad remarried and their stepmother didn’t approve of one of Kathy Sue’s new boyfriends, an 18-year-old from the local high school. This led to a family argument on July 17, 1972, in which Kathy Sue was slapped in the face, Karen said, sending her running out the front door of their modest West Franklin Street house, just blocks from downtown. As she left, she turned and said, “I will never see you again.”

At the time, it seemed like teenage drama. After all, she left with nothing but the clothes she was wearing — blue jeans and a purple shirt. But by evening, her panicked father, Bernie, came home from his job at the local paper mill and was combing the streets, looking for her. He flagged down a cop on patrol to report her missing. A description was given, a report was filed and a few boys who dated her were interviewed. But police found nothing suspicious.

Kathy Sue’s disappearance was before Amber Alerts and sex offender registries, and without much to go on, the case quickly went cold. She was classified as a runaway, a “delinquent juvenile” as the police report called her.

Four decades later, little has changed. She’s among 416 unsolved missing persons cases in Michigan, according to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System.

Karen’s parents died long ago. The girls’ only other sibling, a brother, wanted nothing to do with this never-ending search. And the family lost touch with their stepmother.

It left Karen alone in her search for her sister.

“Our family was incredibly dysfunctional,” Karen said. “A lot of stuff happened that was really traumatic.”

But their troubled childhood fostered a plausible explanation for her sister’s absence. Karen grew to believe that Kathy Sue made an escape, that she broke free of the family and started a new life somewhere.

She has to believe this. Because it’s the only option other than all the grim alternatives.

“We all said, ‘She’s out there. She’s got a life of her own. She got out of this,’ ” Karen remembered. “That’s how we dealt with it.”

A flimsy tip

Detective Bruce Beckman was on the road again, taking the two-hour drive from Baldwin back to the Otsego Police Department. He’d dutifully headed Up North in late May on a flimsy tip about someone who might’ve known something about Kathy Sue long ago.

But after 43 years, the man Beckman spoke to seemed genuinely clueless about who Kathy Sue was, let alone what happened to her.

“It’s hard to talk to somebody who’s right around 58 or 60 years old and say, ‘What do you remember when you were 14?’ That’s kind of how my interview took place,” Beckman said as he headed back home.

The veteran officer became involved with the case in 2009 when he was a member of a now-folded cold-case team in Allegan County. These days, as a detective with the Otsego Police Department, it falls on him to follow up on any new information that emerges about Kathy Sue. But after this many years, memories grow dim. And trying to find clues is like chasing ghosts.

“If she was that determined to run away, there was a truck stop right on Highway 131 that was a 24-hour truck stop,” said Beckman, 60. “It had truckers running in and out of there all the time. She could’ve picked up a ride to anywhere and gone anywhere.

“And she could’ve picked up a ride with the wrong person, too.”

There’s still a guy police want to talk to, someone rumored to have been dating Kathy Sue around the time she vanished, someone who Karen is convinced knows something about what happened to her sister. But he’s living out west now, and it’ll be tough getting out there for an interview. And Beckman isn’t convinced anything will come of it anyway. “It’s pretty slim,” he said.

Over the years there have been a few false alarms, like when a coroner with Franklin County in Ohio contacted the Ostego Police in 2002 to say they’d found a body that he thought might be Kathy’s. But after medical records were sent over, he expressed his doubts.

And there was the woman who called the department several years ago and insisted she might be Kathy Sue because she couldn’t remember her childhood. Nothing about her matched, though.

Although Beckman knows what can happen to a lone girl walking along a rural highway, he said he keeps his mind open to Karen’s theory that her sister could still be alive somewhere.

“I think it’s possible,” he said. He remembers hearing about a boy who ran away from Otsego long ago, and 38 years later his family got a call from him, telling them where he lived, how he’d gotten married, how many kids he’d had. “But I think that’s rare,” Beckman said.

Beckman got DNA swabs from Kathy Sue’s family members a few years ago that can be used to check against any other unidentified bodies that might turn up. But there’s little else he can do besides wait until someone sees Kathy Sue alive or the ground somewhere gives up its secrets.

“I haven’t got a clue what happened to Kathy,” he said. “I don’t know if she’s alive or dead. Karen can think what she wants and hope for what she wants, and I’m not going to discourage her either way.”

Starting a cause

In some ways, Karen moved on. She got married, got out of Michigan, ended up in Wyoming, and spent a life and a career as a counselor there.

But then some strangers recently took up the search for her sister, and their involvement reignited Karen’s slim hopes.

A few years ago, Shannon Froeber stumbled across the story of Kathy Sue on the Michigan State Police website. Something about the girl staring back from 1972 with a tough expression fascinated her.

“I was shocked, because I grew up in Otsego and I never heard of a missing girl,” said the 32-year-old. “It’s such a small town and everyone knows everyone’s business. When I was still smaller you couldn’t even cross the street without somebody telling your parents. How does a girl go missing and nobody from this town knows anything about it?”

Her curiosity grew into a cause. She started her own Facebook group, called Find Kathy Sue Wilcox, which so far has drawn nearly 600 members. She printed up flyers with help from Karen and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which created an age-progression photo of what Kathy Sue might look like now, and posted them around town.

And last year, Froeber organized a gathering at a local park for Kathy Sue, partly in remembrance, partly to solicit clues to her disappearance. Dozens of people came out, including Detective Beckman, just in case someone there by chance could provide some new information that would finally lead to an answer.

Froeber admits her doubts that the search for Kathy Sue will end well.

“My mind jumps back and forth with it,” she said. “Did she manage to get out of Otsego and get a new identity for herself? Is she living a happy life?”

Froeber heard of a girl who ran away years ago and was found years later, married with kids. Just like the guy Beckman heard about. Stories like these make the improbable seem less farfetched.

“Then the other part of me thinks, what’s the real probability of that actually happening? I don’t know. It’s hard.”

David Schock, founder of Delayed Justice, an organization dedicated to investigating cold cases, took up the cause in 2009, after she’d written him, pleading for help. His group has worked to keep the search for Kathy Sue alive.

He defends Karen from those who say she should’ve given up long ago, that the odds are against her.

“She has this absolute devotion to her sister, and who of us in our right minds would not?” he said. “She loves her sister and she has carried a terrible load for so many years. She’s doing the best she can under circumstances beyond comprehension.”

Karen admits sometimes that the renewed efforts have reopened old wounds, caused her bouts of depression and flooded her with memories she’d rather not recall. But she said she’ll endure it all, including the pitying looks from people who question her sense of reality, until she finally finds out what happened to Kathy Sue.

“I know people think I am crazy, or sick, or in denial,” Karen said. “The truth is, we don’t know. And as long as we don’t, my best hope is to believe she is alive. I cling to hope.”

Columnist John Carlisle writes about interesting people and places in Michigan. His stories can be found at Follow him on Twitter @_johncarlisle. Contact him:

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