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All the theories surrounding missing toddler’s disappearance

In December 1981, in a shopping centre in Germany, the family of British toddler Katrice Lee started screaming her name after the child slipped through their fingers on her second birthday.

Living in the west German city of Paderborn, Katrice’s parents were supermarket shopping with their daughter and her aunt, Wendy. At the checkout, after the child’s mother, Sharon, realised she had forgotten crisps she asked Wendy to watch the toddler for less than a minute.

When Sharon Lee returned, her daughter was gone.

“I had two blissful years of Katrice growing up and then she was snatched away from us on her second birthday and that’s the tragedy,” her father, Richard Lee, later said.

“I will now continue to keep Katrice’s case, as best I can, in the media so that we can get the answers. Without keeping it in the media you will not get the answers.”

Now, a new documentary airing this Wednesday on Channel 5, revisiting the mysterious case.

When did Katrice Lee go missing?

Katrice went missing just under 43 years ago when her father, Mr Lee, was a sergeant in the 15th/19th King’s Royal Hussars in Paderborn.

The child was born in the military hospital in Rinteln, Germany and, at the time of her disappearance, she lived with her father, mother and elder sister.

The Lee family, originally from Hartlepool, were shopping in a Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes (NAAFI) shopping complex buying items for her birthday party when Katrice disappeared.

Katrice’s elder sister, Natasha, decided that she did not want to go shopping and so her uncle, who also worked in the army and came over to Germany to celebrate Katrice’s birthday, stayed at home to look after Natasha, while her aunt and parents went to the shopping centre.

Her disappearance prompted a several decades-long search by various police forces, including the Royal Military Police (RMP) and the German police.

What are the theories behind her disappearance?

Falling into a river

From the beginning, German police’s main line of investigation was based on the theory Katrice had fallen into the fast-flowing river that passed close to the shopping centre.

But, despite thorough investigation – including an excavtion in 2018, no body was ever discovered.

Katrice’s parents always insisted their daughter would never go near water.

In 2013, Mr Lee said Royal Military Police officers had all but discarded this theory after investigators returned to the river, saying: “The water theory has now been ruled as less likely which is what my family always believed from day one.

“They’ve had water experts out there who took into account the day that Katrice went missing, the weather conditions, the speed of the river, the depth of the river and their opinion, as my family’s opinion always has been, was that she never fell into the river and drowned.”

In a statement, the Ministry of Defence said: “Our thoughts continue to be with the family of Katrice Lee.

“However, while the investigation continues it would be inappropriate for us to comment further.”


Katrice’s family have long been critical of the police’s decision to focus resources on the nearby river, instead of looking into the idea their daughter was abducted.

Mr Lee said: “I believe the whole investigation has been a complete and utter sham.We felt we’ve always been a bottom feeder in a fish tank.”

Admitting mistakes were made, German authorities reopened the case both in 2000 and 2012.

In the first instance, people came forward who had never been interviewed, including a young man who had been standing behind the Lees at the checkout, and one of the checkout women.

Another woman came forward, claiming her boyfriend at the time – who was in the same regiment as Katrice’s father – had confessed to murdering a child. After interviewing the man in Northumbria however, the police concluded he was probably a fantasist.

A suspect was even found in 2000 but released without a charge.

In 2017, police then released a photo-fit of a man they wanted to speak to in connection to the case.

An eyewitness is said to have seen a man, portrayed in the photo-fit, at the time of the disappearance carrying a small child into a green saloon vehicle.

Two years afterwards Royal Military Police arrested a former serviceman in connection with the case, but he was then released two days afterwards.

Katrice’s father said at the time: “This arrest brings it all back and makes it feel raw.

“As with parents in all cases of missing children, we want a happy ending but that might not be the case and we just hope we will get answers.”

Taken as a surrogate child

One theory pursued by the authorities was that Katrice was deliberately taken from the shopping complex, and may have been brought up by a different family in Germany, the United Kingdom, or elsewhere in Europe, without knowing her real identity.

Richard Lee has said on multiple occasions that he believes Katrina was taken as a surrogate child. “I believe that she was picked up, taken and she’s living somewhere as a surrogate child,” he said.

“With the evidence that’s now been produced 36 years later, a man was seen carrying a child dressed similar to Katrice on day one to a green car.

“Children are a gift. It’s plain and simple. A lot of people don’t have the opportunity of having children and I realised that my gift was stolen and I want my gift back. It’s as simple as that.”

Lee had a unique condition in her left eye from birth that would have needed two surgeries to fix. A plea was issued for medical professionals familiar with these procedures to step forward if they had treated a child.

How to watch the documentary

Series two, episode one of Vanished: The Seach For Britain’s Missing will air o—————————-n Channel 5 at 7pm on 26 June.

The documentary will also be available on catch-up on My 5.

Mr Lee has said of the show: “I understand it will not be a finger-pointing exercise. This is to get the story out there.”

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