Investigators find woman who vanished in 1990 at age 19 living under new identity
Desperate to find her daughter, Mary Mewes told her story to anyone who would listen.
She appeared on talk shows. She gave radio, television, newspaper and magazine interviews. She posted her daughter’s information online. She followed every possible lead.
“You name it, I tried it,” said Mewes, a former Paris, Ill., woman whose 19-year-old daughter, Robin Mewes, disappeared nearly 15 years ago.
“As a mother or a parent, you always hold out hope. But I feared she was dead.”
Illinois State Police now say they have confirmed otherwise – that Robin Mewes is alive. Now 33, she’s living under a new identity, her mother says, one she took on after her disappearance in September 1990.
“Even if it’s all I ever know, it’s so much more than we ever thought we’d know,” said Mewes, who has not been reunited with her daughter.
At the time of the disappearance, Robin Mewes had been receiving mental health counseling in Paris, Ill. Reports about the circumstances indicate a counselor convinced the teenager that she was a victim of intergenerational satanic cult abuse – a claim her mother says is false.
In mid-September 1990, Mewes told family members she was on her way to see a friend in southern Illinois. She never showed.
A day later, she was seen at a Rax Restaurant in Terre Haute. Her mother believes Robin met with her counselor and three police officers before receiving a new Social Security number and taking on a new identity. Her family has not seen her since.
The case is a familiar one to Pamela Freyd, executive director of False Memory Syndrome Foundation in Philadelphia.
The foundation was created in 1992, about a decade after recovered memory techniques became popular in therapy sessions, she said.
Freyd says 23,000 families have contacted the foundation since, seeking help when family members have broken off contact after being convinced through therapy sessions of being abused as children.
According to the foundation’s Web site, about 18 percent of families they surveyed have been accused of being part of an intergenerational cult that dress in robes, sacrifice babies and engage in cannibalism and bestiality. No evidence supports existence of such an intergenerational cult, the site says.
Freyd does not downplay the problem of sexual abuse. She knows it’s real.
She also knows that some therapy techniques are detrimental.
“In therapy, we’ve had a lot of fads that have taken hold and existed for awhile,” she said. She is optimistic that the trend of recovered memory is waning; the foundation is receiving fewer reports of false memory syndrome.
In the Mewes case, “they took something very precious from us,” Mary Mewes said.
Since her daughter’s disappearance, Mewes has continued to pursue new information, promising her husband before his death in 2002 that she’d never give up trying to find Robin.
Illinois State Police began investigating the case in January, about two months after Mewes came across some new information. While trying to get a copy of her daughter’s birth certificate, she found that it didn’t exist. The reason, she was told, could be the result of a changed identity.
With the help of Rep. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, Ill., Mewes persuaded State Police to investigate. Within two months, investigators located the missing woman. This week, detectives met with Robin Mewes, confirming her identity.
“Robin is no longer considered missing or endangered,” said Capt. Bruce Zywiec of the State Police Zone 5 investigation office in Champaign.
He does not expect any criminal charges in connection with the case. Criminal charges would be appropriate in a kidnapping of an adult, Zywiec said. He declined further comment.
While police have concluded their investigation, the family has yet to be reunited.
Freyd of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation said that’s not an easy process.
“Something has to get through to them that makes them question the reality of their beliefs,” Fryed said. About half of the families surveyed by the foundation have been reunited.
Mary Mewes is leaving the choice up to her daughter. “It’s just not my decision to make,” said Mewes, who asked police to pass on contact information to her daughter and let her know the efforts the family has made to find her.
So for now, Mary Mewes will pick up the phone – even when the caller ID shows an unknown number. And she hopes that one day, she’ll her daughter’s voice on the other end.
“Our hearts and door are always open,” she said.
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