MIDDLE TOWNSHIP — After 24 years, Margaret LaManna has a simple message that she wants to give to her long-lost sister.
“I love you,” Margaret LaManna said. “I want to tell her, ‘I love you.’”
Renee LaManna vanished from her sister’s home on Wesley Avenue in Ocean City more than two decades ago, slipping away on Jan. 8, 1994 wearing only a blue robe over an oversized white sweatshirt, a red silk Afghan wedding outfit, white socks and hospital-issued slippers.
Earlier that day Renee had been in New York, her sister said. According to Margaret LaManna, Renee had suffered a nervous breakdown and was found wandering the streets of Queens after her boyfriend had decided to end their 10-year relationship.
A good Samaritan found her catatonic in the street and called an ambulance. Margaret LaManna said her sister was taken to the psychiatric emergency room of Queens Hospital Center, but she was not admitted, and was released.
LaManna said she contacted a friend in New York, asking that she pick up Renee and take her back to her home in Manhattan. LaManna then hired a sedan to pick her sister up and transport her to Ocean City.
“Forty minutes after her arrival at my home at 2519 Wesley Avenue in Ocean City, she dashed out the door at 7:01 p.m. into pitch darkness on the beach,” LaManna said.
And but for three confirmed sightings — two in 1994 and another in 1995 — Renee has not been found.
On Monday, the anniversary of the day Renee went missing, LaManna met with Detective Marshall Craddick of the Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office to talk about her sister’s disappearance and the relentless search for her.
Renee would now be 59 years old. She is about 5 feet 2 inches tall and is presumed to be about 125 pounds. She is white and has brown eyes. Pictures of her taken in the 1990s show a woman with long dark hair.
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LaManna said she believes her sister may be suffering from depression and an anxiety disorder that can cause panic attacks, agitation and paranoia. She also believes her sister may not be using her real name, or that she could be suffering from amnesia.
She said her sister speaks five languages, plays cello, and has an interest in Middle Eastern culture. She is a former Catholic who converted to Islam and may wear a hijab or a burqa.
Craddick, the Cape May County detective assigned to the case, is a 29-year-veteran of the New Jersey State Police. He has sought information about Renee LaManna since 2013.
While with the state police, he oversaw the missing persons unit, spent 14 years with the major crimes unit, and was the assistant for the fugitive unit. He was also commander of special investigations.
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“This is an active case for us,” he said. “We’re optimistic that she’s out there and will be found.”
Advances in police technology, along with the advent of the internet and social media, have given both LaManna and Craddick new hope that Renee will be found, even after 24 years.
“Everyone carries a cellphone these days,” LaManna said. “If someone sees Renee, they can take her picture and send it to me at 1-888-Renee11.”
If that picture, or any other new information leads investigators to finding Renee, there is a reward, she said.
“If you see someone that you think is Renee LaManna, take a picture on your phone and send it to me,” LaManna said. “That one photo could connect a missing person with her family.”
Technology isn’t perfect, she acknowledged, and there have been false leads. One, a few years ago, led LaManna and investigators on an 11-month chase after a woman that they later realized was not Renee, but a homeless woman who travels the country.
After investigators tracked her down and confirmed that she wasn’t Renee, the woman agreed to distribute missing-person fliers featuring Renee while on her travels.
Social media, too, is a good way to widen the search for Renee, according to Cape May County Prosecutor Jeffrey Sutherland, who said his office is committed to helping LaManna find her sister.
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"We had the pleasure of meeting with Margaret LaManna on the 24th anniversary of the disappearance of her sister, Renee LaManna," Sutherland said. "She clearly loves her sister Renee, and we are committed to finding her."
The case is still open, he said.
"My office looks forward to pursuing any leads," the prosecutor said. "We ask that the public review any information presented and share it through social media."
Sutherland said today's technology is an advantage police didn't have in 1994, including the internet and wide-reaching social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.
For more information about Renee, see facebook.com/reneelamannamissing, or Twitter @ReneeLaManna.
To pass on a tip or a sighting of Renee, contact Detective Marshall Craddick 609-465-1135, ext. 3350.