Katy was a little girl, who in her early life lived in my house. She was an extraordinary artist, and a believer in God. She loved her grandmother, and she loved her neighbor, a woman named Miss Mabel, whom I also loved.
She didn’t live in my time, when a person’s entire life could be found with a few strokes on a computer. She lived in a time when you simply walked into the Social Security Office with no identification, and were issued a card. A time when, if you got married, you were expected to take your husband’s name without protest, and subsequently, completely lost your identity.
She lived in a time when children could be beaten, berated and belittled by their parents, and everyone kept their mouths shut. She was a lost, lonely little girl who had finally been able to escape a life of torturous abuse from a drunken father who wanted his progeny and namesake to be a male, and told her that since she was “just a damn girl,” her name was worthless.
That was all I knew about Katy Engel.
I had made a promise to myself and an unspoken promise to Miss Mabel that I would find this little girl, who would now most likely be an old woman.
The first step was going to the Office of Vital Statistics. My heart skipped a beat when, on page 38, the registration of a live birth appeared.
Katherine NMN Engel, born to Alice Strathmore Engel, age 20, and Clyde Munson Engel, age 26, on the 17th day of August, in the year of our Lord, 1950.
I now knew when she was born, how old she was when she wrote each note, and drew or painted each picture.
The first note I found was dated 1956, which meant that she was just six years old. The last picture, the disturbing one, looked to have been dated 1968. I never found anything dated after then, so it was my belief that she was 18 years old when she left.
I searched marriage and divorce records, looking for any evidence that Katy had started a new life with a new name. I found nothing, but those records were confined to the area. The internet would prove to be helpful, or so I thought.
It is possible, although highly unlikely that a person can completely disappear in this day and age. Everything is connected to your Social Security number, and property records are open to the public in most cases. After spending hours in front of the computer, I suddenly got a chill when it occurred to me that I hadn’t checked death records.
I didn’t want to know that Katy had died before I found out that perhaps, she had the chance to really live. I wanted her to have found happiness. I wanted her to have found peace and understanding. Above all, I wanted her to have healed, and to have known the warm touch of a loving, caring person.
I breathed a sigh of relief after another trip to the Office of Vital Statistics rendered nothing as far as a death certificate. I checked newspaper records for her name, and found no mention of a Katherine Engel.
What I did find was a 1987 article about the death of a local man, named Clyde Engel. According to the report, he suffered a broken neck due to a fall down a flight of stairs. There was no mention of his condition as far as being intoxicated, and the cause of death was listed as an accident.
I knew it was impossible, but I admit that I was almost secretly wishing that Katy had finally gotten revenge for the years of his horrific, cowardly abuse when she decided to push him down that flight of stairs. I could see her standing there, looking at his lifeless body asking, “who’s worthless now?”
After weeks and weeks of scouring records online, I couldn’t find one shred of evidence that Katy had ever even existed. I did however; discover that Engel was a German name. Translated, it meant “angel.”
If ever there had been an angel on Earth, I believe it must have been Katy. After years of praying, and even after the ultimate surrender of her faith when she wrote that she hated God, she still prayed to Him.
Maybe she changed her name. Maybe she left the state. Maybe she left the country. There were a lot of unanswered maybes, and although I wasn’t wealthy by any means, I decided to enlist the services of a private investigator.
I hired Mr. Brent Hargess. His fee was rather steep, but it was worth it if he could help me find Katy. I thought I could afford a week of his time, and told him that I wanted him to find as much about her as he possibly could. I told him what I knew, which was little more than her last name, her date of birth, and what Miss Mabel had told me.
“That’s not a lot of information to work with,” he said. I agreed, but told him that I knew he had access to records like car registrations and driver’s license numbers, so I asked him to check locally, and nationally, if possible.
“Why do you want to find this individual?” he asked. “Anything unscrupulous?” I assured him that my intentions were completely honorable as I explained the notes left by her, and the unimaginably beautiful paintings that graced a few houses. I didn’t delve into her unspeakable childhood. I told him that I was interested in maybe acquiring one of her paintings.
He leaned forward and cavalierly said, “You know, it’s entirely possible that she’s dead, and that’s why you can’t find any trace of her.” That was something that I didn’t want to hear, and when he said it out loud, it made me shudder, but I asked him to do his best.
A week later we met, and he had absolutely nothing for me. He couldn’t find any car registered to her, nor could he find that a driver’s license had ever been issued. He said, “I’m thinking that she could have gotten married and changed her name, or she could have just changed it because she wanted to. People have been known to do that when they want to disappear.”
I asked him if he had by any chance found her Social Security number. He said that although he would be able to search, he had to have a valid reason for the search, and simply wanting to find someone was not a valid reason. Then he said, “She may not even have a Social Security number.”
I questioned that. “It is my understanding that everyone is required to have a Social Security number,” I said. He answered, “yes, now they are, but back in those days, you got one mostly because you needed one to get a job. If you didn’t work nor had any intention of ever working, say, due to being supported by a husband, there was no need. There’s also the possibility as we discussed, that she got one under an assumed name, which I think is very likely.”
It pained me to write a check to him, when basically I had received no information, but he had put some effort into finding Katy, and he deserved to be paid.
I felt as if I had run into an impenetrable brick wall, but I soldiered on.
I decided to do a wide canvas of the neighborhood. Maybe there was someone around who would remember Katy and her family.
To be continued________________