A US woman who was declared legally dead after disappearing more than three decades ago has turned up alive in Puerto Rico, her family and police have said.
Patricia Kopta, now 83, had last been seen in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1992 when investigators began looking into her disappearance.
She was known to be an “eccentric” street preacher who went by the name “Sparrow”, Ross Township Deputy Police Chief Brian Kohlhepp said on Friday.
Mrs Kopta, who has dementia, has been living in a nursing home after she was taken in as a “person in need” seven years after she disappeared.
‘It’s a relief she hasn’t been murdered’
Her husband Bob Kopta said he had been married to Mrs Kopta for 20 years before she went missing.
He said: “It’s a relief knowing that she’s not laying in a ditch somewhere, or murdered somewhere.”
The 86-year-old added that his family suspected she may be in Puerto Rico but she was declared dead around 25 years ago.
The retired electrician also said he had consulted with a psychic about her whereabouts.
Mrs Kopta has two sisters – a twin, who died six years ago, and a younger sister who was relieved to learn she’s still alive, Mr Kopta added.
He said he has experienced a range of emotions over the years but is content knowing his wife is alive and being cared for.
“After 30 years, you try to forget about it. Now I can forget about it. We know what happened, and she is taken care of now,” he said.
Mrs Kopta ‘feared she was going to be institutionalised’
Mr Kopta said his wife had worked as an elevator operator at The Art Institute of Pittsburgh before she vanished.
Before her disappearance, US-based doctors at a mental health facility had diagnosed Mrs Kopta with “delusions of grandeur” and said she had signs of schizophrenia.
But Mrs Kopta was released from the facility and kept preaching until she disappeared, her family said.
Mr Kohlhepp has said police believe Mrs Kopta fled the country because she was “concerned she was going to be institutionalised”.
She is thought to have regularly wandered around Puerto Rico’s northern towns of Naranjito, Corozal and Toa Alta, located just southwest of the capital of San Juan, during her time on the island.
Mrs Kopta had kept details about her life secret when she ended up in a nursing home but began divulging information as the years passed.
Last year she revealed information which caused a social worker at the nursing home to contact authorities in Pennsylvania about her identity.
‘She just loved the ocean’
Mrs Kopta suggested that she had arrived in Puerto Rico on a cruise ship from Europe when she first arrived at the home, police said.
However, her family has said she was in fact a straight-A student in the US, who became a model and dance instructor.
After graduating high school, she worked in finance at a Pittsburgh plate glass company and would attend ballroom dancing events weekly, according to her family.
Mrs Kopta’s younger sister, Gloria Smith, now 78, has said her sister vacationed often in Puerto Rico with friends before she got married.
“She just loved the ocean, the beach, the warm sunshine.”
Ms Smith said she hopes to visit her sister, even though her mental state has declined.
“Whether she knows me or not, I still want to see her and give her a hug and tell her I love her,” Ms Smith said.