Vanishing into dark hallways

Laureen Ann Rahn was born on a chilly Wednesday, April 6, 1966, in Manchester, New Hampshire.  Almost exactly 14 years later in April 1980, she disappeared without a trace, never to be seen again.

Although she joined hundreds of thousands of children that go missing every year around the world, the circumstances of her disappearance were extremely unusual. Laureen went missing from inside of her own home, with her friend sleeping in the next room.

A night out and out for the night

Rahn’s mother went out the night of April 26th with her then-boyfriend, a tennis enthusiast, to see a pro game. Usually, Laureen would accompany her mother, but this time the 14-year-old asked if she could stay home instead. Because Laureen had recently done well at school, her mother Judith relented and allowed her to stay home alone as a special treat.

While her mother was enjoying the game, Laureen did what many teenagers do; she invited her friends over for a few drinks. Sources differ on exactly who came over that night for a few beers, some report that it was one girl and one boy, while other sources insist that there were actually two boys and a girl.

Regardless, the night unfolds as follows.

At one point during the evening as Laureen and her friends are drinking, the boy hears someone in the hallway outside of the apartment. Thinking that it was Laureen’s mom, Judith, coming home, he gets up and leaves out of the backdoor. According to his later statement to the police, the boy specifically said that he heard Laureen lock the backdoor behind him.

This boy would kill himself five years later, although the police cleared him as a suspect and his suicide was not related to Laureen’s disappearance.  

At approximately 1:15 am Judith returns home and is immediately surprised at what she finds.

All of the light bulbs in the hallways of every floor of the apartment building were unscrewed. It was completely pitch black. Fumbling her way through the darkness she makes her way to the third and final floor and is further unnerved to find the front door to her apartment unlocked, which is highly unusual. She later noted that the backdoor was also unlocked.

Clearly ill-at-ease after finding the darkened hallways and unlocked doors, Judith thought to check on her daughter. Looking into her room in the dark she saw her sleeping in bed and relieved, heads into bed herself.

Accounts again differ on exactly how she discovered that her daughter was missing. Some state that she woke up the next morning, others noted that the mother realized her daughter was gone at 3:45 am.

For some reason, Judith goes back to check on her daughter physically and is shocked to find that it was not her daughter she saw sleeping in bed at all, it was her daughter’s friend. This friend says that she was hanging out with Laureen all night and when it came time for bed Laureen took a pillow and a blanket, and left to sleep on the living room couch. In a panic, Judith calls the police to report her missing child, and immediately realized that her daughter left without her purse, jacket, or her new favorite sneakers.

A dead start leads to a dead end

The biggest blunder committed by the police investigating the disappearance of 14-year-old Laureen, was that they treated it as a runaway case, predicated on the absence of forced entry into the apartment.

Although both the front and back doors were unlocked, nothing was out of place and there were no signs of a struggle. Therefore, the police concluded that Laureen left willingly, expecting to return shortly thereafter, which unfortunately did not happen.

The police investigated the case as a missing person, weeks after she disappeared. At that point, all of the leads were stone cold. 

The unscrewed light bulbs

While a seemingly innocuous detail in an overall perplexing case, the unscrewed light bulbs on every floor of her apartment building implied that someone was doing something that they did not want to get caught doing. .

It appears unlikely that only one person abducted Laureen, because it would take one person a fairly long time to unscrew every light bulb across three levels without getting noticed. The only way to complete such a strange task quickly, would be to have multiple people working on this all at once. Leading to several questions:how did they actually do it? Did they need a ladder? Were the ceilings that low? Sadly, none of these questions were answered. Making us wonder if there were other similar abductions or crimes which also included this bizarre act of removing lightbulbs.

Motels in California and false hope

Three months after her daughter disappeared, in October 1980, Judith found that she was billed for three calls made from a hotel in California. Her mom had no connection to the state whatsoever, no family or friends even.

In the 1980s, you could make long distance calls by billing the cost of the call to any landline, which is what happened in this case.

Two of these calls were found to have been placed from a motel in Santa Monica to another motel in Santa Ana, California. The third call was placed to a teen sexual assistance hotline, and the physician who managed the number denied knowing anything about this call when he was first interviewed by the police, but later changed his story in 1985. At that point he told police that his wife sometimes helped runaway girls at her home and that she may have helped a girl who said she was from New Hampshire. The changing account is rather unusual, as people don’t generally remember additional details of an incident years later. Memories are lost over time, not gained.

A newspaper clipping from around the time of her disappearance

The physician also lead police to a woman named Annie Sprinkles, who was merely a red herring, who he claimed would know something about the girl from New Hampshire. As it turned out, Sprinkles had worked in the adult film industry (today she is a feminist and an expert academic sexologist) and after investigating her, going so far as to search her adult films for any trace of Laureen, she was cleared of any involvement.

Judith didn’t hold back and hired her own private investigator to check out the calls that were made in California, convinced that they were made by her daughter. The PI found that one of the motels that was on the receiving end of the call was associated with a known child pornographer named “Dr. Z”. There is unfortunately very little information available about this person and whether he was ever caught.

What is interesting about this “Dr. Z” is that similar nicknames appeared in other, seemingly unrelated cases. Most notably, in the case of one of the worst serial killers that you’ve probably never heard of, James Mitchell DeBardeleben, who used the alias of “Dr. Zack”. One of his victims also disappeared in 1980, the same year Laureen went missing. This could possibly be a coincidence, but it is nonetheless worthy of further research.

Quiet calls and desperation

Over the months and years that followed, Judith would frequently receive mysterious calls at around 3 or 4 am. No one would speak, and the unknown caller would hang up abruptly after she answered. Judith believes that it was her daughter who had made these calls, which increased in frequency around the holidays, especially during Christmas time.

Years later, Judith would remarry and leave Manchester, New Hampshire for Lake Worth, Florida, changing her number in the process. The calls stopped immediately once she did. Her mother never gave up, despite the almost complete lack of progress with the case, and the absence of any real leads.

Eventually her mother began consulting psychics.

“Not one of them has said they see her passed away,” Judith told the Boston Globe. “It’s a mother’s instinct, too,” she said, adding, “I’ve never, ever felt her passed away in my heart.”

One such psychic who gave Judith a “reading” over the phone made outlandish claims that were undoubtedly little comfort to the worn-down mother, including that Laureen had been abducted by an Asian gang, is living in Israel, has had two children whom she “had to give up,” and would be coming home, alive.

“I say my prayers faithfully,” said Judith, “and I trust the Lord that he’s going to bring her back to me.”

Laureen remains missing to this day, and would be 54 years old if she’s still alive.

If you have any information related to this case, please contact the Manchester Police Department on 603-668-8711.

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