Real Names: Debra Gayle and Diana Lynn Cordova
Case: Lost Daughters
Location: Peoria, Illinois
Date: January 15, 1960
Details: In 1959, Patti and Daniel Cordova divorced, and Patti left for Peoria, Illinois, with their two daughters, Debra, five, and Diana, three. She was forced to go on welfare to support them. Sadly, most of her family disowned her because of the divorce. As she searched for work, she had her grandmother watch the girls. However, her grandmother began giving Diana presents and saying the Debra did not deserve anything. After weeks of neglect, Debra became very upset; Patti wondered about her grandmother's intentions. She believed that her grandmother was unstable and wanted to keep Diana for herself, so she eventually left with the girls.
A few weeks later, a social worker came to Patti's house. She claimed that an anonymous informant had told her that the girls were abused and neglected. She examined them alone and realized that nothing was wrong. However, she told her that if a second complaint was filed, she would have to take them away. She could not tell her who the informant was, but she believes it was her grandmother. Weeks later, the social worker came back to say that there was another complaint and she threatened to take the girls away. Patti panicked, took them, and left them in the care of her friend, Doris. She watched them while Patti went to Chicago to try and find a job.
Three days later, Doris called Patti to tell her that the sheriffs had taken the girls. She rushed to the Peoria office of the Catholic Social Services. The Monsignor told her that she had to sign several documents in order to see the girls; if she didn't, she would have to go to jail for desertion. She was told that the charges would be dropped if she did. However, that would also let the girls be placed in fosters homes, and possibly be given up for adoption. Either way, he said, she would never see them again. Included in the documents were death certificates for the girls, which would allow their new adoptive parents to raise them as if they had given birth to them.
The last time Patti saw the girls was on January 15, 1960, for a court proceeding, where they came in crying and hugged her. They all begged her to not let the social worker take them away, but she was forced to say goodbye to them for the last time. As she left, she told them that she would never stop searching for them. For the past forty years, she has continued to do so. Catholic Social Services claims that they found Debra and sent her several letters which she has not responded to. Patti has gone on the Internet, worked with support groups, and placed ads in newspapers in order to find them, but to no avail. She wants them to know that she has never stopped searching for them and that she never wanted to give them up, but she was forced to.
Extra Notes: This case first aired on the August 8, 2001 episode.
Results: Solved. When the story reaired in December of 2001, Debra and Diana's adopted parents were watching and called the telecenter. They got in contact with Patti and sent her the dresses in the picture shown above along with the adoption papers. The telecenter gave her the girls' adopted sister's phone number and she talked with her. She then had Diana, now Diana Mary, call her and they were both overjoyed to find each other.
Debra, now Mary Debra, also got into contact with Patti, but had trouble dealing with the situation because she was old enough to remember their problems, separation, and other traumas. However, she was able to overcome the emotional trauma; a few weeks later, she and Diana were joyfully reunited with Patti.
- Debra and Diana Cordova on Unsolved Archive
- Patti Lemmer's website
- Unsolved Mysteries helping mom solve mystery
- The Seeker - Article of the Month
- "Merry Christmas, Mom" - The past is mother's best present