Real Name: Karen Sawatis Pelletiere
Aliases: None Known
Wanted For: Abduction
Missing Since: March 19, 1993
Details: In 1991, Daniel and Karen Pelletiere moved from Long Island, New York to Boca Raton, Florida, with their young son, William "Billy" Pelletiere. According to Daniel, nine months later, Karen began to change; she became forgetful and distracted. She often mumbled incoherently and sometimes neglected Billy. At first, he figured that she was having problems adjusting to their new environment. However, as time progressed, she became more and more erratic.
In mid-August of 1992, Daniel claimed that Karen's behavior escalated into violence. She threw things around the kitchen and then tried to attack him. She was taken to the emergency room; it was obvious to the doctors that something was wrong. Initial tests could not determine what was happening. One test determined that she was suffering from a viral disease. However, doctors could not identify the specific disease. Eventually, she was diagnosed with viral encephalitis, a brain infection that can induce delusions and violent behavior. The disease can be fatal; even if the person survives, permanent brain damage is almost certain.
Karen was in the hospital for four months. During that time, her relatives visited from New York. According to Daniel, they were a constant presence and often disagreed with him regarding her care. Despite the increasing tension, he tried to stay optimistic. Slowly and gradually, her physical health improved. However, her doctors felt that the outlook for her mental health was grim. Nevertheless, they finally released her from the hospital, hoping for the best.
On the day Daniel brought Karen home, his parents were waiting with Billy. She was very happy to see her son again. At first, their life appeared to be returning to normal. However, Daniel soon noticed that she began getting more and more disoriented again. She started calling her mother and sister constantly, even during the middle of the night. To Daniel, it appeared that she was acting like a child. The illness apparently left her with virtually no short-term memory. He claims that she was unable to care for Billy, often forgetting to feed him. All she wanted was to go home to her mother.
Daniel knew this was not normal, as Karen previously was very independent and did not like being around her family members unless she had to. Despite his concerns, Daniel gave into Karen's wishes and sent her back to Long Island. He feared that once she was with her family, she would never return to Florida. Under the circumstances, he felt that he had no choice but to file for divorce. On March 19, 1993, a court in Palm Beach County determined that Karen's physical and mental health meant that joint custody might be detrimental to Billy. Daniel was awarded temporary sole custody.
Unbeknownst to Daniel, Karen returned to Florida eight days later, accompanied by family members. She went straight to the Boca Raton police and asked for help in getting custody of Billy. Because of Daniel's court order, she was refused. Two days later, she turned up at the courthouse in neighboring Broward County. Again, she tried to get a custody order. Later that day, a judge, unaware that another court order was already in effect, granted her request for custody.
That night, Daniel was at work; his parents Dorothy and Richard were watching Billy. Police arrived with Karen's court order, claiming that they had to pick up Billy. Richard called Daniel's lawyer and had him speak to the officers. However, Karen was still able to take her son away. Approximately two hours later, the Pelletieres were contacted by the police who admitted their mistake. They told the Pelletieres that they had to get their lawyers to prevent Karen from leaving the state.
Unfortunately, it was too late; the next morning, they were informed that Karen was in New York City. By the time Daniel was able to get the New York authorities involved, Karen and Billy had disappeared.
Extra Notes: This case first aired on the November 8, 1996 episode of Unsolved Mysteries.
Results: Captured. After the story aired, Karen contacted Daniel through her attorney and offered to return Billy. The surrender was orchestrated by attorneys for both parents. The two had been living in Canada prior to the surrender. At the time, Karen was not arrested nor was she charged with any crime. In July of 1997, Billy was reunited with his father.
Karen later went on trial for the abduction in March of 1998; however, she was found not guilty. The judge believed that due to her mental problems, Karen may not have been aware of Daniel's court order when she left the state. In October of 1998, Daniel was given primary custody of Billy while Karen received unsupervised visitation rights.
- Karen Pelletiere on Unsolved Archive
- Father-child Reunion Ends Ordeal - July 8, 1997
- Boca Mother On Trial For Abduction - May 9, 1998
- Mother claims she left country to avoid abuse - May 9, 1998
- Boy's Mother Not Guilty Of Fleeing With Her Baby - May 12, 1998
- Father Receives Custody Of Son After 4-year Fight - October 15, 1998