Wife who vanished and was declared dead is found 31 years later

Monday, June 3, 2024 - A woman who vanished from her home in North Hills, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in the United States of America, has been found 31 years later in Puerto Rico.

When Patricia Kopta vanished without a trace on June 20, 1992, her husband Bob didn’t think much of it because his wife had been a free spirit and acted odd.

Patricia, a well-known street preacher in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, had claimed to see ‘visions’ of the Virgin Mary and routinely warned complete strangers that the world was about to end in a nuclear Armageddon.

The devout Roman Catholic disappeared from her home in North Hills on June 20, 1992. Bob reported her missing on November 27, 1992.

He told police it was not uncommon for Patricia – whose nickname was “The Sparrow” due to her short stature and unstable walk – to “drop out of sight” for periods of time.

Police said the disappearance wasn’t overtly suspicious and that her husband was not a suspect.

In the weeks which followed, Patricia was classed as a critical missing person by the authorities, with an urgent search launched.

One poster released by the Pennsylvania Emergency Response Centre had stated: "Her family believes she took a flight to Puerto Rico after her disappearance and spent a week or two there before returning to Pittsburgh.

“She has not been seen or heard from since.”

Patricia, who was 52 at the time of her disappearance, had enjoyed holidays in Puerto Rico before she got married, her sister Gloria had told detectives. She thought her sister could have left to start a new life.

But the complete radio silence worried Patricia's husband Bob. The former electrician doubted Patricia was safe, and instead feared she had been hurt, abducted or was “laying in a ditch somewhere.”

He paid a psychic to try find answers and placed adverts in Puerto Rican newspapers in a bid to locate the Sparrow.

However, trails ran cold for both the police and Patricia’s family who, seven years after she vanished, obtained a legal declaration which considered her dead.

“I come home one night, and she’s just gone,” Bob, who didn’t remarry, would later say.

“I went through a lot. Every time they’d find a body somewhere [I wondered], ‘Is it Patricia? Is it Patricia?’”

In 2023, 31 years after she vanished, it emerged that Patricia, now 83, was very much alive and in a nursing home 1,700 miles away in Puerto Rico. She had been taken in as a “person in need” in June 1999 after being found wandering aimlessly nearby.

Patricia had kept tight-lipped about her circumstances. It was only after she started suffering from dementia that she began to reveal details about her life.

A social worker followed the little details she revealed and discovered she was from Pennsylvania, so they contacted the authorities.

DNA samples would later confirm she was the missing woman Patricia Kopta.

Bob was 86 when his wife was found.

After hearing the news, he told a press conference: “It’s a sad thing, but it’s a relief off my mind. When your wife goes missing, you’re a suspect.”

Ross Township Deputy Police Chief Brian Kohlhepp told a news conference, that it is likely Patricia’s state of mind led her to flee 1,7000 miles from Pittsburgh to Puerto Rico.

Born in Ross Township in Pennsylvania, she had been a straight-A student and spent time as a model, a dance instructor and an elevator operator at The Art Institute of Pittsburgh before her mental health deteriorated in 1984.

Several years later, she had lost her job and began to roam the city’s streets. Patricia would tell anyone that listened that she was one of God’s “bondservants” on earth.

Her feet were so damaged from her wandering that her sister had urged her, in vain, to go to hospital. Patricia always maintained a neat appearance, with make-up and a long dress or skirt, when she preached on the streets but was frequently described as ‘"eccentric" by many people – including her own husband.

They had met near a river in Pittsburgh where Bob had a boat and offered her and her friends a ride. The pair married in 1972. It was a decade later when Bob noticed his wife’s mental health deteriorate.

In the months leading to her disappearance, Patricia had been diagnosed with “delusions of grandeur” by a doctor who suspected she could have schizophrenia.

One theory police discussed was “concerned she was going to be institutionalised” and fled America as a result.

“After 30 years, you try to forget about it,” Bob told reporters when pressed on a potential reason for his wife’s vanishing act. “Now, I can forget about it. We know what happened, and she is taken care of now. She could have come home any time. But that’s what she wanted. She always said she wanted to go to a warm climate.”

Patricia’s sister Gloria rushed to Puerto Rico to visit her sibling as soon as the DNA test came back positive and she was given Patricia’s address.

“We’re very thankful to know that Patty is alive and well,” Gloria told local news outlet WMTW.

“She’s being well taken care of. We really thought she was dead all those years. It was a very big shock to know that she’s still alive.”

It’s not fully certain what Patricia did for the full 31 years she had been classed as a missing person. It is thought she walked around Puerto Rico’s northern towns of Naranjito, Corozal and Toa Alta, to the southwest of the capital of San Juan, during her time on the Caribbean island.

According to police, she told locals she came to Puerto Rico on a cruise ship from Europe.

While the name of Patricia’s nursing home has never been revealed, one photo of the pensioner taken at the home has been shared.

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