Police perplexed after Arkansas mom disappears

AP News
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Posted: Dec 30, 2011 7:39 PM
Police perplexed after Arkansas mom disappears

Dawna Natzke planned to have her family over for Christmas to open gifts and feast on steaks.

Yet, five days after the holiday, the presents in Natzke's home remain untouched.

Her family and friends haven't been able to embrace the holidays since Natzke, a police dispatcher in a gated community in central Arkansas, vanished last week. Instead, they fear that the mother of three is dead after someone found her station wagon burned in a forest not far from her Hot Springs Village home.

"It's been too long and no word, no clues, no anything," Natzke's mother, Doris Smith, told The Associated Press.

Natzke, 46, was last seen the night of a holiday party on Dec. 21. Searchers on horses and in a helicopter weren't able to find her by Friday. More planned to scour the tree-studded hills in four-wheelers during the weekend.

Still, investigators have been hesitant to describe Natzke as a victim of foul play, even though her torched car turned up miles from her home in a remote part of the Ouachita National Forest that abuts the community.

Natzke's 28-year-old boyfriend told authorities he hasn't seen the woman since the night of the party, but no one filed a missing person's report until she failed to show up for work at the police station 31 hours later, according to a timeline provided by Hot Springs Village Police.

"This would be totally out of character for her to leave and not notify anybody. She wouldn't do that," said Eloise Wiegand, a secretary who has worked with Natzke at the police department for seven years. "She would not leave her family."

Natzke's mother, who last saw her at the holiday party, agreed.

"She would call me if she was going to go to Walmart, if she'd be gone for two hours," her mother said.

Natzke's boyfriend, Kevin Duck of Jessieville, told police the couple returned to her house following the party and that she was gone by the next morning, according to the timeline. Although there are security gates at each of the town's entrances, there are no video cameras that would have recorded her leaving the community of 13,000 that caters to retirees. The west entrance, which is closer to the spot where Natzke's car was found, always has someone at the gate. The east entrance is not manned between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.

And most residents have stickers on their vehicles that allow them to leave without being stopped by security guards, police said.

A police department statement said a friend of Natzke's received a "strange text message" from Natzke's cellphone on Dec. 22, but that when the friend notified the woman's family members about it they didn't seem alarmed. Police have refused to describe what the message said.

In the meantime, the U.S. Forest Service found the charred remains of Natzke's car in the nearby Ouachita National Forest. The FBI said finding an abandoned car in itself wasn't terribly unusual.

"Down there, there's a lot of that," FBI spokesman Steve Frazier said in Little Rock, 40 miles to the northeast.

Forestry officials didn't contact the police department about finding the vehicle until Saturday _ a day after the missing person's report was filed.

"Her car was actually discovered before" a notice was sent asking police agencies to keep an eye out for it, Laroy Cornett, the community's director of public safety, said at a news conference this week. "It just took some time to make an identification on the car and make the connection that it belonged it Mrs. Natzke."

He said investigators found no evidence of foul play and that he considered the matter a missing person's case.

"We have not ruled out foul play. We have ruled out nothing," Cornett said Wednesday.

Neither Cornett nor Duck, Natzke's boyfriend, returned phone calls seeking comment Friday.

Natzke's mother said many of the officers who have visited her in the past week have done so with tears in their eyes.

"They were just like a big family," Smith said. "They love her."

By all accounts, Natzke is a loyal and giving woman: to her three sons, to her parents, to her family at the police station. She gave a kidney to her ill father, who likely would have died without the transplant. She built her life around her sons. The younger two _ a junior and senior in high school _ live with her; her oldest boy lives nearby. She had recently separated from her husband, who also didn't return calls Friday.

"She was a very loving person," Smith told the AP. The mother then paused and corrected herself: "She is a very loving person."

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Associated Press writer Kelly P. Kissel contributed to this report.

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Follow Jeannie Nuss at http://twitter.com/jeannienuss