Two-year-old Katrice Lee disappeared on her birthday in 1981 while shopping with her mother. UK investigators are now digging up a German riverbank in Paderborn after a review of evidence in the case.
British military police are digging along a riverbank in western Germany to search for a soldier's 2-year-old daughter who vanished 36 years ago.
Katrice Lee disappeared on her birthday on November 28, 1981, while shopping with her mother at a British military store near Paderborn, where her father was stationed. They were shopping for treats when her mother, Sharon Lee, forgot potato chips at the check out line and asked her daughter to watch over the toddler.
When the mother returned Katrice was gone, in what she said was less than a minute. Lee's daughter told her mother that Katrice had run off after her and she thought they were together.
The case was never solved. The renewed effort to discover what happened to the girl comes after a review of witness statements and forensic evidence found that some clues may have been overlooked.
The UK military police senior investigating officer Richard O'Leary said the forensic investigation focused on the banks of the Alme River, including "evidence of Katrice's disappearance, whether that's clothing or, unfortunately, Katrice herself."
Another line of investigation is seeking to identify a man who was seen with a girl and a green car near the supermarket at the time of the crime. A green car was also seen on a bridge near the investigation area along the Alme River a day after Katrice disappeared.
O'Leary said they were also trying to trace the owners of about 500 green cars who lived in the area at the time and called on anyone with information to come forward.
Investigators are also not ruling out that Katrice was abducted and grew up without knowing who she was. Authorities have put out sketch composites of both the man with the green car and another of what Katrice would look like today in the hope of identifying them.
"We're pursuing all reasonable lines of inquiry," O'Leary said.
The digging along the river started on Monday and is expected to last five weeks. UK military police are being supported by German investigators and search dogs.
At the time of the disappearance, British forces, German police and volunteers searched for the girl but found no clues as to what happened to her.
The family has blamed authorities for a shoddy investigation.
"I blame the original investigation, and I will never forgive them for what they did not do," the girl's father, Richard Lee, told reporters.
"They are doing this to try and close the gap, to try and reinstill the trust that my family has lost," he said. "Do I forgive them? The answer is categorically no. I do not, and I never will."
cw/sms (AP, Reuters)