ELWOOD, Ill. — A WWII veteran disappeared without a trace in the 1960s. For more than five decades, the man's daughters fought to find the truth. Now, they've solved the mystery. But it only raised more questions. Sisters Margaret Sloan and Catherine Ann Basten were young girls when a mystery began to unravel.
“We found out the man we had been calling ‘Dad’ was not our biological father,” Sloan said.
Their mother told them she wouldn’t speak of it — which only added to the intrigue for the two girls. They wanted to know the identity of their father, Raymond Woodrow Bell, and why he disappeared.
“We went to our grandparents and our aunts,” Sloan said, “and they gave us bits and pieces. He had been in the war, he had been put in a V.A. mental institution, and he kind of disappeared in 1966.”
In 1980, the sisters tracked down his mother — their paternal grandmother — in North Carolina.
“When we went to North Carolina,” Sloan said, “needless to say, we were welcomed, but nobody had any information.”
But his mother had filed a missing persons report with the V.A. and with the Cook County Sheriff’s police in 1968. The investigation stalled.
As the years passed, the yearning persisted.
“Something was just nagging at me,” Sloan said. “I started looking through the John Doe network.”
The sisters were referred to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, which agreed to review the case. That led to a Social Security number.
With that critical identifier, Cook County Sheriff’s police Det. Jason Moran — a veteran of complex missing persons cases, including the John Wayne Gacy investigation to the Burr Oak Cemetery scandal — agreed to take the case. He tracked Bell to a Chicago-area nursing home, where he had lived a few years ago.
“It led me to another nursing home,” Moran said, “then it led me to a hospital, and then to another hospital, and then I learned that Mr. Bell had just passed away of natural causes a couple of weeks before I was assigned the case.”
The sisters and their decades-long quest had fallen just a few weeks short.
“We found him after he died,” Basten said.
She added, “I have a period at the end of a sentence, but now I have more questions.”
There is a sense of closure. Bell was laid to rest Friday at the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery with full military honors. His daughters were there to witness it.
“We have a father,” Basten said. “His name is Raymond Woodrow Bell. We can say it out loud, we can say it with pride.”
The sisters said they wanted to share their story so that no other elderly veterans, especially those who may have had mental health issues that weren’t properly treated, have to experience such loneliness and loss.