40 years after disappearance, family holds out hope for Laureen: ‘In my heart I want to believe she’s alive…’

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Laureen Rahn, last seen alive by her family on April 27, 1980.

MANCHESTER, NH – Forty years ago today, on a rainy Saturday morning, 14-year-old Laureen Rahn left her 239 Merrimack St. third-floor apartment never to be seen again.

She was an A-student at the then Parkside Junior High School on April 27, 1980, when she disappeared.

The night before, she and two friends, a girl her age and a 21-year-old man, according to her aunt JoBeth Swanson of Manchester, were in the apartment drinking beer and wine. Her mother, Judith Rahn, had gone out for the night with her tennis-pro boyfriend.

It was April school vacation week and Laureen, who usually accompanied them to tennis matches, wanted to stay home and her mother let her.

A newspaper clipping from 2005 about the disappearance of Laureen Rahn. There have been no leads. (Provided by the family)

Late that night, the friends heard voices in the hallway and the man, believing it was Laureen’s mother, hightailed it out the back door. He told police he heard Laureen lock the door behind him.

But it wasn’t Laureen’s mother.  Ultimately, the friend fell asleep in Laureen’s bed and Laureen went to sleep on the couch.

When Mrs. Rahn and her boyfriend arrived home about 1:15 a.m. the hallways were pitch black on all three floors. Someone had untwisted the light bulbs.

The front door to the apartment was unlocked and she assumed the girl in the bed was her daughter.  Her boyfriend, however, questioned why the back door was open and Mrs. Rahn went to wake up her daughter and discovered the girl in the bed wasn’t Laureen.

They immediately began searching for the teen but, not finding her, called police at 3:45 a.m. to report her missing.

Oftentimes, when a teen is reported missing police generally will think it is a runaway.  But Laureen’s case was different. She had left without taking any money or any possessions with her, not even the new pair of sneakers she had received for her birthday.

Tony Fowler of Auburn was a Manchester detective lieutenant who worked on the case 20 years ago.  Now retired, he believes Laureen left the apartment to meet someone and, because she didn’t take any clothes with her, that she had every intention of returning home.

While he would like to think she is still alive, he believes she is a victim of foul play.

“In my heart I want to believe she’s alive but l don’t know,” said Swanson, Laureen’s aunt.  She said Judith Rahn came from a family of 11 siblings so there are still some aunts, uncles and cousins around.

“There’s an aunt who doesn’t believe she’s dead and some who don’t want to believe she’s dead,” Swanson said.

Swanson has had the same telephone number since the day Laureen went missing.  She said the two were close.  Swanson was 22-years-old and married to Mrs. Rahn’s brother at the time of the disappearance.

Laureen Rahn disappeared on April 27, 1980.

She also had lived with the Rahns for about a year when they lived in Florida, before relocating to New Hampshire. So, if Laureen were still alive, she believes she would have called her.

Laureen’s mother believed her daughter was alive in part because, she told reporters, of telephone calls she said she received around 3:45 a.m. over several years. When she picked up, the caller said nothing. The calls were more frequent at Christmastime.

Detective Lucas Hobbs, currently assigned to cold cases, said there is nothing in the official police file about those calls.

And then there were three calls charged to her phone bill from California. Two of the calls were made to hotels and the third one was to a hotlin for teenagers with questions about sex.

According to published reports, Rahn called the number and the “doctor” who ran the program denied knowing anything about the calls.

Mrs. Rahn told news reporters that an investigator she hired later discovered that “Dr. Z” was having young girls stay at his home and he was manufacturing child pornography.

Hobbs said there is nothing in the official police file about any of those phone calls either.

If an investigator discovered that, he said, he did not report it to Manchester police.

The man who was with the teens the night of Laureen’s disappearance later committed suicide. Police have said he was not considered a suspect.

About 10 years ago, police received a tip that Laureen was seen in Massachusetts.  Detectives, however, confirmed that the individual seen was not her.

Swanson said she hoped an article about her niece, should she be alive, would let her know that family members haven’t forgotten her and think about her often.

About this Author

Pat Grossmith

Pat Grossmith is a freelance reporter.