On January 3, 1948 twenty-six-year-old Lorraine “Lee” Judith Barrie Chance took her daughter Donna to a sitter’s house in Santa Cruz, California with the promise of returning later in the evening. There is no record of where she was headed or with whom (if anyone) she departed. Lee never retrieved her daughter and no one has seen or heard from her since.
Lee was born in Boston in 1922, naming Alfonso Barrie as her father on her marriage certificate. She may have lived in New York between 1942 and 1945.
In 1944 she married Calvin “Bud” Chance, around the same time that she gave birth to the couple’s only child. Bud’s Naval career moved the family to California; either to Santa Cruz or Sacramento.
Bud died from an intracranial injury in a dry dock accident in Portsmouth, Virginia on November 8, 1947 and was buried in California. I was unable to establish how long Bud had been in Virginia prior to his death.
Within two months of Bud’s death Lee seemingly vanished into thin air.
According to NamUs, the babysitter was Mrs. L.F. or L.T. Thompson at Rt. 2, Box 397G in Santa Cruz. As with most details in this case there are varying reports, none of which are official. One source claims that Mrs. Thompson was Bud’s relative.
There was an arrest warrant out for Lee the day she went missing but I couldn’t determine the violation she had allegedly committed.
Lee (or someone pretending to be Lee) filed for Bud’s death benefits on March 28, 1948. The benefits were awarded several months later in August but as the checks were unable to be delivered they were returned to the Veterans Administration. If Lee moved after submitting the application she didn’t provide a forwarding address.
Both the Red Cross and a naval agency searched for Lee to no avail. Records for the Santa Cruz Sheriff’s Department for 1948 were destroyed according to The Doe Network, further hindering the investigation process.
Donna was reared by Bud’s sisters Eleanor and Madelyn and then a family friend after Eleanor’s death in 1960.
Lee would be in her early 90s if she were still alive and while it’s not impossible, I don’t think it’s likely.
More information about her personality, relationships, and habits would be helpful in generating leads. There is an email address for Donna Lee Chance Wolfe on one of the source websites and I wrote to inquire about the case even though I found a 2014 obituary for someone who might be Lee’s daughter.
I hope that Donna is still alive and willing to discuss her mother but because she was so young when Lee disappeared she likely has few memories of either of her parents. If she has already died, perhaps someone else will open my inquiry and respond.
The 1940 census reports that Lorraine Barrie/Barre was a singer living in Illinois. Donna Wolfe’s obituary indicates she was born in Illinois, which leads me to believe the census record was for this particular Lorraine and the Donna from the death notice her daughter.
There are many potential scenarios for the time frame surrounding January 3, 1948 and with so many outstanding questions there is ample room for speculation.
When Lee went missing she had recently become widowed with a small child. Did she decide to leave Donna with a trusted relative because she was overwhelmed by grief and doubts about her ability to adequately provide for her daughter? If this was the case did she plan on leaving permanently or for a brief respite? Was she suicidal?
I got the sense that Bud and Lee married out of responsibility due to the birth of a child. If Lee had been a singer in the Chicago area, I wonder how satisfied she was with her new role as a Naval wife and mother. Did she return to Chicago, New York, Boston, or elsewhere to pursue her former lifestyle?
Who filed for Bud’s death benefits? If Lee was still in the Santa Cruz area in March 1948, did her in-laws know of her whereabouts and accept that she abandoned Donna? I’m curious about when Lee was officially deemed missing and who filed the police report.
Of course if Lee didn’t file the application, who did?
The arrest warrant remains a large piece of the puzzle. The nature of the crime could establish potential acquaintances affiliated with illegal activities or provide a motive for running away.
On the other hand the warrant may have been for a minor infraction that had nothing to do with her disappearance.
The other possibility is that Lee intended to retrieve her daughter on January 3 but instead met with foul play, either at the hands of someone involved with her criminal activity or a stranger seizing an opportunity. At 4’11” weighing around one hundred pounds she was easy prey for a more physically imposing predator.
Often people ask what I think happened in a particular case and my opinion here is that Lee left voluntarily. The lack of media coverage about her disappearance suggests that it wasn’t viewed as an abduction or a murder. Wherever she went, she did a fantastic job living off the grid. There were no public records for various combinations of her names beyond those already mentioned in this entry.