Woman Declared Dead Decades Ago Suddenly Turns Up

Patricia Kopta, who vanished from Pennsylvania in 1992, found in Puerto Rico nursing home at age 83
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Mar 3, 2023 1:57 PM CST
Woman Declared Dead Decades Ago Suddenly Turns Up
Stock photo of San Juan, Puerto Rico.   (Getty Images/dennisvdw)

A Pennsylvania woman who went missing more than 30 years ago in a case that stumped authorities who later declared her legally dead has been found living in a nursing home in Puerto Rico. Patricia Kopta left behind a husband and siblings and meandered through northern Puerto Rico for a while before she was taken as a person "in need" to the adult care home in 1999, according to details announced at a news conference in Pennsylvania's Ross Township, where she formerly lived. Kopta initially kept her past secret while in Puerto Rico. But she began to divulge details as she suffered from dementia, Ross Township Deputy Police Chief Brian Kohlhepp said. By last year, a social worker at the home had enough information to alert authorities back home about the now-83-year-old woman.

A DNA test has confirmed her identity, Kohlhepp said. Her husband, Bob Kopta, and her surviving sister, 78-year-old Gloria Smith, filled in details of Kopta's life at the news conference and in telephone interviews Friday with the AP. Patricia Kopta would vacation often in Puerto Rico with her friends before she got married, Smith recalled. "She just loved the ocean, the beach, the warm sunshine," Smith said. She added that her sister quit her job in finance at a Pittsburgh glass company after 10 years due to migraines that doctors blamed on stress, then got a job as an elevator operator at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. That's when family members noticed a change in her.

Shortly afterward, Kopta began preaching and was briefly institutionalized after doctors diagnosed her with "delusions of grandeur" and said she had signs of schizophrenia. Upon her release, she kept preaching until she vanished in 1992. Bob Kopta, now 86, said he came home one night and she was "just gone," after 20 years of marriage. The disappearance stumped authorities and family alike. Kopta recalled his wife once mentioned she'd like to go to Puerto Rico because of its balmy weather, and he published ads in Puerto Rican newspapers, but he never got a response. Meanwhile, Patricia Kopta apparently was wandering the island's northern towns of Naranjito, Corozal, and Toa Alta, located just southwest of the capital of San Juan.

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When she first was taken in at the adult home, she'd hinted that she had arrived in Puerto Rico via a cruise ship from Europe, Kohlhepp said. After a social worker contacted police in Pennsylvania, it took almost a year for DNA samples to confirm that the woman was indeed Patricia Kopta. Bob Kopta, who didn't remarry, said he doesn't plan to visit and is now trying to forget the past, though he's glad to know she's being taken care of. Smith, on the other hand, wants to go see her older sister. Patricia Kopta's twin sister died without knowing her fellow twin was still alive. "Whether she knows me or not, I still want to see her and give her a hug and tell her I love her," Smith said.

(More strange stuff stories.)

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