Real Lives: Vanished without a trace..; Louise Kerton, 24, disappeared in Germany a year ago, and hasn't been heard of since. Her brother and sisters, angry at German police and her fiance's family for not having made more effort to find her, reveal how they're coping in very different ways.
The voice on the end of the phone was anxious and crying. Between heart-rending sobs Peter Simon broke the news that his girlfriend was missing.
At the other end of the line, Louise Kerton's older sister Francesca urged him to calm down. She had probably just missed the ferry, and was bound to turn up at any moment.
Peter had cut his holiday short and had arranged to meet Louise, 24, back in England, but a year later the student nurse from Kent has still failed to return from that trip to Germany to visit his family.
Louise's relatives have endured 12 months of grief, anger, pain and frustration battling with German police to have their sister's case treated seriously.
In addition, Louise's fiance Peter, 39, and his family were hiding their own secret.
It emerged that Peter's schizophrenic brother Michael had been on trial for the murder of a pensioner, a charge he was cleared of by a jury.
Now German police have finally agreed to launch a criminal investigation into Louise's disappearance, but the family are still no wiser about what has happened to their sister.
Here, Marie, 17, Simon, 26, Francesca, 28 and Angela, 30, tell how it felt when Louise didn't come home.
Marie rolls up her sleeve and the full extent of her pain becomes clear. Covering almost every inch of her forearm are silvery scars - the legacy of the knife she has used to relieve her torment. Her legs too are criss-crossed with lines, as if a brutal game of noughts and crosses has been played on her shins.
Since Louise - the person she des-cribes as her best friend - disappeared there have been times when the youngest member of the Kerton family has felt terribly alone.
During her lowest moments she has not only cut herself but has suffered bouts of bulimia and seen her once-perfect schoolwork nose-dive. Marie desperately needs to know what happened to have any peace.
"I started cutting myself in November, soon after I turned 17," she says. "We knew if Louise was OK, she would definitely contact me on my birthday. But we didn't hear from her. That tiny last glimmer of hope went and it was then I knew I'd never see her again.
"I was so frustrated, but I couldn't take my stress out on any of the people I normally would - my family. So I took a knife and cut my arm. It was an automatic release, but then I thought: 'What have I done? This is insane.'"
But soon the pressure in her head built up again and the cutting became a regular occurrence. Thankfully, she eventually plucked up the courage to tell her parents and they found help. For the past few months, Marie has notcut herself and has now been signed off by her counsellors. She is finally learning to cope with the nightmare that began when her elder sister Louise disappeared on July 30 last year.
Marie and her parents knew nothing about it until they returned from a week's holiday in Tenerife on August 3. When Marie learnt that Louise had gone missing on the way home to New Ash Green, near Dartford in Kent, she immediately thought the worst.
She says: "I started crying. I had visions of her dead. Louise wouldn't go off on her own - she was very wary of travelling by herself." Before Louise disappeared, Marie sat 11 GCSEs and gained eight A* grades, two As and one B. But since then her marks have plummeted. In maths tests at the beginning of the year, she got nought and five per cent.
Marie says: "I've had visions in class of Louise being there, crouched over a desk, crying like she needs help but I can't help her. I've seen her lying dead on her back with blood all over her face. It's very vivid, very upsetting. "I've had to take anti-depressants and sleeping tablets and have felt suicidal, though I feel much more positive now."
At home, if Marie is only slightly late, her parents worry. Once they even dashed down to the train station and started calling her name. Sadly, the one person Marie knows she could talk to is the very person who is missing.
She says: "Louise wasn't just my sister, she was my best friend. Normally in this situation, she would be the one I'd turn to. But I can't."
With shaky hands, Simon flicks his lighter and chain smokes another Embassy No 1. "Before Louise went missing I smoked about ten a day, now it's over 30," he says with a sad smile.
"But I can't bear not to be doing anything. If I haven't got something to keep me occupied I automatically start brooding about Louise."
At 26, Simon is just 14 months older than Louise, but he always treated her as a much younger sister.
"Louise was 13 weeks premature," he says. "She really had to fight for life. It meant she was always more fragile than the rest of us.
"We were always mucking around, playing football in the garden. But I would forget how delicate she was and hit the ball too hard, and she would get hurt. I'd have to take her inside, mop up the blood and put a plaster on. She always needed looking after."
Simon, a patent analyst for the pharmaceutical industry, says before Louise's disappearance he was placid and easygoing. But her disappearance and the apparent refusal of Peter Simon's family and the German police to want to find her has changed him.
He says: "I'm not normally a violent person, but at the moment I have so much pent-up anger and frustration with the Simon family and the German police that it's left me at my wit's end.
"I got the impression that the police were trying to fob us off so that we'd eventually go away and it would remain as a missing person case. We believe there should be a criminal invest- igation, but red tape and bureaucracy has meant up till now even basic enquiries hadn't been made. The longer it goes on, the harder it is to find out what has really happened to her.
"I want somebody to be held accountable for her not being found or, if she has been murdered, for somebody to be brought to justice."
For Simon, the lowest point came when people reported sightings of Louise four weeks after she disappeared. The Kerton family, including mum Kath, 56, and dad Phil, 57, together with 50 friends, had gone to Germany to search for her.
They scoured the streets of picturesque Aachen, where Peter's mother Ramana said she had dropped off Louise, asking everyone if they had seen her.
"At one point we were told that Louise had actually passed by ten minutes ago," Simon recalls. "We were literally running around the city for the next four hours, buzzing with hope, thinking the next girl we saw would be her.
"I would run up to girls shouting: 'Louise, Louise!' When they turned round it was blow after blow realising it wasn't her.
"It was when we left Germany that I resigned myself to thinking the worst."
Simon recalls how Louise loved being with her family.
"She was always the one who looked forward to weddings and reminded us about anniversaries and birthdays. The irony is that since this happened, I've become so much more family orientated. It's so sad Louise can't see how close we all are."
Fighting back tears, Simon, who shares a flat with a friend in Dartford, Kent, says: "In my heart I believe Louise is dead and in heaven looking down on us. But until I get a proper chance to grieve, I don't think I will be able to have any happy memories ofLouise. Whenever I think of her I want to cry and get angry with people."
He adds: "It's just complete despair, you feel it in your gut. I lie awake all night, going over and over what we couldhave done differently, what we could do to find her. I admit I have cried myself to sleep.
"But I just try to stay strong for the rest of the family, to keep positive thoughts going, not so much for Louise still being alive, but that this will come to an end, that we'll get some peace of mind, if we persevere."
Francesca fixes you with her cool scientist's gaze and says: "Until there's evidence to prove otherwise, I still think Louise is alive."
Francesca, known as Fran, is the most academic member of the Kerton children. At 28, she has a first- class honours science degree, a PhD and is the youngest lecturer in the chemistry department at York University.
She admits she has thrown herself into her work to cope, spending ten hours a day in the lab, where she is working to come up with environmental alternatives to plastic.
"I try to lose myself in work, but it can be extremely hard to concentrate," Fran says.
"Some weeks I'll get nothing done except stare at the computer screen, other weeks work helps me forget."
She says: "I know I'm the most optimistic person in the family. From doing research I know you have to hope that your chemical reaction will work out and until you have evidence to say otherwise, you've got to believe it will happen. It's the same with Louise. Without evidence it's hard to believe that something bad has happened."
Fran's earliest memory of Louise is pushing her to the local sweet shop in her buggy. She says: "We'd treat her as our baby doll.
"Louise went to a different secondary school because she was dyslexic. She was the quiet, introverted one in the family, so as teenagers we drifted apart. And when I finished my PhD I went to work in Vancouver, Canada, for 18 months."
Fran last saw Louise at a dinner in London to celebrate her parents' 30th wedding anniversary at the start of May.
"It was the most lively and happy I had seen her for a while," Fran says.
"She'd been very depressed for a couple of months since hearing that her schoolfriend Lucie Blackman had been murdered. (Lucie was killed by a millionaire businessman while working in Japan as a bar hostess.)
But she was very excited about the future that evening."
Fran was the first to learn her sister was missing when she received a phone call from Peter Simon at 10.30pm on July 30 last year.
She recalls: "My parents were on holiday and I was staying at their house when Peter rang.
He said: 'Fran, I'm really worried Louise hasn't turned up on the ferry.'
He sounded hysterical and was crying. I told him she'd probably just missed the ferry.
"We reported her missing the next day, but initially I wasn't so worried. Then it became clear she hadn't just missed the ferry."
Fran says she found Christmas the most difficult time.
"It was things like realising you weren't wrapping presents for Louise or playing silly party games that she loved. We were going through the motions."
Fran lives in York withher Canadian boyfriend Chris Kozak, 29. She says it's tough being far from her family in Kent because she can't provide everyday support to the others.
But it also makes it easier to divorce herself from reality.
She says: "Sometimes it feels as if I'm in Canada again and that Louise just hasn't got in touch, that she'll walk through the door at the next family party.
"I don't think I have really let my emotions out properly yet. I don't think I'll be able to feel a release until we know what has happened to her."
Even though there is a six-year age gap between them, Angela, the eldest of the five children, says she shared a very close bond with Louise.
The 30-year-old vet says: "The months since she disappeared have been the most painful of my life. Not a day has gone by without me thinking about what has happened to her.
"I'll find myself turning round in the street, imagining I'd heard her laugh, or convinced I'd seen her on a bus."
She admits Louise's disappearance has put a strain on her relationship with her fiance Malcolm. They've been together nine years and have a house in London.
An additional tragedy was the death of Malcolm's father in the autumn, when the pair were due to marry. They have postponed their wedding for the time being.
She said: "There were times when I would snap at the tiniest thing. It wasn't Malcolm's fault, it was just the pressure. And I've avoided going out because I felt guilty for having a good time. Instead, I've taken solace from spending time with my family.
"But ultimately what has happened has brought Malcolm and I closer, and I'm closer with my family too."
She said: "Louise was a very special girl. I remember the first time I saw her, she looked smaller than my hand. We were very close from a young age and I remember teaching her to ride a bike when she was five. I was a very naughty big sister and kept throwing her in the bushes.
"When she started seeing Peter, who was her first boyfriend, she couldn't wait to tell me. Our last conversation, about a month before she disappeared, was when she told me that Peter had asked her to marry him - she was squealing with excitement."
Louise had met Peter at an ice rink when she was 17 and had moved into a flat in a house owned by his mother to be closer to him.
But Angela received a chilling phone call from Peter in the weeks after Louise went missing. She says: "He told me: 'I have felt her spirit. She was in great pain before, but now she is at peace. Her body is in Ostend, tell the police to search there."
No body was found in Ostend and Angela doesn't understand what prompted him to make the call.
Peter hasn't been in touch with the Kerton family for months now. Angela won't stop until she knows what happened to Louise, but wants life to move on.
"The sooner we find her, the sooner the healing process can start. But I'm determined to pick up the pieces. "Life has to go on and it's what Louise would have wanted."
If you have seen Louise, please call the confidential National Missing Persons Helpline on Freephone 0500 700 700.
Happy family: Louise aged eight, Simon, baby Marie, Francesca and Angela; Louise aged 10: a quiet, reserved child; Peter, 39, was Louise's first boyfriend; Simon. 26, is angry with the German; police's delayed decision to act; Picture: KENT GAVIN; Marie, 17, resorted to; cutting herself in an effort to deal with the situation; Picture: WILL LACK; Francesca, 28, still holds out hope her sister is alive; Eldest sister Angela received a chilling call from Peter
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|Title Annotation:||M on Tuesday|
|Publication:||The Mirror (London, England)|
|Date:||Aug 6, 2002|
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