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Disappearance illustrates search challenges

Brookhaven police officials are pointing to the disappearance ofan elderly Brookhaven woman last week as an example of thechallenges law enforcement are facing in the search for 83-year-oldVirginia Ratliff, who has been missing since late February.

Police Chief Pap Henderson said Marie Patton, age unavailable,went missing on May 13 when she left her job at the city barn on alunch break.

“She just left for lunch and didn’t come back,” he said. “Wedon’t take missing persons lightly around here, so we put out alocal welfare concern with all the local law enforcement.”

Henderson said late that evening, Patton’s nephew contacted him.The nephew said he’d received a phone call that Patton was inKenner, La., where she had run out of gas.

“She didn’t realize she was in Kenner,” Henderson said. “Shethought she was in Wesson.”

The Kenner police kept Patton until she was able to be broughtback to Brookhaven.

Henderson said Patton’s story is one reason the search forRatliff has been challenging for his men and other area lawenforcement.

“The problem we run into is how far she went and how quick shegot there,” he said, when comparing Patton’s case to possibilitiesin Ratliff’s disappearance. “We want people to know we are stillheavily involved in searching for Mrs. Ratliff, but this situationshows us that she could have gone quite a distance.”

Assistant Police Chief Nolan Jones said when Ratliff left herhouse on Feb. 28, she had about three-quarters of a tank ofgasoline in her white 1999 Mercury Grand Marquis bearing theLincoln County tag 987-LIH.

“She had a little wallet with her, but as we understand it therewas no money in it,” Jones said. “At first we thought she did havesome, but now we believe she did not.”

Henderson and Jones said Ratliff’s photo has been distributedthroughout surrounding states, in addition to search efforts herein Mississippi. Ratliff had family in Memphis, and herdisappearance has been publicized by media there as well.

Jones said Ratliff is also listed on National Crime InformationCenter databases. If she encounters law enforcement anywhere in thecountry, the computer will bring up a hit that she is missing inBrookhaven.

“We have not given up, and we don’t want anyone else to either,”Henderson said. “We are still looking for Mrs. Ratliff and we stillneed as much help as possible from the public.”

Ratliff is described as a white woman about 5-foot-1 and 135pounds. Friends and family members say Ratliff may have attemptedto drive to Jackson to see her husband in the hospital and gottenlost during a bout of dementia.

Henderson asked anyone who might have any information leading tolocating Ratliff call the Brookhaven Police Department at(610)833-2424, the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department at(601)833-5231, or the Mississippi Highway Patrol at(601)833-7811.