or nearly two decades a Cape Town mother anxiously waited and prayed for news of her missing daughter. This Christmas she has received her best present ever – her daughter has been found alive and well.
The bearer of the good news and her own “Santa Claus” is a local policeman who worked tirelessly to solve the cold case and succeeded in under two weeks.
Delores Cyster’s world fell apart in 1993 when her daughter Johnnica Bailey, who was two years old at the time, was snatched by a couple paid by Cyster to care for the toddler while she was at work.
For 18 years, Cyster, from Freedom Park in Mitchells Plain, frantically searched for her daughter’s kidnappers, hoping her little girl would be reunited with her six siblings.
Cyster routinely checked on the case with the police.
This month her perseverance paid off.
Warrant officer Nicholas du Plessis from the Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences Unit, took pity on Cyster and vowed to look into the case.
Du Plessis managed to track down Johnnica in Port Elizabeth within two weeks and now Cyster is waiting for tests to confirm her daughter has indeed been found.
Cyster said: “I never gave up looking for her. Call it a Christmas miracle – because that’s what it is. I have my baby back. The pain and agony is finally a thing of the past. I know where she is.”
Cyster said she always had a feeling that her child was still alive.
Recalling the day that Johnnica disappeared, Cyster said she had left her daughter with Phillip and Johanna Ambraal, as she usually did when she went to work at a welding company. “Johnnica was supposed to sleep over on the Friday night and I was going to fetch her after work the next day. But when I arrived they were gone… Just packed up and left… no note, no warning, nothing.”
She tracked down the couple’s former landlady who told her they had moved back home to Port Elizabeth.
She searched for two years on her own, making trips to Port Elizabeth, before going to the police.
“Eventually two years later in 1995, I went to open a case, but by then the trail had run cold.”
Cyster said she was shocked and overwhelmed with emotion when Du Plessis recently phoned her.
“He told me he had good and bad news. I first went pale. It felt like the blood was being drained from my body… At first I thought my child had died and I urged him ‘please don’t tell me she’s dead’.”
Du Plessis told her that the couple who had taken her daughter were dead and that her daughter was already a mother of a pigeon pair, aged one and three years.
Cyster said she had hoped to have her girl back by Christmas but added that it was not meant to be – as yet. “I have two grandchildren I never knew existed. I wish I had funds to pay for the DNA tests myself so that the process could be fast-tracked and I can have them with me,” said Cyster.
Without the test confirming identity, Cyster is forced to wait longer before being able to make contact with her daughter.
“She is obviously in shock, needing time to process it all. It would have been great showing her off at Christmas but I’ve waited all these years and another month …would probably not hurt. At least I know she’s safe.”
Cyster said her message to her long-lost daughter was: “You’re my Christmas miracle, always remember that I never stopped searching for you.”
Cyster urged other parents of missing children not to give up hope. “Trust in God, keep your faith; you never know when you, too, will get that call.
“It’s been so long. I can’t wait to hold her in my arms again… tell her I missed her but I understand that she has a lot to work through. All my dreams have now come true.”
Du Plessis said it was not difficult to track down Johnnica, because her mother already had a last known Port Elizabeth address for the couple who took her in 1993.
“Once I got the details I found the case listed as a theft case on the system. I could not find the original case docket so I opened a new one.”
Du Plessis said he could not find Johnnica’s case on the circulation system at the missing person’s bureau.
“They had no records of the case, but the mother had various old newspaper clippings.”
He said he contacted his colleagues in Port Elizabeth .
“It took about a week for the PE police to take statements from the sister of the man who took Johnnica.”
This woman had found out who Johnnica was when her brother and his wife became ill. “She never reported it and merely assumed everything was okay and that Johnnica’s family was not searching for her.”
Du Plessis said the girl was still coming to terms with the news about her childhood kidnapping and needed time.
“She never knew that the people she called mom and dad were not her real parents.”
Du Plessis said blood samples still needed to be sent for forensic testing.
“We are 99 percent sure but we need the DNA testing to seal the deal before mother and daughter can reunite at last.”
Du Plessis has meanwhile encouraged Cyster to write a letter to her daughter in the interim, which he plans to deliver, to open the lines of communication.
“I know that the mother desperately wants to make contact with her daughter, but unless someone pays privately for the blood tests she might have to wait another few weeks before she can finally meet her child again,” said Du Plessis.
Western Cape police commissioner, Arno Lamoer, commended Du Plessis for a sterling job.
“This policeman, through his actions, showed that after more than 25 years of service he is still committed to his job.”
Lamoer added that other policemen should draw inspiration from Du Plessis’s actions.
“It just took the dedication of one policeman to change the lives of an entire family. If more follow in his footsteps many more cold cases could be solved.”