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After 16 Days, Disappearance of Michele Dorr Remains a MysteryBy Molly Sinclair
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 16, 1986
It was around noon on Saturday, May 31, when Carl David Dorr, 33, and his daughter, Michele Lee Dorr, 6, climbed into his 1974 yellow Dodge station wagon and drove away from the Silver Spring house where he lives and where she was spending the weekend.
A man working in the yard next door saw the girl, dressed in a bathing suit, leave with her father. It was the last time that anyone outside her family saw her, according to police.
Michele's father reported her missing later in the day. He told police that she vanished from the back yard where she had been playing in her plastic wading pool after they returned from their noontime errand. After searching the neighborhood in the late afternoon and finding no trace of her, Dorr said, he drove two miles from his house at 9129 Sudbury Rd. to the Silver Spring police station to report the girl missing at 6:30 p.m.
"It's a mystery," said Lt. James D. Lee, who is in charge of the Silver Spring investigating unit handling the case. "No one saw her leave the yard. No one saw any strangers in the area. No one observed any strange activity that would indicate abduction or foul play."
But what makes the case extraordinary are the bizarre twists and turns that it has taken since Michele's disappearance 16 days ago.
During the first week, Michele's mother, Dorothy Jean Dorr, a licensed practical nurse who lives in Gaithersburg and who has custody of the girl, hired a psychic to locate Michele.
At about the same time, the father and his brother, Charles Dorr, were called before a grand jury to answer questions about Michele's disappearance.
And last week, Dorothy Dorr signed a court order to have her estranged husband undergo a psychiatric evaluation, citing his "irrational, incoherent" behavior. That behavior, according to Dorothy Dorr and police investigators, included his making statements that he had killed the girl and buried her under his house.
After obtaining a search warrant, police spent nearly two hours digging under the house but found no trace of the girl.
Carl Dorr was released from the Washington Adventist Hospital Thursday after the psychiatrist who examined him concluded that there were no grounds for him to remain there. The psychiatrist said that Dorr's erratic behavior before his admission to the hospital had been caused by his feeling of responsibility because the girl had been in his custody at the time of her disappearance, according to hospital spokesman Reg Burgess. Burgess said that the psychiatrist found that police pressure on Dorr contributed to his condition.
Police, while denying that they have pressured Dorr, last week intensified their search, using dog teams to comb the woods near his house. Officers on horseback searched park areas. Investigators even climbed into the sewer system that serves the father's neighborhood to see if they could find any clues.
"We can't take a chance on overlooking anything," Lee said.
Not since Sheila Lyon, 12, and her sister Katherine Lyon, 10, disappeared in 1975 on a walk from their home in Kensington has there been such an unusual missing-person case in Montgomery County or one that has generated such public interest, Lee said. The Lyon sisters were not found.
Residents in the neighborhood where Carl and Charles Dorr live in a two-story cream-colored Colonial-style brick house say they are as puzzled by the girl's disappearance as are the police.
"We don't know what to think," said Leo B. Jann, who lives on Sudbury Road a few houses from the Dorr brothers. "The girl was snatched from under our noses. Everybody was home when it happened, but nobody knows when it happened or how."
Many of the residents said they were not close to Carl Dorr. One neighbor, Doris Jenkins, said Dorr did not talk much but was always polite and if he was in the yard would throw out a hand in greeting. She said she saw Dorr after Michele disappeared and he "was wringing his hands like he was about to break his thumbs off. He seemed very upset to me."
Dorr, who graduated from Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda in 1971 and later from Hood College in Frederick and the University of Maryland, has angrily denounced his treatment by police and said after his grand jury appearances that he knows nothing about his daughter's whereabouts. He could not be reached for comment after his release from the hospital.
Michele's visits on weekends with her father were in keeping with a court order issued this year in the divorce case filed by Dorothy Dorr, 34, who married Carl Dorr on Sept. 30, 1978. Court papers show that the couple separatedin January 1986 and has been involved since then in a court battle over support payments for Michele, who was born Oct. 12, 1979.
The mother alleged in her petition that Carl Dorr came to her Gaithersburg home on Feb. 12 and threatened to abduct Michele. On Feb. 14, Dorr returned to the Gaithersburg house and "threw Dorothy Dorr up against the wall multiple times causing her to suffer lacerations and contusions," court papers filed by Dorothy Dorr allege. The mother won a court order Feb. 19, ordering Carl Dorr torefrain from abusing her and granting her immediate custody of Michele.
Carl Dorr has denied the allegation, according to his lawyer, David Goldberg. The papers said that since Feb. 1 Dorr has "threatened to abduct Michele from school, from her bus stop and from the residence of the child's baby sitter."
At a May 1 hearing in which Dorothy Dorr was seeking an increase in child support payments, she testified that her husband had said he would quit his job as a body shop manager to keep from paying more. Carl Dorr, testifying at the hearing, denied that he had made such a statement. He said that he had been fired in April from a job as an automobile painter and was looking for work.
The domestic relations master's office, after listening to both sides, ordered May 5 that Carl Dorr begin on May 15 to pay $400 a month in child support, up $150 from previous payments, "based on the earning capacity of the defendant and the needs of the child."
The order stipulated that Dorothy Dorr must live with Michele in the Washington area.
Carl Dorr said in an interview that he made the first $400 support payment on time.
When police were informed that Michele was missing, 20 officers were assigned to the initial search and nearly 50 officers helped on the second day. Since then, the search has been the focus of the Silver Spring investigative unit with Michael Garvey and Wayne Ferrell, the two main officers, working 13 or 14 hours a day since Michele disappeared, Lee said.
But despite the massive effort, police have come up empty-handed. When asked what they have at this point, Lee said, "About what we had the first day, a missing child. We won't stop looking until we have exhausted every avenue. The hope is we will locate her and have a happy ending . . . but we don't have anything right now."