Officers from the Surrey Constabulary have begun investigating a 27-year-old missing persons case involving a Benalmádena-based British bar owner. After the missing woman's nephew produced what he believes might be fresh evidence, the police decided to start an inquiry. Strangely enough, this will be the very first police investigation into the disappearance of Irish national Bernadette Cooper, who vanished on her way to Malaga in January 1993. Mistakes were made in the initial private investigations carried out, as Bernadette's 61-year-old nephew Leon Moore told SUR in English.
"No police force originally investigated the case. The initial investigation was done solely through word of mouth among the Irish community in Spain, the Salvation Army and a private investigation made by a lawyer. Her real name was Susan, but she always used her second name, Bernadette. Back then, they were searching for Susan, which was an error that I have only recently discovered."
Bernadette, who will be 77 later this month, had arrived on the coast in the late 1980s to enjoy a new life in the sun. Along with her then husband Brian, she brought a bar called Molley Malones, (now the Wheel Tapas and Punters Bar) in Benalmádena Costa, but their dream life soon began to run into problems. The couple struggled to make the bar financially viable and their marriage eventually broke down.
Brian returned to the UK in 1991 and the couple began divorce proceedings. Desperately in need of funds to keep the business afloat, Bernadette temporarily shut the bar in late 1992, and returned to London. She headed to the family home in Surrey with the hope of a divorce settlement. Her next movements are confusing and her family feel certain that she never arrived back in Malaga, but proving this has been difficult.
"She didn't arrive back
in Spain as far as we know. She never collected her belongings and it seems that no one has seen her since she left for the airport in London. The police are taking this seriously and are now attempting to find her passport movements," Leon said.
In January 1993, Bernadette had contacted a friend on the Costa del Sol to inform him she was on her way back to Benalmádena with sufficient funds to save the bar. The call was the last contact anyone has had with her.
A resistance to come forward
However, members of her family have never stopped searching for the truth. Leon, who describes his aunt as someone who was "feisty and vivacious" feels that people are not being honest about his aunt.
"I find it difficult to believe that so many people I have spoken to in Benalmádena are clamming up and not giving me any information. There seems to be a resistance to come forward," he said.
There were several aspects of the disappearance that prompted Leon to contact the police, but he cannot reveal details because the investigation is ongoing. His determination to find out what really happened is fuelled by a promise he made to his father, who died last year.
"It was part of my dad's life work to try and find his sister. Shortly before he died, I made a promise that I would carry on," he said emotionally.
Leon claims he is receiving new information daily, although most is just "a lot of chasing shadows", but he is keeping optimistic .
"We are looking at a jigsaw puzzle and there is a gigantic piece missing. There is a small possibility that she just decided to take off and start afresh. It's the kind of narrative that people are trying to keep hold of, the Shirley Valentine kind of thing," he concluded.