Police are investigating the possibility that a woman with severe dementia who went missing a year and a half ago is at a nursing facility in Southern California under a different name, officials said.
Nancy Paulikas, 57, disappeared on Oct. 15, 2016 from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art while visiting with her husband. She walked away after going to the restroom.
Surveillance video showed her walking away from the museum west on Wilshire Boulevard that day. But a search of the area using a helicopter turned up nothing.
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A missing persons case was opened to find the woman described as 5 foot 7, about 140 pounds, with brown-gray hair and blue eyes. Her name was entered into a national missing persons database.
Fire agencies, homeless shelters, hospitals, coroner's offices, and nursing homes were notified. The California Department of Justice and state Health Care Services Department are assisting. A $30,000 reward is being offered.
Her husband was questioned. His story checked out, police said. He is not a suspect in her disappearance.
"The challenge is, if she's dead, we feel confident nobody knows it," said Michael Rosenberger, the Manhattan Beach police detective assigned to the missing persons case. "We have no reason to believe somebody's murdered her. It is unlikely that she passed away of illness or exposure in the major LA metro area and someone didn't come across the body."
Police have requested from the state's Department of Health Care Services information on locations with patients — women 45 to 65 years old — who are getting services and have requested reimbursement from the state, police said. Police theorize that someone might be using her and concealing her identity as a way to defraud the state's health care program.
"This is something that's growing," said Mike Goldberg, an LAPD sergeant who volunteers on his own time to work on this case. "It's real common."
There are nearly 20,000 missing persons cases in California, the state DOJ says. There are at least several thousand care facilities in LA County alone, Rosenberg said. Investigators sent 860 letters out to facilities a couple weeks ago and got a couple phone calls back, but the tips were look-alikes.
"Bottom line — she fell between the cracks," Goldberg said. "The questions is, was it done on purpose or by mistake? The only way we're going to find out is catching a tiger by the tail."
Paulikas' husband, Kirk Moody, has been dealing with what he says is a living hell. He was her full-time caretaker. He said she walked away after going to the restroom at the museum while he went to the men's restroom. She usually waits for him, he said. But this time, she didn't.
He said she has early onset Alzheimer's disease, has trouble communicating and may not be able to say her name. Her condition was deteriorating at the time she disappeared.
"The feeling that I can't get to her to help her and take care of her is just awful," he said. "I don't know how to find her. I feel like I'm failing her."