36 years after the disappearance of Sister Rose Marie Gayhart from Cape Coral, Florida, the New Yorker is still looking for answers
Florida should be a fresh start for Rose Marie Gayhart. The 23-year-old woman from Dansville, New York has had a number of difficult years including losing her baby at six months of age and deciding to put her second baby up for adoption.
But things seemed to change for Rose when she moved to Fort Myers, Florida with boyfriend Bob Paddock and mother Dorothy Rittenhouse.
Rose’s sister Laurie Travis told Dateline that Rose seemed happy in her new life.
“She sounded happy where she was,” said Laurie. “And she just begged and asked me to move to Florida to be around her.”
Laurie and Rose, who were only a year apart, were always very close.
“We shared a bedroom and listened to the same music,” Laurie told Dateline. She was 22 years old when her sister went missing. “We were very close. I miss her so much.”
Laurie told Dateline that she was considering moving to Florida but had two jobs in her hometown of Dansville and didn’t feel that at that moment she could uproot her life.
So the sisters kept in touch by writing letters to one another. On March 5, 1985, Laurie received a letter from Rose sounding happy but lonely. Rose wrote that they were hoping to buy a house in Cape Coral and continued to ask Laurie to move down or at least come to visit.
In the letter Laurie shared with Dateline, Rose also wrote that she wanted to return to New York while Bob was in the National Guard for two weeks, but that he would not let her.
“He’s scared I won’t be back,” wrote Rose. “I’d also like to get away from Bob’s mother because she’s going mad.”
Laurie explained that Rose, Bob, and Bob’s mother were living in a confined space in a trailer at the time and that there may have been tension between the three of them.
Rose’s letter was the last time Laurie heard from her sister. Laurie replied to Rose, but her letter was returned.
On March 19, Laurie said her mother had received a letter from Bob’s mother, Dorothy Rittenhouse. In that letter, which was also shared with Dateline, Dorothy stated that Rose was missing and that she had not appreciated everything Dorothy had tried to help her.
According to a Cape Coral police report, a neighbor told authorities she witnessed an argument between Rose and Bob on March 17, in which Rose said she was pregnant and wanted the baby, but Bob wanted her to have an abortion. The argument ended with Dorothy Rose calling her mother before throwing her out of the house and telling her not to come back.
In the letter, Dorothy also stated that she later tried to return Rose a bus ticket to New York, but Rose refused to take it. The ticket, bought on March 17th, was attached to the letter to her mother.
On March 19, Rose was posted to Big Howie’s Hot Dogs Diner on Terrace 47 in Cape Coral, Florida. On her third day at work, Rose’s boss is said to have seen her get into a red pickup with an unknown white man. She never came back for her paycheck and has not been seen since.
After receiving the letter and unable to contact Rose, her parents reported that she was missing at the Livingston County Sheriff’s office in New York. The department then approached the Cape Coral, Florida police for assistance since it was last seen there. Both agencies are still working on the case.
Detective Thomas Kortright, who has been on the case since 2018, told Dateline that Rose’s disappearance was a cold case, but as new information comes in, detectives continue to investigate.
“Rose’s case is still very much investigated and we are doing everything we can to resolve it,” said Det. Kortright said, who added that investigators suspect the 36-year-old case may be a foul.
“How much time has passed, we suspect something happened to her,” he said. “Unfortunately we don’t know what happened and without a body it was difficult to move forward.”
Detective Kortright told Dateline that many people have been interviewed and re-interviewed over the years, including her family, friends, co-workers, and her boyfriend Bob Paddock and his mother Dorothy Rittenhouse.
Detective Kortright added that no one has been exempted from being a person of interest, and until Rose is found or someone gets in touch, her disappearance will remain a mystery.
“We hope someone in this area will remember something from that time and get in touch,” Det said. Kortright said. “Any information could help.”
According to the detective, Rose had left a metal box that contained a scrapbook containing important documents of her firstborn and the second baby she was putting up for adoption. Her family doesn’t think she left it behind.
Rose’s sister Laurie told Dateline that her family had always suspected that a foul was involved in her disappearance.
“She would never just pick up the phone and never contact us,” said Laurie. “We were best friends, she would have reached me.”
Laurie told Dateline that Bob Paddock and his mother returned to New York after Rose’s disappearance. While she still sees Bob in town, the two have no contact. Dateline tried to reach Bob by phone, but calls went unanswered. Bob’s mother Dorothy has since passed away.
Laurie said her family just wanted answers after all these years, especially her parents, who are both in their late 70s and battling cancer.
“You deserve to know the truth before you die,” Laurie said. “We all just want to know what happened to Rosie. And we want justice. ”
In 2018, Rose’s past surfaced and brought some happiness to the family. The baby she put up for adoption, Joel, was back in her life. He was married with two daughters and had been looking for his birth mother for years.
“It was a bright spot in the dark we’d lived in,” said Laurie. “And now we’ve got part of Rosie back again.”
Laurie, who runs the Missing Rose Marie Gayhart Facebook page, recently posted a photo of Joel’s daughters that read, “Rose, these are your lovely granddaughters.”
This month will be 36 years since Rose went missing, but Laurie told Dateline she won’t give up until she finds her sister, or at least finds out what happened to her. Three years ago, Laurie finally did what her sister always wanted – she traveled to Florida.
“I wanted to see the place my sister loved so much – the place she was happy,” said Laurie. “I know I might never get her home, but I just hope to find out what happened to her.”
Anyone with information that may help resolve Rose’s case is encouraged to contact the Cape Coral, Florida Police Department at (239) 574-3223 or the Livingston County, New York Sheriff’s Department at (585) 243- Call 7120.