VAN NUYS — Retiree Suzanne Arbell is not the kind of woman who usually becomes a missing persons case.
A highly organized woman who stayed in close contact with her family, the Van Nuys resident is reportedly of sound mind and has no history of disappearing for days on end.
She is so outside the norm for missing persons that after tracking down the few leads they had for almost a month, police took the rare step Wednesday of issuing a missing persons bulletin to ask the public's help in locating her.
"This is a woman who would not let 48 hours go by without making contact with her family or friends," said Los Angeles Police Detective Ken McCourt of the 62-year-old Arbell, last seen by friends on April 18.
On that day, Arbell had telephone conversations with family members, and mentioned that she was going out of town for a short trip with a friend.
On April 25, her car was found in a remote area near Victorville. There were no signs of foul play and the car, a 1987 silver-blue Honda Civic, was drivable, McCourt said. There was also no indication that she was traveling with anyone.
The only personal item found in the car was Arbell's curling iron, her daughter said the police told her.
"She just disappeared," McCourt said. "There is no evidence of domestic problems, no mental stress, no strain. As far as we can tell, she left all her belongings in her apartment."
The apartment was described by police as extremely fastidious. "It's so neat, you expect when you open the door of the refrigerator that all the food will be alphabetized," said Detective Raynette Sincosky, McCourt's partner in the LAPD's Missing Persons Division.
Arbell, who had moved to Van Nuys less than a year ago after retiring from a job with United Airlines, could take care of herself.
"She once took third place at the judo nationals tournament in Atlanta," said her daughter, Shelby Black, a massage therapist in Venice. Although Arbell had not practiced judo for several years, her husband, Alone Arbell, said she was "in great shape."
The only unusual situation in her life, according to the police and family members, was her marriage to Alone Arbell, an Israeli citizen more than 30 years her junior. It was a marriage of convenience, Alone said.
"She married me to help me stay in the United States," he said, sitting in his Northridge automobile repair shop, "Don't Panic, We're Mechanics."
"We were best friends," he said.
The Arbells were married almost a year ago during a quick trip to Las Vegas and never lived together.
McCourt said the husband is not a suspect. "There is no evidence and nothing family members have told us that leads us to believe he would be," McCourt said.
Alone Arbell, who lives above his shop about 10 blocks from his wife's apartment, said he last saw her two days before she disappeared.
"It was Friday, she brought me home from the hospital," he said. He was recovering from an accident at the shop. An engine had fallen on his foot, crushing some of his toes.
He said he last spoke to her on the Sunday she disappeared. "She was supposed to fix me something to eat and come over," he said.
But on that same day Suzanne Arbell told her son, nephew and a neighbor that she was going on a trip.
"She said she was going out of town with a friend," said her son, Woody Black, a special education teacher in Virginia. He added that it was unusual for her not to talk more about her plans.
"She loved to describe her travel and her friends, but this time she didn't, and I didn't want to go into the whole thing."
Woody Black said he thinks she said her friend was a woman.
"She had a lot of friends from her years working in the airlines, so that was not so unusual," he said.
His mother had moved to Van Nuys after taking early retirement from United Airlines. She was the airline's expert in the shipping of hazardous materials, according to her daughter. "If someone had a question about something that might be dangerous to ship on the airlines, she knew all the rules and regulations," Shelby Black said.
Arbell was divorced from her children's father about 15 years ago and enjoyed a moderately active social life. "She rarely drank, she was fairly conservative," Black said. "She was sort of the epitome of a Waspish, Midwestern woman who was slightly snobbish.
"But she did have a thing for younger men."
Shelby Black said her mother's next relationship after her marriage was with a man 20 years younger.
"But she was not dating around," she said. "That relationship lasted nine years and then it was several years before she had another one."
Shelby Black said she introduced her mother to Alone Arbell. "He took care of my car and I would give him massages in trade," Shelby Black said.
Because her mother could fly for free, she'd visit often and on one occasion met the mechanic. Shelby Black said family members did not object to the marriage.
Shelby Black and her mother became estranged, however, when Black insisted that her mother and she go into therapy together to resolve longstanding conflicts.
They last saw each other on Valentine's Day, Shelby Black said.
Arbell had made out a will dividing her estate between her son and daughter, Shelby Black said.
Shelby Black said her mother was financially comfortable but not wealthy.
Anyone with information can call the LAPD Missing Persons Unit at 213-485-2806.
Suzanne Arbell was last seen April 18 in Van Nuys. Her car was found seven days later near Victorville.