YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Grasping at Straws in the Search for a Troubled Mom


In her letter, addressed to Life & Style, Deborah Rosenberg of Indianapolis wrote, "My mother-in-law has been missing since March of 1994 and is in need of medical attention. . . ."

She enclosed a flier she and her husband, Marshall, are circulating through the Georgia-based Homeless and Missing Service of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill. It bears a grainy 1992 photo of Elaine Claire Rosenberg, then 65, and this description:

White female, 4 feet, 10 inches, 105 pounds, hazel eyes, gray / brown hair. Sporadic facial twitch and involuntary foot-stamping. Loves cats, chocolate and fast food. Spends time in libraries. May be using maiden name, Ginsburg.

For Marshall, 38, an attorney, and Deborah, 32, a transportation consultant, the search for his mother began in March 1994 after she disappeared from the Alta Vista Gardens board and care facility in Hollywood.

"Where she went, I don't have any idea," says Konstantin Goldenberg, the home's owner / administrator. "She didn't tell anybody anything."

Goldenberg recalls that she arrived with no possessions and "She told me she didn't have anybody." Sometimes she'd be away half a day, he says, but "she'd always tell us." Residents are free to come and go, he adds--"It's not a jail."

Although Deborah has never met her mother-in-law--Elaine disappeared seven months before she and Marshall married--finding her has become her crusade. She says, "I have her to thank for my husband. It's the biggest gift I could give him."

In August, she spent 10 days in Los Angeles walking the streets of skid row, handing out 400 fliers, asking everywhere, "Have you seen her?" She inquired at shelters, missions and $10-a-day hotels, at Laundromats, free clinics and soup kitchens, in Pershing Square and MacArthur Park.

The family doesn't know why Elaine wandered, nor if she herself knows. Perhaps, speculates Marshall, one of her five adult children, she just "became disoriented and didn't know she was leaving." Diagnosed as schizophrenic in the early '70s, "She's had a very long and rocky road," he says.

There have been a series of hospitalizations, nonsensical phone calls and what Marshall describes as "disturbing and distressing behaviors." Once, he says, she was picked up for standing in the middle of the street attempting to direct traffic.

He can't pinpoint a triggering event. Her illness preceded her divorce, in 1979 after 27 years of marriage. Early on, her life had seemed full of promise. She'd been salutatorian of her high school in the Bronx, had gone on to college and held a secretarial job before marriage.

Later, she'd been a volunteer for groups such as the American Cancer Society. Then, in 1989, she left New York without telling anyone. Says Marshall, "Nobody knew how she was traveling or what she was doing. She spent a year traversing the country [by train] and then popped up in Los Angeles."

The family pieced together a record of her route through ATM transactions, scraps of paper sent acknowledging family birthdays, an occasional collect call.

Once in Los Angeles, Elaine contacted another son, who had her mental state evaluated. As a result, Marshall says, "She was admitted involuntarily to a mental care facility" and later released to the board and care home.

Marshall last saw her in January 1994 at Alta Vista and thought she seemed content enough, though "she was never keen on these places. She knew it for what it was--a halfway house for people until they moved on to wherever they moved to. It was a place she would tolerate. She'd get up and out first thing in the morning and not come back until evening."

Elaine Rosenberg has not tried to contact her family and has left only the sketchiest of trails. There was a short stay at the Cecil Hotel downtown in 1995. Main library workers told Deborah she came every day for a while. But she never had a library card. Nor did she have a driver's license.

Because Elaine "took to McDonald's hamburgers like fish take to water," as Marshall puts it, Deborah even checked out some golden arches. No solid leads.

Still, she's encouraged that "so many people seemed to recognize her." And she's convinced that Elaine is still in Los Angeles. Marshall agrees, "It would make sense that she would be in a warm climate."

Others involved in the search--Linda Boyd, a County Department of Mental Health professional who coordinates the LAPD's Systemwide Mental Assessment Response Team, says, "I believe she is on the streets." Officer Robin Brown of the LAPD's Missing Persons Division agrees, "She's out there. She'll pop up sooner or later."

Deborah attended a SMART meeting with representatives of 30 agencies serving skid row's homeless. Five or six said they'd seen Elaine Rosenberg, some recently. Only last week, the Missing Persons Division was told of a "sighting" at a food pantry.

Los Angeles Times Articles