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Illinois family still hoping for closure 44 years after death of Sarah ‘Kathy’ Ferree

The 23-year-old went out to Aldee’s Disco club in Calumet City, Illinois, on Jan. 4, 1980. Her body was found two months later in a field about 45 minutes away.
Kathy Ferree
Kathy FerreeSandy Ferree

Sarah Katherine Ferree — or Kathy, as she liked to be called — was supposed to stay in her family’s Oak Forest, Illinois home on the night of January 4, 1980.

“She was going to stay in with me and just play games or, whatever, watch TV because there was a really bad ice storm and she wasn’t going to go out,” Kathy’s sister Sandy Ferree told Dateline. “Then, one of her girlfriends called her about nine o’clock and she said she really wanted to meet her at the bar. So Kathy got dressed and went out.”

Kathy Ferree
Kathy FerreeSandy Ferree

Sandy was 16 years old at the time and really looked up to Kathy, who was 23. “I would sit in the bathroom and watch her put her makeup on because she was so precise,” Sandy said. “I just kind of hung around her until she got ready to go [out that night]. I wasn’t mad. I didn’t want her to go, but, you know, I didn’t get upset about it or show it.”

Kathy went to meet a friend at Aldee’s Disco on Sibley Boulevard in Calumet City, Illinois that night. The Oak Forest Police Department told Dateline that a doorman at Aldee’s saw Kathy as she left the bar in the early morning hours of January 5.

Kathy never made it home.

Kathy’s other sister, Pam King, told Dateline that it wasn’t out of the ordinary for Kathy to stay the night somewhere other than their house, but there was something unusual about that night. “I just had a feeling something was wrong. Because I know she always called — regardless if she wasn’t coming home, she always called,” Pam said. “Regardless of what my mother was gonna say to her. But she wanted my mom to know where — you know, she was OK.”

Detective Adrian O’Donnell of the Oak Forest Police Department told Dateline that detectives interviewed several people regarding Kathy’s case — many of whom agreed with Pam’s assessment. “Not coming home would have been out of character [for Kathy],” he told Dateline. “It seems kinda like people had an intuition from the start because this was so out of character for her.”

Detective O’Donnell told Dateline that a state trooper saw Kathy’s car on the side of the highway at 2 a.m. — about half an hour after she left the club. “He continued on his patrol, he came back and found the vehicle still disabled. At that point they made contact with the family here in Oak Forest,” the detective said, adding that the department contacted the family “sometime in the morning hours” of January 5. 

Sandy said that their mother asked her, Pam, and their brother, Rick, if they had heard from Kathy. None of them had. “So, around five o’clock in the evening of the 5th, my mom got in the car,” Sandy said. “I don’t know if anybody went with her — I didn’t — and [she] drove from our house onto I-80 going east.”

According to Sandy, her mother saw Kathy’s car abandoned on the side of the road. “Her car was facing in the direction of coming home — but no Kathy, no key,” she said.

On January 16, more than a week after Kathy disappeared, The Times quoted an Illinois Division of Criminal Investigation official, Roger Shields, who said that the department was “convinced [Kathy] did not run away and that she did not commit suicide.”

Detective O’Donnell told Dateline that the Oak Forest Police Department performed aerial and on-foot searches for Kathy for nearly two months with the assistance of a civilian group that also helped pass out missing person flyers in the area.

While Kathy was missing, the family tried to continue their day-to-day routine — holding on to hope that Kathy was alive somewhere. “For the two months that she was missing, I would get off the bus [from school] and, like, talk to myself, and say ‘OK, Mom’s gonna greet me at the door, Kathy’s home. She was found alive,’” Sandy recalled. “I remember trying to prepare myself for that.”

That never happened. The search for Kathy Ferree ended on March 1, 1980.

Kathy Ferree in high school
Kathy Ferree in high schoolSandy Ferree

“An unidentified person was found in Will County, March 1 of 1980,” Det. O’Donnell told Dateline. “She was later determined to be Sarah Katherine Ferree.”

According to Det. O’Donnell, Kathy’s body was found in an “undeveloped subdivision” far from where her car was found. “It’s not a walk,” he told Dateline. “It’s many miles.” Based on the distance between Kathy’s body and her abandoned vehicle, the Oak Forest Police Department believes it is likely that Kathy was taken there by another person. “It would be unlikely that she would have ended up there by her own means,” the detective said. “I think that would be a safe assumption.” 

The Oak Forest Police Department originally worked alongside the Illinois State Police on Kathy’s case. The ISP told Dateline that no one at their agency is currently familiar with the case.

Sandy Ferree told Dateline she remembers being told that it was people riding snowmobiles across the field who found her sister’s body.

“I remember [that day] like it was yesterday,” Sandy told Dateline. “I remember my mom on the phone, but I didn’t hear what she was talking about. Then she called my boyfriend and asked him to come and get me and take me away for the day.” Sandy said that she spent most of that day with her boyfriend, Greg, unaware that her sister’s body had been found. 

“When I came home at night, I knew they found her ‘cause there were all kinds of cars in the driveway. And I just knew when we pulled up. I told Greg, I said, ‘They found her,’” Sandy remembered. “I didn’t know if it was dead or alive, but I was pretty sure it was not alive.” Sandy said that once she went inside, her mother and her mother’s best friend pulled her into a room and told her that Kathy had been found dead. “I was probably back there for a good hour, crying,” she told Dateline.

Now, 44 years after Kathy went missing, her family still lives without answers. 

Kathy Ferree
Kathy FerreeSandy Ferree

“I’d like to find the son-of-a-bitch that did it,” Pam King told Dateline. 

Sandy Ferree told Dateline that she feels as though her family never got the closure they deserved from Kathy’s death. “It was a closed casket [funeral]. And my dad’s best friend identified her body, so we know she was in there, but we couldn’t — they would not let us see her,” she said. “So there’s always that thought in your mind, ‘I know she was in there, but did we really get closure?’”

Dealing with Kathy’s death was hard on everyone in the family. “I just remember the day after everything was over — the funeral — was the most empty feeling in the world. And that’s when it really hit my mom,” Sandy said. “She always tells people — close people — that. ‘Don’t be alone the day after it’s all over with.’”

Sandy recalled a conversation she had with her mother years later, after she had children of her own. “I said to my mom, ‘How did you do it? How did you — how did you function the whole time [Kathy] was missing and when they found her?’’’ Stoically. “She said, ‘I had three other children that needed to be taken care of — and a husband.’”

Sandy says her mother has now accepted the likelihood that she will never get answers regarding her daughter’s death. “She’s at the point now, at 85 years old, that she’ll just see [Kathy] when she gets to the Pearly Gates,” she said. 

Kathy’s sisters described her as an infectiously positive person. “She was just spunky, fun-loving. Cute as a button,” Sandy told Dateline. “Had a lot of friends. Had a lot of boyfriends. Had a lot of boyfriends still want her after she did — after she broke up with them. So she was very popular.” 

Kathy Ferree
Kathy FerreeSandy Ferree

Pam told Dateline that when she thinks about Kathy now, what she remembers most is “how much she loved us and how much I loved her.”

The family still holds onto hope that somebody will come forward with information that helps bring her justice. “She didn’t deserve it,” Sandy told Dateline. “Nobody deserves that.”

No one has ever been charged or arrested in connection to Kathy’s case, but authorities also haven’t lost hope. “Anything 40 years old without answers is probably as cold as it can get,” Det. O’Donnell said. “But hopefully with some renewed attention and, you know, 40 years for people to reflect — it’s likely that somebody somewhere knows something.”

Detective O’Donnell asks that anyone with information about Kathy’s case should contact the Oak Forest Police Department at (708) 687-1376.