More than a year after she disappeared from a Denny's restaurant near her parents' home in Severn, Valerie Ann Littleton has turned up alive in New Orleans, police said yesterday.
The 47-year-old woman - whose family said she suffers from bipolar disorder - apparently has been using aliases, according to Anne Arundel County police.
That closes the case, but for her family, the news brings mixed emotions.
"It's encouraging to know that she's alive," her father, Kingsley Gorman, said yesterday. "But it's frustrating because we'd like to help her and we don't know how."
The FBI contacted Anne Arundel police Thursday to tell them that Littleton's fingerprints matched those of a person who had been arrested in New Orleans. Littleton's father said she had been arrested Christmas Eve on a minor nuisance charge.
Authorities are not sure where Littleton is now and were unable to give her family much information.
"There's no law against disappearing if you're an adult," said Lt. Joseph Jordan, county police spokesman. "But it upsets a lot of people when that happens, especially the family."
After an argument with her mother late Sept. 10, 2002, Littleton walked about a mile from her parents' home on Cuire Drive to the Denny's.
The restaurant's video surveillance tapes show Littleton entering the restaurant and leaving about 40 minutes later.
The contents of her purse - including family photos and identification - were found in a bathroom at the restaurant.
That Denny's has since closed and is boarded up.
Littleton's disappearance sparked an intensive search effort by the family, which included the posting of hundreds of missing-persons fliers and a full-sized billboard just east of Laurel on Route 198. Her parents suspected foul play and offered a $2,500 reward for information about what happened to her.
Detective Sheyn Brezniak of the county police missing persons unit continued to submit Littleton's fingerprints to a national database - which is how she was found - and called her parents nearly every week, Gorman said.
Littleton has never contacted her parents or sister, and it does not appear that she contacted her ex-husband or their two teen-age daughters in Kansas City, Mo.
Now that they know their daughter is alive, Kingsley Gorman said he and his wife, Mildred, are unsure of what to do next.
"We don't really know how to attack this," he said. "We could go down there and look for her, but it would be like looking for a needle in a haystack."