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Kathleen Shea: Abducted From the Community But Still in Our Hearts

Kathy Shea as a child and a forensic artist's age progression portrait of her as an adult

Kathy Shea as a child and a forensic artist's age progression portrait of her as an adult

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Six year old Kathleen Shea was abducted in Tyrone 53 years ago on March 18th, 1965. Shea was walking to Adam’s Elementary School for her afternoon Kindergarten class when the kidnapping occurred.

Born on Groundhog’s Day of 1959, Shea was the oldest of three to parents Mary Alice Harpster and Jim Shea, who both grew up in Tyrone.

Both of Shea’s parents worked at the local paper mill until her mother had children. After her children were grown up, she went to work for Penn State.

In the weeks before her kidnapping, Shea was at the Tyrone hospital to have her tonsils removed because she frequently got sore throats.

Shea was in the hospital with her two cousins named Doug and Val, who also had their tonsils removed at the same time.

[Kathy] was so happy-go-lucky. It was really cool for a kindergartner to walk into school with a 6th grader.”

— Sue Rhoades

The three planned a sleepover party at their grandmother’s house since Shea wasn’t able to have a birthday party because she was in the hospital. The oldest of Doug and Val is Susan Rhoades, who was 12 at the time of Shea’s abduction. All three are the second cousins of Shea. The sleepover was scheduled for Friday, March 19th, 1965, the day after the kidnapping occurred.

The day she was abducted was Shea’s second day back to school following her surgery. It was a typical spring day for mid-March. There was little to no snow on the ground.

Shea lived on 14th street while Sue Rhoades lived on 16th. The school was on 17th Street and Adams Avenue.

Most mornings, Shea and Rhoades were able to meet up in the afternoon before Kathy went to her afternoon class and when Rhoades was returning to school after lunch.

“Almost always [we met up]. Nine times out of ten, three or four days a week almost every week, it worked out that way”, said Rhoades. “[Kathy] was so happy-go-lucky. It was really cool for a kindergartner to walk into school with a 6th grader.”

Shea was last seen wearing a brown hat, a beige coat with a fur collar, a red sweater, a brown jumper, red tights, red gloves, and yellow, rubber rain boots with black soles.

Kathy had straight, brown hair that went to her shoulders. Her eyes were blue. She was short to average height for a six year old. She weighed 47 pounds and was 47 inches tall (3’11”), coincidentally.

“[Kathy] was a fun and funny little girl. She was easy to get along with and easy going,” said Rhoades. “It’s hard to say what her reaction would be to strangers [compared to that of] someone she knew, where there would be a level of comfort.”

On the morning of Thursday, March 18th, Shea left her house. Rhoades went a different way to school after her lunch and wasn’t able to meet up with Shea.

Shea was taken some time during her short three block walk to school.

Shea’s mother didn’t realize that something might be wrong until after 5 pm. She assumed that Kathy might have been staying after school to catch up on her work since she had been out for her tonsil surgery.

The teacher, Judy Norris, wasn’t concerned when Shea didn’t arrive at school because she assumed that Kathy was feeling sick due to her tonsils.

When Shea’s mother thought something was wrong, she called Sue Rhoades’ house, thinking Kathy might have been excited for the sleepover the next day and went there directly after school.

Shea wasn’t at her cousin Rhoades’ house. She also wasn’t at her grandmother’s on 15th Street.

[Tyrone] was in shock and awe because nothing like that had ever happened. [People] continued to wrack their brains and turn everything inside out and upside down. They were so sure they were gonna find her.”

— Sue Rhoades

“I guess her mother got in the car and drove over to the school to get Kathy, never assuming she wasn’t there. When she got there with the teacher, [she] found that she never arrived to school that day,” said Rhoades.

Her mother called the police after realizing Shea has been missing for nearly five hours.

The police began asking questions, initiated a search, and started an investigation. With the kidnapping in ‘65, there were no AMBER alerts to notify people of the problem.

Rhoades always found it odd that there were no witnesses to the abduction. Back then, most mothers didn’t work, unlike now where parents are gone from their home all day.

On the evening of March 18th, neighbors and the community of Tyrone searched everywhere for Kathy Shea.

“They were looking in garbage cans, alleyways, old cars and abandoned buildings. [People] searched to the max, but there were not really the resources [back then],” said Rhoades.

Search dogs were brought in, and they tracked her to a certain point on Garfield Street.

The following day, high school kids were allowed out of school to search. Organized search parties were created by local fire companies. They needed all the manpower from the school that they could get.

The parties intensely looked in the woods, Reservoir Park, and all of the encompassing areas in Tyrone.

“[Tyrone] was in shock and awe because nothing like that had ever happened. [People] continued to wrack their brains and turn everything inside out and upside down. They were so sure they were gonna find her,” said Rhoades about the search process.

Although Kathy was never found, it’s still a cold case, meaning it’s still open.

In 1979, a small female body was found in New York. At first, police thought it might be Shea. There were three or four markers that lead them to believe it was Shea. However, the last couple markers proved it wasn’t supposedly her.

The body was identified as a girl named Cali from Florida in January 2015.

Every now and then, the Pennsylvania State Police investigators get calls with new information. They always follow-up, but it hasn’t uncovered anything.  

Sue Rhoades just wishes she knew what truly happened after all these years.

“After [her disappearance] for a time period, I would look down that road that I know is the last one she walked on and just have this feeling that the road opened up and that she fell down in and it covered over. As a 12 year old child,  [it was] overwhelming that that happened and nothing ever came of it,” said Rhoades. 

After a few years, her family took in foster children two different times with two different girls.

“[It’s] so interesting that the girls were like Kathy,” said Rhoades.

Although Rhoades doesn’t know the outcome of the first foster child, the second foster girl was adopted by the Shea family and lives in Florida. 

I might not find out in this world, but when I die and go to heaven, I’ll get those answers, even though I’d like to know in this life.”

— Sue Rhoades

Shea is still remembered throughout the community in various ways.

Contrary to popular belief, Shea Field isn’t named after Kathy Shea. It’s named after her grandfather, who was one of the early bosses at the paper mill.

However, there is a memorial plaque in the Tyrone Elementary School.

Sue Rhoades and her friend, Sue Griep, worked with each other to put the plaque together.

Nobody had ever done something other than memorial articles in the newspaper, and they thought Kathy deserved more.

They did the plaque for the 50th anniversary of Shea’s abduction and presented it to the Elementary School on May 17th, 2015. There was a memorial service at the Tyrone Church of the Brethren, which is located across from the old Adams Elementary School.

“It’s not to scare kids, but as a reminder to be careful. Kids need to be aware,” said Rhoades. 

The worst part for Rhoades and the family was never truly knowing what happened to Kathy.

“At this point, after 50 years, my thing was when I was younger, I hoped to know what happened [to her] before I died, no matter what [the news] was. How horrible [it must’ve been] for her mom and dad to not know,” said Rhoades. “I might not find out in this world, but when I die and go to heaven, I’ll get those answers, even though I’d like to know in this life. [It’s] so bizarre and unsettling even to this day.”

Kathy Shea plaque

Garett Matley
The Kathy Shea memorial plaque outside of the Elementary School cafeteria

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8 Comments

8 Responses to “Kathleen Shea: Abducted From the Community But Still in Our Hearts”

  1. Laci Daniel on May 3rd, 2018 12:57 pm

    I’m so sorry to the family and anyone who was affected.

  2. Charlie on May 3rd, 2018 1:53 pm

    As ready this article it states that Kathy Shea was never found but yet how is there a photo of her at 40 years old?

    adviser Reply:

    It’s a forensic artist age progression portrait – an educated guess of what she might look like.

    Nancy Adams Brubaker Reply:

    iT’S JUST A PROFJECTED LOOK…EVER WATCH csi OR ncis?

  3. jj on May 3rd, 2018 2:44 pm

    they probley did found her

  4. Nancy Adams Brubaker on May 3rd, 2018 6:16 pm

    Kathy lived across the alley from my home. My dad was their mailman and he even was questioned at the time…it was so traumatic for the entire region. Sad to say that it is far too common nowaday. We just prayed God kept her from any harm.

  5. Shelly on May 3rd, 2018 7:52 pm

    Its a computerized picture to show what she probably looks like now

  6. Patricia Pluebell on May 7th, 2018 10:40 am

    I am so sorry for her family.

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Kathleen Shea: Abducted From the Community But Still in Our Hearts