MOBILE, Ala. (WKRG) — A woman missing for forty years—yet no one has bothered even looking for her until two years ago. Now there is renewed interest in finding out what happened to her from a family member who never met her.
Diana Avera was involuntarily committed to Searcy Hospital in Mt. Vernon 40 years ago in 1982.
In a letter to her mother, Diana wrote, “Dear Mother and Daddy–Please all of y’all come and see me. Johnny, Darlene, Alice–Come see me. Becky, Cherie, Alice, Janie–come see me. I love you with all my heart. I miss you. Love always–Diana.”
“So she was arrested for disorderly conduct in May of 1982 and she spent three months in Searcy. In August of 1982, they said she escaped and nobody has seen or heard from her since then,” said Amanda Collins–Diana’s niece. Diana had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.
Diana’s sister, Becky Hoover, told us, “She was always paranoid–worried about–I hate to say but a lot of time she talked about spies, people watching her.”
“Momma, I’m sorry about telling you I’ve been depressed. But you are my mother and I don’t want to lie to you about how I feel.”
Amanda Collins voiced these letters from Diana, written to her mother and other family members while she was at Searcy. Collins is Diana’s niece and has worked for the past two years trying to find out what happened to Diana.
“I started working on it in 2020–the day I started was because my mom was on the Doe network and she was upset–and I just told her I was going to find her,” said Collins.
The Doe Network is the International Center for Unidentified and Missing persons. What compounds Diana’s disappearance according to her family is that there didn’t appear to be much of an effort to find her after she reportedly escaped from Searcy. A missing persons report that should have been filed in 1982 can’t be found. Amanda filed one in 2020, some 38 years after Diana disappeared.
“And of course, Searcy shut down and they brought it to our attention and I began investigating her as a missing person,” said Mobile County Sheriff’s Detective J.T. Thornton.
Records provided by the Alabama Department of Mental Health were vague about her treatment there and her disappearance.
Thornton said, “We did obtain some files from the Department of Mental Health but they are not as adequate as I thought they would be.”
Two of Diana’s sisters remember visiting her at Searcy.
“The last time we saw our sister she wasn’t herself at all–she was like a zombie. She could barely speak. I know they were doing shock treatments and some other things going on at Searcy that came out in some letters,” said Becky Hoover.
Another letter read, “I ain’t going to kill myself. I just was mad at these people ruining my life. I just was saying I want to get out. I have two young sons who need me.”
“Towards the end, that’s the last visit I saw was her coming down that hall, barely walking–dragging her feet–my Momma being super upset,” said Amanda Penn, another sister.
Her family hopes that modern technology that wasn’t available when Diana disappeared could now help them find out what happened to her. The family provided DNA samples and Detective Thornton has entered Diana’s information into a system called ‘Name Us.’
“Which is the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System–and that kind of helps us reach out further to outside jurisdictions and see if we can’t identify an identified person as a missing person.”
Detective Thornton says he’s hopeful the case can be solved. It’s not known if Diana is alive or dead. Her family is also hopeful.
“She might not even…She might still be here–We just don’t know,” said Collins.
The family continues to search for answers, including trying to get in touch with two people who may have been the last to have contact with her. They include a woman who worked at Searcy and a former boyfriend. WKRG will update the story with any new developments.