The nephew of a woman who vanished almost 30 years ago has launched a fresh appeal for information in hope of finding his beloved aunt.
Bernadette Cooper, originally from Monoghan, Ireland, was last heard from at a pub in Tooting at the beginning of 1993 before disappearing without a trace.
Over 28 years on, her nephew, Leon Moore, is dedicating his life to finding out exactly what happened to Cooper, after making a promise to his dying father.
Moore said: “My family have never stopped searching for her and now it is my turn. I made a promise to my father. He was in my arms dying and I said to him: ‘I am now going to do this, I am going to find out what happened to her.’
“It’s a cloud, a shadow. It’s a horrible feeling, because it’s the not knowing. My dad never got over it, and he’s no longer alive to see his son hopefully come up with the answer.
“It’s like someone shoots you, and you’ve got this bullet inside you and it goes around your body. There’s no exit wound. The pain is always there.”
Cooper, who owned an Irish bar called Molly Malone’s near Malaga, had temporarily closed the bar during the Spanish recession in 1992 and returned to the UK in a bid to raise funds.
The Mitcham resident was using the Horse and Groom pub in Tooting, now known as the Graveney and Meadow, as an office and made a call to the Irish Bar Owners Association in Malaga on or around 10 January 1993, stating: ‘I’ve got the money’.
Moore said the phone call from the pub was the last report of Cooper being alive, though there is a big gap in the timeline around her disappearance.
“She disappeared off the face of the earth after that phone call, unbeknownst to all her family because we were told she had returned to Spain. That was the narrative that was put to us,” said Moore.
“When months and months went by and Christmas came around and no word from her, alarm bells started to ring.
“Her sister went out there and you can imagine her shock when she found someone else as the owner of the bar, and Bernadette’s belongings gathering dust in the attic. That changed everything.
“We realised just how far behind the eight ball we were at that stage regarding what had happened to her.
“The first 48 to 72 hours are crucial when someone goes missing and there we were 12 months down the line. It was just crazy. It was a really imperfect storm.”
Cooper was soon reported missing by the family, who hired a lawyer and a private investigator, and engaged the support of the missing person’s unit and The Salvation Army, but did not initially suspect anything sinister surrounding her disappearance.
Moore said his family began to receive various communications from local enquiries which assured them there had been sightings of Bernadette in the local area.
He added: “At that early stage, there was no suggestion whatsoever that her disappearance was anything untoward.
“First of all, the family thought she must’ve taken a U-turn and chosen a different kind of life.
“We started to get phone calls stating she was working at such and such a place, or she was a barmaid here or there.
“If you can imagine one of your family members goes missing and you’re getting phone calls saying where she is, your first thought is not then that she’s not alive.
“We chased down all of those, night after night staking out places and waiting for her to turn up, but she never did. Now I think there was a different aspect to those calls.”
Despite recent developments in the case and the efforts of the Metropolitan Police, Moore is still holding out for someone to come forward and fill in the missing pieces.
He said: “Something is wrong with this picture and that’s become more and more apparent as time has gone on.
“We are appealing to anyone around the Tooting Broadway area, who may recognise her or who knows something, to come forward.
“We need answers from people. We need someone to piece in the timeline from when she made that phone call. We have got a blank from that moment onwards and it is immensely frustrating.
“The information is out there, and someone knows something. A woman has disappeared, her children and family don’t know where she is, her passport and bank details have not been used. Something has happened to her.
“I will not be denied no matter what. I am going to get the truth. I just need some help.”
If you have any information, however seemingly insignificant, you can email [email protected].