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Rita Papakee

September 6, 2018

Rita Papakee told her mother she loved her, then turned and walked into an Iowa casino. That was in January 2015. She hasn’t been seen since.

Iris Roberts says her daughter, then 41, struggled with a drinking problem but would always call her when she went off with friends. But after she dropped her daughter off at the Meskwaki Bingo Casino in Tama, Iowa, there was nothing. Searchers scoured a wooded area and nearby towns. A private investigator was hired by the family.

Last May 5, on the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Native Women and Girls, the Meskwaki Tribe helped organize a “Bring Her Home” walk to raise money for a continued search.

“I think about her every day,” her mother says. “I pray every night and I pray every morning that she’s going to be found, wherever she’s at. I know I have to take care of her kids. That’s what keeps me going.”

Papakee was a mother of four; her two sons and two daughters range from 11 to 25. She loved to bake — snickerdoodle cake was her specialty — and go all-out celebrating the holidays with her kids, searching for pumpkins at Halloween, planning New Year’s parties for them. Since her disappearance, her oldest daughter has given birth to a son.

Roberts says her daughter had been in and out of treatment for her alcohol use and later got involved with a man who was using methamphetamines. She’s heard all kinds of rumors, including the possibility she was a victim of sex trafficking. But she has no answers, despite a $25,000 reward for information.

“It’s terrible,” Roberts says, “trying to live each day going on, but not knowing where she is and what happened to her.”

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