The family of a Plymouth woman who’s been missing in California since February now believe she was murdered.
Danielle Bertolini, 23, a Plymouth native, was last seen in the northern California town of Fortuna, where she’s lived since 2010.
Police originally ruled that Bertolini was a “voluntary” missing person, but Lt. Wayne Hanson of the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Department says the case is now being considered a suspicious missing person’s case.
Hanson said another woman, Sheila Franks, who resembles Bertolini also went missing in the same area around the same time. Hanson said the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Department has assigned the same detective to both missing persons cases which he admits is “unusual” adding that typically each missing persons case is assigned to a different detective. But they believe these cases could be related.
“Both women ran in the same circle of friends,” Hanson said Monday. “These two cases have some similarities.”
Danielle’s mother, Billy Jo Dick, believes something more sinister happened to her daughter, who she says got mixed up with the wrong crowd.
“I believe Danielle was murdered,” she said Monday.
Dick says she last spoke to Danielle in late January and things seemed normal.
“She had said ‘you know mom I’m doing good. I’m doing better. Things are finally starting to look up for me. But i’ll call you back mom. I got some things I gotta do before I head to work.’”
Dick says that was the last time she spoke to her daughter. After weeks went by without Danielle contacting any members of her family, Dick went to California to find out what happened. Dick, who’s a member of a volunteer search and rescue group located here in Maine, organized a search of the area where Danielle was last seen. The search effort included roughly 15 members who made the trip across country to help out.
“Out there on the search just praying to god that it wasn’t going to be gruesome if I was the one that found her you know,” Dick said.
The volunteers canvassed the town of Fortuna which has a population of around 12,000 people, handing out fliers, talking to friends and acquaintances, and searching a mountain near where Danielle was staying for clues.
“We found things that belonged to my daughter and I know because I gave them to her. I can’t go in to detail obviously,” she said.
Dick says she speaks with a member of the Fortuna Police Department once a week and says she’s been told police do have a person of interest in the case. Hanson said the person of interest is a man who was seen with both women prior to their disappearances but says the man has been “cooperative” with authorities during the active investigation.
So far the slow-moving investigation has done little to ease the minds of a family 3,500 miles away who are seeking closure.
“I want the police to let me know, they say they’re doing what they can, but I don’t see it,” Dick said. “Maybe it’s because I’m a mom and I’m her mom and I can’t hear her voice again tell me ‘mom, this is where I am come get me.’ You know it’s so hard because they don’t understand. It’s not their child missing, it’s mine.”
Anyone with information about Bertolini’s disappearance is asked to contact Fortuna police at 707-725-7550.