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  • Writer's pictureKym Pasqualini

Jennifer Lancaster and Her Two Children: Missing 20+ Years


Jennifer Lancaster and her daughters Sidney and Monique Smith vanished from Topeka, Kansas, on May 12, 2000. CBS News 19

It has been over two decades since Jennifer Lancaster and her two daughters, Sidney and Monique Smith, vanished in Topeka, Kansas, on May 12, 2000. Jennifer was 20 when she disappeared with her two daughters, one-year-old Sidney and five-week-old Monique.


Jennifer's Jeep Wrangler was found empty in the small parking lot of a southeast apartment complex one week later. The case has baffled missing children experts and law enforcement alike.


Wrong Crowd


Jennifer grew up in the southeast Highland Park area of Topeka. She started hanging out with the "wrong crowd" and getting into trouble. She transferred schools to Topeka West High School, where she graduated in 1998.


At 19 years old, Jennifer gave birth to Sidney on March 22, 1999. Monique followed on April 5, 2000.


Jennifer worked at a bar called Remington's, along the Topeka Wanamaker corridor, and at Baby Doll's, an adult club south of Topeka, before her disappearance.


Jennifer resided with her mother, Vicki, and her sister Jessica Lancaster at Misty Glen Apartments & Townhomes, where Jennifer lived in the basement with her daughters.


The Night Jennifer Vanished


On the evening of May 12, 2000, Jennifer and her daughters were at a family dinner at her grandparents Merlin and Opal Otteson in southeast Topeka.


"Everything seemed fine," Vicki told the Topeka Capital-Journal.


Vicki also saw Jennifer and the girls around 8 p.m. that evening at the apartment where they all resided.


Jennifer told her mother that she would wash the baby's clothes and quilt that she was carrying in a clear trash bag.


Vicki didn't think it made much sense that she was going somewhere to do the wash when they had a washer and dryer in their unit. It was to be the last time Vicki saw her daughter and granddaughters.


Car Abandoned


When Jennifer and her daughters didn't return home that evening, she didn't feel concerned because she assumed Jennifer was with her boyfriend. However, as time passed, she became distraught.


By Saturday, May 13, 2000, Vicki called the Topeka Police Department to report all three missing.


On May 14, 2000, Jennifer's 1994 Jeep Cherokee was discovered abandoned in an apartment complex at 3032 S. E. Swygart, just east of California Avenue and S.E. 29th Street in Topeka.


There were no personal belongings or car seats found inside the vehicle; it was as if the car had been deliberately cleaned out.


No Cell Phone


Vicki thinks Jennifer had planned to leave and made plans to prevent anyone from knowing what she was doing.


After Jennifer disappeared, Vicki noticed more than just the quilt and baby clothes were missing. In fact, she thinks her daughter had been moving things out of the house for a while before their disappearance.


Jennifer's cell phone was on her mother's plan, and as Vicki looked at the records, she noticed that Jennifer had not made any calls from her phone a week before their disappearance. She left the cell phone at home the day she vanished.


Adding to the concern, Jennifer had no credit cards and left her paycheck at Remington's. However, Jennifer did take her driver's license with her.


Police Investigation


Detective Terry Harris of the Topeka Police Department was assigned to investigate the disappearance of Jennifer and her two daughters.


As an adult, Jennifer can go missing if she chooses.


"She's of legal age, and she's done nothing illegal," Vicki told the Topeka Capital-Journal.

Vicky acknowledges it is possible that Jennifer left to start a new life. Still, she has difficulty reconciling that Jennifer has not reached out to her sister or anyone in the family.


Harris contacted Sidney's father, who also lives in Topeka but claimed he had not heard from Jennifer either. Police interviewed Jennifer's friends and boyfriend and found no link to her disappearance.


A few leads have been reported over the years but have yet to help the case progress. Harris is now retired, and Detective Heather Stults-Lindsay is currently handling the missing person case.


Nationwide Exposure


The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) is a national clearinghouse of information for missing children in Alexandria, Virginia. It employs former local, state, and federal law enforcement to investigate critical missing children cases.



Age progression of missing children Sidney Smith (left) and Monique Smith (right), and how they might look today. Photo courtesy of NCMEC

NCMEC has Sidney and Monique on their website, along with the age progression of the girls and how they might look today.


Vicki is hoping the national exposure will help identify Sidney and Monique and bring her granddaughters home.


Jennifer and her daughters all have Social Security numbers, and Vicki has hoped over the years that the police would notify her if one of the numbers were flagged, but to Vicki's dismay, that never happened.


Vicki was contacted and asked to provide her DNA to the Doe Network. The organization would compare the sample to an unidentified deceased woman in another state. The Doe Network told Vicki they would contact the Topeka Police Department if there were a match. That was the last Vicki heard about it.


A Mother's Sorrow


Vicki describes her daughter Jennifer as a "kind" person who would go out of her way to help someone in need. Though she had some problems, she was not a bad person.


Vicki holds on to the hope that her daughter and granddaughters will be okay. To her, it seems like yesterday that Jennifer vanished without a trace.


Jennifer was very close to her maternal grandfather, Merlin Ottesen, whom she helped to take to his doctor's appointments while he fought bladder cancer. He passed away in 2009 at the age of 85. His passing wish was to know where his granddaughter and great-grandchildren were.


Vicki thinks it is possible that Jennifer may have met a good man who adopted her daughters, and they are just living a new life, but then reality harshly stares her back in the face.


Jennifer's case is a tragic example of a case where minimal information exists. Jennifer and the girls are profiled as missing on a few sites, but there doesn't appear to be a website or Facebook page dedicated to them or many news articles written in the past two decades.


If you have any information about the disappearance of Jennifer Lancaster and her daughters Sidney and Monique, please call the Topeka Criminal Investigation Bureau at 785-368-9400 or email tellpd@topeka.org. You may also contact the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children at 800-THE LOST (5678).


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