Carol Jean Grabowsky

1964 - 1995

This is my sister, Carol.  She was autistic. She was an important part of my life. When she was abducted from her school in '95, none of the countless volunteers or police or helicopters could find her, until four months later when two children discovered her remains in a drainage ditch. Her school never admitted blame. Nobody knows exactly what happened, and perhaps no one ever will. The Sacramento Police Department, though helpful in the search for her, closed her case prematurely and bluntly with the blind supposition that she might have simply wandered off and died on her own, just because she was autistic. This page is in memory of her, and dedicated not only to her but to all of the innocent who have fallen to the cruelty of school systems and lawyers who fail to react on time.


She loved running!  This is Carol on the track at Hope High School in Southern California.

Carol becomes an aunt!  This is Carol holding my first son, Jeremy, in 1989.


Carol and I  in a seventies portrait, probably from Sears.

Carol flying?!  She absolutely loved to take rides in helicopters and small biplanes.  Me?  I'm afraid of heights!


This is my sister and I on Christmas morning, early 70's, in Anaheim, CA.   I have no recollection as to what exact present it was that I held, but my sister was a present for a lifetime.

I miss her.


SACRAMENTO BEE 1995-07-02 METRO METRO FINAL B1 Deborah Anderluh Bee Staff writer

It has been five days since Carol Grabowsky disappeared. Her mother, Doris, chokes on the panic when she allows her mind to range from the minutiae of the search: Turn left here, she tells her husband, Arthur, a 64-year-old retired janitor. He has meaty hands that clamp the steering wheel of their white Ford Taurus as he speeds from light to light in downtown Sacramento, navigating streets he doesn't know.
There was a sighting at Richards Boulevard, Doris Grabowsky says, consulting the map book. Have we been to Richards Boulevard? Where is Richards Boulevard? Where is Carol?

"Ca-rol," Doris Grabowsky screams to the American River from the bike path near Northgate Boulevard. "Ca-rol," she hollers into the dense shrubbery that lines the paths to the homeless camps beneath the Highway 160 overpass.

It was Monday when the staff at Orange Grove Adult School in Foothill Farms called to say Carol had not made it to fourth period. She is 31 and autistic, with the mind of a 7-year-old. 

Carol does not wander. She thrives on routine. She is up at 6:30 a.m. and has cold cereal for breakfast. Her mom helps her dress and then applies a little lipstick.

At 8:20 a.m. the special education bus comes to take her to school. Three classes in the morning, then lunch.

After lunch, she brushes her teeth in the school bathroom, then it's on to fourth period for basic education. She has done that weekday after weekday, month after month, since she and her parents moved here two years ago from Anaheim.

Doris dressed her lightly Monday, on account of the heat. She wore her white blouse with the capped sleeves and oversized purple, pink and yellow flowers. Her shorts were light brown, almost to the knees.

She wore a pair of white tennis shoes and carried the purse she always carries. No sweater. Nothing to protect against the cold night air.

Doris thought there would be no need, because come 3 p.m., Carol would take the special education bus back to their Antelope home, right to the door. Weekday after weekday, month after month.

"She's probably going to die of exposure," Doris, 62, says now, and the sobs work their way up her throat.

"I've got to get her to the hospital. We have to go right away. I don't know what's happened to her.
Just to think she's out there at the mercy of anybody. It's worse at night. We're so used to having her safe in her bed under the blankets. She's not going to make it if she doesn't get help. She's not getting proper nourishment. She might have an infection."
But this line of thought does not end in a place that a mother can bear. So Doris pulls herself together. The search is the task at hand.

On Saturday, Doris and Arthur Grabowsky held a press conference outside the Sacramento Association for the Retarded at 21st and U streets to plead with the community to help find Carol. They believe she is here. They believe she is alive.

Sacramento County Sheriff's Department dogs have tracked her scent to a bus stop at Auburn Boulevard and Orange Grove Avenue near the school. The bus that stops there would have taken her into Old Sacramento.

There have been three sightings of her since, according to sheriff's spokesman John McGinness.

Someone called Thursday to say they had seen her the night before, seated alone on the boardwalk in Old Sacramento, one shoe gone, rocking back and forth.

Someone else reported seeing her in an Old Sacramento candy store late Wednesday, with a man approximately 6-foot-6, 150 pounds, who also appeared to be developmentally disabled. A third person reported seeing her sometime this week near the Richards Boulevard overpass on Interstate 5.

Carol's parents and school officials are convinced, because of her penchant for rigid routine, that she was kidnapped or somehow lured away when she went to the school bathroom to brush her teeth.

They say Carol has the mind of a child, but at 5-4 and 150 pounds, the face and body of a woman. What that might mean for their daughter, alone on the streets, are thoughts Doris and Arthur Grabowsky turn away daily.

Late Saturday morning, the Grabowskys headed to Loaves and Fishes, whose volunteers supply the city's homeless with food and shelter.

In the back seat of the Taurus was their niece, Carmen Scherubel, 39, a beauty consultant for Mary Kaye Cosmetics who lives with her husband in Phelan, near Victorville.

Gripping fliers that bear Carol's picture, the three moved from group to group of homeless men and women to ask if they had seen her.

They hung on the words of Bo, 27, a gaunt, heavy-smoking blond who assured them that if Carol makes it to Loaves and Fishes, "someone would snag her up and help her out."

But no one had seen her.

Battling wrong turns and dead-end streets, they made their way to the American River Parkway in search of homeless camps. "Maybe the people who took her are hiding her," Doris said.

Wearing white sandals, her ankle wrapped from a sprain she got while searching the day before, she hobbled down a dirt path to the river with her husband and niece, stepping over Budweiser cans and clothing. They took their cause to three men camping in the shade. In the background, a fourth sat on a log, gesticulating wildly.

One of the men said he may have seen Carol, but can't be sure when. All pledged to keep their eyes open. The Grabowskys headed back to the car, Doris calling, "Ca-rol," out into the heat. Bee/ Dick Schmidt: Volunteer Mickey Johnson talks to a man Saturday in Capitol Park after giving him a flier on Carol Grabowsky.


SACRAMENTO BEE 1995-07-10 METRO METRO FINAL B1 Judy Tachibana Bee Staff Writer

The family of Carol Grabowsky, who has been missing for two weeks, accepted an offer from riverboat operators Sunday and searched the banks of the Sacramento River for the 31-year-old autistic woman. Peering through binoculars as the Spirit of Sacramento slowly paddled north from Old Sacramento on a regular tour cruise, Carol's parents, Art and Doris Grabowsky, and cousin, Carmen Scherubel, looked for any sign of the missing woman.
"It's the first time we've been on the river (to look for her)," Art Grabowsky said. "She's a good swimmer. She's been in Special Olympics. That's a good reason to look up and down the river coast."
Carol Grabowsky, who has the mental age of a 7-year-old, was last seen on June 26 at Orange Grove Adult School in Foothill Farms. Friends, supporters and law enforcement officials have helped her family search for her, but to no avail. Some leads indicated she might be near the Sacramento River.
Mike Rodgers, the Grabowskys' pastor from Faith Baptist Tabernacle, on Sunday afternoon asked other riverboat passengers to keep an eye out for Carol, who loved routine and who has not wandered off by herself before.
While jet skiers flew by the paddleboat and swimmers enjoyed the shore at Discovery Park, Carol's family intently searched.
"Amazing, you see so many families out having a good time and you never think it's going to happen to you," said Scherubel, 39. "But it could be anybody."
Scherubel said searching by boat was a good idea.
"We had been trudging through this area for a couple of weeks," she said. "There are a lot of places we can't get into. We figure somebody is up to no good and has her hidden."
But by the end of the river ride, there had been no sign of Carol.
"It's disappointing, but we have just got to go on with other things to find her," Doris Grabowsky said.
Carol, who has brown hair and blue eyes, was last seen wearing tan shorts, a purple, pink and white floral shirt, white tennis shoes and pink socks. She is 5 feet 4 inches tall and weighs 155 pounds. Anyone with information is asked to call the Sheriff's Department at 443-HELP. From aboard the Spirit of Sacramento riverboat Sunday, Art Grabowsky looks for his daughter on the Sacramento River shore.
Bee/Kim D. Johnson Passengers on the Spirit of Sacramento study fliers with information about the disappearance ofCarol Grabowsky.
Grabowsky, a 31-year-old autistic woman, has been missing two weeks


SACRAMENTO BEE 1995-07-06 METRO METRO FINAL B4 Silas Lyons Bee Staff Writer

After more than a week of frantic searches, Carol Grabowsky is still missing. But now, finally, her would-be rescuers have a plan. About 25 people gathered Wednesday to pull together a strategy for finding the autistic 31-year-old, who disappeared from her Foothill Farms special education school June 26.
Grabowsky is described by those who know her as reserved and very attached to routines. She has the mental capability of a 7-year-old.
Dogs have tracked her as far as a nearby bus stop, and a teacher's aide at the Orange Grove Adult School has reported seeing a suspicious person on the campus shortly before Grabowsky vanished.
But almost everything about the case is cloaked frustratingly in uncertainty.
Steve Hill, who runs the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department's missing persons detail, directed volunteers to watch for an unusually tall, sandy-haired man who at least two people have seen with someone matching Grabowsky's description.
He said the search also will focus largely on Sacramento's homeless population. If anyone else had encountered Grabow sky, they would likely have notified authorities immediately, he said.
Wednesday's meeting was intended to end the miscommunication that has plagued the hunt for Grabowsky. Volunteers and deputies have doubled up on some leads and left others untapped.
At the meeting, volunteers were asked to commit to covering specific areas of Sacramento. Representatives from six different organizations attended, including the Sheriff's Department, Grabowsky's school and several groups that work with developmentally disabled people.
"This will help," Hill said afterward. "(The volunteers) have a heart of gold; you've just got to organize them."
Each of the organizations represented was signed up to cover a location where Grabowsky might be found. The "beats" include Discovery Park, Loaves & Fishes and several area shelters.
In the meeting, Hill said deputies are continuing to comb the city with dogs. They are focusing especially on homeless camps, looking for any sign of the missing woman or the man she was reportedly seen with.
One early lead came from an employee at the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory at 1039 Second St. who reported seeing someone matching Grabowsky's description on June 28. The employee said the woman was with a tall, thin man with large boils on his jawline who also appeared to have a mental disability.
An in-store camera caught the two, but the image was so small and grainy they were nearly impossible to distinguish, Hill said. He said the man was tall and thin enough to be instantly recognized in a crowd.
Grabowsky's family is appealing for volunteers to help with stakeout shifts, which will be about three hours long. Anyone interested in contributing money or time can get more information by calling the Sacramento Association for the Retarded at 452-0932.
Grabowsky was last seen wearing tan shorts, a purple, pink and white floral shirt, white tennis shoes and pink socks. Anyone who has information on her" whereabouts is urged to contact the Sheriff's Department by calling 443-HELP.Carol Grabowsky



It is one of those sunny, lazy days at Discovery Park, a weekday, not much of a crowd unless you count the birds. A handful of boats bob idly on the river and a couple of blackbirds chat noisily from atop the cool, green Jibboom Street Bridge. But Jack Lobenberg isn't noticing any of this. Instead, the Carmichael retiree is looking for people to talk to, people who may have spotted a missing woman named Carol Grabowsky.

In Sacramento, almost everyone knows Carol by now, although "knows of" would be more accurate.

Since disappearing from a special education school June 26, Carol's story and photograph have been widely circulated in hopes that the public could help find her. And many, it seems, have seen Carol's picture.

One moment she's smiling brightly from the morning paper, and the next the same image beams out at viewers from the television news. "Missing" posters bearing Carol's likeness plaster entire city blocks. A gas pump here. A laundromat there.

Everyone you ask seems to know Carol's story. That she is autistic, 31, and has the mental capacity of a 7-year-old child. That she is reserved and loves routine. That she isn't one to stray far from what she knows.

Yet despite all this attention and several possible sightings around Old Sacramento and the Discovery Park area, nothing concrete regarding Carol's whereabouts has yet to turn up. Carol, it seems, is everywhere and nowhere. Meanwhile, family, friends and about 50 volunteers keep searching.

"We've got to keep doing whatever we can," volunteer Jack Lobenberg says. He knows it could have been Nancy.

Nancy is Jack's daughter. She is just a little older than Carol, has the same IQ and attends the same school. It is a wonderful school, Jack says, that doesn't deserve something ugly like this coloring its reputation.

The way he sees it, someone must have lured Carol away because she wouldn't have cooked up leaving on her own. If she's anything like Nancy, getting her to leave wouldn't be that hard, Jack says.

"You could just offer candy or gum or something like that," he says. "They just don't understand the concept of anyone wanting to hurt them. . . . They are lovely, lovely people, but much too trusting. They love people."

He remembers one of the many times he took Nancy on an outing. They were at an auction in Roseville when he turned to take a closer look at something. When he turned around Nancy was gone. As fear rose in his gut, Jack scanned a sea of people, but could not see Nancy.

They were reunited a short while later, but it was one of the most frightening experiences of his life. "You just know that they can't really function on their own out there in the world," he explains.

JACK AND A FRIEND ROAM DISCOVERY PARK, scanning the reaches for any sign of Carol. Jack is trim and tan; he sports the kind of genuine, time-worn smile that says he looks for the good in life.

But after so many days it is impossible to continue pushing away the possibility that something bad found Carol. Still, there is a chance. . . .

He stops a jogger to show him Carol's picture. The man sobers when he realizes it's about the missing woman he's seen on TV. Yes, he's heard of her. No, he hasn't seen her. "But I hope you find her," he tells Jack. "I really hope you do."

Jack talks to a man reading a newspaper on a bench. The man has a thick Eastern European accent, but he knows about Carol, too; hasn't seen her, though. His eyes are sympathetic when he asks if the missing woman is Jack's daughter.
"No," Jack says. "We're just helping out."

When the next person asks the same thing, Jack wonders why this is so. And it moves him a bit that as he asks and they respond a human emotion is shared. That is a rarity between strangers, but there it is. Both parties sense it. You can hear it in their voices. See it around their eyes. A connection. A spark.

"Not one person hasn't been just as helpful and sympathetic as can be, even the homeless people," Jack says. "Everyone I've talked to would help if they could."

He walks over to two men eating on the grass, SMUD workers on their morning break. They tell him they have a flier in the truck; that they haven't seen her, but they sure are looking.

"OK, guys. Well, thanks," he says, and walks away. They watch him for a long time, bewildered maybe, by the realization that people like him still exist. People who'd walk the streets and back trails like this for someone they've never even met.

How ironic that something as terrible as Carol's disappearance could also bring people together, strangers who didn't care, now caring deeply.

DIANA GRIEGO ERWIN'S column appears Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. Write her at P.O. Box 15779, Sacramento, 95852


SACRAMENTO BEE 1995-07-30 METRO METRO FINAL B1 Silas Lyons Bee Staff Writer

A month after Carol Grabowsky disappeared from the Orange Grove Adult School, the 31-year-old autistic woman still has not been found. But her case has shaken confidence in security at other Sacramento schools for people with mental disabilities, and has sharpened interest in a debate already raging within the industry over how much risk people with developmental disabilities should be exposed to.

Grabowsky vanished from the Foothill Farms-area school just after lunch on June 26. A lengthy and frantic search by family, friends and law enforcement has turned up nothing but a litany of stale leads and questionable sightings.

The case has rattled the staffs of local programs that provide education and jobs for adults with mental disabilities.

"I think if you're in the field, anything like this hurts everybody," said Kathryn Powell, the director of Short-Center Arts for the Handicapped. "I do think we've heightened our perception, our awareness level."

And on the campus Grabowsky disappeared from, administrators and experts have scrutinized gates, staffing and procedures in an attempt to figure out what went wrong.

"We were working on that already. And then, of course, the incident with Carol came along," said Merle Padilla, who is in charge of adult education programs for San Juan Unified School District. "I think any school would revisit the issue of student safety if that incident occurred on their campus."

But Padilla said staff at the Orange Grove School followed procedure "to the letter" when Grabowsky disappeared, and no substantial changes in security are planned.

Because Grabowsky's case is so unusual, several administrators and overseers in the area said they haven't felt a need to revamp policies or further constrict their clients' freedom.

"I've been with the (Alta California Regional Center) for over 20 years, and this is the first time I've ever had this situation," said Trudy Jorgenson, a supervising counselor whose agency is responsible for administering government funding to people with developmental disabilities.

"We've had clients sort of disappear, but they always have some kind of history of running away, or they pop up (somewhere)," she said. "This is the first time that I've ever had a client that simply has disappeared, and despite everything, has not appeared again."
And tragic as it might be, an incident that isolated shouldn't be a catalyst for sweeping restrictions on people with mental disabilities, said Robin Rhoades, executive director of the Southside Art Center. Her program provides clients with jobs and prods them to move toward the mainstream and take risks in order to build self esteem.

"Some people believe because this one person is lost that nobody should ever go back out again," she said. "And I'm not willing to do that. I believe that the only way that we learn in life is to take risks."

That's where the debate begins, and it's only been fueled by Grabowsky's heart-wrenching case, several administrators and advocates said.

"There's a big controversy in this field, and that's the dignity of risk," Rhoades said.

Those who disagree with her position say a certain amount of shelter is necessary to prevent cases like Grabowsky's from becoming more common. It's a matter of pinpointing the individual safety needs of clients, said Pamela Morris, executive director of the Sacramento Association for the Retarded.

"As a parent organization, this has been a concern," she said. "Ultimately, if they meet the (legal) definition of being mentally retarded, there is some area of their life that they need protection."

Grabowsky has brown hair and blue eyes. She was last seen wearing tan shorts, a purple, pink and white floral shirt, white tennis shoes and pink socks. She is 5 feet 4 inches tall and weighs 155 pounds. Anyone with" information is asked to call the Sheriff's Department at 443-HELP. Carol Grabowsky: The autistic woman disappeared a month ago and has not been found.



Children playing in a Foothill Farms drainage ditch Monday found the body of a woman whose general description fits that of Carol Grabowsky, 31, a woman with diminished mental capacity who disappeared from an adult school in the area nearly four months ago, sheriff's deputies said. Coroner's tests will be conducted today to determine whether the badly decomposed body found about 5 p.m. in the 5000 block of Walnut Avenue is that of Grabowsky, subject of a massive search involving hundreds of missing-person fliers since her disappearance June 26.

Sgt. John McGinness, sheriff's spokesman, said no signs of foul play were evident on the body and clothing was intact. The dead woman was wearing tennis shoes and shorts, although it was difficult to determine the color of the shorts because they were badly soiled, he said.

Grabowsky, 5 feet 4 inches, 150 pounds, was wearing a pink-and-white floral print shirt, tan shorts, white tennis shoes and pink socks when she disappeared from Orange Grove Adult School, 4640 Orange Grove Ave., about 13/4 miles from where the body was found.

"I can only tell you that the remains we've located are consistent with the description of Ms. Grabowsky, but we have drawn no definitive conclusion as to the identity," McGinness said.

Grabowsky, who has the mental capacity of a child, apparently left the Foothill Farms adult school about noon June 26. Dogs tracked her scent to a bus stop on Auburn Boulevard, but officers were unable to find her, despite a public plea that produced numerous reports of sightings.

Sheriff's deputies notified the Grabowsky family Monday night that they would conduct tests today to determine if the body found was that of Carol, McGinness said.

Arthur Grabowsky, Carol's father, said he doesn't know how to react to the discovery. 

"I've got mixed emotions," he said. "If she's dead and they've found her, it would be a relief to know. But we would like to think she's still out there and will come back home." 


SACRAMENTO BEE 1995-10-18 METRO METRO FINAL B3 Jan Ferris Bee Staff

A body found in a Foothill Farms drainage ditch was identified Tuesday as that of Carol Grabowsky, a 31-year-old Antelope woman who disappeared nearly four months ago from adult school. Although the body is so badly decomposed that her parents will probably never know what killed her, Doris Grabowsky said she is comforted that her autistic daughter has finally "gone to be with the Lord."

"We just know that she's not suffering anymore and it's just a relief to us," she said. "I don't think I could stand it anymore."
Carol Grabowsky disappeared from Orange Grove Adult School in Foothill Farms on June 26. Within days, dozens of volunteers began helping Doris and her husband, Art, post fliers and scour the area for the missing woman, who had the mental capacity of a 7-year-old.

It wasn't until Monday that some children spotted her body while playing in the Walnut Avenue drainage ditch, about 13/4 miles from the adult school, authorities said.

Dental records were used Tuesday to confirm her identity. An autopsy was performed but cause of death remains undetermined, said David Santos, coroner's investigator.

The body's level of decomposition may prevent further testing, he said.

It appears unlikely that Grabowsky died as the result of foul play, said Sgt. John McGinness of the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department.

"(This) appears consistent with someone of her status walking away from school, becoming confused and simply collapsing and dying of the elements," he said.

Graveside services are scheduled for 10 a.m. Friday at St. Mary's Cemetery, 6700 21st Ave.

Nicholas Grabowsky's Diverse Compendium


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