Wal-Mart 'drifter' could be Queens woman who vanished 21 years ago
By PIX 11
FRESH MEADOWS, Queens – The temperatures were freezing outside, when 35-year-old Renee LaManna was found wandering in bare feet on January 8, 1994, outside the apartment in Fresh Meadows, Queens, where she was living with her boyfriend of ten years.
He was an immigrant taxi driver from Afghanistan.
LaManna was raised Catholic by her Italian-American family in Scranton, Pennsylvania.
But she was a woman of the world, who had volunteered in the Peace Corps in Morocco.
LaManna spoke five languages, had a Master's degree in history, and played the cello.
But her sister, Margaret, told PIX11 Renee put all of her energy and monetary resources into pleasing her boyfriend .
She had converted to Islam and was helping his friends and family adapt to the United States.
By 1994, she was depressed, as the relationship crumbled.
"After he asked her to leave," Margaret LaManna said, "after their ten year relationship ended, she was found wandering in a red, Afghan wedding outfit."
Renee LaManna was taken to the psychiatric emergency room at Jamaica Hospital but never admitted.
Margaret LaManna told PIX11 that family friends brought Renee all the way to Ocean City, New Jersey, where Margaret kept a second home.
"She was catatonic," Margaret LaManna recalled. "She was not there."
And within forty minutes of her arrival in New Jersey on January 8, 1994 — Renee LaManna was gone.
She had fled wearing a blue bathrobe over the red, Afghan wedding outfit.
Margaret LaManna believes Renee had begun her break with reality.
Yet 21 years later, Margaret LaManna thinks she is closer to being reunited with Renee than ever before, thanks to social media.
That's because seven months ago, a Virginia woman named Ruth Collins contacted Margaret LaManna and told her she'd seen Renee in October 2014.
Collins said she saw a homeless drifter sitting on a bench in Rocky Mount, Virginia on October 4th and 5th, 2014.
She wanted to help the woman and, at one point, she took the stranger to a mini-mart.
Collins photographed the woman in the market — and also took a picture of the drifter talking on a cell phone to someone from homeless services in Franklin County, Virginia.
LaManna said Collins heard a sheriff ask the homeless woman her name.
"She said my name is Renee LaMan or Darlene Hanson," Margaret LaManna recounted.
Armed with this new information, Margaret LaManna renewed efforts to find the younger sister who vanished without much of a trace 21 years ago.
There were two sightings in the first two years — one in New Jersey and one in New York — but still no family reunion.
Renee's parents drove up from Florida each time there was a new lead.
"They died looking for their daughter," LaManna said.
Collins said the female drifter — who has graying hair and wears eyeglasses — pulls around a portable suitcase with a broken wheel, keeping well-worn maps of various states on the East Coast inside the case.
People who now say they've encountered the mystery woman related she repeats over and over, "I'm looking for my family. I don't know why they can't find me."
Margaret LaManna believes her sister suffers from "dissociative fugue disorder," which causes memory loss.
Renee LaManna would be 57 years old now, and on her birthday back in May, Margaret LaManna arranged to have a tractor trailer painted with the drifter's image, asking the public's help in getting Renee LaManna back to her surviving family.
Linda and Rod Craig of North Carolina are answering the call for help.
Linda said she's encountered the drifter, and after researching the case on social media, she's convinced the homeless woman is Renee LaManna.
"I saw the smile, I saw God is walking with Renee," Craig said. "I knew immediately that was the person we'd seen."
Margaret LaManna has a Facebook page and Twitter account devoted to Renee's case.
Multiple people have contacted her, claiming they've seen Renee in North and South Carolina Wal-Mart stores and Denny's restaurants.
In August, the female drifter was seen at a Wal-Mart in Taylors, South Carolina.
PIX11 spoke to Detective Marshall Cradock at the Cape May County Prosecutor's Office in New Jersey, the area where Renee LaManna disappeared.
"Once this person is found, she will be identified one way or the other," Detective Cradock said. "New York City has an open case on it."
Margaret LaManna believes Renee will be reunited with her soon.
"This is a tremendous social media campaign," LaManna said, "and we will find Renee."