When Anna Waters got home from school on the afternoon of Tuesday, January 16, 1973, she immediately changed out of her school clothes and asked her mother if she could play outside. It was wet and chilly near Half Moon Bay, California, but Anna wasn’t concerned about the weather. Her mother, Michele, had some friends over that afternoon; she told her daughter that she could go outside as long as she wore her rubber boots. Anna pulled them on over her blue jeans and happily bounded out of the back door around 1:15 pm.

Michele checked on her daughter periodically over the next hour and found the 5-year-old playing in the garden and back yard of their rural San Mateo County home. At 2:00 pm, Anna was on the back porch playing with some of the farm’s cats. When Michele looked for Anna around 2:15 pm, however, the little girl was no longer on the back porch or in the yard. Michele spent the next hour searching the area with the help of some friends, but Anna was nowhere to be found. Shortly after 3:00 pm, Michele called the police and reported her daughter missing.

Deputies with the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office arrived at the home at 3:15 pm and immediately launched a search for the 5-year-old. They feared that she might have fallen into Purisima Creek, which ran behind the family’s home. Due to recent rains, the creek was higher than normal and officials worried that Anna might have slipped into the water and been unable to get back out. Because of this, their initial search was concentrated along the creek bank.

The physical search for Anna was massive. Deputies from the sheriff’s department and the state’s Division of Forestry were joined by nearly 100 volunteers. They combed through the area surrounding the family’s home, looking for any sign of the missing girl. Worried that she might attempt to hide from the searchers, deputies set off a loud siren. They hoped that Anna would hear it and return home to find out what was going on.

Fears that Anna had drowned were heightened after searchers found tiny boot prints near the edge of the creek bank. They initially believed that the footprints belonged to the 5-year-old; it was later determined that they were too small to have come from Anna and her oversized rain boots. A bloodhound was brought to the area to see if he could pick up Anna’s scent, but he was unable to pick up any trace of her.

More than a mile of the creek was searched by deputies but they found nothing to indicate that Anna had fallen into the water and drowned. They also combed through two homes on the property where Anna lived, five barns, and several chicken coops where Anna was known to spend time. They found nothing.

The search was temporarily suspended after midnight but resumed again as soon as the sun came up. Anna had never been the type of child to wander away from her home; she had always been content to play in the backyard. She had also learned from an early age that she wasn’t allowed to go near the creek without an adult, and she had always been careful to obey this rule.

The weather grew increasingly stormy throughout the day on Thursday, forcing volunteers to abandon their search for the missing child. While a spokesperson for the sheriff’s department admitted that things weren’t looking good, they were holding out hope that Anna would be recovered alive.

Anna was a kindergarten student at Alvin Hatch Elementary School in Half Moon Bay; she was enrolled in morning classes and rode the school bus home each day around 1:00 pm. She lived with her mother, stepfather, and half-brother in a remote farmhouse about seven miles south of Half Moon Bay, where the family kept horses, chickens, and roosters. Anna adored the farm animals and also loved helping out in the family’s flower garden. She was a happy, well-adjusted child who was well-liked at school but wary of strangers.

Anna’s biological father, George Waters, lived in San Francisco and hadn’t seen his daughter in a few years. Although he had no real relationship with Anna, he did mail monthly child support payments to Michele. He was notified about Anna’s disappearance but didn’t seem to be too distraught over it; once he learned Anna was missing, he never contacted her mother again.

After the weather cleared, divers were sent back into Purisima Creek. They combed through a three-mile section of the creek without finding anything and were confident that Anna was not in the water.

The ground search for the missing child intensified after the water search came up empty. Anna’s parents, along with dozens of volunteers, scoured every inch of the area, desperate to find some clue to Anna’s whereabouts. Most of the searchers were on foot, but some were on horseback and a few brought tracking dogs to assist. A police helicopter repeatedly scanned the area from above, hoping to spot something the ground searchers had missed. Like the water search, both the ground and aerial searches yielded no evidence.

Due to their initial assumption that Anna had drowned, deputies hadn’t interviewed any of her neighbors to see if they had seen anything unusual in the neighborhood on the day that Anna went missing. Once they realized that she likely wasn’t going to be found in the creek, investigators scrambled to speak with those who lived near the family’s farm.

One witness reported seeing two men in a white panel truck driving away from the family’s home right around the time Anna disappeared. She was unable to give police a description of either of the two men, recalling only that one of the men had been much older than the other. She didn’t recognize either man and was certain that they were not local to the area.

Anna’s half-brother told detectives that, about a month before the little girl went missing, a man and a woman had attempted to lure her into their car while she was playing in the front yard. He described the car as a 1960s model Chevrolet Impala and recalled that it had a Washington license plate, but investigators were unable to locate this vehicle.

As the investigation continued, some of the detectives believed that Anna’s biological father might have played a role in her disappearance. George Waters had long been involved with a man who went by the last name Brody; he met him in 1967 and his relationship with him had started when he was still married to Michele. Brody, however, was apparently an alias and the man’s actual identity remains unknown. According to family friends, Brody would manipulate George; despite this, he refused to stop associating with him.

In addition to having a strange form of control over George, Brody also developed an obsession with Anna, believing her to be the reincarnation of a woman he had lived with at one point. George’s mental state grew increasingly unstable as he became more involved with Brody, and Michele eventually made the decision to divorce him.

Shortly after the divorce, George was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, though he resisted all attempts at having himself hospitalized. Although he came from a prominent family and had attended one of the best medical schools in the country, he refused to accept any help from anyone. He moved into a seedy Tenderloin hotel with Brody, though there was no evidence the two were romantically involved. Now, some wondered if Brody’s obsession with Anna had resulted in the two men kidnapping her. It was an intriguing theory but there was no physical evidence to prove it.

Anna’s stepfather, Joe Ford, was so convinced that George had something to do with Anna’s disappearance that he often trailed the pair, hoping they might inadvertently reveal a clue as to the missing girl’s whereabouts. He also wrote George a letter where he directly accused him of doing something to Anna, to which George supposedly replied, “I’m glad the tot is dead.” Michele, however, didn’t believe that George had any involvement in her daughter’s disappearance, deeming him too crazy to be able to pull something like that off without leaving some sort of evidence behind.

With little evidence to go on, investigators eventually decided that Anna had been abducted by a stranger. Yet the road that the family lived on was hardly considered a major thoroughfare; unless someone had a reason to be traveling on the road, it was unlikely they would have driven down it. It wasn’t an area a stranger would have been able to easily stumble upon. Some wondered if a childless couple had been stalking the family, waiting for a chance to grab Anna. The fact that Anna’s half-brother recalled seeing a couple trying to lure Anna into their car seemed to indicate that this was a distinct possibility.

For Anna’s loved ones, this was the best-case scenario as it would mean that Anna was still alive somewhere. Indeed, when Michele consulted a psychic, she seemed to back up this theory, noting that Anna had been stolen by a woman who had been unable to have her own child and wanted one desperately; the psychic claimed that Anna was healthy and happy, just slightly confused about what had happened to her.

Others were unable to shake the thought that George and Brody were somehow involved; George was much younger than Brody, so it was possible that they were the two men seen by a witness shortly after Anna went missing. Although George hadn’t seen his daughter in years, he knew the address where she lived and could easily have found the isolated farmhouse. If he told her he was her father, he might have been able to entice her into getting into a vehicle with him.

Unfortunately, if George did know anything about his daughter’s disappearance, he took it to the grave. Just two weeks after Brody died in 1981, George committed suicide. Before killing himself, he had destroyed all paperwork that mentioned Brody or Anna.

Investigators have never been able to determine what happened to Anna on that day nearly 50 years ago. Her case is still considered a missing person investigation and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has classified the case as a random stranger abduction.

Anna Christian Waters was just 5 years old when she went missing in 1973. It’s very possible that she is alive today and is unaware of the fact that she was kidnapped as a child; she may have vague memories of an early childhood spent on a farm. Anna has blonde hair and brown eyes, a mole on her cheek, and dimples when she smiles. If you have any information about Anna, please contact the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office at 415–364–1811.

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