Jen Bowen is desperately searching for her mum. Here the 39-year-old tells the story in her own words:
My mum, Annapuranee Jenkins, is the most selfless person you could meet. A full-time carer to my dad, Frank, 78, she’d drive him to medical appointments and afterwards they’d share a cake for a treat.
Between all of that, Mum, 65, would visit refugee families to help them settle into the area.
‘I know what it’s like to have no friends,’ she would tell me growing up.
We’d moved to Adelaide from Malaysia when I was aged one and she’d barely spoken any English.
‘I threw myself into charity work to get to know people and learn the language,’ Mum said.
At 150cms tall, she goes by the nickname Wen, which means ‘little one’, but Mum has the biggest heart. So when she was told her 101-year-old mother had fallen ill, there was no hesitation. On December 5, Mum and Dad flew to Penang in Malaysia to be with her.
But on December 13, Dad phoned.
‘Your mum hasn’t come back to the hotel,’ he said.
‘She might be stuck in traffic,’ I replied.
I wasn’t worried. But around lunchtime the following day, Dad phoned again.
‘Mum’s still not back,’ he said.
At that, my heart dropped. Dad said she’d gone to the dentist then planned to see Grandma, but had never arrived at the care home. I told him to file a missing persons report. Then hotel staff drove him around the streets to search for her.
Officers discovered that Mum had caught an Uber from the dentist, but four kilometres before she reached Grandma she’d told the driver, ‘Stop here, stop here.’
He said he’d explained it wasn’t safe because there was no slip lane, so he’d continued on to an orphanage where she’d got out.
I didn’t understand. Had she felt sick from the dentist’s anaesthetic? Had she seen someone who needed help? That would have been just like her.
There wasn’t much South Australian police could do, but they were able to check her mobile phone and bank account records, which hadn’t been touched. It was a complete mystery.
After a few days, my brother flew over to support our dad. For 22 hours a day, he desperately combed the streets. Handing out flyers, he also searched hospitals, churches, back alleys and shelters. He even called morgues.
To keep myself from imagining the worst, I continued to work and tried to stay strong for my boys, Henry, 11, and William, six.
But once they were in bed I’d break down before throwing myself into more research and spreading the message on Facebook.
On December 21, Dad came home as planned – alone and distraught.
‘Wen’s got herself a bit lost around Malaysia,’ I told my two sons.
Devastated, they wanted to help.
‘Where did she live when she was a little girl?’ Henry asked.
‘Maybe she lost her memory and went back there,’ William said, concerned.
There was a possibility she’d fallen and banged her head. But by the time police viewed CCTV images from the area, the footage had expired. They’d stopped updating us too. And the Department of Foreign Affairs said they could only give updates, not investigate.
It was so frustrating.
What if she’d been kidnapped and was being held against her will?
Dad said that in the lead-up to the day she went missing, nothing out of the ordinary had happened.
‘She wouldn’t just disappear,’ he kept saying.
With a heavy heart, my brother returned to Australia on Boxing Day, then on January 7, I flew out. After quizzing Grandma and Dad on all Mum’s favourite places growing up, I hired a driver and scoured markets and restaurants.
‘Have you seen this lady?’ I begged people, handing out our flyers.
At a temple, one lady said she’d served Mum in KFC.
‘She had big glasses on,’ she said.
Mum wore big glasses to protect her eyes because she got hay fever. She said she spoke Indian too, which Mum did, but with an accent.
It has to be her, I dared to hope.
Going to the KFC, I asked the other staff if they had seen my mum.
‘I saw her last night,’ someone told me.
Heart racing, I ran across the road to the food carts.
‘Have you seen my mother?’ I pleaded.
‘I think I saw her in a massage shop,’ one said.
Mum has sore legs and sometimes gets massages. Goosebumps were all over my body as I raced from shop to shop.
‘Is she here?’ I asked time and again, desperately.
‘No, but she looks like one of my workers,’ I was told.
She felt so close. When it was time for me to return home, it was torture.
Beside ourselves with the lack of progress, we decided to enlist the help of a private security firm. They’ve pushed for a new sergeant to be put in charge of the case and a $6500 reward is now being offered.
We’ve also set up a My Cause page to fundraise for flights and legal advice.
I know Mum wouldn’t leave Dad. Married for 40 years, they’ve never been apart this long.
‘I don’t know how much longer I can cope with not knowing,’ he says.
We won’t stop until we find her.
To donate, search MyCause for ‘Find Annapuranee’.
If you have any information, please contact Malaysian police on +604-218 1884 or +6019-411 7572.
This story originally appeared in that's life! Issue 10, 8 March 2018.