By JACQUELINE PRIMO | Reporter
Part 2 in a Series
In the days and weeks following the Sept. 5, 1977 disappearance of 11-year-old Rachel Hanna Ziselman, everybody—detectives, volunteers, concerned residents, family and friends—searched high and low for any trace of the girl.
Rachel was was last seen walking along Monument Street in Pacific Palisades carrying a bag of groceries on her way home from Hughes Market (now Ralphs) that Labor Day afternoon.
“For some, each day that she has been missing seemed like a week. Everyone is waiting. Waiting for some word. But none has come. Investigators have found no clues. Nothing to indicate what happened to the young girl,” wrote Palisadian-Post associate editor A. Thomas Homer in a Sept. 15, 1977 article called “Police continue investigation of missing girl.”
After only three days, on Thursday, Sept. 8, police shut down the command post they had established at the Palisades Recreation Center, according to a Sept. 9, 1977 article in the Van Nuys-based newspaper Valley News.
“We’re still not excluding any possibility. At this point, it could be a homicide, it could be a runaway, it could be anything. It’s a bizarre investigation,” said lead investigator Lieutenant George Tawes of West LAPD in an Oct. 7 article in Daily Facts based in Redlands, California.
“It looks more and more like we’re going to have to switch from search and rescue to an investigative mode,” Lt. Mike Carpenter said in a Sept. 8 issue of The Daily Independent.
HEARTBROKEN ZISELMAN FAMILY INVESTIGATED
A family of five was, suddenly, missing its middle child.
When asked to describe what the day was like after Rachel failed to return from her quick trip to the store, Rachel’s brother Sam (then 14) summed it up in one word: “Manic.”
“The police showed up. We were questioned repeatedly by many different cops, together and individually,” Sam said in one of several interviews in 2015 with the Post, adding that he was also interviewed by radio, television and newspaper reporters in the weeks following his sister’s disappearance.
Sam said he remembers news trucks being parked in front of the family home for at least a week following Rachel’s disappearance. His parents had been separated for roughly two years, but his father moved back in with the family and his parents ended their separation “a few weeks after Rachel disappeared,” Sam said.
“They remained married (and living together) for the rest of their lives,” he added.
Sam said he remembers his father John A. Ziselman, an actor who went by the name John Zee, saying at the time that if Rachel didn’t turn up, public interest would die off.
“He simply could not discuss the subject, even briefly, without becoming despondent or tearful,” Sam told the Post.
“The three of us walked on eggshells around the topic in my dad’s presence,” Sam said of himself, his younger sister Sara (who was 7 at the time) and their mother.
“More than anyone else, my sister’s disappearance really just crushed a large part of him. He loved his children and always did anything he could for us. Whatever else could be said about my father, none of his offspring can ever describe him as anything other than ‘always in my corner.’ That was true until the day he died [in 2009]. Therefore, in some ways, I think it was worse for him than for anyone else,” Sam said.
FRIENDS REMEMBER RACHEL
Tamar Springer was in Rachel’s sixth grade class at Pacific Palisades School (now Palisades Elementary School) in 1977 and said she and Rachel were good friends at the time.
Springer described Rachel as bubbly, smiley, super sweet and a good friend. Rachel was the kind of kid who would spontaneously turn cartwheels, she said.
Springer would sometimes walk to school with Rachel. The two girls and their friend Katie, a “trio” of sorts, would frequent the Bay Theatre, Palisades Recreation Center, buy candy at Hughes Market or get ice cream at Baskin-Robbins and visit Mort’s Deli or the Hot Dog Show.
“I remember Rachel’s mom making us snacks,” Springer said in a 2015 interview with the Post. “We would go to Rachel’s house a lot. It was a nice household with nice siblings, and a nice place to go after school.”
Tamar said that on the afternoon of Sept. 5, 1977, she was walking down Monument with her older sister Miriam on their way to a 99-cent film at the Bay Theatre. The girls passed Rachel’s house in the 1000 block and saw Rachel in the driveway playing with the family’s German shepherd named Spot.
Miriam said Rachel was wearing a white or off-white t-shirt with either shorts or a bathing suit underneath, her long blonde hair hanging down.
“She was a pretty girl. She would have been beautiful as a teenager,” Miriam told the Post in 2015.
The Springer sisters asked Rachel to come to the movies with them and said they remember Rachel going inside to ask her mother for permission. Rachel came back out and told them her mother had said no.
“That was definitely the last time I saw her,” Tamar said sadly, adding that Miriam stayed to see a second movie while she herself walked home alone along Monument when the first film ended.
“I probably walked the same path,” Tamar said, in reference to the walk Rachel likely took from Hughes market to her home.
The police called the Springer home around 1 o’clock in the early morning hours of Sept. 6, 1977. The Springer sisters said they remember the police asking, “Have you seen Rachel?”
Miriam remembered her sister crawling into bed with their mother that night, scared.
“I couldn’t believe it, because we had just seen her that day,” Miriam said. “After that happened, every mother in the Palisades would never let their child go out by themselves… Nobody thought the Palisades was so safe anymore.”
Tamar recalled, “Anywhere you went, people were talking about it. It’s extremely traumatizing to have your friend just disappear.”
Patty Snyder, who has lived in the Palisades since 1957, said she rented out a three-bedroom home on Fiske Street to the Ziselman family for around 10 years beginning soon after Rachel disappeared.
“They were determined to stay [around] there so Rachel could find them if she ever returned,” Snyder said in a 2015 interview with the Post.
Snyder said she too remembers the police showing up at her door in the Alphabet Streets that night. She remembered the cops asking if she or her daughter Jacquie, who worked at the Bay Theatre, had seen Rachel that day.
“It was very, very hard for Rosemarie. She still worked, never missed a day…She was a sweetheart of a mom, but her heart was broken,” Snyder said.
Snyder described the Ziselmans as extremely tight and close-knit, saying the children were all “very well-mannered.”
She added, “I admire the family,” And of Rosemarie, “I loved that woman.”
WHAT HAPPENED TO RACHEL?
A little girl vanishes without a trace, and the rumors begin to fly. Was Rachel’s family involved? Did she run away? Was a stranger to blame for her abduction?
Since the Post published the first installment in its series about Rachel’s disappearance, a photograph has emerged that may hold clues to what happened to the bubbly 11-year-old. The photo has been sent to LAPD, which is testing it to see if it can be linked to a renowned serial killer who was active in Southern California at the time.
In an upcoming issue, the Post will take a closer look at the theories surrounding Rachel’s disappearance and what that photograph reveals.
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