'It's Like She Just Disappeared' : Investigation: Family members say the Orange mother of two would never leave without telling someone. They suspect foul play.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The family of a 31-year-old woman who disappeared last week asked for the public's help Wednesday in finding the mother of two who relatives speculated might have been a victim of foul play.

Barbara Burchartz, a receptionist who quit her job about a month ago, was last seen by neighbors Nov. 29 walking out of her Fern Street home around midday. She had dropped off her children, ages 8 and 11, at school that morning.

"Her children are her whole life," said Betty Barry, Burchartz's mother, her eyes filling with tears as she spoke. "She is very committed to them. She would never go off like this intentionally, without telling anyone where she is."

Orange police detectives are baffled after investigating the case for the past week. "There's no sign of her at all," Det. Matt Miller said. "It's like she just disappeared."

Investigators are checking on a report by several friends who said Burchartz was recently offered a $1,000-a-day modeling job, although she had never modeled before, Police Lt. Timm Browne said.

But Browne said there is no evidence that Burchartz, who is in the midst of a divorce, went to a modeling assignment the day of her disappearance. She had told friends that she did not plan to take the job, relatives said.

Several days before Burchartz was reported missing, sheriff's deputies in Los Angeles County located the body of a slain 27-year-old model, Linda Sobek, who was reported missing after leaving for a modeling assignment. The photographer suspected of killing Sobek was already in custody when Burchartz vanished.

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"Linda Sobek did come into mind as I was thinking about my sister," said Burchartz's 33-year-old sister, Kelli. "It was frightening."

On Nov. 29, Burchartz had dropped off her two children at Handy Elementary about 7:45 a.m., detectives said.

That afternoon, her estranged husband, Raymond Burchartz, picked up 8-year-old Shauna and 11-year-old Joshua from school, which he usually does on Wednesdays because he has visitation privileges.

About 7:30 p.m., Raymond Burchartz returned the children and found his wife missing, relatives and police said.

Since then, her parents and brothers and sisters have staked out Burchartz's home and circled the neighborhoods in Huntington Beach, Newport Beach, Laguna Beach and other areas where she frequented. Kelli, Burchartz's sister, who declined to give her last name, said she has had only a few hours of sleep in the past few days.

The sister has been preparing fliers and calling friends who might have seen or heard from Burchartz. Today, she plans to join dozens of friends and relatives to pass out fliers at malls, restaurants and theaters.

Detectives said there has been no withdrawal from her bank account a few days before or since the disappearance. They are tracking records of phone calls made from her house to determine where she might have been heading when she left.

At the Orange Police Department on Wednesday, Barbara Burchartz's parents and siblings pleaded for help in finding "a very loving person."

"We're a very close-knit family, as you can see," Barry said.

Burchartz, one of seven children, was born and raised in Orange County, graduating from El Modena High School in Orange. She studied hotel management and worked at several hotels, including The Sutton Place Hotel in Newport Beach, relatives said.

She last worked as a receptionist at a car dealership in Garden Grove, but quit for undisclosed reasons a little more than a month ago, relatives said.

"She was looking for a job," said Terrance Barry, her 58-year-old father. "But money was not a major issue. We have always assisted our children when they needed it, and she knew that."

Another turmoil in Burchartz's life was the end of her 11-year marriage to Raymond Burchartz, an engineer at McDonnell Douglas in Long Beach, according to relatives and court records. The couple separated in January and were in the process of a divorce, which has not been finalized, William Sardam, Barbara Burchartz's attorney, said.

Earlier this year, Barbara Burchartz went to court and received a restraining order against her husband, accusing him of threatening to harm her if she was involved with another man. A court commissioner ordered that Raymond Burchartz stay at least 100 yards from his wife and that he "shall have no conversation with the mother, nor relay messages to her through the children," court records show.

Barbara Burchartz filed for divorce in April, her attorney said. She was granted custody of the children, child support at $774 per month and use of the couple's Fern Street home, Sardam said.

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On Friday, one day after she was declared missing, Raymond Burchartz and his attorney went to court asking for custody of the children, termination of child support payments and use of the house, Sardam said. A temporary order was issued and Raymond Burchartz is scheduled to return to court Dec. 21, Sardam said.

Raymond Burchartz's attorney, Grainne Hardiman-Ward, could not be reached Wednesday. In court papers filed in response to the restraining order request, the husband accused his wife of misdeeds, including failing to pick up the children from school on time.

Kevin Barry, Burchartz's brother who lives in San Diego, said she sounded "a little bit troubled" when he spoke to her around Nov. 20. She called him about 10 p.m., which was also unusual, he said.

"I tried to ask her what's wrong, but she wouldn't tell me," he said. "I think about that when I'm driving around trying to find her. . . . I am trying to maintain a positive mentality and praying a lot."

Police described Barbara Burchartz as 5-foot, 3 inches tall, weighing 130 pounds, with brown hair and hazel eyes. She drives a 1992 gray Ford Thunderbird, California license plate 2ZSM435, which is missing. Investigators are asking anyone with information to call (714) 744-7556.

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