LITTLE ROCK, Ark. | A police dispatcher for a gated community in central Arkansas has been missing since before Christmas, but investigators have been hesitant to describe her as a victim of foul play despite the discovery of her burned car in a nearby forest.
Lake Central graduate Dawna Natzke, 46, of Hot Springs Village was last seen at a Dec. 21 Christmas party and searchers on horses and in a helicopter have been unable to find her. The woman's 28-year-old boyfriend told investigators he hasn't seen the woman since the night of the party, but a missing person's report wasn't filed until she failed to show up for work at the police station 31 hours later, according to a timeline provided by Hot Springs Village Police.
Natzke, whose maiden name was Smith, graduated from Lake Central in 1984.
"This would be totally out of character for her to leave and not notify anybody. She wouldn't do that," said Eloise Wiegand, a secretary who has worked with Natzke at the police department for seven years. "She would not leave her family."
Natzke's boyfriend, Kevin Duck of Jessieville, told police the couple returned to her house following the party and that she was gone by the next morning, according to the timeline. Although there are security gates, there are no video cameras that would have recorded her leaving the community of 13,000. The west entrance, which is closer to the spot where Natzke's car was found, always has someone at the gate. The east entrance is not manned between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.
And most residents have stickers on their vehicles that allow them to drive in and out without being stopped by security guards, police said.
A police department statement said a friend of Natzke's received a "strange text message" from Natzke's cell phone on Dec. 22, but that when the friend notified the woman's family members about it they didn't seem alarmed. Police have declined to describe what the message said.
In the meantime, the U.S. Forest Service found the charred remains of Natzke's car in the nearby Ouachita National Forest. The FBI said finding an abandoned car in itself wasn't terribly unusual.
"Down there, there's a lot of that," FBI spokesman Steve Frazier said in Little Rock, 40 miles to the northeast.
Forestry officials didn't contact the police department about finding the vehicle until Saturday - a day after the missing person's report was filed. "Her car was actually discovered before" a notice was sent asking police agencies to keep an eye out for it, Laroy Cornett, the community's director of public safety, said at a news conference this week.
"It just took some time to make an identification on the car and make the connection that it belonged to Mrs. Natzke," Cornett said.
He said investigators found no evidence of foul play and that he considered the matter a missing person's case.
"We have not ruled out foul play. We have ruled out nothing," Cornett said during the Wednesday news conference. "At this point, however, all we have is a missing person and no evidence of any foul play."
Neither Cornett nor Duck, Natzke's boyfriend, returned calls seeking comment Friday.
Natzke has three children, including two high school-aged boys at home.