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Award-Winning Film Examines Manhattan Beach Woman's Disappearance

Oct 12, 2020 10:21PM ● By Jeanne Fratello

Nancy Paulikas - photo via Kirk Moody

As the four-year anniversary of the disappearance of Manhattan Beach resident Nancy Paulikas approaches, a new documentary examines her life and the larger issues surrounding her case.

"Where is Nancy?," created by filmmaker Thiago Dadalt and producer Dru Miller of D. Ellen Miller Productions, has won awards and praise across the country for its examination of Paulikas' case and of the many challenges facing families of Alzheimer's patients.

Paulikas, a talented aerospace engineer, pilot, and entrepreneur, was tragically stricken with early-onset Alzheimer's disease. On October 15, 2016, Paulikas, who was age 55 at the time, wandered away from family members at the Los Angeles Museum of Art. Despite a massive search effort across Los Angeles County and beyond, she was never seen again. More than two years later, her remains were found in a remote area of a park in Sherman Oaks.

"Where Is Nancy?" Film

Filmmaker Dadalt had worked with Paulikas' husband Kirk Moody throughout the search to document the family's struggle. In 2017, he collaborated with Miller to create a short film called "Chocolate," loosely based on Nancy's story. The film portrayed an early onset Alzheimer's patient who wanders from her family and is absorbed into L.A.'s homeless community.

The "Where is Nancy?" documentary, another collaboration of Dadalt and Miller, takes an in-depth look at Paulikas' disappearance and the ensuing search for her whereabouts. (Notable in the film is an appearance by Manhattan Beach Police Detective Mike Rosenberger, who worked on the case. Rosenberger recently retired from the police department and earned commendation from the Manhattan Beach City Council last week.)

Since its release, the documentary has earned widespread acclaim. The film premiered at Cinequest Film & Creativity Festival in Silicon Valley, and it was a Vitruvian Award winner at the DaVinci International Film Festival in Washington D.C.

"Where is Nancy?" was an official selection at the American Documentary and Animation Film Festival, and at Newport Beach Film Festival just this month. The film has also been endorsed by Alzheimer's Los Angeles.

A trailer of the movie is available here. The movie will be at the film festival circuit until the middle of next year, and possibly available to the public after.

Impact of Paulikas Case Continues

Moody's relentless search lasted for more than two years and involved hundreds of Manhattan Beach-area friends and family as volunteers. Near the end of the search, a reward for information as to her whereabouts had gone up to $100,000. 

Investigators found a a series of remains in Fossil Ridge Park in Sherman Oaks in 2017 and 2018. In December 2018, they positively identified those as Nancy through DNA matching, drawing a tragic close to the case.

However, Moody's efforts resulted in systemic change in policies for how to deal with Alzheimer's and autism patients who may wander and become lost.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 60% of people with dementia will wander at some point. Additionally, the Interactive Autism Network found that 49% of children with autism will engage in wandering behavior. While the clear majority of these individuals are recovered, wandering cases can end in tragedy, according to LA Found.

In early 2018, Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn led a task force that created LA Found, a voluntary program offering trackable bracelets to individuals prone to wandering (including those with Alzheimer's, dementia, or autism), administered by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

The LA Found program is notable for the size of its operation - the largest of its kind in the country - covering 88 cities and 10 million people. Paulikas and Moody are credited for being the inspiration for the program.

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