FF12: Latest evidence sparks hope for family of missing priest

PROTECTION, Kan. (KWCH) A Kansas family wants answers more than a year and a half after their brother walked away from a nursing home in Southwest Kansas.

Father Marvin Reif, a priest with the Dodge City Diocese walked away from Protection Valley Manor in April of 2017 and hasn't been seen since. The latest piece of evidence is a handwritten note that could hold clues about what happened for Marvin.

Marvin's siblings say their brother's connection to his faith was obvious from a young age.

"He would make his own communion out of bread and a rolling pin, grape Kool-Aid or something," said Marvin's sister, Karen Winkelman.

They say it was no surprise when Marvin decided to become a priest and was ordained in 1989. Marvin served in the Dodge City Diocese for nearly two decades before his mental health forced him to take a leave of absence in 2008.

"I think he was suffering really severe depression. That and a lot of anxiety and I think things just overwhelmed him easily. I think the leave of absence is what he needed," said Karen.

Marvin was in and out of nursing home facilities before moving to Protection Valley Manor in October of 2016.

"While he was there he did a lot of bible studies and the residents there just loved to have him there," said Duane Reif, Marvin's brother.

Less than a year after arriving at Protection Valley, Marvin vanished.

"It looks like he wanted to go out for a walk and was allowed to go out but was told to stay in the parking lot," said Karen. "It looks like about 30 minutes later the staff couldn't find him."

Marvin was unsupervised. His siblings say Marvin should not have been allowed to go off on his own.

That was April 3, 2017. The Comanche County Sheriff searched through the night and other groups canvassed the area in the following days. But the searches turned up nothing.

"To this day not a body has been found. As long as we don't have a body we're going to continue searching and pursuing this," said Duane.

Marvin's family requested records from the nursing home hoping to learn more about his condition before he walked away.

"Leading up to that day his status had declined rapidly. But that particular morning it sounded like he was in a very low, low state," said Karen.

Karen and Duane say Marvin had a history of walking off from other facilities. I called Protection Valley Manor to ask if they were aware of Marvin's history, but was told they can't comment on the investigation.

Marvin's siblings believe it's possible his disappearance was triggered by the recent passing of his mother.

"Things like that really affected him and you could see the downward spiral in his condition." said Karen.

There was speculation about where Marvin would go. Some believed he'd return to his childhood home in Barton County, others thought the Catholic Church was possibly hiding him. Then came an anonymous note sent to the KBI:

"Marvin Reif the resident who walked away from Protection Valley Manor is being hidden in a monastery in Texas."

The note was handwritten in all caps. It could be a hoax, but Marvin's family believes there's a chance it came from him. They showed us pages from Marvin's notebook. The handwriting doesn't appear to match.

The note is postmarked September of 2017, but Karen and Duane say they didn't know about it until they made an unrelated call to the Comanche County Sheriff months later.

The note restored hope for Marvin's family and inspired them to write to every monastery they could find in Texas. They sent out 20 letters, only about half came back without the news they were hoping for.

Now Marvin's family holds on to the personal items he left behind and continues to pray for answers.

"I think we just need closure and maybe that's being selfish. Either knowing that he's okay here or somewhere else," said Karen.

Karen and Duane recently started a fund to help raise money for a private investigator. Contributions can be made to the Fr. Marvin Reif Fund at any First Kansas Bank location in Hoisington, Great Bend, Claflin or Hays.