Need help with a plot device


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I'm working on a story with an important plot point that I can't figure out how to make happen in a plausible way. So I'm hoping you might lend me a bit of your knowledge and creativity where mine has failed.

Here's the scenario: A man in his early twenties is close with his older sister and her young daughter (his niece), who is about five years old. Brother and sister have a falling out, and the sister and niece end up moving to another city. Soon afterward, both sister and niece are killed--or so the brother thinks. The niece is actually alive.

So here's my question: Is there a way, in modern America, that the brother (and, presumably, the world at large) could believe his niece to be dead for several months when she is actually alive?

Just to make this puzzle more difficult, there are a couple of conditions:

1. The sister can't have died in some kind of huge, hundreds-dead disaster that would be remembered for years to come. (This takes place in a real city where no such disaster has occurred recently.)

2. The sister and niece's seeming deaths can't be the result of some sort of long-term plot, standing family rivalry, etc. It has to seem random or capricious, like a car accident or a mugging.

Thanks in advance!

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Well it doesn't have to be a huge hundreds dead sort of thing. How about a ferry crash? Mother and daughter fall overboard, only mother's body is recovered from the water? Looking for a little more complex? Car jacking that results in the mother's death immediately, the daughter, who was the real target of the kidnapper, manages to get away at a later location and the kidnapper snatches up another little girl before being spooked by police and crashing the car resulting in a fireball that makes DNA identification next to impossible. The second girl is reported missing while the daughter is assumed dead because they are able to tie the kidnapper to the mother's murder.

Finally my years of binge watching crime dramas finally pay off!

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It could be something as simple as they find lots of blood but no bodies. Or a horrible car accident on the high way and the car ends up in the woods and they assume an animal ate the girl. If there's a river it could be a simple as car goes off bridge and they only find the mother's body in it and assumed the girl was sucked out the broken window and the body will wash up.

I hope that helps :)

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could be a car accident where the mother dies and the daughter is in a coma, at that age she wouldn't have dental records or any records to ID her, probably wouldn't even have a SSN.

so there's a mix up and she's sent to a different hospital then the mother's remains go and the staff has no idea who she is, the red tape that would cause would take months to cut through, government weenies don't exactly move fast and the uncle would probably not push it as he unconsciously wants to avoid seeing his neice's dead body

Edited by DirtyAngel
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Wow--thanks for all the input!

I like the idea of the hospital mix-up, especially because it helps to explain where the niece has been for the last several months. And the ferry-crash idea leads nicely into that, because it creates a plausible "presumed dead" scenario for the niece.

This was a huge help. Thanks again, all.

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