North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's aunt Kim Kyong-hui, the widow of recently executed eminence grise Jang Song-taek, did not show up at a memorial marking the second anniversary of former leader Kim Jong-il's death on Tuesday.
Observers were widely persuaded that she had survived the purge unscathed, but her absence is a serious lapse and casts her fate in doubt again.
But the likeliest reason is poor health, a source said.
Kim Kyong-hui suffered from alcoholism and depression as a result of a feud with her husband and her daughter's suicide in 2006. She has looked thin and unwell since Kim Jong-il's death.
But other pundits speculate that she may not yet recovered from a shock over her husband's execution. Although her marriage was on the rocks, it must have been difficult for her to appear in public only a few days after his execution, said Prof. Nam Sung-wook of Korea University.
"It's possible that she opposed the quick execution of Jang," Prof. Kim Keun-sik of Kyungnam University speculated. "So her absence on Tuesday could have been a show of protest."
Still others believe she was barred from Tuesday's event because it was a symbolic occasion cementing Kim's sole dictatorship. Chung Young-tae of the Korea Institute for National Unification said, "If his aunt had appeared at the meeting, Kim Jong-un might have looked as if he still needs guidance from a senior member of his family."
Kim Kyong-hui's political status looked secure when she was named sixth on a list of members of a funeral committee for Kim Kuk-tae, the chairman of the Workers Party Central Inspection Committee who died Sunday.