They've Disappeared Without A Trace, And Now Their Parents And Relatives, Their Lovers And Friends Are Twisting In The Winds Of Uncertainty.
By Vicki Hart
WHEN SOMEONE VANISHES, as a surprising number of Tucsonans have done over the years, their parents and relatives, their lovers and friends find themselves caught in the agonizing purgatory of not knowing.
For those who remain, it almost seems as though a death, however horrendous and final, would have been preferable. Instead, those left behind are caught in the emotional no-man's land between sorrow and hope as the years roll inexorably by.
Even families whose loved ones have been missing for years say every time the phone rings, they're still tortured anew by hope the call will bring information about what happened. Every anonymous hang-up on their answering machines, they say, is a torment, triggering thoughts their missing loved one is trying to reach them.
"People always say, 'I understand how you feel,' " says Peggy Payne, whose husband Gene has been missing since 1994. "But there is just no way they can understand if it hasn't happened to them. They just can't understand what this does to your life, how horrible it is."
It's as close to hell on earth as anyone is likely to come, and, according to Tucson Police and Pima County Sheriff's investigators, the families and friends of more than a dozen Tucsonans are currently in this predicament.
In many cases, the survivors believe the missing person was the victim of deadly violence, but they have no answers as to what really happened, or where, or why.
"I've held very little hope my daughter is alive since almost the first day of her disappearance," says Ardyth Van Reeth, whose daughter Diane disappeared last year. "What's hard is not knowing."
Different families have their own scenarios. Some are certain their loved one suffered a horrible death, while others believe, or want to believe, the missing person suffered a mental breakdown and left, but will "get it together" and return some day.
They say they replay over and over in their minds the last time they saw their missing loved one. They wrack their memories for clues. They search the missing person's possessions again and again, afraid they've missed some important detail. They review canceled checks, they call everyone who may have known the missing person, visit every place they may have been.
"When we had looked in Shannon's canceled checks after her disappearance, there was a small check to Henry's Market," says Joyce Emmons, whose daughter Shannon Schell disappeared in 1994. "We've tried to figure out any connection."
Almost all of those who remain behind believe, in some form or another, that someone, somewhere knows what really happened. Hence the posters, the flyers, the press conferences, the pleas. They're hoping to jar someone's memory, to appeal to someone's humanity, to offer money for information....
Gail Leland, director of Parents of Murdered Children and Other Survivors of Homicide, says you must do everything you can to get as much information out to the public as quickly and for as long as possible.
But meanwhile, daily life must go on. There are other children to rear, jobs to hold down, businesses to tend--even as their lives are irrevocably changed:
One mother says she's left her missing adult daughter's bedroom just as it was when the daughter disappeared. The mother says she can't bear to change it.
Another woman, a wife, stays in the same mobile home she shared with her husband before he vanished. She vows she'll never leave, never change her phone number.
Almost every weekend, a close friend of another missing woman hikes the area where her friend was last seen, hoping against hope to find some kind of clue hundreds of other searchers might have overlooked.
Some families agonize over the possibility their loved one may still be alive, but imagine he or she is being held captive by some fiend who is torturing them. Others want to believe the victim is suffering from amnesia, or is in a coma, in some distant hospital bed.
And of course there's always that niggling doubt, especially in cases of adult disappearances, that the missing loved one simply chose to leave and has begun a new life elsewhere.
"I believe my son is still alive, he may not be very together mentally, but I believe he is alive and I will see him again," says Sharon Landeen, mother of Lorne Landeen, who disappeared more than 10 years ago.
WHEN SOMEONE IS missing, families and relatives are desperate, frantic. They want every stone kicked over, every effort made, and damn the cost. Most we talked to thought the initial searches were adequate, but many believe the follow-up was lacking.
Three families complained Sheriff's investigators don't call them back, and they say they're not even sure what detective is assigned to their cases. All complain the detectives seem only to work nine to five Monday through Friday.
Both Police and Sheriff's detectives say they'd respond immediately to new information in any missing person case. They say they understand the frustrations of those who are left behind. And the detectives say they really never give up, but continue to gather information; after the initial search, the job settles down to computer and paper work the families don't always know about.
Tucson Police Det. Bridget McEwen says the Missing Persons Unit is in constant contact with other departments across the nation, trading notices and posters. Detectives feed information about Missing Persons into the National Crime Information Computer (NCIC), which assigns each subject a number on the network. Vanished children are registered with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Detectives run computer checks on the missing person's name and Social Security accounts to make sure no one is using them.
And local detectives say law enforcement agencies across the nation try to make "matches." When a body, or the remains of one, is found, detectives check to see if it matches with any missing person's file. They compare estimated height, weight, dental records, race, sex, birth marks, tattoos and clothing.
Meanwhile, families and relatives and lovers continue to search by themselves. Most have gone to private investigators, the Salvation Army's missing persons program. Some have gone to psychics.
After a while many believe as Joyce Emmons, who says, "It's up to us now to find Shannon."
After seven long years, the missing person can be declared legally dead. It's often necessary to tie up loose ends. But most of those who remain say they will never give up hope and will never rest until they find out what really happened.
"We felt we had to have Lorne declared dead to tie up loose ends and business things," says Sharon Landeen. "We even started a scholarship in his name, but we'll never stop searching for him."
The following are Tucson cases in which the person has disappeared without a trace:
...disappeared January 11, 1996. A first grader at Elvira Elementary School, Karen is Hispanic, 3-feet-5-inches tall, weighing 50 pounds. She has brown hair and brown eyes, and she's missing her front teeth.
Karen was playing with her friends at the Saguaro Crest Apartments, 175 W. Valencia. When she was last seen, she had come inside to drop off her roller-skates before going back out to play. When her mother went to find her for dinner about 6:30 p.m., she was gone. None of the other children in the area had seen anything; there were no signs of struggle, no reports of strange people, no screams.
Police and volunteers conducted extensive searches and questioned known child molesters; friends and relatives held vigils to encourage Karen's safe return.
Currently, investigators say, there are no leads. The FBI is now working on the case, and information on Karen has been sent to Mexico in case someone may have taken her across the border.
Karen's mother, Rosalba Lozoya, keeps a vigil at the apartment. She pleads with anyone who has any information to call 88-Crime.
Gilberto Gonzales and José Chavez...
...apparently disappeared together on January 20, 1996. The two young men--Gonzales is 23 and Chavez is 19--were roommates in the 1800 block of South Irvington Road. They worked together at a business on South Sixth Avenue.
When they failed to appear at an engagement January 20, friends went looking for them. Arriving at their apartment, they found the door unlocked, the keys still inside. Their car was still there, too, as were all their possessions, which appeared to be untouched. There were no signs of a struggle; no one heard anything. They have not been heard from since.
Diane Van Reeth...
...may have left for her job at Tucson Electric Power on the morning of August 10, 1996. Her Ford Aerostar van was discovered on August 12 in the 2800 block of East Ft. Lowell Road. Her keys were in the van; there was no sign of a struggle.
Van Reeth is anglo, 35 years old, 5-foot-7-inches tall and 140 pounds.
In a chilling and bizarre twist, when police found fingerprints on Van Reeth's van, they turned out to be those of her husband, who, they discovered, was living under an alias. Further investigation revealed his name was really John Kalhauser, and that he was wanted in Massachusetts for attempted murder. Kalhauser has since been extradited to Massachusetts where he is in jail awaiting trial.
It was also revealed that Kalhauser pled guilty to manslaughter at age 17 in the shooting death of a 52-year-old man.
Diane Van Reeth was in the process of divorcing her husband and filing for custody of their two sons. It's not know whether she knew of her husband's alias and his violent past. Police have reclassified her disappearance as a homicide, and investigators allege Kalhauser is responsible. Extensive searches by TEP employees have turned up nothing; TEP is offering a $10,000 reward for information.
Ardyth and Dick Van Reeth, Diane's mother and father, are raising her 3- and 5-year-old sons. Ardyth Van Reeth says she believes her daughter is dead. She says she knows Diane would never have left her children. It's terrible for the kids, Ardyth Van Reeth says, because they have no closure and keep trying to come up with ideas about why their mom isn't with them. The Van Reeths ask that hikers, bikers and others out in isolated places stay alert for anything unusual.
...missing since April 30, 1995. A 35-year-old Cambodian-born businessman, Taing was reported missing when his family was unable to find him after they refused to return $10,000 they were holding for him.
On May 1, a hand on the Bellota Ranch near the Cochise County line found Taing's car in a wash. His possessions were found in the car, and an entry sticker revealed the car had been to Lake Patagonia on April 30--odd, since Taing was not known to be much of an outdoor enthusiast. His wallet, a towel and keys to the car were later found in the area.
Searchers using dogs were unable to pick up a trace of Taing in the area surrounding the abandoned car. The family hired a Cambodian psychic from Los Angeles who was unable to trace Taing. John Ritchie, a private investigator hired by the family, says no new leads have come up.
...a 69-year-old artist, he's been missing since March 24, 1995. Oman's wife Pearl and her cat were found shot to death. A note on a their mailbox stated, "Death at 1635 N. Silverbell. Please call authorities, not a prank." Their MG sports car was found on Mount Lemon, two miles south of Windy Point. Writing on the car trunk said, "This is my wife's, I can't sell it." Oman's wallet and a note were also found nearby. The Mount Lemon area was thoroughly searched and is frequented by hikers, but no sign of Oman has been found.
A warrant has been issued for his arrest in the death of his wife.
Shannon Joy Schell...
...disappeared October 12, 1994. Schell was anglo, 34 years old, 4-feet-9-inches tall and 85 pounds. She worked at Jason's Deli on Broadway Boulevard and lived with her parents, Joyce and Lee Emmons.
Schell was last seen as she left to hike the Tanque Verde Ridge Trail in the Rincon Mountains east of Tucson. When she did not return, a search was begun with 120 volunteers, a helicopter and dogs.
Her car was found parked in the trailhead lot, her wallet, money and jewelry were locked in the trunk. She was thought to be on a day hike and thus probably carried light supplies.
Shannon's mother believes she's dead, perhaps from an accident. Others believe she was murdered.
Family and friends have continued to search the Rincons since Schell disappeared. In November 1995 they were directed by a psychic to scour a particular trail; as a result, they say, they found a map drawn for Shannon.
Although they notified the Sheriff's Department immediately about their find, Joyce Emmons says they still have not been contacted. She says the National Park Service officials, whose jurisdiction covers much of the area, seemed to think the family planted the map in an effort to prompt resumption of official searches.
Other than the map, there has been no trace of Shannon Schell.
...possibly the most bizarre disappearance of all. A 46-year-old anglo, 5-feet-7-inches, and 210 pounds, with light brown hair and blue eyes, Payne vanished August 20, 1994.
He lived in an Avra Valley mobile home with his wife Peggy and a 14-year-old son. Disabled and unable to work, Payne couldn't walk far. He was last seen leaving his house at about 7 a.m., on his way to feed the livestock. His mother lived right down the road, and he habitually fed her livestock as well.
Payne was on foot, wearing only shorts, shirt, hat and tennis shoes. He had no identification or money with him.
When he did not return, his family started searching. Eventually they called Sheriff's deputies.
No trace of Gene Payne has been found, despite extensive official searches, as well as those by family and friends. In this rural area, no one saw or heard anything unusual. No signs of struggle were found, no tire tracks, no screams, no footprints...nothing.
Peggy Payne still lives in the mobile home she shared with her husband, and she says she intends to stay right there in hopes of hearing something. She says she and Payne's mother go over the events of August 20 every day, trying to make some sense of it all. About the only thing they can think of, she says, is, "God beamed him up." She says she knows that sounds crazy, but there's really no explanation for his disappearance.
They've consulted a psychic, with no luck. Peggy Payne tries to stay in contact with the Sheriff's Department, but says not many of her calls are returned; she's unsure even about who is assigned to the case now.
She admits she became indignant when an investigator pointed out that all leads had been exhausted and then added, "After all, disappearing isn't a crime."
James (Jimmy) Hendrickson...
...disappeared June 12, 1991. He was 12 years old, anglo, with blond hair, blue eyes. He was 5-feet-5-inches tall and weighed 140 pounds.
Jimmy would have entered the sixth grade at Amphi Middle School in the fall, but after spending the night with the relative of a family friend near West Grant Road and North Oracle Road--something he often did--he got up in the morning and said he was going home. Possibly, he stopped at a convenience market near Oracle and Grant roads.
Extensive searches turned up nothing. A psychic declared he'd died a cruel death. Few leads have turned up in the case; one man was questioned in the disappearance but never charged.
Jimmy's father lives in Michigan and had not been in contact with his son for several years before he disappeared. Jimmy's mother, Debbie Hendrickson, has since moved from the state, but she keeps in contact with police.
Lorne Karl Landeen...
...disappeared January 20, 1986. A 23-year-old anglo, 6-feet-2-inches tall and 150 pounds, with brown hair and blue eyes, Landeen was a student at the University of Arizona. He hoped to become an athletic trainer.
A long-distance runner, Landeen was last seen leaving his apartment, possibly to go running.
His car was found two days later at Sabino High School. His wallet was in the car.
Sharon Landeen, his mother, believes he's still alive, although other relatives think he's dead. She says search dogs didn't want to leave the area where his car was, leading her to believe he left from there.
She also says they later found out he'd been depressed and upset before he disappeared.
In the 10 years that Landeen has been missing, his family has pursued every angle they could think of to find him. They consulted a psychic, they've registered with the Salvation Army missing persons service, and they've hired a private investigator. They tried to track Lorne down through his unusual eyeglasses prescription by contacting optometrists throughout the country. No luck.
Through the Salvation Army, they thought they had a lead at one time, and even flew to El Paso to follow it up, only to find the person thought to be Lorne had left.
He's been declared dead so the family could tie up business matters, but Sharon Landeen has never given up hope she'll see her son again some day.
THE NAMES OF several other people who've disappeared now languish in local investigators' "cold" files, meaning all leads have been exhausted. They are:
Robert Schombert, 47. Disappeared April 23, 1995. Reported missing by his wife. He withdrew $4,000 from a bank account before he left.
James O'Brien Post, 25. Disappeared December 18, 1994. He stole his aunt's car and hasn't been seen since. The car was never recovered.
José Encinas, 19. Disappeared September 29, 1995. He left with a friend and never returned. Investigators suspect he was murdered.
Jerry Smith, 52. Disappeared September 21, 1995. Paralyzed from a stroke, Smith didn't like being in a nursing home. He took a cab from there and was never seen again.
Connie Scott, 45. Disappeared August 22, 1995. She left to make a $4,000 deposit for her employer and was never seen again. The deposit was not made.
Earle Elliott, 35. Disappeared July 20, 1995. He told his girlfriend he was going to another state to pick up a $150,000 check. She never heard from him again.
Nancy Moreno, 48. Disappeared July 27, 1994. She left for a doctor's appointment, which she never made. Her car was found at a shopping center near Campbell Avenue and Irvington Road. Her son Anthony says the family believes she left the area on her own. They've tried to trace her, without success.
Michelle West, 27. Disappeared July 8, 1991. She went to use a pay phone across the street from her apartment on 29th Street and never returned.
Mark Cunningham, 50. Disappeared July 8, 1978, after leaving all his belongings and car at a local hotel.
James Allen Pearce, 33. Disappeared in May 1976. He reportedly boarded a New York-bound plane in Tucson, but never got off.
Marianne Bowers, 83. Disappeared in December 1984. Her son says he dropped her off at the entrance to Sears at Park Mall and went to park; when he returned, she was gone.
Deborah Dean, 25. Disappeared May 3, 1985. She left St. Louis for Tucson by bus. Her baggage arrived; she didn't.
Jeanne Overstreet, 19. Disappeared September 3, 1982. She was last seen hitchhiking on Stone Avenue.
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