Drama looks at ‘what ifs’ in Randy Leach case
Tonganoxie teen Garrett Kelly's new acting role stages him in the center of a true and ongoing Leavenworth County mystery.
In the play, "Leaves of Words," which will premiere next week in Lawrence, Kelly portrays former Linwood resident Randy Leach, who disappeared 18 years ago.
On April 15, 1988, at about 2 o'clock in the morning, Leach, and the car he was driving, vanished. Leach was reported last seen at a pre-graduation party in a rural area east of Linwood. Despite an investigation that is still open, no one has reported seeing Leach, or the car, since.
The play, by Kansas University graduate student Tim Macy, looks at the circumstances prior to Leach's disappearance, and takes a "what-if" approach, giving several scenarios of what might have happened to Leach.
When Kelly auditioned for the role, he didn't know the play focused on Leach, a young man who grew up not far from his own Leavenworth County roots.
"I found out a little later," Kelly said. "It was all very heavy at that point to realize that this was a real person that this happened to."
It's a difficult role, Kelly said.
"I'm trying to put myself in his shoes for the acting," Kelly said. "That's all very scary because I know that that can happen to anyone. No one really knows what happened for sure, so the play is several theories of what happened to him."
Kelly, the son of Mike and Keyta Kelly, acted in numerous plays at Tonganoxie High School. But this one's different. It involves a dramatic mystery based in his home county. And, at this play, Harold and Alberta Leach, parents of Randy Leach, will be in the audience.
"It's very tricky," Kelly said. "I'm not the greatest of actors, so it's really tough to try and act. Like I try to put myself in the mind of a kid. ... I did some research. I tried to think what I would do if I was in those situations, because I'm around his same age. I tried to put myself in like an innocent kid that doesn't really know what's going on."
The play's author, Tim Macy, didn't question Kelly's acting ability.
"He (Kelly) walked into rehearsals and the first time I heard him read I knew that he was the kid I wanted to play him," Macy said. "He had this charming, intelligent, innocent way about him that a lot of actors don't have."
To help prepare for the role, Kelly learned what he could about Randy, and even visited with Randy's father in Linwood.
"It seemed like he (Randy Leach) was a nice kid," Kelly said. "Really kind of timid, he wasn't super outgoing, didn't do sports, things like that. He just seemed like he didn't want to start trouble. He'd go with the flow sometimes just to avoid conflict."
Sorting through facts
Macy, a KU graduate student nearing completion of master of fine arts degree in creative writing, said the play acts as his thesis.
Macy's interest in the Leach disappearance was piqued when his father showed him some newspaper clippings. He researched all the past newspaper articles he could find.
But he needed to know more about Leach. So he wrote to Harold and Alberta Leach.
The Leaches shared information, providing numerous copies of documents and clippings from their files.
"I just sat down and read it -- it took months to get through all of it," Macy said.
When he started to write, things came together. It took him about four months to complete the play, which will be about two hours long.
A necessary part of the work includes numerous revisions.
"It's been an ongoing process," Macy said.
And now there's the rewarding experience of watching his play on stage.
"It's strange to see it come to life," Macy said. "It's based on something that really happened, so of course I wonder how close it is to the actual event -- it may be nowhere near it."
The real-life details are sketchy.
"They know there was a party and they know that there were kids there, but there was a lot of controversy about who was there," Macy said.
And there are unanswered questions about what happened at the party.
"... All that people know is Randy Leach was there at the party. That's one of the few concrete facts about the party. After 2 in the morning he was never seen from or heard from again, that anyone's ever said. Nor was his mother's car, they have never found it."
Macy said he assumed Leach was dead.
"He never tried to get in contact with his parents in 18 years, he had a good home life, he had a cherry red 1966 Mustang that was being restored. There was really no reason that I could find that he would have left and never come back."
Monday, Harold and Alberta Leach traveled to area towns, distributing posters about the upcoming play, which they plan to attend.
"It gives us a lot of hope that maybe something will come out of it," Harold Leach said. "It's not something that you want to go through but you're still really glad that Tim wrote the play and he's doing everything we can and we appreciate that."
The more the word gets out the better, both for their sake, and for the younger generation, said the 65-year-old Leach.
He said he hoped the play would benefit teenagers.
"Bring it to the attention of the students and somehow make them more aware of how things can happen when they're at these parties," Leach said. "Although this was supposed to be a simple graduation party, from what we can tell it didn't turn out like that."
Leavenworth County Sheriff Dave Zoellner has worked on the Randy Leach disappearance since 1988.
Several years ago Zoellner organized a task force of six sheriff's detectives and six Kansas Bureau of Investigation agents.
Zoellner said more than 150 new leads were investigated, and old leads were looked into again as well.
"We're handling it as a homicide based on the fact of the time that's gone by," Zoellner said. "There's been no sightings and we have never located the vehicle and we know that a person just can't drop off the edge of the earth. It's an open investigation and we'll continue until it's hopefully solved, us and the KBI."
It's a long shot, finding what happened to Leach nearly two decades later. But Zoellner, who didn't indicate whether he would attend the play, is determined to try.
"There's a way to dispose of a body and vehicle," Zoellner said. "But it goes back to 'somebody knows something.'"