Archive for Wednesday, April 16, 2008

20 years later

Linwood couple still copes with vanishment

Harold and Alberta Leach, wave good by to a visitor writing a book about the years they've have spent thinking of their son's Randy's death. After 20 years the Leaches are still digging up more than the Law enforcement people are telling but always coming to a end because of one reason or another.

Harold and Alberta Leach, wave good by to a visitor writing a book about the years they've have spent thinking of their son's Randy's death. After 20 years the Leaches are still digging up more than the Law enforcement people are telling but always coming to a end because of one reason or another.

April 16, 2008

Harold Leach pulls his car to the side of a rock road and points to the farm just seven miles east of Linwood where his only son, Randy Wayne Leach, was last seen 20 years ago while attending a bonfire party.

Harold and his wife, Alberta, now in their mid-60s, talk frankly about how the property has changed since they went looking for Randy there on the morning of April 16, 1988.

There used to be white ranch house, but it was destroyed by fire. Now there is a new house, and the shed and pond have been added. Bushes have grown near the driveway where Randy reportedly had parked his mother's 1985 Dodge 500. The car has never been found either.

It has been two decades and still no clues.

"I don't think we really know anything more than we did the first day and that's unfortunate," Harold said.

Since the 17-year-old Linwood High School senior went missing, the Leaches have endured years of rumors and speculation about what possibly happened to Randy:

¢ He was murdered after seeing a drug deal.

¢ He was sacrificed as part of satanic ritual.

¢ He died of a drug overdose.

¢ He drove his car into a lake.

¢ He died of dehydration after being tied to a tree.

They've heard that his body is in this pond or that river or on this farm or in that cave.

And they've tried to follow up on each story - no matter how crazy it might be.

Last week during a drive around the rural areas of Linwood, De Soto and Bonner Springs, the couple pointed out numerous areas, besides the farm where Randy was last seen, that they, family or police had searched. Among them were:

¢ 12755 Loring Drive near Bonner Springs where semi trucks were parked inside huge underground "caves." Harold said about 100 yards around the corner was a cave where, according to rumors, Randy was killed in a satanic ritual.

¢ The intersection of 83rd Street and Kill Creek Road in De Soto where there once was an auto body shop. Randy's car was rumored to have been dismantled there.

¢ Lenape Cemetery, located just down the road from where Randy was last seen, was the subject of a psychic's reading. The Leaches were told that Randy was buried along a fence there.

"Where was the psychic from?" Harold asked his wife while exiting the cemetery.

"I don't know honey, there have been so many," she said.

In the early 1990s, they were invited to appear on a Jerry Springer show about missing children. Alberta had talked to a psychic before attending the show and sent a shirt tag from one of Randy's shirts. The psychic told the Leaches that their son "definitely was alive."

But as soon as the cameras started rolling, the psychic said, "he is dead."

"We just lost it," Alberta said.

The disappearance

Back in the kitchen of their rural Linwood home, Harold and Alberta are surrounded by photos of Randy. There are age-progressed photos of what he might look like today and senior-year photos. Time hasn't made it any easier for them to talk about their son.

Alberta described Randy as a good boy who loved the country.

"He loved to fish," she said, barely able to get the words out. Alberta then looked into her husband's eyes, smiled and added, "He liked to help his dad and drive the tractor. He was always out in the yard playing."

They recalled the last time they saw Randy.

"We bought a new riding lawn mower, so that afternoon he had taken it to mow a yard and brought it back and then mowed our yard," Harold said. "Then, he cleaned the lawn mower up and came in and got ready to go out that night."

He talked about driving to Lawrence to purchase some wax to protect the mower's paint.

About 6:30 p.m., Randy left the family's driveway and turned east toward Linwood. He had about $50 after his dad gave him $20 for the wax. He was wearing a blue T-shirt, Levi's and white tennis shoes.

During the course of the evening, Randy picked up Steve Daughtery, an older acquaintance, and drove to De Soto, where his 1966 Mustang was being restored. The car was a graduation gift from his parents. He later stopped at Stout's Convenience Store in Linwood and purchased two candy bars, two bottles of soda and $3 worth of gasoline.

Randy reportedly arrived at the bonfire about 9:30 p.m. It was a pre-graduation party for schoolmate Kim Erwin and was given by her mother, Annie Erwin. The Erwins had just moved to the area from Kansas City, Kan. About 100 people attended the bash where a punch spiked with grain alcohol reportedly was sold for $3 per cup; refills were free.

By various accounts, Randy, a 6-foot-3, 220-pound teenager, was too intoxicated to walk straight between the time he arrived and the last time he was reported seen between 1:15 a.m. and 2 a.m. No one saw Randy or the Dodge leave.

Meanwhile, Alberta and Harold slept soundly through the night, and Randy missed his 12:30 a.m. curfew, a rarity. About 6 a.m., Alberta woke up, pulled back the curtains and peered out the kitchen window. The car was gone.

"I knew something was really wrong," she said.

They immediately began making calls and searching for Randy.

"We jumped in the car and went over to where the party was to talk to the people there," Alberta said. "Of course, they knew nothing."

An unusual case

That's what has the Leaches and law enforcement baffled.

Jerry Nance, of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, has been the case manager for about six years. While there are many missing persons cases that go back 20 years, he said this one is unique because it happened in a small town. Linwood, which is just 13 miles northeast of Lawrence, has a population of about 300 people.

"Usually when something like this happens, you have a little bit of a we-don't-know situation as to when they were last seen, but his timeline is pretty tight and that's unusual," he said.

Nance's opinion is that somebody knows something, but has been afraid to come forward.

John Schermbeck, detective lieutenant with the Leavenworth County Sheriff's office, agrees.

"It's unusual, I think, that in that kind of community that someone doesn't know something," he said. "It's a mystery to us."

In 2003, the sheriff's office and Kansas Bureau of Investigation did a reinvestigation of the case.

"We spent a winter doing that and we feel like we have an investment in the case now. We worked pretty hard and we would like to solve the case," Schermbeck said. "The leads that come to us, we try to follow up thoroughly, but as far as the case is concerned it's still an open missing person's case."

He said they still get some leads about two or three times a year.

"We try to pursue every one seriously and follow it completely," Schermbeck said.

The last tip came in December when the Leaches received a call while on vacation in Branson, Mo. Someone had received a letter that indicated an inmate in a county jail in Kansas might know something about Randy. Police investigated and nothing came of it.

"Everything comes to a dead end. You think you are getting somewhere and then all of a sudden it just dead ends and it's been that way the whole time," Alberta said. "You think you have a lead and - pfffttt - it's gone."

The Leaches have hired lawyers, detectives, psychics and divers to help locate Randy. They have no idea how much money they've spent. They have boxes and files of tape-recorded conversations, documents and pictures. They've converted Randy's bedroom into a study, but haven't thrown away any of his things.

When asked how much time they had invested in the search, Alberta shook her head and replied, "Twenty years."

Search continues

On April 26, the Leaches are going to meet Dan Steele, a Lawrence psychic.

"I am going to try to use energy signals and I am going to try to pick up on Randy's energy and just try to find his body or try to find the car," Steele said. "I've got a really good feeling about this."

Steele, a 1988 graduate of Washington High School in Kansas City, Kan., said he remembers hearing about Randy's disappearance.

"There were all kinds of rumors surrounding it. There were Satan worshippers involved. There were drugs involved. There was foul play involved," he said. "The thing is nobody really knows what happened."

Steele, an assistant manager of Presto in North Lawrence, met the Leaches through a friend, Cindy Hutchison, who plans to publish a book about the search for Randy with her twin sister, Kathy Schott. The two published a book, "Boys, Let Me Down Easy," about an 1882 Lawrence lynching in 2005.

Hutchison, of Belton, Mo., has spent the past two years researching Randy's case.

"When I first got involved with it, I was absolutely overwhelmed because there was a whole lot more material than what I was expecting. I have reams and reams of documents and police reports and things to go through," she said. "I live and breathe it practically."

Hutchison, who works part time as a pharmacy technician, said she has been doing some of her own investigating.

"I've found a few things that don't quite make sense or don't quite add up," she said without going into specifics.

Hutchison and Schott plan to publish the book within the year. They hope it will help shed light on what happened to Randy and provide some closure for the Leaches.

"It's been 20 years and we've made it together through this but you can't move on," Harold said as he looked at his wife.

"We just exist," she said, nodding.

"My worst nightmare is something will happen to me and Alberta will have to : ," Harold couldn't finish the sentence as his emotions took over. He let out a big sigh and then said, "She will have to go through it on her own."

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