The answer, they believe, lies somewhere in the Lansing Correctional Facility, entrenched behind the bars that will likely keep inmate No. 33728 away from society for the rest of his life.
David and Judy Rusch, Ralph and Jada Butler and Harold and Bobby Brown say the secret will die there unless Richard Grissom, the inmate, breaks his silence on the question that's haunted them since the summer of 1989: What happened to our daughters?
The justice system's answer was that Grissom robbed and then killed the women, Joan Butler, 24, Overland Park, and Christine Rusch and Theresa Brown, both 22, both of Lenexa. In November 1990, Grissom was convicted of three counts of first-degree murder and eight other charges of robbery, kidnapping, burglary and theft.
Since then, authorities have continued to search for the women's bodies, tracking down occasional tips but always coming up empty.
"Oh, it's certainly not" a closed case, said Johnson County Sheriff Fred Allenbrand. "The case will never be closed until we find the bodies or get an explanation."
For a time, Allenbrand said, authorities thought the explanation could be found in Lawrence or Douglas County.
Grissom, who often stayed with friends in Lawrence, was seen here nine days after Joan Butler was reported missing. After seeing Grissom running away from a car that had been rented by Ms. Butler, a Lawrence officer followed Grissom to an apartment and tried to question him.
Grissom gave the officer a driver's license, then ran away.
He was arrested that July at the Dallas airport by FBI agents who lured him there with the help of an old girlfriend.
Allenbrand said officials in Johnson and Douglas counties received tips that the bodies were hidden somewhere near Lawrence. Two of the largest local searches were at Clinton Lake, where teams combed a 100-acre area in early September and November.
David Rusch, Bobby Brown and Jada Butler said they occasionally get calls from authorities who have received new information about the crimes.
"We get a lot of psychic things," said Mrs. Brown, who lives in Benton, Mo. "And we've heard rumors. They follow them up, just out of chances that they might find something."
Jada Butler, of Wichita, said that not knowing what happened to her daughter is maddening. She deals with the mystery, she said, by refusing to allow herself to speculate.
"You know she's gone. You know he did it. You can't dwell on thoughts of anything else," she said.
Tragically, the families were brought together by the deaths.
David Rusch said the families write and call each other, pay visits when they're in town and schedule get-togethers that have included detectives and Johnson County Dist. Atty. Paul Morrison.
He said the bond was built on shared trauma, "probably like people who've gone through Vietnam."
The families also are united in their hope that Grissom is never released from prison.
"My hope is possibly while he's in there, he'll contract AIDS," Bobby Brown said. "But I don't have a hatred for him. I have no feelings for him whatsoever."
In November 1992, the Kansas Supreme Court upheld the convictions in a ruling on a Grissom appeal. Under Kansas law, Grissom must serve more than 100 years before he is eligible for parole.
Spokesmen for Johnson County District Court and the Johnson County district attorney's office said Grissom had filed no appeals since losing his case in the supreme court.
But the murders continue to fuel court action. The Rusch and Brown families have sued the owners and managers of a Lenexa apartment complex where Grissom was a painter.
The lawsuit alleges Grissom killed the women while employed by the complex and that apartment managers were negligent in hiring and retaining him. Testimony at his trial showed that Grissom had been given a pass key that opened most of the apartments.
David Rusch said the families were awaiting separate trials. If everything goes right, he said, the trial could lead to more than a favorable verdict.
"I don't think Grissom is going to say or do anything until the lawsuits are settled," he said. "When that happens, we may find out more."