If she is still alive somewhere, Lesley Smith is about to turn 41.
"I would much prefer thinking that she is in a better place than to think that somebody has her," said Smith's mother, Marilyn Anderson. "I don't think she's alive, but even if she isn't, I want the opportunity to find her and bring her home."
Anderson and her husband, Gary, who is Smith's stepfather, have been waiting for answers about what happened to Smith since she disappeared along with the family's minivan the night of Jan. 26, 2004. She left her purse, driver's license, asthma medication and a pair of cat-eye glasses behind on a dresser at the family's home on Quail Creek Drive in western Lawrence.
The Andersons said that in recent days, it's been difficult to see all the news coverage of the two kidnapped boys found alive in Kirkwood, Mo. - one of whom had been missing for more than four years.
"Something like this happens, and it's just kind of in your face," Gary Anderson said.
Marilyn said she was happy for the families whose children were found, but also angry. At first, she said, she didn't believe authorities took her daughter's disappearance seriously because Smith was an adult.
"I feel like at Lesley's age, age had a big bearing on how hard she was looked for immediately," she said. "I'm happy for them, but I'm sad for me. ... Why not my daughter?"
The Andersons said that as time goes by, it doesn't get easier to deal with the disappearance. They've painted her once-red bedroom a stone color and moved the bed to a different angle. They've thought about having a garage sale to sell some of Smith's belongings, but they haven't brought themselves to do it yet.
"This has been the worst year, and I don't particularly know why," Gary Anderson said.
Smith worked as a server at the Bella Lounge, then at 925 Iowa. The Andersons last saw her watching TV at home about 10:30 p.m. Jan. 26, 2004.
Marilyn Anderson said she woke up the next morning and found a note from Smith in the kitchen that alluded to medication and said, "I love you so much."
Smith had taken antidepressants in the past and had been seeing a therapist at Bert Nash Community Health Center.
That might sound like an indication that she'd left on her own accord, but if she'd done that, the Andersons said, she would have taken her personal belongings.
Plus, Marilyn Anderson said, she and her daughter often left each other notes around the house.
Shortly after seeing the note, the Andersons noticed their van - a brown 1990 Plymouth Voyager - was gone and that Smith was nowhere to be found.
Adults go missing, too
Lawrence police investigate about 170 missing person cases each year - about 100 of which involve adults , said Sgt. Dan Ward, Lawrence police department spokesman. Virtually all are solved relatively quickly.
The Anderson case is one of about four missing person cases that remains unsolved from the past 20 years, Ward said.
One case dates back to 1987, while another, the disappearance of Alexis Dillard, dates to 1992. The other case is from the late 1990s. All four open cases, including Smith, involve the disappearance of adults, Ward said.
Another notable missing person case is that of Randy Leach, who disappeared from a party in Linwood about 18 years ago. Though that investigation has been reopened before, there are still no significant active leads.
Harold Leach, Randy's father, has previously said he's pretty much given up hope on finding his son alive, though the revelation Wednesday that Michael Devlin is a significant suspect in a 16-year-old missing-person case near St. Louis may rekindle hopes.
Devlin is charged with last week's kidnapping of 13-year-old William Ownby, as well as Shawn Hornbeck four years ago. He was arrested Friday.
Ward urged families who think they've lost a loved one to contact police immediately. The first 72 hours can be crucial to locating a missing person.
"We'd much rather expend the resources on searching for a person who can be easily found than to not look for someone who's truly missing," Ward said. And even as time passes, Ward urged residents to call police or the 843-TIPS hot line if they have any information on an active case.
Today, Lawrence police have a detective assigned to the Smith case who keeps in regular contact with the family. But many of the likely steps - such as posting fliers, dragging the river and using sensing equipment to check the bottom of Clinton Lake - already have been taken, the family said.
- 6News video report: Parents of missing woman keep hope alive (01-17-07)
- Lesley Smith
- Missing-person poster for Lesley Smith (.doc)
- Still searching (01-28-05)
- Parents hope, pray for missing daughter (06-21-04)
- Law hinders search for missing daughter (03-21-04)
- Randy Leach
- KU play explores teen's disappearance (10-01-06)
- The Disappearance of Randy Leach -- Complete story archive
In desperation, the Andersons have turned to psychics for answers.
So far, the Andersons said, the most credible of what happened to Smith has come from an Oregon-based "intuitive," Audrey Wrinkles, who attempted to communicate with Smith by getting in touch with Smith's otherwordly, spiritual "teachers."
The scenario Wrinkles conveyed, the Andersons said, is that on the night Smith disappeared, she made a quick run to the nearby Hy-Vee. Inside the store, a man wearing fatigues struck up a conversation with her. He seemed harmless. When she went to check out, he waited outside the store and asked for a ride, saying he didn't have far to go. Once he was in the vehicle, he overpowered her and killed her quickly.
Then he drove west. He took her into a wooded area and buried her in a shallow grave.
And where is the van?
The Andersons said the best explanation they've received via Wrinkles is that their daughter's spirit doesn't know.
"Somebody has got to know where that van is," Marilyn Anderson said. "All it takes is one person to give us that one lead that will bring my daughter back into my life."