What happened to Randy Leach?

Randy Wayne Leach is still missing.

The whereabouts of the 17-year-old Linwood youth and the family car remain just as much a mystery today as it was on April 16, the day his disappearance was reported.

Randy’s high school senior-year picture has been reproduced on 20,000 posters that friends and a missing children’s organization have distributed throughout the nation.

His graduation gift, a restored 1966 red Mustang, sits under a shade tree in the family’s yard.

His diploma, awards certificates and last art project are still on the family’s dining room table.

Above a doorway at the Leach home, photographs show Randy’s growth from a fragile 5-pound-3-ounce baby to a chubby little boy and into a 6-foot-3, 220-pound, high school senior.

His room, his parents say, is just as he left it.

Randy was last seen at about 2 a.m. on April 16.

People remember seeing him at a party in rural Linwood that night. But, law officials and his parents say, no one actually remembers seeing him leave.

It’s as though Randy vanished into thin air.

Yet his parents and Linwood residents feel sure that somebody, somewhere, knows something about what happened to Randy.

For the Leach family, time stands still.

“Our lives have kind of stopped. Other peoples’ lives go on. We realize this, but we just hope they’ll keep helping. Because just by talking and listening, maybe they’ll hear something that will be helpful,” Randy’s mother, Alberta Leach, said in an interview last week at the family’s home just off Kansas Highway 32.

“We keep hoping that if someone is scared or afraid to say if they saw something, they’ll call us anonymously,” his father said as he twisted the tassel that his son would have worn on his graduation cap last month at Linwood High School.

His parents are reluctant to speculate on what might have happened to their only child.

“We don’t know what to think. It just — it has to be foul play,” said his father, Harold Leach.

“We have all kinds of thoughts that run through our minds day in and day out. But we still have a lot of hope,” said Mrs. Leach.

Both parents say their son was upbeat when he went out for the evening about 6:45 p.m. April 16.

“He was in a good mood. His dad had just bought him a new John Deere lawn tractor the day before. That day Randy took it to mow this yard. He spent 4 1/2 hours. Any other kid would have come home, put it away and be done with it. But he unloaded that mower and mowed our whole front yard. Then he got out the air blower and cleaned it up so it looked just like brand new,” Mrs. Leach said.

Randy then showered and got ready to go out. When his dad asked if he had enough money, Randy said he might go into Lawrence, about 11 miles southwest of Linwood, and pick up some wax for his new tractor at K-mart or Wal-Mart. Leach gave his son $20 for the wax. That would have given Randy, his parents believe, a total of $50 to $60.

“We don’t the really planned on going to the party,” his mother said.

His parents believe that after Randy left home he stopped by his cousin’s house, then drove around Linwood. About 8:30 p.m., he and a friend drove to DeSoto to a body shop where workers were restoring his Mustang. A few days after his disappearance, his parents picked up the car.

At about 9:30 p.m. that night, his parent said, they think Randy stopped at a convenience store where he purchased two candy bars, two bottles of pop and $3 worth of gas.

“Four or five people reported talking to Randy. They all said he was joking and acting his normal way,” his mother said.

• • •

A half-hour later, several people say, Randy was hardly able to walk. He was at a party being held at the Erwin farm.

Annie Erwin, mother of the high school senior giving the party, said she saw Randy for the first time about 10 p.m.

“The first time I saw him I said, ‘Oh my god, what’s wrong with him?’ I said ‘You guys better keep an eye on him,’ because I didn’t like the way he was acting. He was just stumbling. But when you looked at him, he didn’t look drunk,” she said.

“I never saw Randy with a drink in his hand while he was out here,” Mrs. Erwin said.

She last saw Randy at five minutes after 2 a.m., waiting to use the bathroom.

The Erwins are newcomers to Linwood, moving here last year from Kansas City, Kan.

Her daughter, Kim, had invited some of her old friends from Kansas City and some relatives to a dinner at the Erwin home that night. Other Linwood friends had been invited to come out later for the party. Still others showed up uninvited. Mrs. Erwin, like the sheriff’s office, estimates 45 to 60 people were there.

Several people, she said, planned to take Randy home that night. “Everytime they went to look for him, he’d gone off somewhere else,” she said.

Nearly everyone had left the party by 2:30 a.m., she said, except for several friends who spent the night at their house.

John Burns of Linwood said he helped Randy locate his car at about 12:30 a.m. or 1 a.m. on the night of the party.

“But he didn’t have his keys. Someone else had his car keys,” said Burns, who will be a high school senior next year.

“He was looking for his keys a little bit. Then I took someone else home and when I got back, he wasn’t there.”

And, Burns added, Randy’s car was gone.

• • •

Usually Mrs. Leach heard her son come in at night. Often she and Randy spent a few minutes talking. On the night of April 15, his parents didn’t wake until the next morning.

“I waked through the kitchen and the car wasn’t there. I was frantic,” Mrs. Leach said. “He just wasn’t a kid to stay away all night. He would have called or something.”

His father said, “I think about 2 o’clock was about the latest he ever came in. Usually he was in by 1.”

They started calling friends and relatives. As soon as the mandatory 24-hour waiting period passed, they filed a missing person report with the Leavenworth sheriff.

A former Linwood High School student, who asked not to be named, said the Leaches called his home about noon, trying to find their son.

“I got about five of my friends together and we all went out there and searched for a good three or four hours. All over the back roads and everything. It was a shock. It really was. You don’t really think a thing like that could happen and then when it does, it kind of bothers you. It makes you think it could have been you or one of your brothers because everybody in this town is pretty close.”

After Randy’s disappearance, the former student and some other teens went to the Leach home. One time, he said, Randy’s father came down “pretty hard” on the young people, demanding answers they couldn’t provide.

“But I don’t blame him. He’s a nice guy. He’s just trying to stir up some answers,” he said.

• • •

“Just enjoying the summer” is the way the Leaches describe Randy’s plans. And, they said, he had jobs lined up for his own lawnmowing service.

“He didn’t know whether he would go to college or some type of trade school in the fall,” his mother said.

In high school, Randy earned As and Bs and he had enough credits that he could have graduated a semester early.

“We kind of talked to him and told him he ought to enjoy his last year,” Mrs. Leach explained.

There was a breakup with a girlfriend last winter and disappointment that his basketball coach didn’t play him more often. But his parents said Randy had discussed the problems with them and they thought he’d coped well.

Ten days before his disappearance, Randy won a gold medal for shotput. His goal was to break the high school’s 1958 shotput record.

“This would (have been) a standing record,” his mother said, because Linwood students will be bused next fall to the new consolidated Basehor-Linwood High School.

• • •

Ten weeks have passed since their son disappeared. Friends and family stop by often and someone stays near the telephone.

“You just take it one day at a time. Or about an hour at a time, thinking you are going to hear something,” Mrs. Leach said.

The Leaches call their son, “a very happy-go-lucky all-American, clean-cut, normal boy.”

The people of Linwood agree.

A dozen people interviewed last week along Linwood’s main street discount most rumors about Randy’s disappearance.

They say that he has run away or that he was given drugs and supposedly O.D.’d and somebody did away with him and the car. I’ve even heard about a cult being involved. Those are all speculation. Not one of them is based on fact,” said one woman. “I even heard he was tied to a tree and died of dehydration. And then that he was seen at a pizza parlor in DeSoto.”

Recently investigators have asked questions about the possible use of crack and cocaine at the party and about the game “Dungeons and Dragons.” All of these are totally unsubstantiated rumors that officers are merely checking out, the sheriff’s department says.

The citizens interviews last week completely rejected the notion that Randy ran away or that he used drugs.

“He wasn’t a kid that would run away,” said Ellenor Large, Linwood city clerk.

There have been rumors of a drug house in Linwood and that Randy used illegal drugs. But if this high school senior was a user, he kept it a well-hidden secret in a little town where few things go unnoticed.

“I knew Randy. I knew him ever since he was a little kid. He was not into drugs. I would bet anything on that,” said Fran Breeden, who stopped by the Linwood hardware store last week.

“If he was on drugs, somebody slipped something to him. He was not a kid who had to go with peer pressure. He liked everybody and everybody liked him,” she said.

Randy’s parents are described by their neighbors as “good parents” and “hard-working people.” The father is self-employed and does lawnmower repairs and odd jobs. Mrs. Leach, with her son’s help, had on office cleaning service.

Al Butcher, owner of Linwood’s hardware store, said that “Randy thought a lot of his parents and his parents thought a lot of him … His parents were a little strict with him, but they were good to him.”

In Linwood, population 377, everyone knows everyone else, they say, and Randy’s disappearance strikes deep at a town’s insecurities.

Parents are keeping a closer eye on their children, said Karen Otterson, who was interviewed at the Linwood City Hall. “And even the kids are checking up on one another now.”

Out at Stout’s a Linwood convenience store, a fish bowl on the counter is partially filled with coins and a few bills.

“This is just to help his parents with making the circulars and stuff,” explains the clerk, LaVonne Shawley. In the first month after his disappearance the store collected $480. There’s also a stack of posters with Randy’s photograph that Linwood folks pick up before they go on a vacation. Then they tack posters up wherever their travels take them.

Anonymous donors gave $1,500 in reward money for information leading to the discovery of Randy’s location.

• • •

The Leavenworth Sheriff’s Department says there are few facts in this case.

“It is strange and especially in a small community the size of Linwood,” said Sheriff Terry Campbell. “We still work on it almost every day.”

Last Friday two officers were in Johnson County conducting interviews. Campbell said his department has worked with the Kansas Bureau of Investigation and with police departments in Kansas City, Kan., Edwardsville and Lawrence.

Shortly after Randy disappeared, his father hired a private investigator, who turned up very little, Campbell said.

No matter how bizarre a rumor might be, Campbell said, it’s checked out. And in this case, rumors abound, he said.

But here’s what Campbell substantiated last week.

“Randy was at the party. We believe he was given at least one drink,” he said. “They were pouring punch with 150 proof grain alcohol.”

“People talked to him. The story is they went to the car with him and he couldn’t find his keys. They went to look for the keys and when they came back Randy and his car were gone.”

Officials have found no one who actually saw Randy leave the party.

Some party-goers definitely were drinking alcohol, and “apparently someone from Kansas City brought some drugs,” the sheriff said.

Although the community seems particularly baffled that the family car — a gray 1985 Dodge 600 four-door sedan with Leavenworth County tag J 8721 — still hasn’t been found, the sheriff said it often takes months for missing cars to turn up.

Lt. Hank Spellman, who heads the investigation for the sheriff’s department, estimates 90 people have been interviewed.

“Probably the first eight weeks, we spent at least 8 to 12 hours a day on it. Sometimes 16 hours. We searched the river by boat, did an aerial search by airplane, drained wells, checked ponds, checked creeks. We did a lot of work on it. It is not just one of those cases where you sit around the office and make phone calls. We have got to go grab people and talk to them,” Spellman said.

There have been unconfirmed sightings of Randy. One anonymous woman caller told officers she spotted a gray car “driving erratically” down Iowa Street in Lawrence. However, she didn’t provide enough information for officers to follow up.

“There is no reason anybody can give us why Randy would run away. But there is also no reason why anybody would do him harm. What I’m hoping is there was a problem or something the family didn’t know about that he couldn’t cope with and he decided to run off. Kids run off all the time,” Campbell said.

• • •

Although the possibility of Randy having run away makes the least sense to his parents, they say it is the best news they can hope for.

“For the first few days we just sat watching that highway, thinking that car was going to pull in. Every car on the highway looked gray,” Mrs. Leach said.

And what if Randy, who will turn 18 on July 25, walked in the door today?

Sobbing, his mother replied, “I’d say, ‘Randy Wayne, I love you.'”