Still searching

A year after their daughter's disappearance, a Lawrence couple hopes to untangle mystery

Marilyn Anderson celebrated her daughter’s 39th birthday Jan. 23 by buying her daughter’s favorite ice cream cake, though she knew Lesley Smith would not be home to enjoy it.

“It was a tough day, but it was a good day,” Anderson said. “I know that she’s out there somewhere.”

This week was the one-year anniversary of her daughter’s mysterious disappearance.

Last year, Lesley Smith was working as a server at a Lawrence bar, had enrolled in nursing school and was living at home with her parents.

She was last seen the night of Jan. 26, 2004. Police said they believed she left her parent’s west Lawrence home, taking only her cell phone and the keys to a dark brown 1990 Plymouth Voyager minivan.

Marilyn Anderson last saw her only child before heading for bed.

“I went to bed about 10:45 p.m.,” Marilyn Anderson said. “Les and I said our goodnights and ‘I love yous’ as we did every night.”

But when Marilyn Anderson and her husband, Gary, awoke the next morning,

their daughter was gone. Her bed hadn’t been slept in. Her purse with her driver’s license, credit cards and much-needed asthma medication sat untouched on her dresser.

“We don’t have any evidence that there was any foul play,” Lawrence Police spokesman Sgt. Dan Ward said. “We don’t have any signs of struggle or anything of that nature. At this point, we can’t assume anything.”

During the past year, Lawrence Police have enlisted the help of the FBI, two area sheriff’s departments and the Kansas Highway Patrol. They’ve searched by air and water, scouring rivers, creeks and nearby lakes for any sign of the missing vehicle.

Marilyn and Gary Anderson were searching for their daughter, Lesley Smith, who disappeared Jan. 26, 2004, a year before this 2005 file photo was taken. Jack Smith confirmed Thursday that police had notified the family that they had identified a body found earlier this week in Clinton Lake as Lesley.

One detective is still assigned to Lesley Smith’s case, but 365 days after she was reported missing, all the leads have run dry.

“The last thing we want is for people to forget,” Ward said. “We always want that one lead that will come in, so we can find out what the truth is and provide some closure for the family.”

‘Somebody saw her’

Lesley’s mother and stepfather have been relentlessly investigating the case on their own. Every brown minivan on the road catches their eye.

“I’ve checked the department of motor vehicles in five surrounding states several times now to see if the VIN number of the van has been registered, and they have nothing,” Marilyn Anderson said.

She and her husband also have been monitoring her daughter’s bank accounts, cell phone records and checking for any activity under Lesley’s Social Security number. Their efforts have turned up nothing.

“It’s impossible,” Lesley’s mother said. “Somebody can’t just vanish off the face of the earth without someone seeing them. Somebody saw her after I did and has to know where she is.”

‘Keep trying’

Linwood couple Harold and Alberta Leach know what it’s like to have a child vanish, and they said it doesn’t get any easier with time.

“It’s frustrating,” Alberta Leach said. “You just have to keep trying.”

The Leaches’ 17-year-old son, Randy, disappeared seemingly without a trace April 16, 1988, when he left his parent’s Linwood home to attend a graduation party.

“It’s just like he disappeared off the face of the earth,” Alberta Leach said.

More than a decade after the leads in Randy Leach’s case came to a halt, a special team of 12 Leavenworth County Sheriff’s Department detectives and KBI special agents reopened the investigation. That was in December 2002, but three months later the squad disbanded with little progress on the case.

The Andersons say no matter how long it takes to find Lesley, they won’t give up.

“Even though it’s been a year, time doesn’t matter,” Marilyn Anderson said. “You’ve got to let people continue to know that there’s somebody out there who needs to be found.”

Lesley Smith

Lesley M. Smith was born Jan. 23, 1966. She is 5 feet 2 inches tall and has blue eyes. When last seen she had black hair and was wearing a Kansas City Chiefs coat and white tennis shoes.She was driving a dark brown 1990 Plymouth Voyager minivan. The driver side mirror was missing. The license plate was Kansas PNG 271.If you have information about Lesley Smith, call the Lawrence Police Department, 841-7210 or Det. John Hanson at 830-7446.

Exhausting all other avenues, the Anderson’s have turned to psychics for help. They’ve met with three recently and all have told them the same thing: They see Lesley with a dark-haired man and a woman who are moving around a lot. The psychics all said they believed Lesley did not go willingly.

In March, Lesley’s mother has an appointment to speak with nationally known psychic Carol Pate.

Pate’s been featured on the television show “Psychic Detectives,” which airs on Court TV. The show follows detectives and psychics working side-by-side to solve some of law enforcement’s toughest cases.

The Andersons said they hoped Pate would be able to give them something concrete to go on so they won’t have to celebrate Lesley’s next birthday without her.

“I would like to have her back or know where she is,” Marilyn Anderson said, “just to know that she’s safe.”