The Stolen Child: Part I

Green River victim? Murdered runaway? The unsolved disappearance of Misty Copsey, missing from the Puyallup Fair since 1992, leaves a trail of mystery and obsession.

May 10, 2009 

Sometimes Diana Smith drinks until she cries.

Then she picks up the phone, calls the Puyallup Police Department and tells officers what she thinks of them.

In early 2007, police posted her lost daughter's face on the side of a billboard truck. At first, it seemed like a good idea – a way to jog memories.

Misty Copsey, then 14, disappeared on Sept. 17, 1992, after a trip to the Puyallup Fair. She hasn't been seen since. No letter. No phone call. No remains. No answers.

Two images bannered the truck panels. One was Misty's last school picture: the smiling face of a seventh-grader. The other was digital plastic surgery: an age-progressed photo of Misty with grown-up hair and fake worry lines.

Misty Copsey, 1991 (Source: News Tribune file photo)
Age-enhanced photo (Source: News Tribune file photo)

The more Diana thought about the digital image, the madder she got.

"Age-enhanced? She's gone. Nobody's gonna see her looking like that," she says.

"Age-enhanced" spelled "runaway." Diana smelled an insult: one more scoff from Puyallup police, one more dose of official condescension.

Though Misty has never been found, she is legally dead – declared dead in 2000 by the Pierce County Medical Examiner, honored with a memorial service, music and tears. A dead daughter couldn't age.

Police said they meant no offense. They hoped to generate cold-case tips. Diana saw it differently.

It felt like the cops were saying the same thing they'd been saying since the day Diana reported her daughter's disappearance: Misty was just a runaway from a fractured home with a grieving mother who couldn't face reality.

"That's just to further their propaganda that she ran away," she says. "And she frickin' didn't."

UNSOLVED

Misty disappeared. Her shadow lingers. Her unsolved case fills six boxes of binders and files at Puyallup police headquarters. It has outlasted three chiefs and a handful of detectives. The case hangs on like a bruise. It bubbles up when cops talk department resources and wish they had more.

From the beginning, everything went wrong. Every pitfall that could hinder a missing-person case barred the path to truth. Delays, lies, dead ends, tunnel vision, lack of follow-through, hot suspects who turned cold, civilian meddlers, media flurries, lost evidence – all of it winds through the investigation of Misty's disappearance.  

Puyallup police say they did everything they could. Records of their investigation, obtained by The News Tribune via public disclosure, illustrate the sum of their efforts.

  • They presumed Misty was a runaway. In the first critical months of the investigation, they pursued that line of inquiry and no other, citing standard procedure.
  • They discounted the possibility that she was abducted and killed, though investigators from neighboring law enforcement agencies believed Misty was a victim of foul play and probably dead.
  • They surveyed Diana's background, found it shaky, and labeled her a dishonest drunk.
  • They interviewed a pair of eighth-grade girls who didn't know Misty well, and hadn't been to the fair with her. One girl thought she heard from Misty. The other thought she saw her in a crowd.
  • Based on that information, Puyallup police closed the case, told the media Misty had been found when she hadn't and made no additional inquiries for months.
  • When potential evidence emerged, they suggested Diana planted it. When she denied it, they questioned her honesty.
  • More than five months passed before police interviewed the two people who last saw or spoke to Misty the night of her disapearance. Both witnesses concealed information about their actions that night, police later learned.

Police focused on one suspect and gave another short shrift. They relied on polygraph tests instead of witnesses.

A year after Misty's disappearance, they discovered one suspect couldn't explain his whereabouts during four crucial hours.

The suspect said he suffered from blackouts and couldn't remember anything. He took two polygraph tests. The first, conducted six months after the disappearance, was inconclusive. Police noted the suspect tried to put himself to sleep during the test. The second examination, conducted a year after Misty's disappearance, was a pass. Again, the suspect said he couldn't remember anything.

By then, forensic evidence that could have been used to check the suspect's story was gone. A car he had driven the night of the disappearance had been destroyed. Police had known about the vehicle for months, but fumbled an opportunity to test it.

THE OTHER

There was another chaotic factor: Throughout the investigation, police were hectored by a Puyallup man consumed with the case – a man who tethered himself to Diana and used Misty's disappearance as a staging ground for his obsession.

His name is Cory Bober. He is a walking run-on sentence, a human flood of words. He's a pot-smoking, profanity-spewing eccentric who's never worked a day in law enforcement.

He thinks he knows a serial killer. He's hunted the man for 25 years. It is his life's work.

Cory Bober (Source: Cory Bober)

Bober is no ordinary crank. He predicted Misty's disappearance. He organized volunteer searches for her remains and led Diana to the only traces of her daughter that have ever been found. Police despise him, but they concede that his nagging keeps the case alive – for better and worse.

For the past 17 years, Bober and Diana have danced a toxic tango. At times, she's accused him of killing her daughter. He's called her an ungrateful bitch. Police warn Diana to avoid Bober. He tells her they're incompetent fools.

His tiny apartment east of Tacoma is so clean it squeaks. He rarely leaves it. Bober doesn't own a car and doesn't drive. He doesn't have a driver's license and he doesn't want one. When he needs to go somewhere, he hitches rides with friends.

He fears open spaces. He doesn't go out unless he has to. Until recently, he earned money over the phone as a contract subscription salesman for The News Tribune. His job evaporated in January, eliminated by company cost cuts.

He admits a touch of obsessive-compulsive disorder: not full-blown, but there. The diagnosis appears in court documents related to his two arrests for pot possession and dealing in 1992 and 1997. Bober was convicted the first time, acquitted the second. He likes to smoke a bowl in the evening. He doesn't care what anybody thinks about that.

He's fixated. He can be an absolute ass. And once in a while, he is right.

He has researched almost 200 cases of missing or slain women in Western Washington. He once embarrassed the Pierce County Medical Examiner's office, proving the agency lost track of human remains.

He compiles his information in stacks of binders. He has talked grieving parents out of autopsy reports. He has ferreted details out of medical examiners that an army of journalists couldn't obtain.

He makes electronic pictures. He says there are evil images in them, and they prove he is right about who killed Misty…

…and then he mentions the day, place and clock hour of some obscure moment in the investigation of her disappearance, and he's dead on, letter-perfect. He reels off chains of detail: names, dates, locations and circumstances.

Sometimes he talks about the moment that ranks above all others: the moment when he, Cory Bober, was right, and police were wrong.

MISTY

Misty was the only child of separated parents: Diana and Paul "Buck" Copsey, a firefighter. The couple split shortly after Misty was born in 1978.

She was a good student. Diana's keepsakes include a certificate Misty received for excellence in math in seventh grade. She got A's and B's in her last full quarter at Spanaway Lake Junior High School.

Misty, spring 1992 (Source: Diana Smith)

She was an athlete: softball, basketball and volleyball. She once broke both forearms in a hard fall at practice.

She was the good girl in her circle of friends, and the funny one: She would skip like a goofy kid and sing the theme song to "Sesame Street."

Sunny day, sweeping the clouds away / On my way to where the air is sweet…

In early 1992, Diana and Misty had moved out of Green Meadows, a mobile home park on South Hill where they'd lived for several years. Diana found a duplex in Spanaway – something closer to a real house. It was nice, but Misty was lonely.

Rheuban Schmidt, 1992 (Source: Pierce County Sheriff)

Most of her buddies still lived at Green Meadows. She sometimes went back to the neighborhood to hang out.

She was blond and green-eyed. By the summer of 1992, she had grown tall. She was straight, according to her friends – no smoking, no drinking, no sex – but boys began to pay attention. One was Rheuban Schmidt, an 18-year-old with a pile of hair and a beater car: a green 1974 Chevrolet Nova.

Rheuban, a dropout, was too old for the gaggle of girls at the trailer park. He wasn't Misty's type; she preferred jocks and teen idols. She had a Jason Priestley poster in her bedroom. But Rheuban could drive, and that was a big deal.

Diana didn't like Rheuban. Once she'd picked up the phone when Misty was on and overheard some sleaze.

"I get horny just looking at you, Misty," Rheuban had said.

Diana told her daughter to hang up.

THE RESEARCHER

Cory Bober didn't know Misty or Diana, but he knew cops and they knew him. The relationship was far from cordial.

Since Nov. 13, 1984 (he had the date memorized), Bober had argued that Randell Dean Achziger, a Puyallup resident and one-time acquaintance, was the Green River Killer.

The two men had known each other briefly in the early '80s. Bober's theory grew out of a comment Achziger had made in 1984 when the Green River case was at its height. Achziger told Bober the killer inserted rocks into his victims' remains.

The detail, partially accurate, was a well-kept law enforcement secret at the time. Achziger claimed he heard it from an off-duty Auburn police captain who got a bit loaded at a wedding reception in Kent.

Bober thought that sounded a little too convenient. The moment marked the beginning of his quest to prove that Achziger was a serial murderer.

Bober had filled binders with details of Achziger's life – addresses, cars, contacts with cops, family history: the research stretched back 50 years.

He called Achziger's friends and co-workers. He interviewed ex-lovers, squeezing them for stories of drugs and domestic abuse. He assembled depositions, videotapes and affidavits: summaries of research, statements from witnesses. He delivered them to local courts and law enforcement – signed, notarized and certified. He recorded telephone calls, including one late-night conversation in 1988 between Achziger and an ex-girlfriend. Bober still has the cassette.

On the audio, Achziger says he hears telltale clicking, spots Bober's clumsy shadow ("I can hear that fruitcake in the background, whispering") and tells his ex to turn up the recorder. She starts asking questions.

Q: Are you the Green River Killer or not?

A: No.

Q: No?

A: And I think you already know that. …

Q: What is your defense on the Green River? ... When they polygraphed you and stuff, what was your excuse, why they suspected you as the Green River?

A: They did it because of Cory Bober. They had to follow up on it because he made so many complaints.

— Audio excerpt, 1988.

It was true. Bober's cajoling turned Achziger into a Green River suspect in the mid-1980s – one among hundreds. King County sheriff's detectives took a look and eliminated him.

Bober thought they were wrong. He took his case to the media (including The News Tribune) and the highest officials in Washington.

Mr. Bober's affidavit basically repeats information he has already provided to Task Force investigators during several contacts since 1985. I have been assured that the suspect information provided by Mr. Bober will be re-examined by appropriate Task Force personnel.

— King County Executive Tim Hill to Bober's attorney, Nov. 13, 1987.

His allegations have been investigated by the Task Force detectives and found to be without substance. It would appear that Mr. Bober is obsessed with this issue, and will not accept the fact that his suspect is not the Green River killer.

— King County Sheriff James Montgomery to Terry D. Sebring, legal counsel to Gov. Booth Gardner, July 20, 1989

Mr. Bober for a number of years has been obsessed with building any murder case, including the "Green River Murders," on one Randy Achziger. I understand he has gone as far as committing crimes in an effort to get "evidence" against Mr. Achziger.  He has also publicly threatened to "take care of Randy Achziger" if the authorities don't.

— Capt. Steve Poythress, Pierce County Sheriff's Department, to Bober's attorney, Nov. 6, 1989

Cory Bober has a list. And Cory Bober thinks he knows the identity of the Green River Killer. He has known the man since 1984. Nobody seems to care.

— The News Tribune, May 12, 1992

History scuttled Bober's theory. The Green River Killer was Gary Leon Ridgway, a Federal Way-area truck painter. In 2003, he pleaded guilty to 48 counts of murder.

That was later. In 1992, Bober didn't know Ridgway's name. He didn't care that police had eliminated his suspect. As far as he was concerned, they were too stupid and corrupt to see the truth.

THE PATTERN

On Sept. 13, 1992, Bober spotted a revelation.

He was organizing files, adding notes and articles to his binders. With tape, news clippings and single-spaced longhand, he'd constructed a crude database.

I'd finally organized all homicides and missing person cases in list form, chronologically. In all cases, I was looking at and comparing the victims; checking where they were last seen, when they were last seen, where they were found, when they were found.

… I discovered several apparent patterns: some victims had disappeared on the very same date that others were discovered. Some victims seemed to almost "commemorate" the deaths or discoveries of others; one would die on a particular date and another would disappear a year to the day later – on the very same date.

— Excerpt from Bober's journals, November 1992

He looked more closely at a pair of lost Puyallup girls: Kim Delange, 15, slain in 1988, and Anna Chebetnoy, 14, killed in 1990. Their remains were found along Highway 410, east of Enumclaw.

Kim Delange (Source: News Tribune file photo)
Anna Chebetnoy (Source: Cory Bober)

Bober felt sure his suspect (a Puyallup resident!) killed the girls – but where was the proof? He reviewed details and dates.

Both sets of remains found on the same section of 410. Delange disappears in July 1988, Chebetnoy in August 1990… two years apart… no… two years and one month, actually …

Two years and one month.

This was September 1992… two years and one month since Chebetnoy's disappearance. The dates etched a molten signature in Bober's head. A pattern. The killer was making a pattern.

I thought, *‘Oh my God**!! I'm sure he's going to kill soon …' He killed in July '88 and in August 1990 and both girls came out of Puyallup – it was time: September '92. Another girl will disappear from Puyallup and maybe he'll put her too on the same highway (410), near the other (2) two girls as a ‘clue' in forming a three-person pattern…

…maybe he's angry at the media/cops for discounting his victims and is going to finally make the fatal inference that *"the Green River Killer IS FROM PUYALLUP," ...

— Bober's journals, November 1992

Bober punched a familiar phone number: Pierce County Youth Emergency Services – the YES team, the branch of the Sheriff's Department where runaway reports were filed. His target was Tammi Horner, a part-time employee Bober had called before.

It was a Sunday. Horner wasn't in. Fine. That was better. Voice mail was permanent. The cops couldn't ignore tips. Someone had to listen.

At the beep, Bober rattled off a panicked prophecy: Another young girl from Puyallup was going to disappear. Her remains would be left on Highway 410, where the other two Puyallup girls had been dumped. The man Bober had tracked for eight years would be responsible. Here was the name, birth date, physical description, car, address. ...

Bober hung up. He thought he was too late.

The next morning he called the Puyallup Police Department with the same warning and spoke to Sgt. Herm Carver, who flicked him away like a gnat.

Bober insists he made the calls. He's said so for 17 years, and his endless notes and journals underline his claim.

Puyallup police have no records of his prediction. Horner, interviewed in April 2008, didn't remember it.

Capt. Gary Smith ran the YES team at that time. These days, he works for the state Department of Corrections. He remembers Bober's claim, but the past is cluttered.

"Here's my problem," he said. "I am now the victim of implanted memories. I don't know whether it actually occurred or because Cory has told me so many times that it actually occurred."

One fact is indisputable: A few days after Bober claims he warned police, Misty Copsey vanished.

THE FAIR

3 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 17, 1992:

As she drove to the Puyallup Fairgrounds, Diana told the girls not to screw up. They giggled and chattered and told her they wouldn't.

Misty and best friend Trina Bevard (Source: Diana Smith)

Diana had caved in to teenage lobbying. Misty and Trina Bevard, 15, her best friend, were going to the fair together for a girls' night out – free, on their own, without grownups.

For the occasion, Misty wore her mother's new jeans: a fancy stonewashed pair with funky stitching – light blue, baggy and fashionable. They were too big, but she had enough of Diana's lanky DNA to get away with it. Misty was 5 feet 9 – not quite as tall as her mother, though. She had to roll up the cuffs.

The trip required a small lie. Diana was the accomplice.

Misty and Trina had plotted for days. Misty had pleaded for the trip. Diana refused at first; she had no way to get the girls home. She worked nights as a caregiver for a 97-year-old Alzheimer's patient in south Spanaway. The woman couldn't be left alone.

Misty figured a way. She checked bus schedules. There was a run from Puyallup to Spanaway. She could pick it up at 8:40 p.m.

"You can trust me, Mom," she said. "I'm responsible."

There was one more thing. Misty wanted to take Trina, but Trina couldn't go unless she had a ride home. Her guardian, Marlene Shoemaker, made that clear.

Misty promised to make it work. She and Trina would take the buses. They would follow the rules – but Diana had to fib and tell Marlene she would bring Trina home.

Please? Pretty please?

Grudgingly, Diana had agreed. She was 36, not so far from head-banger days – she remembered 14.

Let it go, she told herself. She could loosen the strings, be the cool mom. The girls were in the eighth grade, and Misty was no dummy. She'd ridden buses before when Diana was working.

All the same…

"You guys better not screw this up," she told them again as they reached the fairgrounds. "If you screw this up, it's going to be the last time you do anything."

The girls rolled their eyes. Diana sighed and dropped them off.

"I love you, baby," she said.

"Love you, Mom," Misty replied, walking away with Trina.

Diana watched. Her daughter looked so small in those baggy jeans.

She shook off the maternal pangs and drove to work.

She never saw Misty again.

MISSING

Around 8:45 p.m., Diana, watching over the Alzheimer's patient, got a phone call at work.

"Mom, I missed the bus," Misty said, sounding upset.

She thought she could get a ride from Rheuban Schmidt, her 18-year-old friend who had a car.

"No – you're not doing that," Diana said. "I don't want you getting a ride from that kid. I don't like that kid. You know I don't. Call somebody else."

Misty had an electronic organizer – her latest plaything, loaded with phone numbers. Diana told her to look through it and call someone they both trusted.

"Then you call me back."

"OK, Mom."

"You promise me, Misty. You call me back."

"I will. I promise."

The call never came.

Diana waited all night, expecting the phone to ring every minute. She called home to see if Misty arrived. No answer.

Everything was fine, she told herself. Misty probably got the ride from Rheuban, anyway. She was home sleeping. She didn't want to hear her mother go off on her, so she was ignoring the phone. That was all.

She's just thinking I'm mad. She's gonna be there when I get there.

The shift ended. Diana hustled home. She opened the front door and called Misty's name.

Silence.

She checked Misty's room.

Empty.

Panic.

"Nine-one-one, what are you reporting?"

Diana said her daughter hadn't come home from the fair. The dispatcher said it sounded like a runaway case – police couldn't do anything for 30 days.

Diana's mind raced. Something had happened. What?

Misty went somewhere with Trina or Rheuban. No. She hadn't called, and Misty would have called. She was a good kid – feisty maybe, but not wild.

Diana called Trina's house. No answer.

Misty, 1987 (Source: Diana Smith)

Rheuban. Diana found his number and called.

Yeah, Rheuban said – Misty called last night looking for a ride. He didn't have the gas to go get her.

Other friends followed. Nothing. Diana called her mother. Perhaps Misty called Grandma.

Nothing.

Still no answer at Trina's house. Diana drove to Sumner and left a note on the door.

Sixteen years later, the day blurs. Diana can't remember all the calls she made, all the places she went. Puyallup's records include a formal report filed with the Pierce County Sheriff's Department at 1:42 p.m.

A staffer told Diana the dispatcher was wrong about the 30 days. She should file a report with Puyallup police.

Already, the case was turning into a jurisdictional headache. Misty lived in Pierce County, but she'd disappeared from Puyallup. Diana had to plead with two law enforcement agencies: officially, a missing-person case would be Puyallup’s responsibility, but the Pierce County Sheriff handled runaway calls.

Trina, finally home from school, called Diana later that afternoon.

"Where's Misty?" Diana asked in a rush.

"I don't know."

Trina said she'd walked home, leaving Misty at the bus stop.

"The last time I saw her, she was heading for the bus," she said.

Diana called Rheuban again. He wasn't home. James Tinsley, his roommate, answered. Diana asked if Rheuban had been home all night.

"No," James said. "Him and his uncle went to pick up Misty."

Rheuban wasn't around. Diana couldn't check the story. A little later, she called again. Rheuban was back.

"Where's my kid?" she asked in a rage.

No, no, Rheuban said – his roommate had it wrong. Rheuban went to a party and woke up the next day, he said. He didn't pick up Misty. Didn't know where she was.

Tammi Horner spoke with Diana that day. The YES team got runaway reports all the time. Kids usually turned up within a day – but this one felt different.

"It was her mother's phone call," Horner recalled. "It was her mother's phone call."

Diana was adamant. Her daughter was missing, not a runaway, and police weren't doing anything about it. She would take her case to the media.

"I would have done the same thing," Horner said.

Breaking with standard procedure, Horner went beyond taking a written report. She talked to her supervisor, Capt. Gary Smith, who assigned a young deputy, Brian Coburn, to the case.

Coburn checked with Misty's friends, including Trina. Just call if she calls, he told them. Nobody will get in trouble.

1992 flier

Over the next few days, Diana printed fliers with Misty's picture. She posted them around the fairgrounds, and every other location she could think of. She called the media, and kept talking to Horner.

The fliers lured weirdos. A man called Diana late at night and said he was holding Misty prisoner – he would release her in exchange for money and phone sex.

Rheuban Schmidt popped up regularly in those first few days, slouching by with friends. He asked Diana whether the cops knew anything yet. Hearing that they didn't, he would take off.

Diana found the bus driver who drove the Spanaway route the night Misty disappeared. The driver, Mark Veach, looked at Misty's picture. Yes, he had seen this girl in downtown Puyallup. She had asked when the next bus to Spanaway was coming.

Veach told her it wasn't coming. He was done for the night. He tried to tell the girl to take a bus to Tacoma and transfer to a Parkland route, but before he could finish, she walked away. Veach thought that was around 9:20 p.m.

Misty had been missing for six days. On Sept. 23, Diana filed a report with Puyallup police, mirroring the report she'd already filed with Pierce County.

She can't remember who she talked to – only the reactions.

"They said, 'Calm down,' " she recalled. "They just looked at each other with that kind of look, you know, then they said, 99.9 percent of the kids come home on their own, she'll be fine, and I'm like, you know, goddamn it…"

Diana saw indifference. Police spoke from experience. Teens ran away all the time. This case looked typical. No one had reported an abduction or cries for help.

Gary Smith, the YES team supervisor, knew that as well as anyone. Still, he was uneasy.

'IT JUST DON'T FEEL RIGHT'

The next day – Sept. 24 – Smith faxed records to Puyallup police Sgt. Herm Carver. He added a personal note.

This is one of those 'jus' don't feel right' reports. There is nothing here that points positively to foul play; it just don't feel right. It's been a week and nobody has heard from the girl. Mom is contacting the media complaining that the cops aren't doing anything.

Puyallup police poked around. On Sept. 25, two officers visited the "bone yard" by the fairgrounds, a grassy lot where carnies and fair workers slept in trailers.

No one had seen Misty. A security officer posted Diana's fliers.

Carver checked Diana's background. He reviewed the report from Smith and interviewed Buck Copsey, Diana's ex-husband. Carver was thinking runaway. Everything he learned reinforced that impression.

The home looked unsettled. The mother drank. She had a couple of DUIs and a 1985 welfare fraud conviction.

Diana never denied the conviction. She had worked and collected food stamps at the same time for about two months when she was moving. She was in her 20s, single with a young child and broke. She confessed to the welfare office. She was convicted and given a deferred sentence; court records show she repaid the debt.

Carver saw proof of dishonesty. He noted that Diana had filed a runaway report in August, only a few weeks before Misty disappeared.

The report was wrong – Diana thought Misty was gone, then found her in the bedroom. She was too embarrassed to tell police it was a false alarm.

On Sept. 28, a short News Tribune story reported Misty's disappearance and asked readers to call Carver with any information.

'ARE YOU SURE IT WAS MISTY?'

The halls of Spanaway Lake Junior High buzzed with gossip about Misty, still missing after 12 days.

On Sept. 29, Carver met Diana at the school to check a pair of rumors.

They came from eighth-grade girls. Misty Matthews, 14, said Misty Copsey had called from Olympia the week before and said she was OK.

Which day? Matthews wasn't sure.

Diana recalls the interview. She didn't know this girl. Matthews wasn't one of her daughter's regular friends.

"Are you sure it was Misty?" Diana asked. "Did she say it was Misty?"

"No," the girl admitted.

"How do you know it was Misty?"

"Well, it sounded like her."

Another student, Jill Winegar, told Carver she'd seen Misty at the fair on Sept. 21 at the Color Me Badd concert – four days after the disappearance.

In 2008, The News Tribune located both girls. Winegar did not respond to multiple phone messages. Matthews, living in North Carolina, couldn't remember the long-ago phone call, or why she thought it was Misty.

They weren't close, though Matthews wished they were.

"I wanted to be her friend – be a part of the cool kids," she said. "I just remember that I wanted to be part of her circle."

The rumors satisfied Carver. He didn't speak to Misty's teachers. He didn't talk to school registrar Sherron Asay, who had recruited Misty as a teacher's aide over the summer and doubted the runaway story.

As Carver and Diana left the school, he told her the search was over. Misty would be crossed off the list at the FBI's National Crime Information Center.

Carver's notes: I advised Diana Copsey that I was removing Misty Copsey from NCIC as a missing person – as I believe her to be a runaway.

The next day, Carver spoke to a Seattle radio station. He said Misty was alive and well and her mother knew where she was.

Diana listened to the broadcast in helpless fury.

Misty had been missing for 13 days. She wasn't home. She hadn't called. Diana had no idea where to find her.

Businesses took her fliers down. The media started ignoring her.

The runaway label stuck.

Puyallup police didn't interview Trina Bevard, who went to the fair with Misty that night. They didn't speak to Rheuban Schmidt, the boy Misty had called for a ride.

Instead, based on a skate through Diana's background and vague statements from two eighth-grade girls, the Puyallup Police Department stopped the case cold.

Diana felt lost.

She didn't know help was about to arrive from a peculiar source.

PROOF

Cory Bober wasn't looking for destiny. It rode home with his mother.

October 4, 1992 (Sunday)

My mom had been out running errands and been downtown Puyallup. When she came home in the mid-afternoon, she told me she saw a flier in a downtown 7-Eleven store window showing a young girl who was reported ‘missing' from the Puyallup Fair on Sept. 17th, 1992, on a Thursday evening. I could've just died then and there!!

— Bober's journals, November 1992.

Bober grabbed his favorite weapon: the phone. Within minutes, he had the text of the flier ("MISSING: MISTY COPSEY") and the contact number.

Here was proof of his prophecy: a missing young girl, taken from Puyallup three weeks earlier. Just as he'd predicted, evil had struck. It was so obvious, so plain – the cops would have to listen.

Bober was 26 then – he is 43 now. The flier is carefully preserved in his binders. He says his mother wishes she never told him about it.

In Spanaway, Diana's phone rang. She had been fielding calls for days.

"Hello?"

The voice was new  – a quick young baritone.

"My name's Cory Bober," the voice said. "I'm from the Puyallup area, and I'm looking at this flier about a missing girl named Misty Copsey. Who am I talking to?"

"I'm the mother," Diana said.

"I think I know what happened to your daughter."

THE SPELL

For once, Bober had a willing audience.

Misty was dead, he said.

He poured out his theory. He told Diana about his suspect, and his quest to prove the man was a killer. Not just any killer – the Green River Killer, at large and unknown.

Diana told her story: Puyallup police thought Misty was a runaway, but she wasn't. Police didn't believe her.

Typical, Bober assured her. They didn't believe him, either.

He told Diana about the slain Puyallup girls, Kim Delange and Anna Chebetnoy. Their killer had struck again.

Misty was dead.

Bober described his research, news stories about his efforts, the indifference of police and their refusal to see evidence.

He explained his prediction: his calls to Pierce County and Puyallup, only a few days before Misty disappeared. He expected Misty's remains would be found on Highway 410, like the others. He was sorry, but there was no doubt.

Misty was dead.

Diana drowned. This man knew so much. It was frightening.

Two other Puyallup girls killed…she hadn't heard about that…and Bober had predicted Misty's disappearance?

How could he do that? How could he know?

Her voice hardened.

"Are you involved in this?" she asked.

Misty, 1992 (Source: Diana Smith)

Bober assured her he wasn't. His research began long before Misty's disappearance. He saw the patterns and guessed right. That was all.

He talked like a whirlpool.

He called every day for a week.

"Hours and hours," Diana recalls. "And hours and hours and hours."

During one marathon, Diana fell asleep. The phone slid from her hand and rested on her chest. When she woke, Bober was still rolling.

Misty had been missing less than three weeks. Diana was praying for a miracle.

She didn't want to believe Bober, but his words echoed every time she hung up. Could he be right? He knew things, and police weren't making any progress.

From seeds of mutual need, an uneasy alliance bloomed.

After years of police brush-offs, Bober had the perfect victim to showcase his theory: a "Christian child," as he often called Misty; a good student, a good girl who couldn't be slimed.

Diana gained a relentless advocate: a buzzed gadfly with a bear-trap memory who had spent eight years researching missing girls, wheedling journalists and hounding cops.

THE CAMPAIGN

Oct. 5 was a Monday – the kickoff of Bober's new campaign. At the Puyallup Police Department, Herm Carver got the first call.

"Hi, this is Cory Bober – you probably remember me."

"Yes, Mr. Bober, I do."

Sgt. Carver wanted to hang up on me but instead stood his ground and immediately said Misty Copsey was a "runaway" and that her mother knew where she was…

…He further stated that Diana was dishonest, a problem drinker and that there was more to the case – tension between mother and daughter – that I was unaware of. He insisted repeatedly that Diana knew Misty was "just a runaway," and that because law enforcement doesn't "investigate" those kinds of cases, Diana was exaggerating the circumstances to try to make police look for Misty.

— Bober's journals, November 1992

Bober reminded Carver of his prediction, the other Puyallup girls, the information about Randy Achziger. It was all connected; surely that was obvious.

Knowing Bober would burn an hour if allowed, Carver cut him off.

The Copsey case was in Pierce County's hands, he said. Brian Coburn, a sheriff's deputy who handled runaways, was taking care of it.

Bober filed a mental note: deputy on the juvie beat, not even a detective.

Fine. At least he had the name.

Later that day, Coburn got his first dose of Bober. The stream of serial-killer theories poured into his ear.

Coburn cut in and repeated what he'd learned from Carver: Diana was dishonest, a problem drinker. This wasn't a homicide.

Coburn didn't waste any time saying very rudely to me, very matter-of-factly, "Misty Copsey is a runaway and I'm going to find her, and when I do, the last place I'll take her is BACK TO HER MOTHER!!"

I said, "She's dead. You'll find her body; but she's been murdered – just wait, you'll see."

Coburn said, "Well, if she's found to have been murdered, it's unfortunate she met her fate as a runaway."

I was livid and immediately contacted Diana Copsey to inform her of what law enforcement said. Diana was devastated.

— Bober's journals, November 1992

Police were locked into the runaway idea, Bober realized. Shaking them out of it would be tough.

He shared his police and media contacts with Diana. Both of them had to start calling, he explained. Police had to start treating this as a murder. They had to feel some pressure.

Diana barely knew Bober and had never seen him. He was a disembodied voice, a chattering, electric presence at the other end of the line – but something about his manner invited confession. She started spilling. She said she drank too much. She explained the mistaken runaway report from August, the DUIs and the old welfare fraud conviction.

Bober took note of her troubled past. He found it irrelevant.

The facts of Misty's case should speak for themselves. Diana's problems are not proof of what has happened to Misty Copsey. Misty had no money, was a good student, and had never run away before. She had a clean criminal record, too. And given the fact that two teenage girls Misty's age had also disappeared from downtown Puyallup prior to Misty, and were later found murdered, Puyallup police owed it to Diana to consider the possibilities and to at least make it a high priority to find her.

— Bober's journals, November 1992

He urged Diana to join a support group. He connected her with a grieving Tacoma father, Al Hensley, whose 18-year-old daughter had been found murdered in Lewis County the previous year. Bober was researching the case.

Again, he said Misty's remains would be found on Highway 410, just like those of the other Puyallup girls.

Diana seesawed from desperation to suspicion.

Once, in a belligerent mood, she told Bober that if Misty's body did turn up on 410, she and her family would kill him.

THE STING

While Bober campaigned, Puyallup police set a trap.

An informant said Bober was dealing weed. The informant, a neighbor and occasional buyer, had been feuding with Bober for weeks.

Police arranged a series of drug buys. Four times in five days, they watched Bober sell an ounce of green.

On the evening of Oct. 15, 1992, they closed in.

At the kitchen table in his parents' house, Bober slurped chicken soup out of a saucepan. His stepfather, sick, lay on the couch.

BOOM

Pounding on the doors, front and back.

BOOM

Terror seized Bober: This was it, he was sure. After eight years, his nemesis, Randy Achziger, was coming to kill him.

No. Not the bogeyman – the cops. They came through all three entrances: front, back, sliding glass door. They had guns.

Cory Bober, 1992 (Source: Pierce County Sheriff)

"Police! Freeze!"

"No shit!" Bober said, putting his hands in the air.

An officer turned to Bober's stepfather, who had risen.

"We understand you have a medical condition," the officer said. "Sit down."

The older man sat.

The officers surrounded Bober. One asked if he had weapons or drugs.

"No," Bober lied. He was holding a few grams of dope in his coat.

The spoils of the bust were nothing special: 17 grams of weed, a pop-can pipe, a pot of dirt, a grow light, some suspiciously empty plastic bags and $149 in cash, according to search warrant records.

While police collected evidence, Puyallup detective Jim Collyer spoke with Bober's stepfather, Wayne Bober.

Mr. Bober indicated that he was pleased to see Cory finally 'get caught.' He said that he and his wife were aware of Cory's involvement in drugs and did not approve of it. Mr. Bober was very cooperative, and assisted officers by pointing out possible hiding places where Cory had concealed controlled substances in the past….

Mr. Bober inquired as to the possible amount of bail on Cory, and when he was told it would probably be quite high, he replied, 'Good, maybe he will not be back for a while.'

— Excerpt from Collyer's notes

The crew took Bober to Puyallup police headquarters for fingerprinting and a mug shot. During the dreary process, a visitor arrived: Sgt. Herm Carver.

He walked in the room I was being held in – looking tired and pissed off. He said, ‘I got out of bed tonight, and came down here to meet you – just to see what kind of a hypocrite you REALLY ARE!'

I said (being cocky), ‘It's not MY FAULT – HERM – that you don't believe Misty Copsey's MISSING!!'

He yelled (angry), ‘DON'T YOU EVER CALL ME BY MY FIRST NAME – IT'S SGT. CARVER TO YOU!!!'

— Bober's journals, November 1992

Bober expected to get off easy. It was just pot, a first offense.

When charges were filed the next day, he was floored: four counts of drug dealing, two counts of drug possession. Bail: $50,000. He was looking at four years in prison.

THE MEETING

Misty Copsey had been missing for 30 days. She stayed missing.

There were no calls, no sightings. Puyallup police made no new inquiries.

Bober bailed out of jail the day after his arrest and went right back to campaigning. He called Diana and his media sources and groused about the bust, saying police wanted to silence him.

Carver and Brian Coburn, the county deputy, warned Diana that Bober was bad news. Working with him would damage her credibility and hurt the investigation.

Diana asked Coburn if it was true, the things Cory had been saying. Did Coburn think she was dishonest?

Coburn said he hadn't said those things.

A strange tug of war began: while police tried to cut Bober out of the loop, he fought just as hard to stay in it.

He told Diana she needed his help. Police thought she was a bad mom, a drunk – didn't she remember that? Had Coburn denied saying it? Right. Sure. And hadn't they refused to believe Misty was missing?

Stuck in the middle, Diana faltered.

Misty wasn't a runaway – she was sure of that, and Bober agreed. He had ideas. He didn't look down on her. He listened. He believed.

Diana wanted to talk to him, face to face.

Bober had avoided this prospect for days. He worked by phone. He was 26 and he lived with his parents. He needed a haircut – his mullet was a mess – but this was important.

On Oct. 25, 1992, Diana drove from Spanaway to a cul-de-sac on South Hill. Bober stood in the driveway, beckoning her to his family's rambler. Diana looked him over.

Younger than she'd guessed from his big voice. Shorter, too - she had a few inches on him. Scrawny, bones like a bird, Bon Jovi hair. He might have weighed 140 pounds, soaking wet.

Bober later recorded an impression of Diana in his journals:

A tall woman with long legs, a pretty face and long, ‘Farrah Fawcett-type' hair. She wore false eyelashes and had a face somewhat younger than her years. She wasn't unattractive; for 36, I thought she looked good – but I wasn't at all interested in her personally, though she did catch my attention – it was her daughter that I was very concerned about and her case that I was interested in.

They talked for hours. Diana saw Bober's files: binders, audio, video, pictures, news clippings, transcripts, public records. This guy was serious. Bober sent her home with documents and a piece of treasured evidence: copied recordings of phone conversations.

I didn't want her suspicious of me if I could help it at all. She'd already voiced, over the telephone, her suspicions of me and I'd hoped I'd been able to dispel them completely.

— Bober's journals, November 1992

The next day, Herm Carver reactivated Misty's name on the state and national lists; 39 days after her disappearance, Misty Copsey became an official missing person in the eyes of the law, and an official burden for Puyallup, where the case had been filed.

No new leads or tips prompted Carver's action. Entry on the lists was a formality – a legal requirement for anyone missing longer than 30 days.

It also meant the earlier rumored contacts with Misty offered by her schoolmates had gone nowhere.

BETRAYAL

The battle for Diana's loyalty wasn't over.

Bober, trolling for publicity, hounded The News Tribune to interview Diana for a larger story, and coached her beforehand. The reporter was kind, but said police still felt Misty was a runaway. She and Diana talked about Bober. Diana learned some history she hadn't known.

On Oct. 27, she met with Brian Coburn, the county deputy. Diana showed Coburn the tapes Bober had given her.

Coburn listened to one of the recordings. It appeared to be illegal. He took the tapes, and urged Diana to file a restraining order against Bober. She agreed, according to a report Coburn filed Oct. 29.

She told me that she no longer wanted any contact with Cory Bober but was afraid to tell him.

Cory has asked her what she would do if she stopped talking to him and he showed up on her front porch. Cory told her that she would be forced to talk to him then.

Coburn served Bober with the papers a few hours later. Bober heard scary words: felony wiretapping. He had scores of cassettes – hours of recorded phone calls dating back years. In a fit of paranoia, he stuffed them in plastic bags and buried them under his potted palm.

Diana attached a written statement to the restraining order.

My daughter has been missing for six weeks from the Puyallup Fair. Cory Bober has called me on a daily basis, telling me my daughter is dead.

She feared Bober or his friends would come after her because she turned the tapes over to the sheriff's department.

I was advised by Deputy Brian Coburn to file this complaint if I felt threatened.

The restraining order was temporary – active for two weeks until a court hearing Nov. 12. Diana didn't go. The order was denied. She says she called the court and asked to have it withdrawn. The same day, she called Bober in tears and apologized.

Misty had been missing for 56 days.

Diana had chosen. The battle was over.

GREEN RIVER

While the investigation of Misty's disappearance stalled, King County investigators revived a larger case: the Green River serial killings.

In 1992, the killer was a fearsome blank, credited with 40-odd slayings. The serial spree had ceased in the mid-1980s, investigators believed. A handful of recent deaths had undercut that view.

King County Sheriff's Capt. Michael Nault announced the new investigation into those deaths at a packed news conference. Publicly, he downplayed the Green River connection. Privately, police were focused on it, King County records say.

The list of new victims included the lost Puyallup girls, Kim Delange and Anna Chebetnoy. Both had been found on Highway 410, a known Green River haunt.

Bober devoured the coverage. He clipped newspaper articles and taped the TV broadcasts.

Oh, this was sweet. Bober had suggested the Puyallup-Green River connection to Herm Carver two months earlier. The detective had scoffed.

Carver could eat it now. King County (the Green River Task Force!) had drawn the connection Bober suspected: The two Puyallup girls could be part of a larger pattern.

Misty wasn't mentioned in the news stories, but Bober was certain her remains were hidden on 410, in the same area as those of Delange and Chebetnoy. All he needed was the exact location of the dump site. He threaded his way to the King County Medical Examiner's office, and buttonholed an investigator, who gave him a rough sense of the spot.

It was time to search. If police wouldn't do it, Bober would.

On Nov. 11 – Veterans' Day – Bober and Al Hensley, the grieving father he'd befriended, drove to Highway 410 and looked around for a few hours. They found nothing, but Bober wasn't done. On Nov. 28, the Saturday after Thanksgiving, he led a team of 25 volunteers, including Diana, to an area near milepost 30 on the north side of the highway. He alerted the media. The team fumbled through the brush. Nothing.

Diana searching through brush, 11-28-92 (Source: News Tribune file)

Misty had been missing for 72 days.

Her case was in Pierce County's hands, as far as the Puyallup Police Department was concerned – standard procedure for runaway cases – but the missing-person aspect was Puyallup’s responsibility. Records of the department's investigative file show no activity in November or December apart from reports of unconfirmed sightings of Misty in Yakima and Idaho.

Diana and her brother drove to Yakima to check the tip – a sighting at a truck stop. She handed out fliers. No one recognized Misty.

There were no other inquiries by police. Puyallup didn't interview witnesses who saw or spoke to Misty the night of her disappearance.

The only person generating any action was Bober – the crackpot, the stoner who lived with his parents, the amateur with a crazy theory no one believed.

FOUL PLAY

Misty's grades, spring 1992 (Source: Diana Smith)

On Dec. 2, Misty Copsey got an upgrade. The Pierce County Sheriff's Department shifted her case from the runaway category to "missing under suspicious circumstances."

"We believe there's a possibility of foul play," sheriff's spokesman Curt Benson told The News Tribune.

The case had been transferred to Puyallup police, the story said, but county investigators were still looking at it. They cited the passage of time. They noted that Misty was a good student with no prior history of running away.

Diana felt a glimmer of hope. If police were willing to treat Misty as a missing person, maybe that would lead to some real investigation, she thought.

Bober, never at rest, still hoped for a discovery on Highway 410, but the weather was getting bad.

On Dec. 8, his mother drove him to the sheriff's office. He handed a letter to Capt. Gary Smith. It explained his theory of the case in nine single-spaced pages.

He closed with his latest discovery – the location of a car his suspect had driven in September and later sold. Bober's friend, Al Hensley, had seen the car and noticed a dark stain on the carpet below the passenger seat.

I strongly suggest that investigators check this vehicle for human blood stains and as soon as possible. It can't hurt to check this out, after all you claim you want to solve homicides, don't you? Here's at least a chance, however slim it is.

— Bober's letter

He added that a News Tribune story about Misty's case would appear the next day. He believed it would provoke his suspect to kill again.

It is a shame that your office isn't watching this man's every move at this critical time. You might just catch the man in the act if you would.

The News Tribune story ran the next day. There was no sign that it provoked a killing.

Largely a profile of Diana, the story recounted the known facts of Misty's disappearance. It described volunteer searches at Highway 410, and mentioned Chebetnoy and Delange, who figured in King County's new investigation. A King County sheriff's spokesman said his agency hadn't been asked for help on Misty's case.

On Dec. 15, a Pierce County sheriff's technician inspected the car Bober had urged investigators to check. The dark carpet stain wasn't blood.

Misty had been missing for 89 days.

Puyallup police hadn't spoken to any of the witnesses who had the last known contacts with her.

At some point in December, Diana spotted Rheuban Schmidt at a Spanaway grocery store and confronted him.  Rheuban ran, got into an orange truck driven by an older man and pointed toward Diana. She saw the man's eyes widen. The truck sped away.

Diana sank into depression and tried to kill herself with a cocktail of liquor and anti-depressants. She woke up strapped to a hospital bed. A day or two later, she slogged home to her empty apartment.

INTERLUDE

A story from Pierce County Superior Court records:

Sunday, Jan. 10, 1993, 2 a.m. – After buying a pack of Doublemint gum, a 15-year-old girl trudges home on Meridian, Puyallup's main drag.

She is about five blocks south of the fairgrounds – a five-minute walk from the spot where Misty Copsey was last seen four months earlier.

The night is cold; 18 degrees. The girl has a sweater wrapped around her hips.

A man in a battered red Camaro shouts, "Twenty dollars for above the waist."

The girl ignores him and keeps walking.

"Forty dollars for above the waist and I won't touch anything else," the man says.

The girl says no and runs to some bushes. The man finds her. He holds a black-handled knife to her throat. No one sees him wrestle her into his car.

He drives south in silence, smoking Winstons. The girl chews a stick of gum and drops the wrapper to the floor. She notices a lacy garter dangling from the rear-view mirror.

The man turns onto a one-lane strip of road surrounded by pillars of Douglas fir.

He pulls the girl from the car and rapes her. He smokes and relieves himself by the side of the road. She stands, shivering,

He drags her to the edge of the roadside. It overlooks a ravine.

He holds her there for a long time.

Robert Leslie Hickey, 1993 (Source: Pierce County Sheriff)

"I just want to go home," the girl says.

"You'll tell like the rest of them," the man says, and shoves her off the cliff.

She falls 20 feet and survives, huddled in the dark. Above her, the Camaro's engine guns and fades.

She clambers out of the ravine and walks three miles until she finds a house with a light on. She beats on the door and cries until someone answers.

Five days later, Puyallup police arrest Robert Leslie Hickey, 28. They search his red Camaro. They find a Doublemint gum wrapper on the floor and a garter hanging from the rear-view mirror.

Hickey is convicted of first-degree rape, and later sentenced to seven years in prison.

His name appears briefly in files of the Copsey investigation. The records include his rap sheet and little more.

Police didn't question Hickey about Misty's disappearance, according to their records.

TELEVISION

The renewed Green River investigation and Misty's case fueled a Jan. 26, 1993, broadcast of KOMO-TV's "Northwest Afternoon," a chat show with a studio audience and live call-ins. Diana was a featured guest. Bober didn't go, but his VCR was cued up. His friend, Al Hensley, father of a murdered daughter, drove to the taping.

Trina Bevard, 1991 (Source: Diana Smith)

Hensley brought someone else along: Trina Bevard, 15, who'd gone to the fair with Misty.

More than four months had passed since that night. Apart from the Pierce Transit bus driver, Trina was the last known person to see Misty alive. Puyallup police hadn't interviewed her.

No record of the broadcast survives. Recollections came from Bober, Diana and Hensley. The News Tribune requested an archived tape from KOMO-TV. Station representatives said they couldn't find it. Bober mistakenly taped over his copy.

The star guest was Jim Doyon, a hard-nosed King County homicide detective who'd toiled for years on the Green River case. During the show, Doyon spoke carefully about King County's rebooted investigation and the recent string of deaths, including those of Delange and Chebetnoy, the slain Puyallup girls.

Were those two killings connected? Nothing was certain. (Privately, Doyon strongly believed it, according to his notes. He had worked both cases.)

And Misty? Did she belong on this grim list? Doyon wasn't sure. Without a body, it was impossible to know. She could be alive.

The broadcast invited tips. Misty's face – her last school picture – appeared on the screen, along with the studio phone number.

Midway through the show, a woman called. She said she saw Misty around 10 p.m. in downtown Puyallup that night, headed south, her head down, walking past a 7-Eleven store along Meridian toward the westbound onramp of Highway 512.

The detail was small but important: a later sighting, perhaps half an hour after the bus driver had spoken to Misty. Doyon took down the tip.

King County had no official role in Misty's case, but Doyon was interested. The next week, he went to Highway 410 and searched near milepost 30, where the remains of Delange and Chebetnoy had been found. There had been reports of foul odors in the area a few months earlier.

He spent six hours at the site, he said later. Nothing turned up.

After more than four months, a detective had taken a stab at looking for Misty – a detective from a neighboring county, with no formal stake in the case.

WRONG SIDE

Bober was striking out on Highway 410. He couldn't understand it. He quizzed sources at the King County Medical Examiner's office. Where exactly were Delange and Chebetnoy found again?

The answer explained the screw-up. Bober had searched the wrong side of the highway. The Puyallup girls weren't found on the north side, his sources said. They were on the south side – the south.

Everything clicked. He started arranging another search – set for Feb. 7, a Sunday.

Publicity was essential. Clearly, Bober thought, his suspect followed the news and killed in response, to send a message: catch me if you can.

Bober devised a trap. He would plant a story about the coming search, and ensure that his suspect would see it. The story would provoke the killer. He would do something, something only Bober would recognize.

Bober called The Pierce County Herald, a twice-a-week publication based in Puyallup (and a sister paper of The News Tribune). He knew the editor and the crime reporter. Dropping an exclusive about a new search for Misty was child's play. The story hit the front page Feb. 5, two days ahead of the search.

DISCOVERY

Shortly after noon on Feb. 7, a small fleet of cars parked in a gravel turnout on Highway 410, a quarter mile east of milepost 30, about six miles east of Enumclaw. It was a remote spot, surrounded by trees and silence.

The searchers numbered about a dozen. Diana came with Debra Smith, her older sister. Bober, the organizer, was there. Al Hensley brought his nephew, Jaremy Brown, a 14-year-old Boy Scout.

The site was an entrance to Weyco Mainline Road, a utility drive owned and maintained by the Weyerhaeuser Corp., east of a rural park at Mud Mountain Dam.

Unkempt ditches bordered the edges of the gravel entry. A yellow security gate blocked vehicle access. A rugged road ran south to a T about a quarter-mile beyond the gate. The arms of the T shot east and west, along the bends of the White River.

From the western arm, perhaps a mile beyond the sight of the searchers, a smaller track jutted north like a vein. It led to a clearing where the remains of Kim Delange and Anna Chebetnoy had been found.

A winter sun burnished the day in February light. The searchers milled around. A Weyerhaeuser security guard was coming to unlock the gate, but he hadn't arrived yet.

Jaremy Brown found a walking stick. Jeddy Hensley, Al's brother, carried a video camera.

Bober, juiced on the thrill of the search, chattered to Debra Smith – Diana's sister, Misty's aunt.

"What would you do if we found something?" Bober asked. "What would you do if the killer was here?"

Debra didn't like Bober. She opened her coat a little, and showed him her gun.

"I'd blow his fuckin' head off right here," she said.

Not far from the gate, Jaremy Brown poked in the eastern ditch with his stick.

In the dirt, he saw something – a mound of blue fabric, the unmistakable weave of denim, crumpled in a little pile.

"Hey, there's some clothes here," he said.

The searchers turned.

Memories vary at this point. Al Hensley recalls Jaremy walking back toward the group with the bundle speared on his stick. Diana remembers Jaremy hooking the bundle out of the ditch and flipping it to the ground.

The jeans, 2-7-93 (Source: Diana Smith)

A dark blue sock fell out.

Diana stared at the pile of dirty fabric.

Baggy, stone-washed jeans, light blue, with funky stitching.

The cuffs were rolled up.

She grabbed her hair and made a sound. Her face looked strange – 16 years later, her sister couldn't give the expression a name.

"I don't even know how to explain it," Debra said. "It was like everything drained from her."

Bober remembers, too.

"Diana cracked in 30 million pieces," he said.

The jeans were hers, Diana realized – the fancy pair she bought at a store on Pearl Street in Tacoma the previous summer.

The pair Misty borrowed to wear to the fair.

"Mrs. Copsey saw the pants and started crying," Jaremy Brown later said in a statement to police.

High on adrenaline, Bober bounced.

"I knew we'd find something! I knew we'd find something!" he said.

Debra Smith, Diana's sister, zeroed in on Bober, getting in his face.

"This ain't a motherfuckin' party, Cory," she said. "What's the matter with your head?"

The security guard arrived and found a bewildered crowd. Soon, he was calling 911 at Bober's urging.

Grainy, 16-year-old video footage gives a jerky hint of the scene. The camera swings back and forth, from the jeans to the volunteers. Someone says, "Don't touch them with your fingers."

In the helter-skelter that followed, while the searchers waited for police, Bober sent word of the find to his media contacts. This was a story, headed straight for 6 o'clock. The reporters would come. So would the investigators. They had no choice.

Let them mock him now. Let them call him crazy. He had been right, and they had been wrong.

It was the greatest moment of his life.

For Diana, it was something else: the death of hope.

Misty had been missing for 143 days.

She didn't look like a runaway anymore.

SEAN ROBINSON; The News Tribune / Sean.Robinson@thenewstribune.com, 253-597-8486

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