The Stolen Child: Part III

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 12, 2009 

For the rest of the 1990s, Misty's case gathered dust.

Journalists revived it occasionally. In 1996, Diana saw that her ex-husband, Paul "Buck" Copsey, still believed the runaway story.

3-10-96

Today is Misty's birthday. She would be 18. I know she would be a beautiful 18-year-old. Anyway, I can't hardly believe how deep in denial Buck is staying. Evening Magazine did a piece on Misty again the other night, saying a family member was expecting a big break in the case this week. Well, it was Buck, saying he's expecting a phone call from Misty. They also had a piece in the paper saying the same thing.…

Needless to say, Misty didn't call. God, I miss her!

— Diana's journal

The "piece in the paper" was a News Tribune story that said Puyallup police were still leaning toward the runaway possibility and the prospect of a birthday phone call.

Detective Roger Cox said the investigation of Misty's disappearance was "a little bit on hold, with her 18th birthday coming up."

King County Sheriff's detective Jim Doyon, who had investigated the case in 1993, was skeptical.

"My professional instincts lead me to believe she's more than likely deceased," he said.

Cox said Puyallup police would "retrace" their investigation if Misty didn't call, and "talk to people we've already talked to and go over what we've been doing."

Records of Puyallup's investigation show no sign of such an effort.

Busted

Cory Bober got busted again in April 1997 – four charges of dealing marijuana.

Cory Bober, 1996 (Source: News Tribune file)

No plea bargain this time. He fought all the way: two years and 19 continuances, according to the official record.

He won. Not guilty on the felony counts, one misdemeanor conviction for pot possession, one day in jail. Jurors bought his claim that Puyallup police were trying to shut him up, The News Tribune reported.

During the trial, Bober struck gold: the Washington State Patrol crime lab report on Misty's jeans, compiled after their 1993 discovery.

It was an absurd coup. The lab report was part of an active criminal investigation, legally exempt from public disclosure. Reporters and private citizens, even Diana, couldn't have obtained it if they tried – yet Bober, a pot-smoking amateur and high school dropout, had pried it loose.

His trump card was subpoena power. The lab report was part of his defense, he argued. He was a citizen investigator researching the Green River murders.

The legal gambit paid. He walked away with an acquittal and the lab report tucked under his arm.

Night after night, he picked through the document. The truth he sought was buried in handwritten notes listing forensic debris brushed from the jeans.

Dirt. No blood, no semen, the report said. Hairs, fibers and three tiny red paint chips. Holes in left leg of the jeans, above the knee – they looked like scissor cuts, possibly made before the jeans were dumped, the report said.

The microscopic details would prove him right in the end, Bober was sure – they would show his suspect, Randy Achziger, killed Misty.

Death

A new century dawned. Eight long years after Misty's disappearance, Diana couldn't bear the waiting.

Runaway. Every time Puyallup police said it, Diana felt slapped, dissed, insulted. She was becoming a character in someone else's story: the wrong story, an official myth of a child who fled from a lousy mom.

Puyallup kept trotting it out. Diana wouldn't listen anymore. It was time to tell Misty goodbye.

In May 2000, Diana, egged on by Bober, spoke to Dr. John Howard, Pierce County medical examiner. She wanted a formal declaration of Misty's death, though remains had never been found.

Howard refused; there was no body. Diana persisted. Bober joined in, armed with memorized detail. Howard reconsidered and consulted Puyallup police. On May 10, 2000, he issued a certificate of presumed death.

A News Tribune story noted the development and repeated Diana's criticisms of Puyallup's investigation. She wanted forensic tests, DNA analysis that hadn't been done.

The story said police wouldn't comment on the case, citing the active investigation.

There was little activity. The investigation was dormant, according to Puyallup's case file. Privately, police were still thinking Misty was a runaway. Their suspicions were fueled by Misty's father. Buck and Diana had divorced years before Misty's disappearance. After the News Tribune story appeared, he spoke to Puyallup police.

Buck was upset with what Diana had stated to the media, and upset with the Tribune's article that "bashed" the police.

Buck still believes that Misty is alive, and that she just "got sick of it" and went underground. He believes that Misty ran away because of the poor relationship that she had with her mother. Buck told me that he thinks a conversation he had with Misty two or three weeks prior to her disappearance may have caused her to leave. At that time, Buck told Misty the truth about why he left Diana years prior. He said that he told Misty that Diana was a ‘frigg'n alcoholic' and other things. Buck feels now that he was too honest with his daughter and it may have caused her to stage her disappearance.

— Puyallup police report, May 24, 2000

Misty's death certificate paved the way for a memorial service, but Diana didn't have the money.

Bober stepped in again. He persuaded a Parkland church to host the service for free, and talked local flower shops into donating bouquets. He called the media. Journalists came and bannered the event. Music and video played. Diana spoke and cried.

Swirls of grief and talk at the service reminded her of old rumors regarding Misty's disappearance: stray statements from her daughter's friends, gossip that couldn't be verified. More than ever, she believed police had wrongly discounted Rheuban Schmidt, Misty's wannabe boyfriend.

Eight years had passed since Misty's disappearance. Her case was cold, and it looked like a Green River job, one among dozens. Puyallup investigators had other duties, limited resources, and always, fresh crime – the endless grind of policing.

Records of Puyallup's investigation show scant activity on Misty's case between 1994 and 2000: guessed-at sightings gone nowhere, and not much more. Occasional tips floated in, mostly eye-rollers from Bober.

Blind

Bober knew the cops and Diana were blind. He believed his suspect, Randy Achziger, the Green River Killer, had snared Misty Copsey like all the others – the doubters just couldn't see it.

The more Bober reviewed the precious crime lab report, the more obvious the truth became. Forensic analysts had recovered three red paint chips in the clusters of brush-down debris from Misty's jeans.

Connections howled in his head: red paint chips - particle transference!

His suspect had owned a red Porsche when Misty disappeared. Bober knew Achziger's vehicles by heart and trail. He knew Achziger painted the Porsche red and sold it, and he knew who bought it.

Red Porsche now new owner in Lynnwood – compare to red paint chips. See Porsche (photo) red. (Randy painted Porsche red) 8 or 9/92…

— Bober's notes

The paint chips would match the Porsche. Had to. Fact and matter, right there, Bober realized.

Everything fit perfectly: the car, the timing – all the cops had to do was run the test. Compare paint from the car to the paint chips from the jeans, and reality would flatten them: the Green River Killer.

Interlude

A story from Pierce County Superior Court records:

Monday, May 14, 2001, 10 p.m. – A 24-year-old woman walks home from church, past the American Lake Gardens in Lakewood. Rain pelts the pavement and the green.

A white pickup rolls by. The driver slows and asks the woman if she wants a ride. She says no, and keeps walking.

The truck pulls to the side of the road. The man gets out.

The woman starts pushing 911 on her mobile phone, but hesitates. The man walks quickly and catches up.

He asks her for a cigarette. She says no, and crosses to the other side of the street.

The man rushes. He pushes the woman over a 15-foot embankment. She falls and fumbles for her phone, hitting the send button again and again.

The man rips her shirt and grabs her breast. She fights and starts to scream.

"Shut up," the man says. "Don't make any noises. Don't move. I'll kill you."

This is it, the woman thinks.

Robert Leslie Hickey, 2001 (Source: Pierce County Sheriff)

I'm going to die.

The man sees the phone in her hand, glowing numbers: 911. He snatches it and flees.

The woman runs to a house and calls for help. Police arrive. They arrest Robert Leslie Hickey, 37, convicted rapist.

His earlier crime dated to January 1993 in Puyallup. Four months after Misty Copsey disappeared, Hickey kidnapped and raped a 15-year-old girl and threw her into a ravine.

The 1993 abduction site was five blocks from the last known sighting of Misty. Hickey drove a red Camaro.

He served five years in prison. Following the 2001 arrest, he was charged and convicted of attempted second-degree rape – a sex offense, his second strike. Sentence: life, no possibility of parole. Records from the state Department of Corrections say he's doing time in Arizona.

In 1993, Hickey's name appeared in records of the Copsey investigation as a possible suspect.

His m.o. was abduction rape. His victim had been snatched near the Puyallup Fairgrounds. He drove a red car in 1993, and the forensic evidence from Misty's jeans included red paint chips.

Puyallup police never questioned Hickey about Misty's case, according to their records. They did not seek forensic tests of his car.

The News Tribune wrote to Hickey in 2008 and requested an interview. He did not respond.

Killer

Gary Leon Ridgway, 2001 (Source: King County Sheriff)

On Nov. 30, 2001, King County detectives tagged Gary Leon Ridgway for the Green River murders. Jim Doyon, the veteran, was in on the arrest.

Every news outlet screamed. Bober surfed the broadcast waves. His VCR hissed. His phone rang.

"Hey, Sherlock," a woman's voice sneered. "How's it feel to be wrong?"

The taunting voice was an ally of the enemy, an unbeliever. Bober erased her with a profane rub and hung up.

Watching the news, smoking and toking, he saw lies. Maybe they would hang a few killings on Ridgway – maybe. Not all of them, though. No way. No chance.

Two years later, when Ridgway confessed to 48 murders, Bober felt the same way. He still does.

Though Ridgway led investigators to known and unknown dumpsites of his victims, though he admitted his killings, though DNA and forensic evidence backed his convictions, Bober doesn't buy it.

Ridgway is a simpleton, he says, a village idiot tricked into confessions by a cabal of evidence-planting King County cops who don't want anyone to know they pegged the wrong man.

What's more, Bober argues, even if Ridgway did kill those 48 women, he didn't kill Misty Copsey or the other two Puyallup girls, Kim Delange and Anna Chebetnoy.

And here, whatever his convoluted reasoning, Bober has a point.

Ridgway is a convenient scapegoat for Misty's disappearance – but available evidence suggests he had nothing to do with it.

Denial

After Ridgway's confessions, law enforcement agencies along the West Coast assessed his connection to unsolved cases. In Puyallup, that meant Delange, Chebetnoy and Misty.

Diana couldn't fault the logic when police explained their interest. Ridgway had killed so many.

King County prosecutors and investigators openly admitted Ridgway's tally of killings was probably greater than 48. Ridgway claimed as many as 72, but he said he couldn't remember them clearly, couldn't find all the remains of young women he'd left behind. Prosecutors settled for what they could prove.

Ridgway's preferred hunting ground was the Sea-Tac strip, with occasional forays into Seattle and South King County. During lengthy interviews with county detectives, he denied taking victims from Puyallup. At another point, he said, "I will not take credit for any killings I did not do."

At least four times in summer 2003, detectives drove Ridgway back and forth along Highway 410, according to interview transcripts. He identified known dumpsites of his victims, and eventually led investigators to a set of previously undiscovered remains.

On those road trips, the crew repeatedly passed the gated entrance to Weyco Road, just east of milepost 30: the area where Misty's jeans were discovered in 1993, and the remains of Delange and Chebetnoy were found in 1988 and 1991.

The gate is obvious to anyone who drives the road, marked by a graveled entrance and turnouts on both sides of the highway. Not once did Ridgway tell detectives to stop at the site, though they invited him to pause as they passed it.

One exchange in the vast official transcripts of Ridgway's interviews dates to June 21, 2003, when detectives took Ridgway for a drive along 410. As the caravan passed the gate near milepost 30, detective Tom Jensen asked a casual question.

Jensen: Did you ever go in ...uh, through any of these Weyerhaeuser gates onto Weyerhaeuser property, or?

Ridgway: No. Uh, uh...they were all locked up.

Jensen: They are now, but...

Ridgway: They were locked...they were locked up there then, too, ‘cause I was gonna go over there.

Jensen: You were?

Ridgway: Uh, you know, a place to hide ‘em.

Ridgway hadn't bitten. Jensen's question was a broad hint. He knew where Delange, Chebetnoy and Misty's jeans had been found. He'd worked the cases with his colleague, Jim Doyon, who had since retired.

The denial was worthless in one sense. Ridgway was an admitted liar, and he had good reason to disavow Pierce County victims. Admission could spell execution.

All his victims were tied to King County, where the killer had a deal: a full confession would save him from the death penalty. In Pierce County, there was no such arrangement.

Denials didn't eliminate Ridgway in the Puyallup slayings. Forensics did.

No match

Between 2003 and 2006, a pair of state crime lab tests cast doubt on Ridgway as a suspect in Misty's disappearance. Related tests, including DNA analysis, undercut him as a suspect in the slayings of Delange and Chebetnoy, according to public records and information obtained by The News Tribune.

Evidence in Delange's case included DNA. King County tested it against Ridgway, who didn't match, said James Delange, the slain girl's father.

"Yes, that's accurate," he told The News Tribune in 2008. He said King County gave him the news a few years earlier. Delange added that he'd shared the same information with Bober.

The King County Sheriff's Office would not comment on James Delange's statement, citing the still active investigation.

King County also tested the red paint chips recovered from Misty's jeans, and found no match with Ridgway, according to records of Puyallup's investigation.

In fall 2003, shortly before Ridgway's conviction, King County hired Microtrace, a private Illinois laboratory, to run a comparison: flecks of paint from Ridgway's suspected victims matched against samples from the warehouses where he painted truck panels for a living.

The paint chips from Misty's jeans were included in the tests.

These chips were forwarded to Microtrace labs for comparison to the control samples representing Gary Ridgway.

— Excerpt from notes by King County Deputy J.K. Pavlovich, Oct. 1, 2003

Microtrace specialized in paint and particles, using equipment that could examine finer fragments than Washington's crime lab.

The Microtrace tests revealed multiple matches to Ridgway victims – but not to Misty.

In a discussion with (Det.) Tom Jensen, I learned that the paint chip comparison at Microtrace had determined there was no match between the Copsey evidence and the Ridgway control samples.

— Excerpt from notes by King County Deputy J.K. Pavlovich, Aug. 19, 2004

No match with Ridgway – no match with the Green River Killer.

Results of the tests on Delange and Misty pointed to another killer (or killers), at large and unknown.

Ridgway was the only subject tested against the red paint chips from Misty's jeans, according to Puyallup police records. The forensic inquiry didn't examine other possible suspects such as Robert Leslie Hickey, the convicted rapist who drove a red Camaro and abducted a girl near the Puyallup fairgrounds in 1993.

Years later, Puyallup police would seek one more test of the paint chips, against a suspect they had long dismissed: Randy Achziger, Bober's perennial target.

The driveway

To fit his suspect into the frame of Misty's murder, Bober had strung an elaborate chain of maybes and hounded police with the possibilities.

He had a timeline of his suspect's movements: Achziger had been in downtown Puyallup the night of Misty's disappearance – at Good Samaritan Hospital, where his sister was having a baby. (The sister said Achziger had been there the whole time; Bober didn't buy it.)

At the time, Achziger had been staying in a friend's trailer in Eatonville, according to Bober's research. The trailer sat on a vacant lot, later developed with a manufactured home and a driveway. Bober figured Misty's body was buried under the driveway.

The lot had been sold to a man named Oscar Pierce. He didn't know a thing about Misty Copsey, and didn't know Bober had marked an obsessive trail to his doorstep.

I realized where Copsey was killed and buried by 07/21/04, the first day I saw and photographed Oscar Pierce's property.

— Excerpt from Bober's journals

In Bober's mind, everything fit: the location, the timing, the red car. Bober explained it all to Diana. He relayed the helpful prospect to Puyallup police. They weren't interested – duly noted on his outrage scorecard.

He proposed a ground-penetrating radar survey, and persuaded Diana to back him. The test would prove whether a body was under Pierce's driveway – why not? Bober talked a private vendor into conducting the survey for free, and invited Puyallup police to watch.

The test was never done. Pierce, unnerved by Bober's pushiness and warned against him by Puyallup police, refused to allow it, he said.

The News Tribune visited Pierce in 2007. Diana came along for the interview.

Pierce said he bought the land, later landscaped it and poured new concrete. He found no trace of a body.

"I know for a fact that she's not here," Pierce said. "I even had a backhoe. I dug up around here 8 feet deep, never hit anything," he said.

Pierce recalled that Pierce County sheriff's deputies urged him to ignore Bober.

"They never said anything bad about her," Pierce said, referring to Diana. "They said Cory's nuts."

Pierce remembered something else deputies said about Misty's disappearance.

"All I know is the Pierce County sheriff (deputies) said the Puyallup cops screwed up that investigation big-time," he said.

Diplomacy

Tamara Pihl, a Puyallup police officer, paid Diana a visit in 2005 – a diplomatic mission. She hoped to tamp down Bober's meddling, reassure Diana and offer a little hope about Misty.

"There's no evidence that she's even dead," Pihl told Diana. "It's possible that she's alive."

"No, she's not!" Diana remembers saying. "She's dead. The night she disappeared I knew something happened to her. She's not alive."

Diana was hot. Thirteen years Misty had been gone. Declared dead, a memorial service held – and Puyallup police were still pitching the runaway line. She couldn't believe it.

Diana and Bober tried to persuade the Washington State Patrol to take over the case – Bober's idea. Diana went along, writing a letter to John Batiste, the State Patrol chief.

Puyallup is still operating under the premise that, "Misty is alive and well." That feels like some kind of inhumane torture when I hear that.

Please override the Puyallup police and take this case away from them. I am asking you to now enact your jurisdictional authority over the Puyallup Police and seize this investigation in its entirety.

— Diana's letter, July 18, 2005

Nine days later, the State Patrol replied. The case belonged to Puyallup and that was that. Request denied.

Bober was still monitoring his suspect's old car, the red Porsche. It was in Bellingham, parked, unused, unaltered – still red! He'd spoken to the owner, and explained the car's potential importance.

He filled Diana's head with his theory, urged her to bug Puyallup police about it and lobbied just as hard himself, to police and media.

The car was available for testing, he told police repeatedly. The owner was willing, he said, and Diana, the victim's mother, backed the idea. Bellingham wasn't so far away – surely police wouldn't pass up this opportunity. All they had to do was run the test. It could solve a murder. Didn't they care about that? Didn't they care about Misty, a Christian child?

In September 2005, Bober won the argument. Puyallup police Lt. Dave McDonald drove to Bellingham and examined the Porsche.

Several samples were then collected from the car, to include red paint chips from the front and rear trunk areas, carpet samples and various other items, to include some hairs found under the seat cushions, on the floor and the head liner.

— McDonald's notes, Sept. 19, 2005

They groused about Bober, but Puyallup police were still following his leads on Achziger, a suspect they had discarded years earlier. McDonald's trip marked the third time since Misty's disappearance that investigators had launched a forensic test based on Bober's theories.

McDonald gave the paint samples from the Porsche to King County for safekeeping. They were sent to the Tacoma branch of the state crime lab for comparison with the paint chips from Misty's jeans, according to Puyallup's investigative records.

Bober kept tabs on the test, calling cops, calling the crime lab, waiting for news, joyfully gossiping. He told Diana he knew the paint chips would yield a match with Misty.

The standard backlog at the crime lab meant a long wait. More than a year passed before the test was conducted.

The private eye

Diana hired a private investigator named Edward Lewis in summer 2006. She wanted him to take a closer look at Rheuban Schmidt, the friend Misty had called for a ride the night of her disappearance. Puyallup police had discarded Schmidt as a suspect for reasons she couldn't fathom.

Diana paid Lewis a retainer: $453. Her money bought a set of Internet searches and a few pages of court records.

Lewis also tried to talk to Bober. He sent e-mails, requesting tips and help. Bober struck back with a blowtorch.

If you are soooooooooooooo goooooooooooooood and sooooooooooo concerned, then you would know where to get the facts, the evidence and additional information. It's all out there thanks to me anyway. You must not be a very good detective if you can't find my information – pal.

— Bober's e-mail to Lewis, July 23, 2006

Diana couldn't afford any more fees. Lewis wrapped up his report, and sent her his conclusions. He said Bober was hurting the search for answers.

It is my assessment and recommendation that Bober inhibits any relationship that you had or potential relationship you could have with media, law enforcement, professionals and myself. It is my belief that to have him speak on your behalf or to represent you in any way has and will impact your search for the truth in a negative way.

— Excerpt from Lewis' letter

An August 2006 meeting with Puyallup police did nothing to melt the frost. Diana asked questions. Police told her it was an old case. They complained about Bober.

She walked out and slammed the door.

Behind the scenes

Whatever she thought, Puyallup police weren't idle. They still regarded Rheuban Schmidt as a person of interest.

I think it's worth taking another shot at Schmidt, and we're planning on it. He's been clean since 1993 ...

— Excerpt from notes by Lt. Dave McDonald, March 19, 2006

Schmidt had been convicted of second-degree theft in 2000. He had been accused of rape in early 1996 by one of Misty's best friends. Whether Puyallup police knew is unclear – the Pierce County sheriff's report of the incident does not appear in Puyallup's records.

The young woman said Rheuban held a pillow over her face to silence her, an incident report said.

Two weeks after filing the report, she backed out and refused to press charges.

[She] told me that she would be undergoing counseling related to the rape, but that she did not want to undergo any additional stress that may be caused by further investigation or possible prosecution in this matter.

Case cleared exceptional/refused by victim.

— Pierce County sheriff's report, Feb. 6, 1996

Later in 2006, Puyallup police gathered more reports on Rheuban. One was a domestic violence protection order requested by his wife, the mother of his three children.

Rheuban Schmidt, 2001 (Source: Pierce County Sheriff)

Rheuban has previously told her that if she ever had him served with a court order he'd 1) burn her house down with her and her kids in it, and 2) send ‘some guys' to kick in her door and take money from her.

(She) said Rheuban told her that they'd get money from her if they had to beat her, rape her and then rob her.

(She) said Rheuban told her that if it came to that she ‘wouldn't be breathing' when they were done with her.

— Pierce County Sheriff's report, Nov. 9, 2006

Tests

The state crime lab was still looking at the Green River Killer. A Nov. 30, 2006, report compared fibers and debris from Delange, Chebetnoy and Misty to samples tied to Ridgway.

The report found no matches, according to Terry McAdam, who heads the Tacoma branch of the crime lab.

"None of those three sets of fibers had any overall link to our database of fibers amassed during the investigation of Ridgway," McAdam told The News Tribune.

Once more, forensics found no link between Ridgway and the three lost Puyallup girls. Again, the results pointed to a different possibility: another killer, never caught, never identified.

The same tests addressed a crucial question regarding Misty's case. The debris from Delange and Chebetnoy was compared to debris culled from Misty's jeans.

"There was no linkage between those," McAdam said.

For years, investigators from King County and Puyallup (along with Bober and Diana) had assumed a connection between Misty's disappearance and the slayings of Delange and Chebetnoy, according to their records.

The crime lab test showed no such connection. The result split the possibilities in two – one unknown killer tied to Delange and Chebetnoy, and another to Misty.

Missing

In the midst of forensic testing, McAdam found something odd. Along with the Ridgway comparisons, he intended to run the long-delayed paint-chip test against samples from the red Porsche provided by Puyallup police.

The lab had already tested hairs and debris from the Porsche against hairs from Misty's jeans and found no match, records say.

McAdam set up the paint samples from the Porsche, and then turned to the paint-chip samples from Misty's jeans, gathered in 1993.

The 1993 samples were in two sealed envelopes; both labeled "paint chip debris."

One envelope contained a microscope slide with a particle of pink plastic, and an empty plastic bag.

The second envelope contained an empty plastic bag.

The paint chips from Misty's jeans were gone.

— Excerpt from crime lab report

"I opened it up looking for the paint," McAdam told The News Tribune in 2008. "All I found was some plastic. There was no paint."

What did that mean?

McAdam wouldn't guess.

"It means they're not there," he said. "It means they're missing."

Before McAdam opened the envelopes, the last known location of the paint chips had been Microtrace, the Illinois lab.

According to King County records, the paint chips were sent to Microtrace in 2003 for a Ridgway comparison. The test results were relayed to King County in 2004 (Ridgway hadn't matched.)

Did the paint chips ever return from Illinois?

Microtrace President Skip Palenik thought so when reached by The News Tribune in September 2008. He was confident the chips were returned to King County. He offered to double-check his company records, but he has been unavailable for comment since then. A fire ruined his laboratory in early 2008, and he has struggled with rebuilding ever since, he said.

King County sheriff's spokesman John Urquhart wouldn't comment on the missing paint chips, citing the agency's general policy of not discussing open cases.

Whatever the cause, another piece of evidence was lost.

Half-truth

Terry McAdam, the state crime lab technician, finished his report on Jan. 16, 2007. The tests appeared to eliminate any links between the red Porsche and Misty.

No fibers or paint fragments that could have originated from the Porsche 914 were recovered from the jeans, underpants or socks of Misty Copsey.

— Excerpt from crime lab report

The preponderance of results – hair and fibers – appeared to eliminate a connection between Achziger's Porsche and Misty. The only glitch was the missing paint chips.

Puyallup police received the test results and shared them with Diana in February 2007. She caught a this-is-it tone behind the official words.

Here was the test she and Bober had badgered police to conduct, and the results showed no match with Randy Achziger.

All the wild theories, the years of badgering, the meddling in official investigations came to nothing. Bober was wrong, police said.

It was mostly true. The fibers and hairs from the Porsche hadn't matched. But police didn't mention the lost paint chips – the core of the test Bober had demanded.

When Bober found out (more than a year later), he was livid.

THEY HAVE LIED ABOUT THE "STATE OF THE EVIDENCE" AND THE TESTING OF IT IN THE COPSEY CASE AND WITH REGARD TO ACHZIGER AND HIS LIKELY INVOLVEMENT, ALL TO PROTECT HIM AND THEIR OWN FACE... HOW PITIFUL CAN IT GET??

— Bober e-mail to The News Tribune, July 21, 2008

Untested

One test was never conducted: DNA analysis of hairs recovered from Misty's jeans.

It's never been done, but it could be, and Puyallup police have known that for two years, according to their records.

An Aug. 21, 2006, crime lab report concluded that six hairs recovered from the jeans were suitable for DNA testing.

The information was relayed to Puyallup police in early 2007.

The lab concluded that hair 1, in package 74, may be suitable for nuclear DNA analysis and that other hair/fragments may be suitable for mitochondrial DNA analysis. I will contact Detective McNabb of King County Sheriff's office to determine if they will submit the hair for analysis.

— Excerpt from report by Lt. Dalan Brokaw, Feb. 1, 2007

Nuclear DNA testing is a common forensic procedure. Test results can be used to identify a specific individual with a high degree of accuracy.

Mitochondrial DNA is passed from mothers to daughters. Forensic analysts can compare samples from unknown remains with known samples to establish a match.

The DNA tests could determine whether any of the hairs on the jeans were Misty's – or perhaps reveal the genetic fingerprint of a killer.

The crime lab hasn't conducted the test for one simple reason: No one has asked.

Not the Puyallup police. Not the King County Sheriff's Office, which recovered the evidence years ago.

All either agency would have to do is make the request.

"Absolutely," said McAdam, the forensic scientist. "Absolutely. Any police agency could ask. There's no indication that it's ever been requested."

Furious circles

Bober still insists Misty is buried at Oscar Pierce's place near Eatonville, but lately he's shifted the theoretical location from the driveway to a hedge on the side of the property.

He is certain. He never doubts. He discovers.

He has a picture of the property, the driveway and the hedge. He runs it through a graphics program that turns photos into kaleidoscopic patterns.

He sees Misty and his perennial suspect swimming in the fractured images, as if an occult hand drew them there. It's proof, Bober says: a new, undiscovered branch of science. Mystical, perhaps – but so what? Divinity works in mysterious ways, he says. It underscores the real evidence he believes he’s gathered.

Botanical tests on the hedge could show traces of chemicals from a decaying corpse, he argues. He's read about it. If the cops tested it, they could be sure – if they truly cared about finding Misty.

Diana avoids Bober these days. She no longer believes his theories.

He helped her, many times. He led her to Misty's jeans, kept the case alive, arranged the memorial service, lobbied, fought, never gave up.

"The case would have gone totally cold without him," she says.

Diana knows that. She is grateful – but she knows Bober's chattering rants too well. They all lead to the same cul-de-sac, where he spins in furious circles.

She was 36 when they met. He was 26. That was 17 years ago.

She tries not to take his calls. He leaves voice mails, blasting her for ignoring him.

…God I have to ask you are you doing dope? Is that what happened to you? Got lonely and hooked up with some guy that's on drugs and now you're a total fucking drug addict or what, Diana? You know, it seems that something's wrong with you, horribly wrong with you, because you won't cooperate or involve yourself in your own daughter's case. You know, you won't follow up real information and solid leads. Why?

— Voice mail from Bober to Diana, May 4, 2008

Her missing daughter haunts the house. Misty's face smiles from every wall.

There is a possibility Diana hates to consider. The killer roams free forever – no justice.

Sometimes answers don't come. Sometimes the right thing doesn't happen.

If that's how it goes, if Puyallup police never solve the case, what does she want?

She thinks, and retraces 17 years. What police told her and didn't tell her.

Misty (Source: Diana Smith)

Runaway.

Disbelief. Discredit. Disrespect.

Rhyner. Ridgway. Rheuban.

Runaway.

They always said they cared. Always said they did everything they could.

That's not how it feels.

"I want them to admit they screwed up," she says.

Epilogue

On April 4 of last year, Cory Bober got himself assaulted.

Stupid, he admits – he shouldn't have opened his door at 2:15 a.m. He's always up that late, working on his research.

The man at the door was a short, scruffy guy who'd answered a roommate-wanted ad a few weeks earlier. Bober rejected him. Never got his name.

The man had walked from the Emerald Queen Casino, where a friend was still gambling. Could he just use the bathroom?

Bober let him in, and gave him a can of soda. They talked and Bober briefly turned away.

The man grabbed a glass ashtray and cracked Bober in the back of the skull, knocking one of his teeth out. Bober howled, wheeled and ate a faceful of pepper spray.

He ran outside, the man chased him. Bober screamed, telling neighbors to call 911, get a look at the guy's face. The man ran away. A cop came and took a report.

Bober has pestered police ever since, railing at their failure to pursue leads. He's annoyed. They're not investigating. They act like they don't even care – the guy could have murdered him.

What an outrage that would be, to get whacked by this dwarf, this lowlife, this nothing. That's not how Bober wants to go.

Not that he wants to go at all, but if it happens, he wants his life to mean something. He wants to be vindicated.

A joke crosses his mind. He laughs and he can’t stop. It’s too good.

The punchline: if he has to go down, he wants Randy Achziger, the man he's hunted for 25 years, to kill him.

Postscript

Grief – I never thought the pain would go away or get any less. And when it started to lessen, I felt overwhelming guilt as if I were a cold, uncaring person. A really bad mother. As if I were being untrue to Misty's memory.

To keep getting by in this mortal life I had to put that memory in a very special spot in my soul. And hold it dear. Because it's not supposed to stay foremost while I am still living…it needs to be kept in that special spot to be protected.

I love you Misty. Mom.

— Diana's journal

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

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