Monday, November 11, 2002
At 8 p.m., as Detective Winston Radhauser sped through Ashland’s quiet streets with lights flashing, a fat crescent moon rose in the night sky. It looked as if every star had claimed its rightful place. How could a fifteen-year-old girl disappear on a night like this one?
When he arrived at the address on Lincoln Street, a sprawling, L-shaped brick ranch house, it was lit up like Christmas Eve. Inside and outside, lights blazed. A newer Toyota Camry and at least a decade-old Ford pickup truck crowded the narrow driveway. Along the side of the road in front of the house, two police vehicles were angled toward the house, their emergency lights splashing red and blue ribbons across the yard.
Uniformed officers, Sullivan and Corbin, stood with their guns holstered and black clubs hanging from metal rings.
Radhauser parked across the street and wished his partner, Maxine McBride, hadn’t taken her long overdue vacation to Europe. It looked like this was going to be an endless night and he could use her help. He hurried over to the officers. “What have we got?”
“Captain Murphy told us to wait for your orders. Rawlings is inside taking the father’s statement.” Corbin shined his flashlight on a page in his notebook. “Shenandoah Hoffman didn’t come home from cheerleading practice. Parents are Leo and Gayle Hoffman. Her father is distraught. Apparently, the girl lives here with him. Mother has a town house over on Chestnut.”
“Did anyone call her?”
Sullivan nodded. “She’s on her way.”
“Does the girl have a history of running? Has she ever done anything like this before?”
“Father says no. She’s a good kid. Excellent student. Caused no problems. Before he reported her missing, he called her friends and everyone else he could think of, including the other girls on the cheerleading squad. Apparently, she was the clean-up person after practice today and the last one to leave the gymnasium. No one saw anything out of the ordinary.”
Radhauser glanced around. Neighbors huddled on the sidewalk or in small groups on their front yards. “Turn off the flashing lights on your cars. No sense drawing any more attention. I want you and Corbin to walk the route back to the high school. Take your Maglites. Examine every inch of sidewalk and road, see if you find anything suspicious.”
Radhauser hated cases like this—hated any case involving a kid. He swallowed his dread, sucked in a deep breath, then headed to the front door.
He knew the statistics: If someone had really kidnapped the Hoffman girl, and she wasn’t off playing house with a boyfriend somewhere, she’d likely be dead within twenty-four hours.
When the man he assumed was the girl’s father answered, Radhauser showed his badge and introduced himself. “I’m the detective assigned to your daughter’s case. I’ll be in to talk with you in a minute.”
Leo Hoffman appeared to be in his mid to late forties, was about six feet tall, well-built with straight brown hair. He wore jeans and a pullover sweater with an oxford button-down shirt beneath it.
“In the meantime, could you send Officer Rawlings out here?” Radhauser asked.
A moment later, Rawlings appeared.
Radhauser instructed him to check for any cameras at the school or in nearby parking lots—any homes with security cameras on the girl’s route home from school. “Get any available footage and see if it gives us something useful. Call the office and see if we can get some recording equipment set up inside the house. I want you to stay here with the family until she’s found.”
“You think it’s foul play, sir?”
“Too soon to know. But I want to be ready for a ransom call in case it turns out that way. Did you search the house?”
“First thing I did, even the attic. She’s not here. Dad seems legit. He’s worried sick. He’s blaming himself.”
“Because he didn’t pick her up after cheerleading.”
“Did he have a good reason?”
“I don’t know.”
Moments later, Leo Hoffman led him through a tiled entryway into a carpeted area of the great room—open to both the kitchen and the dining area. “This is unlike Shannon. She’s always been so responsible.” Leo kept looking out the window, as if convinced his daughter would rush through the door any minute, sheepish and apologetic, horrified her friends were being contacted.
The room held a white leather sofa in front of a ceiling-to-floor river rock fireplace with a log mantel that housed an assortment of family photos. Two blue leather recliners on either side of the fireplace were situated facing the sofa.
Radhauser sat in one of them and took off his Stetson.
Cluttered with magazines and newspapers, the coffee table also held two empty coffee cups, a half-filled plastic bottle of Diet Coke, along with an aluminum bowl with a few unpopped kernels of corn in the bottom.
“Sorry for the mess.” Leo picked up the bowl, soda bottle, and coffee cups, then hurried into the adjoining kitchen and set them in the sink. “Shannon and I watched Jurassic Park III last night and didn’t bother to clean up.”
Just as he returned to his seat, the front door opened. A woman Radhauser guessed to be Mrs. Hoffman exploded into the room as if jet propelled. She was slender, about five-feet-three inches, with short brown hair, pale skin, and wide blue eyes. She wore a black suit, a red silk blouse, and black pumps, like a professional woman who’d just stepped out of a business meeting.
After racing over to the sofa, she stood in front of Leo, her hands on her hips. “Where is she? Where is my daughter?”