Rob Walsh pounded on his steering wheel in frustration. It was already 6 p.m. and he had told Katy he was going to be home by six. The damned traffic on Highway 53 was backed up a mile from I35, and there was no exit he could take that was going to help get him home any quicker. It looked like there was still some construction going on at the junction of the two highways and it was supposed to have been finished yesterday.
He picked up his cell phone and called Katy. She answered on the first ring and didn't seem to be too upset that he would be late. She said she would try to delay the meal she was preparing as much as she could, but she would reheat it if necessary. "Just don't speed," she said, with as much emphasis as she could.
"You're a real marvel, girl. Your mother will be proud of you. You're almost as good a cook as she is, and you're only 14. I'll try to get there as quickly as I can," Rob said.
As it turned out the traffic eased quickly, and Rob was at their home on 2nd Avenue by 6:15. Katy met him at the door and said, "Hurry up Dad; I just put it on our plates. I have to get finished with supper as quickly as I can because I've got to study for my math exam."
"I'm sorry that I'm late, honey. I tried so hard to get here on time but with the darned construction on 53 still going on it was impossible. If I had known they weren't finished yet I would have come home on the Skyline Drive."
Katy had prepared pork chops with baked potatoes and mixed vegetables, along with a salad, and Rob complimented her on the meal. She told him not to mention it, that she was only going to have to cook until her mom got back. They gave each other a small smile after she said that, but the rest of the meal was eaten without smiles and without any further mention of her mother.
When they finished supper Rob told Katy to go study, that he'd clean up the table and do the dishes, and told her that he would be in to help her later. He proceeded to efficiently clear the dishes and get them washed. As he did the job he thought about Erin his wife, and the fact that she had been gone now for three months. If only they could find out where she was or hear something from her.
He had called Eric Maki, the lead Detective in her case, again today. As usual the man brushed him off and said she would come home "whenever she decided to." He told Rob there was nothing to report, and that he would call Rob when there was anything at all new in the case. Rob was used to this answer as he had heard it every time he'd called for the last three months. It didn't matter what Rob believed, Maki was convinced she had gone somewhere on her own and would be back of her own volition. No matter what anyone else said, Rob couldn't believe Erin had left him without telling him why, or that she would have left Katy.
When he had the kitchen cleaned up Rob went to check on Katy, especially to see how her studying was proceeding. He knew it wouldn't be likely that she would need his help, but he offered anyway. After telling her to call him if she needed anything, he went to the living room to read the paper and watch the evening news. He was always nervous to read or watch anything to do with the news, but he knew he had to do it. Even though he knew it was possible that Erin was dead, every day that the news did not include a report of an unidentified female body being found brought him relief. It was one more day they could maintain their hope that she was alive and would one day walk in the front door of their home.
Rob spent the rest of the evening trying to relax and wind down from another busy day at work. He was a senior programmer at Eclipse Software, and he had been there for 8 years. After Erin had been gone a month Rob had asked for a bigger workload so that he would have less time to think about her. The company had obliged and had given him a large programming job to tackle. He was well into it now, doing a job that likely should have taken two people to complete. He was beginning to worry that he had taken on too much, and that it would soon start affecting his health and well-being. The extra work did keep him from obsessing about Erin during the day, but it did little to help him on his own time. Any free time he had in the evening, and every night as he lay in their bed alone, he spent trying to figure out what could have happened to his wife.
Once the news was over and he had finished reading the paper, Rob reached over and picked up the photograph that stood on the end table beside his chair. It had been taken the past Christmas, and showed the three of them in a happy pose in front of the Christmas tree. It was easy to see that they were a loving family. All three of them were standing in the picture, their arms around each other, with full and natural smiles on their faces.
Rob and Erin were quite close in height, with Erin only 2 inches shorter than Rob's 5 foot 10. They both had brown hair although Erin's was a bit darker than Rob's. Katy was about 2 inches shorter than Erin, but both of them told her often that she would probably still grow a bit in height. She hoped they were correct because she had always been interested in sports and felt height would be an advantage in most of them. She shared their brown hair color but had added a large blond streak on the left side. The three of them also shared their eye color, a similar dark shade of brown.
There had been other individual pictures taken of the three of them at Christmas, but Rob had already given two of the photos of Erin to the police. He kept a selection of other family photos in a drawer in the end table, and would take them out at least twice a week so that he could look at the pictures of them as a family. He had them out again tonight, and lingered over Erin's photos as he usually did.
Some of the photos were from the year that they had been married, and Rob particularly liked to review these ones and remember how happy they had been when they were first married. Most nights when Rob would study the photos he would become emotional and tears would fill his eyes. Usually after he had finished looking at the photos he would put them back in the drawer and lie back so that he could think about everything that had happened.
This evening was no exception, and as Rob leaned back in his recliner he closed his eyes and began to go over the details of that March night. Every time he prayed that somehow he would remember something new, something he had overlooked in all of the past times that he had replayed the events of that evening and the next few days. He needed something new to take to Eric Maki. Something that would make Maki realize that Erin did not leave on her own.
Rob always began recalling that day by starting from the moment he woke up that morning. It was Tuesday, March 4, and he was up, as always, at 6:30 a.m. The alarm was set for 6:35 but he always got up early and shut it off, before it could wake up Erin. Once dressed he then went out to the kitchen to turn on the coffee machine. His next step was to go to the bathroom to do all of the normal morning things. By the time he was finished the coffee was ready and he went to wake up Erin. After washing her face and brushing her teeth Erin joined him for coffee. They had coffee together and discussed their plans for the day. Everything Erin mentioned to him was normal that morning. She was going to leave for her job at the Penney's store in the mall as usual at 9:30.
Rob had to be at work for 8 a.m. so he left their home at 7:30 as he usually did. She kissed him goodbye at the door and said she would see him that night. As he was closing the door he saw Katy walking into the kitchen in her pajamas. 7:30 was her normal time to get up and she later told him the rest of the morning's events until she left for school at 8:45. She said her mother had been perfectly normal, and the only thing she remembered her mother saying that was in any way unusual was that she should take an umbrella, as the Weather Channel was forecasting rain for later in the day.
Rob recalled that his day at work had been normal. Absolutely nothing out of the ordinary had happened. He'd had no strange phone calls or messages. He left for home at 4:30 and arrived there just before five as usual. On a normal day he would expect Erin to be there when he walked into the house. That day she wasn't there, but at first he didn't really think it was very strange, as sometimes she stopped to pick up a few things at the supermarket or maybe the dry cleaning. Katy was already home and in her room. After getting rid of his shoes, jacket and tie, Rob had knocked on Katy's door. When she hollered at him to come in he had poked his head in the door and asked her if her mother had called. Katy answered "No."
By 5:30 Rob was becoming concerned. Erin had never been this late coming home from work. He called Penney's and found out Erin had never punched in that morning. He couldn't understand that, for she had said nothing about taking the day off or having anything else to do that day. At that point he had gone to the garage and discovered that her car was still parked inside and an emotion close to panic set in. Erin was not in the house and yet it appeared she had not even left for work that morning.
It was then, just after 5:30, that Rob had gone to Katy's room and asked her to help him check the house from top to bottom, for any sign of her mother. Everything was in perfectly normal condition until Rob noticed something odd in the bedroom. Their bedroom had a large storage closet that they used for seasonal clothing and it usually held a couple of suitcases. When Rob checked the closet he realized that one of the suitcases was missing. He and Katy began looking closer around the bedroom and discovered that some of Erin's clothes appeared to be gone, along with the majority of her cosmetics. Katy checked her mother's dresser drawers and said it appeared that some of her lingerie was also missing.
Once Rob and Katy determined that some of Erin's things were gone along with her, Rob decided to call all of Erin's family and friends, to see if anyone knew where she might have gone. It took Rob almost an hour to reach them all and determine that nobody had heard anything from Erin that day. In particular Rob asked Erin's friends if she had said anything about taking a trip or going somewhere. They all said she had not mentioned anything unusual.
By that time it was after 6:30 and Rob was desperate. He went to the homes of their neighbors on both sides and the one directly across the street to ask if anyone had seen Erin. No one had noticed her that day at all. At 7 o'clock Rob called 911 and asked for the police. They told him a car would be dispatched as soon as one became available. For the next half-hour Rob and Katy sat on the sofa telling each other that everything would be all right.
A little after 7:30 a Duluth police car pulled up outside of the house, and two officers, a man and woman, came to the door. Officers Ben Johnson and Liz Aikman came in to take Rob's report. Rob explained to them that he had come home and found that his wife was not in the house and that she had not gone to work as planned, that her car was still in the garage, and that a suitcase and some clothing were also missing. As he explained the situation he noticed that the two officers glanced at each other several times.
After explaining things to the officers, Rob offered to get a picture of Erin. It was then that they told him it wasn't necessary, as they couldn't proceed with a missing person's report for Erin until she had been gone for 24 hours at least. Since no one could say that she had not disappeared until late in the afternoon, it wouldn't be until that time the following day that they could actually file the report.
Officer Johnson asked Rob to call again the next afternoon "if she still hadn't been heard from." At that point Katy started crying, insisting that the police had to find her mother. Officer Aikman tried to talk to her and explained that sometimes adults just needed to get away for a little while, but Katy was inconsolable, and ran to her room crying. Rob found there was nothing he could say to the officers that would change their minds, and they finally left about 8 o'clock.
That evening and night were almost unbearable for Rob had Katy. Rob called anyone else he could think of to see if they knew anything about Erin's disappearance. No one knew a thing, and soon Rob was fielding phone calls from friends and relatives calling back, concerned about Erin's whereabouts. By midnight the calls ceased and Rob finally was able to get Katy to go to bed. He spent the night on the sofa, most of the time awake and trying to think of any other place she could have gone.
Their morning began early, with both Rob and Katy both up at 6:30 a.m. Katy said she had slept a little while and Rob knew that he had dozed off a few times over the night. They both had a cup of coffee to help them become more alert, and then sat at the kitchen table going over the details of the night before. Rob decided that they should try and determine exactly what clothing and other items were missing from the house. After they got dressed Rob took a notepad and the two of them began to walk around the house carefully checking all of the drawers, shelves and tabletops for items that were missing. The only thing they could agree on was that a new photo of the three of them that had been on an end table in the living room was not there now.
Once they had completed checking the rest of the house they went to the master bedroom that Rob and Erin shared. They began checking the storage closet first. The only thing they could be sure of was that one suitcase was gone. The clothing stored in that closet was for the summer so it was not surprising to Rob that it all seemed to be accounted for. Katy determined exactly which cosmetics were gone, and made that list. Together Rob and Katy checked the closet and the lingerie drawer and made what they felt was a reasonably good list of which items of clothing were missing. Katy also noted that some socks and two pairs of shoes were missing as well as her purse.
Neither of them felt particularly hungry so lunch was a very informal affair. Katy made them each a sandwich and Rob poured cold drinks for both of them. After she had finished eating Katy asked Rob if he thought her mother had left them. Rob was quite indignant that Katy could even ask that question and assured her that there was no reason that her mother would want to leave without telling her. Katy seemed to realize how her question had bothered her father, and came over to give him a hug and say she was sorry she had asked him such a thing.
Just after 3 p.m. Rob phoned the police and asked for the missing person's department. This led to his first encounter with Detective Eric Maki. Detective Maki had the first preliminary report from the two officers who had attended the night before. He told Rob that since Erin was still gone he would come by and make a formal report. He pulled up outside their home just before 4 o'clock.
Rob was ready for him, and had two recent photographs of Erin as well as a list of the items she had apparently taken with her. From the beginning Rob was able to see that Detective Maki didn't put much store in Rob's insistence that someone had forced Erin to leave. After taking Rob's statement he said that he was afraid it looked like she had simply left on her own. He hadn't heard of anyone ever kidnapping or forcibly taking a person against their will, who stopped to let them pack a suitcase or grab their purse. He said he would submit his report, but that they shouldn't expect too much to happen.
Rob tried repeatedly to get Detective Maki to change his attitude towards Erin's disappearance, but it was all to no avail. Detective Maki finally left just after five, promising only to enter her name as a missing person and notify police in the surrounding jurisdictions. As he drove away Rob and Katy were both in tears. They spent another anxious evening and sleep deprived night.
The following several days were pretty much a blur for Rob. Neither he nor Katy left the house unattended in case Erin should call home. Rob took the rest of that week off by using some vacation credits, and Katy stayed home from school. By the beginning of the following week they both realized they had to begin to get back to their normal habits. On that Monday they began the routine they still kept to.
During the second week Rob and Katy prepared missing person posters that included two photos of Erin as well as a physical description of her, and gave Rob's cell phone number as well as the numbers for the Duluth police. They spent the second weekend that she was gone putting up posters around Duluth and Superior, Wisconsin, as well as traveling south as far as Cloquet and north to Two Harbors. They put up the posters in every store, gas station and restaurant that would allow them to.
In the three months since she disappeared not a word had been heard from Erin, and no one had called with an explanation of what happened to her. There were a lot of false alarms that gave them reason to hope, only to dash those hopes when the police checked them out. Now even the false alarms and crank calls weren't coming in any more.
Rob was still seated in his recliner when Katy came out to say goodnight at 11 p.m. "I bet you're still thinking of Mom, aren't you, Dad? You should try to get a good night's sleep, so that you won't be so tired every day," said Katy.
Rob looked up at his daughter who was standing beside his chair. She could see there were tears in his eyes as he said, "I just can't help it, Katy. I know she didn't just leave us like the police seem to think, but I just can't understand how she could vanish the way she did. I'm sure somebody took her, but how can we ever prove that to the police, and how can we find her?"
"I believe in my heart that she's going to come back to us someday, Dad. I just have this feeling that she's alive, and she wants to be with us. Maybe we have to start putting more of our own signs up, so that if someone has seen her they can phone us."
"I really wish I had done that as soon as she disappeared, Katy. I just trusted the police too much. I never believed they would just ignore her being gone. They just don't know her like we do," said Rob. "You get to bed now, Honey. You have an exam in the morning."
Katy said good night to her father and went to bed. Rob stayed seated for another five minutes, staring at the ceiling and blinking away his tears, before he got up and went to bed as well.
Tuesday, June 10th started like any other day in the Walsh household. Rob was up at his usual time and was dressed and ready to go to work by 7:30. He woke up Katy before he left and made sure she was out of bed before he said goodbye. She would make her own breakfast and leave for school at 8:45.
As was his usual habit, Rob called Katy on her cell phone at 8:30 to make sure she was on schedule to be at school on time. When she answered he said, "Hi there, sweetheart. I'm just checking to make sure that you're going to be ready to go on time."
"Dad, you don't need to worry so much about me. You know I'm going to be there on time, especially today. Only two more exams after today and my year will be finished. I'll see you tonight for supper," Katy replied.
Rob worked at his usual breakneck pace throughout the day, stopping only for a couple of cups of coffee and a late lunch break. He enjoyed his job and because of that the day normally flew by quickly. He was able to write a lot of code and get most of it debugged before he left at 4:30. The trip home was not the problem it had been the day before, and he was in the house just after 5 p.m.