MISSING: Leah Roberts, Bellingham, Washington State, USA (Part One)

MISSING: Leah Roberts, Bellingham, Washington State, USA (Part One)

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Missing Persons Bio of Leah Toby Roberts

MISSING: Leah Roberts, Bellingham, Washington, DC, USA

Name: Leah Toby Roberts

DOB: 23rd July 1976

Age: Leah was 23 when she went missing, she would be 43 today.

Hair colour: Blonde, but she did have various hairstyles and colours (see photos)

Eye colour: Blue eyes

Height: 5ft 6in (1.68m)

Weight: 9st 12oz (130lbs)

Identifying characteristics: At the time of her disappearance her hair was sandy blonde cut into a bob. She had a big, beautiful smile, a surgical scar on her right hip, a metal rod the length of her right femur which was inserted after a recent car accident, a beauty mark above her upper lip (left side if you were looking directly at her), and pierced ears.

Leah is a known vegetarian, and smoker. She speaks with a Southern accent (South Carolina), can speak fluent Spanish and was last known to be wearing 14-carat gold earrings with ruby stones (0.3 carats), three rings on her right hand which included a 14-carat white gold ring set that had a 45-carat emerald cut diamond and two 0.7 carat baguette style diamonds. This jewellery was not found amongst her possessions at home, nor was it found in her car which leads family and investigators to believe she was wearing them at the time of her disappearance.

Leah was also said to have owned her mother’s engagement ring which she always wore. We haven’t been able to confirm which of the rings above were her mother’s engagement ring, but her family have told media and investigators that Leah would never willingly remove this ring as it’s seen to be a close connection to her mother.

Hometown: Durham, North Carolina, USA

Place Leah was living before disappearance: Raleigh/Durham, North Carolina, USA

Occupation: Was a Student at North Carolina University, Rayleigh in 1995. She studying Anthropology and Spanish but had recently dropped out.

Marital Status: Single

Missing since: 13th March 2000

Length of time missing: 20 years

Clothing last seen wearing: Unknown

Last confirmed sighting: In a food court in Bellis Fair Mall, Bellingham, Washington on 13th March 2000. 

Vehicle Description: Leah was last seen driving a white 1993 Jeep Cherokee with the license plated JVP-2881, a similar model is pictured below. There are photos of Leah’s actual vehicle which was found abandoned at the bottom of an embankment 30 miles outside Bellingham, Washington State.

Misc Information: Leah had her kitten, Bea, with her when she went missing. Leah’s kitten hasn’t been seen since and there have been no reports of a stray kitten being picked up in the area.

Case Status: COLD

Case Background

Leah is the youngest of three children. Leah has an older brother named, Heath, and a sister, Kara, who is only two years older than her.

MISSING: Leah Roberts, Bellingham, Washington, DC, USA (Part One)
Kara (L), and Leah (R) Image Credit: Find Leah Roberts Website

When Leah was 17 years old, her father was diagnosed with a chronic lung illness, which impacted the family. In 1995, when Leah (20 years old at the time) was a Sophomore at North Carolina university, her mother sadly passed away with undetected heart disease. Leah took the death of her mother extremely hard.

Leah took a break from studying to deal with her own grief at losing her mother at such a young age, she returned in the Fall of 1998. Not long after her return to university, Leah was involved in a profoundly serious car accident when a truck turned in front of her and she could not brake in time to avoid slamming into it. She was severely injured in the crash which resulted in a punctured lung and the shattering of her right femur. Surgeons inserted a metal rod the length of her femur after her accident, this was to help the bones heal.

It was this accident that gave Leah a different perspective on life. She told her sister, Kara, that she thought she was going to die, and to have survived such a horrific accident, she felt she had been reborn. She did not want to waste another moment of her life when it could be snatched away from her again in an instant.

Following this, in 1999, Leah signed up to undertake field study abroad. She went to Costa Rica in 1999, but unfortunately, Leah’s father devastatingly died from his chronic lung illness. This was just a mere three weeks before the trip was due to take place. Leah did go on the trip, along with her roommate and friend, Nicole. Nicole reported that Leah did not outwardly seem to be dealing with the death of her beloved father in the usual ways. Instead, she went full steam ahead immersing herself in the local culture and undertaking activities. Bear in mind, we all deal with grief in vastly different ways and this could have been Leah’s way of coping with losing both parents at such a young age, and her own near-death experience.

Shift in Behaviour

Leah’s friends and family, did, however, notice a change in her personality and behaviour. It did not immediately give cause for concern. Leah began to withdraw from close friends and family members. She began spending more time meeting new people, dropping out of university with only one semester left before she was due to graduate, despite her brother trying to change her mind. He tried to convince her that with only mere months left until graduation then she would have a degree to fall back on, but Leah had no interest.

MISSING: Leah Roberts, Bellingham, Washington, DC, USA (Part One)
Image Credit: Disappeared – Soul Searchers Documentary

Leah had money from the inheritance left to her from her parents, she also had her own money saved up. She purchased a guitar and began to take lessons; she also began showing a keen interest in photography and writing. She adopted a kitten, named Bea (we have been unable to find photos of Bea) and would spend copious amounts of time in local coffee shops where she would interact with the other patrons, write in her journal and write her own poetry. She met several new people at this time who all said she was incredibly open about what she was going through and what she wanted to do with her life.

Going off the Grid?

Leah became really interested in the work of Jack Kerouac, an American novelist, and poet (according to his website). One of his most famous novels is called, “On the Road”, which he wrote during several cross-country trips with a friend. The book covers Jack’s travels cross-country which is something Leah was interested in doing herself. She specifically wanted to visit Desolation Peak, which is somewhere Jack, himself, had visited. Leah had discussed with friends that she wanted to follow in Jack’s footsteps and asked Nicole if she would like to go with her on a cross-country trip. Nicole had responsibilities and could not go with her.

On 9th March 2000, Leah spoke to her sister, Kara, on the phone. She had also spoken to Nicole about babysitting the following evening. Leah did not show up to babysit with Nicole and despite not being overly worried, Nicole contacted Kara to ask if she had spoken to Leah and if she knew where she was. Kara came to the home Nicole and Leah shared and noticed that Leah packed up her clothing and other personal items, including her kitten, Bea, and taken her Jeep Cherokee.

MISSING: Leah Roberts, Bellingham, Washington, DC, USA (Part One)
Desolation Peak View Image Credit: Evergreen Endurance

Kara had visited stores and coffee shops she knew her sister frequented, to see if anyone would know where Leah may have gone. Kara was unable to locate anyone that may have given her an indication of where Leah may have gone. Kara had originally thought that Leah had decided to take a trip alone and had not told anyone. Leah had suffered the immeasurable loss in just a few short years, she was only 22 when she became orphaned and almost lost her own life. Kara thought that perhaps she had taken a trip to find herself and deal with the internal pain of losing both her parents and almost losing her own life.

By Monday 13th March 2000, Kara was concerned that Leah had not made contact so contacted Durham Police Department to file a missing person’s report on her little sister. The police immediately acted on it, they were able to get the make and model of Leah’s vehicle, a physical description, and the places Leah would frequent.

The police made contact with one of Leah’s friends from the coffee shops she frequented, Janine Quiller, who told them of Leah’s desire to visit Desolation Peak following in Jack Kerouac’s footsteps.

Cheshire Cat

cheshire
Image Credit: Reddit

 

When searching her sister’s room, Kara came across a few cryptic notes and a drawing of a smile depicted by the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland. Leah loved the movie Alice in Wonderland and Kara thought the drawing was significant as the cat would disappear and reappear.

There was a note found in which Leah had written of her desire to travel, she also wrote,

“I’m not suicidal, I’m the opposite. Remember Kerouac.”

The note wasn’t left in an obvious spot, so it was felt that this note wasn’t something that was intentionally left but was just one of Leah’s many writings. Also, there were several hundred dollars left in the apartment to cover a month’s worth of rent and utilities for Nicole.

Planned Trip

Following the discovery of the money, Kara felt Leah had planned to leave on a trip and had left of her own accord. Given that there was only a month’s worth of expenses left for Nicole, Kara felt Leah would plan to return in a month. Kara had the power of attorney over her sister’s bank account following the trip Leah took to Costa Rica, so she decided to check to see if Leah had used her debit card. It was later discovered that Leah had withdrawn $3000 from her bank account on 9th March 2000 and she had also used her debit card that night to pay for a hotel room near Memphis, Tennessee. After that Leah appeared to be using cash to pay for purchases that didn’t include gas as she was still using her debit card for gas purchases.

MISSING: Leah Roberts, Bellingham, Washington, DC, USA (Part One)
Possible routes Leah could have taken

 

Memphis, Tennessee is approximately 11 hours and 15 minutes from Raleigh, North Carolina where Leah was living. Leah would have passed through Durham, Greensboro, Winston – Salem, Hickory, Asheville, Knoxville, Cookeville, Nashville, and Jackson before arriving at Memphis, if she took the I-40 W route. This route would have passed by the outskirts of Cherokee National Forest, and if she had taken a slightly longer route via I-81 S she would have passed through Kingsport (this would be instead of passing through Hickory and Asheville). Another route she could have taken would be the I-85 S and I-22 which would have taken her approximately 11 hours and 51 minutes which would have taken her an entirely different route via Charlotte, Spartanburg, Greenville, Anderson, Birmingham, Tupelo, and Southaven. She would also have been along the route of Chattahoochee National Forest.

It was confirmed through Leah’s debit card usage that she was travelling west along I-40 W. this ends in California and at that time Leah turned North heading along I-5 where the last traceable purchases for Leah occurred just after midnight on the morning of 13th March 2000, the same day Leah’s sister, Kara reported her missing. Leah’s final debit card payment showed her purchasing gas in Brooks, Oregon.

MISSING: Leah Roberts, Bellingham, Washington, DC, USA (Part One)
CCTV Footage showing Leah Roberts in Oregon gas station. Image Credit: Disappeared: Soul Searcher documentary

 

Kara also spoke to Jeanine Quiller about Desolation Peak and it confirmed to her that Leah’s purchases depicted Leah had made it to the Pacific Northwest and she was going to reach Desolation Peak. However, following the morning of the 13th, there was no further activity. When Kara spoke to Jeanine, she advised Kara that she knew Leah had a large quantity of cash on her and it could be possible that Leah was just using that instead of using her debit card.

Recovery of Leah’s Vehicle on 18th March 2000

On Kara’s 26th birthday she hoped her sister would call, but heard nothing. Instead, she arrived home to find a note from Durham County Sheriff’s department requesting that Kara call Whatcom County Sheriff in Bellingham, Washington.

Kara called to be told that Leah’s Jeep Cherokee had been discovered abandoned and smashed up on the side of a road 30 miles east of Bellingham, Washington. Leah and her kitten, Bea, were nowhere to be found. The jeep was found in the early hours of the 18th March 2000 by a couple jogging along Canyon Creek Road, a side street of Mount Baker Highway. The road is mostly used by logging businesses and larger trucks going to and from the businesses and isn’t a road usually frequented by locals or others passing through.

The couple noticed clothing scattered around the wilderness and had grown curious as to where it had all came from. The clothing was found at a sharp curve in the road leading to an upward incline. The couple found more clothes, a passport, and a driver’s license. When they investigated further they saw Leah’s jeep at the bottom of an embankment by the side of a road. It was surmised that the jeep had gone off the edge of the embankment and tumbled down which is what led to the damage to the vehicle.

Crime scene investigators determined that the vehicle was only moving at 30 – 40 mph. They determined this by surveying the damage to the trees and ground in the surrounding area, as well as, the dents and smashed-out windows of the Jeep. They estimated the vehicle had rolled down the embankment before coming to a stop at the bottom. Something wasn’t adding up with the accident.

Based on the amount of damage to the vehicle there would be no possible way someone could walk away from the vehicle. There were no tracks found or any sign of anyone outside of the scattered items of clothing.

The windows which had been smashed out had been covered up with blankets and pillows which led police to wonder if someone had spent time in the vehicle following the crash. They weren’t sure if this was Leah, but Detective McFadden was reported to have said that the speed of the vehicle and the amount of damage meant that there would be some type of injury to the person inside and at least some type of evidence to indicate there had been contact damage. There was no known damage to the steering wheel, the seat belts didn’t appear to be overstretched, no signs of blood evidence, and no evidence in the surrounding area that anyone had sought out help or was lying somewhere unable to move for some time.

Searching

The police checked in with local hospitals to see if anyone matching Leah’s description had checked in or been admitted the past few days with injuries that may have been sustained in a car accident. There had been nothing in the previous 5 days, and police couldn’t rule out foul play was involved.

Locals are said to be known to have a few too many alcoholic drinks and crash their cars and would leave them a few days before reporting it to the police so it wasn’t uncommon. However, Leah wasn’t a local, and Leah’s license plates were from North Carolina which meant police would have immediately known the car was from out of state, prompting them to contact police departments in North Carolina to find out that the car belonged to Leah.

MISSING: Leah Roberts, Bellingham, Washington, DC, USA (Part One)
Image Credit: Reddit

 

Leah’s remaining personal effects that were still in her vehicle were her guitar, chequebook, CDs, cat food for Bea, and a cat carrier. With the absence of any blood evidence, or any other evidence other than blankets and pillows covering the windows, the police thought the crash could have been staged and that perhaps Leah wasn’t in the vehicle when it went down the embankment.

There was nothing to indicate the wheel was tied, or that it was pushed off the road. There was no evidence from the back of the vehicle that someone had pushed it off the road.

Police gathered up the items and sent the Jeep for processing. They searched the surrounding area with Search and Rescue teams, tracker dogs and helicopters, but came up with nothing. The teams scoured the entire area.

Leah’s brother and sister travelled to the crash site, and when police explained how the vehicle had been found, Leah’s brother, Heath, was noted as saying he didn’t agree with the police’s theory that Leah couldn’t have walked away without injury.

Suspicious Items

When Leah’s Jeep was processed there were several items found. Inside the pocket of one pair of Leah’s pants, they found $2,500 in cash which meant Leah would have only spent $500 of the $3,000 she had lifted before she began her trip. However, this isn’t to say that Leah didn’t already have extra cash on her before she lifted the $3,000 from her bank.

Leah’s mother’s engagement ring was found beneath one of the floor mats in the driver’s seat. This raised suspicions given that as previously mentioned, there is no way Leah would have removed this of her own accord. Leah’s siblings were really concerned at this discovery as they were adamant Leah wouldn’t remove this ring given how precious it was to her. Her friend, Nicole, also confirmed that she wore her mother’s engagement ring for as long as she had known Leah and claimed it was her most prized possession.

Foul Play?

The discovery of the money and the ring led police to believe that Leah may have become a victim of foul play in which robbery did not seem to be the motive. The police found one piece of significant evidence to help establish a timeline.

There was a memory box inside the Jeep which had a movie ticket stub dated 13th March 2000. It was for a 2:10 pm showing of the film American Beauty at Bellis Fair Mall, Bellingham, Washington. This meant Leah would have arrived in Bellingham at least 5 days before her Jeep had been discovered. There was no evidence Leah had stayed in a hotel during this time, which could be why her Jeep windows were covered with blankets and pillows.

MISSING: Leah Roberts, Bellingham, Washington, DC, USA (Part One)
Image Credit: Disappeared Soul Searcher Documentary

However, investigators wondered if something had happened to Leah shortly after she arrived in town and hoped that locals could help them further the timeline or figure out where Leah had gone. When the staff at Bellis Fair Mall have questioned no one at the movie theatre remembered seeing Leah. Kara visited the food court at the Mall and there was only one restaurant in the food court that would accommodate having a sit-down meal. Staff members did remember seeing Leah and that on the day she came in she had sat alone during her meal, then eventually men were sitting on either side of her.

Police appealed to the public for information, hoping to speak to two men who may have engaged in conversation with her at the time she was in the food court. One man did come forward and called the police directly to speak with them. He told them Leah had talked with him about Jack Kerouac and Desolation Peak. He described Leah as coming across as a very kind and open woman and that he enjoyed speaking with her, but he didn’t have any other information he could share other than a description of the man sitting to the other side of her.

Part 2 to follow (references will be available in part 2)

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