To truly explain why I chose to write about kidnapped children and serial killers, I must go back a few years to my first job as a newspaper reporter.
I worked at a small weekly newspaper in a Minnesota suburb writing about everything from the school board meetings to craft fairs to city ordinances on keeping chickens in the backyard.
One day a big story landed on my beat: A 19-year-old local girl who had joined the military had been abducted from a Texas military base. Traci had been talking on a pay phone on base when someone grabbed her and ran.
The story was astonishing and beyond disturbing.
I met with her father over coffee at a local café. I’ll never forget the look in his eyes as he told me about his shining star daughter, who was every parent’s dream child. Now missing.
I was struck to the core by this story. I thought about this teenage girl constantly. I even dreamed about her. A few weeks later, when they found her killer and he led police to her body, I cried.
My job was to write about Traci and I poured my heart and soul into it like I had never done on any story before.
I sat in the back at her funeral and wept. It was my all-consuming goal to write stories that did justice to this girl.
Later, I moved back to California for a newspaper job in Monterey. This time, it was a 13-year-old girl named Christina. She had been walking the family dog on the Fort Ord military base when she was abducted. Her father opened his doors to the media. I remember sitting alone in her girly pink bedroom, trying to find a way to do justice to her in my story and struck numb by the realization that she might never come home.
They found her body seven months later in a rural area on the base. Nobody was ever arrested.
As a reporter, I interviewed people like Jerry Seinfeld, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, and Clint Eastwood. But I also met people like Marc Klaas, whose 12-year-old daughter, Polly, was snatched out of her own bedroom during a slumber party by a man with a knife. Her killer was arrested and is on death row.
I also met Kim Swartz, whose daughter, Amber, was taken from their front yard. No trace of her has ever been found. (I’m going to come back to Amber’s case later in part three of this story.)
I began writing a series on cold cases – unsolved crimes. For one, I wrote about Nikki Campbell, who was taken while riding her bike to a friend’s house.
Even though I never met these girls, their faces and stories are permanently engraved on my heart.
The family I grew closest with was the aunt and grandmother of a little Vallejo girl, Xiana, who disappeared on her way to the bus stop.
In fact, I keep in touch with Xiana’s aunt to this day. We share a special bond. There is nobody else in this world that knows like she does what it was like to sit down face-to-face and talk to a monster that preyed on children. We both know the psychological impact that has had on us over the years and how it has affected us as people, and especially, as mothers.
This story — Xiana’s story — hit me the hardest. I had a hard time maintaining my reporter’s objectivity while I covered this story. I became friends with this family and spent countless hours with them, sometimes for a story, but more often just to be there with them in their efforts to find Xiana. I became consumed with her story and her kidnapping. Before they found her remains, something else happened: another little girl in her city was kidnapped. And escaped.
Her kidnapper, Curtis Dean Anderson, was caught and jailed. In jail, he began to give interviews to the press, including me.
Then, he told me he had been kidnapping and killing girls for 20 years …
Part Three to come next month..
If you missed it, you can catch Part One here.