Never ending the search

It took me a year to write my book, “The Last Place You’d Look.” I knew when I was interviewing families, police officers and others involved in finding and identifying the lost, that some of these cases might be solved by the time it hit the shelves. In fact, that was part of the reason I wrote it.

And indeed, two sets of remains were discovered before my book hit stores and another case had to have a postscript before the end of production — he’d been found. But this column isn’t about my book or even missing persons in general, but about how police throw themselves into a case and never stop working it.

The girl’s name was Laurie Depies. She was 20 and out on her own, with a job, an apartment and a boyfriend. Like many, she was struggling to make ends meet, saving money for the things she wanted, leaning on her parents a little.

Laurie, her straight hair cut at a fashionable angle, was last seen on the night of August 19, 1992, at the apartment complex where her boyfriend lived. She pulled her small car into the complex parking lot, but never made it to his apartment. A filled coffee container was found on top of the car, as if placed there while doing something else.

Police were called. In hindsight, representatives from the Town of Menasha admitted they could have done some things better — aren’t all investigations blessed with 20/20 hindsight? But overall, they did most things right. They processed Laurie’s car, canvassed the area, talked to anyone and everyone who had come in contact with her, interviewed her family and, most important of all, never gave up on the case.

When I attended Fox Valley Technical College’s annual conference Responding to Missing and Unidentified Persons in 2010 (I was on my way to the 2011 conference when I was stranded by snow and ice), I heard Town of Menasha Det. Mike Krueger make a presentation on the Laurie Depies case. He and Kim Skorlinski, a Wisconsin Justice Department special agent, spoke about the initial investigation, the stacks of case files they have developed in the course of the investigation, how they had stayed in touch with Laurie’s mother since her child vanished and how they were still working the case — 18 years later. They weren’t going to be satisfied until they found out what happened.

Although things could change by press time and they almost certainly will, a report in the Post Crescent and says that a new development has refocused the Town of Menasha’s investigation into the disappearance of Laurie Depies: A man named Larry DeWayne Hall has confessed to the abduction and murder of Menasha’s most well-known missing person.

Hall, believed to be a serial killer with victims all over the Midwest, perhaps even as far afield as Utah and states farther West, was tried and convicted of homicide in the slaying of a 15-year-old girl. He is currently serving time at the federal prison in Butner, N.C.

Town of Menasha Police have not ruled out that this, like many other paths they’ve followed, could lead nowhere. Investigators everywhere know how that works: Hot leads turn cold, memories change over time, what looks like a slam dunk suddenly doesn’t hold water. But the police officials talking to Hall seem to believe they have their man. Now they are trying to get Hall to tell them where Laurie is.

Although this story isn’t going to have the ending everyone hoped for, it looks like it will have an ending. Much due to the dogged persistence of a police department — and investigators — all of whom simply would not quit.