Official Site of Speaker, Historian and Author Sean Munger

Missing Persons

Disappeared: Leah Roberts, missing 13 years.

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Did you find this article after viewing an episode of Disappeared on Investigation Discovery? You may be interested in some other missing persons cases with equally compelling stories who have not been featured on TV, like Alan MorseJay PringleStevie BatesEdward Dubbs. Maybe you have a tip that could help!

On March 9, 2000, 23-year-old Leah Roberts, who had recently dropped out of college, left her hometown of Durham, North Carolina in her 1993 Jeep Cherokee and set out for the Pacific Northwest, specifically Whatcom County, Washington. One of Leah’s favorite books was Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac which describes a soul-searching trip in that area. Leah’s friends and family definitely believed she was looking for some sort of meaning. Her parents had recently died and Leah herself had escaped death several years before in an automobile accident.

Before leaving her apartment, Leah scribbled a note to her roommate. It was quite specifically an anti-suicide note, assuring her that she was not thinking of ending her life, but that she was emulating Kerouac’s writings. She brought her cat with her, thus also making a suicidal motive for her trip unlikely.

Leah’s Charley Project file describes what happened:

Roberts’s vehicle was discovered wrecked and abandoned on a logging road in Whatcom County, Washington on March 18, 2000, nine days after she left North Carolina. The Jeep was located near an embankment off of Mount Baker Highway at the foot of the Cascade Mountains, which is approximately 85 miles north of Seattle, Washington. Authorities discovered a fuel purchase receipt dated during the early morning hours of March 13 from Brooks, Oregon inside Roberts’s vehicle. A ticket stub for a March 13 showing of the film American Beauty at the theater in Bellis Fair Mall in Bellingham, Washington was also recovered. Cat food was found inside the Jeep as well. Roberts’s guitar, compact discs and checkbook were scattered near the scene. $2,500 was tucked inside a pair of her pants. Blankets had been placed over the vehicle’s broken windows, signaling that someone had sought protection from the elements. There was no sign of Roberts or her kitten at the scene and no evidence of foul play was discovered.

The clues left behind in the car have created an almost insoluble mystery surrounding Leah Roberts. Although the car looked like it had crashed, it didn’t seem like a person was inside at the time of the impact–thus suggesting that perhaps she (or someone else) deliberately sent it off the road, driverless, for what reason we cannot guess. In fact, in late 2006 investigators found evidence that the car was tampered with in a way that suggested it was sent off the road by itself. But why? What do the blankets mean? Did someone else come along later and camp in the wrecked car? If so, why didn’t they find the $2500?

There are reports of a woman resembling Leah being seen at a gas station in Everett, Washington, disoriented, about the time the car may have crashed. We can’t know for sure, but it might have been her. Was she wandering around after escaping the crash? If so, what happened to her after that?

Like the case of Bradyn Fuksa, Leah Roberts’s disappearance was profiled on the investigation Discovery channel show “Disappeared,” and has thus engendered a considerable amount of fairly recent publicity. The “Disappeared” show referred to new DNA evidence that had been found among Leah’s belongings, but if that evidence has (since 2010) led to any break in the case, I haven’t heard about it.

This one is definitely a brain-breaker as far as missing persons cases are concerned. Hopefully it will be solved someday and Leah’s family will gain some closure on whatever happened to her up in Washington 13 years ago.


  1. Alex

    I wonder if she ran into Isaac Keyes? He may have a been in the area at that time. Maybe should check the FBI timeline and send in a tip to them if it looks like a possibility.

  2. Wendy

    There’s no way Leah was in that car nor could she have been in the store ‘bewildered’ . The large amount of debris and personal items would have been thrown about and struck here somewhere. She would have been bruised everywhere about her body and face; it would have been obvious to witnesses in the store had she been there. Too, the little kittle would have died, as there was no carrier in the vehicle. If the kitten was free to roam the car, it would have been thrown about. If a vagrant had camped in the car, they would have taken all personal goods worth anything–the ring and money were there. Somebody didn;t want their Dna/fingerprints to show in the car, so they didn’t pilfer through it. No blood anywhere means no one was behind the wheel. I think the person was known to the area and would have been recognized if they were spotted driving the vehicle. it would have been in their best interest to get rid of the Jeep. I believe they don’t live far from the scene, as they would have had to walk home or to a place where they can call someone to pick them up. Was the seat moved up or out that’s not befitting Leah? So many unanswered questions. . . ..

    • Also, Brooks, Or. is nearly 5 hours from the movie theater. She would have to be familiar with her route to complete this task alone. I know this given my knowledge of the area. So, what was the movie ticket time? It also appeared the ring had the main stone removed from it.( just a t.v. observation). My thoughts of one possibility is that she was not in the jeep when it was posed as a crash. The “orchestrator” of the seen put the window(cloth) covers up to further weave the ruse. This would account for the valuables left behind(very hot evidence to be caught with). The deviant people spread very thinly amongst the masses can blend well. The general gloom of the Pacific Northwest is a ominous backdrop for such a creepy scenario to befall a free spirit. Many killers are often well read and educated(possibly self) and could have just overheard her talking about her favorite book. Follow the ticket, find the holder, question the movie goers.(kinda late). Someone out there saw her with another individual. Or this spineless predator might have the ball’s to pick on someone who’s a challenge. Stories like this sicken me, and in recent years I’ve committed my time to refining my detective skills to mainly missing persons. Everyone out there, especially women, be aware and if you want to exercise, take self defense courses. There are many you can dance to! Be safe, and share viable thought’s. J
      PS I’m new to this case( I should read up before I talk!)

  3. Trina

    The guy they supposedly found fingerprints for, is probably their best suspect.

    He obviously knows what happened. Why else would he flee to Canada?!

    • ArisMuffin

      According the program the fingerprints didn’t match the guy in Canada, but they are (or were) hoping the male DNA they finally found on Leah’s belongings would match him. I don’t know if there’s an update on that. The guy in Canada just fits too well, though. Since, as a previous post pointed out, whoever sent the car off the road would either have to walk out or get a ride out, it seems entirely plausible that this was more than one person. Hopefully, with fingerprints and DNA in the database, they’ll get a hit on one or the other.

      • Cindy Lahti

        That makes a lot of sense. How did someone leave the crash site without a ride or being seen? Just sayin’.

  4. For the family of Leah, I just watched the program (Feb. 19, 2014) “Disappeared”. I am hoping and praying for you and Leah. Have there been any new reports on this case?

    • No new developments that I am aware of, unfortunately.

    • I sense my ignorance bothers you. Perhaps there are some hyper links or sites that you feel are pertinent to the case, as you seem to be close to the situation. ( I could have said family, but I’m not assuming! ) I am very familiar with the Pacific N.W. and Canada! Getting my provisional PI license, so all missing cases interest me. Unfortunately, jurisdictionally, what a nightmare getting him in a chair to Q. .Apologies, I was making a statement after a TV show, but my thought’s always direct me to viable gavel dropping lock’em up evidence. My hope’s are only the best for the Family and obviously Leah. J.S. . Someone will remember something important, or a conscience will do the right thing. Fresh eye’s, etc. Be strong all, many people you don’t know care, Jeff

  5. Doug

    Contact Det. Vinson in Marysville Wa. and show him the drawing of the guy who the Canada guy described. It looks a lot like a guy I know who is a suspect in the murder of a young girl there. Same hair and he told me he had big earrings while he lived out that way. He was there at that time and moved back east not long afterward.

  6. I DO NOT UNDERSSTAND , FOUND THE ĐIP CAR CLOTHES ALL .Why police somewhere ,second place. Found car broken it is possible followed .Solely …..Direction some deliberately false direction sent .Car fond and clothes all ….. She somewhere else ,…. Wrong path directed someone is deliberately …. Hide the trail …

  7. She is no longer around unfortunely how could she survived 14 years s with no money or shelter shoe didn’t know anyone in that area she left all that money behind why would anyone leave 2;500 dollars so she had no money someone must have killed her to leave all her personal things

  8. They did find the money, $2400 in her clothes.

  9. Cuckoobananas

    I think she wanted a fresh start with life, so left everything behind. I’m going to guess, she dropped her cat off at a shelter, and she herself crashed her car and just left. As selfish as that sounds, some people just want a fresh start.. I’m hoping she contacts her sister one day just to let her know she’s alive and well.

    And “Copper” She could have had money on her. You would be surprised how people can survive with next to nothing.

    • Jared

      As much as I would like to agree that she did this for a fresh start in life, it seems very very unlikely for a number of reasons. Firstly you have to assume she crashed the car herself on purpose and this would appear to be a pretty sadistic act considering the worry it would cause her family, I don’t see the reason for totalling the car if she just wanted to disappear (its clear that with no blood or body that there is no way people would consider the crash fatal). Secondly you have to believe she would leave all her possessions including a large amount of cash and her dead mothers wedding ring behind which by all accounts she held very dear. And lastly with no activity on her accounts or identity it stretches credulity to think she is alive and well.

      It is possible that she started a whole new life, anything is possible, but the likelihood of her fashioning a whole new identity is very low. One would think the very least she would do is take the untraceable cash with her and unless she stole an amount of money or an amount of money was given to her there is no way she had any cash on her, we know this as we know her account was untouched and all her cards were never used again.

      Sad to say but the whole situation screams foul play to me. Let’s not forget the car was shown to be tampered with so it could accelerate without anyone being in it. We can discount robbery as a motive and we know Leah had no known enemies, consequently the only motive we are left with is a sexual motive and this correlates with Leah being missing. The presence of the blankets over the windows has confused people. Its my view that the blankets were covering the windows before they were broken in the crash, they were not put there afterwards. I believe Leah was sleeping in her car this night with her cat, spending the night in the woods. I believe the suspect followed her up there or had prior knowledge she would be there (perhaps one of the men she ate with in the bar?). The suspect has subsequently attacked her as she slept in the car (note the damage done to the car door, looks very much like something was used to pry the door open). I do not believe the attack happened in the car but I do believe that Leah was kidnapped, perhaps at gunpoint, and attacked at another location. The suspect has then taken the body somewhere known only to him. As I see it the crash was clearly set up as a hoax and a ‘clean’ kidnapping is the only explanation for the fcat we have no trace of Leah in the vicinity at all. The main suspect would appear to be the guy who gave the suspiciously detailed account of Leah leaving with another guy. That his fingerprints do not match the hood of the car might just mean he did not act alone.

      If Leah were alive she would have contacted her parents or friends by now. This girl did not want to disappear and if she did at the very least she would have taken the ring and cash.

  10. Rob

    I have watched and read a lot about this case, and I have a few thoughts about it. I think the previously mentioned theory of her sleeping in the car and being suddenly attacked and removed from the scene is the most likely. For all we know, the car may have been ditched weeks or months later, or before even leaving the scene. I haven’t heard any mention of the possibility that Gary Ridgway was involved, either. This occurred a good 18 months or more before he was arrested, and wasn’t this his general area of operation, give or take? Although, knowing what I do about him I don’t know if he’d have gone to the bother of staging a scene with the vehicle like this was. He was more single-minded and arrogant in his MO. Just a thought, though.
    When are young women going to learn that the world is a dangerous place for them? Much as we would like it to be a world where a young lady can travel across the country alone, free of danger, it just isn’t the case. She should never have attempted this trip alone, or without regular check-ups with her friends and family. Having said that, she kind of made a dangerous situation even more perilous by advertising her situation to strangers. Tsk, tsk, tsk. Not smart at all. I hope there will be a resolution for the family one day soon. It has to be frustrating and agonizing to not know what happened.

  11. Robert Bluck

    Leah’s state of mind was off key. She was on an escapism adventure. Because she was young, slim, female and good looking, I doubt she survived her adventure. They either meet decent people and survive or the oppodite abd die. Leah is dead.

  12. Rose White

    I wonder about the fingerprints they found under the hood. Is it possible those prints belong to Leah’s mechanic back in North Carolina? I mean, did someone check out her car before she went on her trip and left their prints there? Did she get her oil changed recently? I am just saying that it really not at all unusual for a man’s prints to wind up the hood of someone else’s car. In fact, I would be surprised if all of us did not have some guy’s fingerprints under the hood of our cars. A man with greasy fingers opens it when he changes your oil, and then most people never clean the underpart of the hood of their car.

    Whoever tampered with Leah’s car was likely wearing gloves. This is a man who left diamonds and cash behind. He was careful about evidence. Your run-of-the-mill criminal would have ransacked that car looking for valuables. This guy was not focused on that at all.

    I think Leah was sleeping in her car up on the mountain that night and some man happened upon her. People who are new to sleeping in their cars sometimes do not appreciate the paradox of the ordeal: sleeping in your car “out in the middle of nowhere” actually brings more attention to you. You’re better off crashing on a suburban street. So Leah is out on a logging road with blankets and towels covering the car, which just screams that someone is in there sleeping. I see two possibilities – that someone Leah met earlier that day knew of her plans, or that some creep just happened to come across Leah. Either way Leah was abducted at gunpoint (which is why there is no evidence of a struggle). The perp either murdered Leah rather soon, had an accomplice, or tied her up. He then tampered with the car and sent it over the edge of the ravine, thinking it might make it look like Leah was in an accident.

    Anyway, the fact that the man at the cafe’s prints do not match those under Leah’s hood mean nothing to me. I could see plenty of perfectly reasonable (and incredibly common) reasons why there would be some man’s prints under the hood. I can also see plenty of men in the Bellingham area having a gun of some sort along with other supplies in their truck at all times, including gloves.

  13. Andy Everett

    Sorry I’m late to this but I’ve just watched the Disappeared episode and like everyone can’t stop thinking about it. A thought. The tampered vehicle might accelerate on its own but it certainly won’t steer. The road camber and wear on the tires might make it deviate a bit but otherwise I’d assume it would go in a fairly straight line before a curve in the road brought it to the edge and then into the ravine. The point of all this is that the actual crime scene would be on the verge maybe 100 meters/ yards back up the road from the crash site and most probably on the right hand side. Not at the crash site. Unless she was somehow kidnapped or he took her body with him, leaving incriminating evidence in his car and still having a disposal problem, I’d look in the woods a short way from the road edge.

  14. Elli Mae

    This is my first time to your site:) Very interesting points of view. I too, like the others have recently become so intrigued and interested in learning more and more about crime scenes, esp. “Missing Person” cases. God bless all of the suffering victims, their friends and families and those who’ve dedicated their lives to helping solve these cases!!! , Elli

  15. jeff

    My theory- Leah was bored and fed up with her old life. She wanted wanted a fresh start. She enjoyed the idea of leaving NC in a mysterious fashion. She staged the crash and her death in Northern Washington. She left the money in her vehicle for it to seem more plausible. Canyon Creek Rd (the site of the crash) is less than 5 miles from the Canadian border and an hour and a half from Vancouver. She could not enter Canada in her vehicle without leaving a trace with border patrol. She crashed her car and either walked or hitched a ride into Canada. She is living in Canada as healthy as can be in her new life. She still enjoys the mysterious fashion in which she surrendered her old life and started over fresh.

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