Looking at grisly photos of dead bodies is not the worst part for Renaye Leach.
Periodically, for decades, investigators have contacted her with information about and pictures of unidentified dead men to see whether she recognizes her missing brother.
The worst part is all of the “what ifs.” What if he was hurt? What if he was attacked by an animal? What if he suffered from amnesia and is still alive, not knowing who he is?
The questions have no answers. No one knows what happened to Randy Leach after Nov. 7, 1980, when he was last seen near an Idaho Falls dairy farm.
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“We know so much about the horrible, horrible, horrible things that happen to people,” Renaye Leach said. “You start to think about every horrible death that could have possibly happened to him.”
With almost no leads from the initial investigation, the only thing Bonneville County Sheriff Paul Wilde can say for sure is that no one on the farm hurt Leach. With no suspects and no trail, all that’s known is that Leach left the farm after staying there for two days.
A renewed effort to develop a clue about Leach’s disappearance is being led by Wisconsin’s Sheboygan County Sheriff’s Office in conjunction with the Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office and the Oregon State Police. The hope is to spark someone’s memory of the young man, at the time 20 years old, and lead to some undiscovered angle in his disappearance.
The Oregon State Police issued a news release Nov. 6 asking for the public’s help with information about the case.
Leach had blue eyes and a shock of wavy brown hair. At the time of his disappearance he was hitchhiking from his Wisconsin home to Bend, Ore., to visit Renaye.
He made stops in South Dakota to visit his grandmother before staying at the farm near Idaho Falls while Renaye and her husband settled into their new home in Oregon. Leach worked on the farm for a couple of days before grabbing a ride from the landowner to a junction so he could hitchhike to his sister’s house.
Thanksgiving of that year, Nov. 27, came and went, and Randy Leach was nowhere to be found.
The last time he spoke to any family members was when he called his mother to wish her a happy birthday on Nov. 6, 1980.
“It seemed very strange. Randy would never do this to our family,” Renaye Leach said.
A VERY COLD CASE
Wilde was working as a deputy when Leach was reported missing. Wilde didn’t respond to the initial call and hadn’t thought much about the case until he recently was contacted by Sheboygan officials.
Wilde tried to pull up the original detective’s notes from the 1980 case but found only blank microfiche — an old form of storing documents and photographs viewed using a special machine.
“All we have now are clippings from the Deseret News,” Wilde said.
At the time the Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office was the only agency investigating the case.
Oregon State Police Sgt. Keith Taylor said his agency was contacted back in 1980 to see whether Leach was seen at his destination in Bend.
“We put out the initial missing person report,” Taylor said. “But our part was really limited.”
The reports from the Deseret News depict a desperate and loving father, Dick Leach, tirelessly looking for information about his son’s whereabouts. In an August 1982 article, Dick Leach told the paper that he received a call from someone claiming to be his son. Dick Leach told the paper he didn’t think the call was authentic.
“He is now issuing a new appeal for the person to call again and either say it was a hoax or tell him the name of the family’s dog,” the newspaper reported.
Renaye Leach said her father and grandfather searched the Idaho Falls farm but found nothing. The owner of the farm told them that Leach had left a backpack behind containing several articles of clothing.
Wilde said the farmer and his farmhands were all interviewed and cleared of any possible wrongdoing. He said he knew the lead detective, Clyde Burgess, and his custom was to vet every interview and make sure nothing was missed. Leach seemed to have just packed up and continued his trip, Wilde said.
“There was nothing to indicate anything was going on there or foul play, just that he (Leach) moved on,” Wilde said.
Wilde said this is one of several cases in the region that he would like to see solved.
“The rule is do not get emotionally involved,” Wilde said. “But we suffer. We never feel exactly what the family is feeling ... but they never get that closure because they never got to say goodbye.”
Corey Norlander, Sheboygan County Sheriff’s Office detective, said he could not comment on the case because he is actively investigating it.
AN ADVENTURER’S SPIRIT
Leach had never embarked on a hitchhiking journey, but he had a nomadic spirit.
He spent time studying in Kenya, returning in December 1979. Many months later he decided to thumb his way to Oregon.
Renaye Leach said her brother was an idealist. He was an honors student who won a $10,000 scholarship to Friends World College in New York, the Deseret News reported in July 1982.
But when he came back from Africa, Renaye Leach noticed a change.
“He was kind of disillusioned; that maybe political will didn’t help the people,” she said.
He stopped college his freshman year to head west.
Renaye Leach said her brother wanted to “help heal the world” and was trying to find a job with the United Nations before embarking for Oregon. He studied social justice issues his first year of school but did not have a major yet, Renaye Leach said.
The Deseret News described Leach as “fearless, outgoing, adventuresome and travel-loving.”
Renaye Leach said he was a talented musician and could sit down at a piano and create songs on the spot.
“He was just a really great guy,” she said. “It’s just so sad for us to have such a short time with him.”
About five years ago Renaye Leach and her sister were swabbed for DNA to create a genetic profile for comparison if a body investigators think could be their brother’s is ever found. He is listed on the national missing persons website with all his identifiable information.
Renaye Leach said it’s impossible for her to make peace with her brother’s absence until something is found. She said there have been few tips.
When Leach vanished, people didn’t even have cellphones. When something like that happens today, social networking is used to blast a report across the Internet instantly. But Leach’s case essentially went cold before anyone knew there was cause for concern.
“We never got tips; no one ever called,” Renaye Leach said. “We did as much as we could to solicit tips, but there was hardly anything.”
Idaho has 72 missing persons
FBI data show that as of December 2012, there were 87,217 missing persons across the U.S. As of Oct. 1, 2014, about 7,537 missing person cases have been resolved with help from the National Center of Missing and Unidentified Persons System since its inception in July 2007. In California alone there are 2,031 missing people whose cases remain active, according to The Charlie Project, a website database of missing persons.