Who was Leah?
Leah Toby Roberts was born on July 23, 1976. She grew up in Durham, North Carolina with her parents and older siblings, Heath and Kara, who interpret her as a talkative, easygoing young woman with a thick Southern drawl and an affinity for soccer and live music. At the period of her disappearance, she was 23 years old and living in Raleigh, North Carolina with her longtime friend and roommate, Nicole.
Leah’s dad was diagnosed with a long-term respiratory illness when she was just 17 years old. About three years later, her mum unexpectedly died of heart disease, and she took some time off school to cope. Soon after returning to class in fall 1998, she was almost killed when she plowed into a truck that unexpectedly turned in front of her and left her no time to swerve away.
She suffered a punctured lung and devastated femur, which required doctors to insert a metal rod throughout the whole length of the bone. In March 1999, she temporarily withdrew from her classes again to expend more time with her ailing dad, who passed away just a few weeks later in April.
Experiencing so many disasters back to back at such a young age had a serious effect on Leah. She grew deeply enthusiastic in philosophy and spirituality, began taking guitar lessons, and started dabbling in photography. She expended hours hanging out at the Cup o’ Joe coffee shop in Durham, writing in her journal and chatting with the other patrons. She strived to catch up with schoolwork and dropped out of college in early 2000, just months before she was due to graduate with a degree in Spanish and anthropology.
Leah also had a sharp sense of wanderlust. She had recently expended many months studying and traveling in Spain and Costa Rica and often went on road trips with her friends. She liked to be a free spirit, to do some soul-searching, and take some time to reflect on the past few tough years.
“I do think that she opposed the idea that she had to live her life the similar way that everybody around her was living theirs,” Heath says.
March 2000: Leah And Kara
On March 9, 2000, Leah and Kara spoke on the phone and decided to hang out at some point shortly. She made strategies to babysit with Nicole on March 10 and hang out with various friends over the next two days — plans that she would never follow through on. Around 6:00 PM that same day, she would pack her clothing, grab her blonde kitten Bea, withdraw $3,000 from a bank in Raleigh, and embark on a 3,000-mile solo road trip across the United States.
Leah did not notify Kara about her schedule or use her phone after March 9. When she did not show up to babysit on March 10, Nicole — who told it was not extraordinary to go a couple of days without noticing Leah — simply inferred that she had forgotten about their arrangement. Kara reported her missing on the 13th after learning that she was gone and scoured her bedroom the following morning, discovering a note with a hand-drawn Cheshire Cat smile and cash inside.
March 9, 2000
This is to cover bills for while I am gone. Remember – everyone is together in feelings and prayers and time passes rapidly. Have faith in me, yourself.
Help Shep with Easter at Latta House for fun for the kids.
Give Peter my laptop.
Give everyone my love. See you soon.
Tell Kara don’t concern (even though she will)
Cookies in the freezer.
[large letters] April 23 “On the Road” No, I’m not suicidal. I’m the opposite. Remember jack, Kerouac?
[small letters] Tell Nikki I meant to come but I had no option. She’ll understand.
[small letters] Tell Melissa she should come to live in my room if she wants to come to Raleigh.
One of Leah’s beloved authors was Jack Kerouac, the iconic Beat Generation writer whose book On the Road chronicled his travels across the United States. Jeannine Quiller, who had tied with her at the coffee shop over their mutual affection for Kerouac, told Kara that she did not seem to be depressed and that the two expended their last discussion talking about Kerouac’s autobiography, Dharma Bums. Leah especially liked the part where he expended the summer of 1956 as a fire lookout on Desolation Peak in rural Whatcom County, Washington.
Kara, who had been granted power of attorney over Leah when she went to Costa Rica the last summer, used it to attain her sister’s bank records. They indicated that Leah was traveling west.
Leah’s path according to bank records: Raleigh, NC -> Morganton, NC -> Lebanon, TN -> Memphis, TN -> North Little Rock, Arkansas -> Okemah, OK -> Shamrock, TX -> Tucumcari, NM -> Albuquerque, NM -> Holbrook, AZ -> Kingman, AZ -> Lancaster, CA -> Mojave, CA -> Modesto, CA -> Medford, OR -> Brooks, OR -> Bellingham, WA
On March 10, she expended the night at a hotel in Lebanon, Tennessee. The remainder of the transactions were all gas purchases, most lately at the Pilot Travel Center in Brooks, Oregon at precisely 12:57 AM on March 13. She had made it across the country in less than four days.
At around 1:00 PM on March 19, just nine days after Leah set out for Washington, Lionel Paquet and his girlfriend were sprinting in the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest in Whatcom County when they saw an article of clothes hanging from a tree. They snooped around to discover tire tracks and the second piece of clothing, then sighted a white vehicle at the bottom of a roadside embankment.
The 1993 Jeep Cherokee was sitting along the left side of Canyon Creek Road, a little over 30 miles east of Bellingham, Washington. The exterior was heavily shattered, with the front of the Jeep folded and the windshield and many windows broken. The immediate region was strewn with clothes and lost personal belongings, including a guitar, passport, driver’s license, checkbook, and numerous CDs. Several blankets were bandaged over the windows as if someone had been camping inside the car. They yelled out for the driver but got no reaction.
Founded on the amount of damage, specialists estimated that the Jeep was traveling at a rate of 30 to 40 miles per hour when it staggered into the embankment and flipped over numerous times before coming to rest at a thicket of downed trees, upright and parallel to the road. Any inhabitants would have been injured (if not killed), but investigators were unable to discover any evidence that someone was inside the car at the time of the crash. There was no evidence of hair or blood. The seatbelt was not strained. There was no destruction consistent with someone whacking their head against the wheel or windshield.
“With the speed that the vehicle was traveling and the quantity of damage to the vehicle, you would expect some kind of injury to the individual inside,” said Sgt. Kevin McFadden. “At least some kind of information to suggest contact damage, that the person had been inside the vehicle.”
The Jeep was rapidly matched to Leah Roberts, who had been reported missing several days earlier. The CCTV footage at the gas station in Brooks revealed her peering out the window as the clerk rang her up, but it is unfamiliar if she was looking at something/someone in particular. Two search and rescue teams combed the region around the car using dogs and a helicopter but discovered no glimmer of her or Bea. They strongly questioned that she wandered off and died in the woods, being that the car was so close to the road.
“It doesn’t amaze me that she would go off and try to discover herself,” Heath said in March 2000. “I was worried about her, but I wasn’t very concerned until we got the phone call that they had discovered her car.”
A search of the Jeep discovered $2,500 tucked in a pair of jeans, along with a wooden ornate box comprising a ticket for a 2:10 PM showing of the movie American Beauty at the Bellis Fair Mall in Bellingham on March 13. Most concerning for Leah’s family and friends was that her mum’s engagement ring — which Nicole interpreted as “very, very sacred” to her — was left inside the Jeep.
There were numerous reported sightings of Leah throughout Washington after her disappearance. Days after her car was discovered, an anonymous man called investigators and told them that he and his wife had met a young woman fitting her description at a Texaco gas station in Everett, about 70 miles south of Bellingham. The woman seemed disoriented and said to the tipster that she didn’t realize who she was or where she resided. Nonetheless, he shortly hung up before investigators could get more information. They think that he may have panicked and begun again to look for him.
On March 21, Heath and Kara went to Bellingham to look for their sister. Determining that Leah would have expended some time in the city before the movie, they went to the Bellis Fair Mall to glimpse if anyone identified her. No one from the theater remembered her, but, while standing inside the foot court, Kara saw a restaurant called Elephant and Castle that appeared to be precisely her sister’s type. When she asked the workers there, they told they had noticed Leah at the bar on the 13th, cheerfully chatting with other clients sitting beside her.
The day after Heath and Kara returned to North Carolina, one of the men who talked to Leah at the restaurant listened to the news about her disappearance and reached out to investigators. The man, who has never been publicly named, characterized her as very friendly and chatty and said that she also struck up a discussion with another man sitting next to her at the bar. He saw her leave the restaurant alone.
Investigators tracked down the second patron, who likewise interpreted her as being very friendly, talking about Jack Kerouac and her intentions for visiting Washington State. Nonetheless, contrary to what the first observer said, he told them that she left the restaurant with another man named Barry.
His explanation of Barry was so comprehensive that authorities varied for him to meet with a sketch artist, who developed this composite drawing of the suspect. Nonetheless, they were never able to substantiate that Barry even existed, and discovered it suspicious that his story directly negated that of the first patron. When pressed about the inconsistencies between the two stories, his attitude reportedly became very weird, enough that detectives started to wonder if he had made Barry up to deceive them.
As detective Jamie Collins said in 2011, “His attitude became very unusual. We attempted to figure out what role he had to play. Was it just sitting down and having lunch with her? Or is there more?”
After scouring Leah’s car, detectives asked Kara what she expected them to do with the vehicle. She told them to keep it, wishing that technological progress might generate more information in the future. Her decision paid off in 2006 when investigators Jamie Collins and Alan Smith reviewed the case file and acknowledged that the Jeep had not been scoured as completely as they previously thought. Although the interior was filtered for blood, hair, and fibers, no one had supposed to examine underneath the hood of the car for any evidence.
When they opened up the hood, they discovered that the cover had been removed from the starter relay. Without the cover, someone could turn the ignition on and barely push on the starter relay, which would allow the Jeep to accelerate into the embankment on its own without anyone inside the vehicle. They also discovered anonymous fingerprints under the hood of the car.
“It appeared as though the Jeep had been altered with and that it would have taken someone with the proficiency of a mechanic to do that level of tampering to the vehicle,” said Detective Smith.
There was one individual of attention who had such experience: the man who told he saw Leah leave with Barry. The man, who was residing in Canada by this point, previously served in the military and has experience as an auto mechanic. It took two years to attain fingerprints from Canadian authorities, but when they eventually got them, they were unhappy to learn that they didn’t match.
In spring 2010, authorities attained a DNA sample from an undisclosed item in Leah’s car. They were in the procedure of correlating that DNA to the individual of interest in 2011, but the results of this test are unfamiliar.
There have been no updates in the past 8 years.