The volunteer numbers were down at the Lori Hacking Search Center Thursday afternoon. From a high of 1,200 on Tuesday, the day after the young Salt Lake wife was reported missing, to just a handful 48 hours later after it was reported that Lori's husband, 28-year-old Mark Hacking, lied when he represented that he was a college graduate and had been accepted to medical school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Members of both Lori and Mark Hacking's families continue to make heartfelt pleas for the public to look for Lori. As one of Lori's cousins, Kathy Black, who lives in New York City, said, "She's still missing, that's the main thing right now. We need to find her. It (what Mark lied about) didn't stop me coming from New York City to look for Lori. She is a beautiful, intelligent, bubbly, smart, fun, outgoing person who is a joy to be around. We're all here to support her."

Chris Smart, one of several Smarts at the Search Center (including Ed Smart, father of Elizabeth Smart, and Elizabeth's brother, Charles) made a similar appeal. "She's still not back, that's the reality here. We need to have the volunteers come out and keep looking no matter what," said Chris Smart, his words hearkening memories of two summers ago when his niece disappeared from her bedroom.

Speculation that "the family did it" was responsible for dwindling search volunteers in the Elizabeth Smart mystery, too, but with one major difference: in the Smart case, the speculation was largely media-driven and based on off-the-record theories that, ultimately, had no basis in fact. In the Hacking case, Mark Hacking's falsehoods are on-the-record and indisputable. As his family verified Wednesday, he definitely lied about being an honor student and graduate of the University of Utah and about being accepted to the prestigious UNC Medical School.

That doesn't mean he is lying about the circumstances surrounding Lori's disappearance — Mark told investigators his wife drove to Memory Grove for an early morning run — but it does lend weight to the possibility that he might be.

As that dark cloud settles in, the public shouldn't be blamed for losing enthusiasm for looking under bushes. Right or wrong, it's hard to escape the perception that the best place to search for Lori Hacking is in Mark Hacking's mind — and volunteers in hiking boots, armed with red ribbon to tag anything suspicious, can't go there.


Because of Mark Hacking's deception, his wife had given notice at her job at Wells Fargo and they were on their way to North Carolina so he could begin his studies to become a doctor — following in his father's footsteps and an older brother who is also an M.D.

Whether feeling pressure to succeed in a family full of success — Mark's three brothers and three sisters are all, as one family member said Thursday, "very bright and very successful" — produced his impetus to lie, or whether it was due to some other reason, early evidence suggests that it was no small need.

One of Mark's relatives recalled that Mark sent out announcements of his graduation from the University of Utah, inviting family to watch him "walk" in graduation ceremonies. But when family members were en route from Utah County to Salt Lake City, they got a phone call from Lori, telling them to cancel their trip because Mark was sick.

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They turned their car around and went home, having no reason to believe Mark wasn't telling the truth.

In a Search Center filled with more media than volunteers Thursday, the prevailing hope among those still there was that Mark's story about his wife is accurate and she is out there, alive, waiting to be found.


Lee Benson's column runs Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Please send e-mail to benson@desnews.com and faxes to 801-237-2527.