FAIRFIELD, Ohio — The tips come in a trickle, instead of flooding in. The searchers go out in handfuls, instead of by the hundreds. The national TV show cameras are long gone.
Police and other people in this southwest Ohio city say they aren't giving up in their quest to find out what happened to a young woman who's been missing for more than three months. It's a baffling disappearance that at first frightened, and now frustrates, people in a northern Cincinnati suburb of some 43,000 people that is dotted with subdivisions and a "Village Green" center. Violent crime is rare here — the last murder was in 2008.
"Where is she?" asked Donna Metz, 35, who lives near Markham's home and has searched dozens of times. "It's like an alien came down from space and took her."
Investigators are working the case on a nearly daily basis, police chief Mike Dickey said, with tips still coming in — though "99 percent" don't pan out. He told The Associated Press that police are getting help from FBI behavioral scientists and other experts and sources he wouldn't discuss. Police are also going back to earlier information "with fresh eyes" to see what leads can be developed.
Katelyn Markham was last seen by her fiance late the night of Aug. 13 at her two-story brick home in a row of townhouses, just off a busy road about a mile from police headquarters. The next evening, he said, she failed to respond to his text messages, so he went to her home, where he found her car, with her purse and other belongings inside, and her small dog locked inside a room in the house. There was no sign of a struggle, police say. Her fiance called 911.
Since then, there have been repeated mass searches of parks, woods, riversides, ponds and rural areas, with help from professional search teams, including the Texas EquuSearch group that helped look for Caylee Anthony in Florida and Alabama teenager Natalie Holloway in Aruba. A $25,000 reward was offered. Vigils and fundraising benefits were held. She has been featured on national TV shows and on myriad online sites, including Facebook pages devoted to the search.
But there's been no evidence that would allow police to determine what happened, Dickey said.
"We're drawn to a conclusion that it is more likely foul play than not," Dickey said. Police can't rule out that she left town without telling anyone, but her fiance and father have said repeatedly that would have been completely out of character for her, and Dickey said police are convinced it is unlikely for a young woman with a "good, wholesome, hard-working" reputation.
"When you look at the totality of circumstances here, looking at her lifestyle, her future plans, her background, her personality as described to us by friends, I think it's more likely that something happened to her, rather than her just taking a walk," Dickey said.
Police have interviewed the fiance, John Carter, among other people as "persons of interest." Dickey wouldn't say who has been eliminated and who hasn't as a potential suspect in the disappearance.
Carter took part in the early searches and was questioned on such national TV shows as Nancy Grace's on HLN. His words and actions have been dissected and critiqued on Facebook pages and by callers to shows. Some noted that he sometimes referred to Markham in past tense.
"I just want to reiterate the fact that I just really want Katelyn home," Carter said on Grace's show Aug. 25. "That's all that matters to me. I don't care if people are, you know, talking about me. Whatever. As long as we're focused on Katelyn Markham and bringing Katelyn Markham home, that is all I want."
He didn't return a message for comment left Friday. Dickey said Carter, along with Markham's family and close friends, have been cooperative. Carter and Markham had been together for several years; she was an artist working two jobs and weeks away from earning her bachelor's degree, and they had said they planned to move to Colorado and eventually marry.
On any given day in the United States, tens of thousands of people are listed as missing. The majority are usually under age 20, mostly juveniles.
Dickey said Fairfield police have had 122 missing person calls this year. Only one is still active.
Police aren't doing ground searches for Markham now, though a dwindling number of volunteers such as Metz go out on weekends, sometimes with a diver to search ponds and other bodies of water.
"Because she hasn't been found," replied Missy Hammond, 38, another regular volunteer. She stays active on a Facebook page for both Markham and Billy DiSilvestro, a 28-year-old Hamilton man reported missing since the night of the Super Bowl, Feb. 7. "I have three children of my own and if any of my children were missing, I would hope someone would be out there helping me."Comment on this story
Dickey, meanwhile, said the case is never far from the minds of police in his 60-person force. Markham is usually mentioned in daily shift reports, he said.
"There exists an emotional attachment. I know that for the investigators involved, or myself, we want to No. 1, find her; No. 2, find out what happened to her," he said. "And if the worst has happened, we want to speak for her in taking the perpetrator to justice. That's not just a professional desire. It becomes a mission."
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