The Disappearance of Stephanie Crane

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EARLY LIFE:

Stephanie Crane was born on September 28, 1984 to parents Sandi and Ben Crane. The eldest of four children, she and her family lived in the scenic mountain town of Challis, Idaho.

Growing up, Stephanie’s mother stayed at home, while her father worked in the mineral mines and did taxidermy. Stephanie was especially close to her father, who would take her fishing, hiking and rock picking. The two were always joking around and teasing each other.

Stephanie was described as a tomboy, who would rather spend her time outdoors than cooped up inside. She loved the freedom living in a small town afforded her, and she always had a huge smile on her face. When not at school or at home, she could often be found biking around or spending time with her grandparents.

LEAD UP TO DISAPPEARANCE:

October 11, 1993 was like any other day in Challis. After school, Stephanie and her classmates went to the town’s bowling alley for their elementary school bowling league. While there, they bowled three games and ordered food.

At around 4:45pm, the league wrapped up and the children began to head home. One of the mothers who had been at the bowling alley keeping score claims to have seen Stephanie walking away from the building, presumably toward her grandparents’ house.

Around the same time, Stephanie’s friend offered her a ride home, but Stephanie declined, saying she had forgotten her backpack at the high school soccer field. The last time anyone saw Stephanie would be while she was waiting to cross Highway 93, on her way back to school.

DISAPPEARANCE:

Stephanie’s parents had set her nightly curfew at 5:00pm, so her mother found it suspicious when her daughter didn’t arrive home by then on the evening on October 11. By 5:15pm, Sandi started to worry, so she called Stephanie’s grandmother, Hazel, who hadn’t seen her either.

The neighbourhood boys who were seen playing outside were asked if they’d seen Stephanie, but she hadn’t been out with them.

When it became clear that no one in the area had seen or heard from Stephanie, Sandi and Hazel began driving around town, but found no sign of her. As it got dark, their worry increased, as the young girl was known for being afraid of the dark.

Hazel thought Stephanie might have gone over to a friend’s house for a sleepover and had forgotten to inform the family. However, upon contacting those Stephanie had been close to, this idea turned out to be a dead end.

Without any sign of her daughter, Sandi drove to the local sheriff’s office to report her daughter missing. The time was 8:15pm.

INVESTIGATION:

The sheriff’s office began their search immediately upon learning of Stephanie’s disappearance. Search and rescue crews were called in, as was the local fire department. Boats, four-wheelers, helicopters and horses were used to scour the town and surrounding area, and search crews walked around on foot to see if any evidence could be found. When midnight came around and Stephanie still hadn’t been found, the search was called off for the night.

On October 12, the search was renewed, with over 100 volunteers showing up to help. State and federal law enforcement also became involved, and a photo and description of Stephanie was faxed to both state police and county sheriff’s offices across Idaho.

One of the first major tips to be called in revolved around an unknown yellow truck parked at the high school. No one in the area recognized the truck and, given the high school’s proximity to the elementary school, it piqued police interest. However, when they went to take a look, the truck was gone, without anyone having taken down its license plate or its make/model.

Those closest to the Crane family formed Friends of Stephanie and mailed out flyers nationwide, hoping to spread the word about the young girl’s disappearance. The flyers reached as far away as California.

A search dog was brought in to help trace Stephanie’s movements after she was last seen outside the bowling alley. However, it lost her scent after only a few yards.

On October 15, another possible vehicle sighting was called into police, this time regarding an unknown blue van seen parked on the shoulder of Highway 93, about a half mile from the bowling alley, on the same day as Stephanie’s disappearance. A convenience store clerk claims to have seen two men fighting nearby. However, police were never able to find the van and, similar to the truck, no license plate or make/model had been noted.

Four days after Stephanie’s disappearance, police interviewed the children who had been at the bowling alley with her. From their interviews, it was learnt that Stephanie might have gone to the high school to watch a soccer practise.

It was also noted that many of the children had seen a suspicious man watching them, who was described as caucasian, standing at 5’10” and 175 pounds, and looked to be about 37 years old. A sketch was made up in the hopes that someone would be able to identify the mystery man. However, it resulted in no new tips.

10 days passed and no new information came into police. A $50,000 reward was issued in the hopes of garnering new tips, but nothing was called in.

Desperate for information, police began canvassing door-to-door, hoping someone might have seen something suspicious. However, their hopes were low, given it was deer and elk hunting season, and many different hunters and cars had driven through town via Highway 93.

Given the lack of information, the Crane family began to feel as if police weren’t being completely honest with them about the investigation. So, in 1995, the state’s Attorney General visited, stating there was no proof a crime had been committed, which angered the family, as Stephanie had no history of running away from home.

It’s important to note that the local sheriff’s office has always treated Stephanie’s disappearance as a stranger abduction.

Given the lack of information, the case went cold. That is, until 1997, when the Idaho Department of Fish and Game alerted the sheriff’s office that a hunter named Keith Hescock was in custody for unlawful possession of wildlife. While in custody, it was discovered he’d been in Challis during the time of Stephanie’s disappearance and had driven a yellow truck similar to the one seen at the local high school.

Unfortunately, the truck was never found and a search of Hescock’s residence brought up nothing, so authorities were unable to connect him to the disappearance.

In the spring of 2000, police got a lead from an inmate in Napa, Idaho, who claimed a female friend had rented a room in a drifter’s apartment back in 1993, where neighbours had heard the screams and cries of a young girl coming from the basement.

The female friend had found the drifter’s behaviour suspicious, especially since he never allowed anyone to enter the basement, so she asked about it and he responded that he was punishing his daughter for running away. The news unsettled her, a feeling that only grew when she found women’s underwear in the drifter’s room. This led to her leaving out of fear something might happen to her or her children.

Upon learning this information, police began to wonder if the girl locked in the basement could have actually been Stephanie. They began to dig into the drifter’s background, learning he’d been charged and convicted of sexual abuse in the third degree, but had never served time due to a plea deal.

The drifter was brought in and questioned with a polygraph, which he failed. When told his results, he became irate. A week later, a search warrant was executed on the old apartment, where blood samples and hair fibres were collected. While the lab was unable to determine if the bloodstains were human or animal, the fibres were determined to be human. However, given the lack of a follicle, DNA testing wasn’t an option.

Hoping to place the drifter in Challis during the time of Stephanie’s disappearance, police showed a photo line-up of potential suspects to a woman who had been working at the bowling alley that night. The woman picked him out, but said she couldn’t be 100% certain.

The drifter’s name has never been released due to the ongoing nature of the case. However, law enforcement believe him to be involved. An arrest hasn’t been made due to a lack of evidence.

In June 2002, Keith Hescock came onto police radar once more for the kidnapping and rape of a 14-year-old girl. He had left her handcuffed in his house, where she escaped. The police pursued him, leading to a car chase that ended in a police dog being killed, a deputy being shot in the leg and Hescock dying by suicide.

Hescock still remains a person of interest in Stephanie’s case.

In December 2006, a potential lead was discovered when authorities in Thorn Creek, Idaho were investigating a man’s suicide. He had left a note saying he’d killed himself over information his friend had told him about the abduction, rape and murder of a young girl in Challis.

The FBI and state police were called in to help follow up on the lead. A polygraph was given to the dead man’s friend and cadaver dogs were used to search his property. The man passed the polygraph and the dogs discovered nothing.

Police no longer consider him a person of interest.

In June 2016, a new round of interviews were conducted with the drifter. A new search of Challis was also done. However, the results of both have not been publicly released.

THEORIES:

1) The prevalent theory held by police and Stephanie’s family is that the young girl was abducted by a stranger while waiting to cross Highway 93. Given the lack of evidence and sightings, it’s believed her abductor was passing through Challis, as opposed to someone living in the area.

While there are many persons of interest in the case, police have not disclosed much information regarding who they believe to have been involved.

2) The Idaho Attorney General implied in his meeting with the Crane family that Stephanie’s disappearance could be a runaway case. However, both local police and her family disregard this theory, given a lack of sightings and the fact Stephanie didn’t have a history of running away from home.

3) Some believe Stephanie’s disappearance might be related to that of 20-year-old Amber Shawnell Hoopes, who went missing from her grandparents’ home in Idaho Falls on September 14, 2001. It’s believed Keith Hescock might have been involved in Amber’s disappearance, especially as it was discovered his family had lied in order to give him an alibi.

Given Hescock’s possible involvement in Amber’s disappearance, some believe there’s more credence given to his possible involvement in Stephanie’s.

AFTERMATH:

After the disappearance, Stephanie’s classmates tried to resume their normal lives, but many found it wasn’t the same as before. This was made more so by the fact they weren’t allowed near Stephanie’s desk.

In 1993, the case was highlight on America’s Most Wanted.

Following Stephanie’s abduction, the residents of Challis began living in fear that their children might meet the same fate as the young girl. Kids were no longer allowed to walk home alone and parents picked up their children directly from their classrooms.

Stephanie’s family was never the same after her disappearance. In 1994, her parents divorced due to the strain the case caused and Sandi moved to Reno, Nevada, leaving Ben to raise the children on his own. Unfortunately, she passed away in May 1996 due to blood clots in her lungs.

In 1998, Ben moved the family to Washington, while Stephanie’s grandparents stayed in Challis. On October 11, 2012, Ben unfortunately passed away of a heart attack on the anniversary of his daughter’s disappearance.

On September 27, 1994, on the eve of Stephanie’s 10th birthday, the residents of Challis released purple balloons in commemoration.

Police are still actively investigating the case and currently have five to ten persons of interest, none of whom are family members. They’re re-interviewing people and re-evaluating possible evidence, and each year on Stephanie’s birthday release an updated press release about the case.

CASE CONTACT INFORMATION:

Stephanie Crane went missing from Challis, Idaho on October 11, 1993. She was nine years old and was last seen wearing a maroon and white striped hooded sweatshirt with the word “GIMME” printed on the front, maroon sweatpants and white shoes. At the time of her disappearance, she was 4’2″ and approximately 65 to 85 pounds. She has curly brown hair and blue eyes, with freckles, a scar near her right eye and a gap between her upper front teeth.

Currently, her case is classified as a non-family abduction. If alive, she would be 33 years old.

If you have any information regarding the case, you can contact the Custer County Sheriff’s Office at 208-879-2232.

Image Credit: NBC News

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