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A college student, inspired by Jack Kerouac, leaves on a cross-country trip and never returns.
In March of 2000, two people jogging on Mount Baker in Washington State noticed a piece of clothing dangling from a tree branch. When they investigated, they found that an SUV had plunged over a steep embankment. There were no signs of anyone, or any indication that someone had been injured. A passport, money, and some clothing were found inside the car.
Police traced the jeep to missing 23-year-old college student, Leah Roberts. Nine days earlier, Leah had left her home in Raleigh, North Carolina, without telling anyone where she was going. Suzie Smith was a friend of Leah’s:
When Leah was in her early 20s, her mother died unexpectedly. Then Leah was in a near-fatal car accident, and, finally, after a long illness, her father died. Leah’s brother, Heath, thinks these events deeply affected his sister:
Leah found comfort in the writings of Jack Kerouac, the Beat Generation author who wrote about the free-spirited road trips he took across America. Leah’s favorite was called The Dharma Bums. It’s a story that encourages the reader to leave behind the materialism of modern life. Part of that book takes place at a forest fire lookout on Desolation Peak, near Mount Baker in Washington State. Another of Leah’s friends, Jeannine Quiller, confirmed that Leah had mentioned the location to her:
It appears that Leah Roberts secretly decided to turn her dream into a reality. Just three months before she was to graduate from college, she packed up most of her cherished belongings and her cat Bea, and took off for Desolation Peak, 3,000 miles across the country.
Leah’s family and friends filed a missing persons report and checked bank records for any activity on her account. She had made several cash withdrawals, tracing a route towards the West Coast. It took her only three days to get to Oregon. Leah’s sister Kara decided to see what she could find at her sister’s house. On Leah’s dresser, Kara discovered a cryptic note:
Five days later, Leah’s SUV was discovered in Mount Baker National Forest near Desolation Peak. But Leah was nowhere to be found. Authorities estimate that the car was traveling about 40 miles per hour when it plunged over the embankment. Sgt. Kevin McFadden of the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office said that the driver was most likely injured:
But there was no blood inside the SUV or in the surrounding area. Sgt. McFadden said that investigators wondered if Leah had even been in the car when it went over the edge:
“There’s nothing to indicate the wheel was tied and that it was pushed off the road. We couldn’t find any marks on the back that indicated anybody had pushed it to where it was. If you had somebody driving the vehicle and they jumped out, you would have taken your life into your own hands trying to jump out of the vehicle at that speed.”
To make things even more confusing, blankets had been placed in the car’s shattered windows. To Sgt. McFadden, it appeared that someone used it as a shelter after the accident:
The SUV was carefully examined at a police garage. It was full of Leah’s personal belongings: a large amount of cash, an empty cat carrier, and Leah’s mother’s diamond engagement ring. Leah’s roommate, Nicole Bennett, remembered the ring:
There are several theories about the disappearance of Leah Roberts. According to Sgt. McFadden, she could have caught a ride with the wrong person after the accident.
She could be living somewhere with no memory of who she is or where she came from.
Or, perhaps Leah Roberts was inspired by her favorite author, Jack Kerouac, and left her former life behind in one final, dramatic gesture. Leah’s sister doesn’t think so:
One week after Leah’s car was found, a man called police to report that his wife had just seen Leah at a gas station 30 miles from Seattle. He didn’t give his name, but said Leah appeared confused and disoriented. Before police could get more information, the caller hung up.