Traces of hope
Laurie Partridge’s disappearance not only stumped detectives, it pushed her parents apart and prompted her family to move far from Spokane County.
“It determined the whole way my family lived,” said Partridge’s sister, Taryn Chambers, who lives in Florida.
Their parents reunited and remarried more than a decade later, but the girls’ mother died in 2004 not knowing what happened to Partridge, who was 17 when she left Ferris High School for home on Dec. 4, 1974.
She never made it, and no trace of her was ever found.
Spokane County sheriff’s Detective Mike Ricketts is taking a renewed look at the case and hoping the 36th anniversary of one of the county’s most talked-about cold cases will generate new clues.
“With cold cases, one of the things that is on your side is that time sometimes affects relationships,” Ricketts said. “Sometimes people who were unwilling to talk at the time become willing to talk.”
Partridge left the school about 12:30 p.m. on a Wednesday wearing a long, navy blue coat, tan sweater and tan plaid pants with blue denim shoes and a brown leather purse with a blue flower design and a braided shoulder strap. She’d complained of cramps but thought the two-mile walk to her parents’ home in the 5400 block of South Custer Street might make her feel better.
A neighbor reported seeing her walking south on Havana Street between 43rd and 49th avenues, but no confirmed sightings of the girl have been reported since.
When Partridge didn’t come home or show up for work at a Lincoln Heights movie theater, her father and one of his five other children went door to door. Detectives first thought the girl was a runaway. But Ricketts said they’ve long been convinced she was murdered.
“She has not been seen or heard from in 36 years,” Ricketts said. “That’s the big indicator – there’s been no trace of her.”
Partridge and her family had moved to Spokane from California a few months earlier. She was involved in the Ferris High student newspaper and was a member of the drill team.
She also was engaged to a 20-year-old man. The couple planned to pick out engagement rings the day Partridge disappeared, Chambers said. The fiancé was questioned extensively several times but never ruled a suspect.
The pair also had tickets to a Beach Boys concert. Those tickets were with Partridge when she disappeared, and investigators say both were used at the show. Detectives attended the concert to look for Partridge or possible suspects but didn’t find anything.
Whoever used the two concert tickets had to know Partridge’s killer, Chambers said. “Whoever got her either used the tickets or gave them to somebody to use.”
Other clues include reports that a green Pinto station wagon in the area appeared to be following Partridge.
Detectives conducted hundreds of interviews, including one with notorious serial killer Ted Bundy, who confessed to murdering 11 young women in Washington state in the first half of 1974. Investigators also administrated several polygraph tests. They sometimes hear from other law enforcement agencies about human remains possibly belonging to Partridge, but none has panned out, Ricketts said.
“Investigators all the way through have been on top of this and have followed up on every lead that they could,” he said.
Chambers, who was 6 when Partridge disappeared, said her father, now 83, still cries when he talks about the case.
“Somebody without a conscience did this,” Chambers said. “They have no idea what they did to my family.”
She said she’ll never give up on her quest to find out what happened to her sister and has asked her children to continue to follow the investigation should she die before it’s resolved.
But Chambers and Ricketts hope resolution won’t take that long.
“I pray that somebody will come forward to try to resolve this and help our family get some kind of closure,” Chambers said. “It’s just been very hard, but I won’t give up.”