In March 2000, a wrecked vehicle was found at the bottom of an embankment in the state of Washington, USA. No one was inside, however the car was traced to a 23-year old woman named Leah Roberts. Roberts had left her home in North Carolina nine days earlier. No trace of Roberts has ever been found – leading to a myriad of theories being developed. This mysterious disappearance has confused many, with no definitive answer of what happened. In this article, we look at the disappearance in detail, and analyse theories.
Leah Roberts was born in 1976, and grew up in Durham, North Carolina. In her late teenage years, tragedy hit the Roberts family, with the father diagnosed with chronic lung illness. Moreover, the mother of the family passed away soon after due to heart disease. Upon returning to college after her mother’s death, Leah was heavily injured in a car crash. Leah however would later tell her sister that she felt ‘born again’ after her recovery – having initially thought she would die.
However, her father soon passed away, which appeared to have a profound effect on Leah. She subsequently dropped out of college, despite her Spanish and Anthropology degree nearing completion. Leah was questioning the direction of her life. She attempted to turn her life around by taking up photography and poetry. She made new friends while visiting local coffeehouses, and suggested to these friends that she might go on a road trip to the West of the United States.
In March 2000, Leah left North Carolina in her jeep. Her roommate had returned from work to notice Leah and her car weren’t there. After Leah failed to turn up to an appointment, she was reported as missing to the Police. The Police launched a search. A search in her room yielded some clues – with garments and her pet missing. This suggested she planned to leave for some time. She also left a note stating ‘I’m not suicidal, I’m the opposite’. She left a month’s worth of cash too to cover expenses, suggesting her departure would only be temporary.
Bank records showed that Leah had withdrawn thousands of dollars prior to leaving. She paid for a motel room in Memphis, Tennessee, with other transactions for gas and food. Her route appeared to be clear – she was heading west. The last activity on her account took place four days after she left. Her sister Kara – who was conducting her own experiment – found out that Leah had been heavily inspired in her poetry days by a 1958 novel named ‘The Dharma Burns’. In this book, the author speaks of his love of Washington’s Cascade Mountains. Leah had purportedly wanted to see the area herself.
Nine days after Leah left, Kara was expecting a call from her – as it was her birthday. Yet in an unfortunate development, she was instead asked to call the sheriff’s office in Bellingham, Washington. She did so, and heard that Leah’s car had been discovered abandoned and in poor condition. The car was found by joggers, who had noticed clothing strewn around the crash site too. The car was found near Washington’s Cascade Mountains.
Investigators surmised that the car had been travelling at around 40mph when it crashed – judging by the damage. Items in the car were all over the place – leading investigators to believe the car had rolled over. There were no signs of blood, or injury to anyone. Investigators believed that no one was inside the car when it crashed. As a result of this, some have suggested the crash was either staged or planned.
However, blankets and pillows had been hung inside the windows, giving the impression that the car had been used for shelter for some time after crashing. A number of Leah’s belongings were found nearby – including a driver’s license, clothes and her passport. Her pet cat was missing, and $2,500 cash had been left behind. Investigators felt that this eliminated the prospect of a robbery. Some however suggested the valuables being left behind added to the theory that the crash had been staged.
Kara and fellow sibling Heath flew to Bellingham to assist in the local investigation. Flyers were distributed in the local area to try and raise awareness of the disappearance. One restaurant in the area hosted a potential sighting. Two men recalled seeing and speaking to Leah. One stated she had left with a man, and provided a description of said man. Yet no one else, including the other man could corroborate the supposed existence of the other person – leaving investigators confused.
The FBI joined the investigation, and treated the disappearance as a crime. First of all, there were questions regarding the cash Leah had ostensibly left behind. It was a substantial amount – which was not consistent with her trip. It is believed at that point she would have little money left. Secondly, Leah’s mother’s engagement ring was found in the car. Leah always wore this ring, with friends confirming it was a treasured item that she would never voluntarily remove.
Meanwhile, the local Police were working with the theory that Leah had crashed, before walking off. A large search was initiated, with aerial support provided. But no trace of Leah was found. However the theory received a boost when the Sheriff’s office received a call regarding a possible sighting of Leah. A man mentioned how just a few days after the discovery of the car, that Leah was wandering around a gas station in Everett, Washington, ‘disoriented and confused’. The man said his wife had seen her, before hanging up the phone prior to identifying himself.
As the weeks and months went by, there was still no trace of Leah. The police eventually wound down their search, with the case declared cold. In 2001, the television series ‘Unsolved Mysteries’ brought the case on to a national stage. As a result, there were some apparent sightings of Leah in other states of the US, but nothing ever proved credible. The family of Roberts continue to hope for her return.
The last big development in the case came in 2006. Two detectives had been reviewing the case when they noticed the car hadn’t entirely been processed as evidence. They opted to finish the process, when they noticed that a wire linked to the starter relay had been cut. This meant the car could’ve accelerated without any human involvement. This suggested that it was possible that no one was inside the car when it crashed, or that the crash was staged. This lead however never threw up anything concrete.
- Wander Off: After crashing the car, perhaps Leah could’ve stayed and camped for some time. She could have attempted to walk to a new location, only to get lost. While walking somewhere new, she could’ve walked through the gas station – as one sighting would suggest. After wandering off, she could’ve ran out of food and water or got lost. There is also a possibility she committed suicide – especially given that she had been questioning the direction of her life. But in any of these cases, where is her body, and why hasn’t it ever been found?
- Something more Sinister – External Person: Some evidence suggests the crash was staged. It is possible that during her travels that Leah was abducted by someone – maybe the person she possibly saw at the restaurant, if the man is to be believed. If she was abducted, she could still be alive, or she could have been murdered, with her body disposed of. The car too had been tampered with, further adding evidence to this theory. The fact no trace of Leah has ever been found too could support this theory.
- Planned Disappearance: While it seems that Leah had every intention of returning – judging by her actions, it is possible that she faked her own disappearance. Maybe it was her that tampered with her car, and staged the crash. She could have passed the gas station were she was purportedly spotted. Maybe she arranged for onward travel secretly. There have been supposed sightings of her over the years too. Perhaps she is still alive, but living under an alias. It is a big world after all. There are a lot of maybe’s in this theory, but it is feasible.
- Mental Episode: There is no doubting that Leah Roberts had been through some traumatic experiences – namely losing both of her parents in a short space of time. Something like this could easily set off an episode of mania – seen in the mental health condition Bipolar Disorder. This entire trip could have been as a result of a manic episode. The note she left behind, which read ‘I’m not suicidal, I’m the opposite’ too would point towards a feeling of mania. Essentially, mania is the opposite of suicide. At this point, she could easily have not been thinking straight, which could’ve led her to lack food and water, leading to an uncertain fate. Suicide too is associated with Bipolar Disorder. While this theory does fill in some holes, it relies on considerable speculation too.
- Alien Abduction: The four theories suggested so far are the most likely. However, all of these do have flaws. Perhaps Leah Roberts was abducted by aliens, leading to an uncertain fate. While this theory too has limitations, there is always a possibility.
This case is quite unique. There are so many questions around the disappearance, many of which look set to never receive an answer. As a result, this disappearance has left many confused. In any case, it is a tragic disappearance. Her family continue to publicise the case, hoping that one day there will be a return. There is always a chance too – nothing seems certain in this case. But for now, what exactly happened on Leah’s trip, and where Leah is now, remains unknown.