Bluefield- It was July 26, 1992, when Brenda Gail Lambert disappeared from her Bluewell home. She didn't take her car and few, if any, personal items. The blue-eyed, dark-haired mother of two was last seen on the evening of her son's first birthday.
It was a difficult case for police, admitted Mercer County Sheriff's Department Chief Deputy Darrell Bailey. In many cases, missing persons return---but police have to balance the totality of the evidence received.
Could it be a mising person, or could foul play be involved?
Five and a half months after Lambert's disappearance, a good friend of the woman, Mark Anthony Cook, 21, also disappeared.
Bailey said Cook was last seen in the early morning hours of Jan. 14, 1993, after leaving Pedro's Bar, then located in Airport Square, near Route 52.
Lambert's family and law enforcement officials confirmed Lambert and Cook were friends.
"I honestly believe the disappearances are connected, unless someone proves to me otherwise," Bailey said.
And foul play is suspected.
Christy Lambert was a mere 14 years old when her sister Brenda, disappeared. The family, originally from the Freeman are, near Bramwell, was a large one with seven siblings.
"For a long time, I guess I went numb," said Christy, who now lives in Tennessee.
But the family's tragedy did not end with Brenda's disappearance. Christy said her mother spent the years after Brenda's disappearance searching for Brenda. "I hardly remember her eating or sleeping. She spent the last years of her life searching for Brenda," but to no avail.
"She grieved herself to death," Christy said.
Christy was 18 at the time of her mother's death, and had a 13 year old younger brother. Two years later, the childrens father passed away.
Although Christy says there is always a "glimmer of hope" her sister is alive, she is not optimistic.
Christy said Brenda was her "best friend in the world," and said she spent much time at her sisters house before her disappearance.
Now 13 years since she has seen her sister, Christy has renewed her efforts to bring Brenda's disappearance back into the spotlight---to show southern West Virginia, the state and the nation, she has not been forgotten.
She is entering Brenda's data into various web sites that focus on mising and unidentified persons.
"This is one of the cases thats haunted me," Bailey said in an interview last week. "It's a cold case, but not a closed case. The case file has never left my office."
Through the years, police have recieved tips about the case, including one in 2003 that indicated both bodies may be found in a pond off Route 52, Bailey said.
"We worked with several members of the Bluewell Fire Department who were just wonderful," Bailey said.
In an effort to drain the pond, pumps were utilized to pump out several thousands of water. But, Bailey said they were ultimately unsucessful in getting the pond drained.
But law enforcement did not give up.
The sheriffs department then brought in a diver Detective Mike Combs, but there was so much growth in the pond the search was also unsuccessful. Yet the search did not end there.
Bailey said the department contacted a regional crime information agency, which loans equipment to smaller law enforcement agencies that may not have access to high-tech tools. Through this contact, the sheriff's department was able to get access to underwater video cameras, with the ability to photograph underwater.
But, he said, nothing was discovered with this technology either.
Although police have been stymied at every turn, Bailey has not lost hope.
He said Lamberts information has been entered into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC). And, anytime an unidentified body is discovered across the nation that information, too, is entered in the NCIC.
"If an agency entering information (on an unidentifed body) gets a hit, or possible hit, then we try to match up the information with whatever means we have," Bailey said. "In this case, we have dental records of Brenda Lambert...they have checked several possible hits, but there has been no match so far."
Bailey said police officers have searched the area but, "We dont have a body, therefore we cant prove a homicide and that makes it very difficult to investigate. It makes it very difficult to interview suspects with no body.
"With no body, we do not have the cause and manner of death," he said.
"There are lots of bodies found by hunters, all-terrain vehicle riders and ginseng hunters," Bailey said. "But in most all of the cases, they're identified. Yet there is no match yet for Brenda Lambert or Mark Cook."
Bailey has not lost hope in the case. "I really hope she is somewhere alive, but on the other hand, I doubt it. And every day I hope that somebody finds a body and were able to make a positive identification.
"Every time I hear of a body being found, these are the first two that come to my mind." he said.
Early in the investigation, Bailey said polygraph examinations were administered on three individuals. "But polygraph examinations are admissable in courts," he said. "They are a tool for law enforcement to see if they are on the right track."
"If we had a body, we would have a new way to go with the investigation," Bailey said. "The body can tell us a lot, even if there is nothing left but a skeleton."
Along with Chief Bailey, Christy Thacker is continuing the search to find her sister. She has recently become a volunteer with the Doe Network, a volunteer organization dedicated to assisting law enforcement in solving missing and unidentified persons cases.
She is now not assisting in the search for Brenda, but thousands of other missing persons nationwide.
"We didnt realize the trouble with missing persons until it impacted our own family," Christy said. "Its amazing someone could just be taken from their family and kids, and the families are left wondering where they are."
Christy has also designed a website----www.freewebs.com/thesearchforbrenda/ ---- for her missing sister.
Now, she says, her hope is "someone will develop a conscious, and tell where she is."
Bailey said Lambert was described as 5' 2" tall, with blue eyes, black hair, medium skin tone and a scar on her right wrist. She was last seen wearing a blue t-shirt and blue shorts.
Cook was last seen wearing a white baseball cap, bleached out blue jeans, black tennis shoes, black t-shirt and a blue denim jacket with writing on the back. Bailey said he was described as 5' 8", with green eyes, brown hair and fair skin.
Although the case is 13 years old, Bailey said there is still the possibility someone will come forward with information on the case. "I hope there is someone out there who might know something and come forward."
Bailey said anyone with information on the case can contact him by email, through the Mercer County Sheriff's Department web site----www.wvmcs.org---or the department's tip line at 487-8365.
He emphasized the tip line is not recorded, and caller ID is not used. "If they dont feel comfortable with email or the tip line, they can send an anonymous letter with no return address. I would love to have names, but if they dont feel comfortable, I understand that."
Bailey said, in most cases, there is a resolution early on. Yet he remains confident the mystery of the disappearance of Lambert and Cook will be solved.
"I dont know what it is about this case, but I have a feeling at some point in time, we'll close this," he said.
---Contact Samantha Perry at email@example.com