Authorities have reopened the case of a teen-ager who vanished in 1979 after her siblings' shocking discovery that their mother lied when she told them a body found in New Jersey in 1994 was identified as that of their sister.
After their mother died last year, Melinda "Mindy" Karen Creech's siblings found a box in her home with letters clearly stating that dental records ruled out that the badly decomposed body belonged to their sister.
Detective David Callahan of the Madison County Sheriff's Department said other information found in the box was enough for police to reopen the Creech case.
"When you reopen a case, you start from the beginning - as if she ran away yesterday," Callahan told The Herald Bulletin for a story published Sunday.
Creech was last seen in September 1979 after escaping from a juvenile facility she and a teen were taken to for trying to steal motorcycles, a police report states.
"That's where the trail stops," Callahan said.
Then in 1994, a badly beaten and decomposed body was found in a wooden area in New Jersey. Dental records were sent off to see whether the Anderson teen would be a match.
The family waited nervously. Then Creech's mother, Shirley, delivered sad news: the body was that of "Mindy."
Her four siblings - Dana, Daryl, Caryl and Vanessa - were devastated. For nearly a decade they believed their mother's story, even though there was never a funeral.
Creech's surviving siblings - Dana has since died - declined to be interviewed by The Herald Bulletin.
But Julie Mearing, the assistant Indiana-area director for The Doe Network , an international Internet search team that works to track down missing people, is in contact with the family, which reached out to The Doe Network for help.
She said they are puzzled by their mother's actions.
"They don't know if (telling them Mindy was dead) was to torture them or bring them closure," Mearing said. "It wasted all this time. ... And now they feel guilty for not searching for her for the last 10 years."
The truth came out last year as they were cleaning out their late mother's home.
In a box they found information about the New Jersey Jane Doe case and a letter from a police officer ruling the dental records of the Doe and "Mindy" did not match.
"The letter said it was the third one written to her," Mearing said. "It said, `This is not your daughter ... but I'll send the composite (drawing) you requested.' "
The box also contained an address book that would have been helpful at the time of Creech's disappearance. There was also an unsent letter to a boy - possibly her boyfriend at the time - who was in the Indiana Boys School.
Creech had written it and it was apparently taken away before it could be mailed. It asked him to visit her when he got out.
Creech's address book had first names and phone numbers, but because she and her siblings rarely brought friends to their home, they don't know who her friends were.
Callahan said police have been trying to find her old friends and boyfriends and the teen she was arrested with, but believes a break in the case is unlikely.
"We'll go until the leads stop," he said. "We're working on getting her dental records. There's a number of Jane Does we want to compare them with, one in New Jersey and New York and in another state."
Mearing said Creech's siblings always had a strained and awkward relationship with their mother and don't remember much about their sister's disappearance.
The Doe Network 's Web site - www.doenetwork.us/ - profiles 14 males and 20 females in Indiana with unexplained disappearances, including one on Creech, who would be about 40 years old if she is still alive.
"She may still be out there, not knowing her family wants to find her," Mearing said. "But what we want to do is bring some kind of closure to her family, give them some answers."