LEAVENWORTH COUNTY, Kan. -- At the rural Leavenworth County home of Alberta and Harold Leach, memories of their only son linger. There's the sign on the side of the garage that includes Randy Leach's name. There's his old bedroom, now an office, with his track medals and some old toys still displayed.
"He had race cars on the wall," his mom Alberta sighed. "I changed all of that, but that didn't help."
Their only son has been missing, now presumed dead, for 28 years. He disappeared from a party on Friday, April 15, 1988. He arrived alone, but witnesses recall him being "messed up," according to newly obtained police and investigation records from that era.
His mother recalled talking to one of the party goers shortly after her son's disappearance:
"From the way that he was acting one of his buddies walked up to him and said 'buddy what's wrong with you?' And Randy said 'I don't know man."
But his parents insist, the high school senior didn't do drugs, and drank like most high school classmates did, at parties. He was last seen around two on Saturday morning. When his parents woke up, they knew something was wrong. He always came home.
When they got to the party scene, it had been cleaned up, and the adult hostess offered nothing, but an early morning beer.
Over time, the mystery and frustration grew for the Leach's. They believe the Leavenworth County Sheriff's Office at first viewed Randy as a runaway, and then missed opportunities to interview witnesses right away, and waited five weeks to obtain a warrant to search the party house and scene.
They feared for his safety, during a time rumors of drugs and satanic cults circulated. At one point according to investigative records, a man claimed he was abducted, taken into a cave, where he saw a nude hanging body he thought might be Randy's.
He reported that story to Edwardsville Police, who along with a satanic expert who happened to be in town, were prepared to search the cave. But documents reveal Leavenworth County threatened to arrest anyone who went into the cave. Edwardsville dropped out of the investigation.
The department finally searched the cave itself, two years later.
"And Harold talked to the guy later and they wouldn't even let him go back to where they wanted them to search," lamented Alberta.
And there were other investigation concerns, with the Leach's pushing for deputies and detectives to do more.
"This would be a textbook example of what not to do," noted an associate professor of criminal justice at Park University. Eugene Matthews also spent 24 years in the Army's criminal justice system.
Over a three-month period, FOX 4 Investigative Producer Lisa McCormick worked with Professor Matthews and two honor students to build a timeline, based on documents FOX 4 had obtained. For Matthews and his students, that timeline revealed shortcomings in the investigation that shocked them.
"I would ask him, why didn't you?" Matthews said of the Leavenworth County sheriff who headed the investigation. "What was your rationale behind not doing these fundamental textbook activities. (See his concerns spelled out HERE)
That sheriff, Terry Campbell, now a private investigator, responded with a written statement.
"I know we did the best we could at the time based on information forthcoming and resources available," Campbell wrote (See his entire statement HERE)
Leavenworth County Undersheriff James Sherley says his department is continuing to investigate, and recently has worked with the Leach family in their efforts to use cadaver sniffing dogs. The family paid for the dog teams, but came up empty.
Major Sherley says he probably would have done things differently 28 years ago, but adds he believes the case was handled with good intentions of finding Randy Leach.
Even so, frustration continues to build for Randy's family, who formally had him declared dead, and don't expect to see their son again. They just want answers and closure before they're gone. Alberta calls not knowing the hardest part.
"We've got to know."