Abduction discovery awakens old demons
Recovery of kidnap victim in East Bay stirs hope for Coastside resolution in Waters' case Michaele Benedict doesn't want to be viewed as a victim, 36 years after the disappearance of her 5-year-old child. She has found ways to appreciate life, including playing music with her husband, Charles Calvert in their Montara home.
Wednesday, Sep 09, 2009
By Greg Thomas
The recent discovery of Jaycee Lee Dugard, who was 11 years old when she was kidnapped in South Lake Tahoe in 1991, evokes memories of a child abducted under similar circumstances in Half Moon Bay 36 years ago.
Five-year-old Anna Waters
wandered out onto her parents’ back porch after school while her mom made soup in the kitchen on a rainy day in January of 1973. Then she disappeared without a trace.
At first, Waters was thought to have wandered to Purisima Creek and drowned. The creek was a stone’s throw from home, and Waters’ mother feared what could happen if her daughter meandered there unsupervised. But after authorities scoured the streambed for four days without finding any leads, the possibility that Waters washed away or drowned seemed remote. Without a solid piece of evidence on which to hang a theory about the child’s disappearance, San Mateo County Sheriff’s detectives began investigating a kidnapping.
That was more than three decades ago. The case has periodically been revisited, always fading into murky darkness. Waters would be 41 this year.
Today, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children classifies the case as a random stranger abduction. Waters’ mother, Michaele Benedict, views it the same way.
“In the lack of any other evidence we certainly have to consider that as a possibility,” Benedict said Thursday.
At one time, some suspected Benedict’s ex-husband, Waters’ father, had a hand in Waters’ disappearance. In the years prior to the incident, George Waters was diagnosed with paranoid Schizophrenia. Right around the time the child went missing, he took out several life insurance policies on himself, some of which named Anna Waters as the beneficiary. In 1982, he drank cyanide and died in a hotel room in San Francisco.
But Benedict doesn’s believe he had anything to do with her daughter’s disappearance. In a 2006 Review article, Benedict said her ex-husband “was just too crazy to do it,” and cites the lack of justifiable evidence supporting that accusation.
Benedict moved to Montara, married a cellist, and has moved on with her life. She has two sons with five children of their own. After more than three decades of wondering about her daughter’s disappearance, she has resigned herself to the likelihood she may never know what happened.
“I don’t have any particular hopes,” she said. “I think that after all these years that have gone by I’ve been doing my duty by not giving up, but I don’t have any expectations.”
Then there is Doug French. He expects an answer.
French grew up on the Coastside and was friends with Waters’ half-brother, Nonda, when the boys were freshmen at Half Moon Bay High School. He was 13 when Anna Waters went missing. Like many people in Half Moon Bay at the time, French knew about the disappearance but wasn’t pursuing an investigation. That changed five years ago.
Watching an episode of the television show “Unsolved Mysteries” that featured a story about a girl he thought might be Waters, French phoned Benedict to alert her. The two cases didn’t overlap, but the reminder of Waters’ mysterious disappearance shook French into action.
Since 2004, French has kindled a personal investigation on his own time. He chases down leads when he finds them, and tracks daily developments he thinks might be related to what detectives consider a cold case.
French pulled county Sheriff’s Detective Jim Gioletti into the mix in 2005 as part of his amateur sleuthing. Gioletti supports French in his search for hard evidence; French keeps Gioletti abreast of any potential leads.
Through a combination of luck and dedication, French has uncovered some promising leads he’s passed on to Gioletti.
Last year, shortly after the pair walked the Half Moon Bay site where Waters went missing “to get a feel for the property and a sense of what could have happened,” Gioletti said “Gioletti got a call from French. Through an online forum called ‘web sleuths” French heard of a woman in the Midwest bearing a striking resemblance to the composite image of what Waters might look like at age 39. Apart from the indelible physical similarities “blond hair, brown eyes, and a defining mole on the right cheek” the woman’s background was shrouded in “lots of mysteries,” Gioletti said. She wasn’t sure where she was born, who her parents were or where she grew up.
Operating under the possibility that the woman was Waters, Gioletti partnered with state law enforcement agencies to obtain authority to perform a DNA comparison.
Test results came up negative for a match between the woman and Waters’ family.
“Right now, the case remains open and unsolved,” Gioletti says. “It’s either a parental or stranger abduction, or she may have fallen victim to the creek behind her house. Those are the three possibilities that were looked into.”
Mysterious home abductions are rare in the county, Gioletti says, and recovering a victim years after an incident is even rarer. That’s one of the reasons why finding Jaycee Lee Dugard is a source of encouragement to French. Dugard’s recent emergence from an Antioch backyard provides fresh information to work with in probing a new angle: Phillip Garrido.
Garrido and his wife, Nancy, were arrested last month for kidnapping and keeping Dugard in confinement. A single similarity binds Dugard with Waters in the eyes of investigators. The circumstances of Dugard’s abduction match an event that occurred days before Waters’ disappearance.
A few years ago, when French began asking questions, Benedict’s son, Nonda, dropped a bomb on the Waters case. Over dinner one night, he casually recalled the failed attempt of an unfamiliar adult couple to lure Waters into their car when the brother and sister were out on a walk one day. The story came as a shock to French and Benedict. And, in an eerie coincidence, that memory coincides with Garrido’s approach in abducting Dugard.
French is piecing together a timeline of events surrounding Garrido’s whereabouts around the time of Waters’ disappearance.
“This guy has opened up a lot of possibilities for a lot of cases because he seems to have been active as a sexual predator, dating back to 1971 and 1972,” French said.
On Thursday, French unearthed documents showing Garrido was arrested in Antioch for statutory rape in 1972. The case never went to trial.
“That places him in the Bay Area when Anna disappeared in 1973,” French said.
French is working to nail down Garrido’s precise whereabouts during that year. So are investigators in the East Bay, according to Gioletti.
French suspects Garrido could be the missing link in his investigation that will illuminate some measure of Anna Waters’ life following her disappearance. Even if it’s not, French will continue to hunt for clues.
“There is no statute of limitation as to how far I’m willing to look into this. “One thing we’ve learned is that, even when it seems we’ve run into every dead end we can possibly find, another avenue opens up, such as this story with Phillip Garrido,” French said. “This opens up a whole new possibility of things to look at. And, one of these times, one of these leads is going to be the answer.”