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Missing Napan's case similar to Levy disappearance

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The cycle of high-profile missing person cases involving Californians seems endless.In recent years, Polly Klaas, the Yosemite hikers and now missing Washington D.C. intern Chandra Levy have dominated headlines.It's those cases, particularly the Yosemite hikers who were eventually found to be brutally murdered, that keep Sharon Lancaster from wanting a conclusion to the more than seven-year investigation into her daughter's disappearance."It's the Yosemite thing that cemented in my mind that I'm not supposed to know what happened to her," Lancaster said.Elisha Eittreim was declared missing in Napa in late February 1994. Since that time, little solid information has surfaced about what happened to her.A court reporter, Lancaster said she fears that she will discover her daughter met the same gruesome end as the victims in Yosemite or those in cases she's documented at her job.Eittreim's case reveals the frustrations of police and family about some missing persons investigations. About 60 people are reported missing in an average year in the area, but the vast majority are soon found.The handful of remaining cases often prove difficult for police. Seven missing persons investigations are ongoing in Napa, dating from as far back as 1976 to as recently as last year.As the investigation into the disappearance of Levy passes the 100-day mark with no end in sight, the troubles with such investigations has received new national attention.Much like the Levy case, Eittreim's story provides a textbook example of the problems inherent in investigating cases that are either crimes but no crime scene exists, or involve a person who is declared missing but might not want to be found.Too many memoriesThe last time Lancaster spoke with the Register was in February 1995, one year after her daughter's disappearance.Recounting the struggles of desperately trying to find clues and follow leads, she said at the time she was leaving the area."I can't stay in this town — there are too many reminders," she said.Lancaster moved back to Napa from Benicia last week. She will move boxes of Eittreim's belongings back with her, but said she can't bear to look through them.Eittreim was last seen on Feb. 27, 1994. She was 21 years old at the time, a Vintage High School graduate who worked at a downtown Napa gift shop.Reflecting on the investigation, Lancaster said she now feels police didn't act quickly enough to pursue leads."You need to be on it in the first three or four days," she said.The last person to see Eittreim was a man she had recently met on the bus, Lancaster said. The man came to the family's home on the night Eittreim disappeared and gave them some pieces of her clothing and other personal items, telling them she had left wearing his clothes.Dan Lonergan, now a youth diversion officer with Napa police, was a detective with the department who was assigned to the case at the time."There wasn't much to it," Lonergan said of the lack of meaningful leads in the investigation.Lonergan said the department extensively interviewed the man with whom she was last seen, but came up with nothing.The man told police that the last time he saw Eittreim was as she left his Brown Street home. Eittreim was going to walk to her family's home on Patchett Street, he told police, planning to stop at an ATM and liquor store.Eittreim's personal circumstances added to the difficulty of the investigation, Lonergan said. She was bipolar and took Lithium and Zolax to control her emotional instability, as well as a black-out drinker who was known to leave bars with strangers.It was easy to imagine a circumstance in which she went into a car with a person she didn't know very well, he said.But Lancaster now believes police didn't look into the most likely possibility: that the man she was last with killed Eittreim and threw her body in a Dumpster. She said she recommended police bring body-sniffing dogs to the local dump, but police laughed at the suggestion."I just thought the police could be a lot more diligent," she said.Mystery deepensLonergan said police followed dozens of leads and interviewed everyone they could, but they received little solid information."We investigated this thing pretty thoroughly," he said.As the weeks went by without a break in the investigation, attention turned away from the area. Fliers were distributed around the country through the Polly Klaas Foundation, posted up and down the West Coast and as far east as Chicago.Lonergan said calls poured in from those who saw the fliers."Nothing ever panned out," he said.Sometimes the department would think it had a break that turned out to be nothing. At one point, a truck driver reported that in Chicago he received a lap dance from a stripper who was identical to the photos on the flier.The department went so far as to have Chicago police go to the club and photograph the dancer. She did look remarkably like Eittreim, Lonergan said.Lancaster said she also followed up on many leads on her own. She drove to Spokane, Wash. and Phoenix, Ariz. to pursue tips that never panned out.She said there were even rumors of devil worship in the area she thought might be connected to her daughter's disappearance."There were all kinds of rumors in the first year," she said.Lonergan said the problem was that police were never able to find any evidence of a crime scene.The department in 1996 used dogs at a Solano County site that it received a tip about, but came up with nothing. There was even a follow-up in the past several months in Sonoma County at the home of a family friend who recently died, but again, to no avail.More leadsNapa Police Sgt. Ron Allgower is currently assigned to the case. He describes it as "chasing shadows."Every time he interviews someone in association with the case, he said he gets new names of people who might possibly have information.Allgower said he hope someone will now be more likely to come forward with all the time that has passed.A person who was in their early 20s at the time might be more willing to speak now that more than seven years have passed and they've gained maturity, he said.Lonergan said Eittreim is the kind of case that haunts law enforcement."We did all the things we should have done on this thing and weren't successful," he said.Eittreim's grandmother, Helen Kurtz, was the one who initially reported her missing. When her phone rings late at night, Kurtz said, she immediately thinks it might be her missing granddaughter."There's no closure," she said "I still think, 'Is she alive? Does she need help?'"Lancaster said she's sure her daughter didn't just leave town because she was plagued by emotional problems."She didn't have the wherewithal to run away," she said.The entire ordeal is now stored away in her mind, she said, and she tries not to think about it."As time goes by, it gets easier," she said.Nathan Crabbe can be reached at 256-2260 or

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