A college student spending the summer in San Francisco vanishes without a trace.
Weight: 140 lb.
Defining Characteristics: Facial dimples
Remarks: Last seen 6/23/97
Had Kristen placed a personal ad?
Eighteen-year-old Kristen Modafferi was a college honor student from North Carolina spending her summer in San Francisco. On Monday, June 23rd, 1997, she arrived for work at the Crocker Galleria mall. She had taken a job at a coffee shop to pay for a photography course at U.C. Berkeley. Griffin Cherry was her close friend:
"She wanted to come to the big city and find some excitement. But it seemed to be coupled with a naiveté, not a real understanding of how the big city works."
At the end of her shift, Kristen left the coffee shop and was never seen again. From the start, authorities were frustrated by intriguing clues that went nowhere and a trail that led directly into the ocean.
The day after Kristen vanished, her parents flew immediately to San Francisco. Kristen's father Bob Modafferi:
Why were pages missing from the diary?
"When we found out that she had disappeared, we were just shocked. We couldn't eat. We barely spoke. We just were even having trouble breathing. "
Kristin's mother, Debbie Modafferi, was determined to find her daughter:
"When you are faced with a situation like this, you really don't know how strong you can be. You either crawl in a hole and die and give up, or you can fight. There was no choice for us; we were going to fight for our daughter."
As in many missing person's cases, police had few leads to work with. One of the first pieces of the puzzle was identifying a blonde woman seen with Kristin the day she disappeared. Forty-five minutes after Kristin's shift ended, a man who worked with her noticed them at the mall together. Officer Patrick Mahanay of the Oakland Police Department learned that this was out of character for Kristen:
"He thought that was kind of strange because she never really stuck around after work. As soon as she checked out, she would be gone."
Kristen's father was determined to find the identity of the blonde woman:
"They were hanging out together, talking together, definitely with each other. And so we've made a lot of effort to try to get the blonde woman to come forward, identify herself. We appealed a number of times through the media, but we've never got a response."
Police used a bloodhound to try to retrace Kristen's route the day that she vanished. The dog immediately located her trail, but police weren't sure if this was a route Kristen took the day she disappeared, or some other day. The dog then led them to Geary Street, heading toward Land's End Beach. Kristen's co-workers had said that on the day she vanished, she talked about visiting Land's End Beach. Officer Patrick Mahanay followed the bloodhound to the trail's end:
"We got down to the beach area and came to a point where the trail seemed to have stopped. That's a very treacherous part of the San Francisco waterline. Numerous people each year are washed off the rocks and are never seen again, so it was a distinct possibility that she had in fact fallen into the ocean."
Kristen's father, Bob, doubts this theory:
"We really don't believe that's what happened to Kristen. It's a very tourist-oriented area, so there are always people around. If she had fallen into the water, somebody would have seen something."
But if Kristen didn't drown, what happened to her? Seventeen days after she vanished, a man called a local news station and claimed Kristen had been murdered. Bill Magee, the assignment editor at KGO-TV, received the call:
"He went into a very long description of who he said killed her and he told me that there were two women, and he named them. He said that Kristen had been killed as a result of a lesbian love affair that went wrong."
Detectives tracked down the two women named by the caller, but determined they didn't know Kristen and had nothing to do with her disappearance. The police asked if the women knew anyone who might hold a grudge against them and falsely implicate them in the case. Both women named the same person, a man named Ryan.
Ryan told police the two women were his girlfriend's employers, and that they had been harassing his girlfriend at work. He said he phoned in the false tip in an effort to get back at them. But the police suspected there was more to Ryan's story. Upon investigation, they found allegations that he had abused women in the past. Their next move was to see if he had any connections to Kristen. Police then learned that Ryan met women mostly through personal ads. Earlier, they had found an ad in Kristen's apartment they think she might have placed. Bob Modafferi:
"If you read it, it sounds like it could be Kristen. It's all the kind of things she was interested in, like photography, walking the city, music. It was all the kind of things that Kristen was there to do."
Another clue was found at the home of Ryan's girlfriend. Her diary was missing several pages covering the same time period Kristen had been in San Francisco. She told police that Ryan had torn out the pages. Det. Patrick Mahanay found this unusual:
"We asked her, 'Why is this diary the way it is?' And she said that some of the stuff that was in there could come back to hurt Ryan."
Still, police say they have no clear evidence that Ryan was involved in Kristen's disappearance. Ryan claims he passed a polygraph test given by a reputable expert:
"I never met Kristen. I never saw her. There's absolutely no connection to Kristen and I in any way. And what I did was wrong. I wish I'd never made that call."
Police have completely cleared Ryan as a suspect. With no new leads, the case is now back at square one.