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Letters Revive Dormant Missing Girl Case

June 26, 2004 GMT

TOWNSEND, Mass. (AP) _ The rural road that wanders past Walker Pond was the last place 13-year-old Deborah Ann Quimby was seen, pedaling her bicycle as she headed for a quiet place to think. That was 27 years ago, and the decades since produced few leads. But anonymous letters sent to police in recent years have revived the long dormant case.

This past week, police drained Walker Pond then searched the muddy bottom for Deborah’s remains, after the letters promised answers there.

The search, the second at the pond in two years, yielded a few articles of clothing and an old bike. But authorities don’t know yet if the items are major clues because the pond was used as a dump until the late 1970s and holds all manner of junk.

Deborah’s parents are grateful for the renewed effort to find their daughter, who would be 40 now.

``We hope that some of that turns into finding our daughter and puts an end to this,″ said Richard ``Jake″ Quimby. ``We just want an end to it.″

Deborah left home for her grandfather’s campsite across town on May 3, 1977, riding a brown, boy’s model 10-speed bike. A friend who accompanied her for a short time was the last person who saw her.

Quimby left a note for her parents, telling them she had ``some issues″ to deal with, but would phone later that day. The call never came.

Sheila Brown, who works at the town library, remembered people in this New Hampshire border town of about 9,200 people mobilizing to search for the teen and keeping closer watch on their own kids.

``There was a lot of frenzy going on,″ she said. ``You’ve got a thousand and one different questions and nobody has any answers.″

The case grew stale over the years until November 2002, when police received an anonymous letter pointing them to Walker Pond. A search with sonar in May 2003 turned up nothing. A second letter sent exactly a year after the first urged police to look closer, prompting this year’s search.

This time, police drained the pond about 20 to 30 feet from the original shoreline, focusing their attention on the pond’s northwest corner.

Deborah, shown with long brown hair and a freckled nose in Internet ``Missing″ posters, is listed as a ``non family abduction″ by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Jake Quimby rejects theories that his daughter was taken by strangers and has said he thought Deborah might have been meeting someone she knew.

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``When she left, it seemed like she had a destination in mind,″ he said. ``To me, that’s not being snatched.″

Any number of scenarios have passed through his mind in the past 27 years.

``Your mind just naturally tries to piece things together,″ he said at a police news conference. He and Deborah’s mother, Anne Quimby, declined to be interviewed.

Last week, the pond’s newly exposed shoreline, dotted with old tires, had small orange flags sticking up from the deep brown muck where clothing and bike parts were found.

Police were initially unable to determine if the bike parts matched Deborah’s, and sent the bike and clothing to a lab for analysis. The police chief said he wants to reinterview eight to 10 people who were considered ``persons of interest″ when Deborah disappeared.

The anonymous letters, typewritten but sent in handwritten envelopes, are also being analyzed. They were postmarked from Manchester, N.H., and Worcester, but Marshall said mail sent from Townsend can be routed through those cities and back.

Police won’t say if the letters indicate the writer is the suspect or just someone with knowledge of the case. Sgt. Travis Rixford said the letter writer had a good grasp of Townsend’s geography.

``I feel very strongly about the letters,″ Rixford said. ``They’re somewhat specific.″

Richard Quimby said if the letter writer is responsible for his daughter’s disappearance, he wants to know who it is. Otherwise, he said, he doesn’t need to find out.

Anne Quimby said her family’s support is all that’s gotten them through the pain of the past 27 years.

``Debbie is thought of by both of us every single day of our lives,″ she said. ``Every single day.″