THE MACKING OF A MYSTERYGRAHAM COUNTY SHERIFF RICHARD MACK'S INVESTIGATORS MADE SO MANY MISTAKES THAT NO ONE MAY EVER KNOW HOW STEPHANIE PROFFITT DIED

It was a new moon, so the desert was dark and shadowless on that warm mid-August night two years ago.

A little after 3:15 a.m., a Ford diesel pickup truck turned down a remote dirt road that leads to an isolated desert hot springs about 20 miles south of Safford, a small farming town southeast of Phoenix.

Inside the rattling cab, Andreas Goodrum and Stephanie Proffitt were arguing. As usual. Physical and mental abuse had long been a part of their relationship. The couple, who had been divorced and separated and reconciled many times, got their kicks in strange ways. Stephanie, age 22, liked to fuel Goodrum's jealous nature with outrageous conduct; for example, she once engaged in public sex at the county fairgrounds with her boyfriend, Robert Gonzales.

Goodrum sometimes took out his frustrations by beating Stephanie. In one case, she alleged, he assaulted her with a tire iron, just three days after she had had an appendectomy.

Stephanie may have been high as they rattled through the desert in the wee hours of August 18, 1993. At least, Goodrum later said she looked as if she were high on some drug. She had also been drinking all night, downing some eight cans of beer at the tire shop Goodrum operated on the outskirts of Safford.

Goodrum said the couple decided to go for a drive to a hot springs as a way to calm her down. But Stephanie was in no mood to be calmed. They soon began arguing over their destination; Stephanie wanted to go to a nearby spring in Thatcher, while Goodrum insisted on the more remote Tanque Hot Wells.

Goodrum headed his truck southeast out of Safford on two-lane U.S. Highway 70, toward Tanque.

Stephanie next demanded that her then-30-year-old ex-husband share any drugs he may have.

A self-proclaimed recovered alcoholic and former drug addict, Goodrum swore to her he had no drugs, and let her sip his juice.

The arguing ceased, but only for a moment.
The truck turned south off Highway 70 onto Haekel Road and bounced down the gravel, washboard surface about three miles. Then, Goodrum says, the headlights failed.

Goodrum later would give this account of ensuing events: He got out of the truck and fiddled with the headlights in pitch dark. Stephanie got out, too. There was only Stephanie's lighter to see by. The repair was unsuccessful, and Goodrum told Stephanie to get back in.

She refused.
Goodrum said he left her, drove down the road for a mile, then returned. He tried once again to coax Stephanie back into the truck. The only way he could see to drive in the deep darkness was to ride the brake pedal, which, inexplicably, made the truck's running lights stay on.

After two or three minutes of arguing, Stephanie, hidden from Goodrum by the desert's dark, still refused to get in the truck.

"Knowing her like I feel I do, I was confident that there was no way that I can get her to come with me, you know, without doing something that was, you know, going to obviously cause a problem," Goodrum said.

"So I got back in the vehicle and I left."
By his own account, Goodrum left his lover, who had once been his wife, in a drug- and alcohol-induced haze in the middle of the desert four miles from the nearest phone, with nothing more than "a 90 percent full" jug of Gatorade left by the side of the road.

Goodrum claims he went home to get a van that had working headlights. But by the time Goodrum got back to the desert road, Stephanie was gone and the sun was up.

Goodrum drove to his shop and opened for business at 7:30 a.m., as usual.
Despite the bizarre activities earlier in the morning, Goodrum didn't call the police. He said his attempts to contact Stephanie's mother, Norma Matlock, were also unsuccessful. Goodrum did, however, tell a couple of his employees about Stephanie getting out of the truck.

The next day, Goodrum would inform the sheriff's department that he assumed Stephanie had walked to the highway and hitched a ride somewhere, possibly to the nearby town of Duncan where she supposedly had a female lover.

That was the last time anybody saw Stephanie Proffitt alive.
For a long time, no one at the sheriff's office seemed to care whether she were alive or not.

Stephanie's disappearance, and the search for her, barely rated a mention on the desk calendar of Graham County Sheriff Richard I. Mack. At the time, Mack was bent on pursuing other activities, including some rather lofty political ambitions.

About six months after Stephanie vanished, in fact, some of Mack's aspirations became reality. As the first law enforcement officer in the country to successfully sue the federal government over the Brady gun-control bill, the handsome Mormon sheriff moved to the forefront of far-conservative politics. Travel, talk shows, awards and accolades came his way. He quickly published two books on guns and the role of God in American democracy.

Mack can be accurately--if not completely--described as an opportunist. Twice elected Graham County sheriff as a Democrat, Mack is now heading conservative Republican Pat Buchanan's presidential campaign in Arizona. Mack also is a political ally of Republican Governor Fife Symington.

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