By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
The deputy filing a report related to the incident said he couldn't tell if the voice was actually Goodrum's. The tape later disappeared from the sheriff's office.
Gonzales reported the stolen checks to the sheriff's department; Stephanie was arrested when she returned to Safford in late July 1993. Goodrum, who allegedly accompanied Stephanie to the bank when she cashed the checks and enjoyed the fruits of the money on vacation, was not charged.
Stephanie's court appearance was scheduled for August 23. Gonzales and Matlock say Stephanie told them she wasn't going to take the stolen-check rap by herself, intimating Goodrum would be drawn into the mess.
Stephanie's documented history of using information against people, particularly people she was close to, suggested the upcoming trial could be a volatile affair.
"Once Stephanie saw she was going to get hung, she was going to start squealing," Gonzales says.
Gonzales claims that Stephanie said she had information related to activities at Goodrum's shop--activities that were already under investigation by the state Department of Motor Vehicles, state records show.
But Stephanie never made it to court.
Stephanie's grandmother, Billie Horner, called Goodrum's tire shop around 11:30 a.m. on August 18--eight hours after Goodrum said he left Stephanie in the desert--looking for her granddaughter. Goodrum relayed the story about her getting out of the truck and staying in the desert.
Horner contacted Matlock, her daughter. An hour later, Goodrum relayed the same story to Matlock, who decided to wait until evening before calling police.
"Generally, Stephanie would call me in the evening between 5:30 and 6:30," Matlock says. "When she had not called by 7:15, I did start to worry."
After receiving no word from Stephanie, Matlock drove out to Haekel Road to look for her daughter. The road splits at a fork about a mile from Highway 70. Matlock stopped her white Jeep Cherokee and got out. As darkness fell, Matlock became frightened while standing at the fateful intersection.
"I got out of the car and yelled her name. There was no answer," she says. She went home, hoping there would be a message from Stephanie on her answering machine.
"Nothing," she says.
Early the next morning, August 19, Matlock and Horner went back to the area in search of Stephanie. They didn't find her, but they did notice a Gatorade bottle lying along the roadside, three miles from the turnoff from the highway.
They left the bottle there and returned to town, where they met with Goodrum. The three went to the sheriff's office to report Stephanie's disappearance, where they heard Goodrum relay once again the story of Stephanie getting out of his truck and refusing to get back in.
Something about Goodrum's story just didn't seem right to Matlock.
So Matlock and Horner drove back to Haekel Road and picked up the Gatorade bottle, being careful not to disturb any fingerprints.
This bottle was not "90 percent" full, as Goodrum had told them and the sheriff's department earlier. The bottle was unopened.
Doubt about Goodrum's story began to gnaw. The skepticism soon turned into a torrent of questions as the initial sheriff's investigation got under way, but quickly stalled.
Why was the Gatorade bottle even at the roadside, the relatives wondered. They believed that Stephanie, an experienced desert hiker, would have taken it with her to walk out of the desert.
Even more troubling to her family was a more basic question: Why would Stephanie refuse a ride back into town, no matter how mad she was at Goodrum? She had endured plenty of abuse from him in the past.
Days turned into weeks; Stephanie was still missing. The sheriff's department seemed to be doing little. Even though she was Stephanie's mother, Matlock became convinced Stephanie was dead. Anger turned to fury when Matlock learned Mack had not interrogated Goodrum or searched his property and vehicles for possible evidence.
After three weeks, Matlock hired a private investigator to review the case. The family had to ask for donations, hold bake sales and sell belongings to raise money.
The investigator, Manny Valenzuela, a former Chandler Police Department captain, quickly discovered that the sheriff's department had conducted virtually no investigation, and had prepared only sketchy, informal reports on Stephanie's disappearance. The department had already lost the initial missing-person report. It had to be reconstructed from memory.
"They hadn't done anything," Valenzuela says.
Valenzuela urged Mack to begin building an investigative file on the case, which hadn't been done. Mack bristled at the suggestion, Valenzuela says, insisting he was not going to engage in a witch hunt. Mack says he aggressively pursued the case before Valenzuela entered the picture. Both Gonzales and Goodrum took lie-detector tests one week after Stephanie disappeared. Both men passed. The validity of the test, however, was later called into question, not just by the Arizona Attorney General's Office, but by the polygrapher himself, who complained that Mack had given him such sketchy information it was difficult to conduct the tests.
Valenzuela soon became convinced that Mack was steering the investigation away from Goodrum. A few days after Stephanie's body was discovered, Valenzuela was allowed to give Goodrum a polygraph. The test, which was reviewed by one of the nation's top polygraphers, concluded that Goodrum lied when he answered "no" to a simple question: Had he killed Stephanie?