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.
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.
Politics aside, Mack would seem to have the qualifications to run a respectable law enforcement operation. Among other things, he is a 1991 graduate of a 12-week course at the FBI academy in Quantico, Virginia.
For whatever reason or reasons, however, his department's investigation of and reports about Stephanie Proffitt's mysterious disappearance are riddled with holes, inaccuracies and question marks.
"The whole goddamned case is odd," says retired Safford Police Department narcotics investigator Kenny McKinney, who is very familiar with Goodrum's violent tendencies and criminal past.
When he learned of her disappearance, Mack had plenty of reasons to wonder whether Stephanie had fallen victim to foul play. He chose to ignore them. He treated her abandonment in the desert as a low-priority missing-person case.
Extremely low priority.
"We weren't investigating a murder; we weren't investigating a death," Mack says of the investigation.
Two months later, though, Stephanie's nude, mummified remains were discovered in a scraggly grove of salt cedar a few miles from where Goodrum said he left her beside the road. Mack had a death on his hands. Mack now contends that, on the basis of his department's investigation, it appears that Stephanie became disoriented and overheated, began stripping off her clothes, sought out some shade, lay down and died. Deaths from exposure are not unusual in the desert near Safford--two have occurred this summer. None of those activities, Mack says, can be attributed to Goodrum leaving her in the desert.
"Did he intend to leave her out there? Did he try to put her back in the truck? According to him, he did," Mack says. If that's the case, there is nothing to show he's responsible for her death, Mack argues.
Clifton lawyer Monica Stauffer, who had represented Stephanie in several legal matters, considers Mack's reasoning to be ludicrous.
"I think at the very least you can charge him with endangerment for leaving her out there," Stauffer says, noting that Stephanie was intoxicated by alcohol and, perhaps, drugs. "People who have done much less intentional kinds of acts have ended up on my defense calendar."
Graham County Attorney Jack Williams agrees with Mack's assessment, concluding there is not enough evidence to prosecute anyone in the matter. In particular, he points out that the autopsy on her badly decomposed body was inconclusive. "I don't think anyone can prove, at this point, that Goodrum caused the death of Stephanie," Williams says.
But the thoroughness of the autopsy of Stephanie Proffitt has been called into question by investigators for the Arizona Attorney General's Office, who initiated a review of the case after receiving a desperate letter for help from Stephanie's mother in September 1993.
That review also questions the validity of a polygraph examination which Mack feels has cleared Goodrum, and the competence of major components of the investigation done by Mack's department.
Hanging over the entire affair are questions concerning Goodrum's relationship with Mack. Goodrum has a long criminal history and has had numerous charges dropped, in exchange for his work as a confidential informant for law enforcement agencies in Graham County. Many wonder whether Mack, for some reason, is protecting Goodrum by not aggressively investigating Stephanie's death.
Stephanie's mother, Norma Matlock, is convinced that's the case.
"I know without a doubt that there is a hidden relationship between them, a common bond," she wrote in a September 13, 1994, letter to Attorney General Grant Woods.
That Stephanie turned up dead should have been no surprise to those who knew her history. There were plenty of indications she could be in serious trouble when she vanished.
Mack knew Stephanie was in the middle of a violent love triangle. Goodrum and Stephanie's boyfriend, Robert Gonzales, had declared virtual war. Restraining orders were in place against both men, but they continued to harass each other.
"I think everyone who knew about these three thought something was going to happen," Stauffer says. "The shocker was that the one it happened to was Stephanie."
Goodrum is a two-bit hoodlum with an arrest record dating back 15 years. The charges included violent offenses--assault and kidnaping, among others--allegedly perpetrated against Stephanie and other women.
Most of the charges leveled during that time were dismissed in exchange for Goodrum's assistance to law enforcement authorities. Eventually, he became a confidential informant for the Graham County Attorney's Office, the Safford Police Department and the Phoenix Police Department. Goodrum declined to be interviewed for this story.
The other male corner of the love triangle was Robert Gonzales, a Mexican-born heavy-machinery mechanic for whom machismo has real meaning. His running battle with Goodrum eventually led to criminal charges against Gonzales.
And Stephanie was no angel herself. She was a confidential informant for the Department of Public Safety, a notorious snitch who would turn in her own mother and whichever lover she happened to be angry with. It was well known that Stephanie abused drugs, particularly crystal methamphetamine. Her promiscuity is documented; it was legendary.
Given the volatile nature of everyone involved, Stephanie's mother, Matlock, became increasingly distraught as Mack refused to intensify the search for her daughter in the weeks after she disappeared under such unusual circumstances.
Matlock had good reason to be concerned. Stephanie was Goodrum's third wife. The other failed marriages were interspersed with numerous arrests and serious criminal charges, including drug trafficking, possession of stolen property, assault, reckless endangerment and kidnaping.
But if Goodrum, the son of a former Arizona Department of Public Safety officer who later became principal of a nearby high school, knew how to get into trouble, he knew how to get out of it, as well. He simply offered his services to Graham County law enforcement agencies in exchange for having the charges dropped. In short, he became a snitch. And a darn good one at that.
"He maintained reliability and credibility with me," former Graham County Attorney's Office investigator Dave Boyd says.
Goodrum frequently worked on drug and stolen property cases, helping to send a number of people to jail, Boyd says.
While Goodrum was helping Boyd, he also was working for the Safford Police Department as a confidential informant, says the department's former narcotics officer, Kenny McKinney.
"He was a snitch for us, and he was a good one," McKinney says.
Goodrum acted as an informant in Graham County for several years. Then, he moved to Phoenix in the late 1980s. Boyd helped Goodrum land an informant position with the Phoenix Police Department.
In August 1988, he got into an altercation with two Phoenix police officers in front of the downtown police station. As the officers approached his truck, Goodrum tried to pull a loaded gun from a holster. The officers did not approve.
Goodrum was arrested on aggravated assault and reckless endangerment charges. He later pleaded guilty to two counts of felony endangerment. Letters of recommendation from Boyd and his parents helped persuade the court to place Goodrum on three years' probation.
Goodrum returned to Safford where he lived with a girlfriend, Regina Taylor, who was pregnant with his second child. She moved out suddenly in July 1989 after being treated at a Safford hospital for an assault.
In that attack, Goodrum is alleged to have choked her until she nearly passed out.
The emergency-room report on the incident recommended that Taylor "avoid contact with boyfriend to avoid further abuse." Soon after, Stephanie and Goodrum began dating. Once again, Goodrum's temper flared. On November 14, 1989, while still on probation for his felony conviction for assaulting two police officers, he allegedly beat Stephanie with a crowbar, Graham County Sheriff's Department records show.
He was charged with assault with a deadly weapon. Bond was set at $13,700, and Goodrum spent the next month in jail. During that time, he also admitted violating his probation by drinking and using drugs.
Stephanie dropped the assault charge in January 1990, after Goodrum agreed to go to a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center in Globe. Four months later, on April 16, 1990, Stephanie married Goodrum in the Greenlee County Courthouse. Boyd attended the service as a witness.
The turbulent relationship continued after Stephanie and Goodrum were married. By early 1992, Stephanie had petitioned for divorce. She also had begun seeing Robert Gonzales.
Stephanie bounced back and forth between the men, which triggered hostilities. Each time she moved, she gave her new partner negative information about the other man. She also was acting as a snitch for DPS in Graham County, says former DPS officer Bill Mulleneaux, who now is in charge of security at Eastern Arizona College.
Mulleneaux signed a search warrant in May 1992 that led to a raid on Gonzales' trailer home in search of cocaine. The warrant was based on information from a confidential source. The search turned up nothing. Gonzales says he believes the informant was Stephanie.
In the fall of 1992, Stephanie reconciled with Goodrum and moved back to his trailer at the tire lot. By the following spring, she moved out once again. But Gonzales says he wouldn't let her back into his home unless she divorced Goodrum.
Stephanie refiled divorce papers in early 1993 and the divorce was granted on April 13, 1993. She moved briefly into an apartment for a couple of months, before taking most of her possessions back to her mother's house.
She split her time between Gonzales' home and her mother's home for the next few months. But in July, she had a falling-out with Gonzales and decided to return, once again, to Goodrum. As a final stab at Gonzales, Stephanie allegedly stole several blank checks Gonzales had already signed. Gonzales routinely signed blank checks so Stephanie could buy household and business supplies.
Instead of purchasing supplies, Stephanie cashed them for $2,400. She and Goodrum then took off on a two-week vacation up the West Coast, spending Gonzales' money. She occasionally sent taunting postcards to Gonzales, bragging about how much fun they were having at his expense.
Before leaving on the vacation, Goodrum also allegedly called Gonzales' house and left a threatening message on Gonzales' answering machine, saying he would kill both Gonzales and Stephanie.
The tape was heard by Gonzales, his attorney, Evans Farnsworth, and a paralegal. It was turned over to the Graham County Sheriff's Department in mid-July. But Graham County Attorney Jack Williams declined to press charges against Goodrum for violating the harassment injunctions that were in place against both men.
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?
Mack, outraged by Valenzuela's entry into the case, charged that the private eye was only trying to make easy money off a worried and desperate family.
"He's nothing but a liar," Mack says of Valenzuela.
The turbulence surrounding Stephanie's life spread, leading to a bitter professional battle between Valenzuela and Mack. The animosity escalated when Mack refused to follow Valenzuela's suggestion to seek at least second-degree-murder charges against Goodrum.
"I'm not going to charge anyone where there isn't evidence to support it," Mack says. But even if Mack is correct--if there is insufficient evidence to charge Goodrum--that doesn't mean evidence may never have existed.
Goodrum didn't appear to be worried about Stephanie after leaving her in the desert.
In fact, he saw it as an opportunity to make some money.
The morning he left her on a roadside miles from anywhere, Goodrum opened his business and placed a "for sale" sign on Stephanie's 15-year-old Chevy pickup truck. He had no legal claim to the vehicle; the couple was divorced and she was sole owner. But there it was, with the sign, parked at the tire shop where Goodrum also lives.
Within a few days of her vanishing, Stephanie's family says, Goodrum also sold several of Stephanie's animals--including horses and dogs.
Before long, the single-wide house trailer where Stephanie lived with Goodrum--the site of a party on the night of her disappearance--was sold and moved off-site. Goodrum would later tell Mack he found a syringe in the trailer he believed Stephanie used the night she disappeared to shoot herself up with drugs. One witness told attorney general investigators she appeared to be high on crystal methamphetamine.
Goodrum also sold the van which, he says, he used to drive back into the desert to search for Stephanie.
Piece by piece, Goodrum got rid of possessions that may--or may not--have contained evidence linking him to Stephanie's death.
No one may ever know if such evidence existed, because the Graham County Sheriff's Department failed to immediately search Goodrum's property and vehicles for incriminating items--including the syringe.
While it was failing to search, the department was also failing to interview. The sheriff's department didn't subject Goodrum, the last person to see Stephanie alive, to a formal interrogation for nearly seven weeks. Interrogation might be too strong a word to describe the relaxed, sympathetic interview Mack conducted with Goodrum in early October. During the interview, which Goodrum insisted be held in his trailer, Mack asked Goodrum how he "could keep taking Stephanie back after all the affairs she's had."
While Goodrum was selling off most of his property and replacing it, Mack continued to treat Stephanie's disappearance as merely another missing-person report.
After a four-person search-and-rescue team spent about 25 man-hours looking for Stephanie on Haekel Road--a search led by Goodrum--the sheriff's department called off the operation without finding Stephanie.
The team did find a set of faint foot tracks along the steep bank of Haekel Road that appeared to lead to U.S. 70, three miles away. No photographs of the tracks were taken. That omission proved to be a crucial mistake.
"The track we found and followed to Highway 70 had very tight lines across the bottom," Graham County Sheriff Deputy Jerry Nelson wrote in the department's initial report on Stephanie's disappearance.
Matlock says Nelson's drawing of the tracks appears to match the shoes she was wearing, not Stephanie's. Matlock speculates that she made the footprints during her search for her daughter.
Nevertheless, the sheriff's department's search team concluded that those were Stephanie's tracks and that she made it to the road, where she probably hitched a ride.
The deputies made that conclusion even though Goodrum himself insisted that Stephanie was wearing a pair of high-top black tennis shoes that have a different tread design.
When the search failed to quickly locate her daughter, Matlock insisted that the sheriff send out tracking dogs to determine whether the footprints leading to the highway were really Stephanie's.
The sheriff's office refused, saying an airborne search would be conducted instead.
But the airborne search never got off the ground.
Instead of investing time and money in a diligent ground and air search, Mack relied primarily on an Ohio psychic as a way of locating Stephanie Proffitt.
On August 27, nine days after Stephanie disappeared, Graham County sheriff's investigator Charlie Morris called Gale St. John, a Toledo psychic who has a reputation for finding missing persons. Matlock already had been in contact with the psychic.
St. John told Morris that Stephanie had made it to the highway, where she was picked up by a Hispanic male, whom she casually knew. The suspect drove her toward Safford and wanted to have sex. When she refused, the suspect raped her, and then bound and gagged her before taking her to the desert, the psychic claimed.
St. John said Stephanie was choked or suffocated. The murderer then panicked and left the body in the desert. After getting back to town, the suspect got his thoughts together and returned to the site where Stephanie died, recovered the body and took it somewhere else to hide it--possibly in a round tank or well within a three- to six-mile radius from where Goodrum left her.
At least, that was the psychic's conclusion to Stephanie Proffitt's life.
Morris spent eight hours over the next two days following up on St. John's leads, searching water holes and old ranches near Haekel Road, Tanque and the nearby communities of San Jose and Solomon.
He found no trace of Stephanie.
Psychics can be useful in police investigations, but they aren't typically called in until after all standard evidentiary leads are exhausted. In Stephanie's case, the psychic became the controlling factor in the investigation.
"They were relying on psychics instead of going out and doing their job," says Valenzuela.
The department did conduct brief interviews with a number of Goodrum's associates, as well as with friends of Stephanie. Sheriff's investigators eventually searched Goodrum's single-wide trailer and his van. But those searches occurred months after Stephanie vanished, and after the property had been sold. Mack could not provide dates for either search, which, apparently, were nothing more than a cursory walk-through.
Goodrum even accompanied a sheriff's deputy through the single-wide trailer, which by then was on a mobile-home sales lot. The deputy noted the trailer was "super clean."
The sheriff's department reports on interviews and searches weren't immediately written and placed in the investigative file during the initial months of the investigation.
"It appears they backdated reports," Valenzuela says.
Numerous interviews were conducted with people who may have had information about Stephanie and Goodrum. But those interviews were either not memorialized in reports, or the reports were stored in a file separate from the main case record on the disappearance.
When Valenzuela reviewed the case file in late 1993, after Stephanie's body had been recovered, he found a void. There wasn't even a detailed report on finding her remains.
The Graham County Sheriff's Department did not focus its early investigations on Goodrum, the man who said he left Stephanie in the desert in an impaired state. Instead, the sheriff's department put Stephanie's boyfriend, 42-year-old Robert Gonzales, under immediate scrutiny.
It seemed logical, at first. Whenever Stephanie left one of the men, she soon ended up at the other's house.
Mack explains the emphasis this way: "Tell me who had more motive" to harm Stephanie. Gonzales, who Stephanie had just ripped off for $2,400, or Goodrum?
Sheriff's deputies questioned Gonzales the morning Stephanie was reported missing, pulling his vehicle over while his son was driving him back from town to his home. Gonzales said he hadn't seen her since the day before, and he invited deputies to search his property, which they did. They found nothing.
Gonzales was convinced that Stephanie was dead as soon as the deputies told him she was missing.
For the next two and a half weeks, Gonzales says he went out to the desert every day looking for Stephanie. When the sheriff's department decided not to conduct an aerial search, he hired a private pilot to fly over the area searching for her.
"I checked the whole area and mapped it," he says.
He found nothing.
Other citizens searched for Stephanie, as well. No one found a trace of her, even though one woman said two weeks before Stephanie's remains were discovered that she was within ten paces of where the body was later found.
"I don't think she was there," says Elois Flowers.
Returning to the site the week after Stephanie's body was removed, Flowers was able to locate the spot where she had stood. She had been eating a pomegranate; the rind was still on the ground. Even though investigators had removed the body, the stench was overwhelming. It was a stench she didn't notice just three weeks earlier.
"I know she wasn't there [earlier]," Flowers insists. "I would have smelled her."
While Gonzales and the family continued to search the area, the sheriff's department slowly escalated the scope of its probe. But weeks passed, and Stephanie failed to show up.
A week after she vanished, Mack had polygraph tests administered to Goodrum and Gonzales. Both men passed the polygraph, which asked if they were withholding information about her disappearance. The accuracy of the polygraph later came under question because of the lack of information provided by Mack to the polygrapher.
But Mack relied heavily on the polygraph results conducted by former Pinal County Sheriff Deputy Chris Wesbrock.
"I thought the polygraph was a very thorough interrogation," he says. With the polygraphs clearing both men, Mack says there was no immediate need for another intense interrogation of Goodrum or Gonzales by his department.
He also said there was no evidence that Stephanie was harmed in any way, and therefore no basis to obtain a search warrant to examine Goodrum's property.
"There wasn't probable cause," Mack says.
But Mack later admitted that he wasn't aware of the extent of Goodrum's criminal record, which could have been supporting evidence in seeking a search warrant.
He said he didn't even know Goodrum had been charged with beating Stephanie with a tire iron in 1989, until New Times questioned him about the charge last month.
At the same time, Mack says he knew the intimate details of Stephanie's and Goodrum's relationship.
"We knew more than anyone around here about the relationship between Stephanie and Andreas," he says.
And there were other strong indications that Goodrum had become increasingly violent in the months leading up to Stephanie's disappearance.
Goodrum's parents requested that a Greenlee County court enter a harassment injunction against their son six weeks after Stephanie vanished. The petition, signed by Goodrum's father, J.D. Goodrum, claimed that Andreas "has threatened to kill those named in the petition" on several occasions over the previous eight months.
In February 1993, "defendant telephone [sic] me at work resulting in extreme verbal abuse, threats to beat me to death and 'blow up' my home, also threat to kill his brother, Shawn Goodrum," the father's petition read in part.
The threats culminated with an incident in September 1993, when Andreas Goodrum is alleged to have physically assaulted his aunt while she was shopping at a Safford department store. "He physically rammed Rose Goodrum repeatedly three times, requiring her to push him away. He then threatened to kill her, J.D. Goodrum and Shawn Goodrum," J.D. Goodrum's petition states.
The court issued the injunction, but for an unexplained reason it was quashed two weeks after Stephanie's body was discovered--at the father's request.
Fifty-five days after Stephanie disappeared, a hunter found her left arm bones on a pathway adjacent to the San Simon River, about two and one-half miles from the roadside where Goodrum said she exited his truck.
Sheriff's deputies were called to the scene. A few hours later, her still relatively intact body was discovered several hundred feet away from the arm bones, in a grove of brushy salt cedar.
While most of her tissue was gone, nearly all of her bones were intact, held together by blackened, mummified skin. A black widow spider had spun a web inside her skull.
That her body was relatively intact after supposedly lying in the desert for nearly two months fueled speculation that she had been hidden elsewhere and moved only recently.
"Frankly, it was kind of surprising to me there hadn't been more loss of tissue from animals," says County Attorney Jack Williams, who saw the remains where they were found.
Valenzuela and other searchers say they had been within 20 feet of where she was found during their extensive searches and never saw or smelled her body. On the day she was found, a DPS homicide technician said a potent odor was apparent from 50 feet.
Medical examiners say decomposition and odor vary with each case and are dependent on many factors including sunlight, humidity, rainfall, the type of animals present and the adjacent soil. Stephanie's body had clearly been at the site for at least some time, because her body fluids had drained onto different spots on the ground, leaving two greasy, odorous stains.
In line with the rest of the slipshod investigation, analysis of the site amounted to little more than a cursory review by DPS homicide technicians, who swept the area with metal detectors searching for bullets and knives. None were found. DPS also conducted tests to determine whether she had been sexually assaulted. They turned out negative.
Mack says the DPS technicians told him or a member of his staff that the body had been there at least two or three weeks. But Pat Wertheim, one of the DPS technicians who examined the body, says no such determination was made.
"As far as determining how long the body was there, we don't do that," he says.
Wertheim added that his "gut feeling" was that "it had been there quite a while."
Deputies took a few photographs of the site and the body, before the remains were transported to Tucson for an autopsy.
Valenzuela contends deputies should have taken extensive soil samples from the area and compared those with samples taken from Goodrum's vehicles, trailers and clothes. No samples were taken.
Moments before finding her body, a deputy discovered a mud-clad pair of black, high-top Spalding tennis shoes on the bank of the normally dry San Simon River. Goodrum, who was unable to recall what else Stephanie was wearing that night, had repeatedly told investigators he was certain that she had been wearing black, high-top athletic shoes.
"Both shoes were placed there, right together, and were up where the river water could not get to them," sheriff's investigator Morris would write in a report that appears not to have been prepared immediately. Valenzuela says it wasn't in the investigative file turned over to him a month after the body was found.
Deputies took no photos of the shoes in the location they were found. The shoes were taken to Matlock for identification, who said they could have been Stephanie's.
Other than that cursory identification, however, no analysis was performed. Oddly, one shoe was missing all its shoelaces, and the laces on the other shoe appeared to have been cut.
Morris' report was not only notable for being late, it also omitted key facts. The report stated Stephanie's body was located "approximately 216 feet east of the roadway" that ran parallel to the San Simon River.
But Morris' report does not mention another Jeep trail that leads directly to the site where Stephanie was found.
That Jeep trail ended at a turnaround area no more than 20 feet from where her body was found. The proximity of the trail to the location of her body suggests at least the possibility that Stephanie's body was driven to the site, and then dumped.
When asked about the omission of the road from Morris' report, Mack simply shrugged his shoulders.
Deputies also found a pair of black sweat pants in the riverbed, partially covered by weeds and trash. No tests were done on the pants to determine if they were Stephanie's.
An autopsy on Stephanie's body was conducted two days later in Tucson by forensic pathologist John D. Howard. Mack attended the examination.
The autopsy revealed that a crucial neck bone, which sometimes indicates strangulation if displaced, had fallen apart.
In young people, the cartilage holding the hyoid bone in place often quickly deteriorates after death. There was no other damage to adjacent neck bones, making it impossible for Howard to say with certainty she was strangled.
Howard also conducted a test to look for drug residues in Stephanie's body. Despite Goodrum's assertion that Stephanie appeared to be under the influence of a drug, no traces of drugs were found.
Either Stephanie didn't take drugs the night she disappeared, or she died sometime after the drugs had been processed through her body.
Howard concluded there were "no physical changes indicating the cause of death."
With no cause of death, and no witnesses, Mack considered the case essentially closed.
"It's a sad case," Mack says. "I wish I would have had some better answer for the family. I wish I could play God for them, but I can't."
Matlock wasn't looking for divine intervention. Just solid police work.
Valenzuela's investigation, along with Matlock's own relentless digging, not only pointed out numerous deficiencies in Mack's probe, they also discovered a number of discrepancies in Goodrum's story.
After reviewing videotapes at a Safford gas station and convenience market, Matlock discovered that Goodrum purchased fuel at 3 a.m., nearly 90 minutes after Goodrum initially told sheriff's deputies he and Stephanie departed their home for the hot springs. Along with $10 of fuel, Goodrum purchased a carton of orange juice and a bottle of Gatorade, store records show.
Goodrum had told deputies that Stephanie drank some of the Gatorade on the way to the hot springs. Yet a Gatorade bottle--apparently the same bottle Goodrum said he left by the side of the road--was later picked up by Matlock, unopened. Matlock found two witnesses who claimed to have seen Goodrum purchase a second bottle of Gatorade at about 5:15 a.m. on the morning Stephanie disappeared. Goodrum made the purchase at a Circle K a few miles north of Haekel Road. Goodrum had told Valenzuela earlier that he stopped at the Circle K on the way back to search for Stephanie, but Goodrum claimed he had purchased coffee.
Valenzuela also learned that Mack was showing investigative reports on Stephanie's disappearance to Goodrum. Mack confirmed he showed Goodrum information, but only in the process of questioning him.
Valenzuela criticized Mack's slow response to the case, particularly his failure to immediately interrogate Goodrum and search his property. A three-page report prepared by Mack indicates he interviewed Goodrum on the afternoon of October 4, 1993. But Valenzuela's records show Mack was in Mesa meeting with him the same afternoon.
At first, Mack said Valenzuela was incorrect. He then said he could have interviewed Goodrum later that evening. "I can be in two different places on the same day," he said. Finally, he conceded the date he interviewed Goodrum "was on or about" October 4.
Even more disturbing to Valenzuela and Matlock were persistent reports that Goodrum was on Mack's payroll. The reports frequently came from other police officers.
Mack denies ever employing Goodrum--in any capacity. In the months following Stephanie's death, however, there is no doubt Goodrum and Mack were communicating regularly. But rather than acting as a drug snitch, Goodrum was teamed up with the sheriff's department's officer in an operation that eventually induced Gonzales to violate the terms of the injunction prohibiting him from harassing Goodrum. "Andreas became an agent of the sheriff," Valenzuela says.
The animosity between Goodrum and Gonzales escalated in the months after Stephanie's death. The men repeatedly reported the other one had violated the court orders against harassment that were still in place.
But the reports typically were one man's word against the other. No action could be taken by the sheriff's department without credible witnesses.
Mack had a solution to the running feud. It was to have a female plainclothes officer ride with Goodrum. The plan was for the two to repeatedly drive by Gonzales' house and see what he would do.
On February 26 and 27, plainclothes officer Rose Lacy and Goodrum rode by Gonzales' house, the first day in Goodrum's truck and the next day on Goodrum's new Harley-Davidson motorcycle.
Gonzales became enraged. When Goodrum and Lacy drove by in the truck and began filming him, Gonzales threw a rock and damaged a door on the vehicle. The next day, Goodrum and Lacy showed up on the motorcycle; Gonzales chased them down the highway in his truck.
He was arrested and charged with one count of misdemeanor endangerment, one count of felony endangerment, felony criminal damage and resisting arrest.
The arrests followed nine other charges that had been filed against Gonzales the previous two years, all related to altercations with Goodrum that stemmed from the relationship with Stephanie. During the same period, when both men were harassing each other, Goodrum was never arrested or charged.
Gonzales was released under house arrest. His case was delayed for more than a year. During that time, he lost his home, business and all his savings. "I'm living out of my garage next to my office," the mechanic says.
Last month, the case was settled. Gonzales entered one guilty plea to criminal damage and was placed on three years' probation. Everything else was dropped.
The strategem--placing an undercover officer with Goodrum to enrage Gonzales--came as a surprise to County Attorney Jack Williams.
"I don't think I even knew about it until after the police report was filed," Williams says. "I would have discouraged it."
Matlock scheduled a meeting with Mack and Williams on March 24, 1994, to present the results of Valenzuela's investigation.
The meeting was explosive.
Mack and Williams were clearly agitated.
The two had just finished a phone call with the Attorney General's Office moments before. Attorney general investigators had been reviewing the sheriff's department's handling of Stephanie's disappearance; the investigators had also run into unconnected allegations about Mack's conduct.
At the time, though, Matlock had no idea what the attorney general investigators were up to.
Matlock says she and her family hoped the meeting would be a catalyst that might trigger some progress in the investigation, which stalled after Stephanie's body was discovered five months earlier.
But constructive dialogue was not in the cards.
According to several witnesses who attended the meeting and were interviewed separately, Mack angrily took charge of the encounter. A blue binder containing Valenzuela's report--a document of several hundred pages--sat on a table to be turned over to Mack and Williams for their review.
Without opening the report, Mack initiated the meeting by "jumping up and hitting the book as hard as he could and slamming his fist against the blue binder and yelling, 'I'm sick of you accusing me of being a child molester,'" Matlock says.
The family was stunned.
Mack and Williams then stormed out.
"They never opened the cover of the book, yet they knew it was a pack of lies about him being a child molester," Matlock says.
Nowhere in Valenzuela's lengthy report on Stephanie's disappearance were any accusations that Mack was a child molester.
Mack confirms that he initiated the discussion about the child-molesting accusations after learning that Valenzuela had mentioned them to "someone else."
"I brought it up," Mack says. "Sure."
Mack says he wanted to dispell any such allegations, which he adamantly denies.
Valenzuela says he had heard reports of such activities, but did not include them in his report on Stephanie's death.
He did, however, relay the accusations to the attorney general's investigators, according to two memorandums, issued in February 1994 by the attorney general's special investigations section.
The Attorney General's Office issued a statement last week saying it has "no evidence" that "in any way corroborates" the child-molesting allegations.
"These matters are not within our investigative jurisdiction," reads a statement released by attorney general spokeswoman Karie Kloos. The attorney general has referred the allegations raised by Valenzuela to Graham County Attorney Jack Williams, who says he will pass the claims to another county for investigation.
Mack denies any sexual misconduct and took a polygraph test concerning the allegations. The polygrapher says Mack was truthful when he denied the molestation allegations.
New Times contacted one of the alleged victims, who said nothing improper ever occurred between her and Mack. Mack says he plans to seek legal action against Valenzuela for spreading false allegations about him.
The stormy March 24 meeting ended any hope that Valenzuela and Mack would work together to bring a closure to the events surrounding Stephanie's death.
With Mack and Valenzuela deadlocked, Matlock pinned her hopes on the Attorney General's Office review of her daughter's disappearance.
The mother was to be disappointed. Mack and Valenzuela each would claim victory.
And Stephanie Proffitt's death would remain a mystery.
Special agent Rene Luna completed his review of the case in June and issued a final report last month. It concludes that "there is insufficient evidence to pursue this investigation further."
Luna's report said "it appears that the Sheriff's office has performed an adequate investigation."
The report was seen as vindication by Mack that his office did its job and that Stephanie's family has been grasping at straws.
"This whole thing coming from the family that anyone was trying to avoid this investigation, or go around it, or somehow drag our feet, or that we didn't care, is totally absurd and made up by the people saying it," Mack says.
The report, however, was far from a glowing assessment of the performance of Mack or the medical examiner.
Luna noted that the autopsy failed to discuss what appears to be a "possible fracture" in Stephanie's skull.
When investigators questioned Howard later--after noticing a "star" shaped mark on her skull--the medical examiner stated that it was impossible to tell whether the injury occurred before, or after, Stephanie died.
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Luna also criticized Mack's general handling of the investigation.
"I feel that the Graham County Sheriff's Office should have conducted a more thorough interrogation of Andreas Goodrum and thoroughly investigated his relationship with Stephanie Proffitt."
"Also, the sheriff's office should have made a more serious effort to prepare more accurate and complete reports concerning interviews and other investigative activities," Luna stated.
In other words, Luna concluded, Mack's department botched the investigation of Stephanie Proffitt's death so badly that there really is insufficient evidence on which another agency might proceed.
"Luna, in a kind of a hidden way, has expressed exactly what I said," Valenzuela says. "They have done a shitty-ass job, but what can you do?