On its fifth anniversary, John Richardson's homicide case remains cold, and a hole in his mom's life remains unfilled.
A year later, his body was found in the desert outside of Buckeye. He was 25 years old.
"The last time I spoke to him was Father's Day," Laura Pajak, Richardson's mother, tells New Times. "He was a free person really his whole life, had a lot of friends who loved him very much and who would do anything for him."
Richardson is the oldest of Pajak's four sons - three of whom have been killed.
After the death of his brother in 2006, Richardson went through a rough patch. Sporting a tattoo on his side in memory of his sibling 's murder, he mostly hung out with friends, bouncing from job to job.
The day of his disappearance, Richardson was at a friend's house. He made a call to his mom asking for a ride, But he didn't reach her, and he never followed up. Pajak later got calls from Richardson's friends saying they hadn't heard from him.
She, along with Richardson's friends, filed a missing person report with the Phoenix Police Department the next day.
But after supplying her with flyers, Pajak says the Phoenix Police Department sat on her son's case, putting little effort in keeping her informed about the investigation. In the critical first months of Richardson's disappearance, she says there was no urgency.
"To me, they felt he was gone, he just wanted to be away, "she said. "And at the crucial time he was gone, they didn't follow up. It took them three to four months to get my DNA. They said 'Oh were running it through the national [database]' and that they would call me. So often and I kept saying, 'No, there's something wrong. He wouldn't just disappear like that.'"
It wasn't until September 2007 that Pajak got answers. But not from the cops.
"I was watching the news, and a story came on about remains that were found in Buckeye, and I got the coldest chill up my spine."
Even though he wasn't known to hang out in that area, Pajak knew those were the remains of her son.
But she wouldn't get official word from authorities that her son was dead for another eight months. It was May 2008 when the Maricopa Sheriff's office called to tell her the remains had a DNA match.
"I told them point blank: 'You need to tell me if my son is dead or alive.'"
Because of the investigation, neither police nor Pajak can say how Richardson was killed.
"But I know it was bad," she said, hesitating on the words.
In the three years since her son's disappearance, the case had gone from the missing person department of the Phoenix PD to the Sheriff's Office, all with no concrete answers.
"I wrote Sheriff Arpaio and begged him not to let this become a cold case," she says. "I told him, 'This is the third son I've lost since 1995, and I need some kind of closure.'"
Now, a half a decade later, Richardson's case has a second wind. Detective Mike Johnson with the MCSO was handed the case about a year ago and is in the process of retracing the steps of the Phoenix Police.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Phoenix New Times's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Phoenix's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
"We have leads," Johnson tells The New Times. "I've had [this case] for a little bit now, and yeah, I hope there's a good outcome. It all just depends on where the leads take you."
Pajak hopes the leads point to justice for her son and as a member of a support group for parents of murdered children, Pajak surrounds herself with a community who understands her need for resolution.
"I have hope now," she says. "I'm hoping there's light at the end of the tunnel. But I'm still upset that the Phoenix missing person [department] didn't do anything. [We] just really love and miss him and really want justice for him. He was taken away when he shouldn't have been."
If you any have information about this case, call authorities at 602-876-3660.