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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

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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.

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John Dougherty
Contact: John Dougherty