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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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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.

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John Dougherty
Contact: John Dougherty