In March 2000, a wrecked vehicle was found at the bottom of an embankment in the state of Washington, United States.
No one was inside the car, but the vehicle was traced to a 23-year old woman named Leah Roberts. Roberts had left her home across the country in North Carolina nine days previously, with no one hearing from her in that time.
Tragically, no trace of Roberts has ever been found – leading to a myriad of theories developing. This disappearance has no definitive answer as to what happened, though clues are available.
This article reviews this case. We would also love you to partake in a reader’s poll at the end of the article, in terms of what you think happened.
Leah Roberts was born in 1976, and grew up in Durham, North Carolina. In her late teenage years, tragedy hit the Roberts family, with the father diagnosed with a chronic lung illness.
Moreover, the mother of the family passed away soon after from heart disease. After returning to college following her mother’s death, Leah was heavily injured in a car crash.
Leah would later tell her sister that she felt “born again” following her recovery, having initially thought she would die. But this optimism didn’t last long.
Tragically, her father passed away not long after her mother’s death, which appeared to have a profound effect on Leah. Despite her Spanish and Anthropology degree nearing completion, Leah dropped out of college.
Confused about the direction of her life, Leah decided to take up photography and poetry. Leah was able to make new friends while visiting local coffeehouses.
It was during these meetings that she told people that she was thinking of going on a road trip to the west of the United States.
In March 2000, Leah left North Carolina in her jeep. Her roommate had returned from work to notice that Leah and her care weren’t there.
After Leah failed to turn up to an appointment, she was reported as missing to the Police, who subsequently launched an investigation.
After searching Leah’s room, the Police found that some garments and her pet were missing. Leah also left a month’s worth of cash to cover any expenses. These actions suggested to the Police that Leah had only left temporarily. She also left a note, which stated “I’m not suicidal, I’m the opposite”.
Bank records showed that Leah had withdrawn thousands of dollars prior to leaving. She paid for a motel room in Memphis, Tennessee, with other transactions relating to gas and food.
Other transactions clearly showed that she was driving westwards – as she had told her friends prior to leaving. The last transaction on her account took place four days following her departure.
Her sister Kara – who had been independently running her own investigation, found out that when writing poetry, Leah had been heavily inspired by a 1958 novel named “The Dharma Bums”.
In this book, the author speaks of their love of Washington’s Cascade Mountains. Leah had apparently wanted to see this area for herself.
Nine days following Leah leaving, it was Kara’s birthday. Kara had been expecting a call from Leah, but the call never arrived. Instead, she was contacted by the sheriff’s office in Bellingham, Washington, who informed her that Leah’s car had been found, with Leah nowhere to be seen.
Leah’s car had been discovered by joggers, who had noticed clothing strewn around the crash site. The car was at the bottom of an embankment, near Washington’s Cascade Mountains.
Investigators surmised that the car had been travelling at around 40 miles per hour when it crashed – judging by the damage caused.
Items in the car were all over the place – leading investigators to believe the car had rolled over. There were no signs of blood or injury to anyone.
Investigators believed that no one was inside the car when it crashed. As a result of this, some have suggested that the crash was either staged or planned.
However, blankets and pillows had been hung inside the windows, giving the impression that the car had been used for shelter for some time after crashing.
A number of Leah’s belongings were found nearby – including a driver’s license, clothes and her passport. Her pet cat was missing, and $2,500 cash had been left behind.
Investigators felt that the fact that valuables and cash were left behind eliminated the prospect of a robbery. It could also be argued though that valuables being left behind could add evidence to the theory that the crash had been staged.
Kara and fellow sibling Heath flew to Bellingham to assist in the local investigation. Flyers were distributed in the local area to try and raise awareness of the disappearance.
One restaurant in the area hosted a potential sighting. Two men recalled seeing and speaking to Leah. One stated that she had left with a man, for which she provided a description for. Yet no one else, including the other witness, could corroborate the supposed existence of the other person – with his inconsistency leaving investigators confused.
The FBI soon joined the investigation, with the Bureau treating the disappearance as a crime. First of all, there were questions regarding the cash Leah had ostensibly left behind. It was a substantial amount – and not consistent with her trip.
It is believed that judging by the amount withdrawn prior t leaving, combined with her spending to that point, that much less money would have been left.
Secondly, Leah’s mother’s engagement ring was found in the car. Leah always wore this ring, with her friends confirming it was a treasured item that she was never voluntarily remove.
Meanwhile, the local Police were working on the theory that Leah had crashed, before walking off. A large search commenced, including an aerial search, though no trace of Leah was ever found.
A boost arrived a few days into the search, when a man contacted the Police, claiming to have seen Leah. This possible sighting came at a gas station at the nearby location of Everett, Washington.
The man mentioned how just a few days after the discovery of the car, that Leah was wandering around a gas station in the city of Everett. The man said that Leah appeared “disoriented and confused”.
The man who called in this sighting could not be traced, so the authenticity of the supposed sighting could not be verified.
As the weeks and months went by, hope lessened that Leah would be found. The Police eventually wound down their search, with the case eventually declared cold.
The case received renewed attention when it was featured on American televisions shows Disappeared and Unsolved Mysteries. The show was aired nationally, and led to apparent sightings of Leah in other states across the United States. Sadly, no sighting proved credible.
In 2005, volunteers based in North Carolina organised a caravan journey across the country to raise awareness of disappearances in the state – with Leah’s disappearance among the most well-known.
The last big development in the case came in 2006. Two detectives that reopened the case reviewed the evidence that had originally been submitted.
They noticed that Leah’s car hadn’t actually been fully processed as evidence. They went through the motions of completing the process.
While doing so, they noticed that a wire linked to the starter relay had been cut. This would have allowed the car to accelerate without the gas pedal being pushed down. This made it possible for no one to be inside the car when it crashed, or that the crash was staged. This development failed to throw up any new leads.
Due to the nature of Leah Roberts’ disappearance, there is no shortage of theories of what happened to her. Each theory has its own advantages and disadvantages.
We take a look at the evidence for each theory:
Theory One: Leah crashed and then wandered off
This theory proposes that Leah crashed her car accidentally. She might have stayed and camped in her car for a few days.
Then, she could have attempted to walk to somewhere new, only to get lost. She may have walked to the gas station that she was ostensibly spotted at.
After wandering off, she might have got lost and ran out of food and water. This may have resulted in death. Moreover, given that she was questioning the direction of her life, she may have sadly taken her own life.
In line with her interest in the book The Dharma Bums, it is possible that Leah was attempting to make it to Desolation Peak in the North Cascade Mountains – which she was near to.
Of course, this theory doesn’t address the question of what happened to her body. After all of this time, it is potentially unlikely that her body wouldn’t have been found.
Theory Two: Sinister involvement from another person
There is a strong body of evidence that suggests Leah’s car crash was staged. For this to be true, Leah would surely have come to harm by someone who was then attempting to cover their tracks.
It is possible that Leah was abducted by someone throughout her travels. This could potentially be the person spotted with her at the restaurant – although we’re unsure if this really happened. It is also possible that this was a robbery gone wrong.
Sadly, if this theory is true, then the chances are the person murdered Leah and disposed of her body – which would explain why her remains have never been found.
This theory would also explain why Leah’s car had been tampered with. There certainly seems to be a lot of evidence to support this theory.
Theory Three: Planned Disappearance
Leah’s actions in the build-up to her disappearance suggest that she had every intention of returning. However, it is possible that this was all part of an elaborate plan.
Leah may have planned her disappearance. She may have intentionally staged the crash. She could then have hitch-hiked or quietly travelled to an undisclosed location.
There have been supposed sightings of her over the years as well. She could still be alive, but living under an alias. After all, it is a big world.
Leah may have felt a fresh start was a good way of trying to find more of a direction and purpose in life. There are a lot of “maybe’s” in this argument, but it is a feasible theory.
Theory Four: Mental health episode
Leah had been through some traumatic experiences – namely losing both parents in a short space of time. This could resultingly lead to a mental health condition developing.
Her actions in the build-up to her disappearance, such as dropping out of University months before completion and suddenly leaving – could be viewed as symptoms of a manic episode, seen in Bipolar Disorder.
It is possible that Leah was unknowingly going through a manic episode. This could also explain the note she left behind, which read “I’m not suicidal, I’m the opposite”. Technically, mania is the opposite of depression.
This theory would therefore follow the idea that Leah wandered off, or was taken advantage of by someone else. She could have died either after wandering off, or at the hands of a criminal.
Again, there are many limitations to this theory, though it is a credible suggestion to explain what happened.
Based on the above theories, we now invite you to vote on the theory that you believe happened in the poll below.
The disappearance of Leah Roberts is a rather unique case. There are so many questions over the disappearance, many of whch look set to never receive an answer.
Leah’s family continue to publicise the case, hoping that one day Leah will return. But for now ,what exactly happened on Leah’s trip, and where Leah is now, remains unknown.