by Rocky Macy
Twenty years ago yesterday, April 15th 1988, a young high school senior in Kansas told his parents goodnight and headed out for a pre-graduation party at a friend's house. That was the last they ever saw of him.
That young man, Randy Leach, was an only child, and, by all accounts a fairly normal kid. He had attended school in Linwood, KS, from kindergarten through high school, and most of his friends had gone to that same small school for all those years also. Randy was part of a close family in a very close community. He played basketball, did well in school, and worked hard. His dad had just bought him a new John Deere lawn tractor, and Randy had spent his final afternoon at home mowing a neighbor's yard. He was excited about the new mower and the income opportunity that it provided. He was also excited about the used Mustang that his parents had purchased as a gift for his high school graduation. The Mustang was being refurbished in a local body shop.
Randy Leach was a good kid living in a good community.
But changes were happening in rural Kansas, and much of rural America, in the late 1980's. Drugs were becoming commonplace in small towns like Linwood, and rougher elements were heading out of the inner cities and into the suburbs and beyond. At that particular time, there was also a lot of talk about cults and Satanism having an impact on youth.
A new girl enrolled in Randy's school during his junior year. It was her mother who hosted the pre-graduation party the night of his disappearance. Everyone who was anyone at Linwood High, and from neighboring towns, went to that party. The girl, who had moved to Linwood from Kansas City, also invited several of her urban friends to join in the fun. The result was a large crowd of probably over a hundred young people, drinking, and probably some drugging, around a large bonfire.
People who saw Randy at the party said that he appeared to be very impaired. He was last seen in the girl's house around two a.m. waiting to use the bathroom. Friends were supposed to drive him home, but reportedly couldn't find him when it came time to leave.
Harold and Alberta Leach began the search for their son at six a.m. the next morning when they realized that he had not returned home. In the ensuing twenty years, they have heard lots of gossip and theories, and chased down hundreds of false leads, but they have learned nothing of what became of their only child. They have talked to psychics, argued with lawmakers, prodded law enforcement officials, made public appeals, offered rewards, and opened their homes and hearts to hundreds of strangers in the desperate hope that somehow a breakthrough would occur. But there has been no breakthrough.
My youngest son, Tim, and I met the Leaches two years ago when Tim wrote a play about Randy's disappearance for his master's thesis at the University of Kansas. That play, "Leaves of Words," was performed to packed houses for three performances in Lawrence in October of 2006. It stirred lots of comments and controversy, and put the Leaches back in contact with some of Randy's high school friends, but it never solved the mystery.
Harold and Alberta Leach are wonderful people, but they have a hole in their lives that cannot heal. Their son and the car he was driving disappeared twenty years ago without a trace. Some people believe that he witnessed something that he shouldn't have seen, maybe a drug deal, and was silenced. Others think that he fell victim to Satanists who were talked about frequently in news reports of that time. Some believe he may have tried to drive himself home and accidently veered off into a lake or river. Or maybe he overdosed and died, and scared friends found a way to get rid of the car and the body to cover up drug activity. Lots of theories, no results.
What an awful thing for any parent to ever endure. The answer is out there, and somebody needs to do the decent thing and let Harold and Alberta know what happened to their son. The Leaches need the peace of mind that comes with knowing Randy's fate, and somebody needs the peace of mind that would come with getting an awful secret off of his conscience.