Our card this week is Randy Leach, the Four of Hearts from Idaho.
When Randy was 20 years old, he decided to take a break from college and hitchhike through
the American West.
What was supposed to be a journey of self-discovery turned into a mystery that 42 years later
I’m Ashley Flowers, and this is The Deck.
On November 26th, 1980, Marjorie and Richard Leach were at home in northern Wisconsin preparing
for Thanksgiving as they eagerly awaited a phone call from their 20-year-old son Randy,
who was hitchhiking out west to visit some relatives.
The couple stayed close to the phone because it had been a few weeks since they had last
heard from Randy and they had a lot of catching up to do.
But Thanksgiving Eve came and went and Randy never called.
Marjorie thought it was weird because usually her son was good about checking in at least
once a week since he left home on November 1st, but the last time the Leaches had heard
from Randy was on November 6th.
Marjorie remembered that phone call vividly because it had been her birthday.
During their conversation, Randy wished her a happy birthday and told her that he had
taken a job at a dairy farm in Idaho Falls, Idaho, and that he might head toward California
and Oregon soon.
Marjorie said that he was especially excited to visit his sister Renee at her new house
in Bend, Oregon, which was his eventual destination.
But for most of the month of November, Renee and her husband were in the process of moving,
so Randy told Marjorie that he felt it was probably best to give them a few weeks to
get settled in and then he’d start making his way to Bend through northern California.
He said there was a tofu farm that he was interested in and he might try to get a job
there while he killed some time on the road.
During that call, Randy also assured his parents not to worry about him if they didn’t
hear from him for a few days because he would probably be on the road, so they tried not
They didn’t love that he was thumbing it out west, but his consistent check-ins from
gas station pay phones put them more at ease.
Not only would they get to hear his voice and know that he was okay, but he charged
nearly every call to his parents, so that was another way that they’d been able to
keep track of him during his trip.
Even though Randy had failed to contact them the day before Thanksgiving, Marjorie and
Richard tried not to get too worried, since Randy said that he would be on the road without
immediate access to phones.
They assured one another that they would probably hear from him on Thanksgiving Day.
Randy always checked in on birthdays and holidays, no matter where he was, but Thanksgiving Day
rolled around and by late afternoon, Randy still had not called them, so they started
They called Randy’s sisters, aunts, uncles, and cousins, and no one else had heard from
or seen Randy either.
The Leaches could no longer ignore their fear that something wasn’t right.
Richard went to the Sheboygan County Sheriff’s Office, his local law enforcement agency,
to report his son missing.
He told an on-duty deputy what he knew, which was that Randy was hitchhiking out west, and
the last place they knew him to be was Idaho, where he was working on a dairy farm.
He had called them from Idaho on November 6th around 5 p.m. and said things were going
well, but since then, Richard said, he and his wife had not heard from their son.
The officer asked if they’d tried reaching back out to him at the dairy farm where he
worked, and they had, but when they called, a person who answered the phone told them
that Randy had left and that he didn’t leave any forwarding address information.
Richard told the Wisconsin deputy all about Randy’s plans to go to California or Oregon
next, but they didn’t think he was just traveling and out of touch because he should
have been there by now.
And there was one other big reason Richard said that he was so worried about his son.
Randy didn’t have his photo ID on him.
Richard explained that on November 4th, so two days before his last phone call home,
Randy had called the house and asked his dad to mail his driver’s license to the dairy
farm in Idaho.
According to Sheboygan County Sheriff’s Detective Tyler Wiestenhagen, the owner of
the dairy farm had asked for his ID in order to hire him.
It sounded like he traveled pretty light, like didn’t have a whole lot of stuff with
And then apparently he forgot that and wanted it sent.
Richard told police he dropped his son’s driver’s license in the mail addressed to
Reed’s dairy farm in care of Randy Leach.
But a few days later, someone at the farm told Richard that Randy had left before receiving
his ID in the mail.
When Richard heard that, he thought it was weird, but figured his son just forgot about
Richard told the employee at the dairy farm that he would just arrange to have it forwarded
to California once he knew where Randy would be staying.
The Sheboygan County Sheriff’s Office took down the information and told Richard that
they would reach out to law enforcement in Idaho to see what they could find out.
When they made contact, someone at the Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office in Eastern Idaho
said that they would ask a detective to go have a chat with the owner of the farm and
get the scoop on Randy’s whereabouts.
The next day, Detective Clyde Burgess drove out to Reed’s dairy farm to visit the owner,
a guy named Larry Reed.
The farm was just on the outskirts of Idaho Falls, Idaho, a small city about three hours
north of Salt Lake City, Utah.
During their interview with Larry, authorities in Idaho slowly started piecing together Randy’s
last known movements and the last time anyone had seen him.
Larry told Detective Burgess that Randy had shown up at their dairy store on November
4th, asking if he could have a temporary job.
Mr. Reed was overhearing Randy talking about traveling west and they got to talking and
he offered him a place to stay for a couple of days and some work for a couple of days.
According to reports from 1980 that detectives shared with us, Randy told Larry that he was
hitchhiking across the country and he couldn’t stick around for very long, but that he could
use a job for a couple of days before hitting the road again.
Larry said he agreed to give Randy some work in a handshake deal.
Larry would provide lodging and meals and a little cash and Randy would help him finish
building a shed on the farm.
Back then, Larry had two other farm hands working for him and they slept in a bunkhouse
on the property.
After taking the job, Randy was given the option to sleep on the couch in the bunkhouse
with the other two men and he agreed, no problem.
On that first night, November 4th, Randy joined the Reeds for dinner at their home.
The Reeds were members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Larry said
he’d also invited a couple of missionaries to dinner so Randy could learn about their
There’s limited information about exactly how the topic of religion first came up.
Most of it came solely from Larry’s interview, but according to police, the missionaries
got to the Reeds at 7 p.m. and Larry, his wife Carol, Randy, and the two elders all
shared a meal together.
Detective Burgess asked Larry what Randy’s demeanor was like during his stay at the farm
and Larry said he seemed like a nice, smart young man.
During dinner, Larry said Randy had talked about how he was fascinated by different cultures
Larry said they all had a nice time and Randy had asked the missionaries a lot of questions
about the Mormon faith.
And before everyone parted ways around 9.30 p.m., the men gave Randy a copy of the Book
Little else is known about that evening beyond what Larry told Detective Burgess because
police never tracked down or interviewed the two missionaries.
It’s something Detective Wiestenhagen wishes he knew more about.
Why would you have these two guys come talk to this guy that just showed up to work for
a couple days?
Like, how in-depth was this conversation about religion that, like, these guys had to come
and talk and give a Bible to and it’s just odd.
Elders or missionaries are basically recruiters for the LDS faith.
A lot of people who live in eastern Idaho are LDS, so while talking religion at dinner
and giving someone the Book of Mormon might sound a little strange or even aggressive
to some of us, it probably wasn’t uncommon for someone like Larry Reed to invite these
missionaries over to try and convert Randy.
When police pushed Larry about what happened the rest of Randy’s time there, he said
the next morning on November 5th, he and Randy got up early to continue building the shed.
When they were working, Randy mentioned kind of offhand that he heard snow was in the forecast.
And he said he might need to hit the road sooner than he thought because of the weather.
But he assured Larry that he would stay until they finished the shed.
Larry said during that conversation, Randy also mentioned that he wasn’t interested
in seeing the missionaries again, and for Larry not to expect him for dinner because
he decided to fast that day.
To the Reeds, Randy seemed like he was really looking forward to getting to his sister’s
house in Oregon.
He talked fondly of his whole family, and Larry said that he seemed to call them often.
The next day, November 6th, Randy helped finish the shed construction, and around 5 p.m.,
he borrowed the Reeds’ phone to call his mom to wish her a happy birthday.
It was on that call that Randy told his mom he might head to California before going to
Oregon and not to worry about him.
They said their I love you’s and then hung up.
When Randy got off the phone, Larry’s wife, Carol, offered to do Randy’s laundry before
he left the farm.
And Randy gave her a pair of jeans to wash, according to reports.
Larry told authorities the last time he laid eyes on Randy was between 6.30 and 7.30 a.m.
the next morning, on November 7th.
Larry had said that he was walking from his house to the dairy building and saw Randy
walking down the road, basically.
There was no conversation as far as him leaving.
He just said he saw him walking away.
Larry said after seeing Randy walking east toward the highway that went to town, he walked
over to the bunkhouse and realized Randy had cleaned out all of his stuff, which he thought
was weird since he didn’t say goodbye or, even stranger, come to get the paycheck he’d
been working for.
Larry told police he then went to the farm’s business office and calculated Randy’s hours
from the last couple of days’ work and wrote him a check in case he decided to come back.
Then he said he went to his house and told his wife, Carol, that he believed Randy had
left the farm for good.
She thought his departure odd too, since Randy had forgotten his jeans that she’d just washed
the night before.
Larry said he grabbed Randy’s paycheck and pants and drove down the highway to see if
he could maybe catch Randy walking or trying to hitchhike.
But after driving a few miles, Larry said he didn’t find him, so he went back home
and stashed the jeans and check in case the young man came back or called.
But the Reeds didn’t hear from Randy again after that, and they didn’t think much about
it until law enforcement had contacted them.
When the Idaho detective asked Larry if there had been any conflict while Randy was at the
farm, Larry said no, but then admitted that he had, quote, landed pretty hard on Randy
for his poor workmanship, end quote.
According to police reports, Larry later wondered if maybe his criticism of Randy’s handy skills
had discouraged him, and maybe that had something to do with why he’d taken off so abruptly.
Detective Burgess’s interview with Larry was the unofficial start of the investigation
into Randy Leach’s whereabouts, but a formal investigation didn’t really take off right away.
Despite Randy’s parents and siblings being really worried about him, police in Wisconsin
and Idaho said that the best thing the family could do was just wait it out.
Law enforcement felt confident that eventually Randy would check in with his parents and
assure them that all was well.
But another week went by, and the Leach family still had not heard from Randy.
On December 1st, 1980, his dad Richard went back to the Sheboygan County Sheriff’s Office
to reiterate his concerns.
Richard personally knew the deputy inspector, a guy named Robert Thurman, who oversaw investigations
there at the time.
Inspector Thurman met with him, but he said there was little the department could do.
If Randy didn’t want to call his family, he was 20 years old, and that was his right.
But Inspector Thurman promised to try and keep tabs on things as a personal favor to
Richard since they were friends.
Richard emphasized that there was zero chance his son would willingly cut off contact with them.
The Leach family was very close, and Randy was bright, responsible, and had big plans
for his future.
And Richard’s comments about Randy weren’t just him being a proud dad, either.
Randy was exceptionally smart and mature.
When he was a senior in high school in 1978, he’d won a national scholarship contest,
beating more than 350,000 other students.
There’s a Sheboygan Press article from 1978 titled The Wiz Wins, which shows a photo
of Randy smiling big and looking right at the camera with his hand on a globe.
He won with an essay he wrote about the U.S. arms race, and sealed the deal by wowing the
judges through an interview process where he answered questions about the United States
relations with the Middle East.
When he graduated, Randy told the Sheboygan Press that he wanted to pursue a career in
international relations and diplomacy.
He joked that he, quote, wouldn’t mind being secretary of state, end quote.
After graduating high school, Randy enrolled in a local community college in Wisconsin
and then transferred to a college in East Africa where he studied social justice issues
and volunteered with refugee camps.
His dad later told the Sheboygan Press that when Randy got home from studying abroad in
December of 1979, he seemed disillusioned, shaken, not himself, and also showed signs
of being malnourished.
Here’s a voice actor reading Richard’s statement about his son.
After he’d returned to Wisconsin, Randy had decided to press pause on his college studies.
In the summer of 1980, Randy took a job at a dairy farm near home, but that gig didn’t
last for long.
After seeing the Carson and Barnes Circus perform, he decided to take a job with the
People who knew Randy later said that the subculture of the circus life appealed to
He got very involved in the communities surrounding his work and had attended prayer meetings
with a Native American man known as Chief, who also worked at the circus.
Reportedly, through those prayer meetings, Randy became what he referred to as a born-again
By the end of October 1980, Randy had left the circus, and a few weeks after that, set
out on his cross-country hitchhike journey.
To appease Richard, Sheboygan County deputies contacted the sheriff’s office in Idaho
again in December, and they said, as far as they could tell, Randy Leach left their jurisdiction
on November 7th unharmed.
They based their assumption off their earlier interview with Larry Reed.
Meanwhile, Randy’s parents were calling anyone they could think of who might be able
to help them locate their son, including the Oregon State Police, since Randy’s eventual
destination was Bend, Oregon.
They also contacted law enforcement agencies in Northern California, since Randy had mentioned
that he might stop at a farm there.
They even called farms in Northern California, but none of them were tofu farms.
They said they didn’t know of any tofu farms in the area.
Ultimately, not much came from any of those efforts, though Oregon State Police did agree
to file a missing persons report for Randy to keep his face on local police agencies’ radars.
They listed him as a 20-year-old man with a slim build and brown, bushy hair and blue eyes.
So, I mean, they were, I think, really involved in trying to do all they could, but kept running
into these problems of, whose problem is he?
You know, like, is he Sheboygan’s, is he Oregon’s, is he Idaho’s?
I think they were just going to everyone to try and get what they could get done.
By Christmas Day, 1980, the Leaches had no luck in finding their son or making contact with him.
Police urged them to stay hopeful, but also said that since Randy was traveling in the
mountains at the start of winter, there might have been some kind of accident and he could be dead.
If that was the case, they said his body might not be discovered until spring when the snow melted.
The Leach family tried to keep their minds from going there, and they had a big reason
not to believe that their son was dead.
And that’s because they told police in Wisconsin that someone had been calling them over and
over again, and they thought that that someone was Randy.
Not long after they reported Randy missing, in November 1980, the Leach family started
receiving mysterious phone calls, but every time they would answer, the caller didn’t say anything.
Richard told police, quote,
We know it’s an open-ended lie, but no one speaks, just silence, end quote.
Marjorie and Richard were getting these calls at their Wisconsin house, and Randy’s sisters
were getting them at their houses too, even Renee, who lived in Oregon.
They all told authorities this same thing, that they could tell someone was on the other
end of the line, but whoever it was never said anything.
Here’s a voice actor reading exactly what the officer wrote in his report after interviewing
Randy’s sister Michelle about the bizarre calls.
Michelle explained that two or three times a week for several months, they would receive
this type of hang-up call.
No one would be on the line in terms of talking or having any conversation, but they could
also tell someone else was there.
Michelle’s mother thought it was Randy calling, so she would talk to him as if they were Randy,
even though no one was speaking.
Eventually, the other children would do the same.
Michelle explained the reason they suspected it was Randy was because there were times
in high school when they would use a payphone to let them know that they could be picked
up after an activity.
Michelle explained at that time if you put five or ten cents into the phone, you could
speak on the phone, but if you did not put money in the payphone, you simply dialed the
number and you would be able to make the call, but not be heard when you spoke.
Marjorie and Richard tried to have the calls traced, but the effort didn’t result in much.
One of the calls that went to Renee in Bend, Oregon was traced to Southwest Oregon, but
the calls to the Leach family home in Wisconsin could only be categorized as long distance.
It was pretty much a dead end.
After months of these bizarre calls, the family couldn’t do it anymore.
Here’s Detective Wiestenhagen again.
Eventually, they all felt foolish speaking to nothing, and they knew he’d been able to
make phone calls previously by charging them, so he’s got the ability to make phone calls.
You know, why would he be doing this when in the past they’ve never been a problem?
I think they kind of just gave up on it.
When the new year rolled around, Randy’s family couldn’t take it anymore.
They had to do something to make progress in the case, with or without law enforcement’s
In January of 1981, two of his uncles headed out west to look for Randy.
They carried posters with his photo on them, taping them up in Idaho, California, Oregon,
They wrote letters to Native American reservations, national parks, and colleges along routes
that they thought Randy might have taken.
Some people even responded to their letters, suggesting that the family check with everyone
from psychics to cults to immigration authorities to see if Randy had used his passport.
One letter suggested that maybe he’d returned to Africa without telling anyone.
The Leach family got Randy’s name entered into the National Database for Missing People.
They also allowed an insurance investigator to do some digging in case his social security
number was used somewhere, but nothing came up.
Marjorie and Richard were desperate and doing everything they felt police should have been
They even widened their search and called law enforcement and coroner’s offices in
Utah, Washington, and Nevada, California, and Oregon, just to see if any unclaimed bodies
had shown up.
Randy’s family members took turns taking trips out west looking for him.
Winter turned to spring, and by April of 1981, Marjorie and Richard again went to Idaho.
They wanted to see for themselves the part of the country where their son had been living.
Police aren’t sure what exactly the Leaches did while in Idaho.
They just know that they were desperate to find out more, and going out there felt better
than sitting at home and doing nothing.
But their trip ended in disappointment.
They found out that the deputies with the Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office had never
actually filed a missing persons report for Randy.
The couple went home brokenhearted.
They couldn’t wrap their minds around the oversight.
I mean, their son had vanished from Idaho.
Why had he never been listed as a missing person there?
On May 3rd, 1981, the Leaches sent a letter to the Bonneville County Sheriff.
They wrote that, at the very least, detectives with the department should be able to answer
some questions about the last known sighting of their son since he’d vanished in their
Questions like, what time did Randy actually leave the Reed Dairy Farm?
How did farmer Larry Reed know it was Randy that he saw leaving?
When did it first occur to Larry that Randy left without his wages?
How much money was owed to him?
And what was done with the check?
What was done with the jeans that Randy had left behind?
Did Randy make any comments to the owners of the farm?
Were there any cults in the area that law enforcement knew of?
Marjorie and Richard said in that letter that they were not implying that anyone at the
farm did anything to Randy, but they wanted to know more about their son’s last known
contact before he vanished.
Here’s an excerpt from the letter read by an actor.
Our son disappeared on a hitchhiking trip from South Dakota to Bend, Oregon, where he
intended to visit his sister, and stopped to work at the Reed Dairy Farm for a couple
We had regular communication with him via telephone and letter until that time.
We reported him missing to our Sheboygan County Sheriff when he did not contact us at Thanksgiving
It is vital to establish Idaho Falls as a reference point for the investigation.
We are again enclosing all pertinent information and again respectfully request an official
missing persons report be filed in your office.
A few weeks later, on May 19th, 1981, the Bonneville County Sheriff responded to the
It is apparent that he left this area of his own free will and in no danger.
The Reeds, who are very good members of our community, state that the only problem Randall
had was his uncertain thoughts on religion.
We do not have any religious cults in this area.
The Sheriff went on to say that he felt bad about the fact that the Leach’s had been
under the impression that an official missing persons report had been filed in Idaho, but
he basically said that the case wasn’t their problem.
With reports on file in Sheboygan, Boise, Bend, and Sacramento, besides our office,
it appears that the situation is well covered and if any leads or information is developed,
you will be notified immediately.
Something that didn’t sit right with the Leach’s was that the Sheriff said Randy
left Idaho Falls on his own and in no danger like it was a proven fact, when in reality
Bonneville County actually had no proof that Randy had left safely.
And by calling the Reeds, quote, very good members of the community, the Sheriff basically
admits that his agency just had taken the Reeds’ word for it that Randy left their
I imagine the Leach family was disappointed in receiving such a dismissive letter from
the Sheriff of the county where their son was last seen.
I mean, I know I would be.
The Leach’s continued to conduct their own investigation and tried to think of all the
possibilities regarding what could have happened to Randy.
Like maybe he became wrapped up in his spiritual journey and joined a commune.
It seemed far-fetched, but they were desperate to hang on to hope that Randy was still alive.
So in July 1981, Marjorie and Randy’s sister, Michelle, went back out west to see if they
could find Randy with a group known as the Christ family.
The Christ family was active in the seventies and early eighties in the Western U.S.
According to reporting in the Muncie Star from June, 1980, the Christ family was a religious
cult scattered all around the country that preached against violence, sex, materialism,
and eating meat.
Another 1980 story in the Chico Enterprise records stated that the Christ family was
known to teach its members not to acknowledge their birth parents.
And there’s a ton of news stories from back then about parents from all over who were
trying to save their teenage or twenty-something children from the Christ family.
Marjorie and Michelle stopped in various cities connecting with groups who were working to
identify and save Christ family members.
Because members took Christ as their last name and sometimes changed their first names,
they thought maybe Randy had been brainwashed and forgotten who he was.
But the Leach’s didn’t find him, and they had to go back home, once again with more
questions than answers.
When Marjorie’s birthday came in November 1981, it was a grim reminder of the last time
she’d heard from her son.
It had been an agonizing year for the family, and in an effort to express their pain and
grief, they talked with a local Wisconsin newspaper.
They had tried everything else up until that point, so they figured it couldn’t hurt
to get Randy’s case some attention in the press.
On November 6th, 1981, a story with the headline, Where is Randy Leach? ran across the front
page of the Sheboygan Press.
The article detailed Randy’s success as a high school student, his work and studies
in Africa, and how he wanted to work for the United Nations someday.
The piece talked about how he was a critical thinker and not exactly the type to be brainwashed
by a cult.
The underlying question for everyone who read it was, how did a smart young man seemingly
just disappear from a dairy farm in Idaho?
But this blast of press didn’t do much to advance the case.
Reports passed with no new information.
Only theories swirled as to what happened to Randy.
In the summer of 1982, the Leach family set out on their third trip out west since Randy’s
Richard spent 16 days driving over 4,000 miles trying to track down anyone who might have
come in contact with his son the week that he went missing.
This drummed up more press, this time in Idaho.
The Times News out of Twin Falls interviewed Richard.
The newspaper described him as a soft-spoken man turned private investigator on a quest
to find his son.
Richard told the newspaper he was heading to Boise to meet with members of a communal
living society known as the Rainbow Family to see if anyone with that group recognized
Randy as having been at their gatherings.
The Rainbow Family is a group that travels around and holds gatherings on U.S. Forest
They aren’t associated with a religion or anything, but Richard knew that they might
be able to convince his son to join their movement, just based on the fact that Randy
was impressionable when it came to philosophical and spiritual beliefs.
Here’s a voice actor reading what Richard told the Times News.
The frustration is that law enforcement agencies will do very little without evidence of foul
play or mental problems.
If you don’t have the resources for a private investigator, you have to do it yourself.
Randy was having a difficult time with our culture’s materialism, and he empathized
with those in poverty.
We know cults appeal to that kind of idealism, and they can brainwash quickly.
You fluctuate between hope and despair.
There are times you do a lot of crying.
It’s especially hard on my wife.
One of the things that keeps us going is that we have a lot of prayers.
We will keep looking until we find him, dead or alive.
Richard told reporters that Randy wasn’t just kind of anti-materialistic.
He was extreme in that sense.
He idolized St. Francis of Assisi, the monk who took a vow of poverty.
Randy had actually dropped out of his college in Africa because the scholarship that he’d
won to send him there was funded by the Shell Oil Corporation.
He said he objected to the exploitation of third world nations by massive corporations.
His family held onto hope that maybe Randy’s vanishing was just the result of him having
taken a vow of silence in poverty with a group who had similar beliefs as him, like
the Christ family or the Rainbow family.
But the years continued to pass, and their hope that he was still alive but just living
off the grid somewhere faded.
According to documents in the police case file, Marjorie Leach died in 1989.
She passed away not knowing what happened to her son.
Then, a few years later in 1993, a former detective in Wisconsin took matters into his
own hands, and he flew to Idaho to conduct the first-ever actual investigation into Randy
And what he found was eye-opening.
Thirteen years after Randy vanished, former Deputy Inspector Robert Thurman from Sheboygan
County, Wisconsin, the investigator who took Richard’s original report in 1980, decided
to go to Idaho and investigate.
There had been no official investigation up until that point, and according to the
research material we collected, no police had ever seriously looked for Randy.
Robert Thurman had retired from the Sheboygan County Sheriff’s Office years before, but
he felt he owed it to the Leach family to at least try.
So on his own dime, he flew to Salt Lake City and drove up to Idaho Falls.
Looking at the map, Robert realized that if Randy had left Idaho, there were only a few
routes that would have made sense for him to take in order to get to Northern California
Robert kept a detailed log of his investigation while he was out West, and he wrote in reports
that when he first arrived, he went on a few off-road excursions that took him to uninhabited
areas that hugged the Snake River, on the off chance that he would find Randy’s remains.
He described seeing nothing but grain farms and potato fields.
The next morning, on September 27th, 1993, Robert called Larry Reed, who still ran the
Larry invited him to the house, and by 8 a.m., the detective was seated at Larry’s kitchen
table where Randy Leach had sat 13 years before.
In Robert’s reports, he said Larry was relaxed.
Here’s a voice actor reading the investigator’s notes.
We talked in general about Randy, his disappearance, and the layout of the property.
His current version is generally consistent with what he’d said in previous reports.
After some discussion of a couple discrepancies, I was satisfied.
The main problem was differences in the time Randy was reported to have left.
Larry said he always gets up at 5 or 5.30 and does a little paperwork.
When he went to the kitchen sink, he saw Randy walking across the road East toward town.
I’m not sure if Robert caught the discrepancy in Larry’s story, but in 1980, Larry told
police that he was walking outside when he happened to glance over and see Randy leaving.
But in his 1993 statement to Robert, Larry said he saw the 20-year-old leaving while
standing over his kitchen sink.
Anyway, Larry told Robert that he remembered being worried when he went looking for Randy
and couldn’t find him, and the detective asked why.
Here’s Detective Wiestenhagen again.
He wasn’t a very large man, and he was a nice-looking boy, very peaceful, loving type,
and they just didn’t think he belonged out there alone.
Larry’s wife, Carol, came home while Robert was still there.
She reiterated that she’d washed Randy’s jeans, but he never came back for them.
Detectives today wish they knew more about the pants, but it seems that no one ever collected
the jeans as evidence.
In fact, nowhere in the case file does it say what happened to Randy’s jeans at all.
Investigators now are only left to speculate.
I’m thinking he must have had just two pair, one pair he was wearing and this other pair.
Yeah, I don’t know why you would leave your pants behind.
That seems kind of odd.
From the Reeds’ house, Robert went to the Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office to get
any records that they kept on Randy’s disappearance to make sure he had all of the information
that was available.
He also wanted to do criminal background searches on the Reeds, you know, just in case.
He wrote that his searches turned up zero information about the Reeds ever having any
trouble with law enforcement.
The next day, Robert tracked down and interviewed one of the old farmhands, a guy named Don
who saw Randy in the bunkhouse the morning he went missing.
Don had left the Reed dairy farm two weeks after Randy disappeared because he said that
he needed a better paying job.
He said that he remembered Randy, but didn’t have any memories beyond seeing him in the
early morning of November 7th, 1980 in the bunkhouse.
Robert also met with the old sheriff in Idaho Falls who was in office at the time of Randy’s
But he said that his term as sheriff ended in January 1981 and he’d moved away.
So he didn’t have much to add.
Robert wasn’t able to track down Clyde Burgess, the detective who had originally questioned
Clyde had left the Bonneville County Sheriff’s office in the early nineties and he’s passed
So by the time Robert headed back to Wisconsin at the end of September, 1993, he had no new
conclusions or really any solid information about what had happened to Randy.
In the summary of his report, he said that he couldn’t come up with any proof that Randy
ever left the Reed dairy farm in November, 1980, but that he probably did.
Since Robert had been investigating the case unofficially, he left the case file at his
house and kept working on it in his spare time, but nothing new came up in the years
The Leach family eventually lost hope and stopped going on investigative trips out West.
They did what so many families of missing people do.
They waited for news to come their way, good or bad.
In 2003, Robert Thurman died and his wife came across the file that her husband had
kept on Randy’s case and she took it to the Sheboygan County Sheriff’s office.
That prompted detectives to look through it and they were like, well, we might as well
try and get DNA from Randy’s family members to get a profile on him.
And that at the very least, we’ll see if we get a hit on any John Does around the country.
Between 2004 and 2013, detectives tested Randy’s DNA profile and dental records against multiple
John Does in Washington, California, Oregon, and Colorado, but they got no hits.
In 2014, police submitted Randy’s DNA to the University of North Texas Center for Human
Identifications and CODIS, but still nothing came up for him.
In November 2015, the Idaho Falls Post Register ran a big story featuring Randy’s sister Renee.
The article quoted Bonneville County Sheriff at the time, Paul Wild, who said that all
he could say for sure was that no one at the dairy farm had hurt Randy.
The story doesn’t provide any information on how the sheriff knew that though.
From Detective Wiestenhagen’s case file, no one can say what investigative work was
done to come to that conclusion.
The article also has some big contradictory information, like it says that Randy worked
at the dairy farm before quote, grabbing a ride from the landowner to a junction to hitchhike.
But we know from Larry’s past statement to law enforcement that he said that he saw
Randy walking away from the farm.
Nowhere does it say that Larry gave Randy a ride somewhere, so I have no idea where
that information came from.
Sheriff Wild said in that same 2015 article that the case file kept in Idaho just has
some old news clippings in it, no investigative notes at all.
The current investigations lieutenant at the Bonneville County Sheriff’s office told our
reporting team that there was a flood in the agency’s basement, which is probably why
the investigative notes were lost.
I can’t help but feel frustrated for the Leach family, knowing that there was barely
any effort put into finding Randy early on in the investigation.
I know it was complicated from the beginning since Randy was hitchhiking across the country
and had several different destinations planned, but still he went missing in Idaho Falls.
It makes no sense as to why there wasn’t at least a missing persons report for him
Looking at the case today, Detective Wiestenhagen wonders if Randy would have been found if
just one department would have been willing to take the lead in tracking him down.
I just think that there was such a problem back in that time of getting somebody to take
responsibility and to actually investigate it.
It seems like nobody really wanted to touch the hot potato, like they just kept passing
it to each other.
And I think that’s part of the problem was that just nobody took ownership.
And I think it was difficult back in those days for our department to kind of coordinate
things out there because, you know, everything’s being sent back and forth via mail, which
is going to take days.
I just think that there was a lack of somebody really wanting to take it on.
Because no one has truly owned the investigation from the beginning, Detective Wiestenhagen
said there are key people who were never interviewed, like the two missionaries who had dinner with
the Reeds and Randy at the farm the first night he was there.
Their full names weren’t even listed in any reports, they’re just called elders.
And a huge problem with the investigation in 1980 is that law enforcement never physically
searched the dairy farm or any land near it.
They didn’t do ground searches near the highway or any areas in Idaho Falls that Randy might
have walked through.
They didn’t question the farmhands who he had shared a cabin with.
Authorities took the farmer at his word, which I’m not sure would happen today.
It just seems like a lot of their information that they have is that, you know, they talk
to him, this is what he said happened.
So they just said that happened, you know, without looking any further.
And I can’t fault them for it, but I’m thinking in this day and age, we would probably go
back to the farmer and be like, hey, do you mind if we check your place, you know, and
just walk around and make sure that nothing’s here, you know, maybe not saying you did anything,
but you never know if there’s other employees at hand or something, just to rule that all
So I think in this day and age, we would probably do that, but, you know, I don’t think we can
totally rule out the fact that something didn’t happen on the property with him.
I think there’s just some questions and some concerns about that.
In 2016, one of Randy’s aunts started sending letters to investigators suggesting some wild
ideas, like maybe Randy was killed because of prejudicial hatred or taken by someone
with a sexual motive and tossed into the Snake River or buried on the dairy farm.
Current investigators have considered all of those possibilities, but there just isn’t
enough information to substantiate any of those ideas.
They’ve also had to consider that maybe Randy really did try to hitchhike his way out of
Idaho in November, 1980 and died from exposure.
Maybe he couldn’t find a ride and froze to death while camping in frigid mountain temperatures
and his body’s just never been found.
They’ve also considered whether or not he was the victim of a serial killer.
There’s at least one that was in the same area as Randy in the fall of 1980.
Randall Woodfield, from 1980 to 81.
He was active in California, Oregon.
One confirmed victim, but there’s 44 other suspect ones.
According to past reporting by the Oregonian newspaper, Randall Woodfield was on a killing
spree between October 1980 and February 1981 in California and Oregon.
His DNA connected him to at least seven murders from that time.
The timeline and locations of Woodfield’s crimes works, in theory, for Randy Leach,
but Woodfield was known to sexually assault and kill women.
According to reporting by Benjamin Smith for Oxygen, the only male victim Woodfield was
linked to was one of his victim’s boyfriends, who was likely not his intended target.
Woodfield is in prison in Oregon and has never confessed to any of the killings that
he’s been linked to, despite witnesses connecting him to his crimes and DNA matches.
Ultimately, detectives have not come up with any proof that Randall Woodfield crossed paths
with Randy in 1980, even though it could be a possibility.
So the last theory that law enforcement had to consider is the possibility that Randy
vanished on purpose.
There’s the fact that maybe he just did want to disappear and go do his own thing.
I guess that would seem kind of out of character and not really in line with what the family
would think he would do.
So I don’t know that that necessarily would have happened, just given the fact that he
was so into making these phone calls all the time that what would suddenly make him just
not want to do that anymore.
Detective Wiestenhagen is the fourth detective in Wisconsin to officially investigate Randy’s
He took it on in early 2021.
When our reporting team was in Wisconsin for this episode, Randy’s sister Renee sent Detective
Wiestenhagen an email and told him their family appreciates their work done in the past and
the chance to have a fresh set of eyes on the case, but that they didn’t have much
else to add.
Renee said, quote, we still always wonder what could have happened to Randy and love
The farm owner, Larry Reed, is now deceased, but our reporting team reached out to see
if anyone still operating his farm wanted to provide a statement on his behalf.
But we didn’t hear back.
For investigators today, their big break will come if they can find a match to Randy’s
genetic profile through databases of unidentified remains.
The chances of him still being alive are slim, at least in law enforcement’s mind.
It’s either going to be science that helps explain what happened to Randy, or it will
take someone who knows something to come forward.
If you think you had any interaction with Randy Leach in the fall of 1980 during his
travels in the American West, the Sheboygan County Sheriff’s Office in Wisconsin urges
you to call them at 920-459-3111.
The Deck is an AudioChuck production with theme music by Ryan Lewis.
To learn more about The Deck and our advocacy work, visit thedeckpodcast.com.
So what do you think, Chuck?
Do you approve?