Another Thanksgiving, another Christmas, another birthday. Six
such occasions have passed without celebration for the family of
Jeanine Sanchez Harms, the outgoing 42-year-old Los Gatos woman who
disappeared without a trace two years ago.
More than two years have passed since 33-year-old Laurie O'Connor
said goodbye to her husband and walked out of the couple's Milpitas
home in May 2001 to meet a friend in San Francisco. She was never
And more than six years have come and gone since 18-year-old
University of California-Berkeley student Kristen Modafferi left her
summer job at a San Francisco coffee shop one afternoon in 1997 and
For the families of these three women, there is an anguish
deepened by not knowing -- at least for certain -- whether they will
ever see their loved ones again. Or if justice will ever be served.
Holidays are more endured than celebrated; anniversaries mark dark
``I hate this time of year. I just feel ill, and drained,'' said
Harms' mother, Georgette Sanchez, as she stapled fliers about her
daughter that will be circulated at a march in Los Gatos today --
marking the second anniversary of Harms' disappearance.
``I really did not want to do this because it takes so much out
of me. But I figure if it jogs somebody's memory, if it makes
somebody pick up the phone and call the police with a tip, it's
The thought of what happened to her daughter torments Sanchez,
who believes the attractive brunette who enjoyed dating met with
foul play after she brought home a man she'd met at a bar on the
night of July 27, 2001. She was never seen again. A rug, slipcover
and cushions from her sofa were missing, which has led police to
call her disappearance a homicide.
``I used to say my prayers would be answered if we found her,''
said Sanchez, who lives in Campbell. ``But now I'm almost afraid of
finding her. What shape is she going to be in? Look at how they
found Laci Peterson.''
Los Gatos police have largely focused their investigation on the
two men Harms last shared company with at a Campbell bar, but
they've been unable to directly link the men to a crime. The Santa
Clara County District Attorney's Office is investigating the case.
Los Gatos police are expected to make an announcement about the case
today at a news conference, but will not discuss the nature of the
Sanchez says she does not know what information police plan to
Like Harms, O'Connor disappeared after leaving her home one
evening, all dressed up, to meet a friend.
``She liked to socialize, to go out, and unfortunately, she had
poor judgment about the people she met,'' said her mother, Peggy
Getman, who lives in Arkansas and is raising O'Connor's daughter,
Courtney, soon to be 16. ``My theory is, she met up with the wrong
person at the wrong time. But we may never know. There are so few
clues to follow.''
Courtney, who has lived with her grandmother since she was 8
because of drug problems O'Connor had, only recently told her
grandmother she believes her mother is no longer alive. The teenager
has written poems to her mother, keeps numerous photos of her mom in
her bedroom and often likes wearing pieces of her jewelry. Anything
to keep a connection.
The anniversary of O'Connor's disappearance -- May 18, 2001 --
always brings sadness and a feeling that ``there's a hole inside me,
in my life,'' said Getman. ``My greatest sadness in all of this is
that Laurie never saw what a beautiful young woman Courtney has
become. I just hate for this child to grow up with a question mark
in her life.''
That question mark -- the glimmer of hope -- has compelled
Modafferi's parents to spend thousands of dollars hiring private
investigators and psychics. They've also flown from their home in
North Carolina to California each year for the last six years to
meet in person with Oakland detectives on their daughter's case.
But as time passes, the leads and tips have dwindled to
TV broadcasts and newspaper stories periodically spark calls --
including a tip from a man who was certain he saw Modafferi in
Nicaragua, prompting the couple to plan a trip there. But before
they left, they ultimately determined it wasn't her.
``We try hard to stay away from speculation about what happened
to Kristen, what she endured,'' said Deborah Modafferi, Kristen's
mother. ``We can't fall apart. It'll just kill you if you dwell on
Activities involving her missing daughter are painful to attend,
especially a yearly dinner hosted by the foundation started in
Modafferi's name that brings other families together with tragic
Still, the dinner and other foundation fundraisers, as well as
media interviews, working with producers of TV's ``America's Most
Wanted'' and other shows about unsolved cases and a cookbook she
created as a fundraiser keep her busy and moving forward.
``Our emotions are filled with ups and downs,'' Deborah Modafferi
said. ``We are always going through grieving. There is no closure
because we haven't found her.
``When would you ever give up? It's your child.''