MEACHAM — Cindy Taylor is not losing count of the days her sister has been missing. She also is not losing hope.
Taylor’s sister, Deborah “Deb” Hendrichs, 56, of Star, Idaho, went missing Jan. 11 at about 5 p.m. just outside Meacham, where her car, a black Toyota RAV4, ran out of gas at a bridge entrance.
“This is day 87. I do not want this to become a cold case,” Taylor said Thursday, April 8.
Taylor has been working feverishly since Jan. 11 to find her sister. Taylor was in Northeast Oregon Monday and Tuesday, April 5-6, scouring the Meacham area with her husband and two metal detector operators. The search, as previous ones, proved fruitless.
“We found nothing. We were hoping to find personal effects there,” said Taylor, who lives in Merrill near Klamath Falls.
Oregon State Police Lt. Daniel Conner of Union County shares Taylor’s frustration, explaining no new leads have surfaced.
“The case has gone absolutely dark,” Conner said.
To get the investigation to move forward, OSP again is encouraging people to report any information they have. State police is particularly eager to talk with anyone who may have seen suspicious people late in the afternoon of Jan. 11 near where Hendrichs’ compact SUV stalled, Conner said.
An Oregon Department of Transportation worker is the last person who reported seeing Hendrichs after her vehicle ran out of gas. Conner said the ODOT employee asked Hendrichs if she needed help and she said her cellphone was not working in the area but someone was coming to help. The ODOT employee then put out safety flares to protect Hendrichs and called OSP, which sent a trooper to assist.
The trooper arrived 20 minutes later to find an empty vehicle. State police have not been able to confirm reports of anyone seeing Hendrichs since that time.
Hendrichs is an employee of the Les Schwab Tire Center in Meridian, Idaho, where she has worked since 1995 as a bookkeeper. Taylor said her sister is popular with customers and is the type of person who the late Les Schwab, who founded the tire company in the 1950s, wanted his employees to be like.
“She fits the image of (an ideal) Les Schwab employee to a T,” Taylor said of her sister, who has worked a total of 37 years for Les Schwab.
Taylor said her sister brightens the spirits of customers.
“She makes them feel valued,” she said.
Despite the lack of new leads in the search for her sister, Taylor said she has reason to be hopeful, noting she is impressed with how many people are continuing to to help. These include individuals with the Jon Francis Foundation, a nonprofit that helps find missing persons, Valley County Search and Rescue of the McCall, Idaho, area and the Oregon State Police.
Taylor is working closely with Conner of OSP on the search.
“Lt. Conner has been phenomenal,” Taylor said.
Conner is hoping evidence leading to Hendrichs may be found now that ODOT is starting a road construction project just outside Meacham on Interstate 84. Conner is encouraging ODOT employees to be on the lookout for evidence. This includes cellphones. Conner said Hendrichs had at least two cellphones.
The law enforcement officer also wants people who have cabins in the Meacham area to report anything suspicious they have noticed since the disappearance of Hendrichs.
Conner said in early May a search team will again scour the area. The effort likely will include the Jon Francis Foundation and law enforcement agencies and search and rescue organizations. He said he believes the odds are better that something could be found because much of the area’s snow may be gone by then.
Regardless of how the search turns out, Taylor will remain hopeful in her quest to find her sister.
“I know that God knows where she is,” Taylor said. “God loves her more than I do, and I love her a lot.”