Vanished: Two Coeds, Two Horrifying Mysteries

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In Corvallis, a community-wide search effort had been organized with unusual speed.

"The community of Corvallis was wonderful. That first night they had hundreds of people helping search," Cammy Wilberger said. "Our church organized it, but everyone in the community filled in."

"There were a lot of areas to search and some of it very, very heavy with heavy vegetation. In fact, I remember going home at one o'clock in the morning and there were still 300 people doing concentric circles from where Brooke was last seen," said Noble.

The first night ended with no sign of her.

In the morning, the townsfolk of Corvallis would awake to a shock of another sort -- the largest gathering of media the town had ever seen.

"We had to operate on a whole different paradigm for this investigation, because we didn't have anything to go on. So we needed the media to stay here to talk about the case so people would call in tips," Noble said.

A Suspect at Last

Despite the authorities' quick response, the community support and national media coverage, it was years before a prime suspect would emerge. Police say they now know that a convicted sex offender was driving the Corvallis streets the day Wilberger vanished.

Police believe the man who snatched the teen from the parking lot that sunny Monday may also be a serial killer who preys on blonde and blue-eyed young women. An alert on the FBI Web site said they were investigating the possibility that he may have killed three women in Oregon and assaulted 10 more in three states. His name is Joel Patrick Courtney.

And when authorities linked him to Wilberger, he was in prison in New Mexico awaiting trial on charges that he raped a blue-eyed, blonde co-ed there. After receiving an 18-year prison sentence in the New Mexico case, the man charged in Brooke's abduction was extradited to Oregon.

His trial there is expected to begin in 2010. A not guilty plea has been entered. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

Abducted or a Runaway?

Wilberger was 19 when she disappeared and police began investigating immediately, against normal procedure. With missing persons over the age of 18, police are very likely to wait a few days because, authorities say, adults have a right to disappear.

Authorities followed that procedure in the case of 22-year-old Maura Murray, who went missing Feb. 9, 2004, after she was in a minor car accident in New Hampshire.

Authorities believed she may have wanted to disappear, but her family and friends were certain her disappearance was not by her own choice.

Like Wilberger, Murray was an excellent student. Before attending nursing school at the University of Massachusetts, she had attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where she met a young man, Bill Rausch, and fell in love.

After Rausch graduated West Point, he was stationed in Oklahoma as Murray finished school in Massachusetts. But that distance only seemed to deepen their commitment to each other.

Shocked and upset, Rausch called his parents after learning that his girlfriend had gone missing.

"I answered the phone, and I heard panic in his voice," his mom, Sharon Rausch, said.

But there were immediate questions surrounding Murray's disappearance. For reasons she apparently shared with no one, the 22-year-old left her dorm in Massachusetts and drove to New Hampshire.

Reporter Joe McGee covered the story for The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, Mass.

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