When a Family Man Disappears: Tale of a Deadbeat Dad

Deadbeat dad

To his wife and college sweetheart, Nicholas Francisco seemed to be a perfect prince.

Francisco and Christine Carter met, fell in love, married and settled into a suburban life outside Seattle. Daughter Zea came along, followed by a son, Noah. The family became regulars at a conservative church. And Francisco got a job as art director for a top ad agency.

With a third child on the way, their budget was stretched some. But to Carter, life with Francisco was all right.

"He was everything that I had dreamed of,'' she said. "I felt like Cinderella."

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But on a winter morning in 2008, Francisco, 28, leaned in to kiss his pregnant wife goodbye. "Oh, my poor, sweet Bella, I love you," he said. Carter would not know until several weeks later that her prince was saying goodbye forever.

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That night, Francisco vanished on his way home from work. What followed was a mystery that began with nightmarish worries of foul play and ended in a different kind of nightmare.

Francisco was very much alive. And he had been leading a troubling double life.

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The couple had met nine years before at art school. Carter was interested even before "hello." He was so good-looking that her jaw dropped when she first set eyes on him, she said. Soon the two would discover that they both had troubled childhoods.

Francisco's father had walked out on his family when he was 16. Carter said she had been abused as a child. But in him, she found someone she could trust. And with her, he was not too afraid to tie the knot.

"When you're a little girl, and you're thinking about your knight in shining armor, he was it," said Carter.

His friends and co-workers say he was likeable, fun and sometimes a little nutty.

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"He was kind of a little bit crazy, the guy sticking his head out the window yelling and screaming as we're driving," said Matt Donovan, his best friend.

But he was also mysterious, said Kristina Muller-Eberhard, his supervisor at Publicis, the multinational advertising and communications firm. "There's a bit of a dark side to him, troubled, I should say. He kept a lot to himself."

Just after 6:00 p.m. on February 13, Francisco called his wife and promised to be home soon to bake Valentine's Day cookies with the kids. It had been a fairly ordinary work day, said Muller-Eberhard. Francisco seemed happy that day. He had been making jokes.

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At home, the children were excited to begin baking with their father.

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As time ticked by, Zea asked, "Mommy, why didn't Daddy come home and make cookies?" At first, Carter was irritated. He had promised to be home. But by 9 o'clock, her aggravation was giving way to worry.

"That wasn't like him. He always called me," she said. When Francisco was stuck in traffic and just 15 minutes late, he would routinely call.

Finally, after he did not call and she could not reach him on his cell, Carter put the kids to bed.

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