When a Family Man Disappears: Tale of a Deadbeat Dad

At 10 p.m., she called 911. She was told to wait three more hours and call back if she still had not heard from him.

She paced for a while. And then she started calling hospitals, friends, and family. But no one had any information.

At 1 a.m. she called 911 again. "I said, 'You don't understand. He's not the same as every other man. This man wouldn't leave me. He wouldn't just walk out.'"

Police responded quickly, assigning a detective to the case in the morning.

"We had no known motive,'' said Detective John Holland.

Francisco seemed to be clear of any connections to the drug world, or anyone on the outskirts of society. And he seemed to be an ordinary homebody, Holland said.

An army of friends, family, church members and co-workers organized a massive search for Francisco, scouring the streets for hours along his route home, hanging "Missing" posters everywhere. The ad agency where he had worked hired a private investigator, and, for a time, shut down his department so employees could hit the streets and hand out flyers.

"We were really worried,'' said Muller-Eberhard. "One of your co-workers go missing, you know, you want to do something about it."

Carter gave interviews to reporters, hoping to unearth some leads for authorities.

"If you can't find him, these kids don't have a daddy,'' she said in one television interview.

The national media picked up the story and Francisco's disappearance was featured on the "America's Most Wanted" website.

The attention brought more volunteers and other community support. "The donations kept flooding in. I was overwhelmed."

People gave money, and brought clothes and food.

Amateur sleuths from around the country offered clues and proffered plots. Some wondered if Francisco's wife had killed him. At least two psychics told police he was dead.

Police also wondered if Carter was responsible and brought her in for interrogation. "I was accused of things that never even crossed my mind,'' she said. "Murdering him. Cheating on him. Scamming the public for donation money."

Authorities asked about life insurance and the donations she'd received. "All I wanted was my husband to be found,'' she said.

The Search Continues

Six days after Francisco went missing, his red Toyota was found. But the car yielded no evidence of foul play, or much of anything else, said Holland. Search dogs could not find a scent to follow.

Still, buoyed by the finding, volunteers rallied. "It gave us some more hope,'' said Lee Brown, a family friend. "So we actually got another search party together, right there in the middle of the condo complex at night. It was pretty heartwarming to see this many people want to get involved."

"I just remember screaming,'' said Carter, after hearing his car was found. "But I knew it was the beginning of the end."

Police were checking every dead body that turned up in the area. They also tried, without success, to obtain Francisco's cellphone records. Since it was not yet clear that any crime had been committed, the court would not grant police access."

But police had more luck at Francisco's job site. When they searched his office, they made a stunning discovery on his desk: a receipt for condoms.

When police told Carter, she said, "There's no way."

"I'm pregnant. We've been trying for a year to have a baby. And I finally got pregnant. We have not used condoms."

Carter grasped at explanations and suggested to police that a clerk must have made a mistake.

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