Detective Glen Klinkhart's life changed on one cold spring night in Anchorage, Alaska, when one case nearly destroyed his passion and motivation for his job as a homicide investigator.
"I was ready to quit," Klinkhart said. "I told my family, 'I don't think this is the job for me.'"
The job, for more than three weeks, had been to find two boys — Malcolm and Isaiah Johnson — who had gone missing in March 2003. The boys were found, 23 days later, frozen in a pond near their home.
"I tried so hard," said Klinkhart, whose own son was about the same age as the boys. "I just felt like I had failed."
Klinkhart felt he was given a second chance one month later, when another missing persons case landed on his desk.
"I felt like I was on a mission, and I needed to find her," said Klinkhart. "If not for her family … maybe for me."
She was Bethany Correira, a beautiful 21-year-old woman who was raised in a log cabin built by her father Bill, deep in the woods near Mount McKinley. She was home schooled as a child, and later attended the small high school in her town, excelling in academics and sports.
Correira traveled the world, from her missionary work in Nepal to sailing to the remote Norfolk Islands. But in May 2003, she moved to Anchorage to pursue medical studies in college. Four days after Correria's move, her mother, Linda, arrived at her apartment to find the door unlocked and her daughter's purse, keys and cell phone inside. Bethany was nowhere to be found.
On May 4, police arrived on the scene and searched the apartment, but it was the recently burned duplex next door that caught Klinkhart's attention. Maybe an odd coincidence, maybe a clue, but for Klinkhart, the scene would lead him on a haunting journey to find the vivacious young woman and reclaim his passion for work.
"I thought I was looking for a lost girl and it turns out that I found more than just a lost girl," he said. "I found a part of me."
That burned duplex triggered a memory for Klinkhart; a memory of another girl and another fire.
A Lot of Guilt
On Easter weekend of 1981, Glen Klinkhart was 16 years old, taking a trip with his family to the Kenai Peninsula to visit his grandparents. His sister, Dawn, stayed home to work at her summer job. But Glen kept a secret for his sister: she planned to have a party that weekend.
"We got a phone call saying that there had been a fire at the house," said Klinkhart. "My sister -- we were informed that she was dead."
That Saturday, after other partygoers had said their goodbyes and headed home, one schoolmate returned to the Klinkhart home as Dawn slept. Nineteen-year-old Alan Chase sexually assaulted, beat, strangled and set fire to the high school senior. Although Chase was sentenced to 75 years in prison, and was recently denied parole, Klinkhart is still troubled by what he didn't tell his parents.
"I spent a lot of time trying to figure out, you know, what I could have done," he said. "Could I have saved her? Ah…a lot of guilt for a lot of years."
Klinkhart couldn't save his sister, but the detective was determined to save young Bethany Correira, who in a strange coincidence disappeared on his sister's birthday -- May 3.
A Prime Suspect
Klinkhart questioned everyone close to Correira, including neighbors, family and friends. He spoke with Joe Tamblyn, her boyfriend who lived in Nome. Tamblyn was a pilot, flying at the time Correira disappeared, and he said he had spoken with her that morning and she had told him she would be meeting with her apartment manager.
"She said that she would be learning how to show the apartments to tenants," said Tamblyn. When the bureau of Alcohol Firearms and Tabacco investigated the fire at the duplex and ruled it arson, Klinkhart began to suspect the worst. He worked tirelessly -- almost obsessively -- slowly homing in on one suspect in particular: apartment manager Michael Lawson.
Though Lawson claimed he was at home the day Correira disappeared -- Michael's brother Bob was his alibi -- Klinkhart had other information. Gail Zywot was moving into the triplex next to Bethany's apartment that same day and saw Lawson's white Mercedes SUV parked in front of the duplex. Cell phone records proved that Lawson was not, in fact, at home that morning, but instead in the vicinity of the apartment where Correira had lived.
After several months, Klinkhart still had no news for the grieving family. Everyone, even Klinkhart's 5-year-old son, wanted to know just what happened to the young woman.
"He'd say, 'Hey Dad, did you find Bethany today,'" said Klinkhart. "And, I'd kinda look at him and go, 'No buddy, I didn't find her today. But, I will.'"
'It's Time to Come Home'
Police would eventually find Correira with the help of an unexpected source: the brother of the prime suspect. The Lawson brothers were arrested on fraud charges in February 2004 and Klinkhart took the opportunity to elicit a confession from Bob Lawson.
Bob Lawson told police that he had received a phone call from his brother on May 3, 2003, asking for help, claiming that he had just shot someone. Bethany Correira was lying on the floor naked when he arrived. According to Bob Lawson, the two brothers then packed the young woman's body into the back of the white Mercedes, dumped her body just miles from her childhood home, set fire to the duplex and met friends at a local bar.
It was the middle of winter and a heavy snow blanketed the ground, preventing officials from searching the scene until May 3, 2004 -- exactly one year after Correira had disappeared.
"I just took a moment to just kinda say… 'Bethany, it's time to come home,'" said Klinkhart.
Over four years later, in August 2007, a jury found Michael Lawson guilty of 2nd degree murder. The exact details of her death may never be known, but for now her parents are grateful for a measure of justice. Detective Klinkhart is simply thankful to the young woman he never got the chance to meet.
"I really have to thank Bethany for a lot of things," he said, "including allowing me to kinda look back at my life and what happened to my sister and to be able to make amends."