Those close to Paige Birgfeld knew her as a loving mother of three young children and an energetic small business woman. But police revealed last weekend that Birgfeld, a Colorado mother of three, allegedly led another life, one kept secret from her friends and family: She ran a local escort service.
Birgfeld disappeared June 28. Her burned-out Ford Focus was found three nights later, on the side of a road two miles from her upscale home. Police appear to have few clues about the case.
But if the conclusions drawn by local police are correct, the 34-year-old Colorado resident appears to have joined the ranks of many seemingly ordinary Americans who lead hidden lives. News reports abound with stories of men with multiple families, married teachers who have illicit affairs with their students, or otherwise upstanding men and women who struggle with hidden drug problems or visit, or work for, escort services.
The details of the Birgfeld case are still emerging and it's too soon to know what drove her to allegedly work in the escort business.
But forensic psychologists say that people who lead dual lives are often driven by many of the same factors, including easy money, possible personality disorders and the thrill of illicit and sometimes dangerous activities.
"There's no one profile," said Gregg McCrary, a retired criminal profiler with the FBI. "It's usually a combination of things -- money, emotional needs, the need to have a secret life, the need to be risk taking."
That duality can lead to dangerous consequences. "If the secret life is more rewarding than the normal life, then you may get addicted to the secret life," said forensic psychologist Katherine Ramsland. "The two lives are going to clash one way or the other."
Experts who spoke with ABC News discussed some of the common factors that can lead otherwise average people to participate in illicit activity such as escort services. Those factors may or may not be in play in the Birgfeld case, and none of the experts was intimately familiar with the details of her case. Some forensic psychologists pointed to significant differences between running an escort service and some other types of secret activity, like an affair with a student.
Authorities now say they believe Birgfeld went by the name "Carrie" when dealing with customers of "Models Inc.," an escort service that police say she ran.
Until Saturday, authorities in Colorado were treating Birgfeld as a missing person, even suggesting that she may have staged her own disappearance. But new information about her escort agency, combined with a lack of any evidence indicating she voluntarily went missing, altered the investigative track over the weekend. Police are investigating potential clients who may have dealt with Birgfeld around the time she disappeared.
"We so far haven't found a single piece of evidence that indicated she left on her own free will," said Heather Gierhart, a spokeswoman for the Mesa County Sheriff's Office.
Authorities are also moving closer to ruling out the involvement of Birgfeld's two ex-husbands, one of whom is the father of her three children. Birgfeld had recently written about one of her ex-husbands on an online forum for consultants who sell Pampered Chef products, suggesting that she felt uncomfortable having him close to her children. But police now suggest it is unlikely that he was involved in her disappearance.
'The Money Is Fantastic'