Daisy Jo Lane left her home to walk to the library at 9:30 on the morning of April 2, 1978 in Rapp City, Nebraska. She was seen in the grocery store around 11:00 that morning buying a package of chicken, a box of hair dye, toilet paper, and several other items. That afternoon, her neighbor stopped by, but Daisy never answered her knock. At 6:00 o’clock that evening, her husband, Ben, came home from work. He found the house empty. By 9:00 p.m., he was worried and began calling family and friends. No one admitted to seeing Daisy that day. He phoned the police at 10:00 o’clock that night. Officers responded to the call and advised him to make a report the next day if he still hadn’t heard from his wife.
As the days passed, the police attempted to retrace Daisy’s steps. After the newspaper report was published, the grocery clerk came forward. Other than the sighting by the clerk, there were no other verified sightings of Daisy Jo Lane.
Ben Lane’s activities were scrutinized as well, but he was among witnesses the entire day at the bank. Thirty years later, Ben was remarried and had two gown sons. He had moved to a different house and left his employ with the bank for a job with the chamber of commerce. Daisy was still missing.
Professor Drury paused behind the lectern and faced her students.
“Your assignment is to write an essay on the disappearance of Daisy Lane outlining the various theories and your opinion of which theory is accurate. Or come up with one of your own. Before leaving today, pick up one of the packets on the table. Each one contains copies of the police reports, notes from the detectives who investigated the disappearance, a list of popular theories, and a copy of Daisy’s journal. There aren’t many entries, I’m afraid, but perhaps you’ll find something useful in her writings.” She smiled at the class. “Any questions?”
“Can we work together on this?” one student asked.
“Yes,” Prof. Drury replied. “In fact, I would encourage you to do so. Reports are due in one week.”
The class filed out after taking a packet from the table. Jack, Phil and Lucy huddled together in the hallway, looking over the papers from class. They decided to work together on the project, and agreed to meet that evening in the student center to brainstorm.
“I think we need a plan,” Phil began at their first meeting. He bent over the papers on the table. The others nodded. “First, we’ll lay out all the theories, and one of them is just crazy. Then we’ll go through the evidence that supports each one. Sound good?”
“Okay,” Lucy said. “There are only four main theories. The husband killed her, she ran away, she was kidnapped, or she was abducted by aliens. I don’t believe that last one even made it into the mix.” She huffed and rolled her eyes.
“I think that’s a red herring, just to throw us off,” Jack laughed. “Aliens!”
“Okay, let’s take the first one. That her husband killed her. That won’t fly. He was at work around people all day.”
“Let’s not be quick to dismiss any of the theories. After all, he could have snuck out of work maybe. Or hired someone else to do it.”
“You’re right; we can’t dismiss anything at this point.” Phil scratched his head.
“Anyway, there was also the notion that she simply ran away.” Jack remarked. “I think that’s very likely. I wonder if they had a happy marriage.”
The three were silent for a few minutes as they thought.
“On the other hand, if she was kidnapped by a stranger, we’ll never figure that out. I’m sure if anyone would have seen her struggling with someone, it would have been reported. If it was a crime of opportunity, there might be nothing linking the kidnapper to Daisy.”
“True,” Phil said. “That would be a hard one to prove.”
“And, I’m not even going to discuss the alien abduction theory right now.” Lucy was adamant.
“When you look at this packet, there’s not really much here. I think we need to do some independent research.” Jack gazed at them over his glasses. “Prof didn’t say we couldn’t supplement the information in the packet with our own snooping.”
“I agree,” Lucy said. “It was a long time ago, but we should be able to turn up something. Jack, you should scour old police reports and newspaper articles for anything significant in town around that time. Phil, I think you should look up old yearbooks and family information. And I will focus on the diary she left and any other writings of hers I might be able to find. I’ll also see if I can find any neighbors that remember the family. It’s been so many years and people are always on the move. I don’t know how much luck I’ll have. In any case, we only have a week, so we’d better get busy.”
None of them had any classes the following day, so they agreed to meet the following evening and compare notes. Each was excited at the prospect of solving a decades-old crime, although they knew it was a long shot.
The next evening, they sat around the card table in Lucy’s parents’ basement and pulled out their notes. There was a feeling of anticipation in the air and they couldn’t wait to get started. Lucy had brewed a large pot of coffee and set out snacks to keep them sharp.
“Okay, let’s talk about what we found out,” Lucy started. “I had some success with the diary angle. If you read between the lines of her entries right before the disappearance, you can see she wasn’t happy.”
“That’s interesting,” Jack said. “Her husband told the police they had a good marriage with no problems at all. I also found out that strange lights were seen in their neighborhood the night before she vanished. That’s the reason for the UFO theory, I’d guess. Two different neighbors reported seeing lights playing across the sky and the trees. I think what they saw might have been a powerful flashlight, like maybe her old man was searching for something in the back yard.”
“That’s pretty clever, Jack.” Phil grinned. “But I think you’re extrapolating quite a bit.”
“Hey, a flashlight waving around in the dark could throw some weird lights up in the trees. I wonder if the cops ever checked her backyard for any freshly dug flowerbeds or anything. If so, they didn’t make note of it in the reports.” Phil scoffed at the idea.
“Wait, that’s not really so crazy,” Lucy interrupted. “I talked to an old neighbor of theirs to find out if she remembered anything, and she happened to mention that Ben Lane did have a new garden out back. She said she recalled thinking what a shame it was Daisy disappeared after planting that garden and then never got to see the flowers bloom.”
“Do you think Daisy Lane is buried back there? Don’t you think the police would have checked that? Did the neighbor actually see Daisy planting the garden?” Jack was excited.
“I don’t know. She didn’t say.” Lucy made a note to check back with the woman.
“This doesn’t mean anything really, but it’s something to keep in mind. Let’s move on.” Phil pulled out some photos he had copied. “Look at these and tell me what you think.”
He spread several yearbook photos out on the table along with some copies of news clippings.
“This is Ben Lane’s second wife, and this is the picture of Daisy that appeared in all the newspapers at the time.” He laid them side by side. “They look enough alike to be sisters.”
“They do!” Lucy exclaimed.
“But, more important than that, you’ll never guess what else I found.” He pulled another paper from his backpack. “Here’s a photo of the old Mrs. Lane and the new Mrs. Lane together before either of them met Ben Lane. They were schoolmates!”
“I’ll be damned,” Phil uttered. A drama club photo from the 1976 high school yearbook showed the two girls with arms around each other, hamming for the camera.
“So, she disappears and a few years later he marries her friend. That’s kind of suspicious. I bet he had to divorce Daisy to marry Gloria. Otherwise, he’d have to wait years to have Daisy declared dead.” Jack scribbled furiously in his notebook. “Did Daisy and Gloria stay friends after school was over? Anyone know?”
“No idea. His new wife’s maiden name was Vincent and I see no mention of a Gloria Vincent in Daisy’s diary. We’d better see what we can find on Gloria Vincent.”
“Did she ever make it to the library that day?” Lucy asked.
“Not according to the police reports,” Jack answered. “Just the grocery store. Nobody knows where she was between the time she left her house that morning and the time she went to the store at 11:00.”
“Hey.” Lucy snapped her fingers. “Whatever happened to the chicken she bought? Did anyone find out? If it was in the fridge, then she came back home after going to the store.”
“There’s nothing about it in the reports.” Jack said, glancing through his papers.
“Okay, here’s the plan. We’ll check with the neighbor and see if she actually saw Daisy planting the garden. We’ll also search for information on Gloria Vincent. And maybe we ought to talk to Mr. Lane,” Phil decided.
“Ben Lane? I don’t think so,” Jack said. “He’s a prominent man in the community, always in the newspaper. I mean, this is just a school assignment. I don’t think we ought to bother the man or dig up bad memories for him.”
“Oh, come on,” Lucy chided. “It’s been thirty years. I doubt he has any lingering grief after all this time. He married someone else, made a new life.”
“Fine,” Jack said, his voice dry. “Then you talk to him. Leave Phil and me out of it.”
“I will,” Lucy said firmly. “But you have to talk to the neighbor, then.”
They agreed and parted for the night, their heads full of information that wouldn’t gel into a solution.
The next day the group met in the school library. Their excitement was palpable.
“Let me go first,” Lucy said excitedly. “I have some news! Mr. Lane didn’t want to talk at first, but eventually he agreed. Once he started, it seemed like he couldn’t get it off his chest fast enough.”
“Really? You have a lot of nerve, girl. I didn’t think you would go through with it.” Phil gazed at her with admiration in his eyes.
“Don’t interrupt.” Jack was impatient. “Go ahead, Lucy. What did you find out?”
“Mr. Lane said he and Daisy had had an argument the night before she disappeared. He wouldn’t say what it was about, but he said he has lived with regret for years because of it. He also told me that she came home after she went to the store. He found the chicken in the freezer. Plus, he found the empty hair dye bottle in the trash! So she dyed her hair the day she vanished. That might be weird or not. She liked to dye her hair so maybe it’s not connected in any way. Anyway, Mr. Lane never told the police about her bringing her packages home from the store because he was afraid they would believe she ran away and then wouldn’t look for her as diligently. He said he knew she wouldn’t run away; it wasn’t in her nature. So, he kept that part secret so the police would work harder to find her. He thinks she met with foul play, but he doesn’t have any idea who might have harmed her.”
“Wow! That’s explosive. I can’t believe he told you that he kept information from the police.” Jack shook his head.
“I think he figures it doesn’t matter after all this time. The detectives that investigated it are both dead now and there’s not much they could do to him at this point.” Lucy shrugged.
“Did you ask him about the garden?” Phil stared at Lucy with wide eyes.
“It didn’t come up,” she answered.
“I talked to the neighbor,” Jack said. “She doesn’t remember exactly when the garden was put in; only that it was around that time. She didn’t see who put it in.”
“Well, that’s a dead end, then.” Lucy was disappointed. Somehow she had been half convinced that Mr. Lane killed Daisy and buried her in the garden. If he lied to the police about his wife coming home, what else might he lie about?
“It’s not exactly a dead end,” Phil said. “We’ll just put it on the back burner for now. Anyway, I found out that Daisy’s parents are deceased and she had one brother. He works at the hardware store and I talked to him today.”
Phil was smug as the other two stared at him in astonishment. After he made them wait a few minutes, he sighed. “Turns out the two of them weren’t close. He didn’t have much to say. He did, however, tell me that Daisy and Gloria Vincent were friends throughout high school and into college. He didn’t know about after Daisy and Ben got married. He didn’t see much of them because he was living out of state until shortly before Daisy disappeared. He said when Daisy vanished, he thought maybe she had some kind of accident or stroke or something and they just never found the body. He said she liked walking down by the river and he told the police at the time they should search for her there. She could have slipped into the waters, or fell through a hole near the bank or something. And a search party did scour the riverbanks, but nothing ever turned up.”
“Well, there’s a new theory. I wonder why it wasn’t on the list Prof. Drury handed out.” Lucy tapped her pencil on the table.
“It must have been discarded years ago as erroneous. That would be my guess. But I think we should add it to our list nonetheless.” Jack made a note and the others followed suit.
“So, I can’t help but wonder about the status of her friendship with Gloria at the time she disappeared,” Lucy said. “Since the police didn’t interview her, I have to assume they no longer maintained a friendship. I think we ought to talk to her.”
“No,” Jack said. “We can’t. My mom knows her cousin. Gloria is in a nursing home. She has early onset dementia.”
“Well, you might have told us before now!” Lucy gaped at him.
“I was just getting ready to tell you.” Jack was defensive. “I only found out this morning when I told Mom about this assignment.”
“Okay.” Lucy was mollified. “Did you find any recent articles on the current Mrs. Lane?”
“I’m going to look tomorrow morning,” Jack promised. “For now, I think we should all three go talk to Ben Lane and really try to pin him down on that garden thing.”
Somewhat hesitant, they piled into Jack’s car and drove to the Chamber of Commerce. They were nervous as they waited for the secretary to ask Mr. Lane if he had time to meet with them. To their surprise, he emerged a moment later and led them to a conference room. He did not look happy.
“You kids are starting to be a nuisance,” he said as he closed the door and gestured to them to sit. They took chairs around the table and pulled out their pads and pencils. He paced at the front of the room, running his hand through his silver hair.
“I’m sorry,” Phil said.
“No, you’re not,” Mr. Lane snapped. He stopped and stared at them for a moment, and then sighed. “But, I guess when I was your age I didn’t understand much about life either. It’s painful for me to talk about this, even after all these years. So, today will be the last time I’ll visit with any of you. Better get all your questions asked right now.”
“We just want to know about the garden. Your neighbor told us about you digging the garden in your back yard.” Jack bluffed a little, anxious to see how Ben Lane would respond.
“That nosy old bat,” Mr. Lane said in a weary voice. “Yes, I dug in the garden. I buried the chicken. I didn’t want the police to find it just in case they decided to search my house, which they never did. But I guess the neighbor saw me out there with the flashlight burying it. I also buried the hair dye bottle and empty box. I already explained this to the young lady. I didn’t want the police to know Daisy had come home before she disappeared. I was worried they wouldn’t take the investigation seriously if they thought she had left of her own volition. Now, after all these years, it hardly matters. They didn’t find her anyway.”
“Would you mind telling us what you and your wife argued about the night before?” Lucy stepped out bravely.
Mr. Lane fixed her with a hard stare. “Yes, I would mind. It’s personal and has nothing to do with her disappearance. Now I need to get back to work.”
He escorted them out and left them at the front door.
“Well, that was enlightening. I think he’s hiding something,” Jack said, offended at being rushed out.
“Obviously.” Lucy fumed. “But, what? I didn’t get the feeling he was lying about burying the chicken. He didn’t even have to tell me that. I wouldn’t have known to ask.”
“Well, he doesn’t want us to know what they argued about.” Phil adjusted his glasses. They got in the car and drove away, still speculating.
“We’re running out of time. We still need to write the report and we haven’t even picked which theory we’re going with. We’d better meet tomorrow afternoon.” Lucy stared out the window, frowning in concentration.
The next afternoon, Phil showed up at Jack’s house with a self-congratulatory smile on his face. Lucy looked up as he strolled in.
“I know that look,” she said. “What gives?”
“I think I’ve solved the mystery.” He grinned as he pulled papers from his backpack. “Come here and look at these pictures I found of Gloria Vincent Lane in the society pages of some old newspapers.” He slapped the papers down on Phil’s dining table and spread them out. Lucy and Phil stepped to the table and stared down.
“So what?” Jack said. Lucy frowned at the pictures.
“Look at them. Look really close.” He was nearly dancing with anticipation.
“Oh! Oh, my gosh!” Lucy was the first to see it. Then Jack saw it, too.
“Oh ho ho!” he exclaimed. “I don’t believe it!”
“That’s right. The older Mrs. Gloria Lane looks an awful lot like someone we know, doesn’t she?” Phil gloated.
“She looks like Professor Drury! Only younger. When were these pictures taken?” Lucy picked them up and held them close to her eyes.
“Just five short years ago.” Phil said.
“But, I don’t get it. Why does it matter that Gloria looks like the prof?” Lucy looked puzzled. Phil said nothing.
“Oh!” Lucy said as it dawned on her. She turned to Jack. “You get it, right? Gloria and Daisy looked alike when they were young, remember? So, now that they are older, they still look alike. Professor Drury is the long lost Daisy Lane! She must be!”
“Oh, this is crazy!” Jack exploded. “It can’t be. I mean, how can it be?”
“I don’t know,” Phil said. “But I think it is. Here’s what I think. Gloria Vincent had a thing for Ben Lane and that’s why she and Daisy had a falling out. Then later, after Ben and Daisy married, Ben Lane had an affair with Gloria Vincent and Daisy found out. I think that’s what the two of them argued about the night before she disappeared. Then the next day, I think Daisy decided to leave him, but for some reason chose not to just divorce him like most wives would do. I think she dyed her hair and then ran away. I think the real reason Ben Lane didn’t tell the police about Daisy coming home before she disappeared was because he didn’t want them to find out he was having an affair, and then suspect him of killing his wife. I don’t think it was because he wanted them to look harder for her. I think he was protecting himself. I also think he wanted them looking for a blonde when he knew she was a brunette when she vanished. I think Daisy went off to another town, married somebody else herself, and then years later came back here and took a job at the university thinking no one would ever figure out her true identity.”
“But why would she give us this assignment?” Lucy puzzled. “I would think it’s the last thing she would want to do.”
“Simple,” Jack said. “She doesn’t think anyone will figure it out. Maybe it amuses her in some sick way to have a whole class of students trying to figure out her mystery.”
“That’s creepy,” Lucy said. She held up her hand. “Let’s just stop for a minute. This is really conjecture. We’ve gone way out there, now.”
“I don’t think so,” Phil said. “I think we’re right. Or at least very close. Let’s write it up.”
Jack, Phil and Lucy turned their paper in to Prof. Drury privately after everyone had left the class.
“I think you should read ours right now, Professor,” Phil said. He stood solemnly before her, flanked by Jack and Lucy.
“Oh, really?” Professor Drury smiled indulgently at them and began reading. As she read, her face hardened. She swallowed a few times, and turned the pages. When she was finished, she flipped to the front of the report and read it again. Finally, she removed her glasses and looked up, her expression troubled at first.
“This is quite interesting,” she said, clutching her sweater over her chest. Then she smiled. “Hypothetically, let’s say Daisy Jo Lane did find out her husband was having an affair. And let’s say she found it humiliating that her dear friend from school would betray her in such a fashion. Perhaps Daisy couldn’t bear the stigma of divorce and the subsequent pity in the eyes of everyone she knew as they found out. So, let’s say she did decide to change her appearance and vanish, leaving Ben Lane to always wonder what happened to her. Maybe she moved away, took on a new identity with the money she had secretly saved. Maybe she was bitter at first until she met and fell in love with another man, whom she married. Perhaps she had a wonderful marriage with this new man and was devastated when he passed away. She might have wanted to return to her hometown at that point. So maybe she did. And maybe she took a job teaching at the same college where she met Ben Lane so many years before. And maybe by this time she had forgiven him and Gloria for their disloyalty. And, finally, let’s assume she gave her class this assignment, not because she was feeling smug or self-righteous, but because she wanted to put the whole thing to rest and thought she could do so if she saw the incident from the perspective of other people. Maybe she never meant any harm, but was only soothing her injured feelings and trying to come to terms with the way it all turned out.”
Jack, Phil and Lucy just stared at her. They were right! It was amazing, but they were right!
“Of course, that is all just hypothetical.” Professor Drury sniffed and tore their paper into small pieces. She threw them into the trash can next to her desk. “I can prove I am not Daisy Jo Lane, if I have to. I have a birth certificate and many other documents I have accumulated over the years. Daisy Lane was never fingerprinted, you know. There was no reason for her to be. So, if you have high hopes of going to the police with your little report, you will only make yourselves look like idiots.”
“But, we worked hard on that report!” Lucy said, “and I don’t think it’s fair that you hand out this assignment and then tear up our paper just because we actually did a good job.”
“Yes, I know.” Professor Drury shook her head at them as if they were naughty children. Then she winked. “You each will get an A in my course for the entire semester. I trust you will keep your report private. It will serve no good to bring your theories out in the open. The only thing that could come of it is pain and embarrassment. Do you understand?”
The three students nodded.
“Alright, then. You’re dismissed.” Professor Drury gathered her papers into her briefcase and left the room.
“Well.” Lucy said.
“At least we got an A.” Phil said. He seemed stunned.
“But we still don’t know for sure about Daisy Lane. I mean, she never really admitted it.” Jack shoved his hands in his pockets and turned to stare out the windows.
“Oh, I think we know,” Phil said. “I think we know.”