Could the answers to a decade-old mystery be hidden in the hills of eastern Kentucky? Detectives and family related to Richard Strong seem to think so.
Richard was last seen alive in 2011, at a campsite on top of a mountain near Hazard. Despite searches, interrogations and evidence collected - no clue ever lead to him.
More than a decade later, his case remains unsolved.
Chapter 1: The night he disappeared
On Feb. 18, 2011, Richard Strong left the home he shared with his wife, Darlene, to go visit some friends and acquaintances at a nearby campsite. He never came home.
"We would've been married 16 years," Darlene said, looking fondly at old family photographs. The couple met through a family friend and got married in 2004. They were planning on adopting a child and were in the final stages of bringing one home.
"Richard was a kind person. Real kind-hearted," she said.
When Richard left that night, she never dreamed it would be the last time she would see her husband.
"That was an awful night," Darlene said. A short time after he left, Darlene said someone came to her front door in a panic, talking about how Richard had been hurt. She contacted police, who immediately launched a search.
Chapter 2: Finding the truth
Chris Collins, a detective with Kentucky State Police, said they started their search right after Darlene reported her husband missing. They found the car Richard left in, but there was no sign of him.
The local search team waited until the next day to look for Richard due to foggy conditions in the area. Over the next few weeks, multiple searches were held with a dozen dogs and several volunteers.
"No evidence of Richard was found at all," Collins said.
Investigators then talked to everyone who was at the campsite that night. Collins said they were all relatives and they all knew Richard. They shared the same story of how Richard was accused of stealing a wallet and was punched at least twice before walking back to his car.
Collins doesn't believe that's the whole story.
“I believe that he is deceased," Collins said. "I believe that something was done to him and there [are] a few people out there that know the story. And I believe I’ve talked to them, I just haven’t got the real story.”
Outside of witness testimony, there wasn't much evidence for them to go off of. The area where Richard disappeared was large and hard to navigate. Plus, they weren't receiving many tips to bring them closer to an answer.
As years passed, another obstacle arose: The people who were there that night began to pass away, including that one who assaulted Richard. Collins hoped that people would come forward over time, but that hasn't been the case.
“I believe we have multiple individuals that are still alive that could tell me what exactly happened and probably one or two that could tell me where Richard’s remains are,” Collins said.
Chapter 3: Never giving up hope
The last ten years have been brutal for Darlene, who spends every day waiting for news.
"Ain't a day go by that I don't think about him," she said.
After more than a decade, Collins admits that bringing the people responsible for Richard's disappearance to justice will be difficult. So, he has a different focus.
"My main goal is just to find his remains," he said.
He is still talking to the people who were there that night, hoping that one of them will finally share the truth.
"I'm hoping that I get to see justice," Darlene said. "Because Richard didn't deserve this. He was too good to people."
Any information connected to Richard's disappearance should be reported to Kentucky State Police at 606-435-6069.
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