CHALLIS, ID — At around 5 P.M. on Monday, October 11, 1993, nine-year-old Stephanie Crane parted from her after-school bowling league at Challis Lanes — and vanished.
Upon leaving, Stephanie told a friend she’d left her backpack at the local high school field and was walking back to get it. The field was five minutes away. One witness said Stephanie may have watched the soccer team practice until 6 P.M. It was just another typical afternoon in Challis.
Normally, from the field, Stephanie would have gone to her grandmother’s house next door, or just strolled home — a mere 500 yards from the bowling alley. Not on this day.Friends and family recall Stephanie as a tomboy who loved fishing, hiking, and rock picking. Her dad called her “My little hunting buddy.” She was the oldest of four girls, made friends easily, and routinely “bounced around” town after school on foot and on bicycle. That’s the kind of community Challis was. Since 1993, though, Stephanie’s missing presence has haunted the town and its surrounding environs, profoundly.
At about 8:15 P.M., Sandi Anderson, Stephanie’s mom, rushed into the Custer County Sheriff’s Office, terrified that she’d never see her daughter again. Unfortunately, Sandi’s maternal instinct proved to be right.
By daybreak, authorities organized a massive search effort that flew into effect that afternoon. More than 300 law-enforcement officers and volunteers combed the area — on foot, on horseback, in airplanes, and in a helicopter. Trained dogs scoured the landscape. Boat crews lowered the water in a local canal and performed a drag of its contents. Nothing turned up.
As the desperation intensified, the FBI and the Idaho State Police took up the hunt, as did the TV show America’s Most Wanted. Thousands of flyers plastered the nation, coast to coast. The reward for information on Stephanie’s whereabouts ballooned to $50,000.
Leads poured in. Neighbors had seen an unknown yellow truck and a blue van parked in the neighborhood that night. Kids at the bowling alley described a bearded stranger watching them from the bar. Nothing came of any of it.
The first glimmer of possible hope occurred when police heard about a drifter who’d been staying in Challis at the time. Rumored cropped up that he talked abuot keeping a young girl locked in his basement crash pad.
Detective tracked the (still unidentified) drifter down, discovered he’d been arrested for a sex crime with a minor, and administered a polygraph test — which indicated “he was extremely deceptive.”
Later, investigators found ropes containing human hair fibers in the drifter’s underground dwelling. Still, no evidence turned up that was sufficient to make an arrest. The drifter came up again later in the investigation, more than once, with the same frustrating results.
In 1997, attention turned to Keith Hescock, a hunter busted by the Iowa Department of Fish and Game for poaching. Hescock was alleged to have been in the Challis area when Stephanie vanished, driving a yellow truck like the one neighbors noticed as being out of place.
Wildlife inspectors discovered pornography in Hescock’s possession suspected to depict underage females. Cops arrested him both for illegal hunting and the possible child porn. Again, though, nothing concrete tied him to Stephanie.
Five years later, in June 2002, Hescock came back into the picture — horrifically. As Linda Dubiel of the Custer County Sheriff’s Office described it:
“He had kidnapped a little girl from Idaho Falls. He had raped her. He handcuffed her to the bed, and he left and went to work. He told her that he had done this before and that he had killed the little girl. She got a hold of a fire extinguisher and pounded on the handcuffs until she got away. When Hescock got back from work, police were waiting for him.”
A high-speed chase followed, ending with Hescock shooting a deputy in the leg, killing a police dog, and then blowing his own brains out. In death, he remains a suspect in Stephanie’s disappearance.
The disappearance of Stephanie Crane took on an additional heartbreaking dimension in 1997 when her mom, Sandi Anderson, died. Then, on October 11, 2012, her dad, Ben Crane, passed away as well. It had been 19 years to the day since Stephanie didn’t come home.
Neither of Stephanie’s parents ever found out what happened to their little girl. To date, Stephanie Crane remains vividly remembered, and her case is very much active and open.
If you have any information, please call the Custer County Sheriff’s Office at (208) 879-2232 or the Sheriff’s Office Tip Line at (208) 879-5372 and leave a message. You can also call the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1 (800) 843-5678 (1-800-THE-LOST). All callers can remain anonymous.
If you are in search of a missing person, make sure to enter their information into the database of the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System.
For more on Stephanie Crane, watch the “Into the Mist” episode of Investigation Discovery’s Disappeared on ID GO now!
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Main photos: Stephanie Crane age progression [Custer County Sheriff’s Office; National Center for Missing & Exploited Children]