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Published: Sunday, 7/29/2001

Dad clings to hope for daughter who disappeared in '81

BY ROBIN ERB
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Since she vanished 20 years ago from a law office where she worked - the smell of her nail polish remover lingering in the air and the radio and air conditioner left on - Mr. Anderson has retired from his job, buried two wives, and become a grandfather several times over.

But he has never changed the phone number at his Bedford Township home, in part, because his daughter might call.

He'll pick up the phone, he imagines, and hear children in the background.

Hi Dad, she'll say. I've got kids. I'm sorry. I've had amnesia. How are you?

“They tell me I'm crazy,” he says, rubbing his hands over a face that has worn too much sadness. “Maybe I am. But what am I supposed to do? Give up? Seems like everyone else has.”

On Saturday, it will be 20 years since Cynthia Anderson disappeared from a Manhattan Plaza office. Her fate remains one of Toledo's most intriguing mysteries.

Her smiling face has appeared on flyers worldwide; her case has been on national television. Hers is the longest active Toledo police missing persons case. It fills nearly an entire file cabinet drawer.

“You knew right away that something was wrong,” said James Rabbit, the attorney who found his office eerily empty that day. “You knew she wasn't coming back.”

Though she was profoundly religious and even a sweetly na ve woman, Miss Anderson's final known days were spooked by suspicious calls, an ominously scrawled spray-paint message, and even haunting dreams.

It was enough that the normally private woman had an emergency buzzer installed at her desk, and Mr. Rabbit instructed her to lock the office doors when she was alone.

In the end, the precautions did no good.

Miss Anderson disappeared without a trace - no body, no note, no sign of a struggle.

Even hardened and usually skeptical investigators suspected deadly intentions from the beginning.

“This was a hard-working woman, a woman who went to church, came from a good family, had it all going for her, and then - Bam! - she gets snatched up in broad daylight,” said Lt. Rick Reed, a street officer at the time who now oversees the Toledo police homicide squad.

“She just vanished.”

It was a typically muggy afternoon Aug. 4, 1981, when Mr. Rabbit and his partner, Jay Feldstein, arrived for work at their East Manhattan Boulevard law offices.

The radio was playing and the desks had been readied for the day - all part of the routine they had come to expect from their impeccably responsible but pleasant secretary.

“She looked at her job almost like missionary work,” Mr. Rabbit recalled. “She felt she was serving people and she wanted to do her best.”

It wasn't surprising, given her background.

Born Feb. 4, 1961, Miss Anderson was a child of devout Christian fundamentalists whose lives were built on hard work, self-discipline, and unwavering faith in God.

“I would say we were sheltered somewhat,” said Christine Savidge, Miss Anderson's older sister and the second of the Andersons' four children. “My parents wanted us involved with church, and we were.”

That meant Sunday morning services, prayer meetings, and strict curfews as well as camping trips, seasonal parties, and swimming at nearby lakes.

That summer, she and boyfriend Jeff Lemke, another church member, spoke about marriage. In late August that year, she was to join him for college classes at William Tyndale College in Farmington Hills, Mich.

“She was very happy at the time,” Mr. Lemke recalled. “She was excited about college, about us.”

So when Mr. Rabbit and Mr. Feldstein arrived at the office that day, they were perplexed - and uneasy - at the sight of the empty office.

The phones were ringing unanswered. Mail had been lodged inside the front-door handle. The secretary's purse and car keys were gone. Her car remained outside. The doors were locked.

Miss Anderson's romance novel lay open - ironically, they noticed, to a page where the heroine is brutally attacked.

The attorneys called out for Miss Anderson. No answer.

Ms. Savidge remembers the call from the lawyers in the middle of the afternoon: Have you heard from Cindy?

“I immediately felt my heart start pounding,” she said.

At his job as an air-conditioner repairman, Mr. Anderson received a similar call. He wrapped up his day's work and rushed home to find vehicles - some of them police cars - circling his home.

Inside, his wife, Margaret, was surrounded by friends and family. Prayer chains had been established. The phone rang almost nonstop.

Someone was talking of a reward fund and about posting flyers with his daughter's picture.

It was barely dinnertime.

The years 1980 and 1981 were among Toledo's bloodiest, so Miss Anderson's fate never lacked speculation.

At least two serial murderers, brothers Anthony and Nathaniel Cook, later would be found responsible for nine killings between them.

Though they've denied involvement with Miss Anderson, the Cooks never have been ruled out as suspects.

And three weeks before Miss Anderson vanished, Gloria Krouse, a mother of three boys, disappeared while grocery shopping near her Point Place home and was found stabbed to death in a Michigan field.

Though the Krouse case never has been officially solved, police say they suspect a murderer now serving time at Chillicothe Correctional Institution for two unrelated slayings. He too never has been ruled out as a suspect in Miss Anderson's case.

In another theory, a private detective later linked Miss Anderson's disappearance to a message spray-painted in enormous letters on a wall at the shopping center where she worked: “I love you, Cindy.” The message was signed with the initials of a now-deceased maintenance man who worked in the area.

The closest police ever thought they were to closing the Anderson case occurred with the 1995 arrest of drug dealer Jose Rodriguez, Jr., and his attorney, Richard Neller. Neller worked with the law firm when Miss Anderson disappeared, and federal prosecutors suggested the secretary was abducted and murdered after she overheard conversations about an ongoing drug conspiracy involving the two men.

A jailhouse snitch testified that Rodriguez told him he'd killed Miss Anderson with a 9mm handgun - evidence a judge later ruled not reliable.

Though both men were convicted on drug charges, neither was convicted in Miss Anderson's disappearance.

As with so many missing persons cases, police said, the Anderson case generated too many theories and circumstances, but no tangible clues.

Twenty years later Miss Anderson's face still haunts Bill Adams, the detective assigned her file.

For days, he worked the case nearly round-the-clock.

On days off, he searched woods, ravines, and even sewer tunnels for clues. He joined the family on an episode of Unsolved Mysteries that featured her story

“I used to think of her every day ... even after I retired,” he said. “Even now, when they discover a body, I think maybe it's Cindy.”

For years, Detective Adams believed he'd solve the case. In retrospect, he said: “We were never close.”

Ms. Savidge isn't sure she wants to know, anyway.

But Ms. Savidge isn't convinced that knowing the details would be any less terrible.

“Really, how would that be easier to know the awful details? I mean, even if you know immediately, like it's some gruesome highway crash, you still grieve. It's still awful,” she said from her West Virginia home.

Ms. Savidge married in the fall that year and her younger sister was noticeably absent as maid of honor.

Their mother died in 1983 and was buried on what would have been Cindy's birthday. There were births and deaths and Christmases and birthdays - all without Cindy.

These days - divided by distance and their own family commitments - Miss Anderson's siblings and father try to call each other on important dates, like each Aug. 4.

Mr. Anderson has refused to hold a memorial service or have his daughter declared legally dead even though such a move would release thousands of dollars in money the family had tucked away for her college fund.

A $20,000 reward fund stands for clues to her whereabouts.

“I haven't come to that point yet,” Mr. Anderson said. “I expect that phone to ring at any time. Maybe this afternoon.”

Could she still be alive?

Ms. Savidge took a deep breath - audible even in a long-distance phone interview - and chose her words carefully.

“I guess I've accepted it now; I think most of us have,” she said. “There are a lot of evil people in this world who will never be convicted for the things they've done.

“They'll face judgement one day,” she added. “And in our faith, we believe God will deal with them.”



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