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Published: Sunday, 11/20/2011

Ohio police say search for woman won’t halt

22-year-old vanished near Cincy in August

Katelyn H. Markham who has been missing since Aug. 14, 2011. Katelyn H. Markham who has been missing since Aug. 14, 2011.

FAIRFIELD, Ohio — The tips come in a trickle, instead of flooding in. The searchers go out in handfuls, instead of by the hundreds. The national TV cameras are long gone.

Police and others in this southwest Ohio city say they aren’t giving up their quest to find out what happened to a young woman who’s been missing for more than three months.

It’s a baffling disappearance that at first frightened, and now frustrates, people in a northern Cincinnati suburb of some 43,000 people.

Violent crime is rare here — the last murder was in 2008.

“Where is she?” asked Donna Metz, 35, who lives near Katelyn Markham’s home and has searched dozens of times. “It’s like an alien came down from space and took her.”

Investigators are working the case on a nearly daily basis, police Chief Mike Dickey said, with tips still coming in — although “99 percent” don’t pan out. He said police are getting help from FBI behavioral scientists and other experts and sources he wouldn’t discuss.

Police are also going back to earlier information “with fresh eyes” to see what leads can be developed.

Ms. Markham, 22, was last seen by her fiance late the night of Aug. 13 at her home in a row of townhouses, just off a busy road about a mile from police headquarters.

The next evening, he said, she failed to respond to his text messages, so he went to her home, where he found her car, with her purse and other belongings inside, and her dog locked inside a room in the house.

There was no sign of a struggle, police say.

Her fiance called 911.

Since then, there have been repeated mass searches of parks, woods, riversides, ponds, and rural areas, with help from professional search teams, including the Texas EquuSearch group that helped look for Caylee Anthony in Florida and Alabama teenager Natalie Holloway in Aruba.

A $25,000 reward was offered. Vigils and fund-raising benefits were held. She has been featured on national TV shows and on myriad online sites, including Facebook pages devoted to the search.

But there’s been no evidence that would allow police to determine what happened, Chief Dickey said.

“We’re drawn to a conclusion that it is more likely foul play than not,” the chief said. Police can’t rule out that she left town without telling anyone, but her fiance and father have said repeatedly that would have been completely out of character.

Police have interviewed the fiance, John Carter, among other people as “persons of interest.” Chief Dickey wouldn’t say who has been eliminated and who hasn’t as a potential suspect in the disappearance.

Mr. Carter took part in the early searches and was questioned on such national TV shows as Nancy Grace’s on HLN. His words and actions have been dissected and critiqued on Facebook pages and by callers to shows. Some noted that he sometimes referred to Ms. Markham in past tense.

“I just want to reiterate the fact that I just really want Katelyn home,” Mr. Carter said on Grace’s show Aug. 25. “That’s all that matters to me. I don’t care if people are, you know, talking about me. Whatever. As long as we’re focused on Katelyn Markham and bringing Katelyn Markham home, that is all I want.”

He didn’t return a message for comment left Friday.

Chief Dickey said Mr. Carter, along with Ms. Markham’s family and close friends, have been cooperative.

Mr. Carter and Ms. Markham had been together for several years; she was an artist working two jobs and was weeks away from earning her bachelor’s degree, and they had said they planned to move to Colorado and eventually marry.

Chief Dickey said Fairfield police have had 122 missing-person calls this year. Only one is still active.

Police aren’t doing ground searches for Ms. Markham now, though a dwindling number of volunteers such as Ms. Metz go out on weekends, sometimes with a diver to search ponds.

Why continue?

“Because she hasn’t been found,” replied Missy Hammond, 38, another regular volunteer.

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