SPOKANE, Wash. — It happened in September but Mike Weflen says it seems like it has been one long day since his wife, Julie, a Bonneville Power Administration worker, disappeared from a remote substation north of Spokane.
"I work on it from the time I get up to the time I go to sleep," Weflen, 32, said of the search. "It's the only thing that keeps me going."
Weflen, a painting contractor, quit working to spread more than 100,000 posters and buttons with Julie's picture throughout the Pacific Northwest. Family, friends and the BPA have put up a $70,000 reward for information leading to her.
Picture on Billboards
In Spokane, a holiday shopper can't walk a block without seeing a picture of the attractive 28-year-old woman in three or four shop windows.
By Christmas, 75 billboards in Washington, Idaho, Montana and western Oregon--where Julie Weflen's family lives--will carry her picture.
"There has to be somebody out there who knows something," a weary Weflen said. "A person can't just disappear without a trace."
But that, it appears, is what happened. Detectives acknowledge that they have had no real leads since the day they found Julie Weflen's van at an unmanned substation on a back road about 15 miles north of Spokane. She was doing routine work at the station when she vanished Sept. 16.
Spokane County Sheriff's Department deputies found her hard hat and sunglasses on the ground. The van's door was open.
Search of Area Fruitless
"It was a bright and sunny afternoon," said Sheriff's Department Detective Mark Henderson, who continues to follow leads. "A couple of indentations in the gravel and a mark on the van, where someone fell or was pushed against it, is about all we have."
The rocky, forested area around the substation was searched extensively without success. Nothing about Julie Weflen's whereabouts is known despite helicopter flights and methodical checks of known sex offenders who may have been in the area.
Henderson said the investigation virtually eliminated the possibility that Julie Weflen left voluntarily.
"We've gotten a pretty good idea of what kind of woman she was, and that doesn't appear to be the case," he said.
Weflen doggedly uses the present tense when talking about his wife. The two horses and a cat she has. The plans they have. The babies and future they hope for.
"The worst is not knowing where she is," he said, "the helpless feeling of not being able to do anything. I try not to let my mind think about some of the things.
"I try to keep going on the efforts to find her. I keep feeling she's OK. She's alive."
Investigators are not so hopeful.
'Chances Aren't Good'
Henderson, who talks to Weflen once a day on the phone and sees him three times a week, has grown close to the distraught husband. But he says it is a long shot that Julie Weflen is alive and held captive.
"My experience says chances aren't good," Henderson said. "But you've got to keep that option open. But it's more likely that it's a homicide involved."
As winter closes its grip on the county, the detective keeps running down the thousands of tips that have poured in from the poster campaign, including help from clairvoyants.
"None of the psychics has panned out, but you can't discount those folks," Henderson said. "If they say look there, you have to look."
One psychic's tip sent dozens of volunteers to Devil's Gap, a rugged area north of Spokane. The search produced nothing but a sprained ankle for one of the volunteer searchers.
Henderson hopes that a tipster or a wandering hunter will lead them to a body before snow covers eastern Washington, hiding any secrets until spring.
"That's half the battle right now. If we find a body, that's going to give us some clues and we can start working."
A body, Henderson said, would give Mike Weflen a resolution to his nightmare.
Unwilling 'to Write Her Off'
"It's tough on him," the detective said. "At least people who know a loved one's dead can go on with their lives. He doesn't want to write her off.
"If we never get further than we are now, I don't know if he'll ever get his life back together."
Weflen says getting the billboards finished will keep him busy through the first of the year. He does not plan beyond that.
"I don't think I'll ever be able to stop looking. I may have to start working again someday, but how do you stop looking for someone you love?"