On March 18, 2000, joggers along a road near the Mount Baker Highway in Whatcom County, Washington, United States reported seeing a wrecked vehicle at the bottom of an embankment near Canyon Creek, a tributary of the North Fork of the Nooksack River. Investigating deputy sheriffs found a white 1993 Jeep Cherokee with North Carolina license plates. They traced the car to Leah Roberts (born July 23, 1976), who had abruptly left her home in Durham, North Carolina nine days earlier. A man called police claiming that his wife had seen Roberts in an Everett, Washington gas station in a disoriented state shortly after the car was found. Her whereabouts remain unknown.
In the years preceding Roberts’ disappearance, both of her parents had died and she had survived serious injuries from a car accident. Her friends and siblings have said that this had left her pondering spiritual issues and questioning the direction of her life. She had dropped out of North Carolina State University only months before graduation and had begun spending much of her time in a local coffeehouse, often writing poetry in her journal. A note that Roberts had left behind at her home suggested that she had taken inspiration from the works of Jack Kerouac, particularly his novel The Dharma Bums, which has scenes set at Desolation Peak, near where her car was found. She had also left money for her housemate to cover expenses while she was gone, suggesting she expected to return in the space of a month or so.
Investigators have focused on the possibly contradictory evidence found in Roberts’ car. Documents inside suggest she had reached Bellingham, Washington by March 13, five days before the car was found. Early suspicions that the vehicle was unoccupied when it crashed, which might suggest that it had been wrecked intentionally, were confirmed when the car’s starter motor was examined several years later and found to have been tampered with. Blankets hung across the car’s windows might suggest it had been used as a shelter after the crash. Roberts’ personal belongings were found scattered near the scene, but robbery did not seem likely, as money and jewelry were among them.
Although the case has been featured on the television shows Unsolved Mysteries and Disappeared, few leads have emerged. In the summer of 2005, volunteers from a North Carolina missing-persons awareness group organized a caravan across the country to raise awareness for Leah’s case and others; that has since become an annual event.