Arizona Republic from Phoenix, Arizona on May 22, 1996 · Page 180
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Arizona Republic from Phoenix, Arizona · Page 180

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Phoenix, Arizona
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Wednesday, May 22, 1996
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Page 180
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0 The Arizona RepublicTHE PHOENIX GAZRTTE.. Wednesday, May 22, 1 996 10 Mother presses on in 4-year search By Clare Ullk Staff writer Tall, hefty and flamboyant, Richard Relf is not the kind of man who blends easily into a crowd. But for the past four years, Relf has hidden himself and his daughter, now age 15, from law-enforcement officials, family members and former co-workers. Those Relf hurt and then aban- doned are weary of the mystery. "Everyone here would love to see him behind bars," said Bob Mueller, who worked with Relf at Brown Wholesale Electric Co. "It's pretty damn amazing he hasn't been found." Relf was fired in June 1992 after being accused of stealing more than $800,000 from the company by paying fictitious vendors and pocketing the money. At the time, he lived lavishly in Cave Creek and had custody of 11-year-old Heather, his daughter from a previous marriage. Relf and Heather disappeared Sept. 9, 1992, in a 1991 GMC Suburban that never has been found. A month later, Relf was indicted on two counts each of fraud and theft, for which he could face up to 48 years in prison. Relf has brown hair and hazel eyes, and will be 43 on June 12. Heather was 4 feet 8 and thin, with long, strawberry blond hair, freckles across her nose and cheeks, and blue eyes in 1992. She turned 15 in March. In 1994, Heather's mother, Penny Nickel, regained custody and began registering her daughter with law-enforcement agencies and missing-children agencies. 4 youths honored for work in their communities By Randy Kull Staff writer Four Arizona youths were presented the 1995 U.S. Congressional Award for service to their community in a ceremony Saturday at the state Capitol. Sarah Nemitz of Mesa, Brett Harris of Tempe, Tirzah Orcutt of Phoenix and Joshua Odom of Tolleson received the bronze award for performing at least 100 hours of community service last year. Bill Molloy, president of the Arizona Congressional Award Council, said the purpose of the program is to encourage young people, ages 14 to 23, to set goals for themselves and help their communities. To receive the award, each youth must complete goals in four areas voluntary public service, FYI: PEOPLE BRIEFS Gilbert youngster glitters in math GILBERT Gilbert Junior High School student Lindsay Wieczorek was named a national award winner in mathematics by the U.S. Achievement Academy. Ex-students hail MCC English professor MESA Mesa Community College adjunct English professor Laura Steinert was nominated by her former students at Oregon State University to be included in Who's Who Among America's Teachers for 1996. 4 RV Center workers honored for rescue MESA Jerry Austin, Scott Hickey, Bill Hoffman and Dave Sheehan were recognized after FYI: URBAN Want to go fishing but don't want to go to one of the really big lakes? Check out the Arizona Game and Fish Department's urban fishing program at several city park ponds in the east Valley. The urban program is a cooperative effort between Game and Fish and the cities of Chandler, Mesa and Tempe. Anglers must purchase a special $12 urban license. The regular state license is not valid. Juveniles under 14 may fish for free. Catfish are planted in the lakes Great GibSOn, Martin, Crate k Dealers P M.-Th. 9AM-7.30PM Fri. 9AM-6 00PM Sat 9AM-50OPM Sun. 12.00 - 5 00 PM Is The Music Store 2630 WEST BASELINE 1 block East ol Unsolved Mysteries broadcast the case in October and again in De-c e m b e r . Hundreds of calls were forwarded to Phoenix police Detective John Stahl. "With the story airing two times, I was hoping that Heather herself would call," said Stahl, who still is chasing leads. 0 mm Peter Schwepker Staff photographer Now 15, Heather Relf (in 1991 photo) disappeared In 1992 with her father, Richard. "Who knows what her dad told her. She's going on 15, and she's got to be thinking about her sisters, her grandparents, her real mom." Nickel thinks her daughter has kept quiet to protect her dad. "I have to believe that she saw or heard about the story on TV," she said. "If she wanted to find me, if she wanted her life interrupted, she'd do it." Had hidden identity Nickel met Relf in 1979 in Seattle. He went by the name Edward Galen Vachta, an identity he acquired with a dead man's Social Security card. He told Nickel that he was hiding from an ex-wife and child back East. Relf resumed using his given personal development, physical fit ness and expedition or exploration. Nemitz, 14, who will attend Mesa's Shepherd Junior High this fall, volunteered at the East Mesa Regional Library, worked part-time baby-sitting, joined a swim team and toured London to earn her award. Harris, a senior at Tempe High School, helped out at Li'l Footprints Preschool, improved his communication skills by becoming student body president, played football at school and spent three days hiking in Pinetop. Orcutt, who attends Arcadia High School, volunteered at the Arizona Head Injury Foundation at the Veteran's Administration Hospital, learned to speak and write Japanese, trained in karate and camped on the Mogollon Rim. Odom, a student at Tolleson the four Isley RV Center employees saved the lives of four passengers trapped in an overturned truck following a collision. Austin, Hickey, Hoffman and Sheehan stabilized the truck, keeping it off occupants until rescue personnel arrived. College honors outstanding students COOLIDGE - The Central Arizona College honor society, Phi Theta Kappa, added 10 members at the Superstition Mountain campus in Apache Junction. Inductees included Heather Beltran, Katrina Nelson, Jeffree Davidson, Sherri Foarde and Phillip Cunningham of Apache Junction; Denise Cordeiro, Yvonne Gargalione and Kirsten Thomsen of Mesa; Edna Aguayo-Morgan of Higley; and Rozanne Chavez of Superior. LAKES during the summer, and trout are stocked during winter months. In addition, numerous other species generally inhabit the ponds. Here's a list of east Valley lakes in the urban program: Tempe: Canal Park Lake, southwest corner of College Avenue and McKellips Road; Kiwanis Lake, southwest of Baseline Road and Mill Avenue. Chandler: Desert Breeze Park, southwest of Ray Road and McClintock Drive. mmm Prices on Guitars, Accessories, sneer Mucin nntf HiftQ .Financing Lessons .Repairs Lay Away ROAD MESA 004 QCQ4 Price OO I aV9 I name when the couple moved to Phoenix, where Relf s parents and sister live. Nickel and Relf divorced in 1983, when Heather was VA. At the time, Nickel had a drinking problem and felt that Heather would be more stable with her dad. She was granted reasonable visitation in the divorce decree. Relf married Joanne Johnston about a year later. He and Heather lived with Johnston and her daughter, Tiffany, in Phoenix and later in Cave Creek. Heather had a horse and other pets, nice clothes and dance lessons. Relf bought expensive cars and a piece of land, and began building a custom home. Heather spent every other weekend with her mother, and the two wrote letters between visits. She became close to Nickel's older daughter, Tammy Hughes, who is now 23 and lives in Mesa. When Relf and Heather first disappeared, Nickel was more shocked to learn of Relf s criminal activity than 6he was worried about her daughter. "Heather was being raised so well," she said. "She was living the kind of life I couldn't give her." Relf was extravagant, Mueller recalled. "He definitely enjoyed spending a lot of money. Everyone wondered about it. He had always told us that his wife had inherited, but one day at lunch he said he had gotten it through some stock deals. That's what put us on his trail." Of the $860,000 Relf stole, the company recovered about High School, helped in programs at the Tolleson Boys & Girls Club, studied photography, played soccer and hiked and camped near Patagonia Lake. "They key is that it's a noncompetitive program," Molloy said. "The purpose is to recognize youths for setting goals and completing them." Molloy said his goal is to get more Arizona youths to take part in the program. Youths can sign up to receive a bronze, silver or gold medal, depending on the number of hours of community service they want to contribute. A gold medal, which calls for 500 hours of community service, qualifies recipients for a trip to Washington, D.C. Applications are accepted at U.S. Sen. Jon Kyi's office, 840-1891. "My vision in five years or more REUNIONS Class out of Valley ADDISON TRAIL '86 (Illinois) When: July 13 Contact: (847) 677-4949. AGOURA 76 (California) When: Oct. 5. Contact: Class Reunion Enterprises, (805) 388-2559. BISBEE '46 When: October. Contact: Irene Welaner, P.O. Box 5044, Bisbee 85603, or Jack Wright 649-001 2. BUENA 76 (California) When: Aug. 17. Contact: Class Reunion Enterprises, (805) 388-2559. C.E. BYRD 25-96 (Louisiana) When: June 7-9 Where: To be announced Contact: Gene Beilhy Schoonmaker, 839 6763. CAMARILLO '86 (California) When: July 27. Contact: Class Reunion, (805) 366-2559. CHANNEL ISLANDS 76 (California) When: July 20. Contact: Class Reunion, (805) 388-2559. CHICAGO VOCATIONAL 70-71 (Illinois) When: July 19 Contact: Class Reunion, P.O. Box 844, Skokie, IL 60076, or call (847) 677-4949. CHILLICOTHE '50-59 (Missouri) When: June 22. Contact: Virginia Wall, (816) 646-2349. CHOLLA 76 (Tucson) When: June 15. Contact: CHS Reunion Committee, (520) 743-3594 or 971-5138. DOUGLAS 85-86 When: May 31 -June 2. Where: Douglas Golf and Social Club. Contact: (800) 677-7800. EVANSTON 76 (Illinois) When: Aug. 3. Contact: (847) 677-4949. EVANSTON '46 (Illinois) When: Oct 5. Contact: (847) 677-4949. FLAGSTAFF 70 When: Aug. 10. Contact: Reunions Southwest, P.O. Box 16200 311, Mesa 85201. FORDSON 46 (Michigan) - When: Sept. 20. Contact: Dorothy, (313) 562-4639. FLOWING WELLS '66 (Tucson) When: Oct. 12-14. Contact: Bill, 876-8743, FLOWING WELLS 76 When: June 14-15 Where: Tucson. Contact (800) 677-7800. FLOWING WELLS '36 When: June 28-30. Where: Tucson. Contact: (800) 677-7800. HAWTHORNE 76 (California) When: Aug. 9 Contact: (800) 677-7800. HIGHLAND 76 (Illinois) When: Nov. 30. Contact: (847) 677-4949. CLASSES BEGIN JUNE 10 Italian Plaster Decoupage Under Glass Marble Wall Finishes GildedMetallic Surfaces International Old World Crackle Finishes Finishes Beginning Distressed Decoupage Rubbed Through Finishes DECORATIVE FINISHES 14255 N. 79th St., Suite 10 Scottsdale 991-8560 $150,000. "That money could have been profit for the company and shared among the employees," Mueller said. "He ripped us all off." Johnston had no idea Relf was stealing from work. She later divorced him and moved to Idaho. Hopes shattered Nickel has been sober for many years and now lives in Apache Junction. She and Tammy see each other often. "Christmas was very sad," she said. "But Tammy and I shopped together and baked cookies together. I tried not to get my hopes up Her spirits soared once, in mid-January, when she got a call from police in Waterville, Maine, who thought they had found Relf and Heather. The suspect was using the Social Security number of a dead man, looked like Relf and had two daughters, one Heather's age. The call came in on Nickel's birthday, and all she could think was "What a birthday present!" She made plane reservations. The next day, she got another call. Police had the wrong guy. Since then, Nickel has been quiet about Heather. She doesn't talk to friends about the case and has been unable to write any of the magazine articles she had hoped would aid in the search. "The only way I can cope with it and keep going on with my life is to avoid it," she said. "When people ask me about her, I tell them the short and quick: 'No, we is that we win nave iw Kias getting this award in two ceremonies a year," Molloy said. "There are so many opportunities for kids to set goals and work for themselves along with an adult." Each participant must have an adult adviser and validator to ensure the work agreed to is completed. "It's turned some kids around and kept them out of gangs," he said. "It's got tremendous potential." In the effort to expand the program throughout Arizona, Molloy has begun asking for contributions from individuals and corporations to defray expenses. Volunteers also are being sought. Since the Congressional Award was created in November 1979 by President Carter, youths have contributed more than 1 million hours of community service nationwide. HYDE PARK '46 (Illinois) When: June 22. Contact: (847) 677-4949. LAKE PARK '86 (Illinois) When: Aug. 10. Contact: (847) 677-4949. LINDBLOM '46 (Illinois) When: Sept. 29. Contact: (847) 677-4949. MAINE SOUTH 76 (Illinois) When: Aug. 10. Contact: (647) 677-4949. MIAMI '61 (Arizona) When: June 21-23. Contact: Helen Troop Nelson, (502) 545-5541. MOHAVE '86- 87 (Kingman) When: Sept. 27-28. Where: Gold River Resort and Casino, Laughlin, Nev. Telephone: (800) 677-7800. NAU SPIRIT LINE (Flagstaff) When: Oct. 4-5. Contact: Athletics Marketing Office (520) 523-7330. NEWBURY PARK '86 (California) When: July 27. Contact: Class Reunion Enterprises, (805) 388-2559. OXNARD '86 (California) When: July 20. Contact: Class Reunion Enterprises, (805) 388-2559. PROVISO HIGH '46 (Illinois) When: Nov. 1-2. Contact: Phyliss Kunkle, 993 0023. ROSLINDALE '41 (Massachusetts) When: Sept. 29. Contact: Eleanor Shepherd Coppinger, 44 Cerdan Ave. Roslindale, Mass. 02131 (617) 323-2630. SANTA ANA '86 (California) When: Sept. 14. Contact: (800) 677-7800. SANTA CLARA 76 (California) When: Aug. 10. Contact: Class Reunion Enterprises, (805) 388 2559. SANTA RITA '86 WHEN: Aug. 23-24. WHERE: Tucson. CONTACT: (800) 677-7800. SANTA RITA 76 WHEN: Aug. 23-24. WHERE: Tucson. CONTACT: (800) 677-7600. SENN HIGH '46 (Illinois) When: July 13. Contact: (647) 677-4949. SOUTHEASTERN '41-43 (Michigan) When: Oct. 11. Contact: Melba, (810) 642-3946. SOUTH SHORE '66 (Illinois) When: July 6. Contact: (847) 677-4949. SOUTH SHORE '46 4 47 (Illinois) When: Oct. 18. Contact: (847) 677-4949. SOUTH SHORE '61 (Illinois) When: Sept 28. Contact: (847) 677-4949. THOUSAND OAKS 76 (California) When: Aug. 3. Contact Class Reunion Enterprises, (805) 388-2559. .1 -i', ii A s for her daughter haven't found her.' I don't burden myself with questions, because if I do, I end up in a paralyzed little box." Traced to Canada Stahl, wearing a headset and talking to callers, was in NBC's Burbank studios when Unsolved Mysteries aired. He left the next morning with a dozen tips. He eventually got about 250 leads off the show. Most were unworkable sightings of Relf at gas stations or hotels or driving down a freeway. He traced about 40, including several that originated in Canada, where Heather is listed in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Missing Children's Registry. Stahl also followed up oh a BALLOON I FLIGHTS I Imagine I lying I Gracefully . 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Nothing but the best for our Best Friendsh Animal Care Center A Best Friends Pet Care Hospital Limit one of fr nr ort nrr viftit No cash barlf frnm I ' r r- - rumor that Heather had told classmates she was going to Australia. "I sent photos and warrants to Interpol, but it all proved negative," he said. Nicole Lauzon-Bauer, who coordinates police investigations about Relf in Canada, said every lead is being pursued. "Once it's been checked out and found negative, we wait for another lead," she said. That's what Nickel does, too. "I'd love to see her face, see how she's changed," she said. "I threw Tammy a big old 16th birthday party, and I want to do the same for Heather. "But right now, my greatest hope is that by the time she's 18 she will look me up." CA$H! For: Corrugated Cartons -Old Newspapers Computer -Printer -Office Paper Aluminum Cans -Plastic Beverage Cartons Call lor Current Prices Arizona Paper Recycling, Inc. 3912 E. Miami St. Phoenix. 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