WARRENTON — It is one of the biggest mysteries on the North Coast.

A teenage girl disappears in downtown Warrenton in the midst of the after-school rush hour, never to be seen or heard from again.

Monday, the community will mark 30 years since Joanie Leigh Hall vanished.

And Clatsop County Sheriff Tom Bergin said law enforcement is no closer to solving the mystery that has haunted the community ever since.

“I would love to think we’re going to find her, like Jaycee Dugard or one of those girls from Cleveland,” said Hall’s cousin, Valerie Alexander, referring to the missing children recently found after more than a decade of mystery.

“I’d love it. She was more than my cousin, she was my best friend. Is it realistic? No. But there’s always hope. There’s always hope.”

The known facts are simple, but few.

Hall left Warrenton High School Sept. 30, 1983 at approximately 2:10 p.m.

The police report states she got a ride in a car with another student named Mike Moore to the local Mini Mart. She bought a Coke and left the store, on foot, according to a Mini Mart employee. The 17-year-old was supposed to be going to the Warrenton Grade School to help tutor kids and grade papers for her Aunt Ruth, a third-grade teacher.

But she never made it.

That night, Hall’s brother Chuck told a Warrenton police officer she hadn’t come home from school and he searched for her at the football game. Mary Jane Hall, Joanie’s mother, phoned the Clatsop County Sheriff’s Office to file a report. 

Law enforcement investigated, but there was no trace.

Mary Jane Hall died 11 years later. In an odd coincidence, she died on the exact anniversary of Joanie’s disappearance. But for all those years she would swear she saw her daughter in passing cars on the highway. Even when she lost her eyesight, she would “hear” her daughter’s voice.

Seeing, hearing

Aggie Stocker, Mary Jane’s older sister, became used to these reactions.

“I became the U-turn person on the road, because I would be taking my sister to her doctor’s appointment, or some place else and she’d say, ‘I see Joanie.’ So I’d do a U-turn,” said Stocker.

“Then when she lost her sight, I’d be bringing her back and we’d stop somewhere to get coffee and she’d say she’d hear a voice. ‘That’s Joanie, that’s Joanie. I can tell by her voice.’ Those poor people thought I was crazy.”

But Stocker always checked, catching up to the vehicle and asking them to pull over. And when it didn’t turn out to be Hall, “My sister would have to go through it all over again. Being a parent and not knowing has got to be the worst thing there ever is.”

Stocker’s daughter, Alexander, added of Joanie’s parents, her aunt and uncle, “they went to their graves never knowing, but always looking.”

Hall’s father and mother died a little more than two months apart in 1994; Mary Jane Hall died of complications from diabetes, Melvin died of heart failure. They never stopped looking for their youngest of six children.

Two others have died. Three, Rebecca (“Becky”), Jeff and Chuck, are still alive.

Although Joanie’s parents died in 1994, family members say they lost their spirit in 1983 when Joanie went missing.

“That’s the day that they ‘died,’ in my opinion. That’s the day that their health went downhill,” Becky Hall said. Their father had a heart attack three or four days after Joanie Hall disappeared. “There were no picnics after that. Holidays were forced, mom put up the (Christmas) tree for the grandkids,” Becky Hall said. “But every year on Feb. 24 (Joanie’s birthday), my mom would cry. She’d say, ‘It’s my baby’s birthday, and I don’t know where my baby is.’”

Monday, Alexander, the Hall siblings, family and friends will gather at the Warrenton City Park for a candlelight vigil at 7 p.m. Thirty years have passed, but they’ve never forgotten the quiet girl with the beautiful smile.

Theories

So what happened to Joanie Hall?

Some fear she may have met foul play, while others are more optimistic, believing she may still be out there.

But someone, somewhere knows something, Alexander believes. And all the family wants is to know where she is so they can put her to rest. If she is deceased, they want someone to call.

“Send an anonymous letter, send a post card, call from a payphone,” Alexander said. “Just tell us, so we can bring her home. So she can be buried where she is supposed to be. We want justice, but we’ll let the law deal with that. What we want is peace.”

So who was the last to see Hall that September day?

Those involved in the case point to conflicting reports.

• A mystery man with a nice car and Washington plates.

• A boy, Mike Moore, who gave her a ride from school.

• Three seniors said they saw Joanie that afternoon in another teen’s driveway – then changed their stories and said it was another girl.

• Michael Basch, the son of a deputy sheriff who worked on the case, left town just days after the disappearance. Joanie Hall had defeated him for the position of president of the Sheriff’s Office Explorers Post the night before.

There are many loose ends.

Did Joanie Hall run away, in search of a better life?

Will we ever know what happened?

“I don’t believe we’ll ever close the case,” said Bergin, Clatsop County’s sheriff, describing all the efforts conducted over the years – interviewing, reinterviewing, searching, reconstructing and even using cadaver search dogs. “I don’t have a theory, I just try to look at the facts,” he said. “And we’ve gone over those facts with a fine-toothed comb.”

The day she disappeared

Alexander and her mother, Stocker, described how Joanie’s disappearance has plagued their family for years.

“We were brought up close,” Alexander said. She lived in Raymond, Wash., and had graduated from high school the spring before. Her mother was the sister of Hall’s mother, one of six siblings. “All of my aunts were like another mother to me and all of the children were born in groups. Joanie and I were in the same group and we became the best of friends.”

“We didn’t live that far away, and we’d come down on weekends or during the week sometimes, and we spent time with each other. Joanie spent time at our house and Valerie spent time at theirs,” Stocker added.

She remembers the day she received the call. Her niece was gone.

“My sister reported her missing on the 30th at 7:30 p.m. Joanie was a very home person. She didn’t go any place without calling and letting her parents know,” she said. “She was supposed to go to the school to help my sister Ruth grade papers, and then they would go shopping and Ruth would take her home. They had plans. Joanie never missed that stuff. If she said she was going to do it, she was going to do it.”

Ruth went to Mary Jane’s house that afternoon assuming something had come up when Hall didn’t show.

The family started searching. First, Chuck Hall said a family member knocked on his door at 4:30 p.m. Becky said their brother Frank alerted her later that evening when she got off work. Mary Jane Hall called her sister, Stocker, at 5:30 p.m.

“I came down right away. I walked in the house at about 7 and Jane said, ‘Joanie’s gone.’ My sister had health problems, (Hall’s) dad had health problems, Joanie would not do that to them.”

For the first three days, police kept telling the family Hall was a runaway, Stocker says. But her family insisted that wasn’t the case.

“What girl would run away without her makeup, jewelry, money, clothes?” Becky Hall asked of her baby sister.

In the coming days, as Stocker began asking questions of the police, she says she was escorted to the Astoria Bridge by Sheriff Al Eastman and Deputy G.M. Basch.

“I was asking too many questions,” she said. “They were sending me home.”

High values

Alexander, whose mother now lives on Main Avenue in Warrenton, says Hall’s disappearance changed the family’s whole outlook, adding fear to their lives.

 “Even though she was already out of school,” Stocker said of Alexander,”I still told her, ‘No, you can’t go there by yourself,’ and ‘You call me when you get there or if you’re going to be late.’ We didn’t have cell phones in those days, but she still had to call me and let me know where she was. ‘No ifs, ands or buts about it, you let me know.’ I was strict on it.”

Years later, Alexander said she didn’t even let her daughters walk down to a neighbor’s home by themselves. She always accompanied them, and asked them to call her when it was time to walk home. “Because it’s Main Street, people think nothing happens on Main Street in America, but it did.”

In the police reports, several classmates described Hall as having high moral standards. That sometimes made her an outsider with some of the students.

“She was in the Explorers,” Alexander said, “’and if she saw you doing something, like a drug deal, she’d come and tell you, ‘That’s the last one you’re going to do because I am turning you in,’ because her scruples were that high, her morals were that high. She didn’t want to see that crap go out to everybody else. ‘You don’t need to be doing it and you don’t need to be doing it in my school.’

“Maybe she knew something? That’s one of my theories. And someone wanted to quiet her up. Because she would tell you, ‘I saw what you did and that’s it.’”

But Alexander says her cousin was also just a regular teenage girl. The two would walk on the beach and Hall would tell her about boys she liked, things that were on her mind, and what she wanted to do after high school.

She thought of becoming a police officer. But she didn’t want to become a statistic of those girls who didn’t accomplish their goals because they had met a boy or gotten pregnant. She loved kids, her cousin said, but she wanted to do some things for herself first, and build a life. 

“We talked about girl stuff, and when you don’t have that anymore, and you don’t have answers, it’s so hard,” Alexander said.

Mystery man

Ernie Brown, a former classmate of Joanie Hall, says he believes he knows what happened to her. He said he told the police at the time, but they weren’t interested, so he’s kept quiet all of these years.

Until now.

Brown knew Hall and was friends with her brothers Jeff and Chuck. Brown says police zeroed in on Mike Moore, but that’s not who he says he saw Hall leave with that day. Like a lot of teenage boys in those days, Brown was interested in cars. And one car at the Mini Mart that day stuck out.

“This car went by me,” Brown recalled, “and I was always into hot rods. I had a hot rod and a real healthy pick-up, but this guy went by me in a black Dodge Polara – sounded real healthy, so I turned around and went ‘Hmm. I gotta see what that thing is!’ I’d never seen that car before. It had Washington plates.

“He pulled into the Mini Mart in Warrenton before the parking lot was there, so he pulled in right by the doors and I pulled in right behind him and kind of blocked him in. And that’s when Joanie came walking out.

“I said, ‘Hey, what are you doing? Do you need a ride home?’ And he got out of his car and just kind of glared at me. And she said, ‘No, that’s my boyfriend.’ And I had never seen the guy or the car before, ever. And I’ve never seen them again.”

The Polara was a 1968 to 1970 model, Brown believes. The driver was skinny with blonde curly hair. Sometimes, Brown says he still sees his face in his dreams.

He had a really narrow face, Brown said, “like a rat face.” He was 5-foot-6 to 5-foot-7.

Surprised

“Joanie was quiet, real quiet. They didn’t have a lot,” Brown said. “I never saw her with a boyfriend, I never saw her with a boy at all. And that day really kind of surprised me, when she came out and she was happy. When she came out the door, it was like when you haven’t seen your boyfriend in a while, you have a big smile on your face, bouncing out? That’s the way she looked when she came out that door.”

Brown was frustrated with the lack of police response to his account. Eventually, he gave up trying to tell officers.

“Nobody would listen to me when I tried to tell them. I tried to tell the police, but they just told me, ‘No, no, we already have our suspect,’” Brown said.

“ I didn’t know who their suspect was at the time time, but I later found out it was Mike Moore – and that’s not who she left with.”

If the police would have listened, Brown believes, “they could have probably found them.”

And Brown, like many, has his own theory.

“I think she’s still with him,” he said. “If you wanted to leave town, if you didn’t have a lot and someone was going to take you out of here, what would you do? I don’t know, I really don’t. She was close with her family, for the most part, but I found out later that she had a pocket full of money at the time, that day. So what was that big pocket full of money for? Gas money maybe? I don’t know.

“But, like I said, I never ever saw that car or that kid before, and she said it was her boyfriend, and I’ve never seen him since. If she did what she did to make a better life for herself, then more power to her. But I think that by this time she should have said something to her family so they aren’t worried. But then again, would they be mad at her?”

Brown said he doesn’t think Moore had anything to do with the disappearance. Complicating matters, there were two Mike Moores, but only one was questioned by police. 

Brown, the car enthusiast, said one Mike Moore drove a 1969 or 1970 Pontiac LeMans; the other Mike Moore drove a pick-up.

The one with the LeMans was the one who police questioned, Brown said.

But he says it wasn’t unusual for someone to give a girl a ride.

“If you were walking down the street, you wouldn’t make it 10 feet,” Brown said. “You’d have 20 cars stop and ask you if you wanted a ride. Not because you’re good looking, not because it was raining, but that’s the way things were back then. Now, nobody stops for nothing.

“If you were broke down on the side of the road, and you had a flat tire, at that time, you wouldn’t even have a chance to get out of your car before somebody would have pulled over and offered to change it for you. That’s the way everyone was.”

“Everybody talked about it, because something like that just doesn’t happen here,” Brown continued. “And people are still talking about it. People have been looking for her for years.”

A teacher’s recollection

Dennis Warren taught U.S. history at Warrenton High School for 30 years. He taught the last class of the day, and on the day Joanie Hall disappeared, she left a few minutes earlier than the other students so she could get to the grade school to help her aunt.

“The only time I can remember her actually interacting with me was when she gave me a note to go help at the grade school,” Warren said, “which kind of surprised me because I didn’t know she was helping her aunt. But she was so quiet. She was probably one of the most quiet kids I had ever seen. And she hadn’t been in class that long because it was September, school had only been going for about three weeks. But it’s another one of those ‘world come crashing in on you’ moments.”

Warren said his career is marked by a few of those moments – like the time five students were killed in a car crash.

“You’d come back from the weekend and it’d be like the ‘horrible Mondays.’ And she was one of the ‘horrible Mondays.’ And I probably had four of five of those,” he said.

Warren said he isn’t sure what happened to Joanie Hall, but he has a few suspicions. He has spoken with Brown about his account, and believes that it may be a possibility.

He also agreed with Brown that both Moores were “terrible suspects.”

“They were entirely different kids. The big Mike Moore, who isn’t a suspect, was real athletic and was a real nice quiet guy,” Warren said. “The little Mike Moore was just fun loving, and I think this has really been hard on him. He was a good guy. The little one was the one considered to be a suspect, but he’s a terrible suspect.”

Another teen who went to Astoria High School, Tiac Eastman, was a member of the Explorers. He wasn’t questioned at the time, but made connections with the family later. The son of the former Clatsop County sheriff, Eastman served six months in 1988 for his involvement in an unrelated murder case involving a 12-year-old in Gearhart.

Warren said Eastman was odd.

“I really didn’t know him, but he was spooky, spooky,” said Warren said, who was the WHS wrestling coach. “He did some time, and then he got in trouble, I believe, for contacting the mother of the murdered girl. He just did some real strange stuff. But then again, he might not have anything to do with it.”

Eastman contacted Hall’s brother, Chuck, to talk about “what it’s like to lose someone” after Eastman’s father died. Chuck Hall said he recorded that conversation and gave it to the Sheriff’s Office, although it didn’t amount to much.

“I don’t know if we’ll ever know what happened to her,” the Warrenton teacher, Warren, continued. “I would say the longer it goes, the more it gets less likely. People have no idea how much land there is out here, especially since they closed off most of the logging roads. It’s hard to say.”

Warren also suspects there may have been a serial killer in that time period on the coast – the Peyton-Allan lover’s lane killing in 1960 near Portland, and the five teenage girls killed separately or in pairs near Newport between 1984 and 1995.

A young female’s skull found in 1986 at Government Camp near Mount Hood had added to the suspicion Hall may have have met foul play but Alexander said Hall’s family gave a DNA sample a few years ago and it did not match for the skull, which has never been identified.

Changed stories

The Sheriff’s Office report on the Joanie Hall case was written by Deputy G.M. Basch. He interviewed W.H.S. senior Jim Kenneth Sears, who stated he had last seen Joan at his house with Mike Moore between 4 and 4:30 p.m. the day of the disappearance.

Sears had initially gone to the school office when a Warrenton officer made an announcement over the loudspeaker that he wanted to talk to anyone who had information. Sears said his mother and Gary Leer would corroborate his story.

“Mike and she had stopped by so Mike could wipe the grease off his hands, as he had been working on his car,” the Sheriff’s report states as Sears’ statement. “This statement was later changed.”

Leer and Michael Basch, the deputy’s son, were interviewed by Deputy Basch, both claiming to have been in Sears’ driveway when Moore drove up with Hall in his car. All three later changed their story, stating Teresa Woods was the student in Moore’s car, although no other mention, including in Moore’s own statement, of Woods appears. (Woods was murdered 15 years later in an out-of-state case.)

The police report has the “statement change” underlined, with a big “Why?” hand-written above it.

Basch, the deputy’s son, moved to California within a few days of Joanie Hall’s disappearance.

“I don’t think his dad should have interviewed him,” Alexander said. “I think that it was swept under the carpet somewhere. My gut tells me he knows something. Daddy sent him away. If Daddy sends you away and he’s the one who interviewed you, and all of a sudden your friends all change their stories, what are you hiding? But then again, I don’t know the boy.”

Warren said he didn’t know Michael Basch either, but had heard he transferred that school year to Warrenton from Astoria High School. He and Hall were both active in the Sheriff’s Office’s student Explorers program. Just the night before the disappearance, Hall had been elected the first female president of the club. She was considering a career in law enforcement.

Other changed stories

But Basch and the other boys were not the only ones to change their stories.

It is also noted in the police reports that several other students claimed to have seen Hall that day, but later denied it. Some claimed to see her at the football game, even though family members and law enforcement searched the crowd.

One girl described a yellow car with a “sex instructor – first lesson free”  window sticker and a dent in the driver’s door. She described the driver as being named Mike or Jeff, someone who had dropped out of school a couple of years ago. She said Hall and  the guy were going to Elsie to pick up an item for someone named Pat, but that girl later admitted to lying, the report states.

Alexander said there was a Pat in Hall’s life, a Navy serviceman who was living on the East Coast and had been penpals with Hall since the two met during that summer’s Astoria Regatta.

“They questioned him and really gave him the third-degree. I am happy they were at least trying, but I think they were trying to pin it on the wrong guy. In the time frame he would have had to get to Oregon, kidnap Joanie, and get back to the East Coast. He couldn’t have done it even if he had a jet,” Stocker said.

“They didn’t have texting or emails so they were just penpals,” Alexander said.  

“If Joanie met somebody and was in love and decided she was going to get married, she’d want the whole world there. You don’t know Joanie,” her aunt added.

Tiac Eastman drove a yellow car when he was arrested in 1988. He was not initially interviewed by police about Joanie Hall’s disappearance ,but was convicted of hindering prosecution in connection with the murder of Dorene Raterman.

“His name has been out there for a while because of the Raterman girl,” Alexander said. “There was speculation, but who knows?”

In another police interview, a girl said she saw Hall talk to a 21- or 22-year-old boy who motioned her to get into his vehicle. That girl said she saw Hall shrug her shoulders, then go to the passenger side. Later, she told police it wasn’t Joanie Hall she saw. 

Police also questioned Greg Dilley if Hall had ever come over, “as we had been given information that she had,” the report states. He said she had been over at the end of the week before she disappeared.

“And then a young female by the name of Debbie Walker stepped in and stated that she had hardly ever come over and that it was about two weeks ago that she was there,” a Warrenton police report reads. “In looking at Greg’s face it appeared that he conceded with this statement just so there would not be any type of altercation.” The report notes Walker appeared to hold some animosity for the victim.

So will we ever know?

Becky Hall said she believes someone out there knows something and she hopes they will come forward so her sister can be put to rest.

“You’re not children anymore, you’re not teenagers. What if it was your child? Or your sister or brother?” Becky Hall said.

Chuck Hall says he think whoever took his sister must have been someone she knew – because she would never get in the car with a stranger.

He doesn’t believe his sister will be found alive; Becky doesn’t either, but she’s still got a sliver of hope.

And if she did meet her again?

“I would just hug her and ask her, ‘Where the hell have you been for 30 years?’” Becky Hall said. “But after 30 years, it’s slim. But you hear about those girls who were found 20 or 10 years later and that gives you hope.”

Alexander hopes in her lifetime that Hall will be found, regardless of her fate.

If Hall either came forward or was rescued, Alexander said she would only have one thing to say to her, “Welcome home.”

“I would ball my eyes out, and I do. It’s been 30 years, but I’m still crying, because I miss her,” she said. “So I would tell her, ‘I missed you. And welcome home.’ I have no doubts in my mind that all of us would welcome her back with open arms. Just because she’s gone doesn’t mean she’s forgotten by any of us. 

“But I am not going to my grave without an answer.”

            

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