Missing mothers: Families struggle with unsolved crimes - FOX 10 News | myfoxphoenix.com

Missing mothers: Families struggle with unsolved crimes

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Police call it alarming and disturbing. Mothers, disappearing, leaving their children behind. Phoenix police have about a dozen missing mothers cases they're investigating, some dating back decades.

Investigators don't believe the mothers are willingly leaving. They say they could be victims of the "perfect crime."

"She was awesome," says Wendy Rawson, Vernette Wester's daughter.

"To us she was the superstar of the family," says Patricia Williams, daughter of Aussie Binford.

Complete strangers, these valley women share a pain no one wants to endure. Their mothers disappeared more than a decade ago.

For Wendy, it was 2 weeks after her 12th birthday. For Patricia, it was Thanksgiving Day.

Even at a young age, they had a mother's intuition. Both say they knew their mothers were gone.

"I don't know how I knew but I knew," says Wendy.

"I felt it, I felt it, my spirit felt it, I knew she was gone. I knew I wasn't going to see her again," says Patricia.

"When a mother goes missing it's a little more alarming," says Stuart Somershoe, missing persons detective.

Detective Somershoe is working on both the missing mothers cases.

"Women, mothers cherish their children. It's their life's blood, they're not going to just abandon their children."

He's one of two full-time investigators handling about 100 missing persons cold cases in Phoenix. About a dozen are missing mothers. Many mothers, Somershoe suspects, may have been murdered.

"A lot of these are what I term successful homicides. They've gotten away with it so far. A lot of these cases we're looking at a husband, a spouse, or significant other as a strong investigative lead in the case."

"There's something really unnatural about having a parent gone and not knowing why," says Wendy Rawson.

Wendy's mother, Vernette Wester, disappeared in 1985. She knew something was wrong when her mother's car wasn't in the driveway.

"Called a couple of her friends and none of them had heard from here so I called the police."

The mother of 5 got half way through her list of errands, making the last stop at her ex-husband's house in Tempe.

"Didn't finish her errand list, didn't return home to pick up her children, didn't pick up paychecks she left behind, just fell off the face of the earth."

Police suspect foul play. Investigators say Wester had just gone through a contentious divorce. Her ex-husband was the last to see her.

He's never been named a suspect -- but for years police have labeled him an "investigative lead."

"Her vehicle was found a couple days later a couple blocks away from his house," says Somershoe.

Wester's ex-husband wouldn't talk with us. He no longer talks with police or his children. Her body was ever found.

"Just because we haven't found a body doesn't mean this case can't proceed, we've done no-body homicide cases before."

In fact, in the last 10 years, this unit's been able to help convict people in 6 missing persons cases even without the body. Lisa Zochowski's case was one of them.

"Lisa's case is unique in that a suspect has been convicted."

Lisa Zochowski. The 23-year-old mother of two disappeared in 1990, two days after Christmas. She too was going through a divorce.

"There's a term called eraser killers and a lot of times that's what these are. These are men who make their wives disappear."

Her husband, Marek Zochowski, was convicted of killing her. He served his time and was extradited back to Poland where he's from. Lisa's body has never been found.

"I spoke to him and said hey you can't be charged with anything else, give your family some closure, tell us where her body's at and he would not cooperate," says Somershoe.

Another mother who's never been found -- Aussie Antoinette Binford.

"Aussie Binford went missing Thanksgiving Day 1993."

Binford's daughter, Patricia Williams, was 19 when her mother vanished from their apartments near 21st Avenue and Campbell in Phoenix.

"She was like don't you guys start eating without me, I'll be right back," says Patricia.

"Aussie had some addiction issues in her life and she was last seen getting into a car with a white male."

Despite her addiction issues, Binford was close with her family. An aunt told Patricia to make her mother a plate of food.

"It's weird I felt it the whole time I was making the plate, I felt it."

Williams' aunt refused to throw it out.

"That's something we all talk about to this day, how she would not throw that plate away. it stayed in the refrigerator it was 3 months and finally she threw it away."

20 years later her mother is still missing. Police also suspect Binford was murdered. The questions are haunting.

"Did she suffer, was she crying, did she think about me at that time, it's enough to drive anybody crazy."

Williams has a little boy now, a constant reminder of her mother, and her mission.

"I named him Promise because I promised I would never ever stop looking for my mom."

Wendy Rawson has children too. Both mothers of their own now, these two vow to never stop looking for theirs.

"I miss her all the time, I think about her all the time and it would give us so much peace to be able to put that aside and just know," says Wendy. "I want to hope that we will."

"I miss her so much even today," says Patricia."

"It doesn't go away it's a horrific limbo to exist in to not know what happened to your mother," says Somershoe.

Police say they don't close missing persons cases. There are no statutes of limitations on homicide.

Anyone who may have known these women or has information on their disappearance can call Silent Witness.

See complete list of missing mothers cases in Phoenix

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