Family revives cold case investigation 22 years later
“We all have friends and family who go on a first date, but generally they come home,” said Stephanie Gilbert Juarez during an interview with KTVA over Facetime.
But that wasn’t the case for her youngest sister, Erin Gilbert, and that’s why Juarez is now spending her time making posters and running a newly created Facebook page, "Finding Erin Marie Gilbert", from her home in Everett, Washington.
Gilbert came to stay with Juarez and her husband in the summer of 1994 when Juarez’s husband was stationed at JBER. She worked as a nanny and was preparing to go to cosmetology school. She also wanted to be a writer.
Those plans presumably came to a halt on July 1, 1995.
Gilbert had a first date with a man named David Combs. The two reportedly met at Chilkoot Charlie’s not long before.
Juarez saw her sister for the last time when Combs picked her up around 4 p.m., and the two headed to the Girdwood Forest Fair.
“He says that by six, they went back to the car, so they had been in the fair for an hour -- We do have an eyewitness who saw them together in the fair -- and then he discovered that the lights had been left on, so the car battery was dead, and he said that he was gonna go get help, and ended up leaving her for two hours. When he came back, the car started, she was gone, and we have never seen her again,” recalled Juarez.
She says Combs called the next morning to ask if Gilbert had made it home.
Gilbert had vanished without a trace.
Combs told the Anchorage Daily Newspaper, at the time, that he looked for Gilbert but couldn’t find her and thought she might be angry at him, so he left. While a witness saw the two during the fair when they were together, the article, dated July 23, 1995, reports Troopers had not been able to find anyone who saw Combs during the two hours he said he was looking for help.
Three weeks after her disappearance, a group of roughly 50 people, Troopers and volunteers, combed the area surrounding the Forest Fair grounds in search of any trace of Gilbert, but their efforts didn’t turn up any new leads.
“Someone doesn't just walk into the Girdwood Forest Fair and disappear," said Juarez. "Somebody probably saw something, anything that we need just to help us with this case."
She’s hoping a $35,000 reward will encourage someone to come forward with information that leads to an answer and a conviction -- if they find Gilbert met with foul play.
Gilbert’s disappearance is officially classified as a missing person’s case.
“We don't know for sure what happened, if this was foul play or not -- we just don't know,” said Lt. Randy McPherron.
He became an Alaska State Trooper in 1986, and after a brief retirement, rejoined the force when funds became available to reinstate the cold case unit. Now, as the sole Trooper in Alaska dedicated to working cold cases, McPherron has about 100 on his desk -- including Gilbert’s.
“We don't have any witnesses, we don't have any human remains, we don't have a crime scene, we don't have much of anything, so it's gonna be very hard, but like I said, somebody knows something,” said McPherron.
The facts in the case remain the same 22 years later -- Gilbert is still missing and there are no suspects.
“That's all we know,” Juarez told KTVA, “She was my youngest sister. As the oldest sister, you feel responsible for your baby sister. And you know, she just deserves to be brought home, and we as a family need some peace around what happened to her.”
McPherron says any tip, even if it seems insignificant, could help move the case forward.
Anyone with information is asked to contact troopers, or the missing persons clearing house, at (800) 478-9333, or (907) 269-5038.
KTVA visited Combs at his place of work. An employee said he did not wish to speak about the case.