Two years since the disappearance of his 9-year-old daughter, Ben Crane still has his doubts about who did it.
The question haunts him daily.This time of year is the worst. Crane remembers the little girl who followed in her daddy's footsteps, even when they led to the mountains at hunting season.
"It's like she's my hunting buddy, you know," he said in a telephone interview from his home recently.
Stephanie Crane disappeared Oct. 11, 1993, apparently while walking home alone from the town bowling alley. A massive search and the offer of a $100,000 reward turned up no clues.
Crane, 31, no longer is married to Stephanie's mother, Sandi, who moved to Battle Mountain, Nev., about six months ago. They were divorced in July 1994, but tried living together again later that year. It didn't last long.
Stephanie's disappearance and the stress it brought was a factor in the divorce, but Crane said there were other reasons. He admits, because of continuing questions from investigators, that he is bothered by doubts he has about his wife and what, if anything, she knows.
"I still wonder about that," he said. "It pretty much bothers me that they want to look at her again."
Sandi Crane couldn't be reached in Nevada. She told the Post Register last November that she was asked to undergo lie-detector tests, but she said she had no idea who was behind her child's disappearance.
"They have just about accused me of killing my own daughter," she said last year. "I can't see any mother doing it . . . I just can't believe that a mother can kill her own kids."
At the time, she was talking about herself and Susan Smith, the South Carolina woman convicted of killing her sons. That was before Smith was tried and convicted.
Crane said investigators want to talk to his ex-wife again. Last year, he was angry about the focus on the family as possible suspects. This year, while upset with the slow progress of the investigation, he says he wonders about his wife.
But Crane has no idea who took Stephanie. He has no reason to suspect his wife other than the continued focus on her by investigators.
Custer County Sheriff Al Finley still has an investigator working the case.
"Believe it or not, we're still working on some new leads," he said Tuesday.
Finley wouldn't comment on possible suspects, including family members. He said work has slowed significantly. Most of the hundreds of old leads were dead ends, but not for lack of trying.
"I don't think there's anybody in Challis and Custer County that's forgotten about Stephanie Crane," Finley said. Posters bearing her grinning, freckled face still abound in Challis, many with fresh purple ribbons.
With every call, the sheriff hopes for a break. The solution to her whereabouts continues to haunt him.
"I'd hate to have to take that to the grave without being (able) to tell the parents what happened to their daughter," Finley said.
Crane said the wait for answers is hard on everyone, including Stephanie's three sisters who live with him. Two or three times a week, they ask about Stephanie, often through tears. They're fearful of strangers.
Meanwhile, Crane said he keeps faith that his daughter is alive and well somewhere with someone.
"Until somebody proves she's not, I'll think so," he said.