CENTRALIA, ILL. • Beth Bentley would have seemed easy to spot with her platinum-blond hair, black tank top, blue jean miniskirt, large white purse and pink-and-orange overnight bag.
But Bentley has not been seen since a friend said she dropped her off near a train station here on May 23. Since then, Bentley has not spoken to her friends, kissed her children good-night, or showed up for work at her husband's Chicago-area law office.
The 41-year-old mother of three was in Southern Illinois on a weekend jaunt with friend Jenn Wyatt, who also works in the law office. Bentley's husband, Scott, says he was told a lie: that the two were visiting Wyatt's relatives in Madison, Wis.
Scott Bentley said it turned out there was a lot he didn't know — in particular, that his wife was apparently in St. Louis with an unknown man two weeks before her disappearance.
In Woodstock, Ill., a small town northwest of Chicago where Bentley lives with her husband and three sons, police say she is considered a "missing person." But almost everyone else in her orbit fears that she's dead.
One thing that weighs on their minds is that she missed her son's high school graduation about a week after her disappearance, something they say she would never willingly do.
Robert Lowen, the Woodstock police chief, said it hasn't been easy investigating the disappearance of a woman last seen 300 miles away. "We are six or seven hours away, so it's difficult," he explained.
He said he hopes to turn the file over to the Illinois State Police soon.
The case has flummoxed detectives, who have even sought a psychic's opinion. "We heard her out, but it didn't lead to anything," Lowen said.
The mystery seems to track back to early May. Wyatt told the Post-Dispatch that she and Bentley flew to St. Louis over Mother's Day weekend.
Wyatt said the two separated and that she went on to see her boyfriend in Mount Vernon, when Bentley stayed behind in St. Louis to see an unidentified man.
At the end of the weekend, Wyatt said, "I was supposed to meet Beth and her friend at the (Gateway Arch), but he never showed up," Wyatt said. "All Beth said was they stayed at a fabulous, beautiful hotel."
Wyatt said she never saw him. "I don't know who he was; I didn't ask any questions," Wyatt said. "She was doing her thing."
The two friends rejoined at the end of the weekend in St. Louis and headed back to Chicago.
Scott Bentley said he knew of none of that.
On May 20, Beth Bentley left Woodstock after attending her 10-year-old son's baseball game.
According to Wyatt, the two women headed by car to Mount Vernon, about 80 miles east of St. Louis. Police say cell phone and credit card records place her there.
Scott Bentley said he was in frequent contact with his wife by phone that weekend. "I thought she was in Wisconsin until a day after she went missing," he said later.
Wyatt said she dropped Bentley off across from the Amtrak station in downtown Centralia, where Bentley said she would connect with her male friend from St. Louis and return to the Chicago area on her own.
Wyatt says she never saw Bentley again and does not know the identity of the man.
Efforts to track Bentley's cell phone have been unsuccessful, Lowen said. Police said they found no video surveillance that showed her in Centralia. None of her credit cards have been used since May.
Scott Bentley says his wife had a small personal savings account, which has gone untouched.
Angela Montgomery, who met Beth Bentley through their children's kindergarten class, has spent months searching for answers. She's taken ads out on Facebook and has spent hours searching for clues.
"I just want to know what happened," she said.
Police in Woodstock say their active investigation is over.
"Most of the legwork is done," Lowen said. "We still follow up on any leads."