UNION • Mary Klein remembers exactly what her 14-year-old daughter, Jessica Kinsey, wore the last day she saw her.
Her straight hair was pulled back in a ponytail. She wore new dark green Levi's jeans with a green sweatshirt over a white turtleneck.
It was Dec. 26, 1995. Jessica, a seventh-grader, left that morning to spend the day at a friend's house. She was supposed to call at 5 p.m to let her mother know whether she'd be home for dinner.
She didn't call. By the time Klein realized her daughter was gone, Jessica had left the state with a 23-year-old man named Jimmy Hopkins.
His travels would take him to Tennessee and California before he returned to Missouri, without Jessica.
Fifteen years later, her mother still prays every day that Jessica will come home. A Union police detective still has a big box of police reports relating to her disappearance, but he lacks any leads that might tell him where she is.
"I don't want to believe my daughter's dead, but it's easier than believing that she's being hurt and I can't help her," Klein said.
TRAIL GONE COLD
Police learned that Hopkins had paid another man, Mark Henderson, to drive them away on the day she disappeared.
Hopkins told Henderson that he and Jessica were going to Niagara Falls to get married, police reports say. But Henderson said Jessica only sat quietly in the back seat with her head down.
They stayed in a hotel in Cloverdale, Ind., that night — Henderson in one room, Jessica and Hopkins in the room next door. Henderson told detectives that he heard loud noises coming from their room that sounded like a body hitting the wall, police reports say.
When he knocked on their door to ask what happened, Hopkins dismissed it as "rough sex," the report says.
When Henderson awoke the next morning, Hopkins and Jessica were gone. So was his car. Later that day, Hopkins pawned his grandmother's wedding ring 300 miles away in Paris, Tenn.
Less than two weeks later, the car was found abandoned in Compton, Calif.
Detectives learned that Hopkins worked at an ice cream shop not far from there and interviewed people who said they had seen a girl matching Jessica's description with him.
"We believe she made it to California," said Lt. Kyle Kitcher, the Union detective assigned to the case for the last six years. But they don't know what happened to her next.
In April of 1996, Hopkins returned to Missouri. He bounced around in the following years, spending time in Union and Joplin. Police reports say Hopkins gave police and his family members varying accounts of where Jessica was, including one story that she was living with a man named Capone somewhere in California. He said they were living in a hotel that police learned didn't exist.
Jessica's mother said Hopkins taunted her, even shouting across parking lots that Jessica was dead and she should get over it.
Kitcher kept track of Hopkins and approached him at least once a year in the hope of getting him to talk. Hopkins always demanded a lawyer and refused to say anything, Kitcher said.
"I tried to do everything I could to make sure he knew I hadn't forgotten about the girl," he said.
Any hope that he might change his mind ended on April 12, 2008. Police reports say Hopkins handcuffed his wife's hands behind her back and shot her to death in their Joplin home.
Then he fatally shot himself.
Police initially treated Jessica's disappearance as a runaway case. Her friends and family say Jessica did not run away and was not romantically involved with Hopkins, nine years her senior.
"If she ran away, she would have called me. We were joined at the hip," said Ailene Thompson, 30, of Joplin. She was Jessica's best friend and said Jessica wouldn't have kept any relationship a secret from her.
Klein also is steadfast that the two were not dating, although she has no doubt that Jessica would have agreed to get in a car with Hopkins, whose mother was Klein's good friend.
"I don't think my daughter felt anybody was a bad person. Jessi was so naïve," Klein said.
Both are frustrated that Hopkins was never charged in connection with Jessica's disappearance. Police reports indicate that investigators had hoped to find Jessica to build a stronger case against Hopkins.
Robert Parks, Franklin County prosecuting attorney since 1999, said he had never heard of Jessica's case. His predecessor, Gordon Upchurch, was in office at the time of Jessica's disappearance and is now a lawyer in Union. He said he did not remember the case.
Efforts to reach family members of Hopkins were not successful.
More than 800,000 kids are reported missing to law enforcement each year, and 90 percent of them are runaways, said Robert Lowery, executive director of the missing children's division of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
He said the center has been working with Union police since 1995 to help find Jessica. He commended the investigators' work. But to those who love her, that's little consolation. Thompson has a picture hanging in her house of her and Jessica making jewelry at a Girl Scout meeting. "I wonder every day what she would be like," Thompson said. "We would still be friends. We would probably still talk every day."
Klein and her husband left Union in 1998 and moved to Independence, Mo. She kept Jessica's bedroom untouched until they moved, never painting over the hunter green walls that Jessica loved.
Klein held a memorial service for Jessica in 2006, on what would have been her 25th birthday. Even then, Klein still couldn't believe that her daughter might be dead.