Without a Trace

When Terry Johnson disappeared, he left behind only questions.

You think you know someone.

You live with him for nearly a year, eat together almost every night. The two of you run together, bike together, share bank accounts, a bed -- a life. If asked, you would describe him as your best friend. You feel great when he's happy and down when he's not. So you make your plans together. Whenever talk of the future come up, it always starts with the word "we."

And then one day (it starts no differently than any other) you casually say "Good-bye" or "See you in a while, dear." But this time he doesn't come home. He simply...disappears. There is no trace, no trail, no clues. It's as if he had been plucked cleanly off the face of the earth.

Beth Feresten holds a snapshot of herself and  her boyfriend, Terry Johnson, in happier times.
James Bludworth
Beth Feresten holds a snapshot of herself and her boyfriend, Terry Johnson, in happier times.
Private investigator D.J. Himstedt continues to look for clues to Terry Johnson's whereabouts.
James Bludworth
Private investigator D.J. Himstedt continues to look for clues to Terry Johnson's whereabouts.

You panic, of course. But then, as the days wear on, a worm starts tunneling into your head, eating away at everything you thought was certain -- chewing little holes in everything you thought you knew to be true. And slowly, you start to wonder: Who was this guy?

Did I really know about him at all? Did anyone?


By all accounts, Terry Johnson of Boulder was a doting father to his ten-year-old twins and fourteen-year-old son. "He saw them almost every night and every other weekend," says Corrine Johnson, his ex-wife. "If he couldn't do it, he'd let me know in advance. He was the one who made the schedule. He was already planning Christmas a month ago."

On September 25, Terry was scheduled to pick them up as he did every Wednesday evening for dinner and a movie. "Tuesday night he left me a message, confirming that he was coming," Corrine says. "He wanted to make sure that our son's football practice time was the same."

Just after noon, Terry stopped by the Blockbuster store in the Meadows Shopping Center on Baseline Road. He dropped off two videos. The store's security cameras didn't catch sight of him inside, so he apparently slid them through the outside slot.

Terry had been a successful businessman, and he liked having nice things. He owned two cars: a Lexus SUV and a Mazda Miata, a red convertible he'd bought for himself exactly three years earlier. He usually took the Lexus to see his kids -- it was bigger and could fit all four of them comfortably. This time, though, he drove the Miata, a two-seat sports car. The drive against the flank of the foothills on Route 93, from Terry's home to Morrison, where his children lived, was one he'd made dozens of times before.

The first in a flurry of increasingly concerned phone calls among Terry's friends and relatives started around seven o'clock that evening. Corrine's son called her from football practice to say that Terry had not arrived to pick him up yet, but not to worry -- his coach had agreed to give him a ride home. A little later, Corrine's daughter called her mother to say that Terry wasn't at the house, either.

Terry himself couldn't be reached at all. In perhaps the first real sign that something was amiss, he'd left his cell phone at home, plugged into its charger in his office. Usually he had it strapped to his hip; he'd no sooner leave without the phone than without his wallet.

Beth Feresten also began working the phones that evening. She and Terry had met several years ago at work and had begun dating soon after. They quickly became serious. Beth has strong intuitions, and she knew she liked Terry right away. In a way, she could even see their future together. When they started looking for a house they could share, for example, Beth recognized the south Boulder house they'd eventually live in, even though it wasn't available at the time. It opened up about a year ago, and, just as she'd predicted, they'd been living there since last November.

Terry's kids called her, too, when he hadn't arrived in Morrison. "I told them, 'He's not here -- I'm sure he'll be there any minute,'" Beth remembers. She added that she would appreciate a call when he did arrive. Although Beth sounded calm on the phone, as soon as she hung up, she quickly called her best friend of ten years, Jennifer Fawcett.

"She called at around 7:30 and said, 'Terry never went to get the kids. It's kind of weird,'" recalls Jennifer. "I said, 'Oh, he probably got caught up in something. He'll be there.'

"At 9:30 she called again and said, 'He's still not here.' I told her not to worry again; that he was a responsible guy." At midnight, Beth called Corrine; still no word from Terry.

Jennifer got her next call from Beth on Thursday morning. "She called at 6 a.m. That's when I went over there," Jennifer says. "I was worried about her. If he's gone, and he had the keys to the house, and something bad happened, maybe now the bad person had the keys. You think of everything, because you don't know what to think."


When someone leaves without a trace, the present suddenly becomes a mystery. So you scour the past for a sign that can lead you to a place that makes sense again.

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