Without a trace: It’s been 20 years since Jesokah Adkens, 17, vanished

Cars and trucks rumble by the faded memorial on the side of the winding highway into the village of Sooke.

Twenty years ago, this site on the shoulder of the road was a bus stop where blonde, blue-eyed, 17-year-old Jesokah Adkens was seen for the last time.

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It would have been dark and quiet at that bus stop around 9:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2001, with nothing around and long waits between buses. And Jesokah, who looked young for her age and was known to hitchhike, was alone.

She vanished without a trace.

It was Saturday before her parents knew she was missing. The teenager had recently moved into her own place but remained on good terms with her parents. Clayten and Jocelan Adkens thought it was unusual when they didn’t hear from her on Thursday. On Friday, Jocelan went to the house to check on her, but she wasn’t there. On Saturday, they talked to her roommate, who said she had not seen Jesokah since Wednesday.

Police immediately suspected foul play. Jesokah had left her backpack, identification and beloved German shepherd pup Daphne at her house. Money in her bank account was untouched.

Anytime she went away in the past, she phoned to let her parents know and brought her puppy to their home.

Police started interviewing dozens of people, including the bus driver working that night who couldn’t identify her. Searches of the wilderness from Sooke to Port Renfrew turned up nothing. The RCMP called in reinforcements, a tracking dog, a helicopter and a dive team to assist. A conservation officer was called out in case Jesokah had been killed by a cougar.

But police never found any sign of the teenager, who weighed 110 pounds and stood five-foot, five-inches tall. She was last seen wearing a black pullover, blue jeans, black running shoes and a Doors T-shirt.

With no answers for the family, investigators were frustrated. The scenarios were endless.

Was Jesokah picked up by a stranger and murdered? Was Jesokah picked up by someone she knew and murdered? Has someone living in Sooke for the past 20 years gotten away with murder?

Over the years, investigators pursued hundreds of leads, continuing to interview people and check other cases for possible links. But with time, the trail has grown colder. Jesokah’s murder remains unsolved, a constant source of grief for her devastated parents.

“We’re so bruised and beaten, we don’t even want to talk about it,” Clayten said as the anniversary approached. “This was just a young girl that was taken from us. Every night I deal with it. All I want to do is find my little girl.”

“It’s hard no matter what month, or day, or year,” said Jocelan. “It just brings up all the old memories and I just like to keep the good ones in there and keep it quiet. I don’t care to discuss it at all. I just know it’s not going to go anywhere. It’s been 20 years. I think the opportunity has come and gone.

“There was an opportunity and I think it was missed.”

The teen’s disappearance cast a shadow over Sooke..

“We see the memorial and we remember this beautiful young woman,” Sooke Mayor Maja Tait said. “We are carrying grief as well and we have sincere empathy for the lack of closure this has had on her family and friends and acquaintances. This must be very difficult on the family who are still looking for answers.”

Pam Manson, a former guidance teacher at Edward Milne Community School, will never forget the petite teenager, who appeared shy and anxious and wanted to be in school, but didn’t know how.

“She wasn’t ever an Edward Milne student. I registered her and I broke every rule there was to try and find out what program she could fit into. Teachers were so flexible with her, but it just didn’t work for her,” said Manson, who was then known as Pam Harris.

“I’d hear this little knock on my door and she’d say: ‘Mrs. Harris, have you got a minute?’ And I would always say ‘Yes.’ We had good chats and talks and that was that. I wouldn’t have forgotten her even if she’d gone on to graduate. Actually, I would have been thrilled, but that was not to be.”

Manson remembers hearing the news of Jesokah’s disappearance — kids crowded into the waiting room, saying: ‘We’re leaving school. We’re going to look for Jesokah.’

“I was sad and worried. Then as time carried on, I was more and more worried,” said Manson.

Jesokah’s parents built a roadside memorial for her and filled it with pansies and daisies. The years passed. Newcomers would notice the sign — In Memory of Our Good Friend Jesokah — and ask what happened.

Manson believes somebody out there knows what happened. “Jesokah was a troubled kid who deserved way better,” she said.

Jesokah would be 37 now. Since her disappearance, Sooke has gone from a one-traffic-light village to a bustling town with four traffic lights.

The first leaves of autumn have fallen on the butterflies, Christmas ornaments and the angel figurine at her roadside memorial. To the right, the children of Saseenos Elementary are laughing and playing on the swings in the school yard. To the left, the teenagers of Edward Milne, backpacks swinging, walk in groups to grab a bite on their lunch hour. Across the street is the cemetery.

Outside Western Families grocery store, Becky Anderson, who is a few years younger than Jesokah, grew up always aware of her disappearance.

“All the speculation about what happened to her throughout the years was sad. Everyone was trying to guess and point fingers at everybody… it affected the community,” she said.

“It was a stunner,” said Dorothy Vowles, shopping in the grocery aisle. “I know her parents went through hell. It went on and on and on. Some people thought she got a ride and left town, but she would never have done that to them.”

“Anytime I see them, I’m like ‘Oh my God, that pain.’ ” Vowles put a hand to her heart. “You look at them, you wish you could relieve the stress and their pain.”

Vowles said Jesokah’s disappearance made her clamp down on her own sons and grandsons.

“I try to get through to them why it’s important to tell people where you’re going and when you’ll be back and who you’re with.”

ldickson@timescolonist.com

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