Human remains search possibly tied to Rachel Cooke comes up empty

A memorial run for Rachel Cooke will be held on January 7, 2017. Rachel disappeared 15 years ago while running in Georgetown. (Courtesy: Wade Knutson)
A memorial run for Rachel Cooke will be held on January 7, 2017. Rachel disappeared 15 years ago while running in Georgetown. (Courtesy/Wade Knutson)

GEORGETOWN, Texas (KXAN) — Even though she’s been missing for 15 years, tips regarding the disappearance of Rachel Cooke still come in, and for the Williamson County sheriff, all leads still need to be followed through. That’s the reason why a throng of local and federal officials made their way to a property in Liberty Hill on Friday.

The Williamson County Sheriff’s Office says a deputy received a tip around three weeks ago about possible human remains buried on the property at 221 Chaparral Dr. in Liberty Hill. When Sheriff Robert Chody received word of the tip, he called Cooke’s mother to tell her about the development.

“The tip was not only specific to the fact that there were possible remains of a human in that area [but also] the name Rachel Cooke was brought up one time,” explained Chody in a briefing Friday morning. “We had no other evidence related to that one tip that Rachel Cooke was involved.”

At noon, Chody said crews were excavating a 15-by-20-foot area, about 18 inches deep, but nothing had been found. However, prior to digging, cadaver dogs did detect the scent of human remains in the area.

During the news conference, Chody warned that the tip may or may not lead to anything, but he said the department owed it to the family to not leave any stones unturned. “I felt we had a duty to go and use all our resources to make sure,” said Chody, “and whether it’s Rachel Cooke or any other person that we are trying to locate, that we can check this one off the box and move on.”

By 2 p.m., less than two hours after Chody spoke about the excavation, all the crews had packed up and cleared the area. A spokesperson for WCSO says authorities didn’t find anything after digging 4 feet down, and they won’t be coming back.

“They want it to end, just as much as I do.”

For Cooke’s mother, Janet, the rush of a possible lead ending in a dead end is something she’s had to deal with numerous times over the past decade and a half.

“Everything runs through your mind,” said Janet. “You get excited. You want to go help.” While closure for the Cooke family didn’t happen on this day, Janet says when it does, it’ll be something for the whole community. “It brings me to tears to think of the thousands of people that have played a part in this, and they want it to end, just as much as I do.”

Cooke, who was 19 years old at the time, vanished during her morning run in Georgetown on Jan. 10, 2002. Janet says a neighbor saw her walk past their driveway around that time, during her cool down. She had earbuds in at the time.

Authorities searching for human remains on Chaparral Drive in Liberty Hill on June 9, 2017. (KXAN Photo/Todd Bynum)
Authorities searching for human remains on Chaparral Drive in Liberty Hill on June 9, 2017. (KXAN Photo/Todd Bynum)

Ever since Cooke’s disappearance, her family became very active in missing persons’ causes. Her father, Robert, passed away in November 2014. According to his obituary, he made a promise on the day his daughter disappeared that he would never stop looking for her.

According to charleyproject.org, witnesses told authorities that an unidentified man was driving a late-model white or blue Chevrolet Camaro or Pontiac Trans Am in the area where Cooke was last seen. Some witnesses also said there were two men inside the vehicle. Sketches were originally released of three unidentified men.

Possible suspect sketches in Rachel Cooke's case. (via charleyproject.org)
Possible suspect sketches in Rachel Cooke’s case. (via charleyproject.org)

In 2006, convicted murderer Michael Keith Moore admitted to investigators that he killed Cooke with a hammer blow to the head. Moore also detailed dropping her body in the Gulf of Mexico, confessing on videotape from prison, the source said. In the end, Moore said he had nothing to do with her disappearance.

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