Hopes of finding missing Georgetown teen dashed again


Highlights

Williamson County sheriff’s officials find nothing in dig for human remains after tip mentioning Rachel Cooke.

Rachel Cooke has been missing since jogging near her Georgetown home in 2002.

“Totally disappointed.” That’s how Rachel Cooke’s mother said she felt after authorities found nothing Friday while digging for human remains near Liberty Hill suspected to be those of her missing daughter.

Janet Cooke’s daughter, Rachel Cooke, disappeared in 2002 after she went for a jog near her Georgetown home. Janet Cooke said Friday she’s been through a few false leads with the case. Her disappointment with another one is not going to make a difference, she said.

“You just have to ride with the punches,” Cooke said. “Sooner or later, the right lead is going to come along.”

Williamson County sheriff’s officials and FBI agents spent several hours digging near the San Gabriel River on Friday morning after authorities received a tip that human remains might be found there. They called off the search at 1 p.m. after they couldn’t find anything.

PHOTOS: Authorities dig for suspected human remains June 9

Sheriff Robert Chody said authorities received a tip three weeks to a month ago that there might be a body in the area.

“The tip was only specific to the fact that there (were) possibly remains of a human in that area, and the name Rachel Cooke was brought up one time,” Chody said. “We have no evidence to indicate, other than that one tip, that Rachel Cooke was involved.”

Chody said investigators brought four cadaver dogs to the site before digging began, and all four alerted to a scent of human remains.

“Some people will say that’s not reliable, but I felt we had a duty to go and use all our resources and make sure if this is not a location — whether it’s Rachel Cooke or any other person we are trying to locate — we can check this one off the box and move on,” he said.

“I feel we owe it to the families of Williamson County and that was one of my promises when campaigning, and I am staying true to it,” he said.

Searchers toiled with shovels in a heavily wooded area at the bottom of a steep slope about 15 feet from the river.

They shoveled through dirt for hours Friday morning in a 15-by-20-foot spot. The site was behind a house in the 200 block of Chaparral Road in Liberty Hill in a neighborhood filled with mobile homes and junk-strewn yards.

ARCHIVE: Plea agreement for man who confessed in Rachel Cooke case falls apart

Rachel Cooke, a 19-year-old student at Mesa Junior College in Southern California, was home on winter break when she went jogging alone Jan. 10, 2002, in her parents’ neighborhood in the North Lake subdivision northwest of Georgetown.

The last person to see her was a neighbor who saw Cooke walking on Neches Trail to cool down at the end of her run around 10:30 or 11 a.m. She was about 300 yards from her home.

Interactive timeline: Everything you need to know about the Rachel Cooke case

Chody assembled a new investigative team this year to put Cooke’s case, along with about 10 unsolved killings dating back to 1979, in their cross hairs, but he said they hadn’t been involved in the tip that led to the latest dig. The team is composed of retired investigators from across Central Texas with experience investigating homicides and other major crimes.

Since the cross-country runner who dreamed of one day starting her own fashion line vanished, tips on Rachel Cooke have continued to come in.

Then-sheriff’s Sgt. James Knutson told the American-Statesman in 2016 that he had fielded about 16 tips throughout the year, but nothing had ever turned up.

Over the years, Cooke’s parents received calls from psychics, Janet Cooke said. Robert Cooke, Rachel’s father, died in 2014.

READ MORE: Tips still come in 15 years after Rachel Cooke’s disappearance

In 2006, investigators thought they had finally pinned down the killer when convicted murderer Michael Keith Moore confessed to killing Cooke with a hammer blow to the head, then dumping her corpse into the Gulf of Mexico. Moore made a video confession from prison, where he was serving concurrent life sentences for the murder of Christina Moore in Round Rock in 2003.

But when the critical moment came to plead guilty to murder, Moore backed out of a deal he had made with prosecutors and instead pleaded not guilty.

There was no DNA evidence that linked Moore to the crime, and his confession might not have been admissible in court, then-Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley said at the time. The murder charge was dropped, but authorities vowed to continue to build a case against Moore, who won’t be eligible for parole until 2034.

Chody said Friday he had “no idea” about whether investigators were able to prove if Moore’s confession was false. Janet Cooke said Friday “the whole Michael Moore thing infuriated me and the family.”

Even though she was disappointed with what happened Friday, Janet Cooke said she was glad that another lead had come along. She said there could have been human remains at one time at the site where authorities dug Friday.

“A few years ago or a year ago there may have been something there,” Cooke said. “Some sort of cadaver. It could have gotten washed away. That river floods.”

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