Missing Oregon girl found after 15 years

The Associated Press
Wednesday November 08, 2000

PORTLAND, Ore. — When the sheriff’s car with Nevada markings drove up to her house in the foothills of the Coast Range, Evelee Strempel rushed to meet it. Inside was the daughter Strempel had not seen since she left the little girl with a babysitter in 1985. 

The 18-year-old woman who emerged was thrilled to finally be home after spending nearly her entire life moving from place to place. 

“Different places. Sometimes every day,” Fallon Marie Hodges told KVAL-TV after she was reunited with her mother on Sunday. 

Hodges and Strempel told the Eugene television station and the Mail Tribune, a Medford newspaper, that she had never been to school or to a doctor while she was being raised by Marcella Whitehead and a man named Roland Homenyk. 

“I’m well-traveled,” Hodges joked. “Got any questions about vacationing?” 

Her mother was just thankful her daughter had been returned after years of searching. 

“I was just jumping up and down screaming and crying and laughing all at the same time,” Strempel told KVAL. “It was the best news I’d had in a long time.” 

The FBI is not sure whether to treat the case as a kidnapping or as an abandoned child case, but Mike Morrow, the FBI’s supervisory senior resident agent in Eugene, says it is under investigation. 

Morrow, a former member of a special FBI unit that tracked child abductions and serial killers, said “only a handful” of the thousands of cases handled by that unit resembles the Hodges case. 

The teen-ager told police she had been living with a couple who left her in Lovelock, Nev., about 90 miles northeast of Reno, telling her they would contact her once they were safely away and tell her about her true identity. 

Hodges waited for a month before walking into the Pershing County sheriff’s office in northern Nevada and telling them she didn’t know her real name – but that it might be Fallon. 

Pershing County Sheriff Ron Skinner said the girl told them that she thought she was born in October and that she believed she had a twin brother named Dustin. 

Investigators checked birth records and found a Fallon Marie Hodges who was born in Eugene on Oct. 17, 1982. 

From there, they linked the girl to her mother, Strempel, who now lives in Veneta, a small foothills town just west of Eugene. Strempel had moved to Veneta about a month ago after living in Central Point, just west of Medford near the California border. 

“The girl seemed to be happy,” said Skinner, who drove the teen home from Nevada. “We’re calling it a successful recovery of a missing child.” 

Strempel said she left Fallon and her twin brother, Dustin, then just 3, with Whitehead while she sorted out her financial problems. She returned for Dustin, and said she would be back soon for Fallon. But Strempel says the sitter and the girl were gone when she returned. 

Strempel told KVAL she never reported her daughter missing because she was going through a difficult time, she didn’t have a home and was involved in drugs. But she says she never stopped looking for her, and claims she was misled by Whitehead. 

“They weren’t the greatest people, and I never knew that,” Strempel said. “Nobody seemed to know these people because they had given me a false last name.” 

Hodges says she was led to believe she was abandoned and blames Whitehead and Homenyk. 

“I believed them,” she told KVAL. “I believed all the lies they told me, which was a lot, I’m finding out. So if there was any resentment now, it’s on them, definitely.”