In the nearly six weeks since 7-year-old Kyron Horman disappeared, many people are asking how someone who helped raise the boy could do the unthinkable.
Kyron's father, Kaine Horman, says in court documents and interviews he believes his wife, Terri Moulton Horman, was involved in the boy's disappearance from Skyline School on June 4. And he also offers a motive.
Based on investigators' belief that Terri Horman tried to hire a landscaper to kill Kaine Horman six or seven months ago, he tells WW she may have been trying to hurt him again by taking his son.
"If you can't have me killed, taking away my kids is probably the next worse thing," Kaine Horman says.
Horman's statement raises another question: If the boy's father says his wife knows what happened, why haven't police and prosecutors arrested her and charged her?
Investigators have isolated Kyron's stepmom. Family members have publicly pressured her to cooperate. But law enforcement hasn't taken her into custody because of how investigators work and the inherent difficulties in cracking the mystery without finding Kyron.
"People want to know why an arrest hasn't been made," says Jim McIntyre, a former top Multnomah County prosecutor turned defense lawyer. "What they skip over is that we don't even know if Kyron Horman is dead or alive."
Without locating Kyron, observers say it's difficult—but not impossible—to charge anyone with a specific crime.
"As long as there's no body, there's this shadow of a doubt that he could be out there somewhere," says a police detective who asked not to be identified. "As cold as it sounds, I think part of what law enforcement is doing is hanging back and waiting for her to do something stupid."
The case has gained obsessive followers from around the nation. But law-enforcement sources say investigators are in no rush to arrest Terri Horman for two reasons. First, there's little indication she poses a danger to the public. Second, she's closely watched and unlikely to flee undetected.
That means law enforcement has time to carefully construct a case. Once suspects are in custody, they can demand a trial within 60 days under Oregon law. And prosecutors get only one chance in court to obtain a conviction.
Besides the fact missing children are harder to track than adults because they leave no paper trail, McIntyre says leaks to the press also pose a significant problem for investigations. When information stays secret, investigators know which people should be aware of it and which people shouldn't. If it's leaked, they lose an edge in solving the crime.
"It almost always has some adverse impact and can make the investigation slow down," McIntyre says.
As the public waits for a conclusion to the case, Terri Horman has one major ally—Stephen Houze, her high-powered Portland attorney. His colleagues say more than his 38 years of experience, what make Houze one of Portland's best criminal-defense lawyers are his drive and intensity. More than one lawyer used the word "relentless" to describe him.
Those lawyers say Houze's first job is to keep Terri Horman from making any public statements. Second, he needs to win her trust so he can learn the truth about what happened the day Kyron disappeared. Without that knowledge, defense lawyers say Houze can't effectively counter law enforcement's moves.
But getting Terri Horman to tell him the truth may prove a challenge, according to Multnomah County Circuit Court filings July 12 by Kaine Horman. He claims his wife told Kaine Horman's high-school friend, Michael Cook, to lie to Houze about the fact she'd visited Cook's home. Horman says his wife allegedly began an affair with Cook after he filed for divorce June 28.
Houze told reporters after meeting with Judge Keith Meisenheimer on July 13 that he'll represent Terri Horman in family court as well as in the Kyron investigation.
Kaine Horman asked Meisenheimer to find Terri Horman in contempt of court for showing Cook a copy of Kaine Horman's sealed petition for a restraining order against her. For more on that story, go to wweek.com/Horman_affair.
A fellow lawyer tells WW that based on jail records obtained as part of another case, Houze last year told a potential client the amount he would charge as a retainer was $250,000. If so, it would easily make Houze one of Portland's most expensive criminal-defense lawyers.
How Terri Horman, an ex-schoolteacher, could afford a quarter-million dollars up front remains unanswered. Her parents, both former teachers living in Southern Oregon, declined to comment when reached by WW. But a colleague said it's possible Houze felt responsible to take on the case and is working pro bono, as he's been known to do in the past.
Houze did not respond to phone and email messages seeking comment.
Houze's past clients include Jayant Patel, Australia's "Dr. Death"; terrorism suspect Maher "Mike" Hawash; and former "Jail Blazers" Zach Randolph and Damon Stoudamire.