Exactly two months have passed since 7-year-old Kyron Horman disappeared and put Portland at the center of a storm of attention.
After the largest search operation in Oregon history, a sprawling criminal investigation that's pursued nearly 4,000 leads, and 16 press conferences by law enforcement, there remains no sign of the boy or any indication of an imminent arrest.
But there is one person who possesses two of the three elements investigators seek in making a criminal charge—means, opportunity and motive.
Stepmother Terri Moulton Horman, a former bodybuilder, had the means. And as the last person known to have seen Kyron before he vanished from Skyline School on June 4, she had the opportunity.
A motive is far less clear. In fact, it's the reason for the national obsession with this case. For all the criticism of the story's tabloid nature, there is nothing puerile about the desire to comprehend this crime and solve the mystery of what happened to this child. The attempt to do so leads us into some very dark places.
In an effort to understand and connect the growing list of players in this case, we've compiled profiles of the primary characters and their significance. Nine weeks after his disappearance, his family and authorities can only hope that continued focus on Kyron's story will help to close this case.
Northwest Sheltered Nook Road
KAINE HORMAN. IMAGE: vivianjohnson.com
An Intel engineer with an analytical mind and awkward social skills, Kaine Horman has been through the unimaginable. First losing his son, then seeking to divorce his wife after learning investigators believe that she allegedly tried to hire someone to kill him. Kaine has said he's racked with guilt that a person he trusted, Terri Moulton Horman, is possibly involved in his son's disappearance. What he doesn't address directly is what he feels about striking up a romance with Terri when his then-wife, Desiree Young, was eight months' pregnant with Kyron. He does say he and Desiree had already agreed to separate although they were still living together. Nevertheless, the media have portrayed him sympathetically as a tortured father now single-mindedly focused on finding his son. When he's not being briefed by investigators, consulting with his divorce lawyer, and caring for his 20-month-old daughter, Kiara, he squeezes in time for the media and a few hours of work from home. He also may have found ways of blowing off steam—neighbors report they've heard gunfire coming from the property for hours on end.
Parents' house in Roseburg
If it turns out Terri Horman is not responsible for Kyron's disappearance, she'll be this decade's Richard Jewell—the security guard at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics wrongly accused of planting a pipe bomb. Terri hasn't been charged, but the red-haired mother of two is clearly at the center of the criminal probe. A California native, Terri was adopted and raised in Roseburg, where she opened a short-lived fast-food restaurant called Chubby's after high school. She settled in the Portland area and earned a master's degree in education from Pacific University, holding down jobs in restaurants and substitute teaching. She was twice divorced when she met Kaine around 2003. At least one of her prior marriages was marred by Terri having an affair. Kaine says he's unaware whether Terri was sleeping around during their marriage—but he does believe Terri started an affair just days after Kaine filed for divorce.
Her Facebook entries caused the rumor mill to focus early on Terri. Some were suspicious when she uploaded pictures of Kyron almost immediately after leaving his school. Others thought it was odd for her to post an update about "hitting the gym" at the height of the search. Her Facebook posts written before Kyron disappeared reveal a woman torn between her own desires and the demands of domestic life. She writes about having to give up weightlifting because of her family. She was worried about "hitting 40" in March. Her No. 1 birthday wish was liposuction.
Terri has made no public statements since Kyron's disappearance, and surely won't now that she's retained renowned criminal-defense lawyer Stephen Houze. The pressure on her has been immense. She did foil a sting operation set up to elicit a confession that she tried to hire a hit on her husband. But since Kaine and daughter Kiara left the house June 26, she appears to have unraveled and began making desperate moves—like publicly lying to reporters and allegedly plotting to kidnap Kiara from the gym where Kaine works out. With widespread reports that she failed two polygraph tests and can't assemble a solid story of what she did the day Kyron disappeared, she continues to be the focus of intense speculation.
DESIREE YOUNG. IMAGE: vivianjohnson.com
A mother who gave up custody of her son five years ago for health reasons and now faces losing him forever, Desiree Young appears to be the most tragic figure in this story after Kyron himself. Desiree's breakdowns at press conferences have been the most heartbreaking public moments since Kyron went missing. She has also lashed out at those she and Kaine see as hindering the investigation, ramping up public anger at Terri and her friends.
Desiree's backstory adds to the pathos. When the boy was 2 years old, Desiree suffered kidney failure she says was a result of taking a medication that was not FDA-approved—what medication, she won't say. She went to Canada for treatment, but again has declined to give specifics. When she returned to Oregon, she tried to regain custody of Kyron and an older son from her first marriage. She was denied by Kaine and the other father, and never fought their decision in court. Desiree is now seeing a therapist to help deal with Kyron's disappearance and has returned to work as an accountant at Lithia Motors in Medford.
Not much attention has been paid to Tony Young, Desiree's third husband and a detective with the Medford Police Department. Taciturn in public, he stays in the background while Kaine and Desiree take the stage during news conferences, or sits quietly in a corner when they're interviewed. But having a cop close by has benefited the family, with Tony working as a bridge to investigators—helping determine when the family releases information they believe will help solve the case. He and Desiree met five years ago when she was working at a bank in Medford and reported a possible fraud. Tony was assigned the fraud case, and the two hit it off. He previously worked for the Oregon Department of Corrections and the Jackson County Sheriff's Office.
73 and 69
One of the questions to emerge is how Terri came up with the retainer she allegedly paid to hire Houze as her attorney. In court filings July 26, Kaine claimed to have learned "in a written communication to a third party" that Terri paid Houze $350,000, an amount Terri has claimed in court documents is incorrect. (As previously reported in WW, Houze has quoted at least one other potential client a retainer as high as $250,000.) Whatever the amount, Kaine says some people in his circle suspect the money came from Terri's adoptive parents, Larry and Carol Moulton—both retired schoolteachers from Roseburg whom Terri moved back in with on July 16. The Moultons own a house in Roseburg worth $175,500, but the Douglas County Clerk's Office said last week the last mortgage on the property was taken out in 2008. The Moultons have repeatedly declined to comment.
The drama around Kyron's disappearance became almost operatic with the addition of DeDe Spicher, thrust onto the public stage as Terri's loyal and, allegedly, conniving friend. An organic gardener and self-described fitness junkie who lives in a Tualatin condo, Spicher (sounds like "spicer") met Kaine and Terri five years ago at 24 Hour Fitness in Beaverton. After Kaine left his house in June, Spicher briefly moved in with Terri. On July 22, Kaine and Desiree said Spicher had refused to cooperate with investigators, told others not to cooperate, and provided Terri with advice "not in the best interests" of Kyron. She was subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury July 26 but was not called to testify—a tactic longtime investigators say is used to rattle uncooperative witnesses. The key question for investigators is where DeDe was the day Kyron disappeared. The Oregonian reported she was working as a gardener at a Northwest Portland home and left the premises for about an hour and a half, but nothing else is publicly known about her movements that day.
The Love Interest
Michael Cook was a buddy of Kaine's at Shorecrest High School in Shoreline, Wash., where they both played receiver on the football team. Cook gained his unwelcome 15 seconds of fame when Kaine accused him of carrying on an affair with Terri after Kyron's disappearance—including "sexting" and exchanging explicit photos. Within days Internet snoops had dug up a bitter and embarrassing account by Cook's ex-wife detailing their breakup before Michael met Terri, including allegations of cocaine use and sleeping around. The story was posted on Shannon Cook's website, stoptoxicrelationships.com, as one of the reasons she's qualified to advise other women in her job as a professional life coach. Shannon Cook took the blog down after Michael became a public figure in the Kyron case, but the text has been republished on multiple true-crime websites. The allegations of an affair with Terri came out in Kaine's divorce filings. Michael Cook has acknowledged sexting Terri after Kaine left the house but denied they'd had sex. If Kaine's allegations are true, Michael Cook's only relevance to the case may be in establishing a pattern of impulsive behavior on Terri's part.
On July 4, The Oregonian published its big break in the Kyron story by revealing that Terri allegedly tried to hire a landscaper to kill Kaine about six months before Kyron disappeared. For the first time, the story supplied a possible motive for Kyron's disappearance—that Terri wanted Kaine dead or, failing that, to hurt him by taking his son. Kaine himself subscribes to this view. The O didn't reveal the name of the landscaper, but said he was cooperating with investigators, including a failed sting operation. On June 26, the same day Kaine left his house, the landscaper and an undercover cop posing as his buddy visited Terri at home. The story goes that the landscaper demanded $10,000 or said he'd tell police about the murder-for-hire plot. The trap failed—Terri instead called 911 to report a threat. Blinkoncrime.com, a website with no indication of its authorship, posted a story July 14 that said the landscaper was Rudy Sanchez, owner of R.S. Landscape Maintenance, a business registered to a P.O. box in Canby. Using address searches and property records, national and local TV crews descended on two rental houses in Milwaukie and Canby, but Sanchez wasn't living at either address. If the murder-for-hire plot is true, then whoever the landscaper is, he now must live with the possibility that if he'd reported Terri six months ago, Kyron might never have disappeared.
Up the street from the Horman house
Angela Davis has endured more than most neighbors around the Horman house on dead-end Northwest Sheltered Nook Road. Residents put up with weeks of TV crews camped out on the road, taping every passing car, and occasional beeping late at night from news trucks backing up in neighborhood driveways. Davis, meanwhile, has a pile of human feces on her property where the cameramen who staked out the Hormans relieved themselves under her tree. Next to the turds and used toilet paper sits a pile of rotting grapefruit in a discarded plastic bag. But during the search for Kyron, some of her neighbors freaked out for a different reason. Many are growing marijuana on their isolated, densely wooded properties, and were spooked when search teams arrived. Deputies assured the nervous neighbors they didn't care about the pot.
HOLLY DELANTS. Image courtesy of Holly Delants.
Holly Delants knows where Kyron is. In the mind of this mother of four from Littleton, Colo., he's in a basement somewhere. His glasses have been removed to prevent his escape. But he's plotting his getaway while replaying in his mind old episodes of his stepmom's favorite show, CSI. "I've dreamt about it, too. He was parked in a car by himself, and I disconnected the batteries so they couldn't leave," Delants tells WW. She's never been to Oregon or met Kyron's family. But like hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people worldwide, Delants feels a connection to the case. "I'm completely obsessed," she says. Now she follows every detail from 1,000 miles away, reading the news off the computer each night to her own 7-year-old son. She checks her cell phone constantly for updates, stays up past midnight Googling for news on the case and has plastered Denver suburbs with Kyron posters. She also wrote Kaine and Desiree a letter that's laminated on the Wall of Hope set up for Kyron on a fence in front of Skyline School. "I can only imagine your pain and anger right now and how much your arms ache to hold him. And I know that is an actual real physical pain in your heart and your arms," she wrote. "That is enough to bring me to tears every day."
Los Angeles (locally, Hillsboro)
Every major national and local news outlet has dumped resources into the Kyron story—The Oregonian has seven reporters working the Kyron beat. But some of the best reporting has come from Elaine Aradillas, a 2004 Columbia Journalism School grad working for People magazine. Aradillas quoted Terri's dad June 28 saying publicly for the first time that his daughter was at the center of the criminal investigation. Aradillas was the first reporter given access inside the Horman house, interviewing Kaine at his kitchen table. There were several aspects to Aradillas' approach that set her apart. Instead of staying in downtown Portland hotels with other reporters, she bunked for a month in Hillsboro to be closer to places the Hormans worked, exercised and socialized in Washington County.
TALKING HEAD: Bruce McCain. IMAGE: vivianjohnson.com.
Nine weeks ago, Bruce McCain was a recently exiled captain from the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office. After doubling as both the official agency spokesman and personal attorney for former Sheriff Bernie Giusto, it was clear McCain had no future in the agency after Giusto's ouster amid an ethics scandal in 2008. So McCain—a staunch conservative who represented the Oregon Citizens Alliance in its efforts to petition for a statewide anti-gay-rights law in 1992—retired from the sheriff's office into relative obscurity rebuilding his law practice. But since Kyron's disappearance, McCain has jumped to national renown as an analyst for nearly every national outlet covering the story. Local TV has glommed onto McCain as well, even leading a nightly broadcast with the news that McCain believes investigators have sufficient evidence to make an indictment. More than anything else, McCain's rise to prominence points to the dearth of real information about the case. Even McCain acknowledges the absurdity of it all. "How pathetic is that? I don't work there anymore," he says. Now the requests for interviews keep coming, and McCain spends up to 12 hours a day, starting at 4 am, in TV studios. McCain says he hasn't been paid for the work but now hopes to somehow parlay his media shtick into a steady paycheck.
"I am not an armchair detective trying to solve this case," he says. "It's like any retiree with the prospect of a second career."
Cell phones have played a crucial role in the Kyron investigation. As first reported in
law enforcement sources say pings from Terri's phone indicate she may have been on Sauvie Island the day Kyron disappeared—a location reportedly at odds with her own account of her movements that day. When they're turned on, phones bounce a signal, or ping, off the nearest tower—even a specific side of that tower—allowing cops to isolate a person within a certain radius. Even better for detectives is when a subject carries a more advanced device like a GPS-enabled iPhone—then a subject's movement can be pinpointed to specific coordinates. Investigators have not disclosed the type of phone Terri used. Records of calls and texts from Terri's phone have also helped law enforcement in its efforts to pressure her. Investigators have provided information from Terri's phone to Kaine—including evidence she was carrying on an affair, passed sealed court documents to Michael Cook and allegedly had paid her lawyer, Stephen Houze, $350,000. Kaine used all of that info to gain leverage in his divorce proceedings against Terri.
Typically in large-scale or long-term criminal investigations, there's one person in charge. For example, in 2002, when Washington, D.C., suffered three weeks of sustained terror during the Beltway sniper attacks, the sprawling investigation had one clear leader and one public face. Montgomery County Police Chief Charles Moose (former head of the Portland Police Bureau) stood behind a lectern during daily news conferences to update the national TV audience. Fitting Portland's more self-effacing style, the Kyron investigation has no publicly recognized spokesperson. Multnomah County Sheriff Dan Staton's shop is nominally in charge of the investigation, but the painfully shy sheriff rarely takes the microphone, preferring to delegate speaking duties to a rotating cadre of command staff. The lead investigator, Sheriff's Sgt. Lee Gosson, has never even spoken publicly on the case. Despite its low-key style and the fact it's a relatively small agency, insiders say any suspicion that MCSO could mishandle the case is groundless—it has help from other members of the East County Major Crimes Team, which includes some of the most seasoned detectives in the region. The Multnomah County District Attorney's Office is also involved in steering the investigation; the person in that office who puts in the most hours on the case is Chief Deputy District Attorney Norm Frink, who likewise has made no public appearances.
Behind the scenes, it's clear law enforcement has settled on a highly unusual strategy of relying on the family itself to release public information and bring pressure on those accused of being less than cooperative with investigators. First it was Terri who was singled out by Kaine and Desiree in news conferences, then DeDe Spicher and other friends. Kaine says investigators have never asked him outright to release any specific information, but when the family feels that doing so might help solve the case, they ask permission. Although they haven't consulted lawyers of their own, they don't fear any legal repercussions. "We haven't done anything that's exposed ourselves," Desiree says. "We've been very safe about it."