Graeme Cunningham, 13 years old, was looking
forward to a weekend camping trip on Thursday, July 14, 1983. His gear was
packed well in advance, and the adventure was his sole topic of conversation as
departure time approached. If he was troubled by Troy Ward's disappearance,
three weeks earlier to the day, Cunningham hid it well. He would be camping
with a junior high school classmate and an adult chaperone, one Roger Downs.
What did he have to fear?
Graeme never made the campout, though.
Instead, he vanished from his neighborhood without a trace that Thursday
afternoon, his parents alarmed when he failed to report home for dinner. The
disappearance made statewide news, and Roger Downs came calling to offer
Cunningham's mother any help that lay within his power. Later, in custody,
"Downs" would tell detectives
(quoted in the Deseret News), that his impulse was sincere. "I
wanted to help her," he said. "I just didn't know how to tell her
that I killed her son."
Instead, before another week was out, he
would be telling the whole story to police.
Authorities went through the usual motions
with Graeme Cunningham's disappearance. The search was fruitless; their
inquiries produced only blank stares or solemn denials, along with expressions
of sympathy for the grieving family. This time, however, something clicked
within the task force that had been pursuing Salt Lake City's
child killer since 1979. At
last, detectives recognized the name of "Roger Downs."
They didn't know his real name yet, but
suddenly they realized that "Downs"
had been interrogated after each of the five unsolved vanishing acts.
Incredibly, he had lived in close proximity to four of the victims and was
known to the parents of the fifth.
Could it be that simple, after all their
grueling efforts? Four years earlier, Chicago's
John Wayne Gacy had been trapped by a similar mistake, seen chatting with the
last of his 33 victims shortly before the youth vanished. In fact, detectives
realized, serial murder cases were usually broken exactly that way, by killers
who let down their guard and made clumsy mistakes.
Sgt. Bruce White and Detective Steven Smith
went back to question "Downs" again.
They had no evidence against him yet, but there was something in his manner
that suggested evasion. Was he one of those innocent persons who sometimes lie
to the police instinctively, for no apparent reason, or was he concealing the
worst of all possible secrets?