Dateline | January 11, 2013
>>> the vigils, the reward, the facebook campaign, the flyers, the detective all kept michelle 's family busy and hopeful, but had ultimately been unproductive. they were nowhere and it was just at that point when mark klaas stepped into the life of the le family.
>> i met the family in a dingy motel on the side of the freeway in hayward, california , at about 11:00 in the morning and they were all huddled inside this little room .
>> to the le family, klaas was like the cavalry riding in.
>> we were all in our pajamas, just dishevelled and we were all together on our laptops trying to edit press releases and trying to organize all of the interviews and reading the news, trying to talk to police.
>> and i looked around and i said the first thing you people need to do is get out of this room.
>> dark and depressing.
>> it was horrible. it was horrible and they were so downtrodden. they had absolutely no idea of what to do or where to go.
>> and he -- he sat down and gave us a list of what to do. we had to start a search center. we had to get volunteers. we had to position media in this sort of light and just gave us all sorts of tips.
>> it made a wealth of difference emotionally and on practical levels.
>> what mark klaas didn't do was burden the le family with his own story. didn't tell them about his own daughter polly kidnapped two decades ago.
>> that was the worst time in my life. it shattered me. shattered my heart.
>> 12-year-old polly klaas was snatched from her home in petaluma, california , in the midst of a slumber party . teams of volunteers tramped through california looking for polly and lack lacking in coordination and focus and it was ultimately fruitless. polly 's body was only discovered when her killer arrested at a traffic stop two months later showed detectives where he buried her.
>> do you still with that awful week?
>> yeah. all these years later.
>> my work is my therapy. my work is my therapy.
>> that work through the klaas kids foundation is to help families find missing lovered ones by providing families with a now proven, professional, methodical approach to their search efforts.
>> you have to basically start in the center and work your way out, letting -- following statistics that the vast majority of people that are missing or going to be found a, within a half-mile radius of where they went missing or b, within a five-mile radius of where they went missing.
>> it's dismal work they do.
>> it's not dismal. no. nothing we do is dismal. it's hard work. it can be heartbreaking. it can be so sad, but it's not dismal. it's really good work and it's important work, and there's just not enough people doing it.
>> possibly because it's worked the le's bare wounds. since polly 's death, mark has shared his experience and learned through his own parental grief with families just like michelle 's adrift and in shock. repair the relationship with the police which had become very arc afraid, indeed.
>> we needed help from the police and they slowly started to let us know where they thought we should be looking and when we pressed them why should we be looking there, why should we be looking there they finally said well, because that's where the cell towers take us.
>> michelle le, it turns out, went on a strange journey on the evening of may 27, 2011 , at least her cell phone did. in the two hours after michelle left a training session at the kaiser hospital in san francisco 's east bay , that cell phone left its indelible footprint through the congested streets of the east bay and then it turned on to a two-lane back road and then a major freeway and then it pinged back along the very same route, back to the parking lot , at the very moment the nursing instructor saw michelle 's car drive into the parking lot and rapidly reverse course and speed away into the dark, a puzzle. but getting that cell phone trail from the police was also a huge break said mark klaas , who was now deeply involved in the search for michelle .
>> it enabled us then to really hone in on what we needed to do and why we needed to do it. it was to prepare a viable search locations for search teams .
>> but the area was vast. much of it rugged, rural. the search for michelle would be tough, labor-intensive work. just the sort of thing mark klaas ' organization knew how to do.
>> when we saw the machine in motion was when we felt that, wow, this guy and this foundation has really got it together. we would have never thought of that on our own.
>> klaas even flew in his director of search operations who was one of the first volunteers to look for polly years before.
>> we'll be in treacherous terrain today as well as tomorrow, canyon area, lots of rocks into the ravines.
>> this was day 49 since michelle disappeared and once again, her san diego relatives loaded into cars around midnight and drove the eight hours north to the san francisco bay . "dateline" was there watching as they gathered for a morning briefing to prepare them for the long day of searching ahead.
>> if you take nothing else away from this presentation take this portion right here, okay? every single search that we've put you on today, tomorrow, we consider a potential crime scene. the police suggested a zone to be searched, but that's about all of the information they provided.
>> we don't know exactly why, but they say it's based on all of the evidence and the timeline they believe that something might have happened in this area.
>> the area, a narrow canyon in the hills east of the san francisco bay . as the search party made its way up the canyon they tied off here and there pink ribbons.
>> we have a system of tape marking that we use and we report it to the investigators and they follow up. everything we do here is to support the police effort in bringing back michelle .
>> a complication. this area is a haven for the homeless. it's also a notorious dumping ground for murder victims. here one of the searchers found an encampment and inside, a sleeping bag .
>> ian. you want to check out this -- this looks like a sleeping bag .
>> do you want me to pull this bag out?
>> the bag was empty. but deeper inside the encampment, something else was uncovered. a large bone. this creek canyon, it soon became apparent had been well traveled by creatures great and small.
>> an man mal, some mammal.
>> there was another bone at a creek crossing. searchers had passed it by when our producer noticed it lying this, tail bone , probably and yet --
>> what do you think it's from?
>> not sure. it does look like a thigh bone . it's a joint.
>> hey, ian. can you take a look at this?
>> there are other bones around it which is kind of interesting.
>> it's big. it's pretty big.
>> looking at a bone from a large mammal. let's tag it and let's do a more thorough search around here just in case and then we'll get somebody to get the gear.
>> do you think you can scamper up to that little piece of rebar or whatever is there and tie a pink ribbon for us?
>> the bone was tagged, examined and yes, it was from the leg of a large mammal. in this case, a human. coming up, one of