Dateline   |  February 22, 2013

Secrets In the Mist, Part 1

Carol Lubahn, a beautiful young mother of two, suddenly vanishes. Not long after, her husband reports some strange activity at their house. Dateline NBC’s Keith Morrison reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> when the young mother at the center of our next story disappeared, the internet was still in its infancy. police didn't have today's high-speed tools to track people who went missing. decades later, a cold case investigator hit on an idea. could facebook help find out what happened to the woman who vanished so long ago and force her son to face the truth? here again is keith morrison .

>>> january, point vicente, california, the wet, gray, morning cold had settled in to stay.

>> at noon, a police boat sets off in the pea soup fog, a hail mary pass apparently, a slim chance to find the truth at last, but why out there? why after all these lost 30 years? maybe some cases are destined to stay cold, easier that way, before they came along with their wild ideas about murder and facebook of all things and now this. their doomed errand into the fog.

>> her name was carol dean meyer, though she was carol lubahn when all of this happened back in march 1991 , the night of the slamming doors, the harsh words and the car roaring away and it's an old story, anyway. pretty girl gets pregnant at 15, marries the guy, pretty soon she's a 20-something with two kids and a hankering to live, really live for a change and this particular pretty girl ?

>> she was fun. she was outgoing. she had a lot of friends.

>> she had these two sisters. terri was the younger one, gail, the older.

>> we were very close and made each other laugh all of the time. but carol lubahn wasn't laughing at the end of march '81. for one thing, she wanted to be somebody, her own somebody.

>> i know that carol wanted to complete school and further her career and that's when she went back to study architecture.

>> sure, her husband was a nice kid and she loved him once with all of the intensity of first love. the handsome high school football player who would hang around on her front porch .

>> his friends would come over, and i thought that was kind of cool. all of his football athlete friends. mike stepped up and married her after the baby was born.

>> he was a good father. he just seemed to really enjoy his kids.

>> enjoyed carol 's family, too. especially her dad milt.

>> so mike became kind of like his son. milt brought young mike into the family house painting business.

>> he just took to him immediately and everybody felt that way about mike, his friends, everybody. he was always a very likable person.

>> friendly, loyal, but not exactly ambitious. he didn't seem to mind at all settling down to a modest existence and them and the two kids cramped up in a two-bedroom, one- bath house in torrance, but carol did mind it very much.

>> i think she may have outgrown him somewhat.

>> she had a secret affair by then, maybe more than one. she got herself a cute little red car, an audi fox and ordered personalizedplace plates and we did this one to look just like it and quite often she'd get in her little car alone and go roaring off to school or to meat markets like the local red onion was back then.

>> i know she was going to the red know on. i never went there with her so i don't know what she was like.

>> she had another corner of her life that you weren't a part of.

>> yeah.

>> and then that night in march kids off to bed, their son mike, jr., was just a boy, 10 years old.

>> i was in bed. i had just got a new stereo for my 10th birthday and i was listening to the headphones.

>> from his bed he could see something happening out in the hallway. i remember them getting into an argument which was unusual.

>> because they just didn't.

>> not they knew of. i remember her marching past and going out the front door and slamming the door.

>> you heard the slam?

>> i heard the slam in the front door. i know that.

>> and the next morning --

>> we got up and she wasn't there. mike senior told carol 's dad that carol had demanded he sign papers to sell their house and he didn't want to and she got mad and they argued and when they woke with up in the morning she was just gone.

>> so we just assumed she needed to get away for a few days, but as the days went on we got extremely worried.

>> nearly a week after carol departed her red audi fox showed up in the parking lot of the red onion dusty, as if it had been there a while.

>> i remember being upset about it. she was gone and i didn't know where she went.

>> they drove around looking for her, went to bars. carol 's picture in hand and --

>> nobody had seen her.

>> what feeling was that?

>> hopelessness. you know? where did she go? who did she see?

>> the torrance police department opened a file, but they couldn't answer any of the questions, had she finally gotten fed up with mike and started a new life somewhere else or had she been in an accident or something worse? more than a week after carol disappeared there was still absolutely no sign of her and then something strange happened here at the house, something very strange. could it be that carol , unbeknownst to anyone sneaked back in here when nobody else was around?

>> imagine what it was like back then in that little house ? mike, thinking things over. on a hunch he placed tape on carol 's dresser drawers, a little trap. one day he took the kids to universal studios and sure enough when they returned he noticed the tape was broken and mail on th e counter was moved as well. some of carol 's clothes went missing along with some money from a place no burglar would know to look, under the butter dish in the refrigerator where mike said he and carol kept $100 in emergency cash and now $60 was missing. just like carol said her sister gail.

>> she would not have taken all of it. that was in carol 's personality to just be very fair.

>> it made sense then?

>> uh-huh.

>> and then there were those mysterious phone calls .

>> we would get the calls on special days, her birthday, my birthday, my grandmother would get calls.

>> and just silence on the other end.

>> yeah.

>> what did you do. we'd say carol , we love you. we hope you come back. we felt like she was finding a happier life somewhere.

>> and understood that to make that successful she might have to make a dcomplete and total break.

>> yeah. almost three months after carol vanished the dakotaives put it in the inactive file. in the report he wrote no foul play involved.

>> remember thinking about her all of the time and i used to play records over and over that she liked and just thinking where is she? when is she coming back?

>> eventually mike started dating a 19-year-old named carrie and brought her into the fold.

>> we were happy that mike was going with life.

>> and so they did all go on with life, and many years went by.

>> until the morning in a whole new millennium when the torrance detective happened on the case of the missing young mother and somewhere in the back of his brain, a little light turned on, and i just had a hunch and it didn't sound right to me.

>>> coming up, doubts about carol 's disappearance grow and others also would have suspicions about what really happened. later, they turn to a surprising source to help solve the mystery.

>> why don't you establish a