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The secret life of a soccer mom

When a radiant mother disappeared in Colorado, secrets began to tumble out about her hidden life. Where is Paige Birgfeld?

On the brow of a hill in one of America's quintessential western towns is a fine big house.

The setting, and perhaps in some way the reason, for the story you're about to hear, the secret that lay behind it

If not for its wide, sweeping driveway, its swimming pool, its glorious views across the valley, to the river, to the town, to the mountains beyond -- and its hefty monthly payment -- would any of this have happened?

Paige's Parents/ Frank and Suzie Birgfeld: The house with Paige just-- the kids were running and screaming sometimes. And people were coming and going.

Paige is the woman who lived here with her three children. These are her parents, Frank and Suzie Birgfeld.

Paige's Parents/ Frank and Suzie Birgfeld: And that's the life that Paige wanted. To be a mom and to have her kids around her.

The Birgfelds brought Paige here to Colorado when they were young and she was small.

And she was sparkling, and they were as doting as parents could be.

Paige's Parents/ Frank and Suzie Birgfeld: My word that I use to describe her succinctly is effervescent. A person who has a big smile, a person who when she meets you, you are the center of the moment.

Yes, and popular too, and as she grew, very pretty indeed.

Paige's Parents/ Frank and Suzie Birgfeld: You know, during high school, she certainly always had a date for the prom.

She tried college away in Florida, but how could she leave Colorado? And, perhaps more to the point, there was a young man, and she was in love.

So she returned and married. And life began to pile up its layer cake of unintended change.

She divorced.

Married again.

Bore three lovely children.

And divorced again.

These things do happen. What can you say, besides keep what you can and move on.

In Paige's case, it meant moving on here, in the sprawling house on the hill, with its swimming pool, its magnificent canyon views, its bewitching sunsets.

In the divorce, Paige got the house, and the kids.

And the mortgage.

Ah, yes, that.

The humongous, worry-all-night-you-can't-pay-it mortgage.

Which might certainly have eaten away at anyone's easy good humor, God knows, she wouldn't have been alone these days.

But Paige, said her friends, was not like that.

If she worried, it was all inside, she didn't show it.

Andrea Land: She's got such a bubbly personality and every time she shows up it's you know all the kids in tow and just really excited to see you and hear how things have been going in your life.

Amazing, really. And rather than stew and worry about that mortgage, Paige launched businesses to pay it.

She sold cooking products for a company called "The Pampered Chef," and slings for carrying babies. She taught dancing classes for little kids.

And she became, on top of everything else, a charter member of the Grand Junction chapter of "Mom's Club International," a support group for working mothers.

These are some of her best friends, from the Mom's Club.

Friend: She's a soccer mom. She's got three kids. She is a quilter. She's a fabulous cook. There's so much more to her. She's-- she's just amazing. So many of us would always ask her, "how do you do it?”

Barbara: We all pale in comparison. (Laughter)

Andrea Land: You know, you throw a pebble in a pond and watch the ripples. And Paige with her impact on her world, she's (laughs) She's like a boulder. (Laughter)

But did they ever really know Paige? Some, perhaps, had guessed something.

After all, she should have been very house poor. But here she was, busy, productive, apparently unworried.

Life for Paige seemed to be, as far as anybody knew -- parents and children included, pretty good.

Paige's Parents/ Frank and Suzie Birgfeld: She has a girl, 8, a boy who just turned 7, and another little guy who's 3. And that's her life, and her family, and then her friends.

Her parents lived a four-hour drive away, in Denver, so they marveled at her life, her energy, from a distance.

So if they didn't know everything, well, what parent does?

And of course, when the call came, that moment that upended everything, it was long distance.

Paige's Parents/ Frank and Suzie Birgfeld: "This is the Mesa Country sheriff's department." And he said, "Your daughter is missing." And that those are big words. And I said, "What do you mean, missing?" She said, "Well, she's been missing since Thursday night." And I remember saying, "This is a problem.” She is not the kind of person who would not be home unless there was a problem. And we went home and threw some stuff in an overnight bag, and we left the house in 20 minutes.

They drove in silence. Fast. And they tried to tell themselves their panic was mistaken… she'd turn up, cheerful as ever.

Though, what they'd do when they got there they had no idea.

Any more than any of her best friends knew what to think.

Barbara: I was instantly terrified for her, something bad had to have happened. It just seemed that maybe she was driving home from a pampered chef show one night and her car broke down. She got out to fix the tire and somebody kidnapped her. It was scenarios like that were in my head.

Scenarios? Oh yes, there were possibilities.

None of them good.

But no friend, no parent, could have begun to imagine what one of those scenarios could very well have been.

When Paige Birgfeld was so suddenly, gone.

Andrea Land: The ribbons are Paige’s favorite color.  And so, we've been wearing them since she disappeared--

At 34, Paige Birgfeld was a charter member of the Grand Junction chapter of Mom's Club International.

There was no chance she'd walked out on her three children.

Her friend Andrea Land told a story about Paige’s total commitment to her kids.

Andrea Land: We were in the kitchen and I looked at her and I said, "Don't you ever just want to--" and she finished my sentence and said, "Run away?" And I said, "Yeah. Sometimes I just want to run away." And she said, "Yeah, but I'd want to take my kids with me." (Laughter) That's the thing is we all knew she would never leave her kids intentionally. But something bad must have happened.

Mesa County Sheriff Stanley Hilkey was inclined to agree, and began retracing Paige’s last movements to look for any evidence of foul play.

Stanley Hilkey: You know, you've got to really look at those relationships first.

And almost immediately, he had a 'person of interest.'

As far as police could determine, unless something else came up, the last person to have seen Paige was the first of her two ex-husbands: Ron Beigler.

Ron Beigler: I have a hard time looking back on that day with any fond memories at this point. 

It’s a given in the police business, that husbands, especially ex-husbands, become important subjects for investigation when a woman suddenly disappears. And in this case there was a clue buried in the past Beiglar was once cited for domestic violence spent the night in jail and though Paige did not pursue the charge, investigators decided that a conversation with Mr. Beiglar the last person afterall known to have seen her was certainly in order.

Ron Beigler: It was a typical late teenage romance that turned into love and marriage

They were, said Beigler, "high school sweethearts." They got married in 1995.

They began quarrelling soon after.

Paige's Parents/ Frank and Suzie Birgfeld: They had known each other when they were young. And she had told me they both said, "Oh, we don't want kids." And she just had this really-- the maternal instinct became very, very strong, and she wanted babies and he didn't.  And that was most of the problem.

And so, after two years, they divorced in 1997. Paige was just 24 then.

So, just what could she be doing 10 years later in the company of Ron Beigler in the hours that led right up to her disappearance?

Ron Beigler: We were going to meet for the day in Eagle together. We were going to have a picnic and hang out together, all day.

Here's the story Beigler told, to police and to us, and it sounded, frankly, a little more romantic a tale than we'd expected to hear.

Ron Beigler: We went to Subway and brought it back to where we were sitting outside, down by the river. It was very familiar and I brought some pictures, you know. We just sat there and relaxed and enjoyed the day and the weather. I mean, it was a special wonderful day but I can't see it that well now at all.

If that sounds like a date, well, actually, in a way it was, said Beigler. He, after the breakup of their marriage, stayed single. And when her second marriage collapsed? His chance, it seemed perhaps, had come again.

Ron Beigler: It was very exciting, it was hard to figure out.

And that night, after their romantic picnic?

Ron Beigler: She called me before I got home to see if I made it back into Denver and then we had a brief conversation, you know not too brief but, and, I expected to hear from her later that night, after she got home.

But he never did hear from her after that, he told the police, though repeatedly he tried calling her the next day.

“Hello, you have reached the home offices for Brain Dance, pampered chef and Maya wrap baby slings please leave a message and I'll get back to you within the next few days.”

So when Ron Beigler talked to the Mesa county sheriff's department, it was actually he who called them.

Could they believe his story? Well, said Paige's friends, yes, they could.

Jaime: She told me back in May that they were kinda starting to get back together, she'd been texting him and she kinda told me in a giggly school girl kind of way that made me feel like she was really excited.  

Would a man falling in love all over again want to harm Paige?

No, the sheriff decided, very probably not.

Stanley Hilkey: He reached out and was providing information to our investigators about what they did on that day. And where they were. And so he's been cooperative as well.

Ron Beigler: I’m confident that the police know that I had nothing to do with it.

Besides, Paige had met Ron a considerable distance from Grand Junction.  So now the police went looking for any trace she may have left on the drive back, like cell phone records, for example. And it appeared there were some of those.

Stanley Hilkey: From the time she left her first ex-husband up in Eagle County on that Thursday to the time that she drove back down here, a lot of what we used in the very first part of the case were telephone records. Who she's calling. Who's calling her. Who's leaving her messages.

And then, it was the day after Paige was reported missing, just about the time they were calling up those phone records.

A call came in to the Grand Junction fire department.

There was a red Ford Focus in an industrial parking lot, only a few miles from Paige’s house.

It was her car.

And it was on fire.

It was bizarre. And for Paige Birgfeld's family and friends, terrifying. This was three days after she disappeared. Her car. On fire, right in town, just a few miles from her house.

Paige wasn't in it, wasn't anywhere around. But, said Sheriff Hilkey…

Stanley Hilkey: There was probably a lot of clues in that car. And, some of that clue and, some of that evidence is still yet to be completely analyzed. But—

Keith Morrison, Dateline NBC: Didn't all get burned up?

Stanley Hilkey: No, it's badly damaged. You know, what was doesn't damaged in the fire was probably damaged in the suppression of the fire, too. We haven't gotten all of that evidence back yet, probably. It certainly appears to be an arson and probably done in a way to try to destroy evidence.

But nothing in the car explained where she was.

And now, any chance that Paige had had some bizarre accident, or was lost somewhere, was gone.

This was foul play.

The sheriff brought in search dogs in hopes of tracking her scent, and now, suddenly, it seemed as if half the city had joined was looking Paige.

Her parents were amazed to see not just friends, and neighbors, but volunteers from all over the state flock to Grand Junction to look for their missing daughter.

Frank Birgfeld: So here is the command center ... This is a park. It is fairly close to Paige's house and we have a group that is coming in. It looks like one of the smaller groups.

This is difficult, dispiriting work. It is dry and hot in the way the high country sun can scorch in the summertime.

Paige's Parents: This is big country up here. You'd go out for usually two hours. You'd come back to the command center and get some liquids.  And it wasn't 20, 30 minutes, and somebody would hold up a map and say, "We're headed out again." And there were no slackers.  Everyone went. And they would go again and again and again.

Paige's children, occupied with god knows what terrors, had their grandparents at least -- for now.

Paige's 8-year-old daughter even joined the search, decorating search poles for rescuers to use.

Even though, by then, searchers were not at all confident that they were looking for a person who was still alive.

Paiges's Parents: I felt Paige would be home within a day or two.  That for whatever held her up, had to have been something wrong or she would have never been away from her children overnight.  But I don't think we ever thought it was something more serious than that.

Paige’s friends hoped, of course, that she'd turn up, safe and sound.  But…

Friends: Suddenly this small quiet town has a tragedy. And you know, it's a mom with three kids that's missing. And so, they want to come help cause they want to get this mom back with her kids or at least give the family closure.

And then a few days into the search, something big...

Alongside a wind-blown highway outside of town, volunteers spotted bits of paper in among the gravel and the weeds.

And when they retrieved them? They found Paige’s check registers, her Blockbuster membership card, and personal items. The sorts of thing a woman puts in her purse.

Had Paige thrown them out of the car? Or was it someone else? Someone trying to get rid of evidence?

Andrea Land: On one hand you're excited because it’s something, and it’s hers and you know that it’s hers and maybe that’s going to lead somewhere but by the same token it’s scary because you think why are her things on the side of the road, you know, how did this happen? 

Trouble is, the sheriff's department couldn't make much sense of it, either.

Stanley Hilkey: It opens up the door for a lot of speculation. Could that have been placed by Paige as a trail? Could it be placed there by a suspect as a diversion? Could it have blown out a vehicle going down the road, unwittingly? 

A last, apparently romantic meeting with an ex-husband...

A burned out car -- hers -- that yielded no useful clues.

Papers scattered by a highway miles out of town. Who left them there?

A search that by now covered hundreds of square miles of high desert around Grand Junction.

And no sign of Paige Birgfeld.

But were police looking in the right places? Paige’s first husband Ron Beigler told a believable story about that last night with Paige.

But what about ex-husband number two, the father of her three children?  Everybody who knew Paige also knew that marriage was deeply troubled.

And by the way, now that she was single again, did Paige’s small homebound business really generate enough income to support her expensive life?

Where was she getting the money?

Investigators were about to uncover the secret life of a soccer mom.

No one saw it coming.

Not the police, not her parents, not the city.

Now, to worry and grief, add shock.

Paige's Parents: You can stand on the front doorstep here, and I believe you can see five miles. And I believe everything happened in that area.

As the weeks passed, search and rescue teams scoured the countryside around Grand Junction looking for the young, beloved mother of three who had suddenly vanished.

Paige's Parents: And you stand here and you look, and you say, "I know you're there. But where?"

They searched on horses, ATVS and on foot, combing through brush land, deserted lots, and the murky Gunnison River running through the canyon floor.

Hoping to find something; afraid of what that something would be.

Keith Morrison, Dateline NBC: And nothing.

Frank Birgfield: We've looked in very vast, open areas. We've looked on top of the river, and we've looked under the river. And we have not found her.

Special dog teams sniffed along the highway leading down to the riverbed. Rescue divers searched underwater, but found no trace.   

With the trail growing cold, police turned their attention to Paige’s second ex-husband, Rob Dixon, the father of her three children. They’d been divorced for a year, and Dixon now lived in Philadelphia.

But people here in Grand Junction certainly remembered Dixon. And not necessarily fondly. 

Paige's Parents: Rob was a guy who showed up in town and made a splash. 

Paige’s parents knew the story all too well. How Rob Dixon had come into a huge family fortune. How he moved to Grand Junction, bought the big house, filled its garage with exotic sports cars. How he went through his money in a hurry.

Paige's Parents: I've seen where in a deposition he's admitted he lost over $10 million.

He went bankrupt, eventually.

But along the way, Paige’s parents heard, their son-in-law got involved with the local fire department as a board member and benefactor.

Paige's Parents: The first big gift was a camera that fits onto helmets. And he gave away -- the paper reported $2.8 million of those cameras.

And then, about the time Paige’s parents heard that her marriage was going south, so did her husband's "gifts" to the fire department.

Paige's Parents: Well, apparently it turned out that he hadn't purchased them. He had only rented them. And so when the money was dissipated, the rent came due without the resources to pay it. 

Paige's Parents: And so he was in the paper with frequency because of these fire department matters. He was actually made the News Person of the year.

Stanley Hilkey: Yeah, he did have a reputation in Grand Junction, in Mesa County. Colorful character. And certainly was a person that-- she-- one of the nature of anybody being an ex-husband or having that kind of relationship is a person that is included in any kind of investigation like that.

Besides, as the sheriff soon discovered, Dixon's legal troubles had not been confined to financial issues.

Stanley Hilkey: I think Mr. Dixon even had been arrested a couple of times.

Keith Morrison: For what?

Stanley Hilkey: For a domestic violence type, harassment type, case.

To outsiders, Paige and Rob seemed happy. And very successful, living in that spacious new home.

But inside, as marriages so often are, it was a different thing altogether.

At least, according to Paige's parents.

Paige's Parents: They had a troubled marriage from almost the beginning. I mean Rob is the guy who I think of as kind of a Jekyll and Hyde.

911 Operator: 9-1-1, where is your emergency?

Paige Birgfield: My husband and I were in a fight, and he was supposed to watch my children while I went to work...

Paige called 911 in the fall of 2004.

(911 call)

Paige Birgfield: And as I was leaving, he didn't seem to be OK so I said I was just going to take the children with me so he didn't have to deal with it. But he wanted the children to stay with him, and he said that I'd come home and find them all murdered.

She was terrified, she said, that Dixon would hurt the children.

Police were dispatched.

And when they arrived?

Dixon was fine, they decided. No threat to the children, or himself or anyone else.

No charges.

Then, less than a year later, after a possibly violent quarrel, Dixon was arrested on suspicion of third-degree assault and misdemeanor child abuse. He pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of harassment and got a deferred sentence. And then later, the entire case was dismissed.     

But Paige’s friends claimed that she was afraid of her husband.

Andrea Land: Incidents where her ex-husband was very-- had a very angry temper, easily inflamed by the kids doing normal kid stuff. He would break furniture and break doors.

When they finally divorced, Dixon moved clear across the country and Paige got the children, but worried a lot, said her parents, about retaining full custody.

Paige's Parents: Quite honestly, she was afraid. She did not want the chance that he might have part custody of the children. She would rather that he see the children when she was around. 

Even though Dixon only flew west to visit occasionally, her friends say Paige seemed terrified of him, that she posted a warning on a website related to one of her businesses. 

"My children would ask me if Dad was going to kill me."

She was worried, she wrote, about Dixon’s apparent plan to move back to Colorado.

My kids and I have been so happy and free and safe since their dad moved 2000 miles away! As always, he couldn't hold on to his job, and has found a new one in Durango, which is about 3 hours away in the summertime. I’m thinking this is a bit close for my comfort.

A few months after she posted that, Paige vanished.

And the sheriff found himself looking through court records for clues.

Stanley Hilkey: Yes, well, those things happened I think and—

Keith Morrison: But, it does make him a person of interest?

Stanley Hilkey: Absolutely, it absolutely has.

Custody battles do bristle with poisonous allegations, some true -- some not. This is Dixon’s lawyer, Scott Robinson.

Scott Robinson: It was not surprising that she would say bad things about Rob Dixon on her Web site, because she lived in fear that he would come and get custody of the children if the truth about her was made known.

Truth? What truth? Had she lied about Rob Dixon?

Scott Robinson: Nothing Paige Dixon said about Rob Dixon was true. In as much as it related to allegations of domestic violence, he didn't do anything to her.

And he couldn't have anything to do with Paige’s disappearance said Robinson, how could he. Dixon was thousands of miles away in Philadelphia when Paige vanished.

Still, why would she tell her parents and friends she worried about keeping him away, and retaining custody of her children?

And how did she manage her very expensive life and stay solvent?

Suddenly, there was an answer. And it was a shock.

Parents Interview: But, certainly, to the degree we didn't know about it, am I surprised I didn't know about it? No. I don't think it's the sort of thing you'd relate.

Her parents had no idea.

Or her children, or their teachers, or the consumers of the baby slings or for that matter most of the members of the mom's club. Paige Birgfield, the beautiful young mother had a secret second life. After tucking in her children she would head out into the night to work her second job: running her own escort service. 

Frank Birgfeld: Well, we didn't know about her having an adult business.  Whatever that means, how far that goes. It was somewhat akin to her having a drape on part of her life, that we were unaware of.

From "soccer mom" to "scarlet letter," the news of Paige Birgfeld's secret side hit Grand Junction like a bombshell and created a whole new set of potential suspects.

Had she been working the night she disappeared? 

And did either of her ex-husbands know what she was doing?

Flip through the phone book of any city in America, and you'll find pages of advertisements promising varying degrees of sexual companionship.

But the idea that Paige Birgfeld -- well, she seemed like the least likely candidate for a career in adult entertainment.

Paige's Parents: I can tell you sitting here today, I don't fully comprehend.

This was a woman with three kids.

Then there was the mom's club, the dance classes for little girls, the modest homebound businesses selling cooking gear and baby slings. 

But of course there was that big mortgage: the million-dollar house. It must have taken real money to keep that going.

But her parents and friends, or, most of her friends say, they had no idea she was financing it with a secret business in topless massages and escort services. Though Jamie Silvernail, who once stayed with Paige, was clearly aware something was going on.

Jamie Silvernail: This is something that I know she did out of necessity. Paige is a very fun person to be around. Then you're with her you feel like you're the only person in the room. She makes you feel like you've been her best friend and that kind of personality works really well in this industry.

So it does. Butonce discovered, here in Grand Junction, it colored everything.

Paige's parents were as desperate as ever to find their daughter.

Paige's Parents: When I get up in the morning I think, "Paige, we're coming." And she needs my protection. And I can't give it. But we're coming as best we can.

But the crowds of volunteers declined.

Andrea Land: There was a small judgmental faction of people in town that I would say that just didn't approve, it seemed like the turnout slowed down for a while.

The sheriff revealed that Paige’s clients knew her as "Carrie." Her escort business was called "Models Inc."

Her online ads boasted that "Models Inc." was "The best that Junction had to offer. Dancers, erotic massage, or companionship."

The ad linked to a second adult website, showing her as an escort in Grand Junction named "Carrie."

"Tired of chopped meat showing up when you ordered filet mignon?" she wrote. "Affluent clients are lavishing in delightful sessions."

As "Carrie," Paige made herself available on an "in-call and out-call" basis, anytime, all hours of the day or night.

In her ad, she said she served Grand Junction, smaller towns around it, and, if the client wanted to pay, she'd take longer trips, "by chartered jet only”  -- $25,000 minimum.

Which of course meant the search for Paige had suddenly gotten much more complicated.

Stanley Hilkey: We knew that it would add complexity because a lot of escort type businesses or whatever are going to be activities that are kept secret. People don't want other people to know that they're either patrons of a business like that or they're involved in a business like that so, and, that's exactly how it panned out.

According to online reviews of her "Carrie" persona, Paige was very well-liked by her male clients. 

Just three days before she vanished, a client named "Steve" posted this rave review.

Carrie’s escort reviews:

“Her picture does not do her justice; she is a sexy goddess!

I’m in love and wish I could see her everyday.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5 stars”

"Carrie is simply a very gorgeous woman. A little bit pricey... if you have the money, she's worth every dime."

Obviously, said her parents, the adult business came as a shock, but they're trying to understand it from her point of view.

Paige's Parents: Look, I don't condone that side of things. I don't celebrate that side of things. But just because someone has a need to make ends meet, do I think you can do things just for that reason. But, at the same time, I realize this is a single parent who is trying to do the parent thing, and had a lot of balls in the air, trying to meet those ends.

And her friends? Some say they had a vague idea about the double life Paige was leading, though they insist her activities would have been legal. And careful.

Friend: Her biggest fear would have been if she did something illegal, who would the kids go to instantly? Her ex-husband.  And that was her worst fear. Because her kids were everything to her.

But to police, the details of what Paige did or didn't do with her clients wasn't so much the issue...

The crucial question was this: Did her work, in a business known to be dangerous, lead to foul play and her disappearance?

Everybody wondered that now.

Andrea Land: We have various different crime issues around here, especially with meth and that makes people a little crazy, you know. Who knows? She was a beautiful woman and when you’re a beautiful woman by yourself you're vulnerable.

But it was a detail offered by Ron Beigler, Paige’s first ex-husband, that sent the search in a very particular new direction.

Ron Beigler: She told me she was going to go visit a client and maybe two.

One client? Maybe two? Who were those people? And did they have something to do with the disappearance of Paige Birgfeld?

When the news broke that the beautiful young missing mother the whole town had been looking for was a secret escort and erotic masseuse, it put a rather different complexion on things.

Surely, most people assumed, her disappearance must be connected to that job.

Paige Birgfeld's family and friends felt certain she wasn't selling actual sex, and maybe, they thought, that's what led to whatever happened: a pushy customer wanted more, wouldn't take no for an answer.

Paige's Parents: If you have a situation where Paige won't cross the line, and you have somebody that's unsatisfied with that, then things can get out of hand.

It turned out first husband Ron Beigler knew about Paige’s side business.

In fact, that she'd been freelancing as an exotic dancer since about the time they got married back in the '90s.

He’d worried about it over the years, he said, but didn't think it was his place to judge how she lived her life.

Ron Beigler: I knew that she was meant for way more than that! But I couldn’t step back in after all these years and tell her what to do. She depended on that to pay her bills and I knew it was nothing sexual with these people. I just didn’t like her doing it because of the danger involved and people who buy that form of entertainment can get it from somebody else. Besides, who I was in love with, you know?

Sadly, investigators were beginning to believe that Beigler's concerns were valid.

Paige’s second husband, Rob Dixon, it turned out, had also discovered her secret career.

That fight that got him arrested? It began, said Dixon’s lawyer, when Rob found in his wife's possession clothes designed for erotic outcalls.

Keith Morrison, Dateline NBC: Is that what lead to the break-up of the marriage?

Scott Robinson: Probably was what tipped the scale.

The list of potential suspects was quickly being narrowed to clients. And moving to the top was a 57-year-old R.V. mechanic named Jones.

Stanley Hilkey: Lester Ralph Jones. Is the only person that really remains on our radar screen right now.

Keith Morrison: What's his connection with her?

Stanley Hilkey: Well, I don't know that we've ever completely disclosed the nature of the relationship. But, that's not hard to connect those dots with regard to her business. And--

Keith Morrison: He was a client?

Stanley Hilkey: --where that relationship was going, we don't know exactly the extent of that.

But another local official confirmed that Jones was a client. And that evidence exists to suggest that he may have made one of the last phone calls to Paige before she disappeared.

And there was another connection to the name Lester Ralph Jones: remember, Paige’s red car was discovered, on fire, the day after she was reported missing.

Investigators took tracking dogs to the car… and where did those dogs follow the scent?

Right across the street, to the workplace of Mr. Jones.

Warrants were obtained. Investigators searched Jones' home. Twice, actually. And...

Keith Morrison: Was anything retained from those warrants?

Stanley Hilkey: Well, certainly nothing that gets us where we need to be at this point. There are enormous amounts of evidence, though, that have been submitted to our state crime lab and have yet to come back.

Keith Morrison: I assume he's denied any responsibility. That would be a fair assumption.

Stanley Hilkey: That's a pretty fair assumption, yes. 

A background check revealed a criminal record.

Stanley Hilkey: It includes, you know, some violence against his spouse. 

Including a five-year sentence for assault and kidnapping involving his ex-wife, and shooting, but missing, her male friend.

Most of his troubles had begun with jealousy, aggression and women.

But, at work, said his customers, he seemed perfectly fine. 

Dave Duncan: He was a friendly person to be around. When he was at work on my car, he was professional. He fixed what he needed to fix.

A detective named David Duncan, had once actually hired Jones as a mechanic.

Dave Duncan: It was kind of a shock to me, because Ralph was -- I'll say wise. A pleasant person to be around. 

But then this was years ago. Det. Duncan was called in to investigate those allegations by Jones' ex-wife, a woman named Lisa.

Duncan has retired now, but when a possible connection to Paige’s disappearance came up, he read the old record and...

Dave Duncan: The reports allude to the fact that in the home, Ralph physically restrained Lisa. Lisa, in her statement, calls it kidnapping. They're not minor things. There's firearms involved. The evidence is there, and it's clear.

But it’s one thing to say the man has a past, quite another to connect him to the disappearance of Paige Birgfeld.

In other words, the investigation stalled.

And Paige’s father was reduced to writing Jones a letter, begging for his help.

Frank Birgfeld: I said I'm aware that you knew my daughter, Paige, who's been missing. Purpose of the letter is to ask you to meet me somewhere, and tell me whatever it is within your knowledge that will help me find her. And never heard from him.

Keith Morrison: You haven't swooped down and arrested him?

Stanley Hilkey: No, we haven't arrested him.

Keith Morrison: Why not?

Stanley Hilkey: Well, Paige Birgfeld's still missing and there's pieces of the puzzle yet that we have yet to find.

Both of Birgfeld's ex-husbands have alibis that police have checked out. But many in Grand Junction remain suspicious.

After all, Paige had supposedly been afraid of her second ex-husband, Rob Dixon. Remember what she wrote just months before she vanished?

"My children would ask me if Dad was going to kill me."

One of Paige’s friends - this one is not in the mom's club - is a woman named Carol.

She told us Paige was also afraid of Jones, worried because, as a client, he had taken too deep an interest in her.

Carol says that not long before she disappeared, Paige asked her to meet Jones.

Carol Linderholm: Lester Jones told me that he had been good friends with Rob Dixon. He stressed that.

Was a conspiracy even possible?  Ridiculous, said Rob Dixon’s lawyer.

Scott Robinson: Rob Dixon does not know, did not know and probably will never know Lester Jones.

Keith Morrison: Never met him?

Scott Robinson: Never met him, never knew him. Knew nothing about him, except from the media once Lester Jones emerged as a suspect.

Stanley Hilkey: We have one person that we just really can't eliminate at this point.

That person, Lester Ralph Jones, has hired an attorney who told Dateline that her client is not guilty and not responsible for the disappearance of Paige Birgfeld.

So, until Paige -- or some new evidence -- is found, an arrest seems unlikely.

Keith Morrison: But if you don't find a body, if you don't find Paige, it seems reasonable to think that the person of interest can go on living his life without fear of being prosecuted.

Stanley Hilkey: I don't think he should go on living his life without fear of being prosecuted.

Keith Morrison: You can put together a case without the body?

Stanley Hilkey: I'm hopeful that one day we'll get our day in court.

For now, Paige’s three children live with their father.

And Paige Birgfeld is -- well, who knows?

It’s a big empty county here, around Grand Junction, Colorado.

Lots of space to keep looking, and against all the odds, keep hoping.

Paige's Parents: Look, some of these searchers went to Salt Lake City and searched for Elizabeth Smart. Who in the world would have scripted that, that she ended up with some sort of a knucklehead religious zealot? And yet she walked in perfectly healthy, to the best I can see. Do I think the odds favor that? No. But as long as the odds are there, that's one reason we have always been here at the house waiting for the phone to ring. Waiting for the door to open. On the long-shot odds that somehow that's her story and she'll walk through the door.

Paige's father is renting an apartment in Grand Junction, where every day -- he continues his search.