Most days, Ohio mom Yvonne Boggs clings to the hope that her missing daughter is somewhere safe.
But when her imagination runs wild, she wonders whether her youngest of four — 29-year-old Charlotte Trego — is still alive but being held captive after vanishing 13 months ago, and will be found. After all, she says, that happened to three women in Cleveland.
Then, there are the days when the anxiety overwhelms her. Such as on June 20, when hikers found a woman’s partially nude body wrapped in a blanket and duct-taped along a creek bed not far from Boggs' hometown.
"It scared me when they found that girl, Tiffany," Boggs told NBC News. "I thought, maybe Charlotte's gone, too, and no one found her. But then I think, no, she's still out there. I'm praying. I'm hoping."
In the community of Chillicothe, resting in the rural and green foothills of the Appalachians, residents are on edge. Since Trego's disappearance, five other women have gone missing. Four of them have turned up dead — their bodies found in secluded, outdoor areas.
The body of Tiffany Sayre, a 26-year-old mother of two, was the latest eerie discovery that has left law enforcement to unravel a string of deaths cloaked in mystery.
Only one of the deaths has been officially ruled a homicide. While authorities aren’t actively seeking a serial killer, they do say that the victims fit a general profile: Younger, suffering from drug addiction and in some cases, engaged in prostitution.
"You have mysterious circumstances surrounding six different women in a little over a year, then four of them are found deceased," said Chillicothe police spokesman Bud Lytle. "It’s definitely an odd case, and nothing is off the table."
The uncertainty is made even more glaring in a town that rarely sees one, if any, cases of homicide or manslaughter in a year, according to federal crime figures.
"We're a city of 23,000 in a county of 78,000, and this is very out of character for the community," Lytle said.
Boggs said her daughter, who had been hooked on heroin, crossed paths with some of the other women through a drug rehabilitation program. Drug trafficking and prostitution continue to ensnare residents with little else to turn to in the way of work, officials say.
Counties in southern Ohio have been plagued by a drug epidemic fueled by heroin.
Ross County, where Chillicothe is the county seat, has one of the higher drug overdose death rates in the state, according to the Ohio Department of Health.
While Ohio averaged 13.9 overdose deaths per 100,000 from 2007 to 2012, Ross County had 23 overdose deaths per 100,000 during those same years.
Autopsy results have not been released in Sayre's death, although authorities, which include local and county law enforcement and the FBI, are investigating it as a homicide. Sayre was buried on Thursday, and another news conference is planned for Monday.
The other women who died have been identified as:
- Tameka Lynch, 30 and a mother of three, who was reported missing in May 2014. Her body was recovered that same month in Paint Creek State Park, west of Chillicothe. Medical examiners say she died of a multiple drug overdose, however, how she ended up in the creek remains unclear. (Sayre's body was found a few miles from where Lynch was found).
- Shasta Himelrick, 20. She was last seen on Christmas Day 2014 in Chillicothe. Her pregnant body was found floating in the nearby Scioto River about a week later. While her death was ruled a suicide, and she had oxycodone and cocaine in her system, her family disputes she would have killed herself.
- Timberly Claytor, 38, a mother of five. She was found dead on May 29 near an abandoned building in Ross County, and died from a gunshot wound to the head in what has been ruled a homicide, officials said. A prime suspect has been named: Jason McCrary, a 36-year-old convicted sex offender. He is jailed on an unrelated arrest for failing to register as a sex offender, but has not yet been charged in Claytor's death, Lytle said.
Besides Trego, the other missing woman is:
- Wanda Lemons, 38, a mother of five. She went missing on Nov. 3 from Chillicothe. Some of her children lived in Texas, and she was known to travel back and forth.
Lemons' mother, Diana Willett, told NBC News that she had last spoken to her daughter about the upcoming holidays, which they planned to spend together. There was no way she would skip town without a heads up, she said.
"I just knew something was wrong that she hadn't gotten a hold of anyone for Christmas," Willett added. "I knew something was wrong. It was a mother’s gut feeling."
Willett worries that her daughter may have gotten caught up in drugs or human trafficking. She acknowledges that Lemons was battling addictions, but she pledged to keep clean and take care of her kids.
"She was trying to get back on the right track," Willett said. "But she could be an easy target. Too trusting."
"I knew something was wrong. It was a mother’s gut feeling."
Boggs says her daughter was also in and out of recovery programs. Unemployed, Trego was staying with a friend in Chillicothe when she was last seen on May 3, 2014. That day, the mother and daughter spoke on the phone.
"She said she wanted to get her life straightened out. She was tired of the lifestyle that she was living," Boggs said, adding that she wasn't sure what was on her daughter's itinerary that day.
In the past year, Boggs has become her own sleuth, trying to retrace her daughter's last days and figure out who may have intended to do her harm. In that final phone conversation, Trego's words still haunt her mother.
"I told her that I loved her, and I told her to be good," said Boggs, something she often teased. "She said, 'I always am.' And then we hung up."