Fri, Oct. 06, 2006

Tragedy takes to the stage
1988 disappearance | Mystery and heartache depicted in play


Harold Leach has tried just about everything to find his son.

Since that April night in 1988 when Randy Leach disappeared from a high school party, Harold and his wife, Alberta, have hounded police. The Linwood, Kan., couple pleaded for someone to come forward to tell them what happened at the party.

Harold Leach even quit his job years ago and turned his son’s room into an office, where he launched his own investigation.

Yet none of it, not the private investigators the family hired or the searches of ponds and lakes, has gotten them any closer to finding the 17-year-old Leach. And as the years have passed, the couple feared answers may never come. They didn’t know what else to try.

Then, about a year ago, Harold and Alberta Leach got a letter. Not from an investigator or an anonymous tipster. But from a young playwright at the University of Kansas who had taken an interest in the mystery.

The graduate student said up front that his goal wasn’t to solve the case. What he wanted was to turn Randy Leach’s story into a play.

“I told Harold in the letter that I wasn’t a glory hound. I wasn’t going to make money on this,” said Tim Macy, 27, of Topeka, who was in elementary school when Randy Leach disappeared. “I just wanted to tell Randy’s story.”

The play, titled “Leaves of Words,” runs tonight through Sunday afternoon at the Lawrence Arts Center. The Leaches plan to be at every performance.

They see the play as a chance to drum up interest in the case, to jog memories or draw someone out who knows something. It’s one more thing they can try.

“There would be one chance in a million he would be alive,” Harold Leach said. “But it would be lots better if we could find out what happened and put it to rest. It’s hard to go on with your life.”

The 18-year-old case carries more rumors than facts. Newspaper stories written over the years sound more like far-fetched fiction.

Randy Leach went to the party about 10 p.m., and classmates told police that the teen appeared drunk or that he had been using drugs, which friends said was not typical behavior for the honor student. He was mumbling and stumbling around the house.

According to past newspaper accounts, more than 40 people were at the party, and teens smoked marijuana and snorted cocaine. There were beer kegs outside, and teens could buy punch spiked with grain alcohol for $3 a glass.

Friends told police that they saw Leach lying in or on his mom’s 1985 Dodge about midnight. One of Leach’s friends said he last saw Randy at the party around 1:30 a.m.

Then he and the Dodge disappeared.

After more than a decade had passed, authorities created a task force to review the case nearly four years ago. At the time, officials said foul play was suspected. The case remains open.

Theories of what happened range from the teen running off to the West Coast or dying in an accident to being sacrificed in a satanic ritual and left hanging in a cave.

Some scenarios are in the play, which is told though Harold Leach’s eyes. Macy said he wrote about a father losing a son, about his grieving.

Early on in the writing process, Macy received advice from Paul Stephen Lim, a drama professor at KU.

“I told him he’s not writing a journalistic account,” said Lim, who is directing “Leaves of Words.” “To be a viable play in my opinion, he had to think of it in terms of fictional narrative.”

That means Macy could take liberties with minor details and not try to make a documentary for stage.

Macy, whose dad got him interested in the case more than a year ago, read every newspaper account he could find. He interviewed the Leaches and admits that the first time he met with them he was worried.

“I didn’t want to be one of those people who gave him an ounce of hope and then let him down,” Macy said.

Others with the play can’t keep the Leaches out of their minds as they prepare for tonight’s performance.

Garrett Kelly, a freshman from Leavenworth County majoring in film and theater, has the role of Randy Leach. He’s nervous to play someone so real, in front of the person’s parents.

“They’ve done so much to try to get their son’s story out there,” said Kelly, 18. “It’s so heartbreaking. I just hope we don’t disappoint.”

The Leaches went to a rehearsal Wednesday night. Harold Leach said that the actors did a great job and that he liked what Macy had written. He admitted it wasn’t easy, at times, to watch.

The goal, though, “is to just get one call.”

What weighs heavily on Harold Leach these days is the thought that the mystery of their son’s disappearance won’t be solved until one of them is gone. He worries most that he might not be there for his wife.

“To think she could be left by herself to deal with it,” he said, his voice breaking. “That’s hard to think about.”

‘Leaves of Words’
When: Tonight, 8 p.m.; Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 2:30 p.m.

Where: Lawrence Arts Center, 940 New Hampshire St. in Lawrence

Cost: $6 for students, $8 for seniors and $10 for others

To reach Laura Bauer, call (816) 234-7743 or send e-mail to

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