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Death Of A Model
By Clifford L. Linedecker
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 1997 Clifford L. Linedecker
All rights reserved.
A Missing Person
Linda Sobek appeared to have simply vanished from the face of the earth.
She missed every one of her afternoon appointments and never showed up for the evening off-camera rehearsal to work out poses for a calendar featuring clothing styles from the 1940s. She missed other sittings the next day, and a photo shoot scheduled the following Monday.
She wasn't waiting at the Los Angeles International Airport for her boyfriend on Friday when he arrived on a flight from Las Vegas so they could spend the weekend together as previously planned.
And Linda never returned to the spacious house a short walk from the ocean, which she had lived in for about six months. She had moved there from her parents' home to spread her wings and make it on her own.
Her mother became worried after Linda failed to return the promised call. Mrs. Sobek telephoned one of her daughter's closest friends, Brooke Morales, and told her Linda was missing. Brooke and Linda were the same age and shared many common interests including modeling. They were such close friends, Linda said, that she felt like they were sisters. Aware of how out of character it was for Linda not to keep in touch with her mother, Brooke did some checking on her friend and learned she missed three scheduled appointments Thursday.
The missing woman was especially enthusiastic about the costume fitting for the popular television show Married With Children. She had lined up a small part on the Fox sitcom and was hopeful it would lead to a breakthrough for her as an actress. Linda was dependable and firmly devoted to her career, and it was inconceivable that she would deliberately miss the fitting without even bothering to telephone to explain why she had to cancel the important appointment.
Linda's mother and her girlfriend contacted the Hermosa Beach police about the disturbing mystery. But neither of the women, or anyone they talked to, knew who the mysterious "Chuck" was or where Linda was planning to meet him after leaving her house Thursday morning. The concern and sense of dread increased during the weekend, and on Saturday Brooke and some other friends of Linda's began contacting local newspapers and television stations.
Linda was still missing on Sunday morning and when she didn't show up for worship services at the Baycities Community Church in adjacent Redondo Beach, the growing sense of dread increased. The model was seriously devoted to her Christian beliefs and was one of the most faithful members of the close-knit congregation. She would have attended the services if she could.
Her mysterious absence was baffling. She was always careful to make sure that at least one of her roommates knew her schedule for the day, where she was going to be and who she was going to be with. She updated her answering machine with calls as many times a day as was necessary in order to keep her circle of intimates aware of her schedule and whereabouts.
The busy model may have been charming and sweet, but she wasn't naive. She had been in the business long enough to know that certain dangers sometimes went along with the glamorous profession she had chosen for herself. She was also sufficiently successful so that she could turn down any assignment or photographer she wasn't comfortable with. All women have to use common sense precautions when dealing with strangers or casual associates and acquaintances, but the potential dangers are especially acute when the women are as attractive as Linda and her girlfriends in the business.
Girls who are smart and fortunate enough to make the right connections, are careful to work through reputable modeling agencies which help line up jobs and keep tabs on the backgrounds and reputations of photographers and clients who deal with them. Agents also make sure they know exactly when and where assignments are scheduled and who those assignments are with.
They also keep lists of photographers and anyone else in the business with shady reputations, and they share the information with other modeling and talent agencies. Photographers whose names appear on the blacklists quickly find it difficult to get assignments or to find models working with legitimate agencies who will pose for them.
The better agencies carefully screen new clients who contact them for models. If the agent doesn't know the customer, she checks with other agencies in the home city, then calls across the country to New York — or to Los Angeles — in order to cover the modeling centers on both coasts. If the client or photographer claims to be from Europe, the agent checks with colleagues there.
A good agent functions in some respects like a mother hen, or a protective big brother, looking out for the physical safety as well as the careers and financial welfare of their models. The ultimate responsibility, of course, rests with the models themselves. Making sure that others knew their whereabouts and refusing to put up with misbehavior by photographers, editors, or clients, are cardinal rules for women in the modeling trade. They know that if a photographer or client says or does something that makes them uncomfortable, it is better to walk out and call off the shoot rather than remain and take their chances.
Linda was aware of all those things, but Bettye Burgos, one of her roommates, worried that the disappearance was tied to the mysterious photo shoot. Bettye and another roommate, Kelly Flynn, also speculated that Linda may have been lured away for a bogus shoot by someone she met at one of the conventions she worked at as a model or hostess.
Even some of the most successful models sometimes agree to freelance an occasional shoot on the side without benefit of an agent, for a friend or someone else they have reason to trust. Some of Linda's friends suspected she knew the photographer or whoever the person was she went to meet, because she had to be sufficiently comfortable with that individual to go somewhere she wouldn't have access to a telephone. She may have worked with him before. That sounded reasonable, because despite her openness and loving nature, Linda wasn't easy to fool. She had heard all the lines about making her a big-time model or helping her break into movies, and she had a reputation for being able to spot a phony in an instant.
Anyone can buy a camera, have some business cards printed up, and put out a shingle. There are no diplomas to earn and display on office walls and no federal, state, or local regulatory agencies for photographers.
While having early-morning coffee with Bettye and talking over plans for the day, Linda hadn't said anything about a photo shoot or meeting with anyone named "Chuck." The only appointment she mentioned was the off-camera rehearsal and fitting at RML Productions in nearby San Pedro for the forties calendar shots.
She was a favorite with Roy Morales, the calendar producer. Roy, who is no relation to Brooke, was impressed with Linda's professional attitude and industriousness as well as with her beauty. She had posed for him before. Most recently she was photographed in a charming tiny white outfit including a pair of go-go boots and was scheduled to appear as "Miss November" for a 1996 pinup calendar called "Tantalizing Takeoffs."
Neither her longtime agent, Patty Brand, nor anyone else from the Brand Model Agency in Irvine, knew anything about the mysterious photo shoot. If Linda had gone on a job with a photographer, it wasn't set up by the agency.
Although Linda hadn't talked to her roommate or to Ms. Brand about a photo shoot on Thursday, she mentioned the job when she chatted by telephone around 8A.M. with her boyfriend about meeting his flight at LAX and their plans for the weekend. They were looking forward to attending a barbecue Linda's parents were hosting at their home in Lakewood. Consequently, Bettye and others suspected the mysterious assignment was a last-minute development. It was clearly part of the puzzle. The model's roommates were also troubled because almost all her personal belongings were left behind. The only clothing missing was the clothes she wore and a few other items she apparently took with her as a possible change of costume for her work that day.
Unlike most men, women tend to notice particular elements of the wardrobes of their female friends, and one of Linda's roommates gave police a description of the missing items of clothing. A pair of fashionably funky Ugg boots was among the clothing missing from her closet. But most of her clothes, luggage, cosmetics, hair-care products, even her toothbrush, were still in their proper place in her room.
The implications were distressing. No woman whose life and career were so firmly attached to her appearance would have deliberately gone off on a trip or for an extended period of time and left such vital personal accoutrements and grooming aids behind.
When Linda's worried fifty-seven-year-old mother contacted Hermosa Beach police and told them her daughter was missing, officers in the small oceanside resort town took the report seriously. Linda was an adult, free to go wherever she pleased, whenever she pleased without telling anyone. But she was also a clean living, considerate daughter and friend who would never have considered simply pulling a vanishing act.
Linda was surrounded by friends and family who cared deeply about her. Judging from all appearances she had a wonderful life. There were no pressures, no reasons in the world that any of her loved ones could think of that could possibly cause her to suddenly want to chuck it all and walk away. Her mysterious absence was sinister and singularly frightening. The longer she was missing, the more her family, friends, and law enforcement authorities feared she had met with foul play.
Most new law enforcement officers don't have to be in police work for very long before they learn not to take every report of a missing person at face value. Teenagers of both sexes run away every day, and most of the time they're back home in twenty-four hours or less.
Police department docket sheets are also filled with reports by fretful wives and husbands worried over missing spouses. Often there has been a quarrel or some other more longstanding domestic dustup, and after a few hours or a few days the missing spouse shows up at the front door, full of apologies and talking about giving the relationship another chance. Most missing persons cases handled by police in Hermosa Beach and in other jurisdictions around the country, resolve themselves within twenty-four hours. This was not to be the case with Linda Sobek.
The very last trace investigators were able to find of Linda ended after about ten o'clock Thursday morning when she was seen leaving Gold's Gym in nearby Redondo Beach following a workout. They were unable to find anyone who had seen her again.
On Monday morning, four days after her baffling disappearance, Hermosa Beach police announced to the press that Linda was officially listed as a missing person. By the time the announcement was made, Linda was already rapidly becoming the most famous citizen of the normally tranquil resort town that was home to roughly eighteen thousand residents packed into a miniscule area of 1.2 square miles along the south edge of Santa Monica Bay.
Police were initially a bit cryptic in public statements about the case. Detective David Rickey told a reporter that up to that time there was nothing to indicate foul play. He acknowledged he was treating the case as suspicious, however, because of the level of concern among her friends and their insistence that it was so unlike her to remain out of touch for so long. Officers with the small department had already been quietly investigating her disappearance. Linda's description and pertinent facts about the case were listed with other law enforcement agencies in California. A description of her car, including the license plate number, was also entered into a statewide police computer system. Court subpoenas were obtained for telephone records of calls made to and from Linda.
Within a short time three teams of investigators, a total of ten officers from the quiet town's thirty-five member police department, were working on the case. They followed up every possible lead to her whereabouts, no matter how weak it might seem to be.
Detectives talked with her boyfriend, with other chums and acquaintances, her roommates, and with members of her family. Police also began working on the twin tasks of trying to figure out who the photographer was and pinning down the location set up for the photo shoot. While continuing to press police to conduct a vigorous search, her friends swung into action on their own, seeking to find the missing woman or gather information to shed light on her disappearance.
They prepared flyers with one of her photos, a picture of her 1992 Nissan, the license plate number, and a worded description of her appearance that offered a twenty thousand dollar reward for information leading to her return. The picture selected for Linda's flyer showed a woman dressed in a pair of ruggedly fashionable blue jeans, with a sleeveless top. A lustrous fall of near waist-length hair dropped casually over one shoulder while she leaned against a building block wall, with a thumb perfunctorily hooked into a pocket of the jeans. She was looking directly at the camera with her charming trademark smile. Linda's boyfriend and another pal put up the money for the flyers. Her friends were determined to do everything they could to find her, and just in case twenty thousand dollars wasn't enough to prime the information pump, they began raising more money in cash and pledges to add to the reward.
A newspaper reported that they also got up the money to hire private detective Anthony Pellicano to snoop around and see what information he could pick up about her whereabouts. Pellicano is no small-time sleuth. He's one of Tinseltown's most famous private investigators and has worked for such show business luminaries as Michael Jackson, Sylvester Stallone, and Roseanne. He was even called in by attorneys during the O. J. Simpson trial to do some work for the embattled retired LAPD detective, Mark Fuhrman.
Kelly Flynn's boyfriend, Paul Vreede, was a Tarzana businessman who printed and distributed listings for real estate companies, and he ran off fifty-three thousand copies of the flyers. Vreede stuffed most of them into packets alongside real estate listings he was mailing to coastal cities from Oxnard to San Diego. A few days later her friends gathered in Torrance to map out plans for wider distribution of the flyers.
Then her roommates, model chums, spouses, boyfriends, and girlfriends circulated throughout the Greater Los Angeles and South Bay areas distributing thousands more of the flyers. They passed them out at street corners, offered them to motorists, tacked them up on trees and on the walls of buildings, and posted them in the windows of retail stores, fast-food restaurants, and other business places.
Opening another front in the search, they talked wiith a psychic who advised them Linda's missing car was parked by a lamppost only five miles from her house.
Psychics can be helpful, and even police have begun to call on them for assistance in especially perplexing cases, but the data usually comes in bits and pieces and isn't always specific. Their information can be frustratingly vague and they often have difficulty exactly pinpointing dates, times, and locations. The mystics are likely to "see" bodies of water, mounds of earth, bridges, or certain types of buildings, and numbers that might be an age, or part of a date or address. The psychic Linda's friends consulted was unable to provide them with the exact location of her car.
By Sunday, the fourth day she was missing, friends were gathering together to exchange frightening theories about what might have happened to her. Some of the friendships went back to high school days. One of Linda's former school chums was Gail Spangler, and she was among the group of young people who met in Torrance to help distribute leaflets. The more people who knew about Linda, the better the chance was she would "come back," Ms. Spangler optimistically told a sympathetic news reporter.
As news of Linda's disappearance was passed by word of mouth, then picked up in the media and spread throughout the Los Angeles area, other friends began to contact her parents or her roomies at the big house in Hermosa Beach asking for additional information and offering help. There were lots of prayers at the Sobek home in Lakewood; at the rambling wood-frame, four-bedroom house in Hermosa Beach, and among the flock at Linda's church.
Every time the telephone rang, the hearts of her parents, brother, and other relatives who gathered in the cozy little home to share their strength and their fears, jumped. Usually it was another relative or someone else who knew and loved Linda, asking if there was any news. Often it was someone from the press.
Excerpted from Death Of A Model by Clifford L. Linedecker. Copyright © 1997 Clifford L. Linedecker. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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