Family pleads for tips in missing mother case
Since his arrest driving his missing grandmother’s car and in possession of her belongings Sunday in Sacramento, James Masterson has allegedly refused to speak to investigators. His silence and the odd circumstances of Peggy Herlacher’s disappearance have her family panicked.
“It doesn’t make any sense. Grammy just doesn’t get up and leave. She’s not that type. She doesn’t just do that,” granddaughter Michelle Smith, 33, sobbed Thursday from her Modesto, Calif., home. “I just pray, and I hope that if anyone knows anything – I beg you, if you have a heart at all – please go to the police. Please let us know. All we want is Grammy. We just want Grammy home.”
Herlacher, 73, of Silver Springs, was last heard from July 22 when she spoke to longtime friend Nancy Shanks, 68, of Ontario, Ore.
What happened to Herlacher after that is a mystery, one that investigators believe Masterson can unlock.
Police are at a loss, admitted Lyon County Sheriff’s Lt. Brian Veil. Despite hours of foot searches, including the use of cadaver-tracking dogs, around Herlacher’s Tamarack Drive home, no new evidence has been gathered. Few clues were found inside her immaculately kept home, said Veil.
“We’re at a standstill,” he said. “We’re at a loss.”
Described as a troubled young man, Masterson moved into his grandmother’s isolated home along Lake Lahontan on July 17 after his father was arrested and his extended family refused to give him a place to stay, said Masterson’s uncle and Herlacher’s son Doug Masterson.
Doug, 51, thought nothing of it. It was not unusual for Herlacher to take in family, and though Masterson had struggled with drug use, no one had ever worried he’d harm anyone.
Doug said he spoke to and visited his mother frequently and learned Masterson was coming in when his mother asked him to pick up her only grandson at the Reno bus station. But Doug hasn’t seen either since that day.
When he tried unsuccessfully to contact the duo a week later, he began to worry, he said.
So he and his wife drove from their home in Reno to Herlacher’s house. First they noticed Herlacher’s car missing. Upon entering the living room, Doug saw his mom’s jewelry box open and empty.
“As soon as I opened the door and saw the jewelry box, that’s when we backed out and I called 911,” Doug said Thursday, standing outside the crime scene tape that now surrounds Herlacher’s home.
Doug said he was able to reach his nephew Saturday night on his cell phone, but Masterson was elusive. Masterson said only that his grandmother lent him her 2000 Chevy Cavalier to visit family in California – a story Doug said is not likely since Herlacher knew her grandson didn’t have a driver’s license.
Veil said a deputy told Masterson to return to Silver Springs with his grandmother’s vehicle immediately, but he never appeared.
On Sunday afternoon, Sacramento police stopped Masterson in Herlacher’s vehicle on a traffic infraction. Police later allegedly found he was in possession of her credit cards, had her jewelry in a backpack at his mother’s home and in possession of heroin, according to Sacramento County Jail records.
Masterson is being held without bail and awaiting extradition back to Nevada on Lyon County warrants for possession of a stolen vehicle and possession of stolen credit cards.
A week after Herlacher was last heard from, her family is begging the public for help.
“I feel like I’m in a nightmare I can’t get out of,” said daughter Lethea Love, guilt-stricken over not visiting her mother more frequently. “Maybe if I’d come by more often. Maybe James wouldn’t have done anything to her because he’d be afraid I’d stop in. Where the hell did he put her? What has he done?”
Investigators are trying to map Masterson’s route over the Sierra. The obvious route would be going back the way the bus brought him, over Interstate 80 through Reno, said Veil. But without witnesses who saw something, it’s just a guessing game.
“Something bad happened to her,” said granddaughter Michelle. “She doesn’t just leave She doesn’t just go anywhere. Somebody knows something, and nobody’s talking.”
“We need people to help,” said Lethea, of Fernley.
“Please help us find our mom,” Doug pleaded.
Herlacher’s white 2000 Chevy Cavalier had a Jack in the Box antenna topper and a blue towel on the rear window deck.
She is described as 5-feet, 4-inches tall and weighing approximately 140 pounds.
Masterson is described as 5-feet, 8-inches tall, with brown hair and brown eyes.
From her home in Oregon, Shanks is wrought with worry as well.
Friends since they were in their late teens, Shanks said she and Herlacher spoke two or three times a day and told each other everything. She said her friend never went anywhere – not even to the store – without letting Shanks know so she wouldn’t worry if a call went unanswered.
Herlacher’s silence is deafening, said Shanks.
“This is unbelievable. It’s just like it’s not real. I just want her found. Whatever it is. If she’s dead, we’ll give her a decent burial, if she’s not then we’ll get her better and I’m going to move her up here with me,” she said. “I just want her found. I love her. She’s my sister.”