By GENEVIEVE GRIPPO, KTVL
MCCLOUD, Calif. (CIRCA via KTVL) — It’s been nearly 22 years since two young women disappeared from McCloud, California, shrouding what was known as a quiet town in mystery.
Investigators are still looking for answers — and say they won’t rest until they find them.
Then-27-year-old Karin Mero and then-15-year-old Hannah Zaccaglini disappeared within four months of each other in 1997. Both women were last seen at the same home — the infamous green house on the 300 block of East Minnesota Avenue, which was known as a party house by locals.
At the time of her disappearance, Karin was dating a man named Ed Henline Jr. It is believed she lived at the green house with him and his parents — Debbie and Ed Henline Sr.
“My understanding is that there was a lot of arguments between Karin and Ed Sr., and they did not like each other or care for each other at all,” said Det. Sgt. James Randall, who heads the Siskiyou County (Calif.) Sheriff’s Office’s Major Crimes Unit and the investigation into the girls' disappearances.
Mero was last seen Feb. 15, 1997. Her body has yet to be found, but Randall said there is no way she is still alive. Mero had a liver transplant in 1994, and since she went missing, the sheriff’s office said she hasn't refilled her necessary prescription.
The case is being investigated as a homicide, as is Zaccaglini's.
On June 4, 1997, Zaccaglini was last seen walking home from the Henline’s residence. She lived only a block away, but never made it home.
Given the circumstances of the case, Randall believes it is unlikely that she was abducted or got lost on her way. “It's very likely that something bad happened to Hannah, and someone is trying to cover it up," he said.
Randall thinks the cases are connected. Without a shadow of a doubt, he said there are people in McCloud who know exactly what happened to both girls, and likely where their bodies are located.
The answers are out there — and he’s willing to bet on where to find them.
"Ed Henline Sr. is at the center of all of this. I don't think that's a secret for the sheriff's department, or a secret for the community of McCloud,” he said.
The sheriff's office has focused on the Henline family since the beginning of the investigation. Numerous search warrants were served, statements taken and cadaver dogs deployed. The FBI even assisted with the case.
“They didn’t find anything,” Randall said.
A small break came in 1998 when Henline Sr. and his wife were arrested for welfare fraud. They'd been cashing Mero's disability checks for months after her disappearance.
Ultimately, the couple was ordered to pay a $2,000 fine and serve three years on probation, but what some considered a small victory was met with years of silence.
It was 14 years later when Zaccaglini's case was reopened based on new evidence and testimony. In November 2012, the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office arrested Henline Sr. for her murder. Two days later, Ed Jr. was charged with conspiracy and accessory to the crime.
“We were all pretty excited at first, thinking, ‘Yes! Something is happening!’” said Amy Bourke, a secretary at McCloud High School and a longtime resident of the town.
But in May 2013, investigators experienced another setback.
Siskiyou County District Attorney Kirk Andrus dismissed the charges against both men. With no body, he said he was still lacking the smoking gun that would get him a murder conviction. “It was devastating, especially for (Zaccaglini's) family,” Bourke said.
Since then, the investigation has not stopped. As the community still waits for answers, the focus of law enforcement has remained primarily the same.
Police say they are just looking for the last piece of the puzzle.
“It’s not a matter of if,” Randall said. “It’s a matter of when. They probably believe they've gotten away with this. But these are not closed investigations. We're not going to stop. We will get closure to this."
According to Randall, all three of the Henlines have been interviewed multiple times during the past 22 years. He said all three were usually uncooperative — sometimes refusing to talk at all. There is a $2,500 reward for any information leading to a conviction in either case. That reward could be increased to $5,000.
The Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office is asking anyone with information to call (530) 841-2900, which is available 24 hours per day. Even small details are valuable, police said, and anonymous tips are accepted.
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