On a rainy evening in 2010, Joan Renee Cook went out for a late night walk outside her home in Salem, Virginia. Her husband Mike and 7-year-old daughter Ashlyn had no idea it would be the last time they would ever see her.
Joan was said to have been going to visit a friend, something she did more and more frequently as her once happy marriage began to crumble.
Mike and Joan struggled for years to make ends meet financially and soon began sleeping in separate bedrooms. The pair were said to have rarely been happy.
Their separation ultimately led Joan to attempt to move out multiple times, but she always returned to be closer to Ashlyn.
In 2007, Mike had moved to Des Moines, Iowa, to find a job. He planned for his wife and their daughter to move there with him soon after.
But that never happened. Just three months after leaving, Mike learned that Joan had found a job — and a boyfriend. He immediately returned to Salem, and the couple’s relationship quickly spiraled.
Mike started to follow Joan and her boyfriend, doing things like waiting outside of their workplace for them. On one occasion, Joan’s sister Carol Huffman Byer said she found Mike putting down nails behind Joan’s tires.
“I confronted him on it and he said, ‘It was just a stupid thing I did’,” she said. But she added that Mike had not made any threats of violence that she knew about.
By 2009, Joan was living with her boyfriend. But on weekends when he left to visit with his daughter, she returned home to Mike and Ashlyn.
So when Joan went out on one of those weekend nights and didn’t return, Mike did not suspect anything. For all he knew, she was going back to her boyfriend’s house.
After a few days, Joan’s work called Carol to let her know she did not show up for work or call in. Both were uncharacteristic of Joan.
Carol then contacted Mike, who filed a police report after Joan had been missing for a week. Police began the investigation into her disappearance, using cadaver dogs to search their house.
The police interviewed both Mike and Ashlyn, who both suggested nothing out of the ordinary had occurred that night. They soon ruled out Joan’s boyfriend as a suspect too, as he was out of town with his own daughter that weekend.
In 2010, Mike suddenly moved with Ashlyn to Des Moines without notifying authorities. Ashlyn was sent to live with other relatives for a short while, only to be returned after his cooperation with investigations.
Detectives continued to investigate Joan’s disappearance, and experts have concluded that she would have never willingly left Ashlyn.
But with no evidence of foul play, no one has yet been charged in connection with Joan’s disappearance. And in 2015, Roanoke County Police Department Commander David McMillan expressed his optimism in the case eventually being solved.
“With witnesses time usually helps us, because they have time to think about it — to learn more and then make decisions to come forward,” he said.
And for Joan’s family, all they want is to know what happened to their beloved daughter, sister, and mother. “It never stops, because we’ve never been given the opportunity to grieve like we properly should,” Carol said. “Our biggest desire is justice.”
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