Was she killed or did she run?

Pamela Bennett

The mysterious disappearance of Pamela D. Bennett still surfaces in conversations at the Clarkston Police Department.

When human teeth were found at Chestnut Beach a few months ago, police wondered if this could be a missing link to the 1998 case. It turned out to be a dead end, but investigators continue to look for clues and possible explanations of what happened to the brown-eyed brunette.

Bennett was declared legally dead in 2007. Since her disappearance, police say she's never applied for a job using her Social Security number, used a credit card or contacted family members. She was last seen by her family on Aug. 31, 1998.

Detective Richard Muszynski said the Clarkston Police Department still has an open case on Bennett, who was formerly known as Pamela Colucci. She would now be about 64.

"We weren't sure if she disappeared on her own, or if there was foul play because of information she knew that put her in danger," Muszynski said. "We continue to investigate either possibility."

According to the police, Bennett's romantic involvement with a large-scale methamphetamine manufacturer likely compromised her life and forced her to flee her Beachview Boulevard home, leaving the back door open.

The trail leading to her whereabouts went cold shortly after her green Ford Mustang turned up in Tijuana, Mexico, in September 1998. The keys were still in the car, but Bennett and her beloved dog Daisy had vanished. Authorities said her car was wiped clean of prints.

Bennett's friends have described her as an energetic, fun person, who was an excellent rafting guide and a good cook. They held a memorial for the missing woman several years ago.

According to Tribune archives, Bennett was positively identified at a Pullman postal store a couple of weeks after she was last seen in Clarkston. In 2000, authorities suspected but never confirmed that she was spotted at San Francisco International Airport, when her former boyfriend, Ronald Reagan, was arrested by the Drug Enforcement Agency.

Reagan, who was convicted of meth possession, died in prison without ever revealing whether he knew anything about Bennett's whereabouts.

Known as Joseph Blake in the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley, Reagan was manufacturing large amounts of methamphetamine in an upscale house in the Lenore area, police said.

By piecing together information, including other methamphetamine busts, shipping labels and receipts, Idaho State Police officials have identified Reagan as the financier of the lab, one of the largest methamphetamine operations in Idaho. In just four months the operation is estimated to have produced roughly $13 million in high-quality meth for sale to California, according to past newspaper stories.

His story is woven into the reports of Bennett's disappearance.

On July 23, 1998, the Idaho State Police caught up with Reagan at a coffee shop in downtown Lewiston. They were acting on a tip that he had purchased large amounts of distilled water at a Lewiston store, an ingredient in methamphetamine, and loaded it into a U-Haul van.

Reagan identified himself as Joseph Blake and gave them permission to look in the cargo area of the vehicle. Reagan had an espresso and read a newspaper before reportedly leaving the scene on foot with his cellphone.

While police obtained a search warrant for the front of the van, Reagan disappeared. They believe he alerted his co-conspirators that authorities were on to the operation. Police discovered meth recipes and two-way radios during their search.

Reagan's car was found at the Motel 6 in Clarkston, just prior to Bennett's disappearance. Police waited for Reagan to return for his vehicle, but she showed up instead. Police have said she was confrontational and didn't want them around the area. She claimed to be looking for Reagan, too.

About a month later, Clearwater County Sheriff's Office deputies found the abandoned methamphetamine lab.

Bennett was about 49 when she disappeared from her home. There was no sign of foul play, and she appeared to leave everything but her dog behind, from medications to cigarettes purchased that same day. She had not contacted anyone to water her houseplants, which was uncharacteristic of her.

"It looked like a normal house," said Muszynski, who responded to the scene. "Nothing was out of the ordinary or disturbed. To my knowledge, there's nothing new in this case. But it's still open, and we want to determine exactly what happened."

Sandaine may be contacted at kerris@lmtribune.com or (208) 848-2264.