San Rafael police check rumor in '73 missing girl case

It's as if the earth opened up and swallowed her."

So said San Rafael Deputy Police Chief Thomas Stephenson in 1973, a week after 6-year-old Tracy Lynn Davenport disappeared while walking to kindergarten.

Thirty-six years later, investigators decided to see if Stephenson was right after all.

On Monday, San Rafael police and firefighters burrowed into a forgotten crawlspace at a Canal area motel to confirm, or rule out, longstanding rumors that Tracy had been buried somewhere on the property.

In 1973, Tracy lived in Room 49 at the old Bermuda Palms motel - now Room 149 of the Motel 6 at 737 E. Francisco Blvd. - with her grandmother and other family members. Her parents were separated.

On April 27, at 11 a.m., Tracy left home

to walk to her class at Bahia Vista School. She never arrived and did not come home that evening, and the next day her family reported her missing.

Dozens of police officers and Explorer Scouts repeatedly searched the Canal neighborhood with the help of a Coast Guard helicopter, but there was no sign of the girl.

Tracy's parents offered a $500 reward for information leading to her recovery, and the Independent Journal offered another $1,000, but the offers bore no fruit. Nor did a potential clue - a witness report that a black or dark green car was slowing following the girl on Canal Street the day she vanished.

Years passed, and the case went all but dormant. But about a year ago, two retired San Rafael policemen, Walt Kosta and Mike Miller, volunteered to follow up on the case and see if they could resolve it. Both were young officers when Tracy vanished.

"It just bothered me that I thought there was some other stuff to do," said Kosta, 62, who retired 10 years ago as a captain. "When I started reviewing the case, I saw that there was a number of people who hadn't been contacted and things that needed to be done."

One loose end was the persistent rumor, based on no credible information, that Tracy was buried around the pool area of the old Bermuda Palms. The Olympic-size pool had been built over by the time Tracy lived there, and the common belief was that the pool had been filled in, but police recently confirmed that the pool area had merely been covered by flooring.

That set up Monday's search operation, where San Rafael firefighters and police breached a crawlspace surrounding the pool in search of Tracy's remains. The air was deemed unsafe for trained cadaver dogs, but investigators were able to examine the space with a telescoping camera.

All they found were a few pieces of wood and a pair of safety glasses, said police spokeswoman Margo Rohrbacher.

"We were able to put that (rumor) to rest once and for all," Rohrbacher said.

Kosta said the case is still active, but there are no suspects or persons of interest, and police still don't know whether the matter is a missing-person case or a homicide. Kosta said he is planning to conduct follow-up interviews with various relatives, some of whom live out of state.

Tracy's grandmother still lives in Marin, and her mother lives in San Pablo. Tracy's aunt, 48-year-old Bridgette Givens of Fairfield, said the family is grateful for the efforts of Kosta and Miller, but she thought the case was mismanaged when her niece first disappeared.

"I think it's horrible how they initially did it, when the trail was still warm," said Givens, who lived at the Bermuda Palms when Tracy did. "They left stuff out. It was like, OK, it's just another little black girl. Let's move on."

Kosta, who was not directly involved in the 1973 investigation, said the police did all they could under the relatively crude missing-persons procedures of the time. Kosta noted that the police chief at the time, Joseph Brusatori, began every day's briefing with a reminder about Tracy for a year after her disappearance.

Tracy Lynn Davenport would be 42 years old today, and an age-progression image has been generated by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at www.missingkids.com. Authorities said she had burn scars on her lower hip and abdomen.

Anyone with information can call police directly at 485-3000 or place anonymous tips with Bay Area Crime Stoppers at 800-222-TIPS. Crime Stoppers callers can be eligible for cash rewards.

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