What Happened to Amber? Part 2

Published: Feb. 13, 2017 at 10:40 AM CST
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This is part two in Sarah Thomsen's series of Target 2 On Assignment

reports, “What Happened to Amber?” In part one, Amber Wilde's family talks about the pain they've been through for the past 15 years in part one of Sarah Thomsen's reports. - Originally aired in 2013.

Green Bay police believe they are closer than ever to solving a high-profile 15-year-old mystery.

Amber Wilde, a 19-year-old UW-Green Bay student, vanished in September of 1998.

She has never been found, and for more than a decade countless leads and tips in her case have led to dead ends — until now.

Over the winter, two new Green Bay police detectives were assigned the monumental task of finding Amber Wilde.

While the case has never closed, it's been more than a decade since it's received this much attention.

Tonight — for the first time since Amber vanished — the detectives actually working this case share publicly why they think they are one phone call away from solving the case.

There are thousands of pages of reports, witness statements, evidence documents, even pictures and videos all linked to Amber Wilde. This is nearly 15 years of investigative work.

For the last nine months, detectives Lee Kingston and David Graf have pored over these files.

“Our initial approach was to put it all together. Let's read it all over, but then start from square one,” Kingston said.

They've read every last page, looking for some new clue.

And just maybe, they think they've found it.

“We did find some avenues that perhaps weren't looked at as closely at the time that they could be now,” Graf said.

“I think we're really close. It's just a matter of one little piece,” Kingston said.

To find it, they've retraced the steps of September 23, 1998. Amber was in a minor car accident near UWGB that day. She hit her head but called her dad to say she was fine. He promised to check on her the next day.

No one in Amber's family has heard from her since.

These detectives don't think the accident had anything to do with her sudden disappearance, though.

Amber was four-and-a-half months pregnant.

“Some of the circumstances that she was going through at the time of her disappearance really has led me to personally believe that she is deceased and it was most likely a homicide,” Graf said.

Graf and Kingston are now carefully going back over the only solid physical evidence they have: Amber's car. It turned up outside a bar near Lambeau Field eight days after she went missing.

“There's certain things about the vehicle that lead us to believe that she didn't drive it there,” Kingston said.

Her purse and cell phone were in the trunk. The car key was in the ash tray. The driver's seat was pushed all the way back — not the way 5'5″ Amber drove it — and the odometer registered more than 600 unexplained miles.

Now, 15 years later, with technology much improved, fingerprints and DNA from that car and Amber's apartment are being resubmitted for testing.

Graf says the FBI is conducting new DNA analysis techniques no one else can currently do.

And fingerprints they've never identified are now included in every available database in the country to wait for a match.

“People can get arrested for a misdemeanor crime, and that's how a lot of crimes get solved over the years,” Graf said.

The two are also re-interviewing every person detectives talked to more than a decade ago, giving them new leads.

“Some new information. Some people that we spoke to led to us talking to other people that hadn't been spoken to in the past,” Kingston said.

“It's not necessarily what they remember. It's more of… do they play a part in this piece that we're looking at?” Graf added.

What exactly that piece is, they won't share.

But both detectives have a theory on what happened and who's responsible.

The two detectives confirm no one has ever been officially named a suspect. “Not…” Kingston gives a long pause, “yet. Close, but not yet.”

Over the years, credible tips led investigators to rural Shawano County several times, but none of their digs ever turned up anything.

At times, Kingston thinks that's where they will find Amber, though he isn't convinced.

Both detectives are confident, though, someone out there knows where she is — and are pleading with them to call.

“We either find the people,” Graf said, “or they come to us.”

“But someone out there has information that's going to lead to the closure of this case,” Kingston said.

The detectives think with one phone call they would have enough to charge out the case, even without a body.

In the meantime, they say the case is “by no means at a standstill.” That's offering hope Amber's family hasn't felt in 15 years.