Rachel Cooke was on her winter break from college, but she wasn’t about to take a break from her exercise routine. The 19-year-old, who attended Mesa Junior College in San Diego, California, had returned to her childhood home in Georgetown, Texas to celebrate the holidays with her parents and her younger sister. Every morning, Rachel would get up and go for a six-mile run around the neighborhood. She had been running on the streets of Georgetown since she was a child, and she always followed the same route.
When Rachel woke up on the morning of Thursday, January 10, 2002, she had the house to herself. Her sister, JoAnn, had already left for school and both of her parents were at work. Her boyfriend, Greg West, called her from San Diego around 9:15 am; Rachel told him that she was getting ready to go for her usual run and would call him when she returned home. She left her house shortly afterward, but she would never return Greg’s call. At some point on her run, Rachel vanished and was never seen again.
Rachel’s father, Robert Cooke, was the first person to realize that something was wrong. He had arranged to leave work early that afternoon so he could take Rachel shopping; her cousin was getting married that Saturday and Rachel needed to buy a few things. He expected Rachel to be at the house when he arrived home that afternoon, but the house was quiet and empty. He was somewhat concerned when he realized that Rachel’s purse and cell phone were still at the house, as she seldom went anywhere without them.
Rachel would sometimes work as a waitress at a restaurant in Georgetown to make extra money when she was on break and at home. Janet called the restaurant because she thought she might have been called in to work a shift and had just forgotten to bring her purse with her. When they told her Rachel was working there that night, her heart skipped a beat. Her parents didn’t worry because they thought she would call or get a ride home when her shift was over.
Rachel was still missing when the next morning came around. Janet, who was beginning to feel worried, called the restaurant again to find out what time Rachel had left the night before. She felt bad when she found out that the person she had talked to on the phone the night before had messed up. That night, someone named Rachel had worked, but it wasn’t her. Janet’s daughter wasn’t there at all.
Rachel’s parents knew something bad had to be going on at this point. Janet and JoAnn were going through Rachel’s things to see if they could find any clues about where she was. To their horror, they saw that her workout clothes and running shoes were the only things that didn’t seem to be there. They knew for sure that she never got back to the house the day before; something must have happened to her while she was running.
Robert slowly drove the path Rachel always took, checking carefully on both sides of the road, because he was afraid she might have been hit by a car. She called every hospital in the area to see if Rachel had been admitted, but none of them knew who she was. She wasn’t to be found anywhere.
It had been over 24 hours since anyone had talked to Rachel. Robert and Janet rushed to the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office to tell a deputy that their daughter was missing. Officials at the sheriff’s office seemed to think they were overreacting, even though they were sure Rachel had been hurt badly. There wasn’t much violent crime in Georgetown, and no one ever got kidnapped. The Cookes’ were told by deputies that their teenage daughter had probably gone off with some friends and would be back on her own in a few days.
Robert and Janet were sure Rachel would not have stayed somewhere overnight without calling them to let them know where she was. She wouldn’t have gone anywhere without her purse, cell phone, and makeup. Rachel was known for never leaving the house without her makeup on.
Rachel’s best friend told the Cookes that she and Rachel had planned to get together the night before. Since Rachel moved to California, they hadn’t seen each other much, so they were both looking forward to their night out. Rachel always called people to let them know when she had to change plans, but she never showed up to their meeting. Also, she had never called her boyfriend back.
Rachel’s family and friends started their own investigation because they didn’t trust the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office to do its job. Rachel was last seen on Friday night, and by Saturday morning, almost everyone who knew her was looking for her.
Rachel’s parents lived in Georgetown’s Northlake subdivision, which is a small neighborhood of homes surrounded by cattle ranches. About fifty people came together early Saturday morning in the subdivision to start looking for Rachel. The horses of many of the Cookes’ neighbors were offered to help the search party. In this way, the group could search the rough terrain much faster than if they had been walking. Everyone hoped Rachel would be found soon, but they couldn’t find any signs that would help them figure out what had happened to her.
Someone from the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office showed up at the subdivision around noon. It’s likely that they were there to check up on Robert and Janet about the missing person report they made the day before. It looked like they didn’t know that Rachel was being physically searched for, and they were shocked by how big it was. They knew that the large group of people searching could mess up any physical evidence that might be out there, so they quickly told the searchers to stop until officials could organize the effort.
While Rachel’s cousin’s wedding went off without a hitch on Saturday night, the fact that Rachel’s seat wasn’t there made the already happy event less enjoyable. People who were there said a special prayer for the missing teen at the end of the ceremony.
The Williamson County Sheriff’s Office did the right thing on Sunday by calling the Texas Rangers and asking them to help with the investigation. After talking to some of Rachel’s family and friends, the Texas Rangers quickly came to the conclusion that Rachel probably hadn’t left on her own, and they began to look into her disappearance.
Sunday was spent by detectives trying to figure out what Rachel did in the hours before she went missing. Robert got up around 7:00 am and went to work. Janet and JoAnn left together at 8:00 am. When her mom and sister left, Rachel was asleep on the couch in the living room. She only woke up briefly when they said goodbye. Although Rachel hadn’t said what time she woke up, her cell phone records showed that she had taken a call from Greg just after 9:00 am.
Greg and Rachel had only been dating for a short time, but they fell in love at first sight. Rachel had already told her sister that she knew he was the man she would marry. Greg had the same feelings about Rachel. He later told reporters that they hit it off right away and that he thought she was a wonderful young woman. He came to Texas with Rachel for the first part of her winter break so she could show him around her family. But he had to fly back to San Diego the week before because he had to work.
Greg planned to fly back to Texas to help with the search as soon as he heard that Rachel was missing. Detectives thought he might know something about Rachel’s disappearance because he was her boyfriend and talked to him soon after he got to Texas on Sunday. His phone records showed that he was in San Diego when he called Rachel that Thursday morning. He also passed a polygraph test and was not considered a suspect.
Greg told the police that Rachel told him she was getting ready to go running when they talked on the phone. He thought she left soon after they hung up around 9:15 a.m. Detectives found several people who had seen Rachel running through the neighborhood. Two of her neighbors saw her run past their driveway at 10:45 a.m., which was the last time anyone had seen her. It was about 200 yards to her house, which was the direction she was going.
According to the police, Rachel got within about 100 yards of her house before her trail suddenly ended. Not a single sign of what might have happened to her could be found. There was no sign that she had been hit by a car and no signs of any kind of struggle by the side of the road.
Robert said that the Cookes never locked their front door, just like most people in the Northlake subdivision. He thought that someone might have broken in and was waiting for Rachel when she got back from her run. The theory made sense, but the investigators couldn’t find any physical proof to support it.
Around 250 people showed up on Monday morning to help look for Rachel. Fifty of Robert’s coworkers from IBM were among them. A lot of them are spread out in the Northlake neighborhood and a few parks nearby. There were horses, dogs, ATVs, and helicopters used to help, and the area covered was 50 square miles. A lot of students from Rachel’s old school, Georgetown High School, showed up to offer their help. They were quickly put to work giving water to the search parties.
There were more interviews with Rachel’s neighbors, who were asked if they had seen anything strange on the day the teenager went missing. Around 11:00 a.m., some of them said they saw a white Camaro driving around the neighborhood without a plan. There were two men in the car, and they both looked like they were in their late teens or early 20s. The police were able to identify the car and its occupants in the end. It turned out that the two teens had skipped school that day and were just driving around aimlessly. They were no longer suspected of taking Rachel’s body.
A week after Rachel went missing, police asked the public to help them find a man they thought might know something about the case. He was said to be a white man between the ages of 18 and 25 with black hair and a muscular build. Anyone who saw him driving a small white Nissan or Toyota pickup truck around the same time Rachel went missing thought it might have been him. A composite sketch of the man was made public, but no one knew who he was.
New sketches of suspects came out in 2018 (Photo credit: cbsaustin.com).
Texas EquuSearch members came to Georgetown to help with the search for Rachel because Robert and Janet asked them to. They helped get volunteers together and led grid searches of the area, telling search parties to pay extra attention to any vehicle tracks, strange smells, or groups of birds. Over 400 volunteers had helped search an area 120 square miles around the Northlake subdivision by January 19. They looked everywhere but couldn’t find any clues that would lead them to Rachel’s location.
Robert and Janet were so desperate to find their daughter that they said they would pay $10,000 for information that led to her whereabouts. The reward was raised to $20,000 when an anonymous donor agreed to match that amount. After six weeks of looking, the reward had grown to $50,000. A lot of people gave investigators tips, and they followed up on all of them, but they weren’t able to find any solid leads.
By the end of February, volunteers were spread out all over central Texas handing out flyers and putting up posters about the $50,000 reward that had been lost. Rachel’s parents also tried to get the case seen across the country by talking about Rachel’s disappearance on “Inside Edition” in March. Anyone with information was asked to please come forward so that they could end their terrible nightmare.
In May, police released a new composite sketch of a man they wanted to talk to. They said he was driving a blue Camaro or Trans Am from the late 2000s that had a white stripe down each side. This driver, who looked to be in his late teens or early 20s, was seen talking to another driver on FM 3405 not far from where Rachel was last seen. Also, the driver of the white pickup truck that had been seen in the same area was still being sought. They got a lot of information about the men, but they still couldn’t figure out who they were.
It was very important to Robert and Janet to find their daughter. In October, they went to the White House to talk about children who are missing, being abused, or running away. They also went on “The John Walsh Show” and talked about how upset they were that no one knew anything about Rachel’s disappearance.
Rachel’s family and friends did everything they could to keep the case in the public eye, but tips stopped coming in, and it was clear that the investigation was stopping. Over the next year or so, not much progress was made. But in January 2004, when a new sheriff took office, the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office said they would start a task force to look at the case again.
More than 200 people were talked to during the first two years of the investigation. Even though detectives had looked into hundreds of tips, they hadn’t found any physical proof of what had happened to Rachel. The task force looked over each tip again and talked to witnesses again, hoping to find something the first investigators had missed. They worked on the case for more than 1,000 hours by May but still didn’t learn anything new. The case got stuck again.
Michael Keith Moore finally admitted to killing Rachel in 2006, and it looked like some justice would be done for Rachel’s family. Moore had already been found guilty of murder and was serving four life sentences at the same time for killing a pregnant woman in 2003. Around the time Rachel went missing, he was living in the Georgetown area. He told police that he had hit the girl with a hammer while she was jogging. He said he then put rocks under her body, wrapped it in a tarp, and dumped it in the Gulf of Mexico.
Even though Moore didn’t have any physical proof that Rachel was missing, detectives believed him when he said he was. They looked in the place where he said he had thrown away Rachel’s body more than once, hoping to finally be able to bring her home, but they couldn’t find anything.
Moore agreed to admit that he killed Rachel in exchange for another life sentence that would run along with the ones he already had. This way, he could still get parole after 30 years. She was killed, and Rachel’s family was very sad to hear about it. But they were glad that the person who did it would have to go to court and answer for their actions.
For real, Moore was charged with Rachel’s murder by a judge in Williamson County on November 9, 2006. When the judge asked him what he wanted to say, he shocked everyone in the courtroom by saying, “Not guilty.” Rachel’s family and friends gasped in shock, and Moore’s lawyer looked shocked too. He quickly asked for a break, but Moore wouldn’t follow through on the terms of the plea deal. The prosecutor was furious and promised to bring Moore’s case to court and get him the death penalty. Moore didn’t care.
The murder charge against Moore was eventually dropped because Moore’s confession was the only thing that linked him to the crime. Moore finally told everyone that he was lying the whole time and had nothing to do with Rachel going missing. He lied about his guilt because providing information to the police got him special treatment in prison, such as more time to see his wife.
After the mess with Moore, the investigation into Rachel’s disappearance seemed to lose steam. The false confession not only played with the family’s feelings, but it also made headlines all over the country. The public thought the case was closed, which made Robert and Janet worry that no one would look for Rachel anymore. They tried everything to keep everyone informed that Rachel’s case was still open.
According to Janet, she told reporters that every morning she woke up hoping that today would be the day she found out what happened to her daughter. But every night she went to bed feeling sad because she still didn’t know. It was a terrible way to live. Rachel’s disappearance split up her family. Janet and Robert dealt with their grief in different ways, which caused a rift between them. After a few years, they got a divorce.
Robert wanted to find his daughter more than anything else. He told reporters that he was worried about her safety when she decided to go to college in California. He and Janet were worried about the higher crime rate in San Diego and would have liked for her to stay in Georgetown. He couldn’t stand the thought of something happening to her at home. He felt like he had let her down by not being there to protect her. He promised himself that he would always look for her, and he did until he died in 2014 at the age of 59. Even though he had been sick for a long time, his family knew that he really died of a broken heart.
Janet and JoAnn have kept looking for Rachel, and so have the police. In 2019, the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office put Rachel’s case in the hands of a new group of cold-case investigators. After going through the case file from the very beginning, they found more than 100 people who might have been involved and have been steadily working to narrow down the list of suspects.
Michael Keith Moore is still considered to be a potential suspect in Rachel’s disappearance, but he’s not the only one. Several of Rachel’s family members have always believed that one of Rachel’s ex-boyfriends had something to do with her disappearance, and detectives have stated that he remains one of their main suspects. He was extremely emotional about their breakup and had been upset when Rachel refused to talk to him while she was home for winter break.
By January 2021, investigators had looked at more than 2,000 tips and had been able to eliminate a large number of potential suspects. They asked for the public’s help in identifying a man that they wanted to speak to about Rachel’s disappearance, stating that he lived in Georgetown at the time she went missing but has since lived in several other Texas cities and they believe he works in the horse and cattle industry.
Although they have refrained from calling this man a suspect, they stated that he was a known associate of Rachel’s and they believe he might have mentioned details about her disappearance to a friend or acquaintance, most likely speaking in the third person in an attempt to distance himself from the actual crime.
A substantial cash reward is being offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person responsible for Rachel’s disappearance.
Rachel Cooke was 19 years old when she went missing in 2002. She has hazel eyes and blonde hair with dyed auburn streaks, and at the time of her disappearance she was 5 feet 2 inches tall and weighed 110 pounds. She was last seen wearing a green sports bra and gray shorts, and she had a gray shirt tied around her waist. She was wearing white running sneakers and carrying a yellow Sony Walkman. If you have any information about Rachel, please contact the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office at 512–943–1300.