Seven months after this eight-year-old went missing, a hiker discovered skeletal remains in the desert. It’s a September day in Arizona, and young Vicki Lynne Hoskinson leaves home alone for the first time. But when she doesn’t return, her sister goes to look for her, finding only Vicki’s bike abandoned by the roadside. And seven months later, a hiker in the desert stumbles upon something disturbing.
Vicki was born on February 2nd, 1976, and lived with her family in Flowing Wells on the outskirts of Tucson, Arizona. Her mother Debbie was a food industry worker, while her stepfather George was employed by a bottling company. Together, they shared a home with George’s daughter Carrie and Vicki’s older sister Stephanie. Completing the busy household was Brian, Debbie and George’s young son.
Debbie was a strict mother; she never let the kids go out alone. In fact, she used the buddy system to ensure that they were monitored at all times. Then, on September 17th, 1984, she decided to break the habit and allow eight-year-old Vicki some independence.
That day, Vicki had been studying at Tucson’s Homer Davis Elementary School. When she returned home, she asked her mother for permission to cycle down to a nearby mailbox. Apparently, Vicki wanted to send her aunt a birthday card. At the time, Flowing Wells was considered to be a safe area, and Debbie consequently agreed to her daughter’s request.
Worryingly though, Vicki did not come back. After more than a quarter of an hour had passed without any sign of the girl, Debbie sent Stephanie, age 11, out to find her. But when Stephanie returned, she had some disturbing news. Although she hadn’t found her little sister, she had discovered Vicki’s trusty pink bicycle abandoned just blocks away from their home.
After this development, Debbie wasted no time in contacting the Pima County Sheriff’s Department. Detective Gary DeMers was soon on the case, and a command center was established to coordinate the search for the missing girl. As Vicki’s family used media coverage to beg for help in locating the girl, flyers appealing for information were given out across the local area. Soon, a number of people came forward to report that, on the day of the disappearance, they’d observed a dark vehicle driven by an unidentified man close to Vicki’s school.
Apparently, school sports coach Sam Hall had spotted the unidentified male earlier that day. Hall had reportedly been overseeing some pupils when he grew alarmed by the individual in question, who Hall said was gesturing in a peculiar manner and having difficulty operating his vehicle. Concerned, Hall recorded the license plate of the man’s car, and when he heard that Vicki had disappeared, he handed the information over to the police.
Intriguingly, Hall wasn’t the only one to report spotting a man behaving oddly near the school. Apparently, a young girl had seen a stranger making crude gestures, while another witness had observed a dark-colored car running into a telephone pole. And there was more. Apparently, other witnesses claimed that they’d spotted the same dark vehicle not long afterward, this time with a child inside.
Investigators subsequently traced the license plate and found it was registered to a man named Frank Jarvis Atwood. While investigating Atwood, police soon discovered that he had previously faced charges of kidnapping and child molestation. In fact, he had once attacked and abused a young boy on a bicycle, a crime with eerie echoes of Vicki’s disappearance.
At the time, Atwood was in California on parole. Wanting to take a closer look at Atwood, investigators visited the address to which his vehicle was registered. It turned out to be the home of Atwood’s parents; however, the 28-year-old was not at home. But shortly afterward, he telephoned his mom and dad, asking for money to fix his car, and the couple turned him in.
With his parents’ assistance, the FBI was able to track Atwood to Kerrville, a Texas city more than 800 miles east of Flowing Wells. On September 20th, 1984, the young man was detained, along with his associate James McDonald. Then, the interrogation began, and before long, Atwood admitted that he had been in Arizona when Vicki had disappeared.
According to Atwood, on September 17th, he’d been living temporarily in a park close to Vicki’s home. Then, at around 3:00 p.m., he’d gone to purchase some narcotics. He claimed that he’d arrived back at the park around 2 hours later.
What he wouldn’t tell police, however, was what happened in between. According to McDonald, Atwood had argued and had subsequently left the park. When Atwood returned, his clothes and hands were allegedly stained with blood. When questioned about his appearance, Atwood told his associate that he’d stabbed a drug dealer during a fight.
Soon, investigators came across two more individuals whose stories cast suspicion upon Atwood. Apparently, Atwood had stayed in a trailer for a short period. Significantly, they also reported that he had bloodstains on his hands and clothing and that he claimed to have wounded a drug dealer during a disagreement.
Although the testimony was damning, police still needed physical evidence to link Atwood to Vicki’s disappearance. Eventually, experts were able to determine that paint on the bumper of Atwood’s car was the same color as Vicki’s bike. Additionally, they found that pieces of nickel from the bumper were present on the bicycle. Experts also spotted a damaged mailbox close to the spot where Vicki’s bike had been found. Apparently, the height of the impact matched that of Atwood’s car.
With this evidence in mind, investigators theorized that Atwood had driven at low speed into the girl’s bicycle. Finally, on September 27th, he was arrested on suspicion of kidnapping. However, many questions remain unanswered about what happened to Vicki that fateful day.
Then, on April 12th, 1985, a hiker in the desert outside Tucson stumbled upon a small skull. Although investigators were able to determine that it belonged to Vicki, the rest of her remains had been disturbed by animals, which meant that the cause of her death could not be established.