Georgetown, TX

The curious case of Rachel Cooke: 20 years ago, a student vanished without a trace during a morning run

Fatim Hemraj

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Rachel Louise CookeFox News

It was a chilly winter morning in Georgetown, Texas when 19-year-old Rachel Louise Cooke decided to head out for her daily 4-mile run. The fashion design student was visiting her family while on winter vacation from San Diego Mesa College and had plans to attend a wedding later that week.

On January 10, 2002, Rachel put on a green sports bra, grey sweats and a pair of white Asics running sneakers. Taking only her yellow Sony Walkman, the cross-country runner left her family home at 9:30 am, waving hello to several neighbours along her usual route.

Sadly, nothing was normal about that particular day.

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Rachel Cooke (R)Fox News

At 3 pm, Robert Cooke returned home from work to take his daughter shopping for the wedding. Rachel’s phone and wallet containing her driver's license were there but she herself was nowhere to be found.

Robert called Wildfire, a local steakhouse where Rachel worked while in town, to see if the teen had picked up a shift. An employee told Robert that Rachel was in fact at work. Relieved, the Cookes went about their day but by the time 1 am rolled around, Rachel still wasn’t home.

According to The Vanished podcast, a second call to Wildfire revealed that it was a different Rachel who was working the day before. Janet Cooke frantically dialled 911 and reported her daughter missing. Tragically, a simple error had set the investigation back nearly 24 hours — an eternity when a loved one vanishes without a trace.

According to the FBI, neighbours recalled seeing Rachel 200 yards away from her family home at 11:30 am. Shortly afterward, several witnesses saw a white late-model Pontiac Trans Am in the neighbourhood. Also seen was a white pick-up truck; both vehicles stopped to exchange words shortly after Rachel disappeared.

Despite a state-wide search, billboards, flyers and a grieving mother who spent every minute of every day searching for Rachel, not one trace of the missing teen was found and the case quickly went cold. Sadly, Robert passed away in 2014 without any closure.

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Sketches of 4 persons of interest in Rachel’s caseCBS Austin

In 2019, detectives were finally able to track down a white 1998 Pontiac Trans Am linked to four unnamed persons of interest. According to KXAN, forensic testing found the presence of blood on the floorboard. Authorities have declined to release the full results of the tests in order to protect the investigation, however, sketches of the persons of interest were released to the public.

In January 2021, authorities announced they were looking for a suspect who lived in Georgetown in 2002, was an acquaintance of Rachel’s and possibly worked in the horse and cattle industry. According to Unsolved Mysteries, the suspect may confide in someone about the case by, “likely speaking of the incident in third person and distancing himself from any actual involvement.”

This month marks the 20th anniversary of Rachel’s disappearance. According to The Charley Project, she was 5'3" and 120 lbs with blonde hair and blue eyes. Rachel has two heart-shaped cherry tattoos on her left shoulder and a black star on her left foot. If you have any information regarding her whereabouts, contact the FBI at 1-800-225-5324 or submit a tip online. A $100,000 reward is available.

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