Modesto Police Make Arrest in 1986 Cold Case Disappearance

Authorities in California have a man facing murder charges after nearly four decades.

Verity Partington
3 min readAug 21

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Susie Bender, missing since 1986 (Image: Modesto PD)

Detectives in Modesto have announced they have arrested a man in connection with a cold case disappearance that occurred in the spring of 1986.

Raymond Lewis Stafford from Texas was taken into custody this week (August 2023) accused of murder with special circumstances in the case of Susan Robin Bender.

Susie was just 15 and looking forward to a weekend away with friends on April 25th 1986. She headed to the Greyhound Bus Station in Modesto in order to catch the bus to Carmel, calling her friend from a payphone to tell her about her excursion and that she expected to be back in a few days.

However, instead of continuing to wait for the bus, witnesses saw Susie get into an olive green 1977 Ford van instead. The van pulled away with Susie seemingly a willing passenger — and the teenager was never seen again.

Tragically, Susie’s mother Pat assumed her daughter had caught the bus as planned and was enjoying her break in Carmel. It was only when she failed to hear from Susie for several days that she realised something was wrong, and she reported her missing on May 1st.

There were never any sightings other than in the green van, and detectives didn’t hold out much hope that Susie was still alive.

In 1987, then-Detective Richard Ridenour told the Modesto Bee: “We have certain evidence to indicate foul play was involved in the disappearance of Susan Bender.”

And incredibly, this evidence all but amounted to a smoking gun in terms of a suspect. It was a diary, address book and clothing belonging to Susan that had been found in the home of an unnamed person of interest.

It emerged that Susie knew this man and had perhaps been involved in some kind of relationship with him, which might have explained why she had been willing to get into a vehicle that day rather than waiting for the bus.

But despite detectives questioning this man and his possession of apparently damning evidence, nothing concrete could be found to connect him to Susie’s disappearance. He was allowed…

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Verity Partington

A writer and author of crime thrillers living in the UK. Partial to books, stationery, papercrafts and walking. You can find her books on Amazon here: https://a