Special coverage: The Rhiannon Smith case
Mysteries surround girlâ€™s disappearance
WINSTED â€” A mysterious note left behind Sept. 1, the day Rhiannon Smith disappeared from her home, raised several red flags, right from the beginning.
The letter, written on a computer and printed on white paper, begins, â€œDear Dale and Brian.â€
Rhiannonâ€™s grandmother, Dale Smith, explains the salutation is â€œvery unlike Rhiannon. She never called us that â€” ever â€” especially Brian. She always called him â€˜Papa.â€™â€
The letter continues to explain with emotion and fear that Rhiannon is leaving to run from a male she calls Kasey, who has also been identified as 20-year-old Florida man Joey Schneider, an employee at a gift shop at Disney World in Orlando, with whom Rhiannon had once had an online affair. They remained in contact online and by phone until recently, according to Schneider, who contacted Winsted police at the urging of another friend, Kelley McGuire.
Both Schneider and McGuire have had repeated contact with The Winsted Journal regarding Rhiannonâ€™s case. McGuire, of Torrington, has started a Facebook page devoted to helping find her close friend.
The mysterious letter also states that Rhiannon had â€œdatedâ€ Schneider her entire freshman year in high school â€” though the relationship apparently only existed online â€” and he is â€œthe reason I am this way now.â€
The letter goes on to claim that â€œKasey, or rather Joey, wants to kill meâ€ and everyone she loves, including her grandparents. â€œI will never forgive myself for the pain my absence will inflict upon you both and nor do I enjoy this parting, but it is for your safety, he doesnâ€™t know I have grandparents,â€ the letter says.
In e-mails discovered by The Winsted Journal between Schneider and Rhiannon, he writes to her he was bored and had looked up her exact address and the name and age of her sstep-grandfather.
The letter then mentions five other people â€” all of whom are believed to be real people â€” using nicknames. Max, Jake, Nick, Sanji and Ashely are mentioned. Max has been positively identified as 20-year-old Jeffrey Woods of Alabama.
The letter Rhiannon left claims â€œMaxâ€ was trying to run from Schneider and that Max ultimately committed suicide in Alabama â€” a false claim, according to Winchester Police Department Sgt. Kevin Kinahan, who has interviewed Jeffrey Woods.
The letter goes on to say that â€œJake, Nick and Sanji are taking me to my girlfriend Ashely in MA then we are all going to PEI or Cannda [sic].â€
That part of the letter raises several more red flags. Dale Smith said Rhiannon had mentioned Jake, Nick and Sanji, who are possibly people she met online, and that Jake and Nick were around Rhiannonâ€™s age, but Sanji was known as Nickâ€™s older male partner. They may live in a condo near Westfarms Mall.
However, Smith also knows that Jake, Nick and Sanji are not real names. Most of Rhiannonâ€™s friends and acquaintances used nicknames for each other, with Rhiannon going by the name Wolf-e.
Dale Smith said she still thinks â€œJakeâ€ may be the key to what happened to Rhiannon. Who exactly Jake is continues to be a mystery. Smith also said there were many spelling and grammatical errors in the letter, suggesting either that it was written under duress or that it wasnâ€™t written by Rhiannon at all.
Whichever the case, it remains a mystery as to why and how Rhiannon vanished between the hours of midnight and 6 a.m. on Sept. 2.
Questions quickly built up following Rhiannonâ€™s disappearance. Initially treating the case as a classic runaway, police noted that threats Rhiannon mentioned in her letter appeared to be false, linking names of her friends to fictional characters in a Japanese cartoon. But when additional information came to light regarding some psychological issues, the case was reclassified as â€œendangered runaway.â€
Still unknown are the identities of Jake, Nick, Sanji and Ashely who are mentioned in Rhiannonâ€™s supposed runaway letter.
Smith explained, â€œRhiannon would always tell me about Jake, as she would talk to him online, apparently he dated a friend of hers. She told me Jake lived with his grandparents but then left to move in with Nick and Sanji, in their condominium near Westfarms Mall. She told me Jake just had gotten a job at the Walmart near the mall, but of course I donâ€™t know how much of that is true, or if she just would tell it to me to cover up the truth of who these people are.â€
Friends and family still believe identifying these mysterious contacts is crucial to finding Rhiannon. There has been some online chatter suggesting Jeffrey Woods may be â€œJake,â€ but there are numerous profiles opened under code names, making the trail difficult to follow. Friends are hoping that a new online account will turn up, and that it will be Rhiannonâ€™s.