A year after Anesha “Duffy” Murnane, then 38, went missing in downtown Homer, the Homer Police investigation into her disappearance continues.
“It’s still a very open case,” said Homer Police Chief Mark Robl. “I wouldn’t put it in the cold status because we’re still actively investigating any lead or tidbit of information that comes in.”
Matt Haney, a former Homer Police lieutenant who has Lower 48 experience in missing persons cases, has been the lead investigator since being hired on March 30.
Haney said he encourages people to call Homer Police at 907-235-3150 with any tips, no matter how minor they might seem.
“As it stands right now, it’s an active investigation,” Haney said. “… I will follow up everything.”
Murnane’s family and friends will hold a walk at noon Sunday starting at WKFL Park followed by a vigil at 1 p.m. Participants will retrace the last part of the route Murnane would have taken between her home and SVT Health & Wellness Center on the day she vanished, Oct. 17, 2019. People are encouraged to wear blue, Murnane’s favorite color, and bring candles or lanterns for the vigil and to make and bring signs. People will be invited to share memories of Murnane.
Her mother, Sara Berg, said she will read a statement at the vigil. Berg and Murnane’s step-father, Ed Berg, have said they believe Murnane was abducted. They do not believe she disappeared on her own.
“We know better,” Murnane wrote in a statement shared with the Homer News. “She took nothing from her apartment, used neither of her airplane tickets, followed up on none of her five job applications, and has used neither her phone nor a credit card. Duffy did not leave of her own free will. She was taken.”
Murnane was last seen in a security camera image leaving her Main Street apartment. She disappeared after leaving her Main Street apartment for an appointment at the SVT Health & Wellness clinic on East End Road. The security camera photo showed her leaving the Maintree Apartments, a supported housing complex run by South Peninsula Behavioral Health Services, about 12:15 p.m. Oct. 17, 2019. Murnane had a 1 p.m. appointment at SVT Health and Wellness Center, about a 1-mile walk from her home. She did not show up for that appointment.
Homer Police and Alaska State Troopers issued a Silver Alert for Murnane on Oct. 19 after she was reported missing that day. Anyone with information on her whereabouts can call Homer Police or the Silver Alert hotline at 855-SILVR99 or 855-745-8799. A Silver Alert is for an adult considered a vulnerable person. Murnane had mental health issues and was thus considered a vulnerable adult. The Bergs also said they plan to set up a special hot line for tips. They are working with a group of volunteers who plan to take another look at the case.
Although Murnane lived in a supportive housing situation where Sara Berg said staff monitored clients daily for things like taking medicine, from the time Murnane missed her SVT appointment on Oct. 17 to Oct. 19 when she was reported missing, Sara Berg said no one at Maintree Apartments reported Murnane missing. Berg said her daughter missed five medicine checks, two meals and two nights before a staff member reported her missing.
Murnane was wearing a blue jacket, light-blue shirt and blue jeans the last time she was seen. She is almost 6 feet tall, weighs about 160 pounds and has shoulder-length brown hair and blue eyes. She carried a pink-and-black plaid purse with a shoulder strap and carried her wallet, cell phone and identification. Police said she does not drive or own a vehicle and got around by walking. Sara Berg said Murnane had a U.S. Passport identification card but did not have her passport.
The weekend after Murnane went missing, search and rescue dog teams from Anchorage tracked her movements in the downtown area, picking up scents from Main Street to Lee Drive, Svedlund Street, Pioneer Avenue and Kachemak Way. Search dogs followed strong scents to the Pioneer Avenue area near Cosmic Kitchen, in front of Homer’s Jeans and the Kachemak Bay Campus. There, the dogs acted as if there had been what search dog handlers call a “car pick up,” according to Homer Police Lt. Ryan Browning, the initial investigator in the case.
On May 1 and 2, a team of human remains detection dogs searched all of Homer inside city limits. Human remains detection dogs try to pick up scents of bodies or body parts. Haney said the dogs found nothing definitive.
Haney took over the investigation from the perspective of someone who knows Homer as a police officer and who also has extensive experience in locating missing persons. He first did a thorough review of “every scrap of data that has been collected, whether it’s video, written notes, everything,” he said. He also reinterviewed more than 100 people who had initially been contacted.
“I feel it’s important to go back and personally interview every single person that was remotely involved,” Haney said.
He said it’s common for someone who had been interviewed to recollect some bit of information, think about calling police, but never make that follow-up call. People also sometimes recall a detail that might seem to be trivial but that breaks open a case.
“Someone will call up and say, ‘You know, I’ve been meaning to say something and I never made the call.’ … You follow up on it and it leads to a conclusion,” he said. “… I’ve recommended this my entire law enforcement career: Trust your instincts. If something doesn’t seem right, it’s probably not.”
Officially, Homer Police consider Murnane’s disappearance a missing persons case. Haney said he wants to keep an open mind.
“It’s not good strategy to start narrowing down your scope until you have definitive evidence that points you in that direction until it happens.”
In the months since Murnane went missing, the Bergs have tried to cope with their loss. Sara Berg suffers from chronic illness and had a heart pacemaker implanted. Ed Berg had open heart surgery to repair an aortic aneurysm.
“The hearts got broken here,” Sara Berg said. “… That’s the truth.”
With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Sara Berg has been mostly isolating, with Ed Berg making limited trips for shopping. Sara Berg said that for about six months after her daughter went missing, she mostly just sat and stared at the wall. With some health treatment and the support of the community, she said she has begun to heal.
“If it wasn’t for this community I think we would be underground,” she said. “This community has held me up by their hands — feeding me, nurturing me. … Just little presents sitting on the front porch when I came home. Every meal was delivered with flowers, with cards, with hugs. It was amazing. It went on for five-and-a-half months.”
The Bergs said they are resigned to the possibility that their daughter is dead. Sara Berg said she thinks her daughter died in early November.
“I myself have had several visions. She is definitely dead,” Sara Berg said. “I still have hope we can find that body. It’s real, real hard to move forward without finding her.”
Reach Michael Armstrong at firstname.lastname@example.org.