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I-80 Corridor - Please Help Desperate Mom

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If anyone recognizes the landmarks described in this article, please contact this mom. She is desperate to find her children who were murdered and buried by their father somewhere along the I-80 corridor. Please help her bring these kids home to rest.

 

Somewhere along I-80, 2 kids buried

--------------------

 

Mom begins search to find bodies hidden by deranged ex-spouse

 

By Sean D. Hamill

Special to the Tribune

 

July 7, 2005

 

SANDUSKY, Ohio -- Teri Knight journeyed to the Midwest this week looking for her children.

 

But the mother from Hillsborough, N.H., knows there will be no happy ending to this search even if she finds them.

 

Two years ago this week, her deranged ex-husband, Manuel Gehring, killed Sarah, 14, and Philip, 11, and buried them somewhere along Interstate Highway 80.

 

There is ample evidence of their deaths. Yet some of that evidence -- including forensic information and Gehring's confession before he committed suicide -- suggests various locations where they might be buried along a 650-mile stretch of the highway between Grove City, Pa., and Iowa City.

 

Knight and her second husband, Jim, are in the Midwest this week for a six-day search. It's their first exploration of the route taken by her ex-husband.

 

"We said this morning, `At some point, we're going to drive past where the kids are buried.' We know that," she said Wednesday before boarding a helicopter in Sandusky to get a bird's-eye view of possible sites west of Cleveland.

 

With such a large area to search, Knight doesn't expect to find them during this journey, but she hopes the trip galvanizes others to keep up the search.

 

"I've tried to say that's my measure of success: if people are still looking when I leave," said Knight, 43, a registered nurse.

 

Knight has created a Web site, handed out buttons, put up flyers, given out CDs and talked to anyone who would listen. But if her children are found, she believes it will be because of the efforts of people such as Jeff Skemp, James Miller or Erik Nikodem.

 

She has never met Skemp or Miller, and met Nikodem only last week. But these men are part of a growing legion of volunteers drawn to her story.

 

"It makes you think, because her kids are about the same age as my kids," said Miller, 43, owner of the Main Street Market in Polk, Pa., who has been searching near his store since autumn. "You think about it every day, to be honest, knowing what she has been through."

 

Knight was married to Gehring for 17 years before their divorce in 2001. After a battle over custody of the children, a settlement allowed Sarah, a high school cheerleader, to live with her father in Concord, N.H., during the school week, and left Philip, a budding actor, with his mother in nearby Hillsborough.

 

Knight believes that in the days before the killings, Gehring feared custody would be taken away from him because he had lost his accountant's job. Knight said tension increased when she started dating the man who is now her husband. When Gehring killed her children, she had been remarried for three weeks and was four months pregnant with twins. Those daughters, Mallory and Molly, are now 19 months old.

 

Sarah and Philip were last seen with their father after a July 4th fireworks display in Concord in 2003. The children were crying as they left in Gehring's green mini-van, witnesses said.

 

Credit card receipts and witness reports indicated Gehring drove southwest to I-80 and headed west -- a route charted on the Web site that Knight has put together, www.philipandsarah.com.

 

At a Wal-Mart in Grove City, Pa., the next morning, Gehring bought gloves, a pickax, a shovel, duct tape, razor blades and garbage bags. The next time investigators conclusively placed him was 26 hours later at a Citgo gas station in Joliet, Ill..

 

According to Gehring's often rambling confession, he had buried the children by the time he went swimming in a lake July 6 in the West Overlooks Campground in Iowa City.

 

He said he may have buried them one to two hours before he got to Iowa City, or an entire day before, but wasn't sure. He spent several days with investigators traveling along I-80 but was unable to pinpoint the location.

 

"You're talking about a man with his children dead in the back seat," Miller said. "How cognizant was he going to be? You're talking about the mind of a madman."

 

Gehring described the site as a "pretty" spot falling away slightly from a road somewhere near an I-80 exit, surrounded by shade trees similar to willow trees with limbs that nearly touched the ground, and grass 3 to 4 feet high with wheatlike stalks at the top, a yellow or tan building nearby, with five or six concrete cylinders, perhaps a drainage pipe, and an old-fashioned water pump close to the site.

 

Nikodem, 37, an insurance broker in Concord, didn't know Knight or her family. But he decided to help last summer, when he realized his daughter was about to enter the 6th grade, the same grade Philip would have been starting.

 

"I can certainly empathize with Teri as a parent and with what she has gone through," he said.

 

Nikodem makes phone calls to try to locate the landmarks in Gehring's confession. On one such call, he encountered Miller and got him interested in joining the volunteer effort.

 

Three times in the last year, Nikodem has ventured along the route in western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio to follow up on educated hunches.

 

"Everyone has their own theories," he said. "And there's so many miles to cover, so, at this point, no one's wrong, in my opinion."

 

That's the kind of attitude that Skemp, of Forest Park, Ill., said will be the biggest boost to Knight's quest.

 

"Those kids are out there somewhere and someone might remember at one point seeing them with dad if she gets the word out," he said.

 

Skemp is helping Knight through the organization he started seven years ago, Rachelfind.com, dedicated to keeping the search alive for his daughter, Rachel Mellon, who was 13 when she disappeared from her Bolingbrook home in 1996.

 

Rachelfind.com and its 20 active volunteers have helped about three dozen families search for loved ones. The organization will help search Thursday in Joliet, Ill., and is staffing a telephone tip line with the help of another local group, POWER Connection in Bolingbrook. The number is 630-679-6899.

 

Skemp, a taxi- and courier-dispatcher, first e-mailed Knight four months ago, trying to lend technical assistance but also to lend an ear. "I know what it's like to be pretty sure you know your child is dead and not be able to say goodbye," he said.

 

After starting her journey on Wednesday in Sandusky and stopping in Joliet on Thursday, Knight will go to Iowa City on Friday. Then she makes her way back east over the weekend and Monday, with stops in Maumee, Ohio, where one eyewitness believes she saw Gehring in his van, and Grove City, Pa.

 

Knight is hopeful, yet apprehensive.

 

"If we found the place, it'd be a sense of relief, and a sense of gratefulness," she said, "but also a sense of horror."

 

- - -

 

Search for graves stretches across 5 states

 

Teri Knight is conducting a six-day search for the graves of her two children, Sarah and Philip, who were murdered by their father, Manuel Gehring, two years ago. The search is centered on a stretch of I-80 and is based in part on information Gehring gave to police before killing himself in jail last year.

 

KEY Areas of most interest, in order traveled by Manuel Gehring in 2003 (area map)

 

Sandusky: Where Knight began search Wednesday

 

Iowa City

 

Gehring stopped to swim at a campground.

 

Joliet, Ill.

 

Gehring stopped for gas. Area off highway said to match Gehring's description.

 

Maumee, Ohio

 

Woman reported seeing Gehring driving his van.

 

From western Pennsylvania to eastern Ohio

 

Soil found on shovel could be from this area.

 

Polk, Pa.

 

Site said to match many of the landmarks described by Gehring.

 

Grove City, Pa.

 

Where Gehring stopped to buy a shovel, a pick-ax, duct tape and other equipment.

 

Sources: City of Concord, N.H.; philipandsarah.com

 

Chicago Tribune

 

- See microfilm for complete graphic.

 

Copyright © 2005, Chicago Tribune

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He said he may have buried them one to two hours before he got to Iowa City, or an entire day before, but wasn't sure. He spent several days with investigators traveling along I-80 but was unable to pinpoint the location.

 

"You're talking about a man with his children dead in the back seat," Miller said. "How cognizant was he going to be? You're talking about the mind of a madman."

 

Gehring described the site as a "pretty" spot falling away slightly from a road somewhere near an I-80 exit, surrounded by shade trees similar to willow trees with limbs that nearly touched the ground, and grass 3 to 4 feet high with wheatlike stalks at the top, a yellow or tan building nearby, with five or six concrete cylinders, perhaps a drainage pipe, and an old-fashioned water pump close to the site.

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I've been "flying" over the area using Google Earth which I highly recommend if your computer can handle it. Installation was kind of funny, "download" didn't seem to work at first so I tried "run" and then it installed with no problems.

 

I haven't spotted the area yet, but I'll keep flying a bit each day. I realize chances might not be good, but on the plus side, if those old concrete things are gone now, they still may show up in the aerial photos from a few years ago.

 

Play with the controls and have "roads" turned on at first. Once you get used to it, try tilting the screen and flying, it's almost like being in the plane. If you go off course, straighten out by dragging the road towards you.

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Yes, I had heard that the children's bodies had been found. Such a sad story. The dad got off easy, in my opinion.

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