True Crime Wednesday: The Disappearance of Bear Diaz

As a mom, this case is a hard one to wrap my mind around. Imagine if your child was frail from being ill and he went missing late at night after you dropped him off at home. That’s what happened in the case  of California resident Elijah “Bear” Diaz on Aug. 29, 2015.

Bear was a member of the Barona Band of Mission Indians. Because of this, he was receiving a monthly stipend from the casino on the reservation. The money enabled him to live comfortably and even purchase his own house. But he had been in poor health for awhile due to living with Type 1 Diabetes. He had a serious foot injury and had to walk on crutches. His mother, LeLanie Thompson, had been driving him whenever he needed to run errands and go to doctor appointments.  When I watched the “Disappeared” episode featuring Bear’s case, his mother shared that her son had been very trusting and opened his home to many people–you never knew who you would find crashing on the couch or sitting around Bear’s flat-screen TV playing video games.

On the night of Aug. 29, 2015, LeLanie dropped Bear off at home in El Cajon around 10:30 p.m. She received a text from him a little later before she turned in for the night. She went back to his home the next afternoon and discovered he was missing. LeLanie had a bad feeling and immediately contacted the police, but they were hesitant to act right away because of his age and the fact that he hadn’t been missing long. When they did search his house, Bear’s crutches were missing, along with the comforter on his bed,  a backpack containing about a week’s worth of insulin, and Bear’s 50-inch TV. His glasses were left behind.  LeLanie knew then that someone had to have taken 110-pound Bear out of the house.

His cell phone was turned off on Aug. 30 and never turned back on. Police searched an area near Santa Ysabel where a cellphone signal had been traced but found nothing. They also conducted a luminol test in his home but didn’t detect any blood.

Bear’s family has come to terms with the fact that he is no longer alive. Now they are simply looking for answers. In a recent Facebook post on the Bring Bear Diaz Home page, LeLanie told of how she decided to let the second anniversary of Bear’s disappearance go by as quietly as she could, with the exception of a scheduled haircut. In the Native American culture, one cuts their hair when a loved one passes on. She says her heart is telling her that he is gone. She said:

All I can do is to find peace, embrace love, and hold on to joy… Bear would want me to. He loved me so strongly, I simply need to hold tight to my memories, and keep moving forward. Counting my blessings, and reaching for the full moon.

Please contact the El Cajon Police Department at (619) 579-3311 with information about this case.

Book Review: Skinnytaste Fast and Slow

I don’t know about you, but I discover many great recipes on social media channels. Someone will share a recipe or I’ll see one of those cooking videos that makes preparing a dish look so easy that I’ll seek out the blog or Facebook page it originated from. That’s how I found Gina Homolka and Skinnytaste.


I can’t remember which recipe of hers I tried first, but I love how she uses real food ingredients in her dishes and includes the Weight Watchers points for anyone who may be on the program. She also has many slow cooker offerings. I’ve saved many of her recipes and cooking videos on Facebook and Instagram, so when I came across the Skinnytaste Fast and Slow cookbook a few months ago while browsing in our local independent bookstore I made an impulse buy. It didn’t disappoint. Skinnytaste Fast and Slow: Knockout Quick-Fix and Slow Cooker Recipes includes 140 dishes that can be made in a slow cooker, in the oven or on the stovetop.

At the beginning of the book, Homolka explains her cooking philosophy–she loves eating decadent and savory foods but doesn’t want to sabotage the results of her fitness routine. That’s what led her to experiment with different dishes that could be full of flavor but still healthy. She also gives tips on how to successfully get dinner on the table even in the midst of a hectic schedule. For example, stock your pantry with seasonings and spices, baking products, canned and jarred goods, prep for the week with meal planning (she also sells her own meal planner to help with this), how to freeze certain dishes, etc. She also provides advice on how to prepare delicious meals quickly and slow cooker secrets. Plus, there’s a handy chart with a month full of meals to get you started.

I’m still working my way through the cookbook but so far we’ve loved pretty much everything we’ve tried and I haven’t even attempted any of the breakfast or dessert recipes yet!

Some personal favorites out of Skinnytaste Fast and Slow:

Slow Cooker Beef Ragu Pappardelle (we served this to some dinner guests a few weeks ago and they loved it)

Chicken and Zucchini Noodles with Black Bean Sauce

Zesty Lime Shrimp and Avocado Salad

Slow Cooker Lasagna Soup

Excited to try the Lasagna Soup from @skinnytaste tonight. #healthyeating #comfortfood #skinnytastefastandslow

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Easiest One-Pot Pasta and Broccoli

Chicken Scaloppine with Broccoli and Melted Mozzarella

WOW! Women on Writing Round-Up

I’ve written for WOW Women on Writing’s blog, The Muffin, for awhile now, and periodically I like to do a round-up of my recent posts, which all revolve around the writing life. Here are a few from the past few months–hope you find something useful!

Going “There” with Your Writing

Because it’s National Novel Writing Month (no, not participating this year!) I’ve noticed all the writing trade magazines and websites are chock full of inspirational articles on how to write a great plot twist and craft a page-turning dilemma. One such piece of advice centered on writing what scares you—you know, dig into those deep, dark fears a la Stephen King It style.  Read more . . .

How Mysteries Inspire Our Writing

I’ve always been a fan of mysteries. I read them as a child and then ventured out into reading authors like Mary Higgins Clark in my teens. Nowadays, I prefer more of the true-life mysteries. When revamping my writing blog a few months back, I decided to dedicate one day a week to writing about missing persons or homicide cases and offering my own theories about what might have happened. Read more . . .

The Stories Behind the Authors

This seems like a busy time of year for authors! I follow a lot of them on social media, and have seen more posts about book release tours than usual. Sioux also wrote about one a few days ago. I got to attend a special event with one of my literary heroes, young adult novelist, John Green, last week. Read more . . .

When the Flood Gates Open

If you’ve read any of my posts over the last year, you know that I’ve been somewhat blocked in my creative writing. I have a few different manuscripts that I’ve been tinkering with, but those often get put aside due to my paying freelance gigs. But in my last post, I put down in writing that I was revamping my personal blog so that I could get back into a regular writing schedule. Read more . . .

True Crime Wednesday: The Disappearance of Baby DeOrr Kunz

I love the show People Magazine Investigates on the Investigation Discovery channel, and the case that aired this week is a difficult one because a 2-year-old child was involved. There are so many unanswered questions about the case and finger pointing that it makes coming up with theories difficult, especially because you want to be sensitive to the parents who are still looking for answers. On the other hand, there are far too many cases like Susan Smith and Casey Anthony (even though she was acquitted of charges) that prove a parent can indeed know something happened to their child and then lie to investigators about it.

Photo courtesy of East Idaho News.

Here is what we know. On July 10, 2015, Jessica Mitchell and Vernal DeOrr Kunz took their 2-year-old son DeOrr on a camping trip with Mitchell’s grandfather Robert Walton and a friend of the grandfather, Isaac Reinwand. Then the story gets a little murky. The parents (who were high school sweethearts who had married other people and then divorced and reconnected to have baby DeOrr) said they walked up a trail only a few feet from the campsite. They left DeOrr in the care of the grandfather when they did this. Then Vernal said he saw some minnows in a stream that he thought his son would like to see, and he and Jessica returned to the campsite to get him. The grandfather (who is in poor health and tethered to an oxygen tank) claimed he thought the toddler was with them.  From one report I read, the parents were probably gone 20 minutes or so. But that’s more than “a few feet away from the campsite.” There are also discrepancies on how long they waited before they called 911. I think on the episode Jessica said he had been missing for an hour but I can’t be positive on that.

There was a reservoir nearby that was searched but the dive team didn’t find anything. Jessica told police they had been at a nearby gas station that morning and she noticed a man looking at DeOrr in a way that made her uncomfortable. Investigators tracked down the man and determined he had nothing to do with the disappearance.  The four people at the campsite couldn’t seem to get their stories straight, either, they all had different recollections of who had cooked breakfast that morning, how long DeOrr had been missing before they called for help, etc. The parents both ended up failing polygraph tests which didn’t help their case.  The friend that was with the grandfather had a criminal background (theft, I believe).

I think at first their local community rallied around them, but now that investigators have said none of the four people on the trip can be cleared in the case that support has wavered. Jessica and Vernal are no longer together, and have taken to saying they don’t know if the other had anything to do with DeOrr’s disappearance. Jessica stated that she feels DeOrr was kidnapped by someone that was in the area on that day. It also came out on the “People Magazine Investigates” episode that Jessica had two other children from a previous marriage but had given up custody of them before she had DeOrr. And the fact remains that no trace of him has ever been found and only four people truly know what happened that day.

It is heartbreaking to see the photos of this adorable little boy and know that something tragic likely happened to him, whether it was an accident or not. If it was an accident, I hope that whoever is responsible does the right thing and comes forward so that the extended family can finally get some answers.



Book Review: The Rules of Half

(This article originally ran in the September 2017 issue of Lake Norman CURRENTS.)

When Sherrill’s Ford resident Jenna Patrick first got the idea for her debut novel, “The Rules of Half,” she was juggling the demands of a career in engineering and the schedules of her two daughters, who are both competitive gymnasts. She says it took her about a year to finish the first draft of the book, which centers around a family dealing with mental illness set in small-town America. While Patrick’s path to publication was different than she first imagined it, she couldn’t be happier with the reception of her novel.

She says she first got the idea for the story after reading a newspaper article about an accidental death in a family, and wondering if she would be able to live with herself personally if something similar happened to her. She has also struggled with depression in the past and has had family members also deal with mental illness. After finishing the novel, hiring an independent editor sending out queries to agents and publishing houses, she learned about SparkPress, an independent publishing company (and imprint of Ingram Publisher Services) that specializes in merging the traditional publishing model with new and innovative strategies.

Redbook has listed “The Rules of Half” as one of “10 Books You Have to Read this Summer” and she has also received reviews from Kirkus, Buzzfeed, “Working Mother,” Popsugar and SheKnows. In addition, while promoting the novel, she published essays with “Harper’s Bazaar” and “First For Women.”

Patrick says she always loved writing but wasn’t sure she would be able to sustain a good career taking the English major route.

“As time went on I missed it so much,” she says. “For me, it’s a great release. If I’m stressed, I write. It soothes me. A page became a chapter, and a chapter became a book. It helps me. It’s complex and there are a lot of different things going on at once and my engineering background helps.” She likes to work on outlining and plotting using the software program Scrivener and Excel spreadsheets.

Patrick is working on her next novel, while continuing to work as an engineer three days a week and drive her daughters to their practices and competitions, many of which are out of town. She always credits her husband for making sure she has time to write when she needs it.

To learn more about Jenna Patrick, visit


Will was his Bipolar Disorder.

But it was easier not to argue over a technicality, so instead Will thought of happier times. He thought of swimming in Half Moon Creek and picnics afterword at the dam. He thought of his mother’s homemade, blueberry pie and his father’s old transistor radio crackling in the background. He thought of a time when he was just little Will Fletcher–future wide receiver for the Half Moon Howlers. Not crazy Will Fletcher–the example parents cite to their children when explaining the meaning of stranger danger.

I was working on this assignment when my family took our annual beach vacation this year, and was fortunate to have an advance copy of the novel with me. I was hooked in no time. The cast of characters in the fictional town of Half Moon Hollow are written with depth, and Patrick expertly peels away the layers to prove to the readers that things aren’t always what they seem. Fifteen-year-old Regan Whitmer is escaping the controlling eye of her step-father, mourning the loss of her mother, and seeking out the biological father she has  never known. Unbeknownst to her, that father, Will Fletcher, has lost  his way and fights a daily battle with bipolar disorder, made worse after a tragedy in his family. He is not exactly in proper frame of mind to meet the daughter he never knew existed, especially one who is requesting to live with him and Janey, the sister determined to keep him healthy.

As the story unfolds, you learn more about Regan’s relationship with her mother, the guilt she is harboring, the secret Janey is keeping, and the past that Will isn’t sure he remembers clearly. Patrick does a great job pacing the story, and making the reader feel both frustrated and exhilarated while trying to unlock the mystery that remains at the core of the story. I was very impressed by the quality of this novel, as well as the uniqueness of the story and give kudos to the author and her decision to work with SparkPress. I look forward to checking out more of their titles in the future.

Book Review: Liesl and Po by Lauren Oliver

A few years ago I took my daughter to a literary festival called EpicFest in uptown Charlotte. This was yet another one of those events where I used my sweet, accommodating daughter as an excuse to go and hear one of my favorite children’s authors speak.

Lauren Oliver has written many books I’ve enjoyed, as well as one adult novel that confused me a little bit so I’ll probably need to read it again. I’m mostly drawn to her young-adult novels such as Panic, Vanishing Girls, Replica, Before I Fall (which was adapted into a film this past year), but I picked up a copy of her middle-grade novel, Liesl and Po,  for my daughter to get autographed at the festival. I was intrigued by the premise of the novel after hearing Oliver answer a Q&A at EpicFest. She said she was inspired to write the story after the death of one of her best friends. In fact, she said she wrote it mostly as a way to process her own feelings of loss—she wasn’t actually sure the novel would be published. In the back of the book, she writes:

The idea for the book came from a fantasy I entertained during those months: I dreamed about unearthing my friend’s ashes from the decorative wall in which they’d been interred and scattering them over the water, the only place he’d ever felt truly at peace.

Below is the synopsis of the novel:

Liesl lives in a tiny attic bedroom, locked away by her cruel stepmother. Her only friends are the shadows and the mice—until one night a ghost named Po appears from the darkness.

That same evening, an alchemist’s apprentice named Will makes an innocent mistake that has tremendous consequences for Liesl and Po, and it draws the three of them together on an extraordinary journey.


One of the things that always impresses me about children’s novels is how deep and profound they can be. Children are resilient beings, and I think sometimes we forget that. Liesl and Po tackles some tough subjects in the way that’s reminisent of Charles Dickens, Roald Dahl or J.K. Rowling. After the death of her father (which readers soon learn was a murder) Liesl is trapped in a small attic room with only the barest scraps of food and drink (think items one might be served in a concentration camp) with only an androgynous ghost named Po to keep her company. She questions Po about what live is like “on the other side” and finally becomes motivated to escape her circumstances and take her father’s ashes to the only place where he was happiest.

Will, the alchemist’s apprentice, also lives a hardscrabble life, as he is an orphan who is verbally (and sometimes physically) abused by the alchemist. He is also forced to skulk around in the dead of night to fetch unimaginable items such as chicken’s heads or a dead man’s beard from a local mortuary. He’s carrying a large box full of magic that is supposed to be delivered to a local wealthy woman, The Lady Premiere, who lives in a castle. When the box of magic gets mixed up with the ashes of Liesl’s fathers, well, you can imagine that the two children get caught in quite a pickle.

The setting of this book is stark, and grey, much like the author viewed the world after the death of her friend. But slowly, through a tale of adventure and lovable characters such as Po, a ghost-animal named Bundle that could be a dog or cat, and a sweet but not-so-bright security guard named Mo (short for Molasses), the color gradually creeps back onto the pages, both literally and metaphorically. It also takes place in a setting and time period that could be anywhere and at anytime.

The back of the book says appropriate for ages 8-12, but I would probably recommend it more for ages 10 and older, because there is so much talk of death, “the other side” and description of a crematorium and the pretty scary character of the stepmother.

True Crime Wednesday: Jennifer Kesse

When most people think of Orlando, Fla., they envision theme park resorts, Mickey Mouse, water parks, and a place where people go to seek thrills and adventure. For 24-year-old Jennifer Kesse, Orlando provided a place for her to start off a career as a financial analyst. That’s where she was headed on Jan. 24, 2006, when she disappeared. When she didn’t show up for work, her employer called her family because it was so unlike her normal behavior. When police and family members searched her condo, they could tell she had showered and gotten ready for work per usual, but there was no sign of her car.

Two days later the car was found in a nearby condominium complex. Video surveillance captured the grainy image of a person exiting her car and walking away on foot shortly after parking (the car was left in the lot on the day Jennifer disappeared). Unfortunately, most of the footage of this person was obscured by a tall, black, wrought-iron fence.

At the time of her disappearance, Jennifer’s condominium complex was undergoing a massive renovation, and from what it sounds like, many of the workers on the project were illegal immigrants who didn’t speak a lot of English when questioned. Some theorize the person captured on the surveillance image could have been a painter or other contractor based on the white, non-descript clothing. Jennifer had told friends and family members that she felt uncomfortable having so many workers in the complex where she lived alone, especially when they made comments as she walked by.

In subsequent interviews, Jennifer’s father Drew shared that he feared she had been kidnapped and kept in one of the unoccupied condo units while community members searched for her. No one interviewed remembered seeing her in the parking lot that morning, leaving her family to think something happened to Jennifer before she even made it out of the breezeway outside her condo.

Elementary-school teacher and Tampa-area resident Shaun Gurd has helped the case receive a resurgence of interest the past year with the podcast, “Unconcluded.” Gurd produces episodes of the podcast along with is friend Scott Jamison. (It seems pretty popular with at least 300,000 downloads so far!) I haven’t listened to any episodes yet but hope to in the next week to see if I can learn any other details.

Have you listened to the “Unconcluded” podcast? If not, what are your theories on what happened to Jennifer Kesse?