It’s been 25 years since Stephanie Lyn Crane, then the 9-year-old granddaughter of Hazel Crane of Challis, went missing.
Although a quarter century has passed since Oct. 11, 1993, “it still hurts,” Hazel, 74, said last week. “It’s more like a slice with a razor than a tearing hurt. It’s a loss we’re not going to get over. After 25 years, you think it’s probably not going to be solved. For a long time every hunting season I thought, ‘Well, maybe this year maybe someone will find something.’ Why do I think that? Because there’s people out in the woods, I guess.
“Do I think she’s out there, necessarily? I don’t know. I must, subconsciously.”
The tragedy hit the Crane family hard. Stephanie’s parents, Ben and Sandi Crane, divorced after their eldest daughter’s disappearance. Ben, the oldest son of Hazel and Earl Crane, didn’t want to talk about Stephanie’s disappearance. While Hazel and Earl’s other adult children, Alfred, Rob and Patty, stuck close to home, Ben moved Stephanie’s three younger sisters to Orcas Island, Washington, and raised them there where people didn’t know about the tragedy “because he wanted his kids to be raised as normal kids,” Hazel said. Stephanie’s younger sisters are Colleen, Jessie and Tiffaney. Stephanie’s disappearance deeply affected them, Hazel said.
“You’re not supposed to run from problems, but it’s haunted here,” Ben told Hazel. He had too many memories of Stephanie in and around Challis and said, “I just can’t do this any more.”
Stephanie was “dad’s little tomboy,” Hazel said, and often went fishing with her father, even steelhead fishing through Salmon River ice. She caught her first steelhead when she was 6 and Ben told her she had to throw it back in because it was wild. Stephanie did, twice. She didn’t unhook the steelhead, reeling the fish back in two more times. That was too much for the fish, which died. They took it home and ate the evidence.
Mark Armbruster, the local Idaho Fish and Game conservation officer, didn’t find out about that incident but once asked Ben why he had two fishing poles in the water, which was against regulations, said Hazel. Stephanie piped up, “That’s my pishing pole!”
“She was full of it,” Hazel says of Stephanie. “She would’ve liked to be an Indian or a boy.” Stephanie would play outside with her shirt off, make bows and arrows out of willows and run around barefoot or with her shoelaces untied.
Both parents died without knowing the fate of their daughter, Sandi in 1997 and Ben 19 years to the day after Stephanie disappeared, on Oct. 11, 2012.
“I believe Sandi died from a broken heart,” Hazel said, although the official cause was a blood clot. “She gave up on life, lost her marriage, then her kids.”
Ben died of a massive heart attack. He was with a friend who was a fireman and EMT who started CPR right away. The ambulance arrived within 10 minutes, but he couldn’t be saved.
“It tears a family up,” Hazel said. I don’t think you ever get over that, asking the why.”
Stephanie’s disappearance changed Challis forever. The town lost much of its innocence that October day. The day after Stephanie disappeared Hazel remembers parents began driving their children to school and walking them inside the school doors. Parents still do today, in a steady stream of traffic every school morning. Not all hold their sons’ and daughters’ hands as they walk from the parking lot inside the doors at Challis Elementary School. Some are content to drop them off a few feet from the door and watch until their children are safely inside.
Some students still walk or ride bicycles to school, but it’s likely their parents didn’t live in Challis 25 years ago. Newcomers soon find out about Stephanie Crane. A man who recently found out Hazel was Stephanie’s grandmother told her how he’d left his daughter waiting in his vehicle while he went into the grocery store. When he came out, a woman was standing there, waiting for him and told him, “In Challis we don’t do that. We don’t leave our kids in the car.”
“So it’s made an impact, still to this day, I think,” Hazel said.
Hazel says she’s mostly given up hope that Stephanie will be found, but she still holds onto some.
“I still have the same phone number, I still have the same house. If Stephanie should call …”
The family has never had Stephanie declared legally dead, said Hazel, and probably never will.
This is the hardest time of year for Hazel, when “it all comes back.” Hazel said she agreed to be interviewed on the 25th anniversary of Stephanie’s disappearance because “I don’t want anyone to forget she was here. I want people to be aware. If you find a strange bone, take it to the Sheriff’s Office.
Hazel sees herself as an optimist. Worrying never makes things better, she says.
“I believe in prayer very strongly.” Maybe not knowing about Stephanie’s fate is God’s best answer for the family. Although the years of not knowing what happened to Stephanie have been hard, some things are better not knowing, Hazel said.
“I don’t think people are rotten to the core. Some are, but there are also a lot of kind, caring people,” Hazel said.
Happiness is somewhat of a choice that you can make in your own life, Hazel believes. There are exceptions. People are diagnosed with depression, but it can be treated and some can overcome it.
“If you’re not happy in yourself, you’re never going to be happy.” She likes what Michael J. Fox says: “Happiness is a state of mind.”
“I do think you can decide,” Hazel said.
Stephanie is still listed and her photographs posted on several nationwide missing persons lists, including the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and The Charley Project.