WILLIAMSON COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — The FBI is awaiting tips, after they increased reward money this week to $100,000 for information leading to Rachel Cooke.
A former lieutenant who worked the missing person case during his time with the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office hopes the money will help. But he said the sheriff’s office made crucial mistakes when Cooke first disappeared.
“There was no reason to think she was a runaway, she had no history of it,” John Foster said.
But that’s exactly what the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office said Rachel Cooke was, the day her family reported her missing in 2002. Foster points to then-Sheriff John Maspero.
“Sheriff Maspero was hopeful she would just turn up.”
It was days later, after the Cookes started their own search, Foster says, that detectives started treating Cooke’s disappearance as a missing person case. By then, Foster says, the investigation was tainted.
“You look at the people closest to Rachel immediately, not days later, the Cookes should’ve been immediately interviewed.”
Foster says he made that suggestion to his supervisor when he was still a deputy, the night he responded to the Cookes home to take the missing person report.
“I was told that that was not going to happen, and that was per the sheriff that we were not to question the Cookes.”
Foster believes it’s because the sheriff and the Cookes knew each other. “It’s investigation 101, rule in or rule out people that are close to the victim.”
Had detectives followed protocol from day one, Foster believes there’s a greater chance the Cooke family would have closure by now.
“In any investigation, when you put your bad foot forward, it is usually haunting for the duration of the investigation.”
The Williamson County Sheriff’s Office does not currently have a policy stating they must wait a certain amount of time before they consider a person missing. Foster says that wasn’t a rule when he was in the office either.
Foster resigned from the sheriff’s office in 2014.
Others involved with the search for Cooke have shared Foster’s concerns about the investigation.
In 2011, KXAN interviewed Equusearch founder Tim Miller, who also blamed Maspero, saying the sheriff botched the case.
“I think Maspero from the very beginning dropped the ball,” Miller said, suggesting the sheriff was too quick to dismiss Cooke as a runaway or a college girl who was looking to party.
Equusearch is one of the nation’s leading missing-persons organizations, and was brought in to assist state and local law enforcement agencies with the Cooke case.
“I think some mistakes were made early on with law enforcement without taking a missing person’s report as early as they did,” Miller said in a 2011 interview with KXAN. “The sheriff made a huge, huge mistake.”
Maspero told KXAN in a 2011 telephone interview that Miller’s assertions were unfounded.
“I brought in the finest people I could think of — the Rangers, FBI, APD,” Maspero said. “We went beyond the scope of what was called for, and I’m disappointed Rachel’s case is still unsolved.”