POCATELLO, Idaho (AP) - More than 25 years ago, Ben Smith, then 9 years old, watched a stranger carry his 14-year-old sister out of their home and into a van.

Linda Smith's clothes were found a week later scattered in a pit near Interstate 15. Four months after that, in October 1981, her skull was found in a ravine.

Now two police detectives in this eastern Idaho city say they are taking another crack at trying to solve the case.

"In the past, there have been one or two people who have handled all the cold cases," said Jim McCoy. "(Jeff) Katona and I are working on (this) one. I've read the entire case file, and so has he. We have come to the conclusion that we need to treat this as a fresh case."

Ben Smith now lives with a family of his own in Brigham City, Utah. He said has been suspicious of police promises to look into the case, starting with the night his sister disappeared.

After the van carrying Linda sped off that night, he ran to call police. But he said police didn't believe him when he explained what had happened - they thought the story had been made up and Linda had run away.

"It looks like they are actually committed to getting to the bottom of this," Smith told the Idaho State Journal. "The progress they have shown and the sincerity has been a big improvement over what we've seen in the past."

McCoy said he and Katona have interviewed people in the last few weeks about the case.

Kirk Nelson, a now-retired former Pocatello police captain, said Linda Smith's abduction is probably connected to four other abductions and murders that happened between 1978 and 1983 and also involved Pocatello girls.

"In a town this size, the odds of all these girls being abducted and killed by different people (are) astronomical," said Nelson, one of the original investigators on the Smith case.

The four other girls who disappeared were all students at Alameda Junior High.

Patricia Campbell, 15, disappeared from Pocatello's Alameda Park along with another Pocatello girl, Tina Anderson, during a 1978 Pioneer Day celebration. Anderson was positively identified through dental records in 1981. Cindy Bringhurst, 14, vanished from a baby-sitting job in 1983. Like Smith, her remains were later found near Pocatello.

Campbell's remains were only identified last month.

Authorities have not identified skull fragments of another teenage girl found at an Oneida County site in 1986. The records for those remains have been lost, police said.

Steve Findley, the current police captain, said he has worked on all the cold cases, and assigned detectives to them.

"There is no higher priority," he said. "The reality is when (businesses) get burglarized, we have to focus on those. We might lose sight of the cold cases for a few days, but then we're right back to them."

A task force that includes five departments and three counties has been formed to look into the cold cases. The task force meets to discuss any new developments.

"I'm feeling pretty positive right now I guess after what they did with Campbell's remains being identified," Ben Smith said. "The impression I got from Katona is that they've made leaps and bounds on (the Anderson and Campbell) cases."


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