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Corinne MacDonald: To find a killer

Staff Writer | November 14, 2010 8:00 PM

HAYDEN - The call Corinne MacDonald will never forget came about 8 on Sunday morning, Nov. 11, 1984.

She and her husband Bob were getting ready for church when the phone rang. It was their daughter, Gail.

Initially, Corinne thought she and Bob were running late and their daughter was reminding them to be on time.

But the next words she heard changed their lives.

"She said, 'Mom, I can't find Ryan.' I said, 'What do you mean you can't find him?'"

Corinne and Bob left their Valley Way home in Hayden and hurried to their daughter's on Dakota Street, a few miles away.

A search ensued for 2-year-old Ryan Hoeffliger, who disappeared during the night.

There was no happy ending.

His body was found hours later under a private dock in Hayden Lake, about 2 miles from his home.

At the time, detectives said Ryan was wearing pajamas, no shoes and his diaper had been changed. It led them to believe he did not wander off on his own.

But no evidence was found to indicate definitively what happened. No suspects. The death of the toddler was ruled a drowning, but for Corinne, it remains unsolved.

Afterward, annually for years, she wrote a letter to The Press recounting what happened, expressing her doubts he walked all the way to the lake, alone, in the dark, barefoot and fell into the lake.

She stopped writing that letter a few years back, but this year, wrote it again.

She hasn't given up hope, that someday, she will know what happened.

How well do you remember that day?

Very, very vividly. We just ran right over there. We were living here still.

Can you talk about the morning you received the call from your daughter that Ryan was missing?

We immediately ran over to her house and looked. She lived over on Dakota Street, a few miles away. I called the radio stations, and they said they couldn't do anything until they got permission from the sheriff's office. So then I got permission and I called. Within 45 minutes after the call, the whole place was just swarming with people coming to help. So they kind of looked in grids and looked every place they could find. And then Bob was out with a crowd giving information and bless his heart, Ron McIntire heard about it. He set up a table right away, food and coffee for people in the search. I stayed with Gail. Pretty soon, one of the sheriff's deputies came in and gave her the news. It was 2 o'clockish. I was not allowed to go upstairs with them. They took her upstairs and told her. You could hear that horrible scream. I'll never forget that.

Did you try to find out what happened?

We pursued and pursued. (Detective) Gary Cuff came out a number of times and talked to us. We gave him as much information as we could. Then we got to the point where you look at everybody and they're guilty of killing your kid. Are you the one? Are you the one? Are you the one? It's just kind of a sad type of thing. And then I just pursued it almost every year. Then, I finally kind of gave up.

A few years back. I thought, it was like beating a dead horse.

Do you have your own thoughts on what happened?

Bob and I both have our feelings. There's many, many rumors that went around at the point and time. He did it or she did it. Or somebody else did it. It's not fair to accuse somebody if it's not true. Like I say, my gut feeling says something.

Was there any indication something suspicious happened? Any indication someone broke in or had been in the house?

No. Like I say, I had my thoughts but I can't say. The front door needed a new lock on it.

Their house was on East Dakota. He was found at Hayden Lake, it's a good two miles or better, at least.

Anything else that was suspicious?

Little Ryan knew enough. He always knew he had to have his 'glubs' he called gloves 'glubs,' and his hat on. So he put them on and took them off. He knew enough about warmth. At 2 years old he's not going to wander outside barefoot. He knew enough to keep warm.

Do you hear from people over the years who offer input on what they think happened?

There was one gal a couple of years ago, she was down around the Snake River and she called and claimed she was a medium and started telling me a bunch of stuff.

What kind of boy was Ryan?

Just a little boy, 2 years old, full of fun. Gail did take him camping quite a few times. He didn't come over here a great deal. I have a picture of him (She returns with a framed collage with pictures of Ryan). He was a good boy.

Do you have special memories of him?

Just the week prior to that, we were bored and it was snowing so we wanted to do something. We all went out, there were about four couples and went out wood hunting in the back hills just for something to do. Ryan got all kind of tired. I said, 'Let me hold him,' and Gail said, 'I'll just put him in the back.' And I said, 'No, I just want to hold him.' That was the last I got to do it.

Do you still hope you'll find out what happened?

Well, yeah. Like the old cold cases or you hear umpteen years later somebody discovered something. Just to kind of keep the motion going is the best I can do. It'll never be solved. I know that. In my heart I know it will never be. It's just kind of nice to hope it would be.

How did what happened change your life?

A few years later after that I kind of went into a mental tailspin for about a year. Bob, bless his heart. He got me through it. Little by little. I don't think I'm nuts anymore.