In Modesto, It's Not Just Chandra Who's Missing

The woman came from Modesto, Calif., and she had a bright future ahead of her — and when she vanished without a trace, her parents’ world crumbled.

But her name wasn't Chandra Levy, whose disappearance has become headline news because of her possible relationship with her hometown congressman. This woman was 36-year-old Dena Raye McCluskey, who would have turned 38 last week, and she's only one of 23 missing people in Modesto. And McCluskey's family says her disappearance isn’t getting the attention it deserves.

"Why are the Levys getting all this help when we can't even [get any], at the one-year anniversary of Dena being missing," McCluskey’s stepmother Donna Raley said. "I am begging! I am on the streets begging people to pay attention! Hey guys, she's been gone a year!"

The same goes for Larry Madden, whose 20-year-old son, Michael, vanished during a fishing trip five years ago.

"In this coverage with the Levy case, somebody made a statement that Chandra Levy was a good person and she deserved to be looked for," Larry Madden said. "Well, does that mean that Michael wasn't a good person, and didn't deserve to be looked for?"

Larry Madden lost more than a son. He lost one of his closest friends.

"Every Super Bowl Sunday, no matter where he was at, or where I was at, we'd get together and watch the Super Bowl together," Madden said. "You know, I sure miss those days. I miss them terribly."

The system promises justice for all, but all Larry Madden sees is the attention lavished on those with money, political ties or a juicy news story.

"It's unfair, and it's unjust, and it shouldn't be that way, but that's the way it is," he said.

And without the media attention, cases like Michael Madden’s or Dena Raye McCluskey’s miss what could be important opportunities to crack the mysteries. Police say that so long as a case remains a big story, the greater the chance that tips will come in. But once the media lose interest, without any new evidence, investigators say there's little they can do.

"When the media attention dies down, guess what those kids become?" America’s Most Wanted host John Walsh said. "Just another face on a missing child poster."

Walsh, whose own son was kidnapped and murdered decades ago, knows firsthand what happens when the cameras move on to the next story.

"Unfortunately, we don't seem to care about missing children or missing persons after a month," he said. Everybody gets bored about it, including the media. Is it fair? It isn’t fair. And when you saw another case that happened the same week your child went missing getting national attention, you know what? That hurts, and it hurts bad."

Modesto police officer Christy Beffa knows how vital media coverage can be — and how painful the lack of it can be."

"Every night when i go to bed, these are the last faces I see, [and they’re the] first things I think about in the morning," she said.

That doesn’t make it any easier on Donna Raley.

"It's not fair," she said. "Our child is just as important to us as Chandra is to the Levys."

But maybe, some think, some of the peripheral glare from Chandra’s case can illuminate others.

"If it took those kinds of circumstances for Michael to get some of what I feel that he deserves, then you know, I'm grateful. I'm really grateful," Larry Madden said.

But without a potential scandal to keep their children’s face in the public eye, most Modesto parents have to keep their missing ones’ images alive in their hearts — and on the fliers they put up on telephone poles and on public walls.

"There are a lot more Michaels than there are Chandra Levys," Larry Madden said.

Claudia Cowan currently serves as Fox News Channel's (FNC) San Francisco-based correspondent. She joined the network in 1998.