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Originally published May 27, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified May 27, 2008 at 3:46 AM

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Nicole Brodeur

Man's disappearance draws online sleuths

Officially, Nicholas Francisco remains a missing person. The married father of two was last seen Feb. 13 leaving his Queen Anne graphic-design...

Seattle Times staff columnist

Officially, Nicholas Francisco remains a missing person.

The married father of two was last seen Feb. 13 leaving his Queen Anne graphic-design job. Five days later, his car was found abandoned at a Federal Way condo complex.So far, there is nothing to suggest foul play, according to King County sheriff's spokesman John Urquhart.

But for a legion of Web sleuths, Francisco, 28, is a cause célèbre. They have spent the months since the SeaTac man's disappearance cultivating and sharing their theories online, with Urquhart and with anyone who will listen.

"I have never had a case like this before," Urquhart said last week. "I have been flabbergasted by the amount of people across the country who have taken an interest in this case. And I don't know why."

The e-mails are breathless, the theories wide-ranging:

Some believe Francisco was leading a double life. Or ran off to Australia. Or was kidnapped from the parking lot at Costco, where he had told his wife, Christine, he was stopping the night he disappeared.

The Web sleuths also suggest how detectives should work.

"Would you please consider bringing search dogs to the Costco parking lot, and the bank of the river beside it?" one woman asked Urquhart. "In so many of the cases we've found online, missing men in their twenties end up being found in water ... " (They are?)

Lisa from Los Angeles offered to put up "Missing" posters there, "because it is such a hub for missing people." (It is?)

"Jean in Kentucky" wondered if police had checked security cameras. (They did.)

And they ask questions: Why has the Web site created to help find Francisco (www.findnicholasfrancisco.com) been taken down, yet one for his wife (www.supportingchristine.wordpress.com) is still up?

I tried to reach Christine Francisco to ask, but her phone was disconnected.

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Urquhart said he sends detectives anything that appears helpful, "but there is a lot that is pure conjecture."

Indeed, one blogger friend of Francisco's checked online for updates and was stunned at all the citizens on the alert.

"With the Internet on the case, who needs law enforcement?" she wrote. "Seriously, someone has been watching way too much 'Dateline.' "

And yet, the Web sleuths don't feel they are strangers butting in; some know what it's like to wait and wonder about someone they love.

The California woman? Her brother went missing and was later found dead.

Jean from Kentucky's second husband was killed by a person who tried to rob him.

She has written of her deep-seated "need to know what has happened to Nicholas Francisco."

"I can't get it out of my mind," she wrote.

Officially, Francisco remains a missing person and will stay one until he is found.

If he is found alive, deputies will inform his wife of only that — not where he is.

"It's not up to the police to tell others of a found person's whereabouts," Urquhart said.

Still, there are many who will want to know if Francisco is found. Strangers, sure. But only to him.

Nicole Brodeur's column appears Tuesday and Friday. Reach her at 206-464-2334 or nbrodeur@seattletimes.com. Thanks, but she's not on the case.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

About Nicole Brodeur
My column is more a conversation with readers than a spouting of my own views. I like to think that, in writing, I lay down a bridge between readers and me. It is as much their space as mine. And it is a place to tell the stories that, otherwise, may not get into the paper.
nbrodeur@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2334

UPDATE - 8:10 PM
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