Patty Tam was preparing to celebrate her birthday. Little did she know that day would be the beginning of a heartbreaking journey to find out what happened to her daughter.
Beautiful 18-year-old Desirea Ferris had inexplicably vanished in the kind of unholy place angels like her would normally fear to tread. And it would take another angel who once walked on the wild side to penetrate a dark and dangerous underworld and unravel the mystery of Desirea's disappearance.
Desirea had grown up a happy small-town girl in Liberty, Missouri, a small suburb 15 miles outside of Kansas City.
And she had been blessed from birth with striking good looks and a vibrant personality.
Since Desirea's disappearance, her mother Patti Tam has been inconsolable, and chokes up just at the mention of her daughter's name.
Desirea was just as loved by her stepmother Jennifer Ferris, who married Desirea's father after he and Patti split up when Desirea was still a toddler.
"She just has a very warm, bubbly personality, always loved being with family, with her brothers and sisters, and her step brothers and sisters," said Jennifer.
Desirea had nine of them in all, plus her beloved pet dog and cat. And Jennifer says the whole family on both sides had hopes of Desirea becoming a teacher or childcare worker. But Desirea wouldn't get a chance after suddenly going missing the night before mom Patti's birthday.
"We had been texting all day long, and she said that he would be home that night, because her and one of my other daughters had something planned for my birthday," Patti tells Crime Watch Daily.
It's the last time Patti heard from her daughter. Desirea suddenly dropped off the radar after sending a message on her cellphone around 3 o'clock the next morning.
Desirea Ferris texted her sister: "I'll be home tonight. See you in a little bit." It's the last time anyone's been in contact with her.
"No phone activity, no Facebook activity. Absolutely nothing. It's just gone," said Jennifer.
"I filed her missing," said Patti.
Police learned that Desirea's phone had gone dead shortly after that last text, with cell tower pings indicating she was in a dangerous crime and drug-ridden neighborhood in South Kansas City.
"There's some rough areas and some rough people," said Liberty Police Captain Andy Hedrick.
Desirea's family insists she was not a druggie, so how did she ever get here? Her family claims she started hanging out with the wrong people.
"I just think that she was just naïve, and didn't really get the whole picture. Otherwise I don't think she would have ever been where she was," said Jennifer.
And police were asking themselves the same question.
"Who she was with and what she was doing are all part of the investigation," said Capt. Hedrick.
Dozens of Desirea's friends and family members began desperately searching the neighborhood where she is believed to have disappeared, hitting the streets and combing through wooded areas in the neighborhood and putting up missing fliers pleading for information on Desirea's whereabouts. Mom Patti is so frantic that the family offers a $4,000 reward.
Police were flooded with anonymous tips about what may have happened to Desirea. Some callers said they'd seen her alive.
"There's different locations outside the metropolitan area, even outside the state that have been reported, that they saw her in a window, or something like that," said Hedrick.
And cops continued to investigate every little piece of information they received about Desirea's disappearance.
"They've worked hundreds of hours on this," said Hedrick. "One lead leads to another lead. One tip leads to another tip, and sometimes things get reinvestigated because things are cast in just a little bit different light."
Even if that only meant eliminating possibilities.
What about the theory that Desirea might have just run away on her own?
"That's just out of character for her," said Hedrick. "There's no reason to believe based upon the leads that have come in that she's run off with anyone, or that she would voluntarily disappear herself."
Desirea's family had also considered and then quickly dismissed that theory.
"You know, at first that runs through your mind because you don't want your mind to go anywhere else, so yeah, you're just thinking to yourself, 'Oh, she's angry, did she get mad? Did mom make her mad? Did something happen?'" said Jennifer. "We heard all kinds of things. We heard that her and her boyfriend got in an argument and that she just had gone. But nothing ever came about any of those stories."
"She wouldn't just up and leave, disappear, run away," said Patti. "Anybody that knows Desirea knows better. She was a mama's girl."
And just when it seems like nobody will ever learn what happened to Desirea, an unlikely hero rides to the rescue.
The mysterious disappearance of teenager Desirea Ferris left police baffled and Desirea's heartbroken mother Patti inconsolable.
Police focused their investigation on the crime- and drug-infested neighborhood of South Kansas City, where Desirea's phone had stopped pinging early on the morning of her disappearance, May 2, 2017.
"Certain areas that investigators have gone back time and again for this investigation are very rough, 'trap houses,' houses where drugs are sold or stored," said Liberty Police Captain Andy Hedrick. "They're dilapidated places. They're just, they're terrible places."
And Hedrick says the people that occupy the drug houses not surprisingly haven't been very cooperative.
"There are some people we believe that have not been completely forthcoming, and those people need to tell us everything and be honest and truthful," said Capt. Hedrick.
As time goes by with no new leads, Desirea's family would grow impatient. And they would escalate their own search for Desirea into what they call a "family task force," even hiring a private detective to help.
"Nobody is going to love her like her family does, nobody is going to go to the lengths that her family and the small army behind us have gone to," said Jennifer. "There's nobody that's going to do that."
Despite their tireless efforts, they are coming up empty, just like the police.
"We just have nothing. I mean, we have not found her purse, her phone, a piece of clothing. I mean, we have absolutely nothing, nothing to go on," said Jennifer.
Until an unlikely hero comes riding to the rescue. His name is Spike Reuscher, a concerned neighbor who thought he could help a family in distress. And he really is an angel of sorts.
"Spike's been a godsend since he's been helping us," said Patti.
Which is a bit ironic because Spike has a hellish kind of past.
"I was a biker. I ran with clubs. I got hemmed up in some trouble myself. Almost did time myself," Spike Reuscher tells Crime Watch Daily.
But it's precisely those credentials that allowed Spike to go where most others couldn't: into the belly of the beast in South Kansas City, where he would bust into drug dens where Desirea may have been the night she disappeared, and extract leads and tips from the dangerous criminals plying their trade there.
"They're a parent's worst nightmare," said Jennifer. "They're the people you would not want to have your child involved with, to be alone with, to get in a car with, any of the above."
But big tough Spike didn't think twice.
"He just kind of took it over, and dove in head first into these people and chasing them down, and not much scares him at all," said Jennifer.
Nothing much scares Jennifer either, who insisted on going along to ride shotgun for him, along with some of Spike's old biker buddies.
"We have been in abandoned hotels, elementary schools, houses," said Jennifer. "We have climbed through windows, basements. We have been on the streets in the night in the dark, in the woods in the dark."
Jennifer says she herself angrily confronted someone she suspects of murdering her stepdaughter. And together, Jennifer and Spike believe they may have finally pieced together the puzzle of what happened to Desirea.
"We think we have the story and the people that were involved," said Jennifer.
Tragically, the story doesn't have a happy ending. According to the family's sources, an eyewitness saw something chilling in a white pickup truck under a carport at a drug house in South Kansas City.
"What we was told is that her body was found in the truck, that she was originally picked up from the home and deceased in the front passenger side seat of the truck," Spike tells Crime Watch Daily.
There's a chilling spray-painted memorial to a man murdered nearby just weeks after Desirea vanished.
"That's kind of how we connected her to this house," said Jennifer.
Spike says he learned Desirea had been driven there by a friend in Liberty in that same truck where her body was said to have been seen.
But they are still trying to learn how Desirea died.
"But everything that we have so far leads to the possibility that she's been murdered," said Jennifer Ferris.
Spike also says he heard a horrifying account of how her body was hidden.
"One of the stories we were told is that she, her body was possibly placed in a barrel with concrete," said Spike.
And a member of the family task force has already begun searching for it.
"I'm a diver, so I've gone underwater and looked for barrels and things like that," said Travis Carlier.
Police say they can't reveal details of the case, including leads uncovered by Spike's team.
"Certainly we understand that the family is going to get information on their own, nobody can blame them for that," said Liberty Police Captain Andy Hedrick. "I think they would do everything they possibly could, and if they think there's a chance that their efforts are going to help find out what's happened to Desirea, then they should pursue that."
Stepmom Jennifer says she truly hopes she and Spike are proven wrong about what happened to Desirea. And Desirea's birth mom Patti Tam can only hope they're wrong too.
"To me, I feel if I just accept that she's gone, that's me giving up, and I'm not giving up until I have her home," said Patti. "One way or the other I'm bringing her home."
Anyone with information about Desirea Ferris is asked to contact the Kansas City Metro Crime Stoppers hotline at (816) 474-8477. You can remain anonymous. You can also submit a tip to Crime Watch Daily.