By John Clise
It’s been more than 20 years since Mary Friend and Maxine Stalnaker went missing from Lewis County, West Virginia under mysterious, and still unsolved circumstances.
Stalnaker was 69, and Friend was 46 at the time of their disappearance on Dec. 1, 1999.
Their disappearance has been shrouded in mystery, rumor, hearsay, and fumbled investigations over the years.
Though no sign of the women has come up, Friend’s vehicle was found abandoned near Gore, WV, in Harrison County, almost a week later. Also, police divers found a purse containing the women’s IDs in 2002 after a fisherman reported finding a purse in the lake.
It’s still a cloud over the community to those who remember their disturbing, unsolved disappearance.
I went to work at The Weston Democrat, 2000, not long after the disappearance. The community was in shock and frightened over what happened. People were also afraid it might happen again to someone else after that.
It was the topic of choice at the local donut shop, and other eateries, salons, barber shops, grocery stores, and our Democrat offices as people would come in to pay their bill or just want to know if we’d heard anything new. Those were the days before booming social media when people still depended on printed newspapers for their information.
I had weekly, sometimes daily, meetings on the case and the story with my editor at the time, the late George Whelan.
It was the first tough story we covered together. Others were to follow.
According to the Charley Project, Mary was last seen with her mother, Marcus “Maxine” Stalnaker, at their residence in Lewis County, West Virginia during the evening hours of December 1, 1999. They shared the home with Mary’s husband Kevin, who was working in Maryland at the time.
That day the two women left home to go pick up Mary’s sister, Pam Pugh, and get tires for their vehicle from Mary’s adult son, Joseph Edward Metz. Mary and Pugh dropped Maxine off in Jane Lew, West Virginia, where her son picked her up and took her shopping.
The sisters went to Metz’s home, and he installed two used tires on Mary’s car. They offered him a ride to work in Jane Lew, as he didn’t have his own vehicle, but he declined. He didn’t make it to work that evening but did get a ride to Jane Lew later and hitchhiked back home.
Pugh and Mary left Metz’s home at 6:00 p.m. Maxine’s son dropped her off at her home at 5:00 p.m. Mary dropped Pugh off at Pugh’s home between 8:00 and 9:00 p.m., then drove herself home.
This is the last time anyone saw either of the women. The next morning Mary was supposed to pick up Pugh, who would drive her to work and then use her car to go shopping with Metz. Mary never arrived at her sister’s residence and never reported to her job at the local dry cleaner’s.
Kevin tried to call his wife and mother-in-law several times over the next few days, and even called one of Mary’s coworkers to try to get in touch with her. When he arrived home on December 3, he found his house uninhabited. There was no sign of violence or forced entry at their home, but there were also no indications that the women had left voluntarily, and all of their belongings were left behind.
Maxine’s pet Doberman was found dead under the house. Police haven’t disclosed the cause of the dog’s death. The family’s second dog, a border collie, wasn’t at home, but was later found at Mary and Kevin’s former residence at Glady Fork near Stonewall Jackson Lake, ten miles from the Friend/Stalnaker home.
Mary’s gray 1987 Chevrolet Celebrity was discovered abandoned on December 6, five days after Mary and Maxine vanished. There was no sign of them at the scene. The vehicle was located in Clarksburg on Route 19 close to the former Harrison County Bureau of Emergency Services near Gore, West Virginia.
Investigators searched Stonewall Jackson Lake in 2002, after a fisherman found a purse belonging to one of the missing women. Identification for both Mary and Maxine was inside the purse. They searched the lake a second time in 2007, but found nothing of interest.
It should be noted that Metz lived near Stonewall Lake and the Friends’ former home where the border collie was found, and the animal used to belong to him.
In September 2013, Metz and two other men, David Martin Hughes and Charles Steven “Steve” Freeman, were charged with robbery, kidnapping and first-degree murder in the two women’s cases. Photos of the suspects are posted with this case summary.
The charges were dismissed in November for lack of evidence. However, in December 2013, Hughes was charged with conspiracy to commit robbery in Stalnaker and Friend’s cases, and later, Freeman and Metz were charged again with two counts of first-degree murder.
Hughes pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with the prosecution, but his story repeatedly changed: he implicated only Metz, then said both Freeman and Metz were involved in the murders, then claimed he didn’t know who was involved and had been coerced into making his previous statements.
In August 2015, the charges against Freeman and Metz were dropped again after the prosecutor admitted Hughes was not a credible witness. The case was dismissed without prejudice, meaning the suspects could be charged with murder a third time if more evidence comes to light.
Mary and Maxine’s bodies have never been found, but foul play is suspected in their cases due to the circumstances involved.
If you have any information regarding this case, please call the Federal Bureau of Investigation West Virginia Office at 304-624-6200.