CARTHAGE (AP) - Virginia Grunst can remember her daughter's infections laugh, happy smile and long blond hair like it was only yesterday when she left.
The pain in her eyes shows the suffering of a mother who hasn't heard from her daughter in 26 years.
This spring, Grunst and her family plan to memorialize her daughter, Clara Grunst, who disappeared on Oct. 9, 1984, an acceptance of reality by a family that still hopes to learn the fate of their daughter and sister.
Clara Grunst was 21 when she disappeared.
"Now she would be 47," Virginia Grunst said. "We're going to have a memorial for Clara probably the first part of May. It's cold weather now and I haven't had time to contact her friends that I want to contact. Clara had a lot of friends and I'm constantly, even now, running into people who say, when I write a check or something, they'll say 'are you Clara's mother?' and 'did you ever hear from her?'"
Virginia Grunst last saw her daughter at a truck stop on south Range Line Road in Joplin, south of Interstate 44, where she was getting into a truck with a stranger to ride to Milwaukee, Wis., where she was living and looking for work.
Virginia Grunst said she and other relatives had tried to convince Clara of the dangers of hitchhiking, but to no avail.
"Clara hitchhiked around the country, she loved to hitchhike, it was just in her blood," Virginia Grunst said. "She liked to travel and shop and every time she would come home she would bring me something from some state she had been in. It's just what she liked to do, but she didn't have to hitchhike because at the time she disappeared, she was carrying a large sum of money that her brother had given her and he had bought her a new suede coat that was over $100. It was still in the store wrapper, so robbery could have been the motive."
The last her family heard from her was on the CB radio as she talked with her brother for several minutes before the truck moved out of range.
"We've gone to California on leads and Canada and all kinds of places trying to find some trace of her," Virginia Grunst said. "At one time, before she disappeared, she went with a truck driver and he lost his job.
"After she disappeared - he wasn't going with her at the time she disappeared, they had already broken up - he drove a truck that was based out of Fontana, Calif., so he did a lot of looking for her. He said if he found her he would put her in the truck and drive her home but he couldn't find any trace of her."
Virginia Grunst said the family reported Clara's disappearance to the Newton County Sheriff's Department.
She said deputies told her they questioned the driver of the truck Clara was last seen riding in, and he has told several different stories about what happened to Clara in the years since the disappearance, but investigators could never get enough evidence to seek charges for a crime.
Newton County Sheriff's Chief Deputy Chris Jennings said the case is still open, but there isn't much investigators can do at this time but wait.
Jennings said Clara was reported to have been seen making a phone call in Pittsburg, Kan., days after she was last seen in Joplin, but they have no information on her after that.
Virginia Grunst said she's come to grips with the reality that her daughter likely will not come home alive, but she would like to know what happened to her.
"After this long, I don't know if we'll find her or not," Virginia Grunst said. "I hope that the person she left with, if he knows what happened, he would tell someone, not to have him prosecuted, but so we could bring her home. He could die or get killed and never tell us. That's one thing I'd like to see happen, but he's not going to do it."