Friends and family are fearing the worst in the disappearance of a Royal Lakes woman, who hasn't been seen since Jan. 25.
Mary Elaine Huber last saw her friend, Denita Hedden, on her 37th birthday at her home in Royal Lakes in Macoupin County.
"We're just waiting for the truth to come out," said Huber. "Until we know the actual truth — every day you find something else, and maybe it was this. Every day it changes, but nothing's changed."
She said the two drank cappuccinos the last day Huber saw Hedden, adding that the two often sat and drank coffee together.
"We would sit around and drink coffee and relax. She was great to my kids, great to her kids ... my kids couldn't have a better aunt," said Huber, who has a daughter with Raymond Dyer, one of Hedden's brothers.
Hedden's close relationships with friends and family compelled the investigation early on, Macoupin County Sheriff Shawn Kahl said.
"Right off the bat, there were some worries that something could have happened to her." Kahl said. "From what the family indicates, she was a good mother and always made contact with her kids."
Hedden hadn't contacted her children before her disappearance and that's why investigators felt right away that her disappearance was suspicious, Kahl said.
Dyer knew something was off on her birthday, when she didn't return his messages about meeting up with him and other family, including her children.
"It don't happen like this, there's a body or something," her brother said.
"It's been drawn out and there's no answers. There's no sign of answers right now. Getting the kids through all this, it's been a lot," Dyer added.
The investigation was initially led by the Major Case Squad of Greater St. Louis, but the case was relinquished back to local police on Feb. 12, according to Kris Tharp, who led the Major Case Squad.
"We feel she did meet with foul play," Tharp said.
The Major Case Squad conducted a number of searches for Hedden in early February, covering more than 22,000 acres. At one point, they asked for residents in Macoupin County to report "anything unusual."
Kahl said the police have suspects — her family and friends do, too.
"I pretty much knew who the finger would be pointing out, and nobody’s been able to wrap him up with it yet," Dyer said.
Hedden's estranged husband, Micheal Hedden, is not a suspect, police said.
"We're not going to name a suspect at this time, but I can tell you the husband is not a suspect," Kahl said.
Hedden's brother Dyer said he was with Micheal Hedden the day Denita Hedden went missing and never considered that he had anything to do with Denita's disappearance.
"I was with Mike all that day, and the kids," Dyer said.
On her birthday, Hedden had coffee with Huber and later went to a St. Louis casino. Going out was rare for the missing woman, Huber said, calling Hedden "a homebody." Dyer said his sister was a "really high-spirited person" who was always up for doing something with the kids, like going to the park.
"That's how we've always been, play with the kids," he said.
Hedden's mother, Lillian Daniel Gray, is frustrated.
"It's got me a nervous wreck," she said from her home in Missouri. She said she had no more answers now than when she went to Illinois to talk to police soon after Hedden was reported missing.
Kahl said there was no new information from the investigation that could be released to the public.
"Hopefully we can give out a little more in the near future," Kahl said. "Keep it out there, and hopefully something turns up."
Anyone with information about Hedden's disappearance is asked to call the Macoupin County Sheriff’s Office at 217-854- 3135, extension 1, or Macoupin and Montgomery County CrimeStoppers at 800-352-0136.
Mary Cooley: 618-239-2535, @MaryCooleyBND