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Into the Void: The Tragedy of Lynne Spalding's Disappearance Is How Close at Hand She Was Lost 

Tuesday, Nov 4 2014
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Did her dehydration cause cramping in her legs? Did her head ache? Did she know where she was? Was she, finally, trapped by her mind or her body?

Reactions to her discovery varied.

Hospital security, who had failed to property search for her, were cavalier about it, as a transcript of a phone call between two sheriff's deputies that day reveals:

"Well, they found her today."

"Oh they did?"

"Yeah, she was in one of the stairwells... four flights up."

"No kidding? They didn't smell her, huh?"

"No, I didn't smell her, but two of our guys fucked up big time. They are both trying to blame the other one, but they didn't do their job — nothing new. I'm just laughing."

Casey, like Spalding's twin brother Bill, learned she'd been found from the media. Casey got a phone call that day. "I found out, a TV reporter... called me," he says now. Bill saw it on television.

"Her family and friends are just devastated... They're frustrated and apprehensive," a family spokesman told the Mercury News on the day she was found.

Since then, Spalding's family in San Francisco, communicating mostly through spokespeople and lawyers, has stayed quiet on the matter.

But her brother has not.

The Spaldings grew up in the Village of Haswell in the north of England. It was the kind of place that held weekend livestock auctions. Most people farmed or worked in the coal mines, like her father. It was a small-town existence.

"We looked at pizza and we knew it was good, but we didn't know what it tasted like," says Bill Spalding now, who still lives in County Durham, near Haswell.

Bill says his sister grew up bold. Once, her father offered to take her down into the mine on a day when it was not running. She leaped at the prospect.

"Hours later she emerged, her face covered in coal dust, sporting a gigantic smile, and carrying in her arms a giant lump of coal. She'd taken a pick to the coal face and hewn it from the rock herself. She was 8 years old," Bill wrote soon after her death.

Spalding left England for Belgium and then Greece soon after she got out of school. In Greece she met an American serviceman and they moved to the States. Here, the relationship collapsed and she moved to San Francisco. Eventually she married and raised two children, working in the city's tourism industry.

A snapshot of her on the "Find Lynne" Facebook page shows her standing above a Pacific Coast beach. Her expression conveys the happiness of someone having arrived.

Bill has a strong regional accent, known as a Geordie, and parses no words when it comes to his sister's death. "Lynne's dead and that's the end of it. I would like to know how she personally was, if it's possible, in her last moments, in her last hours. Her last days," he says now. "It's possible in this day and age to get a better result than [de]hydration, sepsis, and chronic alcoholism."

He got his wish. A few weeks after her death, he was led up to the fifth floor of San Francisco General Hospital by the staff, which took him to the spot where his sister died.

After walking him down the hallway, where his sister presumably walked, they came to the exit door. "'I'm awful sorry I have to come with you,'" Bill recalls a hospital official saying as the deputy opened the door. In the stairwell, Bill asked where she had been found exactly, but they didn't want to say. "I looked and it was obvious where she'd been," he says. The security left him alone. "So I said a couple of words to my sister.

"She was just so confused, she didn't know where she was, she just wandered off," he says. "I went to the spot where she'd been. It was a blessed relief to go there... You could tell Lynne had been dead a long time."

On the first anniversary of her discovery, Oct. 8, 2014, Bill was on a bus in London emblazoned with images of his sister and full of people whose family members had, like Spalding, died abroad. They drove through the city lambasting the Foreign Office's failure to help them find out what happened to their kin.

Some protesters wore T-shirts with Lynne Spalding's face on them. "Shame on you" was written below, a dig at the Foreign Office.

Back in San Francisco, the family has sued the city.

Until recently, little had been said about who, if anyone, had faced consequences for the botched search for Spalding.

A federal investigation eventually found fault with almost everyone involved, including the hospital and the Sheriff's Department. In October, the Sheriff's Department, which after Spalding's death implemented a series of changes to hospital security, revealed that so far, several department employees who worked security when Spalding went missing have been punished. One was fired, two were suspended, and another five still face discipline.

The day her body was wheeled from a dark side-exit of the hospital, city officials stood in front of their hospital and promised that nothing like this would happen again. They called her death an anomaly, an unfortunate tragedy they would do all they could to prevent in the future.

But when the corona of media queried Mayor Ed Lee and health officials on Oct. 11, 2013, at a news conference in front of the hospital, a lost and delirious-looking young man wobbled barefoot not 20 feet away. He was in a hospital robe opened at the back, his ass exposed to the world.

Several months later, after the hospital put into place new protocols (more have been introduced since) to prevent disappearances, a patient wandered out of the hospital again.

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Jonah Owen Lamb

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