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Victims' families, police hope, search for answers

More than a year has passed, and still the questions outnumber the answers. Friends wonder. A mother waits. Detectives fish for evidence.

But the facts remain the same _ one young man is dead, another missing _ and neither case has been solved.

Michael Wachholtz and Jason Galehouse _ both 26, both dark-haired, both gay _ disappeared within hours of each other on Dec. 20, 2003. Wachholtz was last seen leaving his Rocky Point apartment. Galehouse was last seen leaving the West Tampa gay bar known as "2606."

Wachholtz turned up dead days later, his body wrapped in a sheet in the back of a sport utility vehicle parked at a Town 'N Country apartment complex. Galehouse remains missing.

Officials at the Tampa Police Department and the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office have never been able to establish for certain that the cases are related, but they have not ruled out that possibility.

Nevertheless, they say that both cases remain under active investigation.

"As of November, (we) were still doing interviews," said sheriff's spokeswoman Debbie Carter. "The detectives want a resolution for the families as well as for the cases."

The brightest flicker of hope so far came in November, when authorities arrested 45-year-old Tampa resident Steven Lorenzo. Authorities have alleged that he drugged and kidnapped six men, then sexually assaulted them.

Federal investigators charged Lorenzo with six counts of "knowingly and intentionally distributing for human consumption a substance containing a detectable amount of gammahydroxybutyric acid, also known as GHB, and gamma-butyrolactone, also known as GBL." The two substances often are referred to as "date rape" drugs.

Authorities declined Wednesday to comment on whether Lorenzo is a suspect in the Wachholtz or Galehouse cases, but those close to the two men said detectives have said that they are looking for potential links to Lorenzo, and possibly another suspect.

Brian Winfield, a spokesman for Tampa-based gay rights group Equality Florida, called Lorenzo's arrest "the single biggest development" in the investigations during the past year.

Perhaps no one has endured a longer year than Pam Williams, Galehouse's mother, who lives in Sarasota. She holds out hope that, somehow, her son remains alive.

There was the surveillance tape in May from a Sarasota department store that showed a customer resembling her son. There are the phone calls that have come with silence on the other line.

"Jason, is that you?" she will ask, as the person hangs up.

There is the clairvoyant she visited in Tampa who claims to talk to angels and knew some details about the case. There are the fundraisers she still holds, hoping to hire a private detective.

"I just keep my faith, you know," said Williams, a hairdresser. "That's all I can do. I pray. I go to work. It's the only way I'm keeping sane."

For now, the investigators, the friends, the families _ they must continue to wait and hope for the answers to Wachholtz's murder and Galehouse's disappearance.

"Right now the hope is that somebody will come forward with new information," said Tampa police spokesman Joe Durkin.

Anyone who can do that is encouraged to call the Tampa Police Department at (813) 276-3200 or the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office at (813) 247-8000. For more information on both cases, visit www.findjasonnow.com.

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