For nine months, Terri Richardson has seen her eldest son only in her dreams during fitful sleep.
"In my dreams, I'm running toward him, but he keeps getting farther and farther away," she said by phone from her North Carolina home. "In another, I was in a crowd of people and I kept seeing him, but I walk over there and he isn't there."
Turlock resident Korey Kauffman, whose 27th birthday was this month, has been missing since March 29. No one has seen him and there have been no outgoing calls on his cell phone since that day.
Kauffman's family members, who refer to him in the past tense, think he was killed.
"I can't imagine never ever talking to him again.
It's not even real," Richardson said, pausing to sob. "I want to have hope, but when you are a mother and something happens to your child, you just know."
Beyond a mother's intuition, Stanislaus County sheriff's detectives say there is evidence of foul play.
They will not discuss the details of that evidence, but gave an account of the day Kauffman went missing and the course on which their investigation has led them:
On March 29, Kauffman left a friend's house on Lander Avenue in Turlock to walk several blocks to a home on Ninth Street to pursue something that "piqued his interest," said Detective Cory Brown.
Kauffman made a living scrapping metal, Brown said. Some he obtained legally, but some of it he stole from closed businesses, Brown said. Kauffman is well-liked among his group of friends, but a venture such as scrapping is guaranteed to generate a few enemies, he added.
The day before he went missing, Kauffman was in an argument about money with a man who threatened to "cut him from ear to ear," Brown said.
That man has been interviewed extensively by detectives and has been ruled out as a suspect, but detectives think theft could have been a driving factor in Kauffman's disappearance.
"We believe he is the victim of foul play," Brown said. "Whether he is dead or not, I don't think he left Ninth Street of his own free will."
Richardson, who last saw her son when she visited him in Turlock in October, admits he had issues and his life was at times tumultuous. But fundamentally, he was good, she said. "He tried to act like the tough guy, but in front of me, he was always a mama's boy."
Richardson reminisced about how her son held her hand and would lie by her side after she had shoulder surgery. When he was a child, she, he and her other two children would pretend to fight on the lawn, karate chopping at the air. After Richardson moved to North Carolina, Kauffman would send her animated text messages, a cartoon man blowing her kisses.
Detectives spoke with multiple people at the Lander Avenue and Ninth Street properties. They have visited the closed businesses from which he was known to take metal and have talked with property owners, Brown said. They have interviewed staff at recycling centers where Kauffman scrapped metal. Still, no suspect has been identified and detectives are looking to the public for help.
"One way or the other, I need to find him," Richardson said. "At least once every hour, he pops in my mind. I will hear something or smell something that reminds me of him or I will see the reaction of someone his age and it breaks my heart all over again."
Investigators ask anyone with information about Kauffman or his disappearance to call Brown at (209) 567-4485. Callers can leave an anonymous tip by calling Crime Stoppers at (209) 521-4636 and may be eligible for a reward.
Bee staff writer Erin Tracy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209)578-2366.