(STONEHAM, Mass.) — Cadaver dogs and searchers are combing an area of a Massachusetts state park today in hopes of solving the 1989 cold case disappearance of a local teenager.
Melanie Melanson was 14 years old when she went a party in the woods on the Woburn-Stoneham town line in Massachusetts. She entered the woods with friends and was never seen again.
Her body was never found and no one has ever been arrested in her case, even though authorities have said they believe she is dead.
“She was left in the woods by most of the partygoers with two to three individuals, one or all of them had something to do with this,” private investigator Michael Garrigan told ABCNews.com. “We just want to figure out what happened. We’ve heard a lot of stories over the years, a lot of reasons why and possibilities, but until we find her, we won’t have the truth.”
A recent credible anonymous tip gave the investigation new hope.
Garrigan said that when he receives a tip, he tries to validate it in some other manner before putting a lot of hope or resources into it.
While Garrigan did not want to disclose the specifics of the most recent tip, he said the tipster told him “we should take a look at the woods.”
“In this case, we were able to confirm it in a couple different avenues so that made it necessary to do a search and see if there was anything there,” Garrigan said.
Eleven teams with cadaver dogs will be using a systematic grid search to comb a section of the Middlesex Fells Reservation in Stoneham, Mass. The woods used to be connected to the Woburn woods where Melanson was last seen.
“There was a way to get there relatively easy, and this was also the stomping ground for the people we believe were involved in [Melanson’s disappearance],” Garrigan said.
Melanson’s aunt, Karen Montgomery, 56, told ABCNews.com the family believes Melanie’s body might have been moved from one set of woods to the other. She is “very hopeful” that there will be a breakthrough in the case soon.
“It’s like a 23-year funeral. On holidays and her birthday, there’s times you wish she was here and it’s hard,” Montgomery said. “It’s tough enough when you lose a parent when they’re older, and that’s the circle of life, but not a 15-year-old girl.”
Melanson disappeared on Oct. 27, 1989, and her 15th birthday would have been that Nov. 1.
“She had no reason to run away or go anywhere,” Montgomery said. “She was looking forward to her birthday and getting her braces off. Her father was going to buy her leather boots.”
Melanson’s grandparents and parents have died, but her aunts and uncles have kept up the search.
“We owe it to her parents and grandparents and owe it to Melanie not to give up and to keep looking … until we can hopefully find her and give her a respectful burial and a place where we can put flowers on her grave,” she said. “That’s all we want. That’s what everybody deserves.”
Garrigan has been working for Melanson’s family since 1991 and refuses to stop searching for her until he has found her.
“I have four children and if this was a daughter of mine, child of mine, I couldn’t stop,” he said. “And [even though] the child isn’t mine, I have the same philosophy. No child should disappear at age 14 and 23 years later have no information about where she went. It’s just wrong, and no family should go through that.”
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Debra Goldschmidt, CNN
Jon Ostrower and Rene Marsh, CNN
Madeline Holcombe, CNN
Eliott C. McLaughlin and Paul Vercammen, CNN