Search continues for psychologist

Carroll man disappeared in Feb., leaving police, friends and family baffled

May 27, 2002|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

The Maryland State Police continue to investigate the disappearance of a psychologist with the National Science Foundation, three months after he was last seen at his secluded Taylorsville home in southwestern Carroll County.

The missing-persons photograph of Rodney Robert Cocking remains taped to the counter window at the Westminster barracks, but the case has been taken over by the state police Special Investigative Support Unit in Columbia.

"Any case that's a high-profile case - and certainly we consider the doctor's disappearance a high-profile case - would be turned over to them," said Lt. Terry L. Katz, commander of the Westminster barracks.

Cocking, 59, of the 2800 block of Sams Creek Road spoke with a contractor at his home the morning of Feb. 23. A friend arriving from out of town, who had been delayed in traffic, reported Cocking missing when he found no one at the house later that day.

"They have assured me they are continuing to look for all possible clues," said Darlene L. Gies, 64, of Tucson, Ariz., Cocking's sister and sole living relative, who expressed confidence in the police. "But the fact is that he's missing. I don't know any more than that myself."

Cocking, Gies' only sibling, was born on her fifth birthday, she said, and they always have been close.

"It is absolutely not" like her brother to disappear, Gies said, noting that he had recently bought a new condominium. "There has never been any doubt in my mind that something awful had happened."

Still, she said, "I'm hoping every day. All of his colleagues at the National Science Foundation have been calling me, too, asking `What, what, what?' The mystery behind it."

Questions also are being asked at the Taylorsville 7-Eleven store, where Cocking stopped regularly, said store owner Valerie Bohn. "We have customers who keep asking us whether we've heard anything about it, if we know something. There's still a lot of interest," she said.

Cocking's Lexus sport utility vehicle was found Feb. 24 at the Mount Airy Food Lion grocery store in Frederick County, just over the Carroll County line.

Witnesses later told police that it had been parked there since the morning of Feb. 23, but no one reported seeing Cocking or anyone else near the vehicle, which had no keys and showed no signs of tampering, police said. A review of surveillance video at the store did not show Cocking inside.

Respected in his field, Cocking was a published academic who rarely missed a day, according to those with whom he worked at the agency in Arlington, Va., which handles grants for scientific research.

Cocking primarily reviewed grant proposals for university research on child development, as director of the Developmental and Learning Sciences program, under the division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences.

"We miss him here at the foundation. He was a good guy and a good worker," said Joseph L. Young, the acting program director in the absence of Cocking, his friend and colleague of 20 years.

Their focus is the scientific study of human development, he said, and Cocking was in the midst of dealing with a large number of proposals that had come in a month earlier.

"We get them in batches two times a year, and he was busily dealing with the latest group of proposals," Young said. "He even met with one colleague on his way home Friday night. He was totally focused on his work."

Katz said at the time of the disappearance that Cocking was a man of reliable habits at work and in his personal life - which is why the police were so concerned.

"You get people who take off, who always wanted to sail around the world," Katz said. "He doesn't seem the type. It would be very uncommon for him to pack his bags and leave the area without telling anybody."

Cocking's sister agreed.

"No, he wouldn't just take off," she said. "When they said he was missing, I knew immediately that something else happened. ... We'll hope for the best.

"It's like the Chandra Levy thing," she added, referring to the former government intern whose remains were found Wednesday in a Washington park a year after her disappearance. "It took a long time for anything to happen."

State police ask anyone with information about Cocking's disappearance to call the Westminster barracks at 410- 386-3000.

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