Back Mountain, Pennsylvania: A beautiful place with a dark side that includes a suspected serial killer, missing women and claims their murders were caught on camera. And for the first time in my career, it's a story that ended with a shotgun pointed at my head.
The good folk of this remote community known as Back Mountain thought they had rid themselves of their resident evil.
"That was a shocking case because there were bodies found in the man's yard," said Pennsylvania State Trooper Tom Kelly.
But then when crazed murderer Hugo Selenski has already been locked behind bars for a year, a young woman named Phylicia Thomas goes missing.
"I never knew I was never going to see her again and I missed her so much," said Phylicia's mother, Pauline.
And fear once again returns to Back Mountain, sparking talk among residents that Phylicia may have fallen victim to cohorts of Selenski, carrying on the maniac's deadly handiwork.
"I think she was killed because she came and told us what was going on," said Pauline.
When it comes to unsolved murders, sleepy little towns like this one are notorious for wild rumor and innuendo. But you've never heard anything quite like what you'll hear from locals here in Luzerne County in northeastern Pennsylvania.
"Everything is in here, anything anybody told us," said Pauline.
Pauline, with the help of family friend Judy Fisher, have compiled thick casebooks full of hundreds of tips, leads and newspaper articles about Phylicia's disappearance. And Pauline won't stop until she learns what happened to her daughter.
Phylicia was the eldest of seven children, and grew up helping mom care for the younger ones.
Phylicia might still be around had one of her friends, Jennifer Barziloski, not gone missing three years before Hugo Selenski's backyard burial ground was discovered.
"Phylicia was looking for her. She was telling people she was looking for Jen," said Judy Fisher.
Phylicia became obsessed with finding Barziloski.
"She would not let it go," said Pauline.
And while playing amateur detective, Phylicia may have learned too much for her own good.
"She says 'I think Steve Martin killed her and buried her in her basement,'" said Pauline. "I said, 'Phylicia, that's so crazy. People don't just kill people and bury them in their yards, basements and get away with it.'"
Steven Martin was the boyfriend of Jennifer's sister, and said to be a friend and neighbor of Hugo Selenski.
"He was definitely a person of interest in [Jennifer's] case," said Trooper Kelly. "Right from the start he was the last person to be known to be with her the day she went missing."
Then up to 12 bodies were found buried on Selenski's property, and authorities thought Jennifer and another missing girl, 18-year-old Cindy Song, might be among them.
"It was a case that shocked this area," said Trooper Kelly.
Even though Selenski would admit he killed Cindy Song, she was not counted among the victims because the bodies were burned so badly that police couldn't even say exactly how many there were.
"Some of them were in a burn pit where the bodies were burned to almost a powder," said Kelly.
Forensics experts were only able to identify two, and Jennifer was not one of them either.
"She tried to tell me, tried to bring her girlfriend justice, and I didn't listen," said Pauline.
Then the year after Selenski's arrest, Phylicia Thomas goes missing too.
On the night Phylicia vanished, police say she had left work at a convenience store between 11:30 p.m. and midnight.
"She went home and her boyfriend was on the couch sleeping," said Trooper Kelly. "She woke him up, asked him if he wanted to do anything, if he wanted a beer. He told her there was some outside on his ATV and that's it. He went back to bed and she was never seen by him again.
"He was interviewed several times," said Kelly. "He's been cooperative with the investigation, so truly no one is ruled out as a suspect at this time, and everything he's said to us was checked out and appeared to be true."
Officer Kelly says Phylicia went to a party that night.
"When she left that party she left with Steve Martin and another male, and the other male was dropped off, and her and Steve Martin continued on their way," said Kelly. "Phylicia Thomas was never to be seen again."
Steve Martin was also the last person to see Jennifer Barziloski before she vanished.
"I think there's a lot of peculiarities," said Kelly. "Like Steve Martin was the last person to be seen with both people, both people ran with the same circle of friends."
A massive search is launched, but it appears right from the start to be an impossible mission.
"She went missing in June, which is full bloom for our trees in this area, heavy canopy, very dense wooded areas, caverns, ravines, creeks, dams," said Kelly.
This gives you a sense of just how complicated the search has been for Phylicia's body. The focus has been on these wooded areas and forests punctuated by vast swamplands and muddy creeks.
"Hundreds of people came out," said Pauline. "They came out on quads. They came out on horseback. Everybody was really trying to help."
And when the official search is called off after two months, Phylicia's family keeps going out on their own looking for her.
Then, just by accident, a grim discovery by a pair of teenagers out riding ATVs in a ravine.
"One of them observed what he believed to be a skull," said Kelly.
When a young woman goes missing in the wilds of Pennsylvania, her friend Phylicia Thomas is determined to find out what happened to her. But then Phylicia vanishes too, and many suspect it was because she knew too much, and was closing in on the killer.
The forensics results come back on the human skull.
"Both the dental records and DNA on the skull came back to that being Jennifer Barziloski," said Kelly.
Police had hoped to find more evidence at the location.
"The scene was scoured relentlessly by our forensic services unit to come up with more of the remains of Jennifer, but the only thing located was that skull," said Kelly.
However, Officer Tom Kelly notes something else.
"I will say that skull was found within one mile of Steven Allen Martin's home," said Kelly.
You'll recall that Steven Martin was the last person to see both Jennifer and Phylicia before they disappeared.
Now Pauline suspects Phylicia may have been made to disappear because she knew too much. Police have also considered that theory.
"For me to say how close she was getting, I can't officially say that because we don't know, but it's definitely something that's been tossed around. That she had information," said Kelly.
Information allegedly suggested that Steven Martin and other men said to have been friends and neighbors of diabolical killer Hugo Selenski may have been carrying on his evil handiwork after he was locked away.
Phylicia reportedly had a direct connection to Selenski through her live-in boyfriend, Ed Rudaski, who allegedly took Phylicia to a party where Selenski was among the guests. Phylicia had actually partied with Selenski, allegedly more than once.
"The only connection between them is Ed and Steve Martin, they were all friends," said Judy. "Phylicia used to go to the parties that Hugo was at, Steve was at with Ed."
From all the leads and tips coming in to Judy and Pauline, there emerges one common story, allegedly told by many different witnesses, that adds up to a horrifying account of what may have happened to Phylicia at that party she attended the night she disappeared.
One witness reportedly told Judy: "Steve Martin was there and a couple of other guys were there and they talked Phylicia into going into the bedroom to smoke, and she went and she said soon there was screaming coming from the bedroom, and the man that was in the bedroom had a camera.
"They saw a camera go in the room with the one guy, and they were scared they were taping and that she was being raped," said Judy.
Several others also allegedly told Judy they heard Phylicia screaming, one claiming: "That he got afraid the cops were going to come because of the screaming. He left because he was scared. He thought they were beating her up."
Judy says several witnesses said Phylicia's boyfriend Ed Rudaski was also at the party and in the bedroom, despite his telling the police he went to bed after Phylicia had left their house.
"They told him to take a walk, and he did take a walk," said Judy. "He left her there to die, because he left while she was screaming, and he couldn't take it."
Police will not confirm that story -- but another witness allegedly told Judy several guests actually saw Phylicia's body in the room.
"She said that when they opened the door that Phylicia was wrapped in a blanket and they took her and buried her," said Judy.
How much weight does she put in the version of events these people told her?
"Well, I do know that I wouldn't be telling you this if I didn't confirm it with the state police," said Judy. "The state police did get that same story, many times."
But they have dismissed those stories, saying that they believe whoever is telling those stories were affected by drugs at the time?
"Yes," said Judy.
I asked state police officer Tom Kelly about claims "snuff films" were being made. Is there any truth to those wild theories?
"To my knowledge, no. I have no information or have I heard anything about that," said Kelly.
Is that something that crossed the paths of investigators on this case? Was it something at one time was looked into that there might be a snuff group operating in the area?
"Yes, I mean if people related that information to investigators, they may have that information," said Kelly. "But me, personally, I do not."
You'll recall that Phylicia was last seen leaving the party in a car with Steven Martin and a second unidentified man. But despite the fact that he was the last to see both Phylicia and Jennifer before they vanished, police would never be able to charge him with their murders.
"Steve Martin was arrested and incarcerated for an unrelated charge and hung himself inside of that prison cell," said Kelly. "So there's a lot of signs and inferences that can say maybe he was our guy. But officially we don't have a confession and right now it's still an unknown."
But what about Phylicia's boyfriend Ed Rudaski -- could he be that second unidentified man in the car with Martin and Phylicia?
So if I were to suggest to you that person might have been Ed Rudaski, you wouldn't be able to confirm or deny it?
"That's correct," said Trooper Kelly.
Ed Rudaski has not been charged with any wrongdoing in Phylicia's disappearance, and has co-operated with police.
Crime Watch Daily visited Ed Rudaski's mother.
Did Ed have anything at all to do with Phylicia's disappearance?
"No. No. No," she said.
Getting a door slammed in your face is nothing compared to what happens when I go into an auto shop to talk to some of Ed's neighbors.
"Good morning sir, how are you? Sorry we've been rolling around the back of your property. I apologize for that. I wasn't sure ..."
"You're lucky because my daughter-in-law had the gun aimed at you," said a man at the door. "That's her job. She called me and told me, she said she was all ready to bang -- I said hold off."
"Well I'm glad you said that. We're working with Phylicia Thomas's family."
"I don't know nothing about it other than what I read in the paper," he said. "No idea."
It doesn't look like we're going to get any answers about Phylicia's disappearance from Ed Rudaski and his neighbors. But even though she's been missing 12 long years now, her family won't rest until they learn what happened to her
"We really need her," said Pauline. "We need to find her and we need to know these guys go down so other girls and families don't have to go through this."