When graduate student Patrick Collins disappeared

in April 1986, University of Virginia officials seemed convinced—with no evidence—that he had abandoned his life. His family was adamant that he hadn’t, and described Pat as stable and mature. On campus, his backpack, keys, wallet, and ID had been found on his desk in Room 4-86 of Jordan Hall, but his car was three miles away at his apartment.

Battle lines soon formed, with Pat’s blue-collar family in California on one side and the elite eastern university on the other. Finally, grieving and embittered, the family withdrew in defeat. But the riddle persisted: How did Pat get to Room 4-86 that day, and where did he go?

I was working across the street from Jordan Hall when Pat disappeared, and followed the case closely. When I learned that the university—my employer and alma mater—had resorted to lies to silence the family, I became determined to discover the truth.

I understand the scars an institution can inflict; as a young woman, I had been locked in a small room for twelve weeks in a psychiatric hospital. Only by confronting the hospital twenty-six years later was I able to stand up to the university on Pat’s behalf. With the family’s assistance, access to documents from the case, and my insider’s knowledge of the university, my investigation exposed the methods the university used to block the family’s search for answers—and the wounds inflicted on this smart, sensitive man who came to UVa in pursuit of a dream. 

When the riddle was finally solved, it upended all assumptions: the university’s, the family’s, and my own.

Share This: