Michele and Neil Gilman braced for the unpleasant realities of moving their household: scratched furniture, broken china, maybe even a missing box or two.
What they never imagined possible was the wholesale disappearance of the contents of their four-bedroom Bethesda home.
But Aug. 11, that is exactly what happened. No sooner had a crew from New Horizon Van Lines (slogan: "Don't make a move without us!") packed the Gilmans' things for a trip to their new home in Williamsburg than the whole kit and caboodle vanished.
Gone were roomfuls of furniture and closets of clothes and the pictures of the Gilmans' two young children, the couple's wedding album, even their 6-year-old daughter's cherished security blanket.
"It's just a mystery," said Michele Gilman, 36, a professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law who was moving with her family to begin a one-year visiting professorship at William and Mary School of Law. "At first we figured [the truck] would turn up at a rest stop. Now we're going on a week" and the truck is still gone, she said.
Police said yesterday that they were searching for any sign of the well-marked truck or its driver, Paul Critzer, 37, a longtime New Horizon employee. Critzer now is considered a missing person and a wanted man in connection with the lost vehicle, police said.
Officials at New Horizon, a small, independent company based in Frederick, said they're perplexed by the disappearance, which has left them short a $50,000 vehicle, scrambling to complete jobs while lacking the truck and concerned about their reputation.
They described Critzer as a hard-working, valued employee who they worry might have come to harm.
"He could have run off, and you get mad thinking about it," said Eric Pence, the office manager for New Horizon who has known Critzer for 17 years. "And then you think, 'What if someone killed him?' and you get mad at yourself about that. It's very emotional."
Pence said Critzer was part of a three-man crew that went to the Gilmans' home Aug. 11 to pack. After they were done, Critzer took his colleagues back to company headquarters in Frederick. He was scheduled to drive the truck to Newport News, Va., where he would pick up two crew members at 8 a.m. the next day. Together, they would unpack the family's belongings, which Michele Gilman guesses to be worth about $130,000.
"At 8:30, the van still hadn't showed," Pence said. "That's when I started trying to reach him."
Frederick police are investigating the disappearance, and the FBI, which handles interstate theft incidents, is monitoring the case.
It's the not knowing that's the worst, Michele Gilman said.
"Is [Critzer] sitting in Key West sipping margaritas," she said, "or has something horrible happened to him? We have no idea."
Neither do investigators, who said the truck was last seen the day of the move at 6:30 p.m. traveling south on Route 15 in Loudoun County. So far, they have no leads.
David Sparkman, spokesman for the American Moving and Storage Association, said the case is puzzling. "Things getting lost or damaged in the course of a move is not unusual," he said. "But not everything."
The Gilmans' hope that their possessions would reappear has mostly faded. They've bought new underwear from Target and gotten library cards so the kids have books. Rental furniture arrives today. Meanwhile, they are spending hours filling out insurance forms and taking steps to guard themselves against identity theft.
"Everyone says it's a fascinating story, but they want to know how it ends," said Neil Gilman, 37. "We really want to know that, too."