VALLEJO -- Local and federal investigators began searching the Solano County Fairgrounds for a criminal defense investigator who went missing Sunday, hours after her family confirmed that investigators had spoken to an ex-boyfriend with a lengthy criminal history.
Oakland police spokeswoman Johnna Watson would not say during an Oakland news conference if investigators believe Sandra Coke, 50, was still alive. She said that Coke was seen Sunday night with Randy Alana, who a family spokeswoman said Coke had dated about 20 years ago.
A Solano County sheriff's spokesman said, however, that his department had been asked to assign its search and rescue team to the fairgrounds. The team includes dogs trained to detect human remains.
The spokesman told the Vallejo Times-Herald that the search that began about 8 p.m. is for a body. He added that the search would include not only the fairgrounds area, but a swath that includes part of nearby Lake Chabot.
Alana, who Watson described as a "person of interest" in the disappearance, has a lengthy criminal history, including convictions for kidnapping and rape, a murder charge -- for which he was eventually acquitted -- and a no-contest plea in a fatal prison stabbing.
"All we ask is if he has any information about the whereabouts of Sandra that he immediately come forward with it," family spokeswoman Laura Burnstein said in a statement.
Watson would not say what led investigators to focus on the Solano County fairgrounds area in their search. She said that Oakland police would be assisted by FBI, California Highway Patrol, and the Alameda County Sheriff's Department investigators.
Jail records showed that Alana was taken into custody Tuesday morning on a parole violation. He was being held without bail Thursday night.
According to a state-run sex offender registry, Alana is considered a high-risk offender. Undated convictions are listed for two counts of rape, kidnapping with intent to commit a sex offense and oral copulation.
Alana has been in violation of registration requirements since June 11, according to the Megan's Law website.
In September 1983, Alana, a paroled sex offender, was charged with the murder of Marilyn Pigott, 23, a woman he had known since their time together in elementary school. Pigott was found beaten to death with a hammer in her North Oakland apartment on Aug. 13, 1983. Alana was eventually acquitted.
While in custody awaiting trial for Pigott's slaying, Alana and another jail inmate were accused of fatally stabbing 40-year-old Al Ingram in June 1984.
Both men were charged in Ingram's death the following February, but the jury in Alana's trial deadlocked on the charge. His partner, however, was convicted of first degree murder in 1987. In March 1988, Alana pleaded no contest to the jailhouse killing and received a six-year prison term.
Hours before news of Alana's questioning was confirmed, about 25 friends and family members, some from New York, New Jersey and Ohio, attended a news conference to announce the reward Thursday. A handful of criminal investigators who worked with Coke at the federal public defender's office were also there.
Earlier Thursday, family and friends of Coke asked for the public's help in finding the Oakland woman, mother to a 15-year-old daughter. They announced a $100,000 reward for any information leading to Coke's return.
"We are begging anybody with any information about my sister's whereabouts or who have seen her to please come forward," sister Tanya Coke-Kendall said through tears. "My sister is an incredibly devoted mother and sister and friend and co-worker. We will not leave until she is found."
The 50-year-old woman went missing Sunday evening after telling her daughter she was going to investigate a tip about Ginny, her beloved cocker spaniel mix, who went missing when her home in the 600 block of Aileen Street was burglarized May 8.
Coke said she would return home after making a stop at Walgreens and drove away in her white Mini Cooper convertible about 8:30 p.m., relatives said. She never returned home that evening, and her vehicle was discovered two days later in the 800 block of 32nd Street.
Coke-Kendall said police are closely following a lead that her disappearance may be related to the months-long search for Ginny. Coke posted signs and billboards throughout the East Bay offering a $1,000 reward for the dog, many which resulted in false tips from people who had no information but wanted the reward money.
"She told me she had a number of people call and some quite cruelly called as a practical joke," Coke-Kendall said.
According to Coke-Kendall, Coke had at one point given money to a person who said they had Ginny, but turned out to know nothing about the dog.
The family has set up a non-police tip line where residents can come forward anonymously with information about Coke's whereabouts. Anyone with information may call 415-385-5190 or email email@example.com. Residents can also contact Oakland Police at 510-238-3641 or call the toll-free tip hotline at 855-TIPS-247.