by Rosie Dunn
It is four years since Manic Street Preachers rock star Richey Edwards vanished.
But time has not dimmed the love of his sister Rachel or her fierce determination to find out what happened to him.
She says: "My family are still as tormented today as we were the day Richard walked out.
"I cannot rest until I find out what has happened to my brother. He is not a rock star in a famous band to us -- he is our flesh and blood and it hurts every day he is not here with us.
"It is that pain that drives me on to try to find him because I have to know the truth."
Rachel, a 29-year-old care worker, adds: "How can I plan anything?
"I put everything off in my life in the hope that if I wait long enough he will return to share it all with me."
Richey went missing hours before the Manics were due to fly to America on tour.
The three remaining band members -- James Bradfield, Sean Moore and Nicky Wire -- went on to conquer the music world, winning Brit Awards for best group and best album at last week's ceremony.
But their success is of little comfort to Rachel and her parents Graham and Sherry, who have never given up their search for Richey.
Rachel, who still calls her brother Richard: "He was the soul of the band -- the pulse that gave them life back in those early wild days. These days everything has changed and it hurts me to watch them. When they played Cardiff in December last year I couldn't bring myself to go along.
"It would have been Richard's 31st birthday and it was just too painful for me to go along."
The mystery surrounding Richey's disappearance has led to the Welsh songwriter and guitarist being dubbed the Lord Lucan of rock.
Constant rumours surrounding his fate have only added to the family's misery, as have a series of false sightings.
Because of his troubled past, Richey's family have not ruled out the possibility that he may have taken his own life.
He had a history of causing injuries to himself, including one horrifying incident in which he cut his arm with a knife during a backstage interview with a journalist.
But the family are convinced he fled the pressures of fame and started a new life abroad under a false name.
Rachel, who lives near her parents in Blackwood, Gwent, vividly recalls the day she received the phone call from her mother telling her Richey had vanished.
She says: "That call was the start of four years of torture for me and my family. Mam just said the words, 'Richard's gone missing.' I stood there rooted to the spot. I was stunned, but at that point I believed he would come back.
"He had phoned Mum the might before and told her he didn't want to go to America on the tour, but it was said almost as a passing comment.
"The band were packed and ready to go, and I think everyone thought Richard would return any second with a grin on his face.
"But as the hours went by it became more and more ominous. No matter where he was he had always phoned home and spoke to Mam, even if it was just to say hello."
Richey had been treated for depression and alcohol problems at London's Priory Hospital months earlier, and the family initially thought he might have gone to stay with one of the friends he made there.
When that lead proved fruitless, they went through the numbers in Richey's phone book, again without success.
Rachel says: "Then the police became involved and the whole investigation started to retrace his movements.
"It was only when we went round to Richard's flat in Cardiff that we realised he had been back there. He left a trail of clues but we have never been able to work out what they meant.
"He left his passport neatly on the desk in his flat and there was a toll receipt for £2.70 and 30p change nearby. I have been over and over in my mind what he was trying to say by leaving that receipt. Before he disappeared, Richey had become obsessed with the perfect disappearance.
"It would not have been hard for him to get fake credentials, especially if he had done his homework."
Rachel adds: "My biggest regret is that I couldn't stop any of his troubles.
"Looking back I wish I had said more to him. I was very close to him but there were certain things we just didn't speak about.
"Before he vanished he had spoken about chopping his fingers off with a butcher's knife because of his fear that he would be exposed as talentless in New York. He really didn't want to go.
"We were all very upset when he carved his arm up in front of that journalist, but he used to harm himself in private too.
"It was not something he did for attention. It was a private pain and it just wasn't something we spoke about.
"I didn't understand his self-harming and I remember sitting next to him at home and seeing cigarette burns all over his leg.
"We were both embarrassed when he realised I had seen them but I regret not saying something. He just pulled his dressing gown around himself.
"I have since learned that self-harm is a release from emotional pain, but I didn't know that then. Richard once said to me that the physical pain of cutting himself was nothing compared to emotional suffering -- that makes me so sad.
"I thought I was so close to Richard and yet I couldn't stop any of this. I question how well you can ever know someone. It still tears me apart that he had to disappear to get away from his pain. He must have been so unhappy and it is hard for me to live with the fact that he saw this as his only way out."
Rachel's efforts to trace Richey have dominated her life since his disappearance.
She has contacted every monastery and coastguard in the country and makes regular appeals through Britain's Missing Persons Helpline.
She also keeps in touch with Scotland Yard detectives whose file on the missing rock star grows bigger every month with fresh unconfirmed sightings and leads.
Last month Rachel received the encouraging news that no British coroner had dealt with an unidentified body which matched Richey's description.
"It doesn't mean we are any closer to finding him but at least we can be comforted to know his body isn't lying in some mortuary without us knowing."
Rachel adds: "I think people forget that when a relative walks out of your life overnight, like Richard did, your life goes on hold. You can never really move forward without knowing what happened to someone you love so dear."
Richey's parents Graham and Sherry recently called off a trip to Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands after an alleged sighting there proved unfounded.
Sherry says: "We were going because we needed to know the truth about this report, but now it seems there is nothing in it.
"One of the men who is alleged to have spotted Richard is supposed to have been a serving British policeman on holiday. But we find it remarkably odd that this man would vanish into thin air and not report the sighting to police or ourselves on his return to Britain.
"The other person who supposedly saw him was a barmaid, but she said the man was wearing jeans and a T-shirt.
"If it had been Richard it would have been difficult to miss his distinctive tattoos or the scars on his arm, yet she made no mention of those.
"That doesn't mean to say he is not abroad somewhere else, but obviously we have no other information to act on."
The family's extensive efforts to trace Richey have taken a heavy emotional toll.
Rachel says: "In the beginning we spoke about him all the time but now there is very little left to say. I can tell what Mam and Dad are thinking by the sad look on their faces.
"We pull together but we all deal with things in different ways. Dad finds it hard to show his emotions but Mam gets very upset by it all. I have to do something to try to get at the truth.
"Life goes on but only just. The tiniest things like a book or a picture can trigger me to think of Richard, followed by the crashing realisation that he is not here.
"What we are going through is similiar to bereavement because we have lost Richard.
"But unlike grief we never know when this nightmare is going to end."
[Originally published: The Sun, 23 February 1999]