by Rosie Dunn
The sister of missing Manic Street Preacher Richey Edwards has spoken for the first-time of her three-year ordeal since he vanished without trace.
Rachel Edwards opens up her heart about the pain of not knowing if her beloved guitarist brother is alive or dead.
She also tells of the cruel hoaxes her family has suffered since her troubled sibling left a London hotel on February 1, 1995, to be seen no more.
Today, as the group celebrates their first No. 1 chart hit, Rachel, 29, begs Richey in an open letter in The Mirror to make contact if he can.
She writes: "Dear Richard, it is now three-and-a-half years since I last saw you and I don't know if you are alive or dead.
"If you read this, I just want to say that I miss you so much - Mam and Dad, too. You must have been in so much pain to disappear and I wish I had been able to help you more.
"Life is so painful for all of us without you and I would give anything just to see you again. We all love you so much and just hope that whatever has happened, you are no longer in pain. I realise that as time has gone on it must seem more difficult for you to return but I need to let you know that we want to see you again no matter what.
"Remember all the times we had a laugh together and the sad times when we helped each other like when our dog Snoopy died? The tree we planted for him is still growing and I go there sometimes.
"We think about you every day and pray that you will one day see us again. Please get in touch.
"Everlasting love, Rachel."
Richey disappeared on the eve of the Manics' tour to America. He was 27. Since then Rachel has devoted herself to trying to track him down.
She has written to every monastery in the country, visited coastguards up and down the River Severn where his car was found and is still in regular contact with the police.
Speaking from the family home in Blackwood, South Wales, Rachel says: "Living without Richard in this way is like living in torture. I don't even know if he is still alive but until a body turns up, we will always have hope that he is out there somewhere.
"The fact that Richard is in a famous rock band can sometimes make things worse because many things have been said that are not true.
"People forget that to us Richard is not a Manic Street Preacher, he is my brother, my flesh and blood, and a son to my parents Graham and Sherry.
"We have suffered some of the cruellest hoaxes imaginable. Someone called up and said: 'Hello, Mam - it's me' and then they put the phone down.
"For an instant, Mam thought it was Richard and then she realised the awful truth that someone was winding us up."
After Richey vanished, everyone associated with the musician was forced to change their telephone numbers to stop crank callers.
But not his family. Rachel says: "The hoax calls have been awful but there is only one reason we won't change our number and that is in case Richey decides to pick up the phone one day."
The three remaining members of the band decided to carry on after Richey's disappearance. The resulting album Everything Must Go was rapturously received by critics and fans.
It helped earn the Manics the best group and best album trophies at the Brit Awards two years ago.
The group have spent the last year working on their new album This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours, which has already spawned the No. 1 single If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next.
But their success, though welcomed by Rachel, has done nothing to ease the pain of life without her talented but sensitive brother. She says: "Richard is the first thing I think of when I open my eyes in the morning.
"I cannot get on with my life or make any major changes because I keep hoping he is going to walk through the door as if nothing has happened. The worst part of it all is not knowing. It is like being in purgatory. But at least we can hope he is alive." Rachel says the Richey portrayed in the media as a wild man of rock is not the brother she knows.
"He is the sweetest, kindest and most sensitive man. He was someone who laughed a lot despite the image of this massively depressive person.
"He could be as daft and stupid as anyone - but he was very sad and troubled, too. My biggest regret is that I wasn't able to stop any of his problems from happening.
"I guess I feel guilty that he felt so much pain that he had to disappear in this way. Any family that has been through the nightmare of having a relative go missing knows the torture involved of lying in bed at night, going over and over the same things in your head, trying to find the answer but getting nowhere.
"I think people assume that because Richard has been gone so long, we are no longer hurting as much. Nothing could be further from the truth. I hurt as much today as I did the very first day he walked out of our lives.
"Sometimes, if I am in the pub with friends, I feel that people are looking at me as if to say: 'Look at her, she's okay'.
"It's almost as if you become too scared to smile again in case people think you don't care. But we do and the hurt runs very deep.
"Richey disappearing is like living under a dark shadow. You desperately hope that it will lift one day and look brighter.
"Other days I can't stop crying because I miss him so much. I worry that if he is alive, he might think it is easier to stay away after such a long time - but that's not how we feel about it.
"I just wish I could know what happened and where he is now. We are suffering a huge loss but we cling to the hope he might be alive somewhere."
The last time Rachel saw Richard they buried their dog, Snoopy, a pet for 17 years. "Richard and I comforted each other," she says. "He might have been in a rock band but he was so sensitive. We went to the garden centre and brought a tree to plant in Snoopy's memory.
"Snoopy died on January 14 and I remember it being so cold at the time. Richard had shaved off his hair and had been wearing a bobble-hat to keep warm.
He took it off and gave it to me to wear and the pair of us looked totally ridiculous, me in the hat and Richard with no hair.
"I spent all day with him - it would be the last time I would spend any time with him.
"Looking back, there were a few odd things that happened around that time. That day Richard had a little camera and he took pictures of Mam and Dad which was odd because he had never done anything like that before. The same pictures were found in his car in a bag after he disappeared.
"As I went to leave Mam and Dad's house that day, Richard did a very strange thing. He looked at me up and down. I said: 'What's the matter? Is something wrong with my belt?'
"He just said nothing but now I realise he knew it would be the last time he ever saw me - which makes me think he had everything planned out.
"There has been a lot of talk about Richard shaving his hair off to be like Ian Curtis from Joy Division. He killed himself on the eve of an American tour.
"But Richard was always changing his hair. That was very normal for him.
"The night before he disappeared, he phoned my mum and they had quite a long chit-chat.
"He told her that he didn't want to go to America but he didn't dwell on it. He tried to laugh it off when people said he couldn't play the guitar but it hurt him.
"He was very close to all the band, especially bassist Nickey Wire. When their last album went so big Nickey said: `When Richey sees all his records, he'll have to come back. I just wish he could be proved right."
[Originally published: The Mirror, 5 September 1998]