Edward and Lea Jenkins always came back to Las Vegas, to search the streets of downtown's homeless corridor for the living ghost who was their daughter.
They visited the shelters, the Salvation Army and the library on Las Vegas Boulevard, where the homeless gather to escape the heat and wash themselves in the public bathroom.
They drove up and down the side streets where people camp when they have nowhere else to go.
They studied the faces of the down-on-their-luck who walked along the streets, and, whenever they saw a bag lady, asked themselves and each other, "Is that her? Is that Mona?"
Mona is short for Monika, the couple's middle daughter, a grownup who was lost, but not exactly.
Her parents made the trip from their California home dozens of times. Eventually, they always found Monika in a shelter or on the street.
In her early 30s, she was homeless by choice.
She recognized her parents immediately. Sometimes they managed to talk her into accepting some money, even come to their hotel room for a few minutes. But Monika was always cautious, skittish as a cat, convinced her parents had come to kidnap her.
She wouldn't come home, not yet.
But they would be back in Vegas soon, and they would find her again.
Then one day, seven years ago, they didn't.
Of the three girls, Monika was the most independent. She was a kind, mild-mannered girl, very artistic.
She played the piano and the flute. She sketched, painted with watercolors and "drew pictures that looked exactly like you," her elder sister, Yvette Irvin, says.
Monika wrote beautiful stories. Then she illustrated them and bound them in homemade covers.
She breezed through her classes at Belmont High School in the San Francisco area and got accepted to study art at the University of California, Los Angeles.
"She did her own thing," Irvin says. "If she wanted to, she did it. She wouldn't let anything stop her."
But unlike her sisters, Monika wasn't a girl who made friends easily. She was quirky and introverted.
Her family considered her a normal girl. Until she wasn't.
It began around her senior year of high school. A concerned teacher called the Jenkins. Monika had become fixated on a boy at school, had convinced herself that she was in a serious relationship with him. It wasn't real.
Her parents worried, but chalked it up to Monika's vivid imagination or to just being a teenager. They worried a little more when Monika began "reading clouds" and believing graffiti was talking to her.
"We are a Christian family, and my first thought was maybe demons," Lea Jenkins says. "It took a minute before I realized this was really something else."
At some point they brought her to a doctor, who dismissed Monika's problems as "puberty."
The family probably was in denial, Jenkins now says.
"It wasn't like she was like that all the time," she says. "It wasn't as bad as the later delusions."
The summer after graduation, Monika moved in with Irvin, who already was studying at UCLA.
"That's when everything kind of hit the fan," Irvin says.
One day, Monika accused Irvin of trying to steal her boyfriend -- the same boyfriend she had become fixated on in high school, who was never really her boyfriend.
Monika angrily confronted her sister.
"It was a serious threat, and it scared me," Irvin says. "I didn't know what she was talking about. It was terrifying because she truly believed it."
Irvin stayed at a friend's house that night because she was afraid Monika might try to hurt her. The next morning, Edward Jenkins flew down to L.A. to collect his second daughter and take her to another doctor.
There Monika, just 17, got a diagnosis: schizophrenia.
The medication made her drool. She didn't feel like herself. Soon, she only pretended to take it.
Still, for a good 10 years, Monika was OK. Her parents helped her build a life for herself. She worked at a local grocery store, stocking shelves and gathering carts from the parking lot. She lived alone in a one-bedroom condo, had a car, even went out on dates from time to time.
She saw her doctors and went to therapy regularly. But she still heard the voices.
Eventually, Monika started self-medicating, drinking cough syrup. She invited a homeless family to move into her tiny condo. She disappeared for longer periods of time. Her parents called the police, who would find her sleeping in her car in a parking lot.
About 10 years ago, the Jenkins got a call from someone in Las Vegas. Monika had turned up here, at the airport. Because she was an adult and didn't appear to be a threat to herself or anyone else, officials refused to hold her.
At least Monika was safe. And the Jenkins soon discovered where to find her, wandering the downtown streets of Las Vegas.
For years the Jenkins visited whenever they could. And they continued searching for Monika when she vanished completely seven years ago. Eventually, they hired a private investigator.
They tried to file a missing persons report with the Las Vegas police, but were told because Monika was an adult and had come to the city on her own, she wasn't really a missing person.
Lea Jenkins sent her daughter's information to every agency she could find that helps families who are missing loved ones. Monika's name and photo went into every missing persons database that would accept them.
Jenkins also got in touch with the National Alliance on Mental Illness, which offered support and educated her about how to deal with her daughter's illness.
"For some reason, I always had hope," Jenkins says.
But in the past few years, Jenkins began collecting Monika's dental records. She provided them and her own DNA to national databases that link remains of the dead to living family members.
"I never really thought she was dead," Jenkins says. "But toward the end, I realized the DNA wouldn't work unless they have someone to link it to."
The Clark County Public Guardian's office has cared for dozens of unidentified adults over the years, some for many years.
The county is required by law to care for those who have been deemed incompetent because of dementia, schizophrenia or other conditions and don't have reliable loved ones to assume that responsibility. In fact, many have no known loved ones at all -- no friends or family to fill in the blanks.
The county has typically handled its custody of such wards quietly, protecting their privacy while working to identify them in hopes family members can be notified. But those efforts often have proven difficult, if not impossible because some of the wards are unable to provide their Social Security numbers, birth dates, anything.
So the county, at a dead end in its efforts to identify the five adult wards currently under its guardianship, decided last month to sacrifice much of their privacy in hopes of finding anyone who might know them.
Kathleen Buchanan, the county's public guardian, reached out to the Nevada Center for Missing Loved Ones and the Review-Journal, providing both with photos of the five wards, along with what little identifying information she had.
Part of her motivation, she admits, was economic. Each of the five wards is housed in a long-term care facility, with the county footing the bill. Housing them costs roughly $400,000 a year, not counting medical costs.
"Budgets are tight," Buchanan says. "We're trying to find ways in which we can reduce costs."
If the county could positively identify the wards, it might be able to apply for benefits -- Social Security, disability, Medicaid or Medicare -- on their behalf. Without an ID, they are eligible for nothing.
But more importantly, Buchanan says, identifying the wards is the right thing to do.
"They may have family members out there somewhere that can provide a history, that love and care about them," she says. "As hard as we may try, we can't replicate what the families can bring to them."
Two of the wards have been in county custody for almost a decade. Three of them -- a Diana English, George Woods and a woman officials alternately call Danette Margra or Margra Danette -- were able to provide names. But officials hadn't been able to verify those names by linking them to any records.
"Those are the names they came in with, but that doesn't mean those are their actual names," Buchanan says.
In late June, Las Vegas police decided to try something new. A cold case unit, within its missing persons division, would focus exclusively on old missing persons cases. The Department has about 600 such cold cases.
Detective Daniel Holley, a 27-year department veteran who has worked in the missing persons division several years, was chosen for the one-man unit.
"There are tons of cold case homicide units," he says. "But I think we may have the only missing persons cold case detective in the country."
The job came with the freedom to pursue whichever cases Holley finds most intriguing.
"You have missing person cases coming in every day," he says. "I'm going to do whatever catches my interest."
One afternoon a few weeks ago, a police sergeant slapped a copy of the Review-Journal on Holley's desk. It contained an article about the five unidentified adults in county custody. Frank Mahoney, founder of the Nevada Center for Missing Loved Ones, had told the sergeant about the article.
Holley's work usually consists of trying to find people who are physically missing. This was different. The people weren't missing; their identities were. He was fascinated and went to work immediately.
"We have really cool databases," he says. "If we have just a little bit of information, it may lead us to what we need."
He began poring through Department records and soon found a couple of decade-old arrests under the name "Margra Danette."
"They were just for homeless stuff like sleeping on a bus bench," he says.
The booking photos matched the county's photo. But Holley still didn't know who the woman really was.
"Margra is a very odd name," he says.
He checked the FBI's national database. The name "Margra Danette" also showed up there; she had been arrested on similar charges elsewhere.
One of the arrest records contained a line which read: "AKA Monika Danette Jenkins."
Irvin received what she called a "bizarre, stunning" voice mail message.
This is Detective Holley from the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. I have someone who calls herself 'Margra Danette' but may also be Monika Jenkins. I apologize if you don't know anything about this, but if you do, please call this number.
It's astonishing, really, how easily Monika was identified after all these years.
One detective took an interest. He quickly checked a couple of databases.
It's especially remarkable considering the county says that, early in each of its guardianships, it asks local police to search their records in hopes of identifying their new wards.
Mahoney believes that, until now, no one has bothered to go the extra mile to find out who they were.
"I'm amazed nobody has done nothing in all this time," he says. "We've done it in what -- a couple months?"
But, Mahoney says, it's understandable, to a degree.
"You got to remember, these people are still alive," he says. "They are adults. So, technically, these aren't missing people."
If they had been found dead, he says, there would have been more of an effort to find out who they were.
A week later, Jenkins and Irvin, fresh off a plane, walked into the Las Vegas long-term care center where Monika had lived for seven years.
They would be the first visitors who knew who she really was, knew something of the life she once had.
"We were just so excited to see her, to let her know she had not been abandoned and that we had been looking for her," Jenkins says.
They had been warned not to expect much. The doctors said Monika, now 42, wouldn't recognize them, and that she was catatonic.
But Monika, sick as she was, instantly knew her long-lost mother and sister.
"Her eyes just lit up," Jenkins says. "She put a smile on her face."
It was shocking, though, to see Monika in her deteriorated state. She is now in a wheelchair -- perhaps the result of a long-ago stroke -- and, Jenkins says, she looks older than her own mother.
"It was just sad," Jenkins says.
And then, just as quickly as the recognition had crossed Monika's face, her demons returned.
"She got angry," Jenkins says.
Monika began "cussing up a storm," says Holley, who was present for the reunion. It seemed the sudden appearance of her family shocked her, as though maybe she felt like they had walked in on her private world.
Jenkins and Irvin soon left town, without Monika.
It was unfair, the women reasoned, to suddenly disrupt the only life Monika had known in years, or take her from the place she now felt safest.
"She needs help processing what's going on," Jenkins says. "We don't want to agitate her. We want what's best for her."
The family is working with Monika's doctors to slowly re-establish regular contact with her.
Meanwhile, the county has applied for Medicaid and other benefits on her behalf.
The family is trying to keep their hopes for a future relationship with Monika reasonable.
"I want her to have the best qualify of life she can have for her situation -- whatever's best for Mona," Jenkins says. "At least my prayers were answered. She's safe and in peace, even if just in her head. "
Irvin says she wants Monika to know how much she is loved.
"I want to be able to visit her, paint her nails, let her know she's part of a family," she says. "I just don't want her feel all alone."
Both women say they are grateful for the caregivers who have helped Monika over the years, including a case manager who was insightful enough to notice Monika enjoyed it when she read poetry to her.
They both also are still reeling from the tornado of emotions brought on by the past several weeks. Irvin says she is still partly in shock.
Everything will sink in slowly, she says, even as the family slowly builds a new relationship with Monika.
"We thought maybe once we found Monika, everything would be easy from here," Irvin says. "But you realize this is not the end of our journey. It feels like this is just the beginning."
Contact reporter Lynnette Curtis at email@example.com or 702-383-0285.