Nearly a year and a half ago a young nursing student named Holly Bobo was abducted in rural Tennessee. Bobo was last seen April 13 being led into the woods near her home by a camouflaged individual. The case generated nationwide publicity and despite extensive searches by local police, the FBI, hundreds of volunteers, and the Bobo family, Holly remains missing.

Bobo’s parents have struggled to keep their daughter’s disappearance in the spotlight, knowing that in missing persons cases like this one publicity is their only hope. To aid in that effort, a high-profile kidnap survivor, Elizabeth Smart, will appear in West Tennessee at Bobo’s high school, Scott’s Hill, on Monday night to talk about her experiences and make a public plea for Bobo’s safe return.

ANALYSIS: Holly Bobo Still Missing: Rumors, Psychics Hurt Search

Smart’s appearance on the Bobo’s behalf is a wise choice, and a good use of Smart’s notoriety. The national news media have largely (and understandably) moved on from this stalled story—reporting that Holly is still missing month after month is not newsworthy — but Smart’s presence will once again draw attention to the disappearance.

Investigation Stumbles and Psychic Failures

Statistically the chances of Holly being recovered are slim, but it does happen, as the stories of Elizabeth Smart and Jaycee Dugard show. The search for Bobo has been complicated and stalled by several factors, including interference by certain volunteer groups; misinformation about the case (for example early reports suggested that Bobo’s brother Clint might have changed his eyewitness story from saying that he saw Holly being dragged into the woods; it was later clarified that Holly had in fact walked with her abductor either willingly or by force); and also by the hundreds of self-proclaimed psychics who offered thousands of incorrect, vague, and contradictory tips that wasted police time.

Reporter Jennifer Kraus of NewsChannel5 interviewed Kristin Helm of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigations (TBI) about psychic tips that have come in from across the country and around the world:

So all of these psychics have tried to help. Have any of their tips panned out?” Helm’s response: “Not one.” Helm makes it clear the TBI does not work with psychics, but agents do end up spending a lot of time checking out leads from them — leads, she says, that don’t give investigators much to work with. “They’re very cryptic. They’re full of visions, dreams, thoughts, strange places. And, it’s always very vague,” Helm says.

ANALYSIS: Holly Bobo and Politics of Missing Persons

Kraus notes that the worst part is that all the wrong information from psychics hurt the Bobo family, who hoped each new piece of information would help — only to have their hopes dashed when psychic after psychic failed, and their daughter remained missing. “Bobo family friend Tammy White says, ‘There’s not been anything that a psychic’s given them that’s panned out.’ White says the psychic leads have been nothing but wild goose chases and more heartache for the family. ‘It just really takes your attention off the main focus which is finding Holly.’”

Elizabeth Smart and Holly Bobo

This is something that Elizabeth Smart’s family knows this all too well: after she was abducted as a 14-year-old girl on June 5, 2002, from her Salt Lake City bedroom, tips poured in from both psychics and the public. Like Holly Bobo her fate was unknown until she was recovered March 12, 2003, living with a disturbed preacher and his wife less than twenty miles from her home.

During the nine months of being kidnapped and repeatedly sexually assaulted, psychics failed to find Smart. In months after her abduction, over 1,000 alleged psychics offered their visions and information. Not a single piece of evidence from all those psychics led to Smart’s recovery; instead she was recognized by two alert couples in a Salt Lake City suburb who called police with their cell phones.

ANALYSIS: Psychic Accused of Exploitation

Though Holly Bobo’s family gave up on psychics long ago, they hold out hope that someone with real information is out there. Hopefully Elizabeth Smart’s appearance will prompt someone to come forward—and possibly even release her if she is indeed being held captive.

Images: Top: The search for Holly Bobo continues (DCI); Bottom: Elizabeth Smart speaking in 2011 at the Crimes Against Children conference at the Sheraton Dallas, in Dallas, Tx. (Corbis)