Commonly called America’s Corn Belt, southern Indiana is a fertile state where you can find hilly farmland that stretches into the states of Illinois and Iowa on up to the higher hills and majestic glacial kettle lakes. A place where families gather for holidays and traditional family values are still alive and well.
But Indiana also has a dark side where the light has been overshadowed by fear. A place where those who have vanished have left no trace.
Denise Pflum, 18, was last seen leaving her house on March 28, 1986, in Connersville, Indiana. An honors student, a brilliant artist, and a promising scientist, Denise was the apple of her father’s eye.
“It was Good Friday. A beautiful Good Friday weather-wise,” said her father David Pflum. Now, 33 years later, she remains missing and still no answers as to what transpired that day.
It started with a house party she went to the night before her disappearance. Denise forgot her purse so the following day she told her family that she had plans to go search for it. It would be the last time anyone would ever see Denise again.
“We do not believe that she ever went back to that area—something or some person interrupted that opportunity to do that,” said David. “We knew right away that something was wrong because she had never been out without our knowledge about where she was going to be. When time unfolded into the next day and the subsequent next days then we knew we really had a problem and the problem has continued on now for 32 years,” David told WTHR 13 in 2018.
The neverending nightmare continues for the Pflum family.
A Rising Star
Active in track, volleyball, softball, and basketball, her activities included 4-H. She was also the top of her class at Connersville High School. She planned to go to Miami University in Ohio to major in microbiology, but the bright light of her future was suddenly snuffed out.
With her prom dress already picked out, a month before her prom the highschool senior would vanish in broad daylight.
A family left tormented. “There are days that go by and it is almost like you are floating because you are so consumed by the thought and the various thoughts about what has happened to your daughter, who is responsible, what kind of action took place,” said David.
The day after Denise’s disappearance her Buick Regal was found in a rural farm in the neighboring town of Greenwood. In 1986, the car was processed by police for fingerprints and other evidence but none was found.
In recent years, with advancing technology, police collected DNA samples from the family, along with a DNA sample from Denise they were able to obtain through evidence. Those DNA samples were uploaded into the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), a national database at the FBI.
With the advancement in technology, evidence was resubmitted to the Indiana State Police lab to check for any new results but those tests produced no new results.
Now in their 70s, David and Judy Pflum fear they will pass without knowing what happened to their daughter.
“We feel compelled to keep looking. You don’t give up, you spend your life looking,” Judy said.
Kokomo is a small city with a population of only 40,000. During 2017, there were only 6 reported homicides, that were all solved. A safe town where abductions of young girls just don’t happen. In fact, there are only three unsolved disappearances in Kokomo history.
On October 11, 2016, Karena McClerkin, 18, was last seen walking in the 1000 block of South Washington Street in Kokomo, Indiana. She left her wallet and identification behind and has never been seen or heard from again.
Police have executed search warrants and pursued several leads over the past three years but none have led them any closer to finding her.
The McClerkin family has hired four private investigators over the years to help follow up on leads, including a tip from an inmate who claimed to know where Karena was buried. However, that tip and so many others have gone nowhere.
A Father’s Promise
Karena’s father, James McClerkin has been tirelessly searching for his daughter since her disappearance. James has handed out hundreds of fliers while canvassing the neighborhoods where his daughter went missing.
“I just need answers,” James said. “I just need people to talk. It’s not snitching — trying to help find a kid.”
For James time has been the enemy.
Kokomo Police Department has continued to investigate the case, even bringing in cadaver dogs to search portions of Howard County. They also offered a $50,000 reward for information leading to Karena’s whereabouts and arrest of the individual responsible for her disappearance, all to no avail.
However, James didn’t want to stop there. The previous reward would have only been awarded if there was an arrest . . . now James just wants answers. James is now preparing to withdraw his 401k and use the $75,000 to create a reward that simply leads to her whereabouts.
“It’s just to keep her alive, keep it going, and keep the information out there,” said James. “I’m just trying to get new details back in. Right now we don’t have anything . . . All it has to do is lead to my daughter. It doesn’t have to lead to an arrest or anything, just my daughter, her body, or herself. They can have the cash.”
Grandmother’s Heart is Broken
Gerry McClerkin is Karena’s grandmother and when the two spent time together they would always hold hands.
“I didn’t get to see her all the time, but when I did and we said goodbye, we’d both cry almost every time,” Gerry told Dateline.” When I think about the last time I said goodbye to her, it’s even more heartbreaking now.”
Things were rough for Karena prior to her disappearance. Karena had been dealing with a number of substance abuse issues. Her grandmother recalls seeing her hanging out with an older crowd, and very concerned about her granddaughter’s future.
“I told her not to go down that path. That there were other, bigger things she could do with her life,” Gerry said. “She had her whole life in front of her.”
Prior to the disappearance, Karena seemed to be listening, as she had talked about going into a rehabilitation facility in Florida. She began to fill out the paperwork.
Then she vanished.
Rumors began swirling around town right away and some of the stories continue to haunt Gerry. She heard Karena’s body had been thrown into a waterway to conceal the crime, and that her granddaughter had been killed and buried in a tarp in a wooded area. Those are not the worst Gerry has heard.
“It’s just a horrible mess, and the things you hear just make you sick,” said Gerry. “I didn’t want to believe she is dead. It took me a while to accept that idea.”
Lack of Media Interest
Another thing that bothers the McClerkin family is the lack of interest on behalf of the media and the authorities.
Gerry doesn’t believe Kokomo police have taken the disappearance seriously and failed to follow up on leads reported to them.
“Every and all leads are being investigated,” Captain Cockrell told Dateline. “The family has been updated on all searches. It’s not just leads we are following up on, it’s any and all avenues in relation to this case.”
Gerry wishes her granddaughter’s case was all over the news like other cases in the state. “Because of her race and age and the situation, no one seems to care,” Gerry told Dateline. “None of it means she isn’t important. Every person is important and that includes my granddaughter.”
“She may have been out there since October. All alone. But where?” said Gerry. We aren’t going to give up until we find her.”
Lauren Spierer, 20, a sophomore from New York was attending Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana. On June 3, 2011, she went out on the town with friends and vanished from downtown Bloomington as she was walking home to her Smallwood Plaza apartment at approximately 4:30 a.m., in the vicinity of 11th Street and College Avenue.
Lauren had left the bar without her shoes or cell phone and later seen on surveillance stumbling out of an elevator at her apartment.
Lauren’s case has received national attention and the Bloomington Police Department says the case is still a top priority.
As of May 24, 2013, investigators have received 3,060 tips on Lauren’s disappearance, 100 of them being received during the first half of 2013.
On January 28, 2016, the FBI conducted a raid of a home in Martinsville, Indiana, approximately 20 miles north of Bloomington. Police said the raid was connected to a man suspected of exposing himself to women.
Thousands of other leads have been followed throughout the years but none have led police any closer to deliver answers to the Spierers.
A Mother’s Letter
It has been eight years of not knowing for Lauren’s family, but they say they still hope someone will eventually reveal the “brutal truth.”
This year, on the eighth anniversary of Lauren’s disappearance, Lauren’s mother Charlene wrote a Facebook post to Lauren’s abductor just like she has done in the past. Her letters give a glimpse into the ambiguity and loss the parents of missing children experience and the never-ending roller coaster they ride.
“Eight years after Lauren’s disappearance and we are no closer to finding her or getting answers. The expression, “the more things change the more they stay the same” seems apropos. We continue living in the past and in the present.
No one escapes this life unscathed. Everyone has struggles and somehow, we all survive but it is not without costs.
As every June 3rd approaches, I am faced with the dread of reliving all the horrific minutes of that day and the days which followed. I now know of course, despite how desperately I wanted to believe the words “we will find her, it just wasn’t meant to be.”
Our timeline has no end. It begins with a phone call from my husband who heard the news that Lauren was missing from our older daughter, Rebecca. In an instant, our family was irrevocably changed. The not knowing is almost unbearable.
Over the course of these last 8 years we have tried our hardest to get answers but the brutal truth, the only truth, is that any resolution depends on someone willing to come forward with information.
Despite everything, something propels us forward. Of course, it is hope. Hope that today someone will have the courage, to tell the truth, or send an email or make a call or post a lead on social media.
We still have a PO box in Bloomington, just waiting to receive a letter with words that will lead us to the truth. It remains unfilled. Another dead end. No tips or leads have ever been sent which took us one step closer.
Logically you think…it’s anonymous…what you don’t realize is that the monster responsible for Lauren’s disappearance simply does not care.
Hope is a strange bedfellow. Some days you want to abandon all hope but our desire to bring Lauren home whether literally or figuratively is a strong motivator.
To those responsible, you’ve moved on, but we have not. We will never give up. There is always someone actively working to find you. SOMEONE IS ALWAYS LOOKING FOR YOU.
How ironic, just as we are looking for Lauren, we are just as diligently looking for you. I have to believe that someday you will let your guard down. You will need to share your truth and it will just be too big for the person you’ve told to keep it to themselves. That is what we hope for.
Missing you Lauren. Loving you with all our hearts.
Eight years later…. Just as determined as day one. Hoping today is the day.” Charlene Spierer
Mysterious missing person cases are not hard to come by, and high profile missing person cases stay with us as a nation. Despite lapses in coverage, when we see their photo again, we are reminded of the details we know about the case, our personal feelings based entirely in speculation, and remember all over again that there is still a family waiting for them to come home. The more mysterious the circumstances, the more we stare in horror, watching their family’s world fall apart. Here are ten of the most fascinating and mysterious missing persons cases in recent history.
The night before she disappeared, Karlie Gusé
was seen at a party with friends in a neighborhood not far from her home in Chalfant
Valley, CA. She called her stepmother in a panic, saying she needed to be
picked up from the party. Melissa Gusé
picked Karlie up from the party, and later stated that she seemed disoriented
and exhibited paranoid behavior. Once home, it took hours to get Karlie calmed
down enough to sleep. When Melissa awoke the next morning, October 13, 2018,
Karlie was asleep in bed, but when she checked on her a second time around 7AM,
Karlie was nowhere to be found. Law enforcement canvassed the neighborhood and
turned up two witnesses who said they saw Karlie walking towards Highway 6 with
a piece of paper in her hand. All of Karlie’s belongings, including her cell
phone, were found at her home. Karlie had been experiencing problems prior to
disappearing. Her father and stepmother acknowledged Karlie’s history of
experimenting with drugs and attending alternative education in order to
improve her grades. Despite these factors, there appeared to be nothing that would
have prompted Karlie to leave the house that morning. Investigators, both in
law enforcement and independent firms continue to search for Karlie, while her father,
stepmother, biological mother, and the rest of her family wait anxiously for
Karlie to come home.
9: Teresa Butler
Teresa Butler’s husband came home on January 25, 2006 to
find his wife gone, their two young children unsupervised. At the time, the
family was living in Risco, Missouri. There were no signs of a struggle, nor
forced entry, but there were a series of valuable items missing from the home
such as a gaming console, camcorder, stereo, and Teresa’s cell phone and purse.
Her car was still in the driveway, and her wedding bands were also at the
residence. Investigators were stymied by this mixed bag of a scene. Was it a
crime scene? Or had Teresa simply left of her own accord—and if so, for what
reason? More whirlwind revelations came when investigators realized that Teresa’s
cell phone made two calls after she had vanished. Both calls were to unfamiliar
numbers, in two different Missouri towns. The owners of those numbers both
claimed that they had no idea who Teresa was, and did not speak to her. Thirteen
years later, there are still no answers in her disappearance.
8: Laureen Rahn
In 1980, Laureen Rahn was living with her mother in an
apartment in Manchester, New Hampshire. She was last seen on April 26 at that apartment
in the company of two friends. When her mother returned home that evening, she
had to grope for the door because all of the lightbulbs in the hallway had been
unscrewed. When she entered the apartment, she checked Laureen’s room, and she
appeared to be asleep in her bed. The next morning, she realized the body she’d
seen asleep in the bed was actually one of Laureen’s friends, and that friend was
clueless as to Laureen’s whereabouts. Authorities treated Laureen’s case as a
runaway, but details that emerged in October of that year cast a different
light on the case. Her mother, Judith, noticed three calls to a California
number on her phone bill that she knew she didn’t make. One was to a sexual
assistance call line for teenagers, helmed by a doctor’s wife who took in
runaways—could Laureen be with her? The second number was to a motel run by a child
pornographer by the pseudonym “Dr. Z.” But unfortunately authorities were
unable to connect the 14-year-old’s disappearance to either of these persons of
interest. To this day, what became of Laureen Rahn remains a mystery.
7: Lauren Spierer
The Lauren Spierer case is one of the most mysterious missing person cases. Many Hoosiers are familiar with the cautionary tale of Lauren Spierer, an Indiana University Student who disappeared on June 3, 2011 after a night out partying with friends in Bloomington, Indiana. After leaving her apartment around 2:30 in the morning, she walked around the corner and was never seen again. It wasn’t until her boyfriend, Jesse Wolf, realized that Lauren had been separated from her phone that something was wrong. When he sent her a text message two hours later, one of the employees at Kilroy’s bar responded. Wolf reported Lauren missing. Witnesses who had seen Lauren that night reported that she was highly intoxicated, which might explain why she left both her cell phone and shoes behind at Kilroy’s. Her observed level of inebriation has led to speculation that Lauren might have been drugged while at the bar, possibly with a drug like GHB, also known as “the date-rape drug.” Her family has remained suspicious of the men she was reportedly hanging out with that night, claiming that they know something about their daughter’s disappearance. That being said, investigators also spoke to friends of Lauren’s who informed them she was known to use drugs when she partied as well as alcohol. As of January 28, 2016—when FBI and other investigating bodies searched a property in Martinsville for signs of Lauren with no success—Lauren still remains missing.
6: Cynthia Anderson
The disappearance of Cynthia Anderson is regarded as
stranger than fiction. She vanished on August 4, 1981 from the law office where
she worked as a secretary. Her personal belongings were missing, but her
vehicle remained parked in the lot. While investigating her disappearance, authorities
discovered an open romance novel. In an eerie coincidence, Cynthia had stopped
reading during a scene in which the main character is abducted. Police were
already investigating Cynthia’s disappearance with the possibility of foul
play, but this gave them pause. Could she have faked her own abduction to
disappear and start over? There were anonymous tips months after her
disappearance that she was being held captive in the basement of a remote
residence, but authorities were unable to corroborate this statement. The wildest
theory about her whereabouts came when a lawyer from her firm was arrested for
drug trafficking. There was speculation that Cynthia might have known too much
about some illegal dealings going through the law firm, and met a violent end
as a consequence. But that’s all it is: a theory.
5: Maura Murray
Some mysterious missing person cases get so big they invite a great deal of media attention. Mara Murray is perhaps one of the most famous mysterious missing person cases in recent history. The University of Massachusetts Amherst student disappeared on February 9, 2004. In the days leading up to her disappearance, Maura told university staff and her professors that she would be taking a week’s hiatus from school to handle a family emergency. Around 7:30 that night, a car crash on Route 112 was reported to 911. When first responders arrived, the driver, Maura, was nowhere to be found. During the investigation, law enforcement turned up a witness who had passed Maura following the crash. When asked if she needed help, she said no, that she had called roadside assistance. In a window of less than 15 minutes, something happened to Maura Murray. What’s most puzzling about Maura’s disappearance is that her story about a family emergency could not be corroborated by her family. So the question remains: Why was Maura taking a week off from her education? What could have been so important? Maura Murray’s disappearance is regarded as the first missing person case of the social media age, having disappeared the week that Facebook launched. Her story has spawned many true-crime specials, documentaries, and a highly popular podcast called Missing Maura Murray.
4: Asha Degree
Asha degree was just nine years old when she left her house
on the morning she disappeared, Valentine’s Day, 2000. Inexplicably, she had
packed her school backpack and left the house in the early morning hours, after
which she was sighed walking along North Carolina Highway 18, just a little
over a mile from her home. When approached by passing motorists who noticed
her, Asha reportedly ran into a wooded area just off the highway. At first, it
appeared to investigators that Asha had run away from home. After interviewing
family members, they learned that the child had bene reading a fantasy series
about children who have spectacular adventures while the adults are asleep.
While it’s unclear whether or not Asha intended to return home, early search
efforts for her proved fruitless. Belongings of hers, including a pencil,
marker, and Mickey Mouse hair bow were found near a shed behind a business that
sat parallel to the highway. About 18 months later, Asha’s bookbag also turned
up at a construction site, curiously double-bagged, leading investigators to
think someone other than Asha had left it there. In October 2018, investigators were appealing to
the public for information regarding two key pieces of evidence—a children’s
book that was borrowed from the Fallston Middle School library in 2000, and a
New Kids on the Block shirt. Asha Degree remains missing to this day.
3: Annette Sagers
Eight-year-old Annette Sagers went missing on her way to
school in October of 1988. Less than a year earlier, her mother, Korinna Lynne
Sagers Malinoski had gone missing. There was little evidence to paint a picture
for investigators, except that her car was found parked in front of their home.
When Korinna’s daughter went missing as well, they searched the bus stop where
she should have been picked up for school. Investigators found a cryptic note
that placed her mother’s disappearance in a whole new context: “Dad, momma come
back. Give the boys a hug.” Authorities weren’t sure what to make of the note
at first, as they suspected someone may have forced Annette to write. After
careful examination, handwriting experts did determine that Annette likely
wrote the note. This looks like Korinna could have disappeared of her own
accord a year prior, and had returned to reclaim her daughter before vanishing
again. What could not be explained was that Korinna had left behind two boys
when she disappeared in 1987. Despite anonymous tips that claimed burial locations
for Annette’s remains, the mystery of the missing mother and daughter remains
2: Tara Calico
The case of Tara Calico continues to haunt the true-crime world, with both investigators and armchair detectives alike speculate to the circumstances surrounding this bizarre case and its sensational clues. Like Annette Sagers, Tara Calico disappeared in 1988 after leaving her home in Belen New Mexico to being a bike ride along Highway 47. Tara was never seen again. In the search for Tara, pieces of her Walkman were found along Highway 47. The bike was never recovered. Leads in the case dried up and it went cold until a year later when a disturbing piece of evidence emerged that has become famous throughout the internet. In Port St. Joe, Florida, a woman reported that she had found a Polaroid outside in the parking lot of a local convenience store. The Poloaroid featured a boy and a young woman, both bound and gagged, propped up against pillows in what appears to be the cargo area of a panel van. The witness told authorities that a white van had previously been parked in that spot, driven by a white man with a mustache. There is still speculation to this day about whether or not the woman in the photo is actually Tara Calico. The book lying next to the young woman in the photo is V.C. Andrews’ My Sweet Audrina, which was allegedly one of Tara’s favorite books. While no official cause for Tara’s disappearance has ever been established, the sheriff of Valencia County offered his theory: He claimed that boys who knew Tara were involved in some kind of accident along Highway 47, involving Tara’s bicycle and the boys’ truck. However, without a body, law enforcement were unable to make a case.
1: Diane Augat
In 1998, 30-year-old Diane Augat of Odessa, Florida walked out of her home and vanished without a trace. About ten years prior to her disappearance, Diane received a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, a mental illness that causes massive mood swings between periods of intense emotional euphoria, or highs, and deep depressive lows. Her case was so severe that it led to losing custody of her children and her husband divorcing her in 1991. She self-medicated with drugs and alcohol. On April 10, 1998, Diane left her home and was never seen again. What followed was a series of strange events that amount to the plot of a Hollywood movie. Just three days after she vanished, her answering machine received a chilling message, “Help, help, let me out,” followed by “Hey, gimme that.” It sounded as though there was a struggle over the phone in the background. The caller ID said Starlight, but when Diane’s mother called back, there was no answer. Two days after that, the severed tip of Diane’s right middle finger was found. Two weeks later, in perhaps one of the most bizarre events in any missing person case, a bag of her clothing was found in the freezer of a local convenience store. Despite the details reflecting that of a Hollywood blockbuster thriller, there has never been any satisfying resolution in her case.