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
Every week there are new stories in the news about children and teenagers who have either run away or been kidnapped. When parents see these tragedies play out through media coverage, there’s usually one common thread running through their minds, “This could not happen to my child.” Despite statistics on the demographics most often affected by missing or runaway teens, no family is immune. Parents of a missing child or teen will most certainly have never found themselves in these frightful circumstances before and be at a loss for how to proceed. In addition to filing a report with police, the parents might also consider hiring a private investigator to conduct an independent, concurrent investigation, which begs the question: Should you hire a private investigator to locate your missing or runaway child?
An Overwhelming Task
At first glance, hiring a private investigator may seem superfluous. You may think, “The police are here to help me, and they’re here to help me for free. Why should I consider hiring a private investigator?” The Office of Justice Programs estimates the first 48 hours after your child goes missing are the most crucial in the timeline of any investigation. During these moments, your instinct might be to go find the child yourself or help conduct searches; however, as a parent or guardian of a missing child, your information is the most crucial. A 1982 congressional mandate requires law enforcement to immediately take a report following the disappearance of a child under the age of 18. However, recent reports estimate the excess of some 800,000 missing persons cases reported every year, 85-90% of those cases are individuals under the age of 18. What this statistic tells us is law enforcement, in most parts of the country, are overwhelmed by a caseload (with some departments averaging over 40 cases per investigator) leaving your missing child as a file amidst a stack of equally devastating missing child cases. As law enforcement agencies across the country remain stretched, missing child cases—especially ones where the child appears to have run away—are not always the first priority, as investigators attempt to perform a triage regarding which case requires their attention the most. Private investigators only average between three and four cases at any given time, meaning your child’s case will be at the top of their list of priorities. During the crucial FIRST 48 hours, having a private investigator treat your case as a priority can be the difference between acquiring invaluable information and losing a lead.
Constitutional Red Tape
One of the glowing advantages of hiring a private investigator to find your missing child or teen is the fact PIs possess far more autonomy than the average law enforcement officer or investigator. For instance, when a suspect has been identified, law enforcement often must secure a warrant for them to be tracked as the investigation unfolds. Paperwork and bureaucracy within the chain of command can cause the wheels of justice to turn slowly in regards to local or state law enforcement. Not only are PI’s not required to file this sort of paperwork, but they can also do so without the supervision of a governing law enforcement administration, so the case progression is not stalled for lack of warrant or administration approval.
The Binds of Jurisdiction
Hiring a private investigator conducting an independent, concurrent investigation, means there will never be any issues of jurisdiction when pursuing leads. Say your family lives in Indiana, but while on an out-of-state family vacation, your child goes missing in a crowd. As missing and abducted children across state or even international borders, local law enforcement exponentially lose power to follow leads maybe illuminating the child’s whereabouts. It is also not uncommon for two or more law enforcement agencies to enter a tug of war when it comes to who has jurisdiction over a particular case based on the specific circumstances. This can lead to the loss of leads or time as agencies hash out the details. Private investigators are never bound by jurisdictional bureaucracy. They can travel between states following the trail of a missing child, all without having to file any paperwork or obtain special permissions from superiors.
While law enforcement may have a wealth of experience and exclusive tools at their disposal, it’s important to remember that these civil servants are often overwhelmed with an immense case-load and can only do so much when it comes to the constitutional and jurisdictional boundaries they cannot cross. When hiring a private investigator, remember they have the expertise and similar tools of law enforcement, while also having the time to treat your case as a top priority.
Carie McMichael is the Communication and Media Specialist for Lauth Investigations International, a private investigation firm based in Indianapolis, Indiana–delivering proactive and diligent solutions for over 30 years. For more information, please visit our website.
At Lauth Missing Person Investigations, we specialize in complex missing person investigations of endangered missing children and adults.
The investigative team at Lauth Investigations has over 40 years combined experience working closely with the families of missing persons, local, state and federal law enforcement, along with national media and missing persons organizations throughout the country and internationally.
Founded in 1995, Thomas Lauth is a nationally recognized Missing Persons and Human Trafficking Investigator and graduate of the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy, who initially served as Senior Criminal Investigator for Marion County Public Defender Agency located in Indiana.
Lauth has served as both a prosecution and defense witness on numerous missing persons and homicides at the federal and state levels, including being appointed by state and federal courts to conduct independent investigations of homicides, robberies, and other serious felony matters.
In addition, Thomas has attended various U.S. Department of Justice conferences on missing persons, human trafficking, and child abduction. He served as a volunteer Advisor to the Nation’s Missing Children Organization and the National Center for Missing Adults for nearly twenty years.
In addition to working with local and state law enforcement, Lauth has worked cooperatively with Interpol, Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. State Department, the U.S. Consulate and various foreign embassies.
Lauth is considered an expert in missing persons by national media and has appeared in publications like Essence Magazine, USA Today, Los Angeles Daily News, San Diego Tribune, New York Times and more.
According to the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, as of May 31, 2018, there were 87,608 active missing person cases in the United States.
Missing persons are entered into various categories such as Juvenile, Endangered, Involuntary or Non-family Abductions, Disability, Catastrophe and Other. Though it is not mandated for law enforcement to enter missing persons into NCIC, it is beneficial to both the missing person and the private investigation. Lauth Investigations verifies all missing persons investigated are entered into NCIC making the missing person’s information available to all law enforcement throughout the country to include, medical examiners and Coroners.
By creating more public awareness, it increases the potential for generating leads. Lauth is one of the few private investigators in the country who works every day in locating missing persons, focusing on creating a collaborative effort between various victim assistance organizations, media, and law enforcement to create a successful public awareness campaign.
Lauth Investigations success rate is averaged at approximately 85% over 20 years working with families of missing persons. Every case is unique based on the circumstances of the disappearance and discovery based upon the private investigator’s fact-finding.
When hired, Lauth exclusively focuses on the specific missing person case, ensuring full attention is given to each case. Lauth is experienced in searching for missing persons between the ages of approximately 12-years old to seniors.
Circumstances of disappearances include at-risk children, teens, at-risk adults missing due to foul play, human trafficking, custodial and non-custodial abduction, (including Hague and non-compliant Hague countries), homeless, and those suffering from disabilities such as mental illness or missing persons suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
Following are a few excerpts from letters Thomas Lauth has received throughout the years:
Mr. Lauth’s credentials indicate he has a high success rate of locating individuals and we have also found this to be true. He not only utilizes various resources to help locate individuals, but he frequently follows up with them after they are located to see how they are transitioning.
We will continue to utilize Thomas Lauth’s services in the future. His assistance with this organization and the many families of missing person we refer him to give hope to the possibility these families will once again be able to hold their loved ones in their arms. We highly recommend the services he provides to the families of missing persons.
Erin Bruno, National Center for Missing Adults
At a highly emotional time, I found the contact with Mr. Lauth to be quite reassuring. His experience in investigations of missing persons is quite impressive and without pressure, he outlined the stages of his proposed investigation costs and projected number of days to successfully locate my son.
As Tom predicted, my son was located a day later and was brought to the hospital in very bad shape. I am convinced without his intervention, my son was at extreme risk of death, or trafficked to other major cities around the world.
I am honored to provide a letter of reference for this remarkable man who is such a strong advocate for missing persons. My experience is such that I do not recommend relying solely on a local police department to locate a missing person, particularly with mental illness. The risk of exploitation or other harm is simply too great and hiring an experienced private investigator is more likely to bring a loved one home again.
Liz Mallin, mother of Brandon
Thomas Lauth, an investigator who specializes in missing children and adults, has been one of the most reliable and imaginative investigators we have found to date. Mr. Lauth’s experience with our organization, as well as the work he has done for the National Center for Missing Adults, has proven to be invaluable in the locating of abductors and bringing missing children and adults home.
Mr. Lauth’s impressive list of successes as well as his passion for the “left behind parent” makes him more than qualified to work in the area of child abduction. I would not hesitate to recommend Mr. Lauth to any parent who has lost a child. I personally feel that it is Mr. Lauth’s feelings for the children that separate him from so many other investigators.
David Thelen, CEO of Committee for Missing Children, Inc.
I wanted to take this opportunity to formally commend and recommend the services provided by Thomas Lauth at Lauth Investigations. My family and I recently worked with Thomas regarding my sister and nephew who had been missing for almost two years.
Tom was the second investigator that worked the case. Based on the excellent service we experienced, I sincerely regret that we did not work with him initially.
I found Thomas to be extremely knowledgeable, professional and emphatic. I immediately felt comfortable confiding in him. In response, Thomas offered a complete plan, with accurate cost disclosures and regular substantive updates.
Most importantly, Thomas did exactly what he promised to do, on time and within the estimated budget we initially discussed. Thanks to his efforts, we were able to speak with both missing parties for the first time since 2003.
Tom is an absolute gem. I strongly recommend him to anyone who may find him or herself in the unfortunate circumstance of losing contact with a loved one.
Andrea D. Townsend, Attorney at Law
Recently, my son was missing, and we had nowhere to turn until we found you. He had taken off for work and never got there. No one knew where he was, and police couldn’t help because he was of age.
If any parent is in our situation, I highly recommend they call you. You were so helpful and kind to us. You understood just how worried we were.
You met my husband in Massachusetts, where we finally figured out where he was. You stayed there until he was found and let us contact him. Your kindness and professional manner were of great comfort to us in our time of need. It is so hard not knowing where your child is. Anyone going through these hard times needs to know there is an organization out there that cares and handles the problem for you.
You don’t know what you gave back to us. My son means the world to me and getting him back made my world complete again.
I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart and hope that anyone else missing a child will call you. You are the best!
Millions of people are visiting our beautiful national parks each year. They travel from one side of the continent to the other to see the breathtaking tall Sequoia trees on the west coast to the pristine beaches of South Carolina on the east coast.
Attendance numbers at national parks have set record highs in the last few years. According to Los Angeles Times, Death Valley, Joshua Tree, Sequoia and Yosemite national parks reported setting attendance records during 2016, with all parks reporting a 330.97 million people visiting our recreational parks – and hundreds, maybe thousands, of those people are now missing.
Shoshone National Forest: Amy Wroe Bechtel
It was 21-years ago, on the afternoon of July 24, 1997, Amy Wroe Bechtel, 24, began her run outside of Lander, Wyoming, training for the 2000 Olympic Marathon she had hoped to qualify for. She never returned.
Wyoming is called “America’s biggest small town” and Lander is an outdoor enthusiast hub, where climbers gravitate to the unique geological formations in Sinks Canyon within the Shoshone National Forest.
Shoshone National Forest in Wyoming is a climber’s paradise.
Sinks Canyon is part of a magnificent ecosystem stretching from sagebrush and juniper covered foothills, through conifer forests, aspen meadows to the alpine habitat in mid-central Wyoming.
Amy vanished while running along Loop Road, a route that includes Sinks Canyon Road and runs the Popo Agie River approximately 15 miles south of Lander. Her car was found by her neighbors, Todd Skinner and Amy Whisler, parked at Burnt Gulch where Amy was marking her 10K hill climb she was planning for the fall. When Amy had not returned by evening, her neighbors got into their car and headed for the gravel road of switchbacks ascending to Loop Road. At approximately 1:00 a.m., they find Amy’s white Toyota Tercel wagon parked on the side of the road where Loop Road splits to the pine-shrouded Burnt Gulch turnoff.
The weather during July is mild with days averaging 85 degrees and evenings about 54 degrees. There had been rain in the afternoon. Puddles of water surrounded the vehicle. Todd and Amy look for footprints or tire tracks but see nothing. Only Amy’s sunglasses, her keys in the driver’s seat and a to-do list were found in the car. Her green “Eagle” wallet was missing. Panicked, Todd calls Amy’s husband Steve Bechtel.
The search for Amy began early the following morning with her husband Steve and about a dozen of his friends. By day’s end, dogs, dirt bikes, ATVs, and over 100 volunteers had joined the search. The following day, horses and helicopters began searching the rugged terrain. By the third day, police expanded the search to a 30-mile radius.
As with most missing person cases, or missing wives, police turn toward the husband. In this case, Steve Bechtel. A move that, 20 years later, appears totally unwarranted and limited the search with tunnel vision, the enemy of any investigation.
Amy and Steve both graduated from the University of Wyoming with degrees in exercise physiology. They had been married a little over a year.
Steve was a climber. He and Amy both worked at Wild Iris, the local climbing shop. Amy taught a youth weightlifting class at Wind River Fitness Center and worked part-time at the Sweetwater Grill.
By all appearances, Amy and Steve were the bubbly, happy newlyweds and had just bought their first home in Lander, with a population of 7,000.
Police searched Steve’s journals and acquaintances gave conflicting statements about their relationship. Some described them as idyllic, while others stated Steve was often jealous and belittling.
The FBI would make accusations Steve killed his wife. A claim current detectives disagree.
Steve had an alibi backed up by a fellow climber. At the time, he had been about 75 miles from his home in Lander. He met with his friend Sam Lightner and Bechtel’s yellow lab Jonz and rode north to Cartridge Creek area of Shoshone National Forest to scout for a climbing location.
According to a Runner’s World article, “Long Gone Girl,” Fremont County Sheriff’s cold case detective Sergeant John Zerga disagrees with the way the case was handled in 1997. “Nowadays everything is viewed as a homicide. Back then it wasn’t viewed that way. She was just a missing runner. For three days,” Zerga said. “We didn’t close off any routes out of here,” Zerga continues. “We didn’t close off any vehicles. All we had was a bunch of people up here looking for a missing runner. We actually ruined the investigation with the vehicle because we allowed the Skinners to drive it home. [The investigation] was not good for at least the first three days. There was a lot of stuff lost.”
While all eyes had been on Steve, it wouldn’t be until over a decade later when the brother of Dale Wayne Eaton, 57, would talk to police. He had tried to contact law enforcement earlier but no response.
“I think our detectives who were working the case were so adamant it was Steve, they weren’t looking in other directions.” said Sergeant Zerga. Fifteen years after Amy vanished, Zerga spoke to Eaton’s brother who told him Eaton would often camp in the area Amy had vanished. “Few camped in the area, and few outside of Lander even knew about the area” Zerga added. “If we could prove Dale was in the area, that puts him as the number one lead.”
Eaton had tried to abduct a family pulled over with car trouble. After his arrest for the attempted kidnapping, he escaped and was later found by authorities in the Shoshone National Forest. He was incarcerated and required to submit a DNA sample.
In 1988 Lisa Marie Kimmel vanished on a trip from Colorado to Billings, Montana. Fourteen years later DNA would be linked to Eaton. An autopsy would determine Kimmel had been beaten, bound and raped for at least six days, then taken to the Old Government Bridge where she was hit on the head with a blunt object, stabbed six times in the chest and abdomen, then thrown into the river.
Police searched Eaton’s property about one hour away from where Kimmel was last seen alive. They excavated a spot on the property and unearthed Kimmel’s Honda CRX bearing her license plate “LIL MISS.”
Eaton was sentenced to death on March 20, 2004, for Kimmel’s kidnapping, rape, and murder. As for Amy, Eaton had remained tight-lipped but as with everything, justice has a way of coming around.
Anyone with information should call the Fremont County Sheriff’s Office at 307-332-5611.
Coconino National Forest: David Barclay Miller
The Red Rock-Secret Mountain Wilderness is a collection of buttes, cliff, and canyons known as one of the most magnificent places on the planet. The red rock cliffs of the Mogollon Rim mark the edge of the Colorado Plateau in the Coconino National Forest. Sycamore Canyon Wilderness borders on the east, the high mesas of Secret Mountain and Wilson Mountain jut out into lower canyons as deep as 1,500 feet draining out into Oak Creek and the Verde River.
Sedona Red Rocks is one of the most popular traveler’s destinations in the world.
Red is the predominant hue in the 43,950 acres. It is a 360-degree view of wind and water sculpted pinnacles, arches, windows and slot canyons. It is a place where sound bounces back and forth, almost in a musical chorus.
Trails crisscross the area taking one from the deepest gorges to protuberant panoramas overlooking the beauty. There is rock art on the walls from the area’s early inhabitants, along with abandoned dwellings high in the canyon walls.
The area draws hikers, photographers, backpackers, and horseback riders from around the world to wander among the manzanitas and red rocks.
An experienced hiker, David Miller, 22, was last seen at the Beaver Creek Ranger Station preparing to leave on a two-day hike on May 19, 1998, in the Red Rock/Secret Mountain Wilderness area.
At the time of his disappearance, David was employed by the Sedona Forest Service. The weather would have been mild with days reaching 83 degrees and nights about 51 degrees.
David was last seen wearing a T-shirt, black hiking boots, and carrying a forest green Gregory backpack.
It is thought David may have fallen on slippery terrain or became lost. Anyone with information should call Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office at 520-771-3260.
Salmon-Challis National Forest: DeOrr Kunz
It has been nearly two years since 2-year old DeOrr Kunz vanished on July 10, 2015, while on a camping trip at the Timber Creek Campground in the beautiful mountains of Idaho.
DeOrr’s father, Vernal DeOrr Kunz, mother Jessica Mitchell and grandfather Robert Walton, along with Isaac Reinwand, Walton’s friend and fishing buddy, had set up camp in the remote wilderness of the Salmon-Challis National forest.
The Salmon-Challis National Forest contains over 4.3 million acres in east-central Idaho. The Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness area takes up 1.3 million acres, the largest contiguous wilderness area in the Continental United States.
Salmon-Challis National Park is not only breathtaking, it is a rugged and remote area in the state of Idaho.
The area is remote, rugged and draws those seeking adventure, solitude and breathtaking scenery. The scenic Salmon River area is popular for fishing, hunting, and white-water rafting.
The winter weather in Salmon-Challis can be brutal, but in July averages 85 degrees during the day and 52 overnight.
The day of DeOrr’s disappearance, Kunz and Mitchell said they took their son to the general store for snacks and supplies. Upon their return, they walked down an embankment to scout a place to fish. Within minutes, they found minnows and quickly turned back to get DeOrr so he could see them and found he was not in his chair and was not with his grandfather. There has been about a 7 to 10-minute gap where DeOrr was not supervised. Panicked, they searched the surrounding campsite and could not find the little boy. They called the police.
Within three hours, authorities from the Lemhi County Sheriff’s Office quickly responded and began swarming a two-mile radius with search and rescue crews using ATVs to search the landscape and divers scouring the nearby reservoir.
For two-days, approximately two hundred volunteers responded, searching the wilderness for a tiny toddler to no avail.
“At this point, I have kind of accepted I might not see him, I might not bring him home like I want to,” Mitchell said. “Any answers are better than what we have now.”
Two years later, there is little else to go on. In a KTVB interview, Mitchell says she believes her son is still alive but admits she is losing hope.
Impossible to move on without answers, Mitchell and her husband are named suspects in the disappearance of their son by former Lemhi County sheriff, Lynn Bowerman. A common response for law enforcement is to look closely at all family members. They both maintain their innocence. No arrests or charges have ever been filed.
There is no evidence DeOrr was attacked by an animal. Investigators remain baffled.
Mitchell and her family believe someone abducted DeOrr. She has returned to the campground several times to search but to her frustration has not found anything. “Every time I leave there, and there is still nothing, it just goes back to I think someone has him,” Mitchell said.
Trina Clegg, Mitchell’s mother has spearheaded the search for little DeOrr handing out business cards and flyers with age-progression photos of what DeOrr would look like today.
“In my opinion, he could be anywhere,” Clegg said. “We just want you to care about baby DeOrr. We want you at night to say your prayers for baby DeOrr. We want you to wake up in the morning and hope he’s there,” she added.
Anyone with information about DeOrr’s disappearance should contact Lemhi County Sheriff’s Office at 208-756-8980.
Rio Grande National Forest: Joe Keller
Joseph Keller, 19, was an adventurous young man from Cleveland, Tennessee. He was spending his summer with friends Collin Gwaltney and Christian Fetzner exploring the west between his freshman and sophomore years at Cleveland State Community College. They had visited San Francisco, Las Vegas, and the Grand Canyon on their way to Joe’s aunt and uncles dude ranch, The Rainbow Trout Ranch, in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado.
Rated as one of the top fly-fishing ranches in the country, it is based in southwestern Colorado, with private angling along the Conejos River, a tributary to the Rio Grande flowing right through the property.
Rainbow Trout Ranch is nestled in the San Juan Mountains with the Rio Grande running through the property.
The young men were in for a treat visiting a place that combines the splendor of the Rocky Mountains with the enchantment of New Mexico.
About four hours south of Denver, the Rio Grande National Forest surrounds the ranch with 1.83 million acres and is considered a jewel of Colorado. The Continental Divide runs 236 miles along most of the forest and the tops of the Sangre de Christo Mountains form the eastern border. In between, sits the spectacular San Luis Valley which is a large agricultural alpine valley. This majestic sprawling land is the last place you want to get lost.
Joe was a competitive runner and obstacle course racer. His friend Collin, a varsity cross-country runner. They had been spending time running together during their travels.
Neither was used to the high elevations, the ranch sitting at approximately 9,000 feet.
It was July 23, 2015, they had planned an hourlong run along Forest Road 250 that crosses the ranch into the national forest, following the Conejos River upstream.
Joe left shirtless, wearing only red running shorts, blue trail shoes, and his Ironman watch. At 4:30 p.m., the friends started out together, but Joe soon fell behind as he was the slower runner.
Collin’s GPS watch shows him turning off Forest Road 250 onto the ranch drive that snakes up behind the lodge. The run became a scramble, so Collin headed back toward the road and upstream. A fly-fisherman spotted Collin about 2.5 miles up the road but never saw Joe. Collin finished his run and began puking due to the high altitude.
Joe never returned.
When Joe didn’t show up for dinner, Collin and Christian drove up the road honking, while ranch hands and guests hiked up the rocks toward a mountain formation called “Faith” towering above the valley. By 9:30 p.m., there were 35 people out searching for Joe.
Sheriff Howard Galvez of the Conejos County Sheriff Department, along with two deputies, arrived about midnight and began assisting the other searchers.
Joe’s parents were notified, leaving their home in Tennessee, along with their 17-year old daughter to travel to the ranch; they were there in less than 24 hours. It was now Joe’s birthday.
Search efforts were upgraded with about 200 people on foot, horseback and ATVs and about 15 canines. The family posted a $10,000 reward for information. Dressed only in shorts, Joe was not prepared for the evenings in the San Juan Mountains, where it is about 62 degrees during the day, down to only 30 degrees at night.
Helicopters and even an infrared-equipped plane was used to search for Joe.
The response to Joe’s disappearance was swift, the resources used in the search for Joe are unmatched by most searches for missing persons, but after a week most volunteers had gone home and after 13 days, the official search stopped. The family left with questions and desperation.
Following is a roller-coaster of emotions, anger, and theories.
May 2016, the search resumed with approximately 30 volunteers, drones and 11 dogs from Colorado Forensic Canines. The search was organized by the Jon Francis Foundation, a Minnesota nonprofit specializing in wilderness search and support. Still no sign of Joe.
The Keller family hired two private investigators whose efforts were fruitless.
Nearly a year later, Neal Keller was traveling back and forth from Tennessee to Conejos County, searching for his son every minute he could.
On July 6th, John Reinstra, 54, a former offensive lineman for the Pittsburgh Steelers, an endurance runner and search and rescue hobbyist, located Joe’s body in a boulder field below a cliff. His body 1.7 miles northwest of the ranch.
Rio Grande and Rainbow Trout area of Colorado. Courtesy Jon Billman Outside Online.
Soon after Joe’s disappearance, Gwaltney told Tennessee’s WTVC-TV , “We went running on a forestry road that was pretty well maintained,” he said. “It was gravel and pretty flat, with a few curves. But if you ran off the road, there were pretty steep places.”
Joe is found, and his family now has answers. He is no longer a missing person in a gray area of estimates with limited resources and minimal government attention.
Extensive searches failed to find him 1.7 miles away. The initial search didn’t last long enough.
Government doesn’t keep track of missing on federalland
Experts believe the public would be concerned and alarmed if they knew how many people simply vanish, never to be seen again, while visiting national parks.
The federal government does not track the number of missing persons in national parks, but experts believe about 1,600 individuals mysteriously vanish each year while visiting parks throughout the United States. While many reported missing are found, it is estimated hundreds remain missing.
Many are found, but many are never to be seen again, leaving families suffering the trauma of ambiguous loss – not knowing. Families who have experienced this say knowing your loved one is dead is easier than the “not knowing” what happened.
On February 13, 2017, best friends Abigail “Abby” Williams, 13, and Liberty “Libby” German, 14, planned to go hiking near the beautiful area of Monon High Bridge Trail, east of their small town of Delphi, Indiana.
Libby German and Abby Williams, Best Friends
At approximately 1:45 p.m. that afternoon, a family member dropped them off at the abandoned bridge where they planned to hike. It was agreed they would meet their family back in the same location later in the afternoon. They both had the day off school, it was an unseasonably warm winter day, and Abby Abby and Libby shared a special friendship. They both loved hiking, taking photographs of flowers and trees, and adventuring the scenic trails about a mile east of their home.
Libby posted, this now haunting photo, while atop Indiana’s second highest bridge on her Snapchat at 2: 07 p.m. This was the last post anyone would see the two girls alive.
Photograph Libby posted on Snapchat of Abby walking on the Monon High Bridge, Dephi, IN.
When the girls did not show up at the agreed upon the location as planned, the family reported the girls missing to Delphi Police Department and the local sheriff. Immediately police and firefighters were dispatched to canvas the area.
Over 100 searchers responded to the area. Arial searches began utilizing the remaining daylight hours. Later the same evening, authorities began trying to “ping” the girl’s phones, with no success. The sheriff stated he felt the girl’s phones were either turned off or the batteries had gone dead.
Police searching for Abby and Libby in the area surrounding Monon High Bridge and Deer Creek trails.
At approximately midnight, the search was called off, though volunteers continued searching throughout the night. The search resumed the following morning along Deer Creek and farther out from the trail. Searchers prayed the girls had simply been lost but soon those hopes were dashed. Approximately one mile from where the two young girls vanished, searchers found two bodies on a piece of private property along Deer Creek, north of the bridge.
February 14, 2017, at approximately 1:50 p.m., Sheriff Leazenby, Delphi Police Chief Steve Mullins and Indiana State Police (ISP) representative Kim Riley held a joint press conference to announce two bodies were found during the search for Abby and Libby, stating the bodies had yet to be identified.
February 15, 2017, 2:33 p.m., authorities held another press conference and announced the bodies had been identified as Liberty German and Abigail Williams.
A community was heartbroken. Children were terrified, and parents held their children closer.
Haunting Images and Audio Found on Libby’s Phone
At the February 15th news conference, ISP proceeded to release a photo of an unidentified man walking along the Delphi Historic Trail found on the girl’s phone. Authorities announced they wanted to speak to anyone who had parked in the nearby lot or anywhere around the trail the day the girls had visited the park.
FBI names individual in photograph suspect in murder of Delphi girls.
Five months into the investigation, ISP released a composite sketch of the man on the bridge hoping someone may recognize him and make a call.
Chilling audio of the killer’s voice Libby captured on her phone was also released generating thousands of leads.
In an Indy Channel report, “Delphi Investigation: Why state police say Libby and Abby’s case isn’t cold,” Indiana State Police Superintendent Doug Carter says, “There’s a person out there that knows who did it. Not a hunch. They know who that person is,” said Carter. “They know that voice and they know those clothes. They know that posture. They know that stance and they know who murdered those two little girls in that quiet place.”
March 1, 2017, former Indianapolis Colts punter Pat McAfee and team owner Jim Irsay donate $97,000 to the reward fund. The reward is now $230,000 for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of the individual who murdered Abby and Libby.
In an ABC RTV6 report, “Delphi, Indiana: FBI seeks tips on behavioral changes to help catch Delphi killer,” the FBI makes a plea to the public to think back to Monday, February 13th, the day the Delphi teens went missing asking questions like, “Did someone you know make an excuse for missing an appointment?”
“Just think if you had an interaction with an individual who inexplicably canceled an appointment that you had together,” said Greg Massa of the FBI. “Or an individual called into work sick and canceled a social engagement. At the time, they gave what you thought would have been a plausible explanation. ‘My cell phone broke’ or ‘I had a flat tire on my car.’ In retrospect, (that) excuse no longer holds water,” Massa added.
Other behaviors might now be considered suspicious. It is often a seemingly inconsequential detail someone calls in that can break a case wide open.
“Did an individual travel unexpectedly?” Massa said. “Did they change their appearance? Did they shave their beard, cut their hair or change the color of their hair? Did they change the way they dress?”
Even behavioral changes occurring shortly after February 13, 2017:
Someone who developed a different sleep pattern
Started abusing drugs or alcohol
Has become anxious or irritable
Someone who has followed this case to an extreme
A person who has ongoing conversations about where they were February 13th
Someone who has visited the location where the girls were murdered
Someone who has taken photographs around the trail and bridge
Police say don’t ever feel bad about reporting odd behavior. It could have everything to do with finding justice for two little girls brutally murdered. It could save other children from a similar and tragic outcome. In addition, if the person is innocent, it will only take a couple minutes of their time and they will never know you were the one who made the report.
A Person of Interest Dismissed
Johnson County Sheriff’s Office sent officers to Colorado to retrieve a “person of interest” in the murders of Abby and Libby.
Daniel Nations had been arrested in Colorado for threatening hikers with a hatchet on a Colorado trail. Investigators traveled to Colorado to question Nations.
Nations was wanted on an outstanding warrant in Johnson County, Indiana for failing to register as a sex offender so authorities brought him back for further questioning in the Delphi murders.
Police have not formally named Nations as a suspect stating they have no information specifically including or excluding Nations in the killings. However, ISP has since said they are no longer actively investigating Nations as a person of interest in the case.
Memories Keep the Families Going
In “Delphi Daughters: The Untold Story of Abby and Libby”, a News 6 report, Mike Patty Libby’s grandfather states, “They didn’t leave each other’s side,” about the afternoon the two girls vanished. “I don’t know what happened out there that day, whether there was a chance or an opportunity for one to break off or split, or make a break for it or whatever but you know, I look at it as two young soldiers who covered each other’s backs, two best friends, I wouldn’t leave my best friend’s side. Neither did they.”
They both loved music. Both played the Alto Saxophone in their middle school band. They loved photography and painting, and both were signed up to play softball.
Life has changed for both families. Libby is remembered as the “baker” of the family. She loved making chocolate chips cookies. Becky Patty, Libby’s grandmother said, “She was a baker. She could throw a batch of cookies together like no other.”
Libby loved using sticky notes. She would leave sticky notes on her grandmother’s car visor. One read, “I love you! Thank you for everything you do for me and Kelsie – Libby.” She would leave sticky notes all over the house, even giving her teachers sticky notes, and always showing her appreciation for everyone around her.
Libby German and best friend Abby Williams, loved and remembered by all who knew them.
In the aftermath of her murder, Libby’s class presented her grandparents with jars filled with “sticky note” messages from each child. A way of dealing with the loss for her classmates, and a reminder of how much she is missed.
Libby had dreamed of becoming a science teacher and loved finding cures and solving crimes, so much so, she took additional classes at Purdue University.
Like Libby, Arika Gibson, a friend of the pair said, “Abby also dreamed of doing something within forensics and police work.” For two amateur sleuths, clearly, the evidence the girls left on their cell phones was clues to their own murders.
Abby Williams’ grandparents, whom she called Mee-maw and Papaw, keep her belongings right where they were the day she disappeared. “We just can’t erase her from our lives, we just don’t want to.” She added, “We treasure her coat hanging on the coat hook, her shoes on the shoe rack and her bedroom just the way she left it – she may have walked out the door, but she is here with us,” said Diane Erskin, Abby’s grandmother. With tears in Abby’s mother’s eyes, Anna Williams added, “Abby smiled all the time.” Her voice to a whisper, “All the time.”
Abby’s favorite thing to say was, “Is there anything I can do to help?” Always with a joyful spirit. Anna and her daughter Abby both shared a love of photography. She loved arts and crafts even knitting hat for newborns with her Aunt Maggie. She was especially good at volleyball and had planned on starting softball with Libby in the new year. Her grandfather Cliff was so excited he drove down from Michigan to take Abby out shopping to buy all new gear.
Investigation Continues at God Speed
The search for a killer has reached national proportions. Approximately 6,000 electronic billboards in 46 states have been utilized to solicit information from the public.
Billboards with information about the Delphi murders have been placed throughout the country.
A year later, investigators have received over 30,000 tips and interviewed thousands of potential suspects.
ISP, FBI, Carroll County Sheriff and the Delphi Police Department still follow up leads and vow to solve this murder case.
Investigators have a motto, “Today is the day,” and each day at the department, the day starts out with a prayer. “As we gather together today for our work we have been assigned to, let’s pray,” as each investigator bows their head.
“Today’s the day, today is the day we are going to get closer to the end, today is the day we are going to get closer to getting justice for Abby and Libby,” said ISP First Sergeant Jerry Holeman. “We have all worked tragic cases. Nothing like this. I can’t put anything close to this case.”
Police continue to work 20 hours days, with sleepless nights, with one goal in mind. A team of hundreds of investigators continue to work the case, tracking down thousands of leads. Holeman admits it has been rough on everyone involved. Investigations can become a roller coaster ride with hopeful leads and dashed hopes when those leads are eliminated. When it gets tough, Holeman goes back to the saying, “Today is the day.”
Indiana State Police Sgt. Holeman interviewed by Alexis McAdams. Photo courtesy Alexis McAdams TV.
“I need to be here for Abby and Libby,” says Holeman, “Because I am going to find who did this and we are going to hold them responsible for their actions.”
When Anna Williams was asked what justice will look like for her, “Justice will be that deep breath we get to take when my friend’s children are sleeping in their beds again. When people don’t worry about their children playing outside.” Williams continued, “Justice is in law enforcement. We believe in law enforcement. We believe in the FBI and everyone else that has worked on this case. That’s where justice will come from.”
Unsolved homicide posters still hang in local company’s windows. The community stands united behind Libby and Abby’s families and law enforcement still working the case.
Source: Facebook Light Up for Abby and Libby.
Orange bulbs light up the entire town of Delphi. The community has committed to ensuring the golden glow lights the town until the killer of Abby and Libby is caught and brought to justice.
If you have any information about the murders of Abby Williams and Libby German, please call 844-459-5786 or ABBYANDLIBBYTIP@CACOSHRF.COM.