Murdered in Illinois: The Case of Kevin Clewer

Before we tell you the top story tonight, we want to take you all the way to San Juan Puerto Rico to hear about the unsolved murder of Latin trap singer Kevin Fret. Tonight we have to bring you two stories, a tale of two Kevins if you will, because we couldn’t decide which one of them to cover for our final episode of pride month. If we look at both of these men, they both represent two very real and different symbols to the gay community. Kevin Fret was loud and proud, gender bending, an icon and advocate for gay rights. He craved the limelight and wanted the world to see him for all that he was-  his sexual identity being a big part of that. Kevin Clewer on the other hand represents the everyday man who was just living his life. He went to work, he hung out with friends, and he dated. He loved who he loved and it was what it was but it was not what his loved ones describe as a huge part of his personality. Both of these cases are unsolved and in both of these cases its a very real possibility that this was a hate crime, and the men were targeted based on their sexual preferences. All too often, people are quick to victim blame- especially when we’re talking about underserved and underrepresented populations, but in these cases the victims were as different as can be and were both still brutally murdered. 

So on a side note, before we go any further, I just want to remind you all that people are going to hate you no matter what you do. Others will decide they don’t like you with no basis, no merit, and no reason before they even know anything about you. So please don’t waste a single second of your life trying to please others and instead commit your life to being exactly who YOU want to be. 

Let me tell you a little about Kevin Fret. 

Kevin was a 24 year old rising Latin trap star at the time of his unfortunate murder. By early 2019 he’d made a big name for himself, not just on Puerto Rico but all over as the first openly gay artist in the genre. His manager, Eduardo Rodriguez describes him as an artistic soul, and a big hearted dreamer. Kevin stood out in urbano music because he loved to show off his queer pride. His biggest hits were a song called “Soy Asi” which means “I’m like this” and a part in Mike Duran’s song “Diferente” which means different. 

More than just his lyrics, Kevin Fret looked the part too- he loved to dress in flashy gender non conforming ways and was extremely proud to be making people stop and say “Wait a minute, our music doesn’t have to be synonymous with aggressive and violent male behavior”. One article says that Kevin was “upending the genre’s paradigm of macho behavior and misogyny” and he was very proud to play that role, despite the fact that it made him a huge target for harassment and threats. 

In 2018 other artists made diss tracks against Kevin, and though they’ve since been taken down and apologies have been issued, the tracks were full of homophobic slurs and unnesseccary rumors. There was backlash on both ends for this incident from fans of both artists, and people felt very emboldened to share their hatred for Kevin behind their phone screens. 

At approximately 5:30 in the morning on January 10th of 2019, Kevin was riding his Yamaha motorcycle downtown in the Santurce neighborhood of San Juan when he was shot two times, once in the hip and once in the head, killing him instantly. Witnesses report seeing another man on a motorcycle fleeing the scene.

The previous threats and homophobia were not lost on Kevin’s fans, but most of all his own mother. We’re choosing not to name any names in this story, but Kevin’s mom Hilda Rodriguez believes fervently that another latin trap star and his manager consorted to have Kevin killed because his openly gay persona posed a threat, alleging that the two had a secret love affair. There are other rumors in the case that this plot involved a lot of extortion based on a sex tape of the other singer. According to the Criminal Investigation Bureau of San Juan, there are two persons of interest, but according to Billboard magazine (to be clear, not an official police source, this is a music magazine), the artist and manager who Fret’s mother accuses are not those two people. That artist says that out of respect for Kevin’s family he has no comment on the crime, and he has gone on to do other high profile work with big celebrities, but Kevin Fret’s mom still holds tightly to her theory. 

Though many people believe that Kevin Fret’s death was a targeted hate crime in the form of an  assassination, others are quick to point out the escalating violence in Puerto Rico in general, saying that perhaps it was random violence or a mistaken identity. In the two weeks prior to Fret’s death alone there were 23 other homicides on the island and the FBI had declared the city in a “crisis of violence” just the day before this shooting. Gang affiliations, drug cartels, lots of shootings, it just wasn’t the shocking newsworthy story you may expect, and it seems that Kevin’s fame may be the only reason he got any coverage at all.. 

Unfortunately I don’t really know where the case stands today in 2022 other than “unsolved” because most of the articles you can find about Kevin Fret’s story are from the weeks immediately following his murder, many of which were written in Spanish beyond my abilities, and then from there he becomes a brief mention in english written articles about unsolved crime, an icon for the latin gay community reduced to just a bullet point of crime.


In 2004, 31 year old Kevin Clewer lived in a Lakeview apartment with a roommate in Boystown Chicago. He had a great job at a company called Flextronics which he loved, and was building a great life for himself full of promise and potential. Kevin’s older brother Ron describes him as kind, trusting, and with a bold personality. He says Kevin was lovable, caring, and could fit in with a variety of different people. Kevin especially loved being an uncle, having grown up in a loving and close knit family who fully supported him. 

On Tuesday March 23rd 2004 at around 9:30pm, Kevin and a friend of his, John Siracusa, left his Lakeview apartment to head downtown for a night at the bars.  Kevin had a roommate who they’d invited but was unable to attend because he had to be at work by 6:30 the next morning. Their plan was to hang out in the neighborhood of Halstead and Roscoe streets in a part of Chicago known as Boystown. The pair spent the night in three taverns: Sidetracks, Roscoes, and Little Jim’s.. They met up with some other friends and had a fun evening of drinking and dancing! 

At Roscoe’s, Kevin met a man who introduced himself as Fernando, and the two really seemed to be hitting it off, so Fernando joined in on the group’s festivities.  Fernando was hispanic with what some have called a Spanish accent. He said he was 28, and he was attractive, and the two left Little Jim’s together arm in arm heading toward Kevin’s apartment around 3:15am.  

By the next afternoon, when no one had seen or heard from him, Kevin’s boss Pam called his emergency contact, his father Jim. Kevin hadn’t shown up for work that day, and they hadn’t been able to get ahold of him, and since this behavior was so out of character they felt it might be good to check up on him. Jim agreed that this behavior was abnormal and made his way to Kevin’s house for a quick check on his boy. 

Kevin’s dad arrived to his apartment to find his car still parked there. At around 6pm, Jim made his way into the back bedroom to find his youngest son’s lifeless body. He was naked and had a robe draped over to cover him. Blood spattered the sheets and the walls. It was everywhere and it was brutal. Kevin’s poor father pushed past his fear and grief to reach 911, but it was unfortunately too late to save the young man. 

The autopsy revealed that Kevin had been stabbed 42 times, and if that fact wasn’t brutal enough, we learned that the stabs were all to his back. Investigators immediately believe this means that his attacker must have been someone he trusted intimately, as he was naked and vulnerable with his back turned. Furthermore, and this is something we’ve spoken about recently here, investigators were taken back by the overkill required to stab someone 40 times, likely long after the fatal blow had been delivered.  

Kevin’s roommate told investigators that he heard multiple voices in the apartment that night, but that he was trying to sleep and didn’t pay much attention to who the guest was or what time it was. He says it was around 4am that he heard a door close, and other than that he noticed nothing but the closed door when he left the next morning. Police interviewed all of Kevin’s friends from the night before, and a sketch of Fernando was quickly created for distribution. 

Investigators say they’ve been as thorough as they could and still have not been able to find the man called Fernando, despite how thoroughly his eye witness sketch was distributed. Kevin’s parents themselves personally hung thousands of flyers around Chicago, and it was distributed widely in the media. Kevin’s family has done everything they could for years to keep Kevin’s name and photo familiar to the public. And for years it brought nothing but heartbreak. 

 In January of 2021, investigators say there was a break leading them to determine the identity of the suspect.  For more than a year, investigators have tightly held this bit of information trying to put together the pieces until just last month, when they finally put out a call for help from the public. 

So this is where all of you come in. Investigators say that though they believe they have the right suspect in mind, in order for the murder of Kevin Clewer to be prosecuted by the Cook County State’s attorney’s office new evidence and witness reports are needed. 

Chicago Police Homicide Lt. William Svilar is asking for the people of the community to help put a close on this case. They believe there are people in Chicago and beyond who have valuable information that could assist this homicide investigation. Here is the information that they are sharing with us know about the suspect in the murder of Kevin Clewer, so listen carefully: 

Investigators believe the suspect was NOT actually named Fernando and most likely only used that name as a ruse when he met Kevin that night.

The suspect is of Puerto Rican descent and he fled to Puerto Rico after the murder, though he has returned back and forth to Chicago sometimes.

This suspect was a member of the gay community in Chicago at the time. 

He was known for theft and prostitution.

They believe the suspect has bragged to his friends about luring intoxicated men back to their apartments for sex and then robbing them.

They believe aside from the murder, this is an established pattern of behavior.

It’s also believed that people who know him would be absolutely shocked to find he was responsible for stabbing Kevin Clewer 40 times, that it doesn’t fit his outward display of his appearance or personality at all.

Authorities are begging for any piece of information no matter how big or small because they say it could be the key to solving this case. Please call the Chicago police department if this sounds like anyone you know, even if you’re not sure. 

Over the 18 years since Kevin was murdered, both of his parents have passed away from heavy illnesses, something his family feels was hugely impacted by their unimaginable grief. No illness could compare to the pain of not knowing what happened to their son. Kevin’s brother and nieces now carry the torch for the Clewer family, desperately seeking justice for their fun uncle Kevin, who would have celebrated his 50th birthday this year. 

If you have any information at all, please call the anonymous tip line 833-408-0060. Tips leading to homicide charges can have up to a  $20k reward. You can also leave an anonymous tip at cpdtip.com 

Murdered in Florida: The Case of Julie Doe

According to a study done at UCLA “Transgender people are over four times more likely than cisgender people to experience violent victimization, including rape, sexual assault, and aggravated or simple assault” Since 2008 the Trans Murder Monitoring report conducted by a project called Transrespect versus Transphobia Wordwide has tallied 4039 total transgender people who were killed. Last year alone claimed 375 victims, making 2021 the “deadliest year of violence against gender diverse people since records began.” 

Nikki Kunhausen was among those killed on the 2019 report after she disappeared from her home in Vancouver Washington that June. She was born Nicholas, but from an early age it was clear that identity simply didn’t fit her, and her loving mom Lisa openly accepted her experimentation as she grew into her own identity. Nikki loved to play dress up at home with wigs and she chose a pink cast for herself when she got a broken arm. In 6th grade Nikki decided it was time to make her true gender identity public, something her mom referred to as when “she started dressing as herself” 

justice4nikki.com

She was loving and kind, and though she could be shy when it came to herself, she was always the first to stand up for anyone who needed her support. She was known as an inspiration among her peers, and had big dreams to be a celebrity makeup artist and a model herself. The close bond she had with her mom is what alerted everyone to the fact that something was very wrong when Nikki stopped responding to her. 

The last time anyone had seen Nikki was when she’d told her roommate she was going out to see a man she’d met earlier that day. Nikki’s phone logs corroborated this, and investigators were able to see that they’d arranged for him to pick her up somewhere around 5am. That man was 25 year old David Bogdanov. Naturally, police attempted to find Bogdanov for questioning as the last person to see Nikki, but Bogdanov was nowhere to be found. He too seems to have vanished. Could he also be a victim? And if not, what is he hiding? 

Four months after Nikki’s disappearance, police receive a phone call from none other than Bogdanov who basically says “whoopsie, phone problems, guess I missed you what’s up?” Detective David Jensen sets up an interview where he tells them that he met Nikki on June 6th when he was out with his brother. She was outside on a street in Vancouver and he offered her his coat because she looked cold. They exchanged information and some shots of vodka from a bottle he had and then parted ways. He messaged her a little while later and they arranged to get together and hang out in his car to drink and smoke and chat. 

During this initial interview with Detective Jensen, Bogdanov then says that while they were chatting, Nikki mentioned that “she’s not a she.” He went on to admit loudly and proudly that he was uncomfortable, really really disturbed, shocked, and he said “I asked her to please get out of the car cause this is just really weird for me.” Bogdanov claims here that Nikki got out, he drove away, and that’s the last he saw her. 

What stands out most to investigators is Bogdanov’s blatant and bold hatred for the LGBTQIA+ community. He goes on a lengthy rant about how he can’t stand to even be around gay people, how disgusted it makes him feel. And though investigators are pretty horrified by what Bogdanov had said, they have no choice but to let him go with a promise to keep a close eye on him.

For 6 grueling months Lisa searched for her daughter, all the while knowing that Nikki’s gender status made her an at-risk target. She also worried about how young and naive Nikki was at 17- that perfect age where you think you know everything and have no idea exactly how much it is you don’t know. Nikki also sometimes used drugs, and had been to rehab but always struggled to stay completely sober. Lisa was in a complete tailspin of worry for her vulnerable and beautiful daughter. The family plastered the area with flyers, desperate to locate Nikki hoping for the best. But Lisa feared the worst. 

Then in December, a man out for a walk on Larch Mountain discovered the skull of 17 year old Nikki Kuhnhausen. For 6 months her body and clothes had been scattered by animals down a steep ravine after what police recognized as an unceremonious body dump. Among Nikki’s belongings was a phone charging cord, double knotted in a circle only about 3.79 inches in diameter. In the knot were tangles of artificial strands matching Nikki’s multicolored hair extensions.

David Bogdanov is brought back in for another round of questioning and at first he repeats his story. They confront him with the evidence that his phone records show him on Larch Mountain the morning of Nikki’s disappearance, despite saying that he was at work at his family’s company. At this point Bogdanov knew he was caught and called for a lawyer, so police say Ok sure, because we found Nikki ad you’re under arrest for her murder. 

Bogdanov, Justice4Nikki

Bogdanov eventually confessed to the murder of Nikki Kuhnhausen, but he claimed it was in self defense. The new version of his story is that the pair began making out and when things got heavier and he discovered that her parts were not what he expected, he freaked out. He says that Nikki kicked him in the chest to get off her and then reached toward the gun which he had sitting on his center console. He says he strangled her with the charger to his phone in self defense because she wanted to kill him for his opinion and rejecting her. He then disposed of her body over the edge of the ravine and fled the country because he was scared he may get in trouble for protecting himself. 

All of us listening know the story is complete bullshit, but the burden of proof was on the prosecution. The phone cord as the murder weapon is significant evidence here because you may remember with the way it was knotted the hole in the center was less than four inches in diameter. The average woman’s neck is 12-14 inches. We also need to keep in mind that it takes 3-5 minutes to strangle someone to death. That means that David Bogdanov, in self defense and fear for his life, knotted his phone cord and strangled Nikki Kundhausen so hard for 3 to 5 consecutive minutes that he crushed her windpipe and esophagus and spine to a mere 4 inch circumference…. By accident in self defense and with no other choice. 

Bogdanov’s trial was held with a live Zoom feed in August of 2021. After two days of deliberations he was found guilty of one count of second degree murder of Nikki Kuhnhausen and one count malicious harassment, a hate crime in the state of Washington. Lisa Woods cried through the victim impact statement, remembering her daughter and mourning for the things they’d never get to do together. Bogden was given the maximum sentence as Lisa requested, 19 and a half years plus 12 months. 

Lisa has continued looking for ways to help others in Nikki’s memory, and she joins the ranks of so many other parents we’ve spoken about on this show. Lisa has taken the bitter tragedy that no one should ever have to suffer, and used it to fuel her fight for justice. The passing of the Nikki Kuhnhausen Act  in Washington state has made it impossible to use what’s called the “trans panic defense” in court. Accused perpetrators are no longer able to say they were so out of control with a diminished capacity when finding out someone is trans that they can’t be held culpable for their own actions.

In my own share of the research I came across a website called LGBTQBar.org which seems to me to be a great resource for people who work in criminology in the LGBTQIA+ space. They’re leading the fight to ban the LGBTQ+ “Panic” defense nationwide and so far we have legislature in CA, IL, RI, NV, CT, ME, HI, NY, NJ, WA, CO, DC, VA, OR, MD, and NM. If I did not list your state you are urged to call your representatives. There are currently bills that have been introduced but not passed yet in a bunch of other states including MA where we’re from so give your rep a call and find out what you can do! 

Luckily for Nikki’s grieving family, the conviction and consequential government action are an honor to her memory. Not every family is able to achieve that sense of closure. Sadly, many cases are never even brought to trial which brings us to our next story. Without an identification, we can’t even begin to put together the mystery of what happened to Julie Doe.

September 25th, 1988 was a sunny Sunday morning in the marshes of Lake County Florida. A man foraging for cypress lumber stumbled upon the remains of a woman among the swampy brush. She was wearing a blue green tank top and an acid washed denim skirt, and her pantyhose were partially rolled down. Her nails were long and manicured, her hair long and bleached. She wore no shoes, no jewelry, and carried no personal belongings or identification.  On scene was evidence that her body had been dragged and disposed of, leading investigators to immediately determine her manner of death was likely to be murder. 

Original Sketch 1988, trasdoetaskforce.org

The Lake County Jane Doe was transported to the CA Pound Human Identification Laboratory, aka CAPHIL. The woman’s remains were suspected to have been there in the hot Florida swamp for many months, so the rate of decomposition made it impossible to determine the event that caused her death, but an autopsy was conducted nevertheless by renowned pathologist Dr. Maples. Based on the mummified skeleton of Jane Doe, Dr. Maples determined that in life she was likely between 24 and 32 years old, would have been around 5 feet 10 inches tall, had an athletic build, and had proportionally sized silicone breast implants. Dr Maples also observed many pit marks in her pelvic bones, which he determined to be caused by the relaxin hormone as it softens the pelvis for birth, leading him to determine she’d given birth more than once. 

Jane Doe’s sketch was distributed with the identifying features, but for many years no progress was made on the case and so she sat nameless in storage at CAPHIL until 2010 when Detective Tamara Dale took over the case for the Lake County Sheriff’s Department. Recently she’d had some success with more advanced genetic testing in other Doe cases, and was eager to take a new look. She approached the director of CAPHIL, Dr. Michael Warren, a former student of Dr Maples who just so happened to remember the case. Though it took years of pushing, funding finally came through for some testing which revealed a bombshell. In 2015 the early stages of Jane Doe’s genetic testing revealed she had an XY chromosome, meaning she’d been assigned male at birth. Dr. Warren reviewed the findings of Dr Maples and realized the pit marks were the results of female hormones after all, but not from child birth, for feminizing hormone therapy

The forensic students in the lab who were working on Jane’s case felt it only fair they give her a unique name to distinguish her unique character, and they took their inspiration from the 1995 movie To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Numar. She was officially renamed Julie Doe and a careful and thoughtful fresh reconstruction was done by artist Detective Stephen Fusco. In more recent years, renowned forensic artist Carl Koppelman has recreated a color image of Julie’s approximation. Further DNA testing was attempted, funded by Lake County, but unfortunately there was not enough extract to work with and more information could not be obtained in either attempt. 

1995 Sketch Stephen Fusco trasdoetaskforce.org

This is where the Trans Doe Task Force was formed. The project was originally begun to help engage the public about Julie’s story in an effort to find her identity, but since then it has evolved into something much bigger. It’s become a community fueled by people who want to help close these unique cases. One creative idea that came from the Trans Doe Task Force was using the popular FaceApp on the artist rendering so that we could see what Julie may have looked like as different genders and at different ages. The hope was that distributing these versions of the sketch could lead people who didn’t know she’d transitioned to recognize her from her earlier life. 

Julie Doe’s story isn’t finished yet. The DNA Doe Project fundraised for further testing for Julie in less than 48 hours with the help of the Trans Doe Task Force’s efforts. Her DNA has been uploaded to GEDmatch and research is ongoing. We do know she’s most likely from Southern Florida. 

2018 Sketch by Carl Koppelman trasdoetaskforce.org

While we wait to find Julie’s identity, please take a look at the Trans Doe Task Force website which we’ll link for you on our website. They’re a non-profit that is trans led, and they’re loaded with their own calls to action, ways to help, and resources. There’s even an interactive map of cases they’ve located where the deceased may have been gender variant.  

In honor of Nikki Kuhnhaussen and House Bill 1687 Known as the Nikki Kuhnhausen Act, visit LGBTQBar.org to see where your state stacks up on the LGBTQ+ Panic defense, then call your local government and get involved. 

Please check out our website and see if any of the photos of Julie Doe look like someone you knew prior to 1988. Share the images, especially if you have a long standing family in southern Florida- ask them to share it as well. 

We also have a few organizations to share with you tonight where we would encourage you to donate your time or your money:

  1. The Trans Doe Task Force finds and researches cases of LGBTQ+ missing and murdered persons, especially focusing on unidentified individuals who may have been transgender. TDTF advises and educates the public, media, and forensic professionals about the needs of and differences between Trans Doe cases and other Doe cases. The TDTF can also assist law enforcement departments, medical examiners, and forensic anthropologists with getting their cases worked on by forensic genetic genealogists and has a Trans-led forensic genetic genealogy team in house.

Sources:

Murdered in California- The Case of the Doodler Killer

Before we get too into tonight’s story, I think it’s important to time travel back to the early 70’s for a moment and set the stage for you. As much unrest and inequality as there is still in the world today, we have made some progress and we need to remind ourselves of what it was really like to be LGBTQ+ living in San Francisco in 1974.

San Fransisco had become a hub for the gay rights movement. The city supervisor was legendary openly gay politician Harvey Milk, so many people were becoming more outspoken and vocal demanding their equal rights. As we know this sometimes caused dangerous backlash for the people who were willing to be loud about it. Whether their physical safety was at risk, or their livelihood through being ostracized, for many coming out and standing up for their rights wasn’t a risk they felt they could take. In fact, Harvey Milk himself was assassinated for his progressive beliefs right inside city hall in 1978. It was estimated that San Fransisco housed around 85,000 gay men at the time and still up to 25% of them were not out of the closet.

Harvey Milk in San Francisco in 1974

Another important thing to note is that being gay wasn’t just societally frowned upon… there were actually laws attempting to prevent it in any way possible. Beyond the equality laws we’re still fighting for today, Gay relationships which included sex were considered a punishable offense. You could be arrested! Sodomy laws weren’t repealed in San Francisco until 1976 which meant that while this killer was hunting in the gay bars, patrons also had to worry about the police busting in and breaking up the party- something which could and did happen! The LGBTQ community felt little safety and support from the police.

Being gay in the 70s in San Fransisco made you vulnerable in a number of alarming ways, but perhaps the most mysterious of these threats is the man known today as the Doodler Killer, or the Black Doodler. It’s believed he murdered anywhere between 6 and 16 people, though some believe there may have been more victims in other locations as well. 

The first known victim of the Doodler Killer was a 49 year old blue collar factory worker and Canadian immigrant named Gerald Cavanaugh. It took quite some time for his body to be identified and he was initially listed as a John Doe, likely because he was unmarried with little connections. Through diligent investigative reporting by Kevin Fagan, we’ve learned that he was also a world war II vet with the US Army. He visited his mother once a year, but in general his family was not aware that he was gay, likely because they self identified as “very catholic”  He’d been found fully clothed face up in the sand on Ocean Beach near a popular hookup spot on January 27th 1974 in the early morning hours. His body had to be dragged from the shoreline, nearly washed out to sea. He’d been stabbed 17 times, both in the front and in the back, in what seemed like it could only be a fit of pure rage. Authorities believed he’d died within hours of when he was found, that he’d been conscious at the time of his death, and he’d fought back hard against his killer as evidenced by several defensive wounds.

Gerald Cavanaugh

5 months later, a woman walking along Spreckels Lake beach came upon the recently deceased body of Joseph Jae Stevens. Stevens was 27 years old and had been working locally as a “female impersonator and comedian.” He was 6 foot 2 and muscular, didn’t drink alcohol to keep his whits about him and did a killer Julie Andrews under his stage name Jae. He could sing, dance, and his friends described him as “a really good stand up comic in a dress”. He was described as attractive, charming, gregarious, and well spoken. Despite his high level performances on stage, off stage he was shy and humble, easily embarrassed, quiet, and modest. He had publicly come out when he was drafted into the military, and though his family had a hard time with it at first he was eventually accepted and celebrated by them for who he was, even sharing performances with his sister Michelle. It was the morning after a performance at the Cabaret Club in North Beach that his body was found stabbed so brutally that his family barely recognized him. Stevens was a well-loved local, born and raised in San Francisco, and his death simply agonized the LGBTQ community. It agnonized his family even more- In her deep grief, Stevens’ sister Alma suffered apsychotic break, and just three months after her brothers’ murder, she savagely murdered her own mother and another remaining sister with a sledgehammer. She was institutionalized and the family has never recovered from the unspeakable back to back tragedies. 

Joseph Jae Stevens

Less than two weeks after the discovery of Joseph Stevens’ body, another woman was walking her dog on Ocean Beach where Gerald Cavanagh had been found at the beginning of the year. She stumbled upon another stabbing victim. Klaus Christmann, a german immigrant, was a 31 year old married father of two who had been staying with an American friend since April. Though he was not publicly out as gay, his daughter has since stated that she always knew he was hiding something about his sexuality, so San Francisco was a good fit for him to explore what that meant, while also exploring new employment opportunities. He was just hoping for a chance at what he thought would be the American dream. He was last seen partying at a bar named Bojangles in the Tenderloin district. When his body was recovered on Ocean Beach, he had been stabbed even more than the other victims. this time the killer had added slashing his throat in an apparent act of overkill, nearly decapitating him. He was fully clothed, though his pants were unzipped and open. 

Klaus Christmann,

The next May of 1975, in nearly the same location as Cavanaugh and Christmann, the body of Frederick Capin was found stabbed 16 times on the beach. Capin was a 32 year old decorated war veteran who worked locally as a nurse. He was considered a hero who had fought off the enemy to save several of his fellow soldiers and earned commendations for his bravery. He was also described as a talented artist who had his pieces on display in bars in the neighborhoods near his home. In a cruel twist of irony, his family had recently been asking to come for a visit, but Capin had told them that it was too dangerous of a time with the crime and serial killers in the community. Investigators believe perhaps he’d been lured to the sand dunes by his killer that night for a private moment together. In the autopsy it was noted that there was blood smeared all over his feet and hands, something not noted in the other autopsies. Perhaps also a result of his fighting back like the others. 

Frederick Capin

A few weeks later in June of 1975 a fifth victim was located buried under the brush off the 16th hold of Lincoln Park Golf Course near Ocean Beach. He was badly decomposed and authorities believed he’d been there approximately two weeks. He was the oldest of the victims, and took some time before he was identified as 66 year old Harald Gullberg, a Swedish immigrant. He was never married and had no family, so not much was known about him. Unlike the other cases, his underwear appeared to have been taken by his killer, and a handkerchief appeared to have been left behind. 

Harald Gullberg

According to original homicide investigators Rotea Gilford and Earl Sanders who had interviewed many witnesses in the local bar scene, the killer would flatter his victims with drawings of them in an effort to lure them for sex. He’d sit sipping his drink in a corner, drawing pictures of animals to impress the people he’d meet, oftentimes even drawing their likeness on a napkin. To the men who chose to leave with him, this must have come across as charming and romantic. They never suspected they were sneaking away to their tragic ends. Police believe he frequented the bars in the area of San Francisco known as the Castro, the Tenderloin, and Polk Street- spots that had previously felt like little safe havens for the LGBTQ community. These areas had some affordable housing projects, which really helped someone who might be single and estranged from family be able to make it on their own in the world. Now it was this vulnerable population that the Doodler had made his ample target. 

By the time summer of 1975 came around, the Doodler was beginning to make some mistakes- that is namely leaving his victims alive. Though there’s not a lot of information available on these crimes, there were at least three surviving victims of the Doodler who came forward to police to share their stories. The first victim says he encountered the Doodler at 2 am when the bar was closing for the night as they all made their way to a diner called the Truck Stop. The man never told his name, but the victim invited him over for some alone time at his swanky apartment building. When they arrived, the Doodler locked himself in the bathroom for a lengthy time and when he finally came out, he attacked. The victim had his back turned when he was stabbed repeatedly from behind. The steak knife the attacker was using broke, and he fled leaving his victim alive. 

Astonishingly, 2 weeks later, the Doodler returned to the same building and knocked on the door of another resident. Though it’s unclear if he was attempting to finish what he started or seek a new victim, he convinced the man to let him in under the guise of using his phone. Once inside, he bound the man’s hands and feet, but the victim fought back- yelling and banging as loudly as he could. The commotion attracted security and the Doodler snuck out of the building, making another escape. In both of these cases, the victims say that the man repeated “you guys are all alike.”  

The third failed attempt was on a man who met the Doodler at a bar before inviting him back to his house. Once in the bedroom, the killer dropped a concealed knife from the sleeve of his jacket. It’s unclear to me how the escape was made from here, but the Doodler fled and the victim made it out unharmed. 

All three victims were terrified and wanting to be anonymous, but they all approached the police with as much cooperation as they were able. With their help a composite sketch was created and circulated. The Doodler was described as young (19-23), African American, tall and lanky with a narrow face and high set cheekbones. His eyes were wide set with a “calm look.” That sketch was distributed, first in The Centennial, the local queer newspaper at the time, and eventually the San Francisco Chronicle.

 It did generate some serious leads. A psychologist came forward (after his secretary called the police multiple times to report it but was not taken seriously) and said he’d seen a patient he believed to be the Doodler- that this man had confessed to the killings and looked like the sketch. He also had told the psychologist that he was struggling with feelings of his own sexual identity, which fit the behavioral profile of the killer and his extreme rage toward the victims. His own sexual identity was probably something he felt a lot of self hatred about. 

In 1975, an amendment to the patient privacy laws allowed the psychologist to share this man’s name with investigators, as he believed he posed an imminent threat to the public. This person of interest was interviewed extensively and is reported to have been cooperative, though never admitted to any involvement. He admitted that he did say he struggled with his sexuality, but that had a girlfriend now and was feeling much better. He was watched from a distance for a long time, but of course ultimately there was nothing he could be charged with. His name has never been released. 

 Investigators believe that the Doodler may have had up to 16 victims local to San Francisco at the time. Reporter Kevin Fagan has taken a deep dive on this story in the last handful of years, writing a series of articles for the San Francisco Chronicle as well as an entire podcast called The Doodler (which I have not yet listened to but I can’t wait to). According to his own research and interest, he believes it’s possible or even probable that the Doodler Killer moved on and had more victims in other parts of the country. That very suspect from the psychologist’s report allegedly left town on a lengthy road trip himself, and it’s believed that his whereabouts coincide with similar unsolved murders. But since they’re all still open investigations, no one of any authority is talking much about those connections. 

So why has catching the Doodler been such a monumental task? We’d think surely with this much evidence and witness reports, we could find this guy. Unfortunately that’s where we have to go back to the state of Gay Culture in San Francisco at the time. 

It’s reported in several sources that the first surviving witness was actually a foreign diplomat, and the third surviving witness was a reported to be a well known American actor. In both of their cases the men stood a lot to lose by being publicly outed in such a dramatic fashion, and for both of them the fear of testifying outweighed the fear they had of the killer. Though they cooperated with the police, they refused to testify and have spent all the years following the events in complete anonymity, though many have speculated on their identities. 

We also have to take into consideration the crime culture in California in the 70’s when we had a surge of horrific serial killings: 

The fear of this terrible type of crime was alive and well, thanks to the Zodiac killer, still unsolved, who had targeted couples and the media alike with his chilling series of coded letters sent to the San Francisco chronicle in the 60’s. 

We had the Santa Rosa Hitchhiker killer in 1972 who murdered several young women and has never been caught. 

Then in 1973 a new serial killer group calling themselves the Death’s Angels began targeting the African American community in the Bay Area with insane random shootings. It’s rumored that due to the seemingly random threat, all police communications about this case were to be done exclusively on the Z channel, and so they were dubbed the Zebra killers. 

The Doodler began his target of the San Fransisco gay community in January of 1974, and within days of Gerald Cavanaugh’s body being discovered both the Zebra Killers and the Zodiac Killer had struck again, completely overshadowing the investigation into the Doodler from the start. By the time his killings had established a pattern that police could recognize, it became completely swallowed up again by the Golden State Killer, now known as Joseph DeAngelo, who had started his spree in 1975. 

So you can see how the combination of the need for anonymity clashed with the media’s opportunities to promote those who were eager to share their stories. A lot of the of the victims of the other killers were middle class white couples who’s families were ready to take up the fight for them, but for many gay male victims of violent crimes that was not a luxury they had. Further many of the LGBTQ community members had a massive distrust of the police, strengthened only by the fact that they felt the police did not seem to care at all about these murders of this underserved population.

Unfortunately, without cooperation from surviving victims and any solid evidence that can conclusively link a suspect, the police have thus far been unable to close the case. But apparently things are looking up in the investigation. In 2018 San Francisco police investigator Dan Cunningham was put in charge of the cold case unit and brought the Doodler case back into the light. His team had an artist rework and re-release the witness sketch with age progression. He says there were two DNA samples that have been sent in but so far there are no matches. Cunningham says they’re closer than ever to connecting all the dots and closing this investigation. 

In fact, Investigator Cunningham’s newly renewed efforts combined with Kevin Fagan’s investigative journalism have led to a huge break in this case recently in 2022! SFPD recently made an announcement that they’ve added a 6th victim to the official tally, though the Doodler is suspected to have killed maybe as many as 16 victims that we know of. 52 year old attorney Warren Andrews was found clinging tenuously to life beneath some brush near a popular hook up spot for local gay men on April 27th 1975. He had been beaten severely with a rock and tree branch, and though he fought for 7 weeks he was never able to regain consciousness and died of his injuries in the hospital. Because the murder weapon didn’t fit the Doodler’s main method of killing, the pattern was initially missed and investigators believed it to be unrelated. Other similarities in the victimology are said to reveal the connections between the killings, so the investigators now believe that the killer’s knife was probably tossed off nearby cliffs during his attack on Andrews as he was fighting back, and that the rock and branch became weapons of necessity. When investigators called Andrews’ sister in 2021 to break the announcement, she had never even heard of the Doodler, but she says she’s grateful for the renewed attention. 

Warren Andrews

Investigator Cunningham also says that the same man they spoke of before, who was brought forward by the psychologist, is still a “person of interest” all these years later. Police have even re-interviewed him and say that he accidentally left his DNA for them to compare to in the future, but we’re assuming that means it has not matched anything so far. Now with advances in technology I think everyone is hopeful that this will finally be the year the man who terrorized the gay men of San Francisco in the 70s will be brought to justice. 

Investigators believe that the killer may still be living as an openly gay man in the San Francisco Bay Area, never having faced justice. Please take a look at and distribute the updated aged sketch. Anyone with information on this case or with possible leads can contact Homicide cold case investigator Daniel Cunningham at 1-415-553-9515 or email him at daniel.cunningham@sfgov.org. If you with to remain anonymous you may call SFPD Tip Line at 1-415-575-4444 or Text-A-Tip to 847411

Missing in Virginia: The Case of Katelin Akens

This month to honor Pride, we will be covering all LGBTQIA+ cases. To submit a case for consideration for next season, please see our google form here.

If you have any information about the disappearance of Kaitlin Akens, please call Spotsylvania County Sheriff’s Office 540-582-7115

Katelin Michelle Akens was born September 2nd, 1996, and was raised in Virginia with her sister Gabriella and her mom Lisa Sullivan. Growing up, Kaitlin was described as nurturing, adoring little kids and loving to help others in any way she could. She was unique and had no problem just being herself, a trait her family loved about her. She was also extremely smart and a quick learner. In fact, Katelin was so bright and hard working that she doubled up on her coursework and was able to graduate highschool at just 16 years old. 

Katelin’s biological father moved out of state when she was just a toddler, and when Katelin was 7 years old, Lisa remarried to a man named James Branton. Katelin’s sister says that his relationship with Katelin could be a little rocky while they all lived together, mostly because he was a bit more strict than Katelin appreciated. The family says that when her mom and step dad split up, their relationship actually improved and became much stronger, now that he was no longer her disciplinarian. They all kept in friendly contact, Lisa eventually remarried again, and all the family relationships seemed to be going well. 

One constant in Katelin’s life was her best friend Amber Rios. They had grown up pretty inseparable and the girls were heartbroken when Amber’s family moved to Arizona. But the two friends kept up constant communication which eventually evolved into something more. When Kaitlin announced to her family just how in love she and Amber were, the family was more than supportive. In 2014, just after her 18th birthday, Katelin moved to Arizona to live with her best friend who had become her fiance. Lisa says that the distance didn’t change their closeness as a family unit one bit- Kaitlin still called and texted multiple times a day, for big things but also small little conversations like ”how do I make pumpkin bread?” Gabi says that they typically texted all day everyday.

Growing up, Kaitlin was adventurous and free spirited. She was constantly changing her hair and experimenting with different colors and styles. This hobby had grown to a passion and Katelin had made a plan to go to cosmetology school. Her first course was scheduled to begin December 7th, 2015, and Katelin needed one final piece of paperwork to make her acceptance official- her high school diploma, which happened to be at her mom’s house all the way back in Virginia. Rather than mail it to her, they all decided it was the perfect time for a visit. Katelin’s sister Gabi had just had a baby, and so everyone was absolutely thrilled to have Katelin make the trip home for some newborn nephew snuggles with 2 week old baby Landon! 

Katelin arrived back home in Springfield Virginia on December 1st, ready for a whirlwind four days of visits with family and friends. She spent most of the time holding her new nephew and enjoying some quality time with Lisa and Gabi. She also did her best to squeeze in some visits with friends- the night before she was scheduled to fly back to Arizona she’d spent the night at a friend’s apartment after an evening of beer and board games. 

Since Katelin was scheduled to start her new cosmetology school on Monday, she had booked her flight back to Arizona for that Saturday evening, December 5th, at 5:40pm out of the Reagan National Airport in Arlington. Lisa had to work that day, so they had arranged for Katelin’s former stepfather James to take her to the airport. James was happy to oblige but he had to work  in Fredericksburg at 3pm, so they agreed that Katelin would arrive at the airport a little bit early and just hang out until her flight. Lisa dropped Katelin off with James at 9:20 that morning before work, and they had a great chance to catch up at home for a few hours before they made the drive 60 miles out to the airport from Partlow where James lived.  

At 1:52pm that afternoon, Lisa got a text from James:

 “I dropped Katelin off.”

A few moments later at 2:00 pm Lisa got a text from Katelin: 

“I’m at the airport. Battery dying so won’t be able to text for a bit.”

Disclaimer: the sources I used have a lot of variation in the order of this next group of incoming texts, which one came first, which one caused alarm first, when they realized she was missing. I don’t think it matters too much, but I just want to say that you’ll notice different timing on these things depending on which source you look at. 

This all sounded great, and like things had gone smoothly but as Lisa continues to chat with James things become a little confusing and unclear to her. She asks how the traffic was and that’s when James tells her something that surprises her: 

“I dropped her at the Springfield metro station. She was going to take the metro to the airport since there is a stop at Reagan.”

Immediately this gets Lisa’s intuition going and she knows something is wrong. James told her that Katelin had wanted to kill some time at the mall, and she’d planned to just take the metro herself to the airport. According to Lisa- The mall is not one that Katelin was familiar with, and neither was the metro. She didn’t feel there was any way at all Kaitlin would be in a strange new place and then try to navigate an unfamiliar train system with her suitcase. This behavior was all completely out of character for Katelin and Lisa simply didn’t understand what to make of it. Furthermore she thought it was strange that James would have even complied with this request, as the dad figure in her life. 

While Lisa was trying to talk herself down from panic, she received another alarming text from Amber Rios in Arizona. Amber had gotten a text from Katelin that she felt confused and upset by and she wasn’t returning her calls: 

“Something came up.

I’m not coming back today, I’ll let you know when I get a new flight.

I won’t be able to text for a bit.”

At this point, Lisa was completely reeling- what is going on? There’s no new flight. They called and called Katelin with no response at all. Finally at 7:15pm that night came a new round of texts. Lisa’s final text from Katelin read 

“I’m staying with a friend.

I need some time alone.”

Amber’s final text from Kaitlin read: 

“I can’t come back. I cheated on you.”

Fraught with worry, Lisa knew something was very wrong with her daughter and began calling every contact she could think of. They confirmed with the airport that Katelin had never in fact made it on the plane, and they attempted to report her as a missing person to the police. She was told initially of course that it was too soon to and that if Katelin wanted to be missing she could. Reluctantly, sleepless and scared, Lisa carried on searching for her daughter on her own for the weekend and returned to the police station first thing Monday morning. 

Lisa immediately got the sense that her daughter was being considered a runaway- but while she was in the middle of filling out her report a phone call came in about a mysterious find in a drainage ditch by a road crew worker. He’d unknowingly discovered the biggest clue- Katelin’s suitcase, scratched and missing a wheel, as if it had been thrown from a moving vehicle. Inside the suitcase was Katelin’s wallet, her cash, her debit cards, and her plane ticket. Not inside the suitcase were any of her phone, her clothes, or her high school diploma. 

Adding to the mystery was the location of the suitcase- Though it was more than 50 miles away from the airport, it was located within a few miles of Katelin’s hometown. The discovery of the suitcase quickly takes this from possible runaway to endangered missing person, and the investigation kicks into gear with Detective Rob Marshall in the lead. 

The first thing to rule out in a missing persons investigation is the idea that they’re missing of their own free will. While there’s a lot of evidence in this case to make it seem like that might be what happened, there’s not enough to verify it. For example, the contents of the suitcase are strange things to take if you were disappearing, and her family also insists she had never run away before and they can’t fathom that she would do that now. She’s never used any of her accounts or her phone, and I haven’t seen one source that indicates they get a lot of calls about sightings of Kaitlin. She’s currently classified as an endangered missing person, which indicates that police don’t think she left on her own free will either, and we can assume that they probably have more evidence than we’re privy to. 

 Let’s talk about these cryptic text messages and her relationship with Amber. According to my sources, Amber didn’t feel there were any signs of trouble in the relationship at all before Katelin left for Virgina, so she felt pretty blindsided by the texts. As police began to investigate the hours leading up to her disappearance, they interviewed the friends she had stayed with the night before who confessed that they did actually all sleep together- the night had gotten carried away, and they all agreed it was something that shouldn’t happen again. In another interview, Katelin’s friend Kevin alleges that she confided in him the next morning that she had felt pressured or maybe even forced to join the couple, and that she felt immense guilt over that decision. Though her family doesn’t think she’d hide from them to avoid a breakup, the police arrange an intense stakeout just to be sure she’s not hiding with any of her friends. They watch and watch and there’s no sign that Katelin is cooling off somewhere locally. 

Though those circumstances explain why she might have sounded like she was feeling out of sorts, it really didn’t seem to fit the evidence at hand beyond the text messages. And to add to the uneasy feeling this was giving her family, Lisa says that the text messages simply weren’t sent in Katelin’s style of texting. She wasn’t talking like herself. It didn’t sound like her. 

Even more disturbing were the cell phone tower pings that the investigators looked at to determine the location of Katelin’s phone when she sent those text messages. The results validated all of Lisa’s fears because her phone was found to have been pinging all day off towers more than 50 miles from the airport, but less than 5 miles from where her suitcase had been located. Katelin’s phone had never left the Fredericksburg area. Katelin’s phone had never been to the mall, to the metro, or to the airport.

If Katelin’s phone never went to the airport or the mall, if those texts weren’t her, that leaves one explanation- foul play. There was a brief window where the rumor mill in Spotsylvania county worried there might be a serial killer among them, because right around the same time period the body of a young blonde woman was found locally. The body was later identified as 21 year old Heather Ciccone. Some sources indicate that the discovery of the body was thought to perhaps BE the body of Katelin Akens, but in an interview by Ashley Flowers for Crime Junkie, Katelin’s mom Lisa clears up that rumor saying that Heather was found first- She actually knew her, they worked at the same company. They never thought she was Katelin, but the fear was that they may have met the same fate. Eventually this theory was ruled out entirely, and two men have since been convicted of first degree murder in Heather’s death. 

Ruling out all connections to the Heather Ciccone case, the investigators went back to local field and aerial searches. They also interviewed those closest to her. Given that James was the last person to see Katelin alive, he became the investigator’s next stop. According to James, he dropped Katelin off at the Springfield mall with her intending to take the metro to the airport. Initially he cooperated fully with investigators, and everytime he shared his explanation of the events they say his story stayed consistent. So just to confirm the story of a concerned father, Detective Marshall pulled security cam footage from inside the mall and the mall parking lot, the metro station, and the airport. They combed through hours of this footage from multiple cameras, and there were no sightings of Katelin, James, or James’ car. 

At this point, James was requested to participate in a polygraph test just to conclusively rule him out and move on to other options. He agreed, but his appointment time came and went with no James, and he indicated that on the advice of his lawyer he would not be participating in a polygraph afterall. James told the detectives that he feared he was being looked at as a suspect and he ceased all cooperation with the investigation from that moment forward. 

Without his cooperation Detective Marshall was forced to execute a search warrant on James’ house being that it was Katelin’s last known location. His property was around 10 acres in a rural area near Fredericksburg. They searched the home and land, as well as seized his technology and vehicles. No evidence was recovered that indicated anything suspicious had occurred on his property at all. 

However Lisa is more concerned with the property James owns that police didn’t search, a fact that most sources leave out but Lisa clears up in that interview with Ashley Flowers. She says that James owns a second home and piece of land which his mother lives in, and Detective Marshall has been unable to obtain a search warrant because James doesn’t reside there and it’s legally considered a rental property with a tenant.

As far as the seized technology goes, its less about what they did find and more about what they couldn’t find. James was a complete techie, and everything that he had including his cell phone was built and coded by him. They were all full of encryptions that he has to this day refused to help unlock. What they didn’t need his help to uncover were those cell phone tower pings, and they indicated that James’ phone also never pinged anywhere near the airport, and seemed to be at his home all day. They were also able to determine that while all of Katelin’s loved ones were frantically calling her trying to find her on the day that she went missing, James never reached out to her again. Not one concerned call or text. Lisa found this alarming behavior from someone who was supposed to be a loving dad figure. 

To add to the mystery of James’ whereabouts on the day that Katelin disappeared, you’ll remember he told everyone that he had to drop Katelin off early because he had to work at 3pm. After he told Lisa that he had dropped Katelin off, he also told Lisa that he went to work. But it turns out that he didn’t go to work that day. He was a no call no show, and he actually never went back to work there again. In fact, he didn’t go back to work anywhere at all for more than 6 months after Katelin’s disappearance. 

Despite his very odd behavior, due to the lack of physical evidence, investigators have been unable to label James an official suspect to this day. They say they want to leave the door open for him to come forward with whatever information he has to clear up the discrepancies within his story. Detective Marshall feels he may simply be covering up for his step daughter- maybe he helped her. Maybe he’s keeping secrets for her. 

Katelin’s sister Gabi seems to think there is a strong possibility that James helped her meet up with someone she’d been talking to online and that person turned out to be someone evil who hurt her. Katelin’s phone records don’t corroborate this theory, but there is an encrypted messaging app on her phone which police do not have access to. Its totally possible that she’d been communicating with people online, but if she’d been communicating with anyone, no one knew then, and we may never know. 

Lisa doesn’t seem to be granting James quite as much grace these days, and she says he still will not speak to her or to any of the investigators. She believes fervently that her ex-husband holds the key to finding Katelin. A new billboard has gone up this spring near Kaitlin’s hometown seeking information on her disappearance. Lisa also hopes it will pull on James’ heartstrings to come forward and share what he knows. Regardless, they continue their search to this day, making every effort to spread awareness and find her. 

Kaitlin Akens was last seen in Springfield Virginia on December 5th, 2015. At the time of her disappearance she was approximately 19 years old, 5’4”, 120 lbs with blonde hair and blue eyes, and was wearing a dark gray fleece pullover sweatshirt with a Bass Pro Shop emblem, black pants and pink and black Vans shoes. Kaitlin has a tattoo of five butterflies on her left forearm and a tattoo of three red stars bursting on the top of her foot. She wears eyeglasses with dark frames. Her nose and navel are pierced and the right side of her lower lip is pierced. She also has gauge-type piercings in her ears. Kaitlin would be 25 years old today. 

If you have any information about the disappearance of Kaitlin Akens, please call Spotsylvania County Sheriff’s Office 540-582-7115

Like and follow the facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/HelpFindKatelinAkens/

Age Progression

You can listen to the full episode anywhere you find your podcasts or on Spreaker at https://www.spreaker.com/show/lost-souls-of-america

Sources: 

Missing in Kentucky- The Case of Andrea Knabel

Photo from Erin Knabel, Andrea’s sister

All of us here in the Lost Souls of America family, including our listeners, know what it means to feel passionate about missing persons investigations. It’s an empathy that pulls on our heartstrings and makes us want to do whatever we can with the skills we have. We know that we have to look out for each other, and one of our own needs our help.

A missing persons investigator disappeared in the summer of 2019, and still has not been located nearly 3 years later. The 37 year old mother of two leaves her sister’s home in Louisville Kentucky around 1am that August 13th, walking on foot the short trek back to their mothers’ house. What happens next has been heavily speculated on, but one thing is for sure- someone somewhere knows where she is today.

Join us this week as we sit down with Andrea’s family as they share with us details about who Andrea is as a person and new details surrounding the night Andrea went missing and letting us know there are persons of interest in the case.

Erin Knabel, Andrea’s sister, is a divorced mother of 3, a former IT specialist and currently a supervisor. She loves her job, her family, and being a mom and aunt. In her free time she likes to spend time with her kids and go on hikes (just like me!) She used to love doing these activities with her sister Andrea, so now that she’s gone she feels the next best thing is doing all she can to find her by raising awareness for Finding Andrea. Michael Knabel, Andrea’s father has been married for 16 years to his second wife and is a proud grandfather. He went to the University of Louisville as Andrea did, both getting business degrees from the same Alma Mater. He’s been in financial investments for 30 years. Erin and Mike have worked tirelessly from the moment Andrea went missing, often putting themselves in dangerous situations to follow every single tip and lead no matter how small. 

We encourage you to listen to tonight’s full episode to hear Andrea’s story in her family’s own words. You can find it wherever you listen to podcasts, or listen online below or through this Link to Episode 26 on Spreaker

Calls to Action:

Andrea Knabel was last seen between 1 and 2 am near the Chickadee Road area of Louisville Kentucky on August 13th, 2019. She was last seen wearing a light colored tank top, light shorts, and light colored Nike shoes. She is a caucasian female with brown hair and hazel eyes, approximately 5’7 and 180 lbs. She has pierced ears and light scarring on her face and neck.

If you have any information about the disappearance of Andrea Knabel, you can call 502-574-7120 to reach the Louisville Metro Police Department’s Missing Persons Unit or 502-618-9337 to reach the Private Investigator on the case.

Please follow along with the Where is Andrea Knabel Facebook page here.

Huge thank you to Mike and Erin Knabel for their candid, vulnerable responses to things that are incredibly difficult to talk about. We appreciate their time, and will hold their family in our hearts as well as in our efforts going forward.

Missing in Utah- The Case of Susan Cox Powell

If you feel unsafe or at risk in your home, please do not wait until it’s too late. Call the U.S. National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233, visit https://www.thehotline.org/ or text LOVEIS to 22522

Susan Cox was born October 16th, 1981 in New Mexico to her parents Charles, also known as Chuck, and Judy Cox. She was the third daughter for the family, who moved from New Mexico to Alaska before settling into life in Washington State. Her family describes her here, for the Susan Cox Powell Foundation: 

“Susan is an outgoing, optimistic person with a servant’s heart and boundless energy. She is characterized by her faith in her Heavenly Father, her determination to provide for her children and her belief that families are forever.”

Susan Cox Powell

Susan was raised Mormon, and was very devoted to her faith, regularly attending services at her Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. She also sought out relationships and friendships in that community as well.  In November of 2000, when Susan was 19, she was taking a course at the LDS Institute of Religion, and she attended a little dinner party with her classmates where she met Joshua Powell. Josh was a little bit older than Susan,  24, but he had a decent job, a good head on his shoulders, and Susan was very drawn to him right away. 

Susan Cox and Josh Powell, the early days

Josh’s upbringing was not quite as loving and faithful as Susan’s. Though he was also raised in the LDS church, by the time he met Susan his faith was really shaken. His parents Steven and Terrica had a total of five children, and what was known as a very tumultuous marriage. When Josh was 16, they finally divorced after years of arguments and tension. Terrica said in court documents that Steven was really pressuring her to add a second wife to their relationship- plural marriage- but that she was not interested. She alleged that he must have cheated though, regardless, because she claims he gave her an STI. The court documents also show that Terrica alleged some pretty dark things about Steven’s parenting, to boot. She claimed he watched pornography around the boys, and even pitted them against eachother and encouraged them to fight. All of this really contributed to some major mental health issues for Josh who tried to take his own life at least once as a teenager. 

Still, despite their differences, Susan believed that if anyone could bring Josh back to his faith, it was her, and she was also very eager to settle down and fulfill her dream of becoming a mother. 

Susan and Josh Powell’s Wedding

By April of 2001, just five months after they’d met, Susan and Josh married at the Portland Oregon Temple. After their wedding, they lived for a time with Josh’s father Steven, but eventually relocated to West Valley City, Utah where they settled in and went on to have two little boys- Charlie in 2005, and Braden in 2007. 

Left to right: Braden Powell, Susan Powell, Charlie Powell, and Josh Powell

December 6, 2009 was a Sunday that started like any other for the Powell family at their West Valley City home. Susan began by taking the kids to church, something she rarely missed. That afternoon back at the house, a neighbor stopped by for a visit. She says that Josh offered to make dinner for them all, which was a nice treat for Susan since she usually did most of the cooking and cleaning, and they all went to town on a really typical dad-feast of pancakes- breakfast for dinner! 

Throughout the meal, Susan began to say that she wasn’t feeling very well. Around 5pm, Susan said she was feeling so off that she decided to try to take a little nap. She went to bed, and Josh said he was going to take the boys sledding, presumably to get out of mom’s hair so she could rest. The neighbor said her farewells, and that is the last time anyone would see the Powell family before everything changed forever. 

The next morning, Charlie and Braden’s daycare provider grew concerned when the boys didn’t arrive at their normal drop off time. If it was Josh’s day to drop the boys off, she might not have reacted so strongly- he was prone to showing up at any odd time, but not Susan. On Mondays, Susan always dropped the boys off early. When the daycare provider couldn’t reach either Susan or Josh by phone by 9am, she grew worried and called the emergency contacts- Josh’s mom Terrica, and Josh’s sister Jennifer Graves. They also called their jobs only to find that neither parent had shown up for work that day, so Terrica and Jennifer rushed over to the Powell home to check on them. When they found no one there, they feared a carbon monoxide leak or some other emergency and called the police. 

Powell Family’s West Valley Home

Officers met them at the home, and with Josh’s mom’s permission they broke in only to find no sign at all of the family. There were a couple points of note that really stood out to the responding officers though:

 1) Susan’s purse was still there, something her family said she’d not have left behind of course

2) The carpet and/or the couch were all wet as if maybe they’d just been deep cleaned, with two box fans set up blowing them dry. 

Two fans blew on the wet carpet and/or couch at the scene

While everyone in the Powell family’s circle feverishly searched for them, Josh casually pulled into the family driveway around 5pm that evening. He and the boys piled out, and for a second everyone was thrilled to see them all a-ok, but that excitement quickly faded when they noticed Susan wasn’t with them. When they wanted to know where Susan was, he just said “I don’t know, I guess she went to work.” Of course everyone was immediately wondering where on earth they’d been all day, and he told them that he’d taken the boys camping. 

This immediately raised some questions for investigators, because the previous night had actually been very cold and snowy. Remember, this was December in Utah. They asked Josh to meet them the next day for a formal and official interview. But that appointment time came and went with no Josh, and his family found him there at the house deep cleaning when he was supposed to be at the station. Eventually he strolled in, four hours late, and they carried on with their questioning. 

This is only the beginning of the red flags we find coming from the Powell family in the disappearance of Josh’s wife Susan- there’s so many, I know I’ll miss some tonight for the sake of brevity- there were a couple answers Josh gave early on that really seemed to stand out to everyone as not making a lot of sense. For starters, Josh stated that he wasn’t answering his phone the day of Susan’s disappearance because it was dying and he needed to conserve battery, but one of the investigators who saw him arrive on scene says it was plugged into a charger cable. Also, Josh says Susan must’ve gone to work and even left a voicemail for her saying he went by to pick her up, but someone during the day actually had gotten ahold of him and claims he knew she wasn’t there and everyone was looking for her. Furthermore, Josh claimed that he was confused on his days, and he thought it was Saturday night when he left for camping, not Sunday, and that’s why he didn’t show up for work on Monday- but if that’s the case, then why was he so convinced that Susan was at work? Josh also had some cuts on his hands that he had no explanation for.

And let’s talk about the camping: Who takes a two year old and a five year old camping in the middle of the night in a snowstorm? Josh claims he did this because the boys wanted s’mores.  

Detectives were not buying that anymore than you or I are right now, and they actually sent investigators to the campground to have a look around. There was absolutely no sign that anyone had been to that particular campground in some time, let alone built a fire and had s’mores. In fact, police even had trouble conducting the search because the snow was so heavy. 

During Josh’s interview, the police seized the family van as evidence, and so when the interview concluded he rented a car, and took off for two days. No one knows where, no one knows what he did, and no one admits they spoke to him during that time, but there were 800 miles more on the car when he returned it. 

While the Cox family initially showed support for Josh, it wasn’t long before the investigation revealed some startling indications that Susan was not happy in her marriage. Though everyone in Susan’s life agreed they weren’t ever all that crazy about Josh, Susan had done a good job of only sharing bits and pieces of their problems, so it wasn’t until they all began comparing notes about things she’d said to them that they realized there’d been some cries for help. 

Josh had been extremely controlling toward both Susan and the boys. He controlled what their family ate, even only allowing the boys to split a hot dog because they were only going to “poop it out anyway”. Susan wasn’t allowed to use the car without his permission, and he almost always took it with him so she had to bike 7 miles to and from work. He kept a strict budget and made Susan DIY as much as possible, including knit the family’s socks. One of the sources we used even says that Josh made Susan call and get a ride to the hospital when she was in labor with Charlie. He missed Charlie’s birth entirely because he was backing up his computer. 

While the investigation continued, police found even more suspicious evidence in the Powell family home. Susan had been keeping journals her whole life, and had many entries showing she was not at all happy in her marriage and might be seeking a way out. She had contacted a divorce attorney, and at his encouragement she’d made videos of their belongings to catalog their assets. On the video she says she hopes they live happily ever after, but just in case she was doing the film. 

Perhaps the most alarming thing investigators found wasn’t in the Powell family home at all. It was hidden in a safe deposit box that Susan kept at the bank where she worked-  a hand-written makeshift last will and testament. In this she detailed how bad her marriage had become, and the fact that Josh had taken out a $1million dollar life insurance policy on her. In her own words, she wrote “If I die… it may not be an accident” 

Police also discovered that prior to Susan’s disappearance, Josh had attempted to move some money out of her retirement account, and even tried to cancel other important policies she had in place. At this point, they declared him an official person of interest in his wife’s disappearance, and Susan’s family could now see him for who they felt he really was, and they were devastated that he wasn’t arrested, but authorities simply didn’t feel they had enough without a body. 

Josh’s family fiercely defended him, and they didn’t take this announcement lying down. The only outlier in this was Josh’s sister Jennifer. Jennifer even offered to wear a wire tap to family dinner at one point, but no one confessed to anything, and her questioning only seemed to alienate her from her siblings and father even more. Josh and his dad Steven started what could only be called a smear campaign against Susan, basically announcing to the world that she’s a whore and a liar. They even started a website made to discredit her reputation, and they publicly stated that she was having an affair with a local reporter who went missing around the same time. To be clear, there’s never been any connection between the reporter and Susan, and I do believe the reporter was eventually found. 

What’s really interesting here, is that this seems to be a major change of opinion coming from Josh’s dad Steven. Susan’s journal entries and the interviews with her friends and family revealed that Steven actually had a bit of a fixation on Susan that made her kind of uncomfortable. They even say that the reason Susan and Josh relocated to Utah in the first place was because when they were staying with Steven in Washington, he had suggested that they SHARE her, and Susan was rightfully pretty horrified. 

Steven Powell, Josh’s Dad with Josh

After Susan disappeared, Josh had moved in with his Dad again, and as part of their smear campaign against his missing wife, Josh claimed that he had seen her childhood diaries which would “prove” she had run away because she was a “sexual deviant” of some sort. The problem was authorities couldn’t prove that these diaries were really in their possession, so they had no probable cause to search Steven Powell’s home.  So they brilliantly set up a public scene in an attempt to bait Steven into admitting something that would get a judge to sign the search warrant. At this point in the investigation, Susan’s dad Chuck and Josh’s dad Steven had built up a very public feud, so authorities set Susan’s family up with what’s called a honk and wave at a grocery store parking lot. 

The plan worked, and before long Steven showed up to rant and rave and was fully getting in the grieving family’s face. He was yelling horrible things about Susan, and just as investigators suspected he gleefully announced that they had evidence at home that would prove Susan was a liar. That was all that was needed, and a warrant was soon signed, sealed and delivered. The unexpected revelations they found in Steven’s home continue to shock the nation 13 years later. 

Steven Powell at a court appearance

In a somewhat unrelated twist, Steven was found to be in possession of child pornography and actual voyueristic photographs he’d taken of neighborhood children, young girls!! He was swiftly arrested, thankfully, and as they continued to comb through the evidence they discovered that his infatuation with his daughter in law was far beyond what they could have even imagined. 

Steven had kept logs of Susan’s behavior, along with tons of video and photo evidence to show that he’d been watching her for years.  Despite the fact that these photos were taken from a distance, and it did not look at all like she knew she was being followed or watched, you can hear Steven’s voice in the background as he convinces himself that she’s doing it for him, and that she desperately and secretly loves and wants him just as much as he wants her. As if the stalking wasn’t creepy enough, the investigation also uncovered a ton of little baggies labeled “Susan” filled with her personal things like cotton swabs, nail clippings, and hair. He’d also written at least one incredible skeevy love song about their secret love. One which, according to everyone in Susan’s life, was completely uninvited and unrequited. 

Steven’s collection of thousands of photos of Susan
Steven’s collection of Susan’s underwear, used toiletries, etc
Steven had journals, audio recordings, video recordings, and homemade music videos detailing his love for his daughter in law

When Steven was arrested, this prompted another man to come forward saying that in late December of 2009, just a few weeks after Susan’s disappearance, Michael Powell- Josh’s brother- had sold him a car for scrap for only $100. He had thought it was very odd on it’s own without even recognizing the connection to Susan, but when he heard of Steven’s arrest two years later, his spidey senses started tingling- “wait a minute, that powell family??” and he called authorities. Though they’d gotten rid of much of the car by then, what was left was searched by a cadaver dog named Tug. Tug blew right past all the other cars and went straight to Michael’s, indicating that there had been human remains in the vehicle. Investigators waited with baited breath, hoping that this was a break in the case they needed, but no DNA linking the car to Susan could be recovered, and they returned their focus back to Steven and Josh. 

Despite the vile, nauseating behavior that Steven Powell was arrested for, there was still nothing concrete that could connect him to the disappearance of Susan. Police also focused their attentions on Josh’s belongings, and they did discover some disturbing content, what they called simulated child pornography- basically animated cartoon kiddie porn. Unfortunately, because it wasn’t “real” it wasn’t illegal, and rather than arresting Josh they had to let him go. It did lead to the boys being removed temporarily from his custody though, and they were sent to live with Susan’s parents Chuck and Judy while Josh was waiting for a full psycho- sexual evaluation. As part of this parental competency evaluation, police were excited because it meant he could be given a full polygraph exam that he couldn’t decline, and they could ask him anything they wanted, so everyone was hopeful this could lead to some answers. 

Chuck and Judy Cox with their grandsons

Little Charlie, who was 5 when his mom went missing, was also interviewed by a forensic child psychologist during the investigation. While it’s tricky to take the memory of a small child into account, he did make some statements that everyone involved found alarming at best. Over the course of his two meetings, he told the interviewer that they went camping with mommy but she stayed where the crystals are. He also said that he’s not allowed to talk about Susan or camping. He said “I have to keep a lot of secrets.” Similarly, while Charlie was in the Cox’s custody, he drew a family photo of his dad, and his brother, and himself- then he pointed to the trunk and said that’s where mommy was. Chuck and Judy also say that when the boys came to live with them, their behavior was completely out of control- it was as if they’d had no discipline, no guidance, and no love in the Powell home after their mom went missing.   

While everyone waited for the state to complete their investigation into Josh’s fitness as a parent, he was permitted to have supervised visitations with the boys and a licensed social worker. Normally this would be something that’s done in a public office setting, but since there was such a massive amount of media attention on the case, the state allowed the visitations to be held in Josh’s new home, one he was renting near his father’s residence that had been part of that separate criminal investigation. 

On Sunday, February 5th 2012, Social Worker Elizabeth Griffin arrived at Josh’s residence with Charlie and Braden for their supervised visitation. She knocked on the door and Josh answered, and the boys gleefully ran inside. Before Elizabeth was able to follow, Josh slammed the door on her. As the front door wafted the air into her face, Elizabeth noticed the unmistakable smell of gasoline and ran to call 911. 

911 dispatcher David Lovrack’s cold response to Elizabeth’s cry for help was one that has since led to pleas for reform in the training of emergency dispatchers. It was very evident right off the bat that he was not taking her seriously. He went around and around with her for 8 whole minutes while she tried to explain to him what a supervised visit is, who’s doing the supervising, and why this man isn’t allowed to be alone with his own children. He came across as flippant and dismissive as he repeatedly tells her for 8 whole minutes that 911 is for emergency life threatening issues, and that they’ll send someone when they can. She cried and begged for him to understand for 8 whole minutes that this IS life threatening. She told him that inside she could hear the boys crying and screaming, and after 8 whole minutes, David Lovrack finally, reluctantly, agreed to send someone out to have a look. 

A terrified Elizabeth hung up the phone to wait for officers to arrive, and Josh Powell’s home exploded behind her. It took another 13 minutes for anyone to arrive on scene. 7 year old Charlie Powell, and 5 year old Braden Powell had died in a murder-suicide at the hands of their father.  Evidence recovered at the scene indicated that all three had died of carbon monoxide poisoning and smoke inhalation, but only Charlie and Braden had multiple stab wounds determined to be from a hatchet or an ax. The boys’ bodies were recovered together, curled up on the floor, holding hands. 

Josh Powell’s home, destroyed in his murder-suicide

Though no one has ever been charged in the disappearance of Susan Cox Powell, most people seem to operate under the belief that Josh was responsible for the death of his wife, and possibly was helped to cover it up by his father Steven and brother Michael. Tragically, we may never know because all three men are now dead. Michael took his own life in 2013 by jumping from the roof of a large building in downtown Minneapolis in front of several witnesses. Steven died of a heart attack shortly after his release from prison in 2017. No one has ever confessed, no evidence has ever been recovered that could connect them to Susan’s murder, and even sister Jennifer believes there never will be.   

In February of 2022 the world got a pinch of renewed hope with skeletal remains found in a mine near where Josh says he took the boys camping that December night in 2009. Unfortunately for Susan’s family, it was another dead end.  Charlie and Braden would be 17 and 15 today. Chuck and Judy Cox do their best to live every day in honor of their daughter and grandsons. Let’s share with you a little bit about some of the action steps the Cox family has been taking to effect change on behalf of their loved ones:

Everything Judy and Chuck Cox do is in honor of their daughter and grandsons

The Susan Cox Powell Foundation was established in 2010 by Susan’s Parents with the help of friends, and after an overwhelming response from people around the world.  Their email, letters, and Facebook messages of support and sharing of other parents with missing children, questions of parents concerned about their children in potentially similar situations but without the support we felt, moved us to create this Foundation. 

The mission of the Foundation is:

-To assist families of missing persons by providing no-cost strategic media consulting services to ensure that their loved one’s face and name remain in the public eye as long as possible;

-To research and catalog resources across the United States that may be helpful to families of missing persons in an effort to create a resource clearinghouse for other families to use in their time of crisis, and;

-To support domestic violence prevention efforts and to participate in community and school-based education about domestic violence prevention with a special emphasis on recognizing the early signs of abuse.

The Susan Cox Powell Foundation has an even stronger desire to reach out and provide assistance to other families as a legacy to our daughter Susan, and our Grandsons Charlie and Braden Powell.

We have partnered with the Tears Foundation, who have established “the Charlie and Braden Project”.  They now accept donations and provide assistance in Washington State to parents of families losing a child between the ages of 1-12, by helping to pay some of the cost of burial.  A burden faced by parents already trying to deal with such a powerful loss.

The local Sheriff deputy and his partner were moved by a drawing by Charlie of a Dinosaur, the tragedy of the boy’s death, and their experience with other children who through no fault of their own enter Foster Care and have their lives forever impacted.  They established the “Charlie’s Dinosaur” project, with the help of “Crime Stoppers”.  This organization provides new clothing, backpacks to help with foster care moves, school supplies and other necessities.

– Susan Cox Powell Foundation
In loving memory of Susan, Charlie, and Braden

Call to Action:

Tonight I will leave you with the Susan Cox Powell Foundations own calls to action by sharing the How to Help link in our show notes and sources. The non profit organization accepts general financial donations, but also donations of time and skills- if you’ve got qualifications which could help families of the missing, please do reach out and connect with them. 

The website is also full of useful links and phone numbers for anyone who may be suffering from Domestic Violence. If you feel unsafe or at risk in your home, please do not wait until its too late. Call the U.S. National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233, visit https://www.thehotline.org/ or text LOVEIS to 22522

As Susan’s family says “The only way evil can win is; If good people do nothing.” so please do your best to get involved and help out on behalf of this mother who was taken far to soon from the world. 

Sources:

Missing and Murdered in North Carolina- The Cases of Lumbee Stolen Sisters

We’ve spoken before on the Lost Souls of America Podcast about the difficulties indigenous women face when it comes to getting equal attention to their cases. Biases, jurisdictional problems, distrust of the police- there are a million reasons. Let us share with you some statistics:

“According to the National Crime Information Center, 5,712 American Indian and Alaska Native women and girls were reported missing in 2016 alone, but only 116 of those cases were logged with the Department of Justice. According to the National Institute of Justice, 84 percent of Native women experience violence in their lifetimes, and 56 percent experience sexual violence. Of those victims who experienced sexual violence – an astounding 97 percent were victimized by non-Native perpetrators.”

– Stronghearts Helpline

Those statistics are staggering, and frankly made me feel sick. 97%?? So what can we do about it? Let us read for you an action step from the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center: 

“The National Partners Work Group on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) and the MMIW Family Advisors are organizing a National Week of Action (April 29-May 5, 2022) to call the nation and the world to action in honor of missing and murdered Indigenous women. Take action by participating in these virtual events, exploring our list of resources, and organizing additional actions in your communities on and around May 5th. Join us in saying ‘enough is enough’—not one more stolen sister.”

-National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center 

This national week of action is going to culminate on May 5th for a day of awareness. We want to share with you a couple more quotes now from the StrongHearts Helpline which is a 24/7 confidential and anonymous culturally-appropriate domestic, dating and sexual violence helpline for Native Americans. We’ll be sure to put the link in our sources for this and anything else that may help you take action this week. 

“May 5 has been commemorated as the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. Across the nation, we are called upon to wear red to acknowledge thousands of young women and girls who go missing each year without so much as a search party. Topping a long list of reasons why law enforcement officials are unable to respond in a timely manner are being underfunded, short-staffed, and jurisdictional issues between Native and non-Native judicial systems.”

– Strong Hearts Helpline

One thing you may notice as you’re engaging in these calls to action is a lot of RED. Why do they wear red?

“It has been said that red is a color that transcends the physical world and calls to the ancestors in the spirit world. For ceremony and pow-wow, Native Americans dressed their children in red as an introduction to the ancestors – calling upon them as guardians to the young. However, the color red had other uses and symbolic meanings that differ among Indigenous tribes in North America. It has been used by the young warrior painting his face and his horse, it has also been used to beautify the faces of young women and their clothing. Today, the role of red is being used to call attention to the invisible – missing and murdered.”

– Strong Hearts Helpline

But splashing some red in your outfit on May 5th is simply NOT enough, so please hear these women’s stories tonight- as little details as we have in some cases- but also be sure to listen and follow our calls to action. Support is wonderful but without action it doesn’t do much, seek out free ways to engage if money prohibits you. During this week please feel free to tag us in any actions you take on social media and we’ll share it with our audience as well! 

Our story takes place tonight primarily in Robeson County North Carolina, an area that is 42% Native American. According to a database created by the Missing Murdered Indigenous Coalition of North Carolina, more than 600 Indigenous women and girls have gone missing or been murdered, but that number is probably higher, since its nearly impossible to get accurate. Many of these cases go unreported or uninvestigated, and calculating this is a more recent study despite the fact that, well, they were here first. 

Lumbee Tribe from the Fayetteville Observer

Today, there are 55,000 members of the Lumbee tribe in this region, making it the largest tribe east of the Mississippi river. The Lumbee Tribe website has a wealth of information for anyone who’d love to know more about the history, culture, and current events facing the Lumbee tribe today. Here’s a quote from their history page: 

“ In southeastern North Carolina, amongst the pines, swamps, and dark waters of the Lumbee River, you will find the heart and homeland of the Lumbee People.  The ancestors of the Lumbee came together in the shelter of this land hundreds of years ago – survivors of tribal nations from the Algonquian, Iroquoian, and Siouan language families, including the Hatteras, the Tuscarora, and the Cheraw. The ancestors of the Lumbee were recognized as Indian in 1885 by the State of North Carolina.  In 1956, Congress recognized the Lumbee as an Indian tribe while denying the People any federal benefits that are associated with such recognition – an action that the Lumbee continue to fight today.” 

-lumbeetribe.com

The culture of Robeson county has historically been one that created a lack of trust among the native communities. More than 30% of the people there live below the poverty line. In 2017, the year of the main murders we’re speaking about tonight, the violent crime rate was 920.3 per every 100,000 people- the highest violent crime rate in the state. Yet people on the frontlines say that Law Enforcement Officers often mislabel Native Americans as hispanic or black. One study even shows that 13% of Law enforcement agencies don’t even include Native American as an identifier! So by 2017 Robeson county with its high violent crime rate and lack of cultural education among its police force had become the perfect breeding ground for indigenous cases to slip straight through the cracks.  

Our story begins tonight with a non-native woman, 32 year old Christina Bennett who preferred to go by the name Kristin. Like most of the women we’ll discuss tonight, the bulk of the source material you can find about Kristin on the internet talks about her death, rather than her life. Before I share with you the tragedy of her passing, let’s take a moment to remember that Kristin- that all these women- had families, had loved ones, had dreams, had aspirations. They all had things like a food they couldn’t get enough of, maybe allergies, maybe a favorite sweater they liked to curl up in. They were people with a wealth of experiences and memories and in many cases, their pasts were complicated. Even posthumously their families have to struggle with that perception in the media. For them it often feels lonely at best, and at worst even like revictimizing them, wanting to reduce them down to their flaws and not the wholeness of who they were. 

Kristin Bennett

Though Kristin herself wasn’t a member of the Lumbee tribe, many of her affiliations were- her partner, child’s father, friends, etc. According to one of the sources I used (the Red Justice Project, a fantastic podcast from two Native women about the MMIW crisis in North Carolina), she initially moved to Robeson county for a relationship which I hear may have been abusive and unhealthy, but she was doing the best she could to turn her life around, according to her family. Her mom says that she was just days away from picking her daughter up after regaining legal custody. 

On April 17th, 2017, police were called to a vacant home near the railroad tracks on Peachtree Lane in Lumberton North Carolina for a strong odor. The body of Kristin Bennett was found at 9:30 am. She was nude, wrapped in a blanket, and stuffed in a TV cabinet. 

As police began to process the crime scene, another suspicious odor was brought to their attention less than four blocks away on East Fifth street. There they found the body of 36 year old mother Rhonda Jones. She was also nude, and had been stuffed face down into a trash can. 

Rhonda Jones

Shortly after the women were found, media was in the neighborhood putting together a story. One woman who was interviewed by a local CBS reporter had been a friend of Rhonda’s, Megan Oxendine. The reporter himself said that Megan appeared shaken by the horrible news, and watching the footage does make you wonder if she’s just sad to lose a friend, or if perhaps there was fear in her voice for her own safety. 

Still image from Megan Oxendine’s news interview

6 weeks after her interview, the backpack Megan was wearing on camera was found discarded in a trash barrel. On June 3rd, two young men found her nude body hidden in the bushes outside of a vacant house on East Eighth Street, in close proximity to where Rhonda’s body had been discovered. 

Megan Oxendine

Initially, if you can believe this, the cases were investigated as unrelated. But thanks to the relentless love and anger that’s fueling the weary Lumbee community, the Lumbee police department requested assistance from the FBI after Megan’s murder in June of 2017. There’s currently a reward of $30,000 for information leading to an answer in the deaths of these women. 

Though the Lumberton Police Department and the FBI say they’ve been hard at work on the case, some of the families of these women feel otherwise. Sheila Price, Rhonda’s mother, believes that the girls all suffered from police bias and victim blaming. Just days after the discoveries of the bodies, the police chief released a public statement saying that the women were known drug users and this was an area of prostitution. The families felt this did a great disservice to how seriously the case was taken, both by the police and the public. And though the women were known to engage in drug use, they were not known prostitutes, and even if they were this doesn’t mean their lives were any less valuable. 

One other important thing to note is that the autopsies took well over a year to get results, and other evidence processing took even longer than that. When the autopsies did finally come back, the cause and manner of deaths for all three women were listed as undetermined. To remind everyone, this means that they’re unsure physically what killed the women, but also that they can’t tell if the deaths were even murder. To hear officials tell it, there’s simply not any evidence to say so, but this has been called into question a lot by the community. From their perspective, even if all three women happened to die of accidental overdoses, SOMEONE hid their bodies at best. Rhonda did not overdose and jump naked headfirst into a trash can. Kristin was not likely hiding in this TV cabinet when she died.. Also the people who found Megan used the word “beaten” to describe how she looked. It just doesn’t make sense, and the undetermined status feels hurtful to those who are still seeking answers. 

To date, police have released next to zero information about the nature or status of the case,, simply that they cannot comment on an ongoing investigation. They do say there is evidence though, and have released some things the public can look for as told by the Behavioral Analysis Unit at the FBI:

“We believe that this offender may have left the community, after this happened. If they didn’t leave the community, their behavior probably changed. They may have started drinking. They may have quit their job. Maybe inconsistent behavior. They may have told someone. That they did it. And it was brushed aside… Sometimes, all it takes is for the community to come forward with that small little bit of information that matches something else that we have. That just kind of completes the puzzle. And I think that is something that we really need from the community right now. Is that little bit of information to match up with the evidence we have. We are asking the community to think back to this timeframe. And go, you know what, I didn’t come forward then, but I think maybe I should come forward now.” 

– Lumberton Police Department based on the FBI’s BAU profile

The horrific murders of these three women should be tragedy enough, and it certainly has caused fear in the community that there could be a potential serial killer- maybe even someone who is targeting Lumbee women. Whether the cases are connected or not, there’s definitely a scary pattern being established in North Carolina for the Indigenous community. Lets take a few moments to talk about some more unsolved cases involving missing and murdered Lumbee members over the years.

Cynthia Jacobs- MISSING

Just weeks after Megan Oxendine’s murder, 41 year old Cynthia Jacobs, another Lumbee woman from Robeson County went missing from East Lumberton. She was a good  friend of Megan Oxendine and some sources say that SHE was the last known person to see Megan alive.  To this day no one knows where she is or what happened to her. I hope for her sake she ran away for her own safety but I’m not sure that’s the most realistic outcome. 

2017 was not the only difficult time for the Lumbee tribe’s women. Obviously this goes back centuries in one way or another, but let’s talk about the 2000’s to start. 

Sara Graham- MISSING

In February 20015, an 18 year old Lumbee girl named Sara Nicole Graham, also from Robeson county disappeared somewhere between home and the start of her shift at Walmart. According to the FBI, Graham left her home in Fairmont, North Carolina, around 6:30 a.m. on February 4, 2015, to go to work at the Wal-Mart in Pembroke, North Carolina, but she never arrived. Her van was found abandoned around 12:15 p.m. on February 4, 2015, in a field along East McDonald Road. She has never been seen since. Graham has short hair, wears glasses, and has braces. She was last seen wearing a blue Wal-Mart vest.

Lauren Holmes- MURDERED

In March of 2013 the body of Lauren Holmes, a 23 year old Lumbee woman from Robeson County, was found in a canal off the side of the road. She’d been shot to death, and the day that she went missing her home was also shot up- her mother was even hit in the arm. Most believe it was related of course, though her case has never made much progress and no arrests have been made. 

Michelle Driggers- MURDERED

In March of 2003, the nude body of 23 year old Michelle Driggers, another Lumbee woman was found in the driveway of a cemetery in Lumberton. It’s believed she was sexually assaulted and stabbed to death.  Just months later and only a mile away,  36 year old Lumbee woman Lisa Hardin’s body was found in the woods in East Lumberton. Her clothes were twisted around her, indicating the probability of sexual assault, and she’d been strangled. (*I could not find photos of Lisa Hardin, and most sources listed her as “a prostitue”- If anyone with connection to Lisa would like to send me her photo I would love to include it)

Both of these murders have been thrown around in connection with the 2017 Lumberton murders, but there’s nothing official to report as far as an investigative stance on that, but it’s certainly shaken the community to think that something so similar could still be happening in their area all these years later. 

Secretary for the US Department of the Interior- Deb Haaland

Early this year in January of 2022 Deb Haaland who is the Secretary for the US Department of the Interior created a new Missing and Murdered Unit within the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Ms. Haaland herself is a member of the Laguna Pueblo tribe, so this was personal for her and her heritage. Haaland comes from a 35th generation New Mexican family, and she grew up as a military child getting to experience a lot of life at an early age. Not too long ago she was a single mother trading volunteer hours for her kids preschool tuition, and today she is the FIRST Native American serving as a cabinet secretary for the office of the White House. To get where she is today, she lived paycheck to paycheck putting herself through college followed by law school, but she’s never forgotten where she came from and her roots. Back then she served as tribal ambassador for San Felipe Pueblo, and today she still fights for change on a national level to better serve the indigenous populations of the country. She breaks barriers, she opens doors, and she’s someone who can contribute to a lot of good in this fight for justice for the Missing, Murdered Indigenous Women, girls, and two spirits of the country. 

Earlier this month for the anniversary of the murders, Kristin’s mother released a statement through the police department’s facebook page, continuing her 5 year long plea for information: 

“On April 18, 2017 and June 3, 2017, the families of Kristin, AKA, Christina Bennett, Rhonda Jones, and Megan Oxendine received the devastating news of our daughters deaths. It has been 5 very long years, and these cases are unresolved and open for investigation. I am sure I speak for other families, as we will not rest until justice is rightfully served concerning our daughters deaths.

We are speaking in behalf of the victims. We are speaking for the lives that are lost. We are speaking to the public. Please help us pursue justice for Kristin, Rhonda, and Megan. If you have heard something, know something, or have seen something, please contact Law Enforcement. No information is too small or trivial. If you are fearful, call or contact Law Enforcement anonymously. If you prefer you can make arrangements to meet with a plain clothed police officer of your preference, in an unmarked vehicle, in a undisclosed location of your choice. But please make that call!

There are no socio-economic boundaries to tragedy. Everyone deserves a safe place to live, work, attend school, raise your families, and worship. You can remain seated by maintaining your silence, or stand up and make a difference. There are those in your community walking “fancy free” that has no regard for human life, and needs to be held accountable. Someone that is culpable for heinous crimes.

If you “care,” you will “share,” what information you may have concerning our daughters deaths. This is not just a “city matter, ” this is a “community matter.” There are many rumors circulating concerning these cases which are blatantly untrue and have been ruled out, by investigative means. But, please if you have pertinent information, do the right thing, and come forward.

Kristin’s daughter always had the dream, her mother would come home and reunite as a family. Someone destroyed a little girls dreams. Someone destroyed the expectations of not only Kristin’s children, but the children of Rhonda and Megan. I understand there are those that are fearful, but think of the “fear/horror” our daughters faced with the reality their life was coming to an end. How can anyone sit back and do nothing to help?

The Lumberton Police Department, (LPD), State Bureau of Investigation, (SBI), and Federal Bureau of Investigation, (FBI), have worked relentlessly investigating these cases, but still need the public’s support. There is still a FBI $40,000.00 reward offered for information pertaining to these cases.”

-Nancee Bennett, Christina (Kristin) Bennett’s mother

Call to action: 

If you have any information about ANY of the unsolved crimes I spoke of tonight, please leave an anonymous top for the Robeson County Sheriff’s Department at robesoncoso.org/reach-out/tips or contact the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigations at 800- 334-3000 

If you do not have any information about any of these unsolved crimes, but still want to be involved in the cause- and we hope you do!- here are some ways we plan to help, and we invite you to join us: 

  1. If you are located in or near North Carolina, there is a rally to support MMIW and their families on April 30th in Gibsonville. It’ll be at Northeast Park at 10am, and if you need more information on that you can contact  info@mmiwnc.com
  2. I want to direct you to a website loaded with action steps you can take from anywhere: https://www.niwrc.org/mmiwnatlweek22 
    • Here you’ll find a calendar full of webinars, we plan to sign up where we can and hope to see some of you there! 
    • You’ll also find an excellent list of resources you can use at the bottom of that link 

Sources

Reasonable Doubt in Texas: The Case of Melissa Lucio

UPDATE: Melissa has been granted a stay of execution and will be going to trial court to review new evidence. We will keep you posted as we hear any new information

Continue Reading for full story

Please sign the Innocence Project Petition.

Texas call Gov. Abbott and Texas Board of Pardons and Parole by dialing 956-446-2866

Call the Cameron County District Attorney and ask him to withdraw Ms. Lucio’s execution date.  956-300-3881

Use the hashtag #SaveMelissaLucio on social media and include in your post that Melissa Lucio is scheduled to be executed on April 27, 2022 for a tragic accident.

Purchase gear at bonfire.com/store/save-melissa-lucio

Learn more about this case:

Melissa Lucio was brought up in Lubbock Texas. She was raised in a Catholic Mexican-American family with many siblings, and a rocky relationship with her mother. Melissa watched her mom, Hope, face physical abuse at the hands of her romantic partners, and she herself also suffered through years of prolonged sexual abuse from family members and other adults she was supposed to trust. This all began at a very young age, and her mother admits to not believing her when she tried to seek help, so the pattern continued. 

When she was just 16, Melissa married an older man in an attempt to escape her childhood. She moved out and had five children by the time she was 24 years old. But Melissa’s examples of what love should be were not great growing up, and as a result neither were her relationships. That marriage was allegedly abusive and unhappy, and when they eventually divorced it was a pattern that Melissa continued to repeat. By the time Melissa was arrested in 2007  she had 12 children between the ages of 2 and 15, and was pregnant with twins. Experts they interviewed for the documentary “The State of Texas vs Melissa” said that motherhood may have been the only place Melissa found any value and worth.

She often chose men who were abusive, addicted, and had criminal involvement. Whether it was self medicating, or perhaps pushed by her partners, Melissa ended up with some substance use disorder herself, her drug of choice being cocaine. Financially, things for Melissa were always extremely tight, even facing periods of homelessness as a family. CPS had been involved several times, and Melissa was often on their radar for these issues. 

Mariah Alvarez, Melissa’s youngest daughter

On February 17th, 2007 the youngest baby Mariah never woke up from her nap. Her little body was brought to a medical examiner who saw bruising and determined that she had been abused. While the family was reeling from the horror of this tragic death, police aggressively interrogated Melissa for hours and hours for the murder of her daughter. Pregnant with twins, she’d had no sleep, no food, no drink, and had just lost her child. Footage from the interrogation shows police get in her face, and make her beat a doll as an example of how she hits her children. At 3am, an exhausted and defeated Melissa who had already said she didn’t hurt her baby 80 times finally agreed “I guess I did it”. 

Melissa was tried for capital murder, meaning the intentional planned murder of her daughter Mariah. She was sentenced to the death penalty. The Innocence Project is now representing her and asking for an urgent call to action to help get her sentence vacated. 

So what really happened? 

On February 15th, 2007- two days before Mariah’s death- the family was moving from one apartment to a new home. The old place had a long, steep, dilapidated wooden staircase down to the ground level. Little Mariah had a mild physical disability which caused her to be a bit unsteady on her toddler legs. More than one of her siblings report Mariah taking a bad fall down the stairs that day, but said that she was fine. She cried and they consoled her, and everyone went on as normal. Two days later, she fell asleep for a nap and never woke up having died of a brain bleed.

Upon examination after her death the bruising on the girl’s body was of a questionable nature, and the examiner immediately linked it to abuse. But according to the experts on Melissa’s side, especially forensic pathologist Thomas Young, brain bleeds can do that to you. Poor little Mariah was suffering those two days from bleeding in the brain, and the strange staggered appearance of the bruises was actually a result of that brian bleed as the tissue began to die. He says that even the slightest touch could have left a bruise like mark on her body. 

Did she abuse her kids? 

Despite a long case file with Child Protective Services, there’s absolutely no evidence that Melissa ever abused any of her children. The state didn’t even present any evidence of this in their case. Melissa’s other kids say she never abused any of them and they never saw her abuse Mariah. In fact, they all say that during that window of time Melissa was never even alone with Mariah. Yes she struggled to provide for her family. Yes she struggled to stay sober. But no one anywhere can verify that she was physically abusive. 

Why would she confess?  

Melissa Lucio spent her entire life trying to survive abuse, coercion, and manipulation from men. Giving in to a threatening man of power had been her means of survival since she was a small child.  

According to the Innocence Project, 27% of exonerations were from false confessions. Research has shown that survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence are at a much higher risk for falsely confessing. Experts for Melissa Lucios team who reviewed the hours of interrogation footage agree that she “was relentlessly pressured and extensively manipulated”  

Why would the state pursue this so hard then?? And Why would the jury convict?? 

Well this is where the story gets even more controversial. In 2008 the Cameron County District Attorney was a man named Armando Villalobos. Now we all know that a lot of the higher levels of the judicial system are positions of politics, and he was up for reelection as DA. Villalobos was a rising political star who had his eyes on the white house and wanted to make a big name for himself. He’d previously come under fire for not properly investigating over 100 cases of child abuse, and was looking to reinvigorate his position as one that was tough on crime. 

Former District Attorney Armando Villalobos

Melissa’s team of attorneys and supporters feel that THIS was the primary motive for seeking capital punishment. In order to charge Melissa with capital murder and be eligible for the death penalty, the state was claiming (and was expected to prove beyond a reasonable doubt) that Melissa intentionally, willfully, and with planning murdered her daughter. If the state could successfully achieve a capital conviction here, Melissa Lucio would be the first latina woman on death row- a major boost to Villalobos’ image. 

What’s crazy is that it may have worked, because he was reelected in November after her conviction… but his political career did not last. According to official court documents, “In May 2013, a federal jury convicted Villalobos of one count of violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, one count of conspiracy to violate the RICO Act and five counts of extortion.”- (justice.gov) According to the federal prosecutor on that trial, he was deeply involved in organized crime and drug trafficking rings. He is currently serving 13 years in federal prison. 

Peter Gilman, Lucio’s first defense attorney and current Assistant District Attorney

There are also a lot of people who feel Melissa wasn’t adequately represented in court, which is a deep rabbit hole to go down should you choose to. Some people blame incompetence, some point toward conspiracy here, because Peter Gilman, who represented her, is now the Assistant District Attorney himself. He says himself that he had no intention of switching offices, it just happened that way. But, It is also worth noting that another one of her 2008 defense attorneys, Irma Gilman, is now Judge Garcia’s court administrator, so Melissa’s new attorneys have filed motions to have certain people withheld from future proceedings because of that affiliation. 

Melissa Lucio

One thing to know is that no matter which way you slice it, Melissa’s story really was not properly shared with the jury. Many experts feel that the jury should have been let more in on Melissa’s background to understand the circumstances which would have caused her to confess. Absolutely no witnesses were called in her defense. None of her children were permitted to testify about what they saw or didn’t see, such as the fall down the stairs and the allegations of abuse. Surely also her lifelong history of sexual assault and domestic violence were worthwhile bits of evidence to know in explanation for her statement at the interrogation. Similarly they weren’t properly informed of Mariah’s medical conditions, or symptoms which could have contributed to her bruising looking like abuse. The real question everyone should be screaming here is “Did Melissa get a FAIR trial?“ If your answer is no, even if you’re unclear or undecided on Melissa’s role in her daughter’s death, it’s worth sticking around for our calls to action at the end of this episode. 

Melissa’s family, mother Hope sitting in front

On April 15th, 2022, so just two days ago for us here as we record, Melissa’s new attorney team have filed a 242-page application for a writ of habeas corpus asking the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to stay her scheduled April 27, 2022 execution and vacate her conviction and death sentence. I will leave you with a quote directly from one of her attorneys, Vanessa Potkin, who’s the Director of Special Litigation for the Innocence project:

“If the jury had heard evidence about the coercive tactics used in Melissa’s interrogation and the medical evidence showing that Mariah’s cause of death was consistent with an accident, they would have found there was no murder, Melissa would have been acquitted, and she would be preparing for Easter mass with her children, not facing execution. She deserves a new trial,” 

– Vanessa Potkin

Once again here is your URGENT Call to Action:

Please sign the Innocence Project Petition.

Texas call Gov. Abbott and Texas Board of Pardons and Parole by dialing 956-446-2866

Call the Cameron County District Attorney and ask him to withdraw Ms. Lucio’s execution date.  956-300-3881

Use the hashtag #SaveMelissaLucio on social media and include in your post that Melissa Lucio is scheduled to be executed on April 27, 2022 for a tragic accident.

Purchase gear at bonfire.com/store/save-melissa-lucio

Sources:

Murdered in Indiana: The Case of Abigail Williams and Liberty German

On the morning of February 13th, 2017, Liberty German and Abigail Williams wake up at Libby’s grandparents home the morning after a sleepover. The two are absolutely inseparable best friends, a bond that is very close and special to all those who have witnessed it. 

Libby

Liberty goes by Libby to her family and friends. She’s 14, adventurous and intelligent. Her sister describes Libby as an investigative person- she says “she always had to ask questions and find out more about something.” 

Abby

13 year old Abigail goes by Abby, and she’s described as kind and joyful, with a passion for absolutely anything. Her mom Anna says she “loved people, loved pets, loved art, loved music, and tried anything under the sun at least once” 

The girls have grown up as classmates and are in 8th grade together at the Delphi Community Middle School. They have a special day off from school this day in their little town of Delphi Indiana because the district had not used up all of its built in snow days, and is giving the kids a day off with what is called a “give back day.” It is unseasonably warm this day, close to 60, so the girls decide to do exactly what their families were hoping they’d do, get off the screens and get some time outdoors in the fresh air. 

Libby’s sister Kelsi drops the girls off at the parking area for a trailhead for the Mary Gerard Nature Preserve at around 1:30 pm that afternoon. The girls plan is to walk southeast along the old out of use rail trail onto the Monon High Bridge that goes about 60 feet above Deer Creek. They made plans to be picked up by Libby’s dad around 3pm and set out. At 2:07pm Libby takes a photo on social media of her best friend Abby stepping board by board across the tall train bridge. That was the last anyone would see of the girls. 

At 3:11, Libby’s father called to say that he was close and to get ready for him. There was no answer. He tried again, even walking a ways onto the trail to call for them. Naturally he’d assumed they had lost track of time, and he collects his parents (whom they live with) to help him search. They call Abby’s parents who think “oh boy, those girls are grounded for this!” and join in looking for them. By 5pm as it begins to get darker and colder, everyone realizes this out of character behavior from their girls is cause for alarm, and Libby’s grandfather Mike calls the Sheriff at 5:30pm. 

In a close community like Delphi, word spreads quickly that there are two missing teenagers lost in the woods, and what seems like the whole town shows up that night to help look. Search teams of volunteers are each paired up with a leader from the fire or police department and everyone combs the areas on and off the trail looking for signs of the girls- maybe one of them had fallen and gotten hurt, and the other didn’t want to leave her alone? Surely they will be found quickly. 

As the evening progresses, the eerie fear grows harder to shake for the families who know just how frightened Libby is of the dark. Abby’s mom Anna says “That worried me, because I knew then that the odds of them just being out screwing around were not good.” 

When there is still no sight or sign of the girls by midnight, official search teams take a pause. They still think the girls will turn up any minute- hey the late movie is about to be over, maybe you’ll find them at home and in trouble for simply breaking some rules. The locals would not give up though, with dozens of people staying to search through the night. Anna recalls around 2am having to head back to the car when she realizes people  are looking in the water, and she refuses to search for bodies- still convinced she’d just be grounding her daughter. 

The next morning the search quickly resumes in a well organized effort with multiple agencies on board, prepared to find those missing kids. The effort is urgent, especially since they must have spent the night alone outdoors, and the whole community converges in hopes of finding them safely.  Kelsi, Libby’s sister is out with a group of volunteers searching under the railroad bridge when she hears someone yell out a question about what the girls were wearing. 24 hours after they’d set out for an adventure, the bodies of Abigail Williams and Liberty German were found along Deer Creek less than a mile from where they had been safely dropped off.

While the families are consumed in their grief, the search and rescue efforts rapidly shift gears into an investigation. Autopsies are done and evidence is collected, though the police hold back all of those details. They do confirm everyone’s worst fears very quickly: This is now a double homicide investigation. 

Immediately the Indiana State Police hold a press conference calling for anyone who was on the trail that day to come forward with what they saw or photographed. Along with that announcement, they released a photo from Libby’s phone of a man walking on the bridge toward the girls. Libby’s grandfather believes that the girls were snapping the images of him because they knew something wasn’t right. State police hope the photo will bring him forward- If he sees a photo of himself on the news and has no involvement, certainly he’d be eager to clear it up and share any info he had. But the photo release surprisingly reveals nothing. Meanwhile the whole community mourns the loss of these joyful, fun loving girls. Anger is boiling under the surface. The whole town feels victimized. Anna herself says “This doesn’t happen in Delphi” and historically speaking, she’s not wrong. The country gains word of the story, and everyone everywhere is now invested in the tragic and scary case of the girls from Delphi. If this could happen in a small town to someone else’s kids, could it happen here, to mine? 

On February 22nd, Indiana State Police along with the Mayor, the prosecutor, the sheriff, the police chief, the state police superintendent, FBI agents, and the chief public information officer  hold a press conference to update the nation on the status of the case. During this conference, they announced that the man on the bridge is officially a suspect and asked for the public’s help. Listen now to the Indiana State Police Superintendent Douglass Carter speak about how personal this is for all of them while he describes the investigation and the suspect. 

You can also hear Greg Massa, Assistant Special Agent in charge for the FBI shares some new updates from the BAU for the public at this press conference, and Captain Dave Bursten, chief public information officer to the ISP shares an audio clip from Libby’s cell phone here: 

According to an interview with Abby’s mom for Investigation Discovery, the image of the man appears to have been taken from the far end of the bridge with the girls being around 40 feet away from the man. She says they’d have had no choice but to wait for him to cross near them to the side before they could pass to get back to the parking lot for their 3:15pm pickup. She also points out the scary reminder that the girls wouldn’t have been able to run across that bridge due to the large gaps between railroad ties and the huge fall. If this suspect is indeed the person who hurt the girls, they were sitting ducks with no opportunity to escape him. “Down the hill” would have taken the girls away from that bridge they needed to cross, and down toward Deer Creek which is exactly where their bodies had been found. She does tell ID that she was given access to a little bit more of that tape from Libby’s phone, in which she reveals that Libby tells the man the path ends here and they can’t go any further. Heartbreaking and haunting last words for their families to have to live with.  

From here on out, the FBI takes over the tip line and the reward for information skyrockets. Billboards are put up all across the country and the community installs orange lights on their porches to honor the girls by Lighting up Delphi, something I hear can still be seen on many homes to this day. On March 9th 2017, Mike Patty- Libby’s grandfather speaks publicly for the first time on behalf of both families: 

Though the FBI is overwhelmed with tips, nothing solid comes of the suspect profile for months, so investigators go back to the drawing board, literally. According to local station Call 6 News, ISP says they received new information and were able to release a new artist rendering of the suspect in the hopes that this would reinvigorate the public’s attention on that man.

And it does kind of work… a couple potential persons of interest that we know of are investigated in the year following the girls murders. In September of 2017 Investigators fly out to Colorado to interview a man named Daniel Nations who had been arrested for threatening hikers with a hatchet on a trail where someone had been shot and killed just two weeks prior. He had spent time living in Indiana, I’m not sure when or how long, but at this point he is extradited back to Indiana on warrants for unrelated charges, in part because he failed to register as a sex offender. The startling thing for me is how much he looks like the artist’s sketch of the suspect. Even his own wife publicly agreed that they look a lot alike! Both deny his involvement vehemently though, and by the one year anniversary of the double homicide, police announce that he’s no longer being looked at with interest. 

Daniel Nations Comparison photo. He has been RULED OUT as a Person of Interest.

In 2019, the investigative team hosts a new press conference in order to unveil a new sketch and some additional sound to the audio recording. Take a listen to ISP Superintendent Douglass Carter again here: 

So a lot of new but also not new information comes out this day. Firstly,  police release a clip of the video from Libby’s phone in which they previously got that still shot of the man in the hat. They also release a little bit more of the audio at this point, adding “guys” to the previously released “down the hill” 

Perhaps most importantly though is the new sketch, which police say comes from new information, and makes the previous sketch, in their words “secondary.” They also say his age could be anywhere from 18-40 but they believe he has a youthful appearance. They also reveal that they believe he’s likely a part of the Delphi community, whether he’s a resident, works there, or is connected in some other way. The car that Superintendent Carter mentions early on in that clip was found abandoned on the side of the highway the day of the murders. 

Late in 2021 police announce that during their investigation into Abby and Libby’s murders, they’d discovered a fake snapchat profile going by the username “anothony_shots” who allegedly used photos of a male model to solicit underage girls into sending nude photos or even meeting. Again they ask for the public’s help in identifying any information about that profile and according to some heavily redacted court documents, it looks like that profile has been officially tied to a 27 year old man named Kegan Anthony Kline who was charged with 30 felonies, including possession of child porn, child exploitation, obstruction of justice, child solicitation, and synthetic identity deception. There are transcripts and rumors and lots of questionable things regarding this person floating around the internet, so until the Indiana State Police make any kind of official comments there is nothing concrete connecting him to the murders of Abby and Libby. 

The male model being used to catfish teens on the @anthony_shots profile has been RULED OUT as a Person of Interest
Kegan Kline

As of today, 5 years after their tragic deaths, there is still no answer to the question of who killed Abby and Libby. The investigators have been very up front that they are NOT releasing most of the information to the public because of the ongoing nature of the investigation. When we catch him, we want to be able to prosecute him. This includes the cause and manner of death, time of death, and any evidence collected on the scene. 

Before I leave you with a call to action, I want to remind you again to be careful of speculation versus confirmed information. This case is huge on reddit and webslueths, and people have been comparing everyone and their brother to those sketches- some very publicly and by name. I’m also horrified by the people who want to daydream, imagine, recount and describe what could have happened to those girls to cause their death. It has not been released, and we will not speculate on that here. It serves no beneficial purpose from my point of view, and we won’t engage in that. If you choose to go down the rabbit hole on your own with this investigation, please use a very discerning eye and ear.  Remember that her family or even the killer could be watching and reading anything you say. 

For Abby’s mom Anna, the pain of her loss is all too real. She says “It’s not even so much about what I’m missing right now, it’s about what I’m going to miss the rest of her life” For Libby’s grandfather Mike, his grief is what propels him forward as he says “I’ll continue to fight until I’m not longer able to, until I’m no longer on this earth”

Liberty “libby” German and her friend Abigail Williams. Undated photo. credit: Courtesy Mike and Becky Patty

Please take a look at our website or any of the sources we linked for you on our website to find the information we discussed in tonight’s episode. We will put up photos, youtube links to press conferences, as well as the sketches. There’s a hefty reward for information leading to an arrest, but that’s not why we do this. Tonight please take just one minute for Libby and her best friend Abby. Take just one minute and see if you recognize the man responsible for taking two little lights from this world. 

If you have any information about the murders of Abigail Williams and Liberty German, or any tips regarding someone you think fits the description of the suspect, or any information about the @anthony_shots profile please contact the FBI or the Indiana state police at Email: abbyandlibbytip@cacoshrf.com Or Tip Line: (765) 822-3535

Sources: 

*UPDATE* Unidentified in Georgia: The Benton MacKaye Trail Doe identified as Stephen Lucas Ryan, 41, of PA

*UPDATE* Unidentified in Georgia: The Benton MacKaye Trail Doe identified as Stephen Lucas Ryan, 41, of PA. Please respect his family during this difficult time.

Previous Post:

In Episode 3 here at the Lost Souls of America Podcast, we had an interview with our friend Natasha where we shared the story of closing the case of an unidentified hiker that the world called Mostly Harmless who’s real name turned out to be Vance Rodriguez.

Well, our humble little facebook community took some downtime and now we are starting up again with a new investigation. We’d love to invite you all to join in too. You can help by searching missing person’s databases, and even just by sharing his poster as often as possible. We really believe that sharing is going to be the key to finding this man’s family, so that’s the best thing you can do! The group is also a great place to bounce ideas off other sleuths, make comparisons, and come up with creative ways to help.

There’s not a lot of information available for this unidentified doe case but we’re going to tell you as much as we can. I’m going to read you the quote directly from the GBI website: 

The GBI is requesting assistance from the public in identifying a deceased man believed to be a hiker on Springer Mountain found on January 21, 2022. The man was found specifically off the Benton MacKaye Trail, which is part of the Appalachian Trail in Fannin County. A forensic artist’s rendering of the man is attached.

The man was wearing a small gray t-shirt, a gray fleece long sleeve shirt, tan Wrangler brand cargo pants size 30×32, gray wool boot socks, and Keen brand hiking boots size 10.5 (pictured). The man had in his possession a black Thermal-FR brand fleece quarter zip pullover (pictured), a dark gray Champion brand quarter zip fleece (pictured), a black Uline skull cap with rechargeable light attachment (pictured) and a small black folding shovel (pictured).

This investigation is active and ongoing. Anyone with information regarding a person matching this description is asked to contact the GBI. Anonymous tips can be submitted by calling 1-800-597-TIPS (8477), online at https://gbi.georgia.gov/submit-tips-online, or by downloading the See Something, Send Something mobile app.

GBI

Sources: