Archive for Saturday, June 2, 2012

Years later, families of missing wait for answers

There are several active missing persons in the Lawrence area. From left, Randy Leach, who disappeared after leaving a party in Linwood in 1988; Alexis Dillard, last seen leaving Johnny's Tavern in 1992; and Lawrence man Elvin Crist, who vanished in December 1996.

There are several active missing persons in the Lawrence area. From left, Randy Leach, who disappeared after leaving a party in Linwood in 1988; Alexis Dillard, last seen leaving Johnny's Tavern in 1992; and Lawrence man Elvin Crist, who vanished in December 1996.

June 2, 2012


People disappear every day.

They’re victims of foul play. They go to a remote location and commit suicide. They have psychotic episodes and wander off, confused and disoriented. They leave their families, escaping from some undesirable circumstance, searching for a new life.


Alerts go out, and missing-persons posters get printed. And those people left behind?

They wait. For good news, bad news, any news.

For the friends and family of former Kansas University student Yelekal “Kal” Alemu, 23, of Lawrence, the waiting stretched over three weeks, ending with news Friday that Alemu’s body was discovered in a wooded area in rural Douglas County. Police said they do not suspect foul play, though a cause of death has not been announced.

Alemu disappeared May 12, and his abandoned Toyota Yaris was discovered later that day, after friends and family became concerned when Alemu didn’t show up for a family gathering.

Area missing persons cases

Yelekal “Kal” Alemu case

• Friends and family reported Alemu, 23, missing May 12. He was last seen by a roommate early in the morning.

• Police located Alemu’s car that night, abandoned in southeast Douglas County.

• No one reportedly heard from Alemu since May 12.

• Early on Friday, a Lawrence police officer found Alemu’s body in a wooded area south of the Wakarusa River and near Douglas County Road 1057.

Other local missing-persons cases

• Randy Leach: Leach, then 17, disappeared April 16, 1988, when he left his parents’ Linwood home to attend a graduation party. Three men were arrested in 1993 for the crime but quickly released. The case has been the subject of numerous rumors over the years, but authorities have not had any concrete breaks in the case.

• Alexis Dillard: A 22-year-old KU student, Dillard was last seen at Johnny’s Tavern in North Lawrence on Dec. 11, 1992. Speculation is that Dillard drowned while trying to swim across the Kansas River, though his body has not been found.

• Jack Shultz: According to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, the 37-year-old De Soto man was last seen Nov. 28, 1994, in De Soto. Police said they suspect foul play, though nothing in the years since his disappearance have led to any arrests in the case.

For an interactive map of all Kansas missing-persons cases, visit

For the Alemu family, the bad news came. For others, the waiting continues.

16 years, no answers

Overbrook man Everett Crist, 91, remembers it was a Tuesday.

He and his son, Elvin E. Crist, then 40, finished work at the family landscaping business in Lawrence on Dec. 11, 1996.

“He told me he’d see me in the morning,” Everett said. “I haven’t seen him since.”

It’s been nearly 16 years since Elvin vanished. He didn’t have a criminal record, didn’t abuse drugs or alcohol, and didn’t have any reason to kill himself, said his younger brother, Arlin Crist.

“Just a regular guy,” Arlin said.

Elvin is one of 37 active missing-persons cases in Kansas, according to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, or NamUs, operated by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Since Elvin’s disappearance, the family has speculated and theorized. Arlin mentions minor details in the case — much discussed since Elvin disappeared — that never led to answers about his brother.

“I never thought you could make someone vanish,” Arlin said.

A store receipt found in his truck later confirmed that after work Elvin went to a J.C. Penney and exchanged a pair of jeans.

No one has reported seeing him since. Weeks later, police discovered Elvin’s truck had been left at a parking lot at KU and eventually towed away.

When the family got the truck back, police had taken inside panels out for evidence testing, Arlin said. Both Arlin and Everett provided DNA samples.

One of the few clues in the case was some of Elvin’s personal checks, which someone tried to cash after his disappearance. The checks bounced, and investigators were unable to find the person who tried to cash them, Arlin said.

The Crist family hired Prairie Village private investigator Gretchen Gerig, who traveled as far as California checking on various leads.

Gerig said she occasionally follows up on the case, even after all these years. She cautiously mentions “persons of interest” but declined to provide more detail, fearing it could hamper the police investigation.

Investigating the missing

There aren’t many possible outcomes for people who disappear, said Thomas Lauth, an investigator with Lauth Missing Persons, who for the past 15 years has been hired by families to find missing loved ones.

There’s murder or suicide. Then there are people who wander off, seemingly victims of some form of medical or psychiatric condition, such as the disappearance of Larry Schnackenberg, 58, of Lenexa, in July 2010.

Schnackenberg was reported missing by his family but was found three weeks later by patrol officers in a Johnson County park. Schnackenberg was dehydrated, shirtless and covered in insect bites when found.

The disappearance hasn’t been explained publicly.

“When I found him, I talked about how happy his family was going to be,” said park officer Rick Reynolds, who discovered Schnackenberg, in a 2010 Shawnee Dispatch article. “What he was doing and what had transpired for the 20 days he was out here, I don’t know.”

Then there’s what Lauth terms “malicious missing-persons” cases, where someone vanishes without notifying friends or family. Lauth cites the disappearance of 19-year-old Aisha Khan, a Johnson County Community College student who disappeared from the KU Edwards campus in December 2011. Khan made a frantic phone call to her sister before her disappearance, indicating she was concerned about an unidentified man who was harassing her. Family members feared the worst.

Khan’s husband of five months went on “Good Morning America” and made a public plea to the kidnappers he believed abducted his wife.

“My message to the kidnapper is, let her go,” Waseem Khan said on the show. “You have the power to let her go, and I will completely forgive you.”

After weeks of national attention, several searches, and the involvement of multiple law enforcement agencies, Khan resurfaced, unharmed. Publicly, little information has been released explaining Khan’s disappearance.

Disappearances like Khan’s and Schnackenberg’s show there’s no uniformity in how missing-persons cases will end, Lauth said.

“There are so many variables that play into missing-persons cases,” he said. “That’s what makes them so fascinating.”

‘We may never know’

The disappearance of Elvin Crist remains an open case, said Lawrence Police Sgt. Trent McKinley, and he encouraged anyone with information to contact police.

“Missing-persons cases are never closed until that person is located,” McKinley said.

Gerig, the private investigator, said she still thinks “something will pop” in the case and provide closure for the Crists.

Arlin and his family, however, are less optimistic about ever getting answers to Elvin’s disappearance.

About a decade after Elvin vanished, the family had him officially declared dead.

“You always remain hopeful something will come up. But as the years go by, it’s less likely,” Arlin said. “We may never know.”

Google Map

Kansas missing persons cases

View Kansas Missing Persons Cases in a larger map

Map of 37 Kansas missing persons cases listed in the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System.


Budgets_Smudgets 5 years, 5 months ago

Regurgitated old news does not necessarily make for interesting current news.

Ron Holzwarth 5 years, 5 months ago

Then don't read it. The site does not exist merely for your personal entertainment.

For many people, articles such as this one will never be "old news".

KEITHMILES05 5 years, 5 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

pace 5 years, 5 months ago

Jamie Grow was a Lawrence resident, is never listed, went missing over 25 years ago and is not listed on our missing persons or any other list, because he was traveling. Never came home. So no authority has ever chosen to list him as missing. He was a great guy.

Shaun Hittle 5 years, 5 months ago

Thanks for the info. I'm not from these parts and had never heard of that case.

Ron Holzwarth 5 years, 5 months ago

It is mentioned in the article that some people go to a remote location and commit suicide.That is undoubtedly true. It is also true that many people are in a situation where they feel that they have no one to talk to about the problems they face.

Never be a person that won't listen, always be willing to talk to someone about their problems, even if they seem to be repeating themselves a lot. Just having someone to listen to their problems and be concerned can make a great difference in someone's life. People never forget the ones that were willing to listen to them talk about things that bother them.

It is also true that many people suffer a great deal of depression that they feel they cannot ever reveal to others. Quite often, it has a biological basis that can be treated with anti-depressant medication, and that can make all the difference in the world to them. Many people are very good at hiding their depression from others.

But, if you listen to someone with that sort of problem, they might tell you about it. Then, you can urge them to go somewhere to talk to someone about those problems, and also point out that there are privacy laws so that people will not know that no one will ever know they went in for counseling or are on medication for it. That can make a huge difference in someone's life. And, you never know, it is very possible that same person will later be able to make a great deal of difference in your life.

There are other tragedies that occur that many do not seem to be very concerned about. The Randy Leach case will never be "old news" to me, as a previous commenter has suggested. I cannot even imagine how his parents must feel today, after waiting for so many years with no news at all.

It is very difficult to lose a child, and all the more so when he is an only child just starting life.

I have issues of my own, How can someone think of these missing persons cases as being "regurgitated old news", and be displeased because they are not "interesting current news"?

But, there are a lot of other things about many people that I simply don't understand. How can so many people treat each other the way they do? That is a mystery to me.

Jayhawk1958 5 years, 5 months ago

I've also heard that some people just want to start their life over again. They move and change their looks, name, etc.

Ron Holzwarth 5 years, 5 months ago

That is true, I read quite some time ago that it's not against the law to simply vanish and start all over.

But, there is a problem in that in order to assume a new identity, sometimes it's necessary to break some laws to obtain a new social security number or to obtain a driver's license. But sometimes that's possible.

I was once in a very unusual situation. I found someone's wallet that contained a Kansas driver's license, a credit card, and AND a social security card! It was amazing but true that the person had a vague resemblance to me, and with a couple trips through the washer and dryer, the picture on the driver's license could have passed for me.

I was so tempted, because at that time I was having a lot of problems that I wasn't dealing with very well.

The wallet also contained a student ID card from a nearby community college, so I was able to easily find the owner - and the look on his face when he saw his wallet that he thought was gone forever was amazing!

pace 5 years, 5 months ago

It is common for alcoholics to use the term, let go of the past, or that is old news when the subject isn't about them or their immediate interest. My heart is always with people who have lost loved ones without any of the why or how, or even what. My aunt had a missing in action brother in WW II.

Ron Holzwarth 5 years, 5 months ago

"Let go of the past," oh boy. Gone, with no clue what happened to him. Yes, I can certainly relate to the pain of that.

It is very hard for me to deal with the results of the decision I made over 26 years ago to let my birth son go for anonymous adoption. Because of the situation I was in at the time, I was sure it would be best for him. Plus, I had already lost custody anyway when I learned I was the father of a 2 day old infant that I had no idea was on the way, and in the 1980s custody was never given to the fathers of infants anyway. His birth mother was not in the picture at all. I just could not believe that she cared that little for him. She was very lucky he was all right when I learned of his existence.

So which was it going to be for him? Adoption, or a foster home? Extended family custody might have been possible, but that would have presented a huge set of problems for him. I did not want him to know the circumstances of his birth as he was growing up, I knew that would be just too much for a child to know. With extended family custody in a very small town, he would have been teased endlessly. Elementary school children on the playground can be the most cruel people in the world.

And, I did it the only way I could - by not talking to anyone at the time. I had no idea how much that event would affect me later, that's for sure. It's like there's a shadow of a missing person there, all the time.

But maybe, an open adoption? I didn't know that was possible at the time. I sure do wish I had discussed the situation with a professional, but that would have started a huge avalanche of other problems. At least hundreds, and more likely, thousands, of other people would have been affected, because his maternal birth grandfather was well known by at least two or three thousand people.

I didn't tell anyone in my family about him until he was in his 20s. Needless to say, every one of my family members was very shocked. A grandson had been eagerly looked forward to for years, and then when he was born, I let him go.

I developed a huge set of psychological problems about the whole situation, and sometimes I can hardly believe that I ever let him go. What? And maybe never meet him? I always wanted to meet him as as adult, and make an attempt to make his life better. But unless he chooses to contact me, that won't be possible.

I will never be able to let go of that. I have to take it one day at a time, hoping that someday I will get a letter, a phone call, or an email.

Ron Holzwarth 5 years, 5 months ago

It is terribly frustrating because there are a few things I would really like to tell him that I can't put on the web, a couple of which are rather important health issues, and with the present adoption privacy laws, I can't even send him a message.

Ron Holzwarth 5 years, 5 months ago

I neglected to put in key words that will allow my birth son to use search engines to find this posting about himself.

I really regret that I didn't give him a birth name, I stated some of the reasons for that above, so he was given the generic name of John Doe.

He was born here in Lawrence, Kansas, on Sunday, January 19, 1986.

Only about 4 out of 10 adoptees ever make an active search for their birth parents, and they are not always successful. But Kansas has always been an open records state, so most adoptees in Kansas don't have much trouble finding their birth family if they look. There are many reasons why 6 out of 10 do not, as one adoptee told me, "Everyone has a story."

Her story was not good, she looked but was never able to find either of her birth parents. And, another adoptee I talked with was told by her counsellor that she lacked a sense of identity in that she really didn't know who she was, and the only way to find out was to look up her birth parents. I've talked to and heard about many adoptees, and every single one of them had a different story.

Some adoptees fear rejection from either or both of their birth parents, some adoptees don't have much of a family anymore due to death so they want to find some sort of a family that cares about them by looking up their birth parents, some adoptees don't look up their birth family out of respect for their parents, and a lot of adoptees are somewhat surprised at what they find when they look up their birth family.

A whole lot of birth parents get old and die, hoping every day for their whole lives that they will be one of the lucky ones that makes contact and establishes a friendship with their birth children that are so much a part of their lives, even though they never see them or talk to them.

I hope I am not going to be one of them.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.