Selected by Kat, this Sunday MP is Karen Denise Wells, a 23-year-old mother of one young son who disappeared from Carlisle, Pennsylvania 22 years ago, in the spring of 1994. She had apparently traveled to Pennsylvania from her home in Oklahoma to visit a female friend, and was staying in a hotel and told a hotel clerk she was going to have a quick meal at a nearby McDonald’s, then go to bed. She was supposed to meet her friend after midnight that night, so I’m not sure why she said she was going to bed. Maybe she was just planning to take a nap.
Anyway, when the friend she’d come to see couldn’t get her to answer her room door, the woman summoned a hotel staff member to unlock the door and they found the room deserted. On the morning after Karen’s disappearance, they found her car parked on a rural state road 35 miles away, mud-splattered, with the doors wide open. It had run out of gas and the battery was dead. According to the odometer, the car had driven six to seven hundred miles that couldn’t be accounted for.
The whole thing, especially the condition in which the car was found, looks extremely suspicious to me, and both police and Karen’s family think she was murdered. The fact that the car was parked right smack in the middle of the westbound lane isn’t too surprising, since it had run out of gas. The driver might not have had time to pull over before the engine went dead. But why would anyone — either Karen or an abductor — leave the doors open like that? You’d think they’d at least bother to close them. That sort of thing attracts attention.
If I was a passerby and found a car abandoned in the middle of the road with the doors open like that and no one around, I wouldn’t necessarily assume a crime had occurred, but I would think this was strange and I’d probably call 911. (Three years ago I wrote a long entry about the difference between “suspicious” and “odd” and how “odd” things often should merit the attention of the authorities, even if there’s nothing overtly threatening about the situation.)
The most recent news articles I could find on Karen’s disappearance were from 2009. (She is also listed on the FBI’s website but it doesn’t say much.) There’s a suggestion that drugs were involved in this case, since they found some marijuana in Karen’s car — but loads of people smoke pot.
Karen has since been declared legally dead. On the off chance she’s still alive she would be 45 now.
On the Charley Project website, I have a short list of recommended books about specific missing persons cases or about the phenomenon of missing persons in general. I thought I’d add some more books here.
Some of these books are self-published, out of print, or were only ever published outside the United States, making them difficult to track down in libraries and sometimes expensive to buy. Others are only available in Kindle edition. (Not a problem for me, since I have a Kindle Fire, but it would be a problem for people who don’t own Kindles.)
As far as editions go, I link to whichever hard copy edition on Amazon that is still in print, since I know not everyone owns a Kindle. It they are all out of print I will link to whichever is the cheapest at the time I created this list. If there’s no hard copy available at all, or if the only one costs a fortune, I’ll link to the Kindle edition. If you have a library card but your library doesn’t have a copy of the book you want, most libraries offer inter-library loan services for free, so you under most circumstances you can still get access to the book. How long you can borrow it depends on the lending library, and in my experience you’re not allowed to renew inter-library loan books.
I’m really fortunate because I can use my dad’s Ohio State University library account. The OSU library links to something called OhioLink, which connects to ever other college and university library in the state, so I have access to a LOT of books. (Though most of mine still come from OSU; with over 65,000 students total at present, it’s the biggest university in the state and one of the biggest in the country, and has a correspondingly comprehensive library.) If any of you attend an institute of higher education in Ohio and didn’t already know about OhioLink, I HIGHLY recommend it. It’s so useful. Checking out a book through OhioLink is just like checking it out from your own school; that is, unlike regular interlibrary loan books, you can renew it if you want.
Anyway, the list. These are only books I haven’t myself read yet, and only ones that sound good. If I haven’t read it and the summary of it makes it look bad or all the reviews say it’s terrible, I waste my time reading it and I won’t add it to this list. Feel free to make suggestions of more books in the comments section. (And yes, I’ve already read Matt Birkbeck’s A Beautiful Child and I’ve read Michelle Knight’s memoir.)
- Hands Through Stone: How Clarence Ray Allen Masterminded Murder from Behind Folsom’s Prison Walls by James A. Ardaiz. I don’t know how much this book will talk about it, but Clarence Allen was the one responsible for the disappearance of Mary Sue Kitts. He got the needle in 2006 and I wrote an Executed Today entry about him.
- Searching for Anna by Michaele Benedict. This book is about Anna Christian Waters‘s disappearance and was written by her mother.
- Lost From View: Missing Persons in the UK by Nina Biehal. I don’t know much about this book but it appears to be some kind of sociological study of the missing in Britain, drawing from some 2,000 cases. It’s less than 100 pages long.
- Where’s Heidi?: One Sister’s Journey by Lisa M. Buske. Lisa’s account of her sister Heidi Marie Allen‘s abduction in 1994. Heidi was never found. Two brothers were charged with her abduction; one was acquitted, but the other was convicted. There is a lot of speculation online that there was a miscarriage of justice and the two men were innocent, or that they had accomplices who have not been caught. I don’t know enough about it to give any opinion on the matter.
- Where the Stars Still Shine by Trish Dollar. One of only two novels on this list. This is meant for a young adult audience and is about a seventeen-year-old girl who learns she was abducted by her mother when she was young, and the difficulties she faces after she is reunited with her custodial father and his large family, whom she doesn’t remember at all.
- A Stolen Life: A Memoir by Jaycee Dugard. About her kidnapping and recovery, of course. A Charley Project reader actually gave me a copy of this. I haven’t read it yet because I am lazy and ungrateful.
- It Can’t Happen Here: The Search For Jacob Wetterling by Robert M. Dudley. About the 1989 kidnapping of Jacob Wetterling and subsequent investigation. The case remains unsolved, but there have been some exciting developments these past few months that might bring an edge to the Wetterling family’s agony of uncertainty.
- In Tina’s Shadow: The True Story of a Murder, a Husband’s Guilt and a Family’s 14-Year Vigil for Justice by Sharon R. Dunn. Details the disappearance of Kristina Sandoval, and her estranged husband’s trial for murder.
- Missing You: Australia’s Most Mysterious Unsolved Missing Persons Cases by Justine Ford. I can find this in only one library in the U.S. and that library is not part of the OhioLink network (see above). It is, however, available British, New Zealander and Australian libraries, and you get it from Kindle for a decent price. As is pretty clear from the title, it’s about several unsolved disappearances in Australia.
- We Is Got Him: The Kidnapping That Changed America by Carrie Hagen. About the Charley Ross case — that is, the little boy whom the Charley Project was named for. When reporters interview me they often ask “Why did you call it the Charley Project?” And I tell them Charley Ross’s story.
- In Search of Jeremy: A Mother’s Story by Melodye Faith Hathaway. A memoir about the unsolved 1977 disappearance of deaf toddler Jeremy Coots. Written by this mother.
- Where’s Sequoya? by Dove Johnson. This is a memoir of Sequoya Vargas’s life, disappearance, and the subsequent murder charges against three men. Her death was horrific: gang-raped and thrown off a cliff into the sea, still alive. Written by Sequoya’s mother.
- Memoir of a Milk Carton Kid by Tanya Kach and Lawrence Fisher. A memoir about Tanya’s disappearance, captivity and recovery.
- 3,096 Days in Captivity: The True Story of My Abduction, Eight Years of Enslavement, and Escape by Natascha Kampusch. Natascha was abducted from her hometown in Austria in 1988 and held by her abductor, mostly in the basement under his garage, for eight years. He allowed her to spend increasing amounts of time outside his cell, and in 2006 she was able to escape. Her abductor committed suicide the day she ran away from him, presumably because he realized the police would be coming to arrest him.
- A Case for Solomon: Bobby Dunbar and the Kidnapping That Haunted a Nation by Tal McThenia and Margaret Dunbar Cutwright. About the 1912 disappearance of Robert Clarence Dunbar and his later “recovery” which turned out to be no recovery at all.
- Missing by Rose Rouse. Focusing on missing persons from the United Kingdom, this is not so much about MPs as about the effect they have on the families they leave behind. Rouse interviewed a lot of MPs’ relatives about what they’ve been through and how they cope.
- The Man Who Never Returned: A Novel by Peter Quinn. The second novel on this list, reviews say this draws heavily on the infamous 1930 disappearance of New York’s Judge Crater.
- Finding Everett Ruess: The Life and Unsolved Disappearance of a Legendary Wilderness Explorer by David Roberts. About the mysterious disappearance of Everett Ruess, a young writer and artist with a lot of wanderlust, in 1934. They thought they’d found his body a few years ago, to the point that I actually listed his case as resolved on Charley, but it turns out the body wasn’t his after all.
- My Story by Elizabeth A. Smart. She hardly needs an introduction. I met her in 2012 and she passed out pamphlets about child abduction; I got her to autograph mine.
- Finding Runaways and Missing Adults: When No One Else is Looking by Robert L. Snow. This book offers advice on how the families of the missing can best utilize tools like the internet to help find their loved one.
- The Color of Night: A Young Mother, a Missing Child, and a Cold-Blooded Killer by John H. Timmerman and L.C. Timmerman. Written by the father and uncle of Rachel Timmerman, who disappeared with her baby Shannon Dale Verhage, in 1997 and was found murdered a month later. A suspect was convicted of Rachel’s murder and police think he killed Shannon too, but he has been never been charged in that case.