10 Controversial Unsolved Spousal Disappearances
True crime stories of spousal disappearances are particularly popular with the media because they can provide a lot of sensationalized material. If it turns out that a missing person was going through a troubled relationship at the time of their disappearance, a lot of suspicion is going to fall upon the partner. In some cases, there might be very incriminating evidence to suggest said partner is responsible for the disappearance, but it’s impossible to build a solid murder case without a body. The following stories involve a spouse who went missing under suspicious and controversial circumstances, leading to a lot of surprising twists and turns which seem to point the finger at their significant other.
10 Michele Harris
It should come as no surprise that the entire world’s attention was focused on New York City on September 11, 2001. But while the city was rebounding from that day’s attacks, a controversial missing persons case was taking shape in a small New York town a few hundred miles away. That evening, Michele Harris left her workplace in Owego. The following morning, Michele’s van was discovered near the end of her driveway. There was no sign of Michele anywhere, but small drops of her blood were discovered inside her home. At the time, Michele was in the midst of a heated divorce from her wealthy husband, Cal, with whom she had four children. Given the circumstances, Cal Harris immediately became the prime suspect.
Since Michele was dating at least two other men at the time of her disappearance, Cal tried to divert suspicion toward them, but no evidence could be found to implicate them. Finally, in 2005, Cal was charged with his wife’s murder. The prime evidence against him was the blood from the couple’s home, and he was convicted two years later. However, in a surprising turn of events, a witness eventually came forward to claim that he saw Michele arguing with an unidentified man at the end of her driveway on the morning that her van was found. This compelled a judge to overturn Cal’s conviction, but he was convicted again at his second trial in 2009. Remarkably, this conviction was overturned on a technicality three years afterward. Cal went on trial for a third time in May 2015, but a mistrial was declared when the jury couldn’t reach a verdict. Cal Harris is currently a free man, but he could still be tried for Michele’s murder again. Her body has never been found.
9 Joan Hansen
On August 10, 1962, Joan Hansen was talking on the phone with a friend at her farm in King County, Washington. All of a sudden, Joan’s friend heard her yell into the phone: “Oh my God, he’s in the basement. He’s coming.” After Joan screamed, the line went dead. This was the last time that anyone ever heard from Joan, and her abandoned vehicle would be found in Seattle weeks later. At the time, Joan was embattled in a heated divorce with her abusive husband, Robert, who immediately became the prime suspect. Joan’s disappearance took place only two days after she filed a restraining order against Robert, forcing him to vacate their home. When Joan did not return, Robert got custody of their four children.
Robert was an abusive parent and told his children that their mother had taken off and abandoned them. As they got older, the Hansen children started hearing rumors that Joan had been murdered and buried underneath a barn, which was eventually destroyed and paved over by a highway. In August 2009, at the age of 84, Robert decided to commit suicide by asphyxiating himself in his car. He never revealed what happened to Joan, and in a final act of spite, he cut all of his surviving children out of his will, denying them his $5 million estate.
Even though Robert was dead, his children decided to take the unusual step of filing a wrongful death suit against his estate over Joan’s disappearance. They were eventually awarded $100,000 in damages from their father’s estate, but they’ve still never received any answers about what happened to their missing mother.
8 Rita Fioretti
In 1986, Rita Fioretti lived in the Bronx and was employed by the International Paper Company. On August 10, she was scheduled to travel to Chicago to attend a business meeting but never arrived. At the time, Rita was separated from her estranged husband, Robert Fioretti, a police officer with whom she had two sons. Robert and their two sons lived with Robert’s girlfriend, who had two daughters of her own and was pregnant with Robert’s child. Robert seemed unconcerned when he learned about Rita’s disappearance, claiming that Rita was an alcoholic who liked to run off with other men. However, when Rita failed to turn up, Robert found himself under a cloud of suspicion.
An investigation would uncover the shocking revelation that Robert had somehow managed to successfully obtain a divorce from Rita all the way back in 1974! This was done without Rita’s knowledge, and she never found out about it. Robert continued to live with her until their separation over a decade later. As a result of his secret divorce, Robert was able to marry his current girlfriend almost immediately following Rita’s disappearance. Robert also forged Rita’s name on some bank withdrawal slips and managed to steal over $17,000 from his missing wife’s accounts.
In 1992, Robert was convicted of bank fraud and also pleaded guilty to sexually abusing his stepdaughters. He wound up serving 15 years in prison. While authorities continue to believe that Robert murdered Rita, she technically remains a missing person.
7 Doreen Marfeo
In 1990, Doreen Marfeo lived in Johnston, Rhode Island, with her husband, Stephen. On March 29, Stephen claimed that he returned home from work to discover that his wife was missing. According to Stephen, he had seen Doreen earlier that day when he came home during his lunch break, but he never saw her again. Stephen also claimed that $600 and a suitcase containing some of Doreen’s clothing was missing, but her vehicle was left behind. At the time of the disappearance, Stephen and Doreen were having problems with their marriage. Stephen believed that Doreen was unfaithful and had even hired private investigators to follow her around. He also didn’t report his wife missing for two days.
Two months later, police received two typed letters, one of which accused Doreen of having affairs with several different men. The other letter stated that Stephen had strangled his wife to death and disposed of her body in a pond. In a bizarre twist, the police came to believe that the letters were actually typed by Stephen himself, as the print seemed to match a typewriter from his mother’s house.
Police always had their suspicions about Stephen, but the case took a shocking turn in 1999 when Stephen shot his ex-girlfriend to death and wounded her boyfriend. He then traveled to the Barkhamsted Reservoir in Connecticut and shot himself. Even though Stephen left a suicide note behind, he never admitted to being responsible for Doreen’s disappearance. While police thought the location of Stephen’s suicide might have had some significance, a search of the area failed to turn up any trace of Doreen’s body.
6 Mike Williams
On December 16, 2000, Mike Williams left his home in Tallahassee to go on a duck hunting trip at Lake Seminole. He never returned, but his vehicle and boat were found at the lake. The empty boat was in the middle of the water, so there was speculation that Mike had crashed into a large stump, causing him to fall overboard and drown. While there was no sign of Mike’s body in the water, investigators theorized that his remains were eaten by an alligator. Mike’s wife, Denise Merrell Williams, accepted this conclusion and had him legally declared dead. This seemed like a pretty open-and-shut case of accidental death until reptile experts told investigators that alligators don’t feed in the winter and that it was extremely unlikely they could consume an entire body without leaving any evidence.
A more extensive investigation soon uncovered some strange inconsistencies. When Mike’s boat was found, the motor was stopped, but the gas tank was completely full. There was a storm on the night that Mike disappeared, which should have blown his boat to an entirely different location. Six months later, Mike’s waders and some other items were discovered in the lake. The waders didn’t contain any bite marks, and since the lake had already been thoroughly searched on numerous occasions, it seemed likely that the items were planted there. Finally, some eyebrows were raised once it was discovered that Denise Williams had collected a $1.5 million life insurance policy on her husband’s death. The policy had originally been sold to Mike by his friend, Brian Winchester, who subsequently married Denise. In spite of these suspicions about Mike Williams’s disappearance, it would be difficult to prove foul play without a body.
5 Michelle Parker
On November 17, 2011, an episode of the television show The People’s Court hit the airwaves, featuring a dispute between a woman named Michelle Parker and her ex-fiance, Dale Smith. The dispute involved a $5,000 engagement ring, which Michelle allegedly lost after throwing it off a hotel balcony during a drunken argument. The former couple had a pair of three-year old twins together, but Michelle used the episode to detail their troubled relationship, accusing Dale of being violent and unfaithful. In the end, the judge ruled that Michelle and Dale would split the cost of the missing ring. The episode had been taped months earlier, but in an unbelievable turn of events, Michelle Parker wound up becoming a missing person on the same day the episode aired.
The last confirmed sighting of Michelle took place on the afternoon of November 17, when she dropped her twins off at Dale’s home in Orlando. Two hours later, Michelle’s brother texted her to ask where she was going and received the reply, “Waterford.” After this, Michelle was never heard from again. Her abandoned Hummer was found in an Orlando neighborhood the following day, and her cell phone was discovered in a lake three weeks later. Michelle’s brother has always suspected that she wasn’t the one who actually sent that final text to him. The Parkers eventually came to suspect that Dale was responsible for Michelle’s disappearance and filed a wrongful death suit against him in 2013. Even though there is no direct evidence of foul play, Dale Smith is considered the prime suspect in Michelle Parker’s unsolved disappearance.
4 Dottie Caylor
On June 12, 1985, Dottie Caylor disappeared under suspicious circumstances from her hometown of Concord, California. According to her husband Jule, Dottie took a train trip to visit a friend in another city, and he last saw her after dropping her off at the Bay Area Rapid Transit station in Pleasant Hill. For years, Dottie had suffered from agoraphobia, meaning that she was often home alone while her husband worked out of town and conducted affairs with other women. There were also allegations of abuse. After joining a women’s support group, Dottie finally gained some independence and asked Jule for a divorce. At the time of her disappearance, Jule was planning to move to Salt Lake City to start a new job while Dottie stayed behind at their house in Concord.
Jule claimed that he discovered Dottie’s car in the train station parking lot on June 13 and became concerned after leaving notes on the vehicle over the next four days, which went unanswered. While Jule did eventually report Dottie missing, he created suspicion by packing up Dottie’s belongings, renting out their Concord home, and moving to Salt Lake City within two weeks. Unbeknownst to Dottie, Jule had also become secretly engaged to another woman months earlier.
In 1988, police received an anonymous letter claiming that Jule had murdered Dottie by striking her with a tire iron, and he’d buried her body underneath a tree in a remote area. Even though a hand-drawn map to the alleged burial location was included with the letter, no trace of Dottie found, and the writer was never identified. While Jule Caylor has always been the primary person of interest in Dottie’s disappearance, there is no hard evidence of foul play, and she remains missing.
3 Mary Badaracco
In 1984, Mary Badaracco lived in Sherman, Connecticut, with her husband, Dominic, reportedly suffering years of abuse at his hands. On August 20, one of Mary’s daughters from a previous marriage showed up at their home. Even though Mary was gone, her vehicle was parked in the driveway with the windshield broken on the driver’s side. Dominic claimed that Mary had packed up most of her belongings and had taken off with around $100,000 of his money. Nevertheless, Mary’s daughter reported her missing. When police showed up at the home, Dominic told them that he had smashed the windshield of Mary’s vehicle in a fit of rage. The police did not immediately seize the vehicle, and it soon disappeared. Dominic eventually divorced his missing wife, but there would be many more bizarre twists in this case.
In August 1986, an informant in a witness protection program told police that the Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang was responsible for Mary’s disappearance. Joseph Badaracco, Dominic’s son from a previous marriage, was a member of the Hell’s Angels, and according to the informant, Joseph and another gang member murdered Mary at Dominic’s request. This information was never substantiated.
In 2007, authorities dug up the backyard of an excavation contractor named Ernie Dachenhausen, who previously worked for Dominic and was rumored to have buried Mary’s missing car. The car was not found, but Dachenhausen was charged with interfering with the police investigation. He was subsequently acquitted at trial.
Finally, in 2013, Dominic was convicted of attempted bribery after he offered $100,000 to the judge who would be presiding over a grand jury investigation into Mary’s disappearance. Dominic received seven years in prison, but there are still no definitive answers about what happened to his missing wife.
2 Lynn Schuller
On the morning of August 6, 1972, Keith Schuller and his three-year old son left their home in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to go fishing. According to Keith, his wife Lynn was still sleeping, but when they returned home five hours later, both Lynn and her bicycle were gone. Keith claimed that he left a note for his wife and went to take his son swimming. They came back an hour later, but even though the bicycle had been returned, there was still no sign of Lynn. Keith reported his wife missing the following day. At the time, the Schullers’ marriage was troubled. Keith had asked Lynn for a divorce the previous year, but she refused to grant it, and Lynn allegedly wrote her family a letter claiming that Keith had threatened to kill her.
After Lynn’s disappearance, Keith caused a scene by refusing to help police search the woods surrounding his home, claiming that he had already searched there and found nothing. The situation got so heated that Keith was actually arrested for refusing to assist a police officer, though the charge was later dropped. The incident raised enough red flags that police confiscated some items from Keith’s home, including a shovel, a machete, and two knives. At the time, Keith also happened to have a 2-meter (6 ft) pet alligator named Pogo, and rumors started circulating that Keith had murdered his wife and fed Pogo her remains.
Over the next few years, Keith attempted to file for divorce on no less than seven occasions, but Lynn’s parents kept intervening. He only obtained the divorce after secretly traveling to another county to file the papers in 1976. Keith has always maintained his innocence, and Lynn Schuller’s odd disappearance remains unsolved.
1 Louise Faulkner
During the 1970s, Louise Faulkner lived in Australia with her husband and three children, but the marriage came to an end once she became romantically involved with an older married man named George Sutherland, who also divorced his wife. Louise eventually became pregnant and gave birth to a daughter named Charmian on October 30, 1977. Around the same time, George reconciled with his ex-wife, and even though they never officially remarried, they lived together in a rural home in Parkers Corner. Nevertheless, George continued his relationship with Louise but never acknowledged being Charmian’s father. On April 26, 1980, Louise and Charmian left their residence in Melbourne. Louise spoke to one of her friends and said that they were traveling to a potato farm. They soon climbed into a white Holden Ute being driven by an unidentified individual and disappeared without a trace.
At the time, George Sutherland worked at a potato farm, where he reportedly had access to a Holden Ute. He became the prime suspect but always maintained he hadn’t seen Louise and Charmian since March. Shortly after the disappearances, George sold off his Parkers Corner property and traveled to the United States with his wife, where they made a failed attempt at permanent residency before returning to Australia three years later.
In 2006, the media received an anonymous letter from someone who claimed that they once heard George confess that he had murdered Louise and Charmian. However, the writer never came forward, and when an inquest was held into the disappearances that same year, George refused to testify on the ground that he might incriminate himself. The disappearance of Louise and Charmian Faulkner remains one of Australia’s biggest unsolved mysteries.
Robin Warder is a budding Canadian screenwriter who has used his encyclopedic movie knowledge to publish numerous articles at Cracked.com. He is also the co-owner of a pop culture website called The Back Row and recently wrote the award-winning script for a short film called Indefinite Late Fee. Feel free to contact him here.