A college student spending the summer in San Francisco vanishes without a trace.

A college aged caucasian woman with long dark hair, Kristen Modafferi.

Kristen Modafferi


Gender: Female
DOB: 6/1/79
Height: 5’8”
Weight: 140 lb.
Eyes: Brown
Hair: Brown
Defining Characteristics: Facial dimples
Remarks: Last seen 6/23/97


Eighteen-year-old Kristen Modafferi was a college honor student from North Carolina spending her summer in San Francisco. On Monday, June 23rd, 1997, she arrived for work at the Crocker Galleria mall. She had taken a job at a coffee shop to pay for a photography course at U.C. Berkeley. Griffin Cherry was her close friend:

“She wanted to come to the big city and find some excitement. But it seemed to be coupled with a naiveté, not a real understanding of how the big city works.”

The golden gate bridge with the skyline of San Francisco in the background.

Kristen went missing in San Francisco

At the end of her shift, Kristen left the coffee shop and was never seen again. From the start, authorities were frustrated by intriguing clues that went nowhere and a trail that led directly into the ocean.

The day after Kristen vanished, her parents flew immediately to San Francisco. Kristen’s father Bob Modafferi:

“When we found out that she had disappeared, we were just shocked. We couldn’t eat. We barely spoke. We just were even having trouble breathing.

Kristin’s mother, Debbie Modafferi, was determined to find her daughter:

“When you are faced with a situation like this, you really don’t know how strong you can be. You either crawl in a hole and die and give up, or you can fight. There was no choice for us; we were going to fight for our daughter.”

Two police officers stand by a bloodhound next to the ocean.

A bloodhound led police to the ocean

As in many missing person’s cases, police had few leads to work with. One of the first pieces of the puzzle was identifying a blonde woman seen with Kristin the day she disappeared. Forty-five minutes after Kristin’s shift ended, a man who worked with her noticed them at the mall together. Officer Patrick Mahanay of the Oakland Police Department learned that this was out of character for Kristen:

“He thought that was kind of strange because she never really stuck around after work. As soon as she checked out, she would be gone.”

Kristen’s father was determined to find the identity of the blonde woman:

“They were hanging out together, talking together, definitely with each other. And so we’ve made a lot of effort to try to get the blonde woman to come forward, identify herself. We appealed a number of times through the media, but we’ve never got a response.”

Two hands typing on a keyboard of a black laptop.

Had Kristen placed a personal ad?

Police used a bloodhound to try to retrace Kristen’s route the day that she vanished. The dog immediately located her trail, but police weren’t sure if this was a route Kristen took the day she disappeared, or some other day. The dog then led them to Geary Street, heading toward Land’s End Beach. Kristen’s co-workers had said that on the day she vanished, she talked about visiting Land’s End Beach. Officer Patrick Mahanay followed the bloodhound to the trail’s end:

“We got down to the beach area and came to a point where the trail seemed to have stopped. That’s a very treacherous part of the San Francisco waterline. Numerous people each year are washed off the rocks and are never seen again, so it was a distinct possibility that she had in fact fallen into the ocean.”

Kristen’s father, Bob, doubts this theory:

“We really don’t believe that’s what happened to Kristen. It’s a very tourist-oriented area, so there are always people around. If she had fallen into the water, somebody would have seen something.”

A person looking at a handwriting journal, the writing is ineligible.

Why were pages missing from the diary?

But if Kristen didn’t drown, what happened to her? Seventeen days after she vanished, a man called a local news station and claimed Kristen had been murdered. Bill Magee, the assignment editor at KGO-TV, received the call:

“He went into a very long description of who he said killed her and he told me that there were two women, and he named them. He said that Kristen had been killed as a result of a lesbian love affair that went wrong.”

Detectives tracked down the two women named by the caller, but determined they didn’t know Kristen and had nothing to do with her disappearance. The police asked if the women knew anyone who might hold a grudge against them and falsely implicate them in the case. Both women named the same person, a man named Ryan.

Ryan told police the two women were his girlfriend’s employers, and that they had been harassing his girlfriend at work. He said he phoned in the false tip in an effort to get back at them. But the police suspected there was more to Ryan’s story. Upon investigation, they found allegations that he had abused women in the past. Their next move was to see if he had any connections to Kristen. Police then learned that Ryan met women mostly through personal ads. Earlier, they had found an ad in Kristen’s apartment they think she might have placed. Bob Modafferi:

“If you read it, it sounds like it could be Kristen. It’s all the kind of things she was interested in, like photography, walking the city, music. It was all the kind of things that Kristen was there to do.”

Another clue was found at the home of Ryan’s girlfriend. Her diary was missing several pages covering the same time period Kristen had been in San Francisco. She told police that Ryan had torn out the pages. Det. Patrick Mahanay found this unusual:

“We asked her, ‘Why is this diary the way it is?’ And she said that some of the stuff that was in there could come back to hurt Ryan.”

Still, police say they have no clear evidence that Ryan was involved in Kristen’s disappearance. Ryan claims he passed a polygraph test given by a reputable expert:

“I never met Kristen. I never saw her. There’s absolutely no connection to Kristen and I in any way. And what I did was wrong. I wish I’d never made that call.”

Police have completely cleared Ryan as a suspect. With no new leads, the case is now back at square one.


A search of the home where Kristen briefly lived revealed the presence of human remains on the property. It is too early to know if they belong to Kristen. We will bring you more information as this story develops.

Watch this case now on Amazon Prime in season eleven with Robert Stack and in season seven with Dennis Farina. Also available on YouTube with Dennis Farina. Various seasons available now on Hulu.




  1. Anonymous

    This looks a lot like the Chaim Weiss case. Too many people were in that building to not have seen anything. College students often have sororities and initiations. Some get out of hand. Today they call that hazing. I mean the dogs had her going to the beach like she told her coworkers. But unfortunately dogs lose scent when a lot of water is at play. It seemed like a regular day of sightseeing before returning to her residence.


  2. Austin

    “Ryan” is actually Jon Onuma, he also has the alias “Jade Yoshino”. He has never been cleared from the case and to this day remains a person of interest.


    • Anonymous

      The only thing suspicious is the missing diary pages. But if that is the format, the entire newspaper also lost records for the personal ads. They unfortunately didn’t have much public internet back then. Paper records often went unaccounted for.


  3. Michael

  4. Anonymous

    If you want to try to help, check out FindKristen.com and this thread on WebSleuths for discussion on theories: http://www.websleuths.com/forums/showthread.php?46-CA-Kristen-Modafferi-18-San-Francisco-23-June-1997 There’s been some renewed looks recently and fresh eyes are always welcomed! 🙂


  5. mariottini

    was Kristen ever found or confirmed? in tonight’s SF Gate there appears to be human remains found in Moraga Lafayette area. I lived in SF for 22 years from 1990 to 2012 and have always felt so bad for her family.


  6. Trish

    Remains have been found in her home 6 days ago.


  7. Anonymous

    Wondering why the police didn’t question this woman who wrote the diary further–ask what exactly she wrote that might implicate Ryan, but perhaps it was a useless clue and therefore left out of this account.


  8. David

    Has anybody in San Francisco or outside of San Francisco seen this woman before?
    If you have, please leave a tip.


  9. Rien

    According to the post about Kristen’s disappearance in Charley Project, Ryan is really Jon Onuma, and he was really, really suspicious.


    • Anonymous

      That was suspicious. But it is important not to discourage leads from coming forward. Even a theory should be welcomed. If he honestly thought that he shouldn’t have lied or elaborated the evidence.


  10. Dr.Davis

    Regardless of clearing him this “Ryan” (who’ abused females’)looks like a possible is all. I have seen many that were “cleared” only later -years later- was the ‘cleared’ the killer! Those’ torn diary pages’ look very suspicious. It was he who called the PD about linking KM with two girls he knew. He said it was “a murder.” Who does that? Crazy. Very suspicious he would pick her.
    Many times the perp will find someway to inject himself into the case. Well Ryan did!


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