Why did a young mother suddenly disappear before testifying against her mother at trial?
Lena Chapin didn’t have what most would consider an ideal childhood. She and her five sisters constantly move from town to town, based on whoever their mother, Sandy, is with at the time. In Lena’s preteen years, Sandy and the girls move to a farm owned by their third stepfather, Gary McCullough. Although a bit rough around the edges, Gary is “a good guy” and a caring step-father to the sisters, and the girls love him.
It isn’t long before Sandy begins her next affair – this time with a local 21-year-old named Kris Klemp. Gary learns about the affair and has also figured out that she is forging bad checks on his bank account. Gary talks to lawyer about getting a divorce. And that’s when Gary disappears.
Three days later, Sandy tells the local sheriff that Gary went off to buy fighting roosters and never came home. When asked to take a polygraph, Sandy replies, “If you find a body, I’ll take a polygraph.” Lena, 13-year-old at the time, is the only one who knows what really happened to Gary.
Lena keeps the secret for years, but finally at 17, racked by guilt, Lena tells Gary’s brother, Albert, exactly what happened to Gary. Lena says that Sandy shot Gary and burned his body in a brush pile, then forced her to help clean up the crime scene and toss his charred bones out the truck window as they drove down a country road. What Lena doesn’t know is that Albert is secretly recording her confession, which he immediately gives to the sheriff. Sandy finds out about the tape and, as Lena’s legal guardian, convinces Lena to walk back her confession. Lena doesn’t speak of the murder again and goes on with her life, has a baby, gets a job, and is happily living with her boyfriend.
Then, as Lena approaches her 21st birthday and her independence from Sandy, she disappears on Valentine’s Day, 2006. When her boyfriend comes home from work, he finds Sandy packing up all of Lena’s belongings. Sandy tells him that Lena has run off to Florida with another guy. Yet all her clothes, photos, car, and most importantly her son, — the love of her life–are all left behind. Afraid of their mother, Lena’s sisters don’t report Lena missing. But a few years later, when a wrongful death civil lawsuit is brought against Sandy by Gary’s family, the local sheriff tries to serve Lena with a subpoena. That’s when everyone acknowledges Lena is truly missing. At trial, despite not having testimony from Lena, Sandy and her now husband, Kris Klemp, are found guilty of the wrongful death of Gary McCullough. They’re ordered to pay restitution of $7 million dollars.
Lena’s sisters are convinced their mother killed Lena and, once again, masterfully disposed of the body. But if Lena is dead, where is her body? Her sisters won’t stop searching until they find her.