More than 600,000 people go missing in the United States every year, and sadly many will likely remain unsolved. But this year there were a few cases that finally got some resolution, some of them decades later. Here’s 10 missing persons cases that were solved in 2021.
17 year old Kara Kopetsky disappeared from Belton, Missouri on May 4, 2007. Around 9:20 am Kara walked out of her high school, never to be seen again.
That evening her mother filed a missing persons report to the Belton Police Department when she failed to return home from school.
Shortly before her disappearance, Kara had ended a nine month relationship with 18 year old Kylr Yust. The two had been dating on and off since the fall of 2006.
On April 28, 2007, Kara told police that her ex-boyfriend Kylr Yust allegedly kidnapped her and forced her into his vehicle while she was leaving work.
On April 30, 2007, just four days before she went missing, Kara filed for an order of protection against Yust in Cass County. She stated that he had kidnapped, restrained, and choked her in the past and she was afraid the abuse would get worse.
On May 6, 2007, Yust told police that he didn’t have any contact with Kara on the day of her disappearance. He said he had a missed call from Kara around 11 am that morning, but she didn’t answer when he tried to return the call.
However, phone records revealed that Kara made a phone call to him at 9:13 am, and he called her back at 9:20 am, just one minute after she was last seen leaving high school on surveillance video.
Yust denied involvement in her disappearance, and subsequently refused to answer any questions about the discrepancy in the information he had given. He passed a lie detector test and had an alibi for the morning she went missing.
10 Years Go By Without New Leads
Authorities continued looking into Kara’s disappearance, but the next big break didn’t come until nearly 10 years later in 2017.
On April 3, 2017, human remains were discovered by a mushroom hunter in the area of 233rd Street and Y Highway in Belton, Missouri. During a search of the wooded area a second set of remains were discovered by police the next day.
On April 5, 2017, the first set of remains were identified as Jessica Runions by the Kansas City Medical Examiner’s Office and Kansas City Crime Lab.
21 year old Jessica Runions was last seen on September 8, 2016 with Kylr Yust. Authorities soon found her burned vehicle in a wooded area and charged Yust with burning it.
On August 16, 2017, the second set of remains were identified as Kara Kopetsky at the FBI Crime Laboratory in Quantico, Virginia.
On October 6, 2017, Kylr Yust was charged with two counts of first degree murder and two counts of abandoning a corpse related to the disappearance and murder of Kara Kopetsky in 2007 and Jessica Runions in 2016.
Yust Convicted in Kara’s Death in 2021
After numerous delays the murder trial for Yust finally began on April 5, 2021.
On April 15, 2021, Kylr Yust was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter in Kara Kopetsky’s death and second-degree murder in Jessica Runions’ death.
He was sentenced to 45 years in prison after the judge accepted the jury’s recommended maximum sentence in his murder trial. His 15 year sentence for Kara Kopetsky’s death and life imprisonment for Jessica Runions’ will be served consecutively.
Another missing persons case that was solved in 2021 is that of Kara Vaughn who disappeared more than 25 years ago.
40 year old Kara Vaughn disappeared from Natchitoches, Louisiana on November 3, 1993.
She left her Point Place home between 8-9 pm in her white 1978 Honda Civic without her diabetes medication and less than $10 in cash. Her family reported her missing when she failed to return home.
She reportedly left home upset and had previously stated that “she would drive her vehicle in Cane River and never be found.”
The Natchitoches Parish Sheriff’s Office searched the Cane River multiple times, but were unable to find any signs of Kara or her vehicle.
In 2007 the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office offered assistance with new special sonar equipment to search the river for any clues. Again, the search again provided no clues.
In 2021, nearly 28 years after Kara went missing, two fishermen alerted the police after spotting what they believed was a submerged vehicle in Cane River Lake, south of Natchitoches.
Authorities recovered the vehicle, which had been submerged in 10-12 feet of water, and discovered human remains inside. Kara’s ID was also found inside the vehicle.
On March 24, 2021, the Lousiana State University Forensic Anthropology and Computer Enhancement Services (FACES) Lab in Baton Rouge confirmed that the remains discovered inside the vehicle belonged to Kara Vaughn.
Kara Vaughn was buried in Natchitoches, next to her mother who died in 2012.
33 year old Sarah Everard went missing from South London, England on March 3, 2021.
At approximately 9:00 pm she left her friends home in Clapham, and started walking back to her home in Brixton. The walk should have taken her just less than an hour, but she never made it home.
At 9:30 pm she was captured on surveillance video walking alone on A205 Poynders Road, in the direction of Tulse Hill.
Arrest in Sarah Everard’s Disappearance
On the evening of March 9, 2021, it was announced that authorities had made an arrest in Kent in connection with Sarah’s disappearance.
The suspect was identified as 48 year old Wayne Couzens, who was arrested on suspicion of murder and a separate allegation of indecent exposure.
Extensive searches were carried out in Kent, and on March 10 it was announced that human remains had been found in a woodland area.
On March 12 the human remains found in Ashford Kent were confirmed to be that of Sarah.
It was later revealed that Couzens, a Metropolitan Police officer, had falsely arrested Sarah under the pretense of having breached COVID-19 regulations. He took her in his car, drove her to near Dover where he assaulted and strangled her before burning her body and disposing of her remains in a nearby pond.
In June 2021, Couzens pleaded guilty to Sarah’s kidnap, rape, and murder. He was sentenced to a life imprisonment without the possibility of parole on September 30, 2021.
Louis Nix III
29 year old former Notre Dame and NFL player Louis Anthony Nix III was reported missing from Jacksonville, Florida on February 24, 2021.
On February 23, 2021 he visited his father’s residence in the 4000 block of Leonard Court West in Jacksonville. Around 10:00 am he left in his 2014 grey Hyundai Azera, and hasn’t been seen or heard from since.
Nix’s car was found in a pond near his apartment in Jacksonville, and he was subsequently found deceased on February 27, three days after he was reported missing.
His death was ruled a drowning by the Jacksonville medical examiner’s office.
His death came just three months after he survived a shooting while putting air in his tires at a gas station near the Jacksonville airport. He spent 10 days in the hospital, after the bullet ricocheted off his sternum and pierced his lung.
The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office sought information regarding two suspects in the case, but no reported arrests were made.
33 year old American actress Naya Rivera was reported missing after she failed to return from a boating trip on July 8, 2021.
Naya went to Lake Piru in Ventura County, California with her 4 year old son, and rented a boat at approximately 1:00 pm.
Three hours later, another boater on the lake discovered a drifting boat with a child onboard in the area of the lake known as The Narrows.
The child found on the boat was Naya’s four year old son who told authorities that he and his mother had went swimming, but she failed to get back on the boat when he did.
Authorities closed the lake and began search and rescue efforts from the air and with a dive team.
Discovery of Naya’s Body
On July 13, 2021, Naya Rivera’s body was recovered from the lake, and she was pronounced dead by drowning.
Her death was ruled accidental, with investigators determining Naya had exhausted herself saving her son’s life in the water.
Authorities believe Naya and her son were likely caught in a rip current while swimming, making it difficult to get back onboard the boat.
After Naya’s death officials banned swimming in Lake Piru, where several others had drowned in the reservoir over the years.
4 year old Cleo Smith disappeared from western Australia on October 16, 2021. She disappeared from a campsite in the Gascoyne region, where she was camping with her family.
The family arrived at the campsite around 6:30 pm on October 15. Around 8:00 pm Cleo went to bed inside the family tent, and woke up around 1:30 am asking for water. After being given a drink she went back to sleep.
When the family woke up at 6:00 am on October 16 they discovered both Cleo and her sleeping bag missing and the tent door open.
At 6:23 am the police were notified of Cleo’s disappearance, and extensive searches began with the aid of more than 100 officers.
Police also began compiling a list of people who had been at the campsite, though it proved a challenge as there were no sign-in requirements.
On October 21 they announced that Cleo’s case was being treated as an abduction, and offered a $1 million reward for anyone with information in her case.
On November 3, 2021, 18 days after she went missing, Cleo was found by alive and well by police inside a locked house near her family home in Carnarvon. She was reunited with her family the same day.
A 36 year old man, Terence Darrell Kelly, was subsequently taken into custody after his car was pulled over by police.
The break in the case came after police traced a mobile phone number belonging to Kelly to a phone tower near the campsite around the time of Cleo’s abduction.
On 4 November 2021, police charged Kelly with forcibly taking a child under 16. Kelly did not apply for bail, and the matter will return to court on January 24, 2022.
Another missing persons case that was solved in 2021 is that of Raymond Jones, more than 50 years after he went missing.
39 year old Raymond Jones disappeared from the Hayden Creek area of Idaho on September 7, 1968.
His son Jeffrey vividly remembers the moment he learned his father was missing, even though it was over five decades ago. He was with his mother in Montana, celebrating his 12th birthday when they received a call from two uncles saying his father had disappeared while hunting.
Two days later a birthday card for Jeffrey arrived in the mail, sent by his father before he left on his hunting trip.
In September 2021, three days after Jeffrey’s 65th birthday, and more than 50 years after his father’s disappearance, a bowhunter went out to the same area Raymond disappeared from and made a shocking discovery.
While searching for a shortcut, the bowhunter unexpectedly discovered some skeletal remains, along with a wallet and boot.
The remains were identified as Raymond Jones with the help of his still intact wallet, and his family was notified.
Jeffrey traveled from his home in Billings to Salmon to collect his father’s remains, and took them to Miles City, Montana, to be buried next to Raymond’s parents.
22 year old Tyesha Bell disappeared from her Chicago, Illinois home in the 800 block of North Randall Road on May 10, 2003.
Her sister whom she lived with told investigators that Tyesha had received a mysterious phone call right before she stepped outside her home. Tyesha never returned home, and hasn’t been heard from since.
From the beginning foul play was suspected in her disappearance. Authorities believe Tyesha had every intention of returning home, as she had left her two daughters inside, as well as all of her personal belongings.
It was reported that a person of interest in her disappearance was questioned by police in 2004, but no arrests have been made, nor has anyone been publicly named a suspect.
Remains Identified in 2021
In December 2020 human remains, as well as clothes and a few personal items, were found in a shallow grave in a wooded area of Kane County.
In March of 2021 the remains were identified as Tyesha Bell through the use of dental records and DNA.
It remains unclear how she died, but her disappearance has now become a homicide investigation.
Anyone with information regarding Tyesha Bell’s disappearance is urged to contact the Aurora Police Tip Line at 630-256-5517.
31 year old British actress Tanya Fear was reported missing from Los Angeles, California on September 9, 2021.
Tanya was last seen leaving her Hollywood Bowl apartment around 10:00 pm without her phone or purse, and was later reported missing by a friend.
On September 13, 2021, police were notified that Tanya had been found safe, and that her family had been notified.
Authorities said there is no criminal investigation or foul play suspected in her disappearance.
Due to privacy concerns no further details were made available.
22 year old Gabby Petito was reported missing by her mother on September 11, 2021.
On July 2, 2021, Gabby embarked on a cross-country journey with her fiance Brian Laundrie. The trip was planned to last four months, however, she disappeared in late August.
They planned to travel in Gabby’s white Ford van to the West Coast and visit state and national parks across the western United States.
However, in early September Laundrie raised suspicion when he drove Gabby’s van back from Wyoming to his parents house in Florida without her, and refused to talk about her whereabouts.
Laundrie arrived back in Florida in early September, without Gabby, and without an explanation as to her whereabouts.
Authorities were watching the Laundrie home, and saw Brian leave on September 13. On September 15 they saw his car return, and believed the person who exited the car and entered back into the home was Brian.
On September 15, Laundrie was officially named a person of interest in Gabby’s disappearance.
On September 17, Brian’s parents said he was missing, and that they had not seen him since September 13. At this point the police realized the person they had seen exiting Brian’s car on the 15th was his mother, not Brian.
Police obtained search warrants and seized the vehicle, an external hard drive, and the family’s Ford Mustang.
It was later discovered that police in Moab, Utah had encountered Gabby and Brian on August 12, after a caller reported seeing “the gentleman was slapping the girl.”
The caller told the dispatcher they saw a man slap a woman, and after the two ran up and down the sidewalk, the man hit the woman again and drove off.
Police interviewed Gabby and Brian, but no charges were filed, with the officer suggesting the pair separate for the evening.
Gabby’s Remains Found
On September 19, 2021, human remains were found at a camping area just outside Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.
The remains were positively identified as belonging to Gabby, and her cause of death was found to be strangulation.
On October 20, Laundrie’s skeletal remains along with some of his belongings were found in Florida’s Carlton Reserve. On November 23 it was announced that he died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.