Lee Cutler was born on October 2, 1989. Growing up, he lived in Buffalo Grove, Illinois, where he shared a house with his mother, Beth; his stepfather, Larry; and his older brother. He also had a stepsister through his mother’s marriage to Larry.
Lee was described as a naturally social kid, who many in his life saw as a close confident. He wanted those around him to be happy and would go out of his way to ensure they felt his love. However, Lee would rarely open up to his friends, saying he didn’t want to burden them with his problems. As such, he would often set out on his own to meditate or write.
Observant of the Jewish faith, Lee was often open about his dedication to his religion. He would read the Torah and regularly wore his yarmulke. While in the ninth grade, he founded the local chapter of the Jewish Youth Group, B’Nai B’rith – or BBYO – where he soon became the president of the boys’ chapter. When not at work or school, he would spend his time planning activities for the group.
In 2006, Lee began to showcase suicidal tendencies after breaking up with his girlfriend. He took a knife to school and threatened to commit suicide. This resulted in him being hospitalized and having to attend therapy.
In 2007, Lee was a senior at Stevenson High School and had begun to think about his future. He was undecided about whether or not we wanted to attend post-secondary education and was weighing other options, including possibly joining the Israeli Defense Forces. He wanted to help bring peace to the country, so he and his mother researched the military group.
LEAD UP TO DISAPPEARANCE:
On the evening of October 19, 2007, Lee attended the 18th birthday party of a childhood friend. There was a dinner, after which he was seen playing hacky sack outside with a few friends. To all those in attendance, he appeared to have been having a good time and showed no signs that anything was off.
While at the party, Lee asked his mother if he could sleep over at a friend’s house, which she agreed to, as long as he called her the next day. Before leaving, he gave her a hug, which she would later say went on for longer than usual.
Lee spent the night with his two friends, playing video games. Before heading to bed, Beth called her son and left him a message.
At 12:00am on October 20, Lee texted a close friend and indicated he was having trouble communicating and fitting in with those around him. However, his friend didn’t think too much of this, as Lee was known for getting too inside his head and overthinking things.
At 9:50am, Lee dropped his friend off at home before heading to work at Rock America, a clothing store located within the Hawthorn Center Mall in Vernon Hills, Illinois.
That morning, Beth called Lee, but received no response. As such, she spent the morning trying to get in touch with her son, but to no avail. She began to worry, as it was not like him to not keep in contact.
Beth visited Rock America in the afternoon, to see if Lee had made it to work. His manager informed her that he hadn’t shown up for his 12:00pm shift. However, she’d simply assumed he’d misinterpreted when he was supposed to work and wasn’t too worried. Before leaving the store, Beth asked the manager to call her if Lee showed up and told her that she’d call at 5:00pm if she hadn’t heard anything.
At 2:00pm, Beth called a close friend, wanting advice on how to handle the situation. When 5:00pm came along, she called Rock America and learnt Lee still hadn’t shown up. At this point, she felt something was really wrong, as it appeared no one had heard from Lee that day.
Beth then contacted Lee’s friends, who said they were going to the local bowling alley around 8:00pm for a BBYO outing. Lee’s family attended, but he never showed up. Again, this struck them as unusual, as Lee never missed BBYO events.
At approximately 9:40pm, Beth called the Buffalo Grove Police Department to report her son missing.
At 11:00pm on October 20, Lee’s friends too began to get concerned about him and searched his most frequented hangout spots. However, they were unable to find any trace of him.
Police searched Lee’s bedroom, but found no indications of him packing things for the long term. Because of this, they theorized he was simply out on a long drive, which he would sometimes do when he needed to clear his head. As such, there was an initial belief he would reappear soon.
The next day, a tip came in from the local Speedway gas station, where a clerk claimed to have seen the missing man around 10:00pm the previous night. To try and confirm the sighting, police accessed the station’s surveillance footage, but by the time they looked it over it had already been erased. It was later learnt the employee had actually seen Lee 12 hours earlier than previously stated, at around 10:00am.
Early into the investigation, a message was sent out to surrounding police departments, asking for officers to keep an eye out for Lee.
Lee’s family was interviewed by investigators, where they learnt about his past struggles with his mental health. They also discovered that Beth had been living with her mother, who had recently been diagnosed with cancer. As such, Lee had been living at home with his stepfather and things had become strained. This led them to rethink their stance on the investigation.
After the police searched his room, Lee’s friends and family looked around and noticed approximately $500 was missing. This has led some to theorize he must have pre-planned his disappearance and knew he would need money.
Investigators eventually got a hold of Lee’s cellphone records, but found there had been no activity since the texts he’d sent on October 20. They then tried to trace the cellphone, but it was either out of power or turned off.
At 3:40am on October 22, a deputy in Baraboo, Wisconsin noticed an abandoned 2007 Toyota Corolla. After running the registration, he found the car belonged to a missing person out of Illinois by the name of Lee Cutler. The area was located near Highway 33, approximately 200 miles from Buffalo Grove. The deputy spent the remainder of the night watching the car, in case Lee or someone else returned.
Local police took a look at the car, but found it was locked. It also showed no signs of a struggle or foul play.
Upon learning of the car’s discovery, Beth and Larry drove to Baraboo.
A ground and air search was launched in the wooded area near where the car was found and involved more than 50 people. Investigators discovered a makeshift campsite, which featured a couple of blankets; Lee’s backpack; bottled water; an empty container of Advil PM, with one pill on the ground; and Coricidin. As the campsite was located near the Baraboo River, a dive team was called in, after which Lee’s yarmulke was discovered.
Along with the yarmulke, a note was found, which read, “My head is too big for my body. Finally, I will get to sleep. I’m sorry for being a coward. I love you, mom. Please, be happy.” This worried some, who took it to be a suicide note. However, Lee’s friends and family believe otherwise, citing his habit of expressing his emotions through his writing.
The river was searched for five days and investigators soon came upon a pair of khaki pants and a black belt hung on a log, both of which belonged to Lee. In the pants were found his wallet, ID, car keys and some cash.
After a few days, the search was called off. If Lee had gone into the river, investigators believe they would have found his body during their search.
On October 23, Lee’s mother made a plea through local media, asking her son to return home.
Given the area in which Lee’s car was found, police began to theorize that he could have hitchhiked out of the area, as Highway 33 is heavily travelled. The car was searched for clues and music, school papers, clothes and candy wrappers were found. An admissions ticket for Kettle Moraine State Park was also discovered, which showed the price normally given to Wisconsin residents. This led some to wonder if Lee could have been travelling with someone local to the area.
A receipt for a Wal-Mart store located in Madison, Wisconsin was also discovered, which showed purchases for the medication found at the campsite. Surveillance footage was pulled and it confirmed Lee had been travelling alone.
In the trunk of the car, investigators discovered a copy of the book Into the Wild, which tells the story of a young man who seeks adventure in the Alaskan wilderness, only to die. The book had been one of Lee’s favourites. They also found the gas tank to be near empty, which was strange given Lee had passed numerous gas stations. This has led some to theorize he had planned to leave the car behind.
There have been numerous sightings of Lee throughout the years, with witness accounts from Nevada, California, Texas and Minnesota. However, they all remain unconfirmed.
1) The prevailing theory in this case is that Lee died by suicide. This is supported by the text messages he sent to his friends the morning of his disappearance, as well as the discovery of the empty bottle of Advil PM and his various clothing items around the Baraboo River. Many believe Lee to have been struggling with his mental health at the time he left. However, some feel that, if he had died by suicide, his body would have been recovered during the search of the river.
2) Another theory states Lee had planned to run away to start a new life. There is a section of the Torah that talks about setting out on a journey, which Lee could have taken to heart. This theory is supported by the missing cash and the fact his body has never been recovered. As well, there are the reported sightings of Lee, with many coming from California, where it’s believed he could be living as a transient.
3) A final theory follows the idea that Lee travelled to Israel to join the Israeli Defense Forces. As aforementioned, he had shown interest in joining the military group upon graduating high school, and he felt as if Israel was where he truly belonged. However, some feel this isn’t the case, as they find it hard to believe Lee could have boarded a flight without being noticed.
Lee’s stepfather has since passed away from complications after suffering a heart attack.
During the search for Lee, his friends created the lets find lee!! Facebook group, in order to help raise awareness about his disappearance.
CASE CONTACT INFORMATION:
Lee Cutler went missing from Buffalo Grove, Illinois on October 20, 2007. He was 18 years old and was last seen wearing khaki pants and a dark blue sweater with a red stripe. At the time of his disappearance, he was 6’0″ and weighed between 140 and 161 pounds. He has brown hair and brown eyes, with a small bump on his upper lip and slight webbing between two of his toes. He is known to suffer from depression.
Currently, his case is classified as endangered missing. If alive, he would be 29 years old.
If you have any information regarding the case, you can contact the Buffalo Grove Police Department at 847-459-2560.
Image Credit: The Charley Project