Kayla Berg was born on August 29, 1993 to parents Hope Sprenger and James Spanbauer. Growing up in the small town of Antigo, Wisconsin with her older brother, Jimmy, she led a childhood filled with lots of family fun and outdoor adventures, as well as many camping trips.
While she was a toddler, Kayla’s parents separated. Not long after, James was diagnosed with cancer and had to undergo dialysis as a result. As such, he moved back in with Kayla’s grandparents. While Hope and James were separated, Kayla and Jimmy were able to visit their father every other weekend, and Hope never stopped them from seeing him whenever they wished.
Kayla was the light of James’ life and his sickness took a toll on her. Seeing what her father was going through resulted in Kayla’s want to make sure everyone in her life was happy, and she never turned away a friend in need.
Kayla was a talented gymnast who specialized in tumbling. She’d been participating in the sport since she was a little girl and gave each competition her all. She was a member of her high school’s team and was known to light its members up whenever she was at practise.
In 2007, her friend, Megan, introduced her to the party scene in Wausau, Wisconsin, a city located near Antigo. The parties became the highlight of Kayla and her friends’ weekends, but the girls often had to lie to their parents in order to attend, as there was a lot of underage drinking.
While in her sophomore year, Kayla began dating a man named Miguel Marrero, who was four years older than her. He and his friends resided in Wausau and were known to throw the parties the girls attended. As Hope didn’t approve of the age difference or the parties, she asked that Kayla end the relationship.
In June 2009, just as Kayla had finished her sophomore year, Hope and her moved to Texas. As Jimmy had recently graduated high school, he decided to stay in town. At the time, Hope was finding a new job hard to come by, and as Kayla was beginning to take risks and skip school, she wished to bring her daughter to a new environment. While she was upset about the move, Kayla agreed to go, wanting to keep her mother company.
After several weeks, Hope realized the prospects for a better life weren’t as promising as previously believed. James’ health had also started to deteriorate and Kayla’s new high school didn’t have a gymnastics team. As such, on August 2, 2009, she and Kayla moved back to Antigo. Until Hope was able to find an apartment for the two of them, she stayed with a friend, while Kayla lived with her father and grandparents.
LEAD UP TO DISAPPEARANCE:
On August 9, 2009, Kayla told Hope she was spending the night with her friend, Natasha, and the two girls hung out with some boys at a local party.
On the morning of August 10, Natasha’s mother noticed the girls hadn’t returned home, so she contacted Hope. The two women agreed the girls had probably attended a party in Wausau and forgotten to check in. However, as the day went on, they became worried and went to the police station to report their daughters as missing. While there, they got word the girls had been safe in town the whole time.
On August 11, Kayla called her mother to check in with her and let her known she’d be spending the day with Natasha. The girls hung out at the park and later at Natasha’s house, along with her older brother and Jimmy. At around 5:00pm, Natasha left for work, while Kayla stayed behind to catch up with another one of Jimmy’s friends, 24-year-old Kevin Kielcheski. The pair made plans to get together later that night.
At 8:45pm, Kevin picked up Kayla from her grandparents’ house.
On the morning of August 12, Kayla’s father noticed she hadn’t returned home, so he called Kevin, who told him he’d dropped Kayla off at a friend’s house.
On August 13, Hope was worried that she hadn’t heard from her daughter in two days, so she checked her phone and saw James had tried to call her the previous day. Upon speaking with her ex-partner, Hope was upset that Kayla hadn’t returned home, but assumed she was pulling a similar stunt to that of the week previous and would contact them soon.
Unable to get a hold of Kevin, on August 14 Hope called Kayla’s friends. One of her gymnastics teammates told her that Kayla and Kevin had visited her at McDonald’s on August 11 at around 9:30pm. She’d told said teammate that she was going to smoke marijuana with Kevin and drive around, and said she would call her later that night, which she never did.
Beginning to panic, Hope spoke with Jimmy and her worries were alleviated when he told her Kayla was staying with a friend she hadn’t yet contacted.
However, on August 15, Hope discovered that her son had been misinformed about his sister’s whereabouts. She then received a text from Kevin, who told her he’d dropped Kayla off at Miguel’s house in Wausau. However, he wasn’t able to offer any other details, such as what she was wearing or what street he had dropped her off.
Upon receiving a call from Hope, Miguel told her Kayla hadn’t been to his house on the night of August 11. In fact, he hadn’t seen her in just over a week.
Unable to obtain any more information, Hope reported her daughter as missing on August 17. She was listed as a potential runaway by police.
The first thing police did upon Kayla being reported missing was talk to friends and family. They first interviewed Kevin, who said Kayla had been the one to direct him where to go on the night she disappeared and that it was common for him to give rides to her and her friends. He told them the same story he’d told James and Hope, saying he’d dropped her off at Miguel’s around 10:30pm. The lights were turned off and it looked like no one was home, and he hadn’t actually seen her enter the house.
It was later learnt that the house where Kevin had dropped Kayla off was deemed uninhabitable and Miguel was living elsewhere until the necessary repairs were made, a fact she is said to have been aware of. Those interviewing Kevin found it odd that no one else was aware of Kayla’s plans that night and theorized she might have been hiding something from those close to her.
Police then spoke with Miguel, who told them he’d seen the missing girl the Friday before she went missing, but not on August 11. Investigators checked inside both his rental home and the condemned house he’d previously been living in, but found no evidence that Kayla had been hiding out there.
Upon interviewing those closest to Kayla, her status as a runaway was rethought. She hadn’t a history of running away and it was uncharacteristic of her to not keep in touch with her parents. After three days, her status was updated to endangered missing child.
In order to help get the word out, Hope spoke with numerous local news outlets.
On August 26, 2009, police released photos based on a credible Kayla sighting. Surveillance footage showed a girl who resembled Kayla getting out of a Ford Taurus outside a local Wal-Mart and then leaving in a black pickup truck not long after. However, upon Hope reviewing the footage, she deemed the girl to not be her missing daughter.
As days passed and Kayla still hadn’t returned home, rumours began to spread regarding what could have possibly happened to her. These were difficult for her friends and family to hear.
In an attempt to find Kayla, investigators did an extensive search across the road from the house where she’d allegedly been dropped off. The home was across the street from the Colonial Manor Nursing Home and near a lake, which was searched by dive teams and search dogs. The dogs later gave an indication near a nearby pond. However, neither they or the dive teams were unable to uncover any evidence.
Hoping to catch a break, the police worked to verify Kevin’s timeline the night Kayla went missing. He repeatedly told police he went straight home to Deerbrook, Wisconsin after dropping her off, an alibi that was verified by his mother, who recalled seeing him around midnight that night.
Sensing the increased pressure on him, Kevin hired a lawyer.
On October 26, 2009, Kevin was charged with second-degree reckless endangerment in relation to his actions with Kayla on the night she disappeared, specifically the smoking marijuana while driving around. He plead not guilty and on August 8, 2011, a judge dismissed the charges due to a lack of evidence.
Police searched Miguel and Kevin’s cars for forensic evidence. There were spots found in both cars, but tests came back negative. As for their nature, investigators are unable to comment due to the ongoing nature of the investigation. In December 2009, before being released back to both men, the cars were placed in a line-up and searched by cadaver dogs, who were able to pick out Kevin’s. However, there is no proof the scent the dogs hit on is related to Kayla’s disappearance.
Cellphone records from those who knew Kayla were then subpoenaed. Kevin’s records verified that the pair had been talking before he picked her up, but after 9:00pm his cellphone was either shut off or out of batteries, and it wasn’t used again until 2:00pm the next day.
While Miguel’s records corroborated the story he told police, it was discovered that an old cellphone of his had pinged off a tower in Lincoln County, about 40 miles north of Wausau, on the night of Kayla’s disappearance. Two calls were made, but a search of the area near the cellphone towers uncovered nothing. This prompted police to want to reinterview Miguel, but he denied their request, citing he felt harassed by both them and Kayla’s family.
On March 29, 2010, police called in the National Guard to fly over places of interest using thermal imaging, but no abnormalities were found.
Police have investigated human trafficking gangs in Mexico and filtered through known sex offenders in Wisconsin and surround states, but came up empty.
Cadaver and search dogs were brought back to look through the woods, fields and potential places of interest over a dozen searches. On two occasions, they hinted at something at two properties linked to Kevin: his parents’ property and the farm where he worked. However, they were unable to uncover enough evidence to link either scent to Kayla.
The FBI has offered a $20,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those involved in Kayla’s case.
Kevin refused to take a polygraph test offered by the FBI and instead later took one from a private firm, which he claims he passed. The nature of the test and the questions asked have never been publicly released.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children distributed flyers featuring an age-progression photo of Kayla. This led to a tip being called in from Louisville, Kentucky, where a woman reported her daughter-in-law as potentially being Kayla. She was a waitress of about Kayla’s age who was said to have a suspicious background. She also resembled the age-progression photo that was being passed around. However, she proved not to be the missing girl.
Police followed up on tips from across the United States. One stated she was back in Texas, working at a gas station, while another said she was hiding out in Boston, Massachusetts.
On October 8, 2016, a YouTube video from October 2009 was sent in to the Antigo Police Department, which featured a male subject who had tied up a girl in his basement. It had been anonymously uploaded to YouTube and the girl strongly resembled Kayla. It hadn’t reached the eyes of detectives until going viral in 2016.
The FBI got involved in order to track down who had created the video and it was shared by numerous news outlets. While the renewed coverage of the case led to numerous tips being called in, three days later it was proven to be a hoax, with those involved being actors who hadn’t even heard about Kayla’s disappearance.
In 2017, Karl’s Transport revealed a trailer that would travel across the United States with Kayla’s image and information on it.
Law enforcement have said they’ll never give up in their efforts to find Kayla. Miguel is currently a person of interest. Kevin has never been charged or named a suspect in her disappearance. However, he’s said to no longer be cooperating with the investigation. There is no evidence of foul play in the case and there haven’t been a lot of clues for investigators to follow up on.
While investigators hope Kayla is alive, they have acknowledged that it’s a slim possibility, given how long she’s been missing.
1) The primary theory held by those who have looked into the case is that Kevin was somehow involved in Kayla’s disappearance. Many have questioned his story, as Kayla could have simply called Miguel for a ride to Wausau if she wanted to visit him. As well, there is the circumstantial evidence police have that points to Kevin’s involvement – the cadaver dog hits and Kevin’s changing story – and his refusal to cooperate with the investigation.
2) The second theory is that Miguel was involved in Kayla’s disappearance, given he refuses to speak with police. There is also the cellphone pings in Lincoln County. However, Kayla’s friends don’t believe Miguel would have harmed her, as he treated her well and the pair were in the midst of mending their relationship.
3) A final theory surrounds the possibility that Kayla was abducted by a stranger. However, both her mother and police don’t believe this to have been the case. In particular, police feel someone acquainted with the missing girl murdered her and hid her body.
In 2011, Kayla’s father passed away, believing she would one day return home. Hope still holds on to the belief her daughter is alive and will eventually be found.
Kayla’s disappearance broke down Jimmy and Kevin’s friendship.
At their high school graduation, Kayla’s classmates wore bracelets in her memory.
On each anniversary of the disappearance, Kayla’s loved ones release balloons in her memory. They have her name printed on them and contain inserts with her information.
The recent abduction and subsequent rescue of missing 13-year-old Jayme Closs in Wisconsin has led to a renewed focus on Kayla’s case and a sense that she might still be alive.
CASE CONTACT INFORMATION:
Kayla Berg went missing from Wausau, Wisconsin on August 11, 2009. She was 15 years old and was last seen wearing a red spaghetti-strap top, a dark blue hooded sweatshirt, blue jeans, tan low-heeled sandals and a silver ring necklace. At the time of her disappearance, she was 5’2″ and weighed approximately 108 pounds. She has brown hair and brown eyes, and has the following scars: one on her right shin, small chicken pox scars on her right cheek and the right side of her nose, and appendectomy scars on her abdomen. Her naval is pierced and her ears are double-pierced, with the second piercing on her right ear being higher up.
Currently, the case is classified as endangered missing. If alive, she would be 25 years old.
If you have any information regarding the case, you can contact the Antigo Police Department at 715-627-6411.
Image Credit: CNN