Karlie Gusé was born on May 13, 2002 to parents Lindsay Fairley and Zachary Gusé. When she was a toddler, her parents divorced and she would soon have a third parent in her life, stepmother Melissa Gusé. Her family also consisted of two younger brothers, who were aged 9 and 10 around the time of her disappearance.
In August 2018, Karlie moved with her father and stepmother to Chalfant, California, a rural community of about 650 people just east of the Sierra Nevada, between Yosemite National Park and the state of Nevada. Given its size, many work and attend school in the nearby town of Bishop, just 14 miles away. The Gusé family lived on Ponderosa Street, near White Mountain Estate Road. At the time, Lindsay had relocated to Yerington, Nevada, approximately 160 miles from Chalfant and Karlie, wanting to remain close to her friends, decided to stay with Zachary, despite Lindsay having been granted physical custody of her daughter.
When Karlie wasn’t attending classes at Bishop Union High School, she worked a part-time job at the title company Melissa worked for as an escrow assistant. Those who knew her described her as a fun-loving and sweet girl who had a great sense of humour. Despite her quiet and introverted nature, she was popular amongst her classmates and was well-liked by many within the school community.
LEAD UP TO DISAPPEARANCE:
Around the time of her disappearance, Karlie was dealing with the repercussions of having been suspended from school as a result of her having been caught using marijuana on campus. Given her grades were also plummeting, she was forced to attend counselling, which seemed to help get her marks back on track.
In the days before her disappearance, her friends say she was experiencing “episodes” and was worried someone was tracking her via her cellphone. However, both Melissa and Lindsay have said they themselves did not observe any unusual behaviour.
On the evening of October 12, 2018, Karlie asked Melissa if she could attend a football game at the high school, but had actually planned on going to a house party with her boyfriend. Unaware of her stepdaughter’s real motives, Melissa granted her permission. At around 8:00pm, Melissa called and asked if she needed a ride home from the game, but was reassured by Karlie that her boyfriend would be driving her home.
The events after this phone call are the result of information gleamed from Karlie’s parents and those who were at the party. According to attendees, Karlie began to panic and became frantic, and is said to have been near impossible to console. At 8:30pm, she called Melissa and asked her to pick her up from the trailer park where the party was being held, saying, “Never mind, hurry up. I changed my mind – come get me. I’m booking it down Dixon Lane. Hurry! Hurry! I’m scared.” Worried, Melissa drove to the area, noting that Karlie hadn’t wanted to get off the phone and had been adamant about being picked up as soon as possible.
When Melissa arrived at the trailer park, she found her stepdaughter was no where to be found. While searching the area, she spotted a small light and found Karlie almost a mile away, running down the street and using her cellphone to guide her way. When she spotted Melissa, she jumped in the car and told her she was very scared, an emotion that was echoed in her face, which Melissa described as having been ghost-like and with dilated pupils. Throughout the drive home, Karlie vocalized her fear that the car would kill her and she changed seats numerous times.
By the time they’d returned, Zachary was home from work. According to both he and Melissa, Karlie was still acting erratically, huddling frantically in a corner one minute, then telling them how much she loved them the next. She was particularly afraid of her cellphone and of her parents getting close to her. When asked what was wrong, she was unable to tell them, saying she didn’t know herself.
To try and calm Karlie down, Melissa served her dinner, a salad which she referred to as the “devil’s lettuce”. While her frantic behaviour had died down, she still appeared anxious, disoriented and paranoid, and she eventually admitted to having smoked weed while at the party. This led Zachary to believe she may have had an adverse reaction to the drug, as she hadn’t smoked in some time, but both he and Melissa felt she wasn’t in immediate danger and did not drive her to the hospital.
After dinner, Melissa and Karlie spent time in her bedroom, painting their toenails, colouring and reading from the Bible. While Karlie had calmed down, she was still acting out of the ordinary, so Melissa took out her own cellphone and began to secretly record her, with the intention of showing her stepdaughter how she acted when high. In the 8 minute and 45 second video, Karlie can be heard saying she didn’t want to sleep, in case she was killed, and she asks Melissa if she would call 911 if something bad happened to her. After the video was recorded, the pair spent a while chatting, between 10:30pm and 3:00am, before both falling asleep.
The family’s movements on the morning of October 13, 2018 have been placed under intense scrutiny, after Melissa admitted to Dateline NBC and Dr. Phil that she’d lied about her initial actions. Initially, she’d said she’d gone about her usual routine, waking up at 5:45am and getting the kids ready for school. However, when she’d opened Karlie’s door, she found she was not in her bed and that Zachary hadn’t seen her that morning.
The actual version of events is as follows: at 5:48am, Melissa awoke briefly to see Karlie was lying awake next to her, and fell back to sleep. Between 7:15am and 7:30am, she awoke to find Karlie was gone and that the front door was slightly ajar. Worried, she and Zachary spent two hours driving around White Mountain Estates and the surrounding desert, thinking Karlie had simply gone for a walk to clear her head. Unable to locate her, Zachary called Lindsay in Nevada, who in turn told him to contact the authorities. The time was 9:35am.
With no immediate indication of abduction or a physical description of a vehicle, no Amber Alert was sent out in regards to Karlie’s disappearance. Due to the remote area of Chalfant and the limited resources available to the Mono County Sheriff’s Office, the FBI and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children were brought in to assist those working on the case.
When investigators visited the home, they found no indication of forced entry. Karlie had left behind all of her personal belongings, including her cellphone, glasses and what money she had. The FBI combed her cellphone and social media accounts and found a text to her boyfriend, which indicated she believed the weed she’d smoked at the party had been laced with something. This has led them to believe she could have still been feeling the effects of the drug when she went missing.
Three possible sightings were brought to the attention of authorities. A neighbour and retired motorcycle officer with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office recalled seeing a thin female with long hair walk by his house on Ponderosa Street with a piece of paper in her hand. Another neighbour who lives down the street on White Mountain Estates Road, west of Ponderosa Street, claimed to have seen Karlie during this time, also with a paper in her hand. Finally, a third witness who was cutting firewood saw a girl fitting Karlie’s description in the vicinity of US Highway 6, standing behind a barbed-wire fence. As such, investigators were able to determine she was likely last seen walking south toward the highway, approximately 30 yard east of it and 100 yards south of Sierra View Road.
Some online sleuths have speculated that the girl seen by these witnesses was, in fact, Melissa and not Karlie. There has been no evidence found to substantiate these claims, as there are no security cameras on the exterior of the home, nor are there any gas stations or other markers in the vicinity with their own cameras.
A family friend has shared that Karlie had never given any indication that she wanted to run away or that she was involved in anything more sinister.
A week-long search was conducted by the Sheriff’s Office, involving helicopters, searchers on horseback and off-road vehicles, and cadaver dogs. A total of 60 police personnel were involved and were aided by search and rescue teams, who helped comb the surrounding area and Bishop. On October 25, the efforts were officially suspended, but that did not stop private search parties from setting out to search the high desert and White Mountains. Throughout the course of the searches, Melissa would provide live stream updates via Facebook.
Posters with Karlie’s image and description were put up in grocery stores, gas stations, on light posts and in diners across eastern California. A week after she went missing, the Sheriff’s Office set up a checkpoint along Highway 6, and while 50 people shared they’d driven through the area on October 13, none recalled seeing anyone matching her description walking along or near the road.
In December 2018, bloody underwear was found near some coyote scat. It was collected for testing, but was not sent to the right facility and was instead delivered to the California Department of Justice. The Sheriff’s Office has since stated they do not believe the underwear to be linked to the case.
There have been reported sightings of Karlie in California and Nevada, but none of them turned out to be her.
In January 2019, 18-year-old Jaymes Dulin plead guilty to contributing to the delinquency of a minor in relation to Karlie’s use of weed at the party the night before she disappeared. He’d initially been arrested on allegations that he provided the weed to her.
As of publishing, the case is still being investigated as a missing persons case due to the lack of evidence that a crime occurred. Investigators do not currently have a theory as to what happened and, as such, are open to all possibilities. Although their tip line has received numerous calls, there have been no viable leads. Given the lack of evidence or direction, no one has been cleared of involvement and no one has been charged in relation to the case.
A private investigator who was hired by Lindsay has said the Sheriff’s Office has not followed proper protocol when investigating Karlie’s disappearance, citing the fact they didn’t take her bedding for analysis. They also did not search through the family’s cars.
Lindsay fears her daughter may have overdosed on the night she went missing, while Melissa believes she was abducted. Lindsay recalls a chat she had with her daughter, where she asked about LSD. This has led her to suspect she took the drug and was high that night. She feels Melissa awoke to find Karlie had died in the night, this given her lack of credibility, as she’s shared “four or five stories” about the events of that night. Melissa denies this and any involvement in Karlie’s disappearance.
1) The theory provided by Lindsay and many online sleuths is that Karlie died as a result of a drug overdose. Many feel she never made it out of the house alive, and some have noted that Karlie’s erratic behaviour could not have solely been the result of her having smoked weed. This leads into Lindsay’s belief that her daughter had taken a stronger drug, possibly LSD, which would explain her behaviour and strange thoughts on the night she went missing.
As aforementioned, there is no evidence Karlie died in the family home, and given the lack of a body and suspects, it’s difficult to say if this is what occurred.
2) A popular theory in the case, and one that has been suggested by Melissa and Zachary, is that Karlie was kidnapped, most likely while walking along Highway 6. During an interview with the Gusé family, Dr. Phil speculated that she may have been picked up by human traffickers while walking along the highway, meaning there is a possibility she could still be alive, but forced to work in prostitution.
3) A final theory states that Karlie’s disappearance is related to that of Madelyn Lingenfelter, who went missing from Reno, Nevada on September 19, 2018. There is no evidence to support this theory, as Madelyn’s body was eventually located and her cause of death deemed a suicide.
Karlie’s disappearance has been featured twice on the Dr. Phil show, with her mother, father and stepmother all making appearances. The case has also been covered on the Crime Stories With Nancy Grace podcast.
Throughout the course of the investigation, the family has been subjected to ridicule and cruel comments by those online who believe Melissa and Zachary had something to do with the disappearance.
At the beginning of every football game at Bishop Union High School, the announcer reminds attendees to keep Karlie in their thoughts and prayers.
Lindsay has kept up a constant stream of social media posts in an effort to keep awareness of the case in the public eye. She has pleaded for anyone with information to come forward and report what they know to authorities.
CASE CONTACT INFORMATION:
Karlie Lain Gusé went missing from Chalfant, Mono County, California in the early hours of October 13, 2018. She was 16 years old and is believed to have been wearing a white t-shirt, Vans shoes, and either dark grey sweatpants or a pair of skinny jeans. It has been noted she was not dressed for the harsh elements of the surrounding desert. At the time of her disappearance, she stood at 5’7″ and weighed 110 pounds. She has brown hair and blue eyes, and her left nostril is pierced.
Currently, her case is classified as endangered missing. If alive, she would 18 years old.
Those with information are asked to contact the Mono County Sheriff’s Office at either 760-932-7549 or 760-932-5678. Tips can also be called into the Sacramento Office of the FBI at 916-746-7000.
Image Credit: NBC News 4