The Disappearance of Kortne Stouffer

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EARLY LIFE:

Kortne Stouffer was born on April 24, 1991 to parents Wendy and Scott Stouffer. A member of a large family, she grew up on a 10-acre farm just outside of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Despite her parents divorcing in 2005, the family remained a unified group, with Scott and Wendy setting aside their differences for the good of their children.

Kortne was someone who wanted to experience everything life had on offer. Her confidence and feistiness resulted in a strong competitive nature that was only fuelled by her love for being the center of attention. She adored animals and often spent her free time either outdoors, travelling or with her family. She also had a knack for the arts, with a love for telling stories, dancing and singing.

After finishing high school, Kortne worked part-time at her father’s recycling equipment firm, Stouffer Equipment. Instead of attending college, she decided to follow in her mother’s footsteps and obtained a position at a local beauty salon, where she worked on and off as a hairstylist. This position helped her when she moved into animal grooming, a job she loved, as she found it was easier to work with animals than with other humans.

Kortne also adopted a new “hippy” lifestyle after graduating. It was a way for her to better express herself and her artistic personality, and those around her say she appeared more happy and peaceful. She also began smoking marijuana around this time, a habit her parents disapproved of, especially given the crowd she’d begun to hang around with. As such, she made a point of never smoking when around them.

When Kortne was 20 years old, she fell in love with 19-year-old Brad Herr. He was the complete opposite of the loud and bubbly girl, bringing to the relationship a more quiet and reserved nature. According to her parents, this was the first time Kortne had ever felt that way about someone, and the pair moved in together just nine months later. They rented an apartment at 810 West Main Street in downtown Palmyra, Pennsylvania, just a 10-minute drive from her childhood home.

LEAD UP TO DISAPPEARANCE:

On the evening of July 28, 2012, Kortne was hosting a party at her apartment. At around 9:30pm, police showed up after a neighbour contacted them about the presence of alcohol at the gathering. As Brad was on probation at the time for driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol, he had been barred from consuming alcohol and was taken into custody for violating his probation.

Brad’s arrest worried Kortne, who feared he’d be incarcerated for the remainder of his probation. She called her mother at 9:54pm to express her concerns. Wendy asked if she wanted to come stay at her house, but Kortne declined the offer. After speaking with Wendy, Kortne contacted 29-year-old Cody Pruett, an acquaintance who worked at the nearby racetrack. It was common knowledge that Cody had a crush on Kortne, but the feelings were not reciprocated. During the call, the pair arranged to meet at a nearby bar, where they got drinks. According to Cody, she appeared very distraught and wanted to blow off some steam. Eventually, the pair met up with Cody’s friend, Milton Rodriguez, and another couple. The group packed into Milton’s car and travelled to Harrisburg, where they ended up grabbing drinks at the Hardware Bar on Second Street.

As the night went on, Kortne’s anger, fuelled by her drinking, continued to grow. She got into an argument with the couple, saying the male individual had broken into her apartment a few months prior and stolen money. The commotion resulted in security asking Kortne to leave the establishment. While she was forced to leave, the rest of the group stayed behind.

At around 2:00am on the morning of July 29, Kortne texted Cody and Milton to ask that they take her home. The group drove back to Palmyra, with Cody dropping Milton off at his residence before agreeing to drop off Kortne. Believing she was okay to drive, Kortne requested Cody drop her off at the bar they’d been at earlier, so she could pick up her car. Despite feeling she was too intoxicated to drive, Cody agreed, but followed her to her apartment to ensure she got home safely.

Kortne and Cody arrived at her apartment at around 3:00am. While walking up to the building, Kortne spotted her neighbours and got into an argument with them, as she believed they’d been the ones to call the cops earlier. This resulted in the police being called to the scene around 3:30am. Upon seeing that everyone had been drinking, they asked them to return to their units and got to bed, while also threatening to make arrests should they be called back. According to Cody, he and Kortne entered her apartment at around 3:50am.

Approximately 10 minutes later, another neighbour heard loud banging coming from Kortne’s unit, which led him to call the police back to the scene. However, when they arrived at 4:12am, they found everything was quiet. One of the officers approached Kortne’s door and knocked, but upon no one answering assumed things had fizzled out. It was at this point that they left.

DISAPPEARANCE:

The next day, the entire community of Palmyra came together for the Lebanon County Fair. Kortne and her brother were to attend with their grandfather, as was tradition. Unfortunately, Kortne did not show, nor did she return any of Wendy’s calls.

When July 30 came around, Wendy began to worry about her daughter’s seemingly radio silence. She contacted her son, to ask if Kortne had been at the County Fair the previous day, only to be told she hadn’t been in attendance.

After speaking with him, Wendy drove to Kortne’s apartment, where she saw her car, which had its windows down. While this struck her as strange, she didn’t think too much of it. She then proceeded to the apartment, finding the door unlocked and the outside light on. When she entered, nothing struck her as out of place. Kortne’s keys had been thrown on the ground, as was common, and her shoes were in the area of the apartment where Kortne normally removed them. However, further investigation would cause alarm. Not only had Kortne’s beloved dog seemingly not been let out in at least a day, her purse and cellphone had been left behind, with the phone showing 18 missed calls. The television and the A/C had also been left on.

Hoping to figure out her daughter’s whereabouts, Wendy contacted everyone Kortne had recently communicated with via her cellphone. Everyone she spoke with had no information regarding Kortne’s whereabouts and appeared stunned that she’d left without informing anyone she would be away.

Wendy then contacted Scott, who immediately drove over to Kortne’s apartment. While looking through her phone, he discovered her texts to Cody, so he called him to ask for his help in finding her. Cody recounted the events of July 28, saying that he’d entered the apartment in an attempt to calm Kortne down and that they’d fallen asleep not long after. He hadn’t awoken until 7:15am the next day, when he discovered Kortne was no longer in bed. Before heading to the racetrack, he’d stopped at a local convenience store, where he texted Kortne. He’d also called Milton at this time, as he was still in possession of his friend’s vehicle.

By mid-day, Kortne’s parents were fearing the worst. They contacted the Palmyra Borough Police Department and were asked to come down to the station the next day to file a missing persons report. While they waited, they stayed at Kortne’s apartment, in case she happened to return. During this time, her friends came by to offer their assistance.

When Kortne hadn’t returned by that Tuesday, Wendy and Scott went to the police station to official report her as missing. By 2:25pm, the Palmyra Borough Police Department had issued a missing persons news release.

SEARCH:

Right away, the Palmyra Police Department requested the assistance of the Lebanon County District Attorney’s Office, as it was aware it did not have the resources necessary to handle this type of investigation.

Kortne’s apartment was deemed a potential crime scene. It, along with her vehicle, were processed numerous times with the assistance of various law enforcement agencies, but no evidence of foul play was located. They were also unable to find any indication as to her whereabouts.

Police spoke with her neighbours, but they did not know where she was. According to them, they’d all went to bed after the patrolmen left in the early hours of July 29. Her 44-year-old male neighbour was of particular interest to investigators, given the hostility between him and Kortne. Investigators learnt about a voicemail he’d left with the landlady on the night Kortne went missing, in which he sounded irate, said he wanted the 21-year-old out of the duplex and threatened to take care of the situation himself if nothing was done. Despite this, he claimed to not have any involvement.

Kortne’s family remember him acting strangely around them, as he refused to speak or make eye contact with them. Scott also recalled him taking numerous garbage bags to his car, which he claimed contained debris from a home improvement project. Police searched his trash from that and other days, but found no evidence. They also used cadaver dogs to search his apartment, but that too was a dead end.

Missing posters featuring Kortne’s image and description were put up across Palmyra. They advertised a $5,000 reward offered by Scott, an amount that would eventually rise $100,000 through the generosity of community donations. Around this time, Wendy held a candlelight vigil at the police station, where she and others wore homemade “Kortne come home” tie-dye t-shirts.

A week after the candlelight vigil, the Palmyra Fire Department organized a search, with the aid of community volunteers. Despite combing a 2-mile radius around Kortne’s apartment, no evidence was located.

Kortne’s disappearance made national headlines.

Police looked into Kortne’s circle of friends, especially those with her the night she was last seen. They interviewed those individuals numerous time and administered polygraph examinations. Given the case is still open, the results cannot be publicly released.

Brad was unable to provide much information to help progress the investigation, as he was in police custody at the time. He’s said to have not been very cooperative, but many have chalked this up to his dislike of law enforcement, given his past experiences with them.

Cody’s story and alibi were thoroughly looked into. Investigators visited the convenience store he’d gone to on the morning of July 29 to try and corroborate his story. They located surveillance footage from 7:30am that morning that showed him purchasing food and a drink while texting on his cellphone. His version of events has remain consistent over the course of the investigation

Scott took it upon himself to contact Milton, who appeared nervous. He was vague with his answers and claimed to have no knowledge of what happened to Kortne. Scott shared his impressions of both Milton and Cody with investigators, which led them to obtain search warrants for their apartments and vehicles. Nothing was found during these searches to link them to Kortne’s disappearance, and both men continue to maintain their innocence.

Investigators learnt more details regarding the argument Kortne had gotten into whilst in Harrisburg. More specifically, they learnt the man she’d been arguing with was a known drug dealer. This led them to consider the possibility that Kortne’s drug use could have potentially put her in harm’s way. When brought in for an interview, the man denied any involvement, saying he’d spent the night at his girlfriend’s parents’ house after leaving the bar, an alibi that was substantiated. He also denied having burglarized Kortne’s apartment.

Kortne’s family and friends have conducted numerous searches for her.

In March 2014, a local woman contacted Scott about a conversation she’d overheard between two acquaintances. They’d said they’d killed Kortne while stealing marijuana and money from her apartment, after which they rolled her body into a carpet and threw it into Memorial Lake, approximately 12 miles from her residence. Scott was met with resistance when he brought this information to the attention of the District Attorney’s Office. Investigators had no evidence that Kortne’s body was in the lake, and they felt the woman’s credibility was questionable, as her story changed numerous times. Despite this, Scott wanted the lake search and sought the assistance of the Pennsylvania State Police, who obliged on April 1, 2014. For five hours, they used an underwater camera and sonar gear to search the water, but were unable to find Kortne. The result was the same when a volunteer diver conducted his own search later that spring.

In the fall of 2015, the Stouffer family hired a private investigator named Leah Hopewell.

A Facebook Page has been set up in order to keep awareness alive and share updates about the case. A website has also been created.

The Lebanon County District Attorney is still leading the investigation, with assistance from the FBI. Given the circumstances, the case has been treated as a homicide since the start, and given the lack of evidence, no one has been ruled out as a suspect. They have shared that, while they occasionally receive new tips from Pennsylvania Crime Stoppers, they have little new information or leads to share.

THEORIES:

1) One of the theories in the case is that one of Kortne’s neighbours is responsible for her disappearance and likely murder. This is due to the tension between her and the other residents of the duplex, especially her 44-year-old male neighbour. As aforementioned, he was seen by Scott loading numerous large garbage bags into his vehicle, which many believe could have held Kortne’s remains, and he was acting suspicious when asked about his possible involvement.

Investigators do not believe any of Kortne’s neighbours were involved, as search warrants of their apartments turned up no evidence. The male neighbour’s vehicle was also searched and produced no evidence that would link him to the crime.

2) A private investigator in Florida has brought up the possibility that Kortne may have been the victim of a serial killer operating within Kentucky and surrounding states. According to him, at least 18 women who fit Kortne’s profile had gone missing around the time of Kortne’s disappearance. However, the Palmyra District Attorney does not believe the case is linked to any others, and many have discredited this theory.

3) It’s the Stouffers’ belief that Kortne was abducted on the night she went missing. This would explain the lack of evidence found, as well as the lack of potential sightings.

4) Some online have theorized that Kortne’s disappearance may be related to a suspected drug debt, given her connection to known drug dealers and her marijuana habit. As aforementioned, she had gotten into a verbal argument with a dealer on the night she went missing, accusing him of having broken into her apartment and stealing both money and personal items. Her boyfriend, Brad, was also known to deal in drugs.

It should be noted that investigators have not found any evidence that Kortne owed a debt to any dealers.

AFTERMATH:

Kortne’s family marked the fifth anniversary of her disappearance with a two-day “Peace & One Love Event”, which featured a bonfire, music and the release of paper lanterns at Scott’s residence.

Each year, the family hosts a float on the Swatara Creek in her honour, between Palmyra and Hershey. Floating on the water is said to have been one of Kortne’s favourite activities.

Kortne’s family has kept her belongings, in case she is located alive.

CASE CONTACT INFORMATION:

Kortne Ciera Stouffer went missing from Palmyra, Pennsylvania on July 29, 2012. She was 21 years old, and she was last seen wearing a yellow tank top, black floral-print or fluorescent paint-splattered shorts, a silver class ring and a diamond wedding ring. At the time of her disappearance, she stood at 5’8″ and weighed between 110 and 120 pounds. Her hair, which was in dreadlocks, is long and strawberry blonde, and she has green eyes. Her ears and tongue are pierced, and she has a mole on her right cheek. She has the following tattoos: a handgun with flowers growing out of the barrel on the left side of her abdomen; three stars on the top of her right foot; and “One Love” on her bicep, with the “O” in “One” drawn as a peace sign and the other in “Love” drawn as a heart.

Currently, her case is classified as endangered missing. If alive, she would be 30 years old.

Those with information regarding the case are asked to contact the Lebanon County Detective Bureau at 717-228-4403 ex. 4403 or the Palmyra Borough Police Department at 717-838-8189. Tips can also be called into FBI ViCAP at 1-800-634-4097 or private investigator Leah Hopewell at 717-348-3205.

Those wishing to remain anonymous can contact Lebanon Crime Stoppers at 717-270-9800 or Pennsylvania Crime Stoppers at 1-800-472-8477.

Image Credit: NBC News

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