How an Amateur Diver Became a True-Crime Sensation

For most of his life, Leisek had chafed at hierarchies and rules. “I don’t deal well with having stupid people be in charge,” he told me. Now he’d stumbled into a niche where his preference for working outside official channels seemed to be an advantage. On one search, when A.W.P. recovered a body that several

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For most of his life, Leisek had chafed at hierarchies and rules. “I don’t deal well with having stupid people be in charge,” he told me. Now he’d stumbled into a niche where his preference for working outside official channels seemed to be an advantage. On one search, when A.W.P. recovered a body that several other dive teams had failed to retrieve, the local sheriff appeared impressed. “The thing about me is I don’t have all the red tape,” Leisek told him. As civilians, the A.W.P. crew didn’t have to get clearance from higher-ups, or complete a stack of paperwork, or follow standard procedures when they conducted a search.

Other divers sometimes criticized A.W.P. for being inexperienced and prone to risk-taking. As the host of a popular diving podcast reviewed a video of Leisek training Bishop, he cautioned listeners, “If you think that it wasn’t a big deal for them, so you can now do this, and you can dive deeper, and you can introduce new gear . . . without the proper training, you’re wrong, you’re wrong.” He added, “It’s extremely dangerous, and I don’t advocate any of this.”

“I come from the world of practice makes perfect,” Leisek told me. “People will say, ‘You’re not certified as a rescue diver, you’re not certified to go below sixty feet.’ I tell them to go pound sand.”

A.W.P. eventually had eighteen employees. By then, the group owned two R.V.s, one parked on each coast, which towed trailers wrapped in custom A.W.P. skins and filled with two hundred and twenty thousand dollars’ worth of diving gear, some of it donated by sponsors. Professional videographers filmed the searches using gimbals, GoPros, and drones.

On long drives, Leisek would sometimes talk about his rough childhood: how he’d temporarily dropped out of high school to work at the same mill as his father; how he’d briefly been homeless and eaten out of dumpsters; how he’d gone years without speaking to his parents. But, as he told it, the story arc always bent upward, toward triumph. He was still married to his high-school sweetheart; he’d repaired his relationship with his parents; and his work with A.W.P. was bringing him both money and attention. “Now I’m in Rolling Stone, I’m on ‘Dr. Phil,’ I’m a hero to the world,” he told me. Leisek liked to dispense business and relationship advice to his team. “He was always talking about mentorship,” a former employee said. “When people quit, he’d be, like, ‘O.K., but just know, this means you’re not going to receive any more of my mentorship.’ ” Travelling with the group meant adapting to Leisek’s relentless pace and his “no nonsense, no patience” approach, as the employee put it: working on a case during the day, leaving as soon as the vehicle was pulled from the water, and then driving all night to the next site. During a six-week road trip, they might conduct thirty different searches. The rush was either to locate more “loved ones” or to capture more views; the two missions were intertwined.

After A.W.P. located Carey Mae Parker’s car, a dive team from the Texas Department of Public Safety came to look for her body. Compared with A.W.P., the state team’s search seemed perfunctory. “We had to watch from a very far distance, and there was no engagement whatsoever,” Brandy said. “We couldn’t ask anybody questions.” The state team left after a few hours, without having found Parker. (The Texas Department of Public Safety did not respond to a request for comment, but the Hunt County Sheriff’s Office said the team had followed standard procedure.) Leisek, incensed, returned to Lake Tawakoni, along with Bishop and a handful of others.

On a bright, windy morning, Leisek and Bishop stretched lines across a section of the lake marked with buoys, so that they could search in a grid pattern. Within two days, they found a jawbone, a femur, a sacrum, and fragments of spine. Right before Leisek left, as he hugged Brandy, he dropped something into her hand: the necklace her mother had been wearing on the day she died. “I know he probably broke some rules there,” Brandy said. “All the evidence was supposed to go to the crime lab. But it was one of the kindest things anyone has ever done for me.”

Brandy understood the bargain she was entering into by reaching out to A.W.P. “At this point, millions of people have seen me cry, and that makes me extremely uncomfortable,” she said. “But, at the same time, that’s what gets people invested.”

Last February, A.W.P. was working on a case in Florida when Leisek left abruptly, without explanation. A couple of months later, he filmed himself sitting in a dim living room. “My heart is just, like, pounding out of my chest right now,” he said. “I’m not here to give you a polished video today, you know. I’m simply here to talk about me, my vulnerabilities.” In the next hour, Leisek discussed his depression, got choked up, reminisced about past cases, and gave away merchandise. It was unclear what had triggered the video. His viewers were unsettled, but their concerns were overshadowed a few months later, when A.W.P.’s in-box was inundated with messages about a case that was unfolding in Truckee, California. Just before midnight on August 5th, a sixteen-year-old named Kiely Rodni had texted her mother to say that she would soon be heading home from a graduation party at a campground near Prosser Reservoir. Her cell phone pinged near the reservoir at about 12:3src A.M., then went dark. She hadn’t been heard from since.

Rodni was young, white, and pretty, and her absence led to fervid speculation online. Her friends—and particularly her ex-boyfriend—were pegged as suspects, with teen-age partying and romantic drama magnified into motives for murder. “There’s something really stinking rotten horrible going on with this Kiely Rodni case. There is a coverup, and I believe it’s among the friends,” a TikToker said, citing “body language” as evidence. “Why does your face look like that when talking about your friend you are ‘so close’ with?” another asked. According to one unfounded rumor, Rodni had been killed as part of a teen-age fight club; another held that she’d been sold to a sex-trafficking ring.

Previously, A.W.P. had focussed on cold cases. Becoming involved in a high-profile, active investigation was an opportunity to expand its reach. Law enforcement had already searched Prosser Reservoir, but that didn’t dissuade Leisek. “If she’s under water, in my opinion they just don’t have the skills,” he said.

A team, led by Doug Bishop, set out for California. On their way to Truckee, a fan flagged them down in a Best Buy parking lot and told them that he might have a lead in the case. He worked for a roadside-assistance company, he said, and he had recently been dispatched to the Truckee area to help a young couple whose car wouldn’t start. The interaction had left him uneasy. The woman had seemed distressed, and he’d wondered if she’d had a rough day, or was very hungover. As soon as he took the car out of neutral and put it in park, it started just fine. After he left, he called his girlfriend and told her how strange the encounter had been. It was only later, after seeing Rodni’s picture on a flyer, that he wondered whether he’d actually met her around the time she went missing.

The A.W.P. team pulled into Truckee two weeks after Rodni disappeared. Her impish grin smiled out from thousands of flyers posted on stop signs, store windows, and bulletin boards. The crew started the search at a lake, then went to a reservoir near where the roadside-assistance driver claimed he’d encountered the mysterious couple. Finding nothing, they turned their attention to Prosser Reservoir. As a cameraman filmed Bishop, he cruised the reservoir in an inflatable boat and read aloud a message from an unnamed local source who hinted that Rodni’s disappearance might have a “more sinister” explanation: “Something bad happened and all the kids’ parents told them not to get involved.”

“I feel the same way!” Bishop said to the camera.

Fifty-five feet from shore, in another boat, Nick Rinn peered at a rectangular shape on the sonar screen. It looked like a boat, or possibly a car. “Hey, Doug,” Rinn’s cameraman radioed Bishop. “We may have something. It’s hard to tell.”

That day, Rodni’s father and grandfather were at Prosser Reservoir with Steve Fischer, a private investigator. They had heard rumors of A.W.P.’s arrival, but no one in the group had spoken to anyone in the family. As they stood on a hill overlooking the water, Fischer’s colleague called to tell them that A.W.P. had just announced on Facebook that it had found Rodni’s Honda CR-V in the reservoir, with her body inside.

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