While Petito was ultimately found, hundreds of thousands of people go missing each year and many of their families are still desperately searching for answers, as the year winds down with no signs of them. Here are six unsolved cases that have confounded investigators and left loved ones frustrated by their disturbing disappearances.
Five-year-old Summer Wells vanished from her home in Hawkins County, Tennessee, on June 15. Six months later, her case “remains unsolved,” according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigations.
Hawkins County Sheriff Ronnie Lawson told WJHL that his department has done “everything humanly possible” to scrub the mountainous area around the Wells’ home in search of the little girl.
In late June, investigators said they were looking for the driver of a Toyota pickup truck that was spotted in the area around the time that Summer vanished, but months later that driver still remains unidentified.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigations said in an update earlier this month that there was “no evidence that she was abducted,” adding that it was continuing to examine possible “foul play,” or whether the little girl wandered off and got lost in the rough terrain around her house.
Summer’s dad, Don Wells, however, has maintained since his daughter’s disappearance that she was abducted.
“Me and Candus know for a fact that Summer was abducted. We know that,” Don Wells told WJHL in November.
Summer’s older brothers were taken by Child Protective Services in July, WJHL reported, although details surrounding that case remain unclear after a judge issued a gag order.
Last month, Lawson told NewsNation that “everybody that is involved in this case is a person of interest. We have not ruled anyone out.” TBI spokesperson Leslie Earhart said earlier this month that the investigation remains “active and ongoing.”
Tiffany Foster, a mother of three, had recently gotten engaged and was preparing to graduate from Georgia Military College when she went missing earlier this year.
The 35-year-old was last seen at her apartment in Newnan, Georgia, on March 1, and was reported missing when she didn’t show up for a class the following day. Foster subsequently missed work and then a flight to Texas on March 11.
Investigators found Foster’s car in College Park, Georgia, on March 8, roughly 30 miles from her home. Her purse and keys were found in the vehicle, but Foster was nowhere to be seen.
According to the Coweta County Sheriff’s Office, Foster’s fiancé, Reginald Robertson, was arrested in April in connection with an incident that predated her disappearance and was charged with kidnapping and aggravated assault. Robertson said during a press conference in March that he spoke to her when she was going to run an errand and the next thing he knew “she was gone, just like that.”
In September, the Coweta County Sheriff’s Office announced that it had increased its reward to $60,000.
Foster’s sister, Kimberly Brian, said Tiffany’s disappearance has “devastated” her family, including her three kids, ages 10 to 17. “As you can imagine no child should have to worry about where their mother is,” Brian said during the press conference last month.
Coweta County Sheriff’s Office Investigator Scott Kilgore recently told The Daily Beast that he does not have further information to release on the case.
Maya Millete, 39, disappeared the same day she was scheduled to meet with a divorce attorney after a tumultuous year with the father of her three children, Larry Millete, whom she married in Honolulu, Hawaii, at just 19.
Her husband has since been charged in her murder, although her remains have never been found despite weekly searches over the past 11 months by volunteers.
According to an arrest warrant affidavit obtained by local outlets, the couple had been having marital problems for at least a year, citing a report alleging that Larry had “choked Maya until she passed out.”
San Diego District Attorney Summer Stephan said in October that in an effort to hold onto Maya, Larry had “resorted to contacting what are called spellcasters.”
Larry’s internet history revealed “hundreds” of emails to spellcasters pleading with them to make his wife fall back in love with him, investigators said.
During an emotional press conference following Millete’s arrest in October, the missing woman’s sister expressed anguish over the revelation that the sole “person of interest” identified by Chula Vista police in the case had been the love of her sister’s life.
“It’s hard to go against family,” Maricris Drouaillet said, fighting back tears. “He’s been with us for 20 years. My sister did love him. She gave him three kids.”
A gun violence restraining order was issued against Larry Millete after he was found to be in possession of a pile of illegal weapons, according to court documents.
Larry Millete remains in custody without bail and has denied involvement in his wife’s disappearance, pleading not guilty to charges in connection with her murder in October.
Ella Mae Begay
Mystery continues to swirl around the disappearance of Ella Mae Begay, who was 63 years old when she vanished from her home in Sweetwater, Arizona, in June. Begay, a Navajo woman and master rug weaver, disappeared “under suspicious circumstances,” according to an Instagram post from the advocacy group Missing and Murdered Indigenous People & Families.
Begay’s silver Ford pickup truck was seen leaving her home in the wee hours of the morning on June 15, police said. She was reported missing along with her truck to the Navajo Nation Police Department hours later.
“My mom is never the type to just leave in the middle of the night,” her son, Gerald Begay, told the Arizona Republic. “That’s where I believe that she was taken.”
Two days into their search, Navajo Nation police identified Preston Tolth as a person of interest in the disappearance. He was arrested on unrelated charges for battery but little evidence has surfaced to help investigators track Begay down.
Search teams fanned out across northern Arizona and into San Juan County, Utah, based on leads they received after she disappeared from her home during the night, her son Gerald Begay told the Salt Lake Tribune in July.
Meanwhile, Begay’s relatives say they’ve been frustrated over a lack of transparency from law enforcement.
“I don’t understand. I don’t understand how I’m supposed to sit back all these days. They just say we’re investigating, we’re investigating,” her niece, Seraphine Warren, told KOB4 in July. “Give us a time frame or just something, so we can look forward to that day.”
Warren walked more than 150 miles from her aunt’s home in Sweetwater to Window Rock, Arizona, to draw attention to her aunt’s story and the cases of other missing and murdered Indigenous people.
Months later, Warren’s hopes for her aunt’s reappearance are waning, according to KSAZ.
“It’s just getting harder to have any more hope that she’s still alive,” Warren told the outlet last month.
Begay’s disappearance is now classified as a homicide, KSAZ reported.
The Navajo Police Department referred Begay’s case to the Navajo Department of Criminal Investigation and FBI Phoenix Field Office shortly after her disappearance. FBI Phoenix spokesperson Kevin Smith declined to comment to The Daily Beast on details about the case which he said remains “active.”
“I will say that the FBI continues to assist the Navajo Police Department and other agencies to find Ella Mae Begay and we encourage anyone who may have information to contact law enforcement,” he wrote in a statement.
Heidi Planck, a California mom, hasn’t been seen since Oct. 17, as she was leaving her son’s football game. The 39-year-old was reported missing by her ex-husband three days later when she didn’t pick her son up from school.
“Our 11-year-old boy needs to know what has happened to his mom,” Planck’s former spouse, Jim Wayne, told KABC last month.
Video from the fateful last day she was seen shows Planck walking down an alley near a high-rise in downtown Los Angeles, where her dog was later found wandering on the 28th floor. It remains unclear whether Planck knew anyone who lived in the building.
According to KTLA, Wayne believes his ex-wife’s disappearance could be linked to her work at Camden Capital Partners, where her boss has been charged for his alleged role in a $43 million tribal bonds scheme.
The Los Angeles Police Department said forensic evidence found in the building suggests an incident leading to Planck’s death took place there, although her remains have not been found.
The case shifted into a robbery-homicide investigation on Oct. 29 and LAPD detectives have since said they were searching for Planck’s remains in the Chiquita Canyon Landfill in Castaic, California—roughly 40 miles from where she was last seen.
On Nov. 29, Los Angeles investigators set out hoping “to excavate a specific area of the landfill, manually search it for human remains, and collect any related evidence,” according to a copy of the search warrant obtained by KABC.
Earlier this month, the department asked for patience as it continues the painstaking operation, adding that it had looked over “more than 1,000 tons of waste and debris” and that the operation had been extended due to “unforeseen weather events.”
Without a clear end in sight, the department told The Daily Beast that the landfill search remains ongoing.
Daniel Robinson, a 24-year-old geologist from Scottsdale, Arizona, was driving a blue Jeep when he went missing after leaving a job site in the desert on the morning of June 23.
His dad reported him missing later that evening and the following day Buckeye police began a search of the area. It wasn’t until weeks later, on July 19, that Robinson’s SUV was finally found crashed in a ravine less than three miles from the job site with some of his personal belongings inside, police said.
Buckeye police said last month that a collision report by the firm San Tan Recon revealed that Robinson’s car was involved in a rollover crash. According to the report, Robinson’s Jeep accelerated moments before impact, which investigators said could be signs of a failed attempt to drive up the other side of the ravine. The report also found more than 40 ignition cycles after the crash which suggested possible efforts to restart the vehicle or use the electric system.
Human remains were found in the area last month, but did not match Robinson. The FBI has since been briefed on the case, cops said.
Robinson’s family meanwhile continues to conduct desert searches to look for him and hired an independent investigator.
That investigator, Jeff McGrath, told KPNX that the site looked like it had been carefully orchestrated.
“This looked like a stage event to me. After the airbags came out, somebody turned that ignition over at least 46 more times,” McGrath told the outlet. “There’s an additional 11 miles on the car so that tells me the car was driven around after the crash.”
According to Buckeye police, the firm conducting the crash analysis said the discrepancy between the crash data report and the displayed odometer was “not considered unusual.”
David Robinson wrote in a Change.org petition that he believed his son’s disappearance “should be changed to a criminal investigation,” since McGrath’s findings showed “a possible crime had occurred.”
“To date, there have been no warrants sought for my son,” Robinson wrote. “The Buckeye Police Department refuses to change its theory and wants to continue in a missing person direction.”
Carissa Planalp, a spokesperson from the Buckeye Police Department, recently told The Daily Beast that police had briefed the FBI about Robinson’s disappearance and the agency “said that they would not be opening an adjoining case.”
“It’s heartbreaking and we understand that Daniel’s father is desperate to find his son and we are doing our best to do that,” she said, adding that the case remained open and active and that a move to investigate the case criminally would depend on evidence pointing to another person being responsible for Daniel’s disappearance. “Right now the evidence doesn’t point to that,” she said.