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In the predawn hours of June 3, 2011, Lauren Spierer, a vivacious, 20-year-old fashion-merchandising major from New York, vanished without a trace from downtown Bloomington. Her disappearance felt like deja vu—a horrible, baffling case of deja vu. A bubbly young Indiana University student, missing. A police department unable to explain why. Crying, frantic parents. And an idyllic college town wracked by one question: How could this happen here, again?
Just a decade earlier, the disappearance of another IU student, Jill Behrman, had traumatized the community and left few leads for investigators; she wasn’t found until a turkey hunter happened upon her remains in a thicket nearly three years later. But unlike Behrman, who went missing while riding her bike down a lonesome country road, Spierer, in her last known moments, wandered along lighted city streets, in a neighborhood busy with student nightlife and festooned with security cameras. She had spent the morning reveling with friends until the point when, at around 4:30 a.m., accounts of her whereabouts suddenly, inexplicably, go silent.
The national media found in Bloomington the same elements that captivated audiences in its coverage of Natalee Holloway’s disappearance: an attractive blonde from a well-off family, and a cast of characters on whom to turn the spotlight. In Spierer’s case, drinking and party-hopping with friends—simple facts of college life on any other day—would assume a sinister aspect when scrutinized in the harsh glare of a missing-person investigation. The police’s reluctance to share information didn’t help; reporters, bloggers, and online message-board trawlers quickly filled the void with leaks, rumors, and gossip—a constant stream of conjecture that, in some ways, has come to overshadow the facts of the case.
Onlookers hungry for any update devoured it all in real time. Indeed, guessing her fate would make for a rousing parlor game, were it not for the heartbroken family and the unlikelihood that a real person—sweet, beautiful, and loved—will ever return alive. “Lauren is such an amazing girl,” says her mother, Charlene. “She doesn’t deserve to have this be her story.”
Now, a year after her disappearance, as the ubiquitous MISSING posters weather away, the police appear to be no closer to locating Spierer. But for her parents, who have spent much of their time in Bloomington since, the will to find her burns as hot as ever. “We still have no idea what happened to Lauren,” says Charlene. “That’s the bottom line.” And what little is known has become muddled with speculation and innuendo. In the following timeline, we separate truth from sensationalism, the important developments from false leads—and decipher how the case became so entangled in the first place.
Spierer, dressed in a white tank top, a white blouse, and black pants, leaves her apartment building, Smallwood Plaza, for a night on the town. She is accompanied by David Rohn, another IU student from her building. The two go to 5 North Townhomes, just a few blocks away from Smallwood, to hang out with friends who live there.
>> ID: David Rohn
Rohn, from Manhattan, attended the exclusive Columbia Grammar and Preparatory School on the Upper West Side. His attorney, Ron Chapman, confirms to IM that Rohn left Smallwood with Spierer, and that surveillance footage shows Rohn returning at about 12:30 a.m., June 3, and remaining there until around 11 that morning. Rohn later took an FBI-administered polygraph test that showed “no deception.”
After walking a few blocks southeast from 5 North Townhomes, Spierer enters Kilroy’s Sports Bar. She shows false identification to get in. (*Date and time from official Bloomington Police Department timeline.)
<< DETAIL: Kilroy’s Sports Bar
With two levels, multiple bars, throbbing music, and a large outdoor patio, “Sports,” at 8th and Walnut streets, is frequented by well-heeled IU students, many from the East Coast, who live in the luxe, recently built apartments northwest of downtown, including Smallwood Plaza at 9th Street and College Avenue, and 5 North Townhomes at 11th and Morton streets.
Spierer leaves Sports without her phone and footwear, and remains shoeless thereafter.
After walking the two blocks from Sports, Spierer arrives at Smallwood. There, she and a companion, later revealed to be Corey Rossman, take an elevator to the fifth floor, where her apartment is located. Before they can get into her unit, someone hits Rossman in the face. The punch leaves him bruised and disoriented. Twelve minutes after arriving, Spierer exits Smallwood through the front door, without having gone to her apartment or putting on another pair of shoes.
>> ID: Corey Rossman
An IU student, Rossman attended high school in an affluent Boston suburb, according to his Facebook profile, and lived at 5 North.. Spierer’s parents tell IM that Rossman became friendly with Lauren a few days earlier, while the two were at the Indianapolis 500.
>> DETAIL: The punch
An attorney for Rossman later told TV reporters that his client might have sustained a concussion from the blow—confirming he was with Spierer—and couldn’t remember why the fight happened or much of what occurred afterward. Who assaulted Rossman, and why, became fertile grounds for conjecture. Reports on the attacker’s identity and possible relationship to Spierer have circulated widely on the Internet, but authorities have never officially confirmed them. “I’d like to know why Corey Rossman didn’t take Lauren to her apartment,” Spierer’s father, Robert, tells IM.
Spierer is captured on video for the last time, walking out of an alley near Smallwood and into an empty lot by 5 North. She shows up on another camera moments before, with someone the police won’t name. (Later, Spierer’s keys and purse will be found along this route.) She ends up at the apartment of Rossman and Mike Beth. (At left: Footage of Spierer at Smallwood earlier in the night.)
>> ID: Mike Beth
Beth’s attorney, Ron Chapman (who also represents Rohn), tells IM that Beth, an IU student, stayed in all night to work on papers due that day. Chapman also confirms that Rossman was with Spierer when she came to the apartment, and that Beth helped Rossman into bed. Valerie Sokolova, a neighbor, tells IM that Beth has said he went upstairs and, when he returned, Spierer was gone. “That was the last time Mike and Corey saw her,” says Sokolova.
According to one bar manager’s account, a “mystery man” throws an intoxicated woman matching Spierer’s description over his shoulder near 10th Street and College Avenue.
>> CLUE: “Mystery man”
The subject of a report originally posted by popular Spierer blogger Tony Gatto and repeated by mainstream news outlets. A police spokesman would later confirm that investigators looked into the bar manager’s account but couldn’t find video evidence to support the witness’s timeline. John Cutter, a private investigator hired by Spierer’s parents, tells IM that his team interviewed the same witness; he believes the woman described was Spierer but he isn’t sure the stated timeframe is accurate.
Rohn, Spierer’s earlier companion, receives a call but doesn’t answer. The Journal News of New York will later report an unconfirmed account from Spierer’s roommate Hadar Tamir, who claims Jason Rosenbaum told her that Spierer used Rosenbaum’s phone to call Rohn because Spierer couldn’t locate her own device.
<< ID: Hadar Tamir
Tamir made frequent appearances in the media soon after the disappearance and, in the absence of details from authorities, she became a popular source of information for reporters. But as public scrutiny of the case intensified, she withdrew from the spotlight. She did not respond to IM’s request for an interview.
>> ID: Jason “Jay” Rosenbaum
An IU student and product of West Bloomfield, Michigan, Rosenbaum lived two doors down from Rossman in 5 North. Chapman confirms to IM that Rohn received a call at 4:15 a.m. and didn't answer, but he will not say who placed the call.
Spierer leaves Rosenbaum after telling him she wants to go home; he watches her head down the sidewalk and turn south on College in the direction of Smallwood. Rosenbaum’s account—later revealed by police and partially confirmed by his attorneys—makes him the last known person to see Spierer. It will later surface that other visitors are staying with Rosenbaum at the time.
>> RUMOR: Visitors
An Internet sleuth later claimed to have seen a tweet that showed Rosenbaum might have been hosting unidentified visitors from Michigan that morning. The tweet, if it did exist, is no longer posted publicly, but reports of it raised questions about what the visitors might know. “There were other people around,” an attorney for Rosenbaum tells IM. “And I believe the police have all their names and information.”
A homeless man reportedly hears a woman scream just west of where Spierer was last seen.
>> CLUE: The scream
Rumors of the scream began circulating shortly after news of Spierer’s disappearance got out. A reporter from the Bloomington Herald-Times later looked into the claim, but it’s not clear whether police ever ran down the tip. Speculation on the man’s identity centered around a well-known Bloomington itinerant named Franklin “Road Dog” Crawford, who died just a few days after Spierer disappeared.
After Spierer’s boyfriend, Jesse Wolff, tries repeatedly to reach Spierer on her phone, an employee at Sports finally contacts him to tell him the phone was left there, Spierer’s parents confirm to IM. Hadar Tamir, Spierer’s roommate, later tells the Journal News that Wolff meets her on campus to retrieve a key, then goes to Spierer’s apartment to look for her.
<< ID: Jesse Wolff
An IU student from Port Washington, New York, a Long Island suburb, Wolff lived in a house just north of campus. According to a friend interviewed by Fox59 News, he spent the night at home and turned in at around 2:30 a.m. Wolff, contacted by IM at the New York communications company where he now works, declined to comment.
Friends of Spierer report her missing to the Bloomington Police Department.
Spierer’s father, Robert, receives a call from his other daughter, Rebecca, who tells him that Lauren’s friends have reported her missing to the Bloomington police. Robert calls Wolff, who is at the police station. Robert and wife Charlene immediately begin phoning hospitals and clinics in the Bloomington area to see if anyone matching Lauren’s description has been admitted.
>> ID: The Spierer family
Robert, an accountant, and Charlene live in Scarsdale, New York, an affluent Westchester County suburb, where they raised two daughters, Rebecca and Lauren. After the disappearance, Charlene got a letter from the mother of a girl Lauren grew up with, who also attended IU. She confessed that her daughter had been jealous of the more-popular Lauren until, when the daughter was struggling, Lauren reached out and helped her. “She had a huge heart,” Charlene tells IM. “She would do anything for anyone.” Lauren also enjoyed the Bronx Zoo, and Robert had just taken her there in May 2011—the last time either parent saw her.
Robert and Charlene Spierer arrive in Bloomington (where they will remain until August 2011), and the Herald-Times is the first media outlet to run a story about Spierer’s disappearance. Soon, reporters, cameras, and news vans swarm the three-block area between Smallwood and 5 North.
>> DETAIL: Media
The case has since been covered by the Today show, the London Daily Mail, Fox News, USA Today, CNN, and a slew of other outlets around the country. A day after the news broke, the Facebook group “Missing: Lauren Spierer” had more than 4,000 followers. Another page, “Official Lauren Spierer Updates from Her Family,” had close to 80,000 at press time, and the @NewsOnLaurenS Twitter page had nearly 30,000.
A crowd of volunteers, including Eric Behrman (Jill Behrman’s father) and IU basketball coach Tom Crean (right), convenes at Smallwood to aid in the hunt for Spierer. The daily searches will continue for weeks.
At a press conference at Bloomington police headquarters, Lt. Bill Parker says, “When somebody at 4:30 in the morning, no shoes, and has earlier been drinking, goes out and then just disappears off a street corner, we feel like there certainly could be foul play involved.” Later that evening, police bring a search warrant to Smallwood for the building’s surveillance footage and, finding the door to the security office locked, they break it down with a battering ram.
>> ID: Lt. Bill Parker
As lead detective in the Spierer case, Parker became the face of the police effort early in the investigation. (He also investigated the 2000 disappearance of Jill Behrman.) The BPD has declined IM’s requests for an interview.
Jason Rosenbaum hires attorneys Jennifer Lukemeyer and Jim Voyles. “Once we were involved, we made immediate contact with the police,” Voyles tells IM. Lukemeyer also tells IM that, before retaining counsel, Rosenbaum gave two statements to the police, rode with them in the area where Spierer was last seen, and shared his phone.
<< ID: Jim Voyles
Defense lawyer extraordinaire, with a reputation for representing big-name clients in high-profile cases (most notably Mike Tyson, in his 1992 rape trial.
Bloomington police, acting on an anonymous and “very specific” tip, send a dive team to search Lake Monroe, south of Bloomington, near the Fourwinds Resort and Marina. The dive turns up nothing.
Lt. Parker confirms the police have “persons of interest” in the case, but will not reveal who they are.
>> DETAIL: Persons of Interest
Or “POIs,” as they came to be known in the blogosphere. Authorities haven’t released any names, but due to a mix of reporting, gossip, and conjecture, several individuals believed to have been with Spierer on the morning she disappeared have been subjected to intense public scrutiny, flames fanned by the fact that no one has been cleared in the investigation. “Who are they going to get an ‘all clear’ from?” Chapman tells IM. “I don’t think that’s how police work. As long as the case is open, they’re not going to give anybody the ‘all clear.’”
Comedian Stephen Colbert, in a rare moment of gravity, tweets news of Spierer’s disappearance. He had more than 3.4 million Twitter followers at press time.
A contingent from Texas Equusearch arrives in Bloomington to look for Spierer. That night, America’s Most Wanted airs the first of two segments about Spierer. Together, the shows will generate hundreds of tips.
>> DETAIL: Texas Equusearch
Before coming to Bloomington, the nationally renowned search team, originally comprised of horse-mounted volunteers, helped look for such high-profile missing persons as Natalee Holloway and Caylee Anthony.
A reporter at a press conference asks a BPD spokesman if the department has heard rumors that Spierer might have died from a drug overdose and that fellow students might have panicked and disposed of her body. “Have we heard information along those lines?” he replies. “Absolutely.” The theory is amplified by her parents’ earlier announcement that their daughter had Long QT syndrome, a rare heart condition.“ How that figured into the events of the evening I don’t know,” Robert Spierer tells IM. “But she was certainly susceptible to something bad happening in the event she was given some kind of drug.”
BPD releases grainy surveillance images of a white pickup truck that appeared to pass twice through the area where Spierer was last seen on the morning she went missing.
>> DETAIL: White pickup truck
In one of the pictures, the truck seemed to have something in the bed just behind the extended cab—which, in the public’s imagination, resembled a huddled human form. Police cleared the driver a few days later. But random abduction remains a valid theory: “There’s always the possibility that some stranger picked up a young girl—she was out there alone, and she was a very small girl—at 4 o’clock in the morning and dragged her into their vehicle,” says Cutter, the P.I.
Police investigate a tip about a foul odor off of State Road 37 north of Bloomington, near Martinsville, and find a patch of freshly disturbed ground. They determine it is the result of recent utility work.
A news photographer with the Herald-Times sees police at the residences of Wolff and Rossman, and Chapman confirms to IM that Rossman’s apartment was searched. Rosenbaum’s attorneys tell IM that the police searched Rosenbaum’s apartment, too.
“Jay Rosenbaum Needs to Talk,” one of the most popular blogs dedicated to the Spierer disappearance, makes one of its final posts before going offline without explanation. “I looked at it, I showed it to Jim [Voyles], and in our opinion it was full of sensational, inflammatory comments,” Lukemeyer tells IM. “It didn’t seem to have much substance to it, other than to inflame. But we had absolutely zero to do with that blog being pulled.”
The police and FBI begin searching the Sycamore Ridge Landfill near Terre Haute (where Bloomington’s trash is delivered). They will sift through more than 4,100 tons of garbage in nine days.
Charlene Spierer posts an open letter to whomever might be responsible for her daughter’s disappearance on the family’s NewsOnLaurenS blog: “Do you think this is a game? This is no game. We are in this for the long haul. Do you think we are going to walk away without finding out the answers? Do you think we’re going to rest until we find Lauren? We will not.”
On TV show Good Day New York, Bo Dietl, head of the investigation firm hired by the Spierer family, says he thought he “was talking to Gomer Pyle out there,” after Bloomington police chief Mike Dietkhoff refused to share information about the Spierer investigation.
>> ID: Richard “Bo” Dietl
“Celebrity” P.I. and former New York police officer who makes regular talk-show appearances (and briefly assisted in the Natalee Holloway case). Chapman tells IM that the P.I.s “came in and pushed their way around.” Dietl later apologized for the “Gomer” remark, and Cutter, a former cop who works for Dietl, tells IM that Dietl’s “passion outweighed a common-sense outlook on what should be done.”
Voyles and Lukemeyer issue a release asserting that Rosenbaum provided full statements to authorities, allowed a search of his home, agreed to give a DNA sample, and took a polygraph test. Lukemeyer has also presided over a sit-down with Rosenbaum and Spierer’s parents. “He was pretty frank with them,” she tells IM. “Some of it, they admitted, they may not want to hear, but they’ve been pretty realistic, I think.” Robert Spierer later tells IM: “We’ve met with two of the boys, Jay and Jesse. One of the other boys flat-out refuses to speak with us or to the private investigators, and that’s Corey Rossman.”
The Spierer family observes Lauren’s 21st birthday. (Above: A childhood portrait of Spierer. At left: Spierer’s second birthday, with mother and grandfather.)
The Spierers raise the reward for information leading to Lauren’s recovery from $100,000 to $250,000. It includes a $10,000 pledge from Colts owner Jim Irsay, an offer he tweets soon after her disappearance.
A coroner announces test results showing that skeletal remains found in southern Illinois are not Spierer’s.
>> DETAIL: Remains
Since Spierer’s disappearance, the unidentified remains of at least five other people have turned up in Indiana and surrounding states, each time prompting news stories reporting that they aren’t Spierer.
In response to the Spierer family’s published comments regarding his connection to the disappearance, Rossman sends an e-mail to IM. “I do not normally talk to reporters at all because of the exact reason of the lies that are being spread about me in articles such as those which just came out past few days,” he writes. “If you have some way to prove my name wouldn’t be slandered and what I say actually gets across and I am not portrayed in the terrible light the lying slanderous people connected to this case have portrayed me in, then I’d consider talking to you. Otherwise I have nothing to say and you can refer all questions to my lawyer Carl Salzmann.”
>> ID: Carl Salzmann
Bloomington defense attorney and former county prosecutor, who won a conviction in 2006 against the man charged with killing Jill Behrman. Early in the Spierer investigation, Salzmann, before being hired by Rossman, shared surveillance footage from his own office near Smallwood and 5 North with police. He did not return repeated calls from IM.
The Bloomington police announce that a detective is looking into the investigation of William Clyde Gibson III, a New Albany man authorities have charged in the deaths of two women; police found a third woman buried in his yard. “We are certainly interested in anyone who comes to the attention of law enforcement for targeting women as victims,” reads the BPD statement.
One year elapses since Spierer was last seen. Robert and Charlene Spierer, still “emotionally raw,” in the words of Charlene, continue to visit Bloomington, where they keep up the search. Given the case’s high profile, it is unlikely police will officially move the file into the cold-case drawer anytime soon. For now, at least, “leads are coming in from a number of different places,” says Robert. “It’s one continuous series of leads and information that, at one point, might fall into place.”
>> To report information about Spierer’s disappearance, go to FindLauren.com or call 812-339-4477.
Bloomington photos by Jeremy Hogan; Hadar Tamir photo by Aaron P. Bernstein; Spierer family photo by Chris Howell;Spierer photos courtesy Spierer family; Landfill photo by Jeremy Hogan
This article originally appeared in the June 2012 issue.
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