Details of Disappearance Elisabeth was last seen at a wedding in the Cedar Mill area of Oregon on August 31, 1996. Her parents, Karen Lee Huster and Michael S. Huster, in the process of a divorce at the time.
Their nineteen-year marriage had been troubled and they separated and reconciled several times. They separated for the last time in November 1995 and Michael asked for a divorce in May 1996. Their teenage son, Jonathan, went with Michael, but Elisabeth stayed with her mother.
Michael reported his daughter as a missing child on December 23, 1996 in Portland, Oregon. He resided in California at the time. He told police he had been unable to contact Elisabeth for months and had also learned she had not been enrolled in school. She was supposed to be in the fifth grade at Bethany Elementary School.
Neighbors reported Karen held a garage sale in September 1996 and sold many of Elisabeth's toys and clothing. A photo of Karen is posted with this case summary.
Karen told authorities that Elisabeth was with relatives in California after they inquired as to the child's whereabouts in December 1996, but she refused to divulge the location, stating she was afraid Michael would harm Elisabeth.
Michael had been sentenced to two years of probation for assaulting his wife during an argument in 1995, and she got a restraining order against him. Jonathan later testified that his mother continued to let Michael see him and Elisabeth in spite of the restraining order. He stated he had never seen his father abuse Elisabeth and never heard his mother make accusations of abuse.
Karen was convicted of custodial interference in May 1997. The judge offered to sentence her to probation if she disclosed Elisabeth's whereabouts, but she refused and was sentenced to two years in prison.
Karen was released from prison in February 1999. In October 1999, she stole clothing and identification from a friend's home and was convicted of burglary and jailed again for six months.
Extensive searches for Elisabeth during Karen's incarceration provided no evidence as to the child's whereabouts, and authorities began to suspect she was dead. While in jail, Karen allegedly told several cellmates she had killed Elisabeth and no one would find the body.
An Oregon grand jury indicted Karen for her daughter's murder in April 2000. Karen promptly disappeared and was tracked to her relatives' home in Arizona later in the year, but she vanished once again before she could be taken into police custody.
Karen was eventually arrested in Canoga Park, California in November 2000. She had been living in the Parc Place Club Apartments at the time. California authorities acted on a tip that there had been a murder in the complex when they discovered Karen residing in the suspected victim's apartment. She initially refused to give investigators her name and was fingerprinted to confirm her identity.
Human remains were discovered inside two freezers in the residence. The body was that of the complex's tenant, James Cameron. Karen had apparently been living with Cameron as a roommate at the time, and posing as his wife. She claimed that Cameron, who was 73, died of a heart attack.
Karen stated that she dismembered Cameron's body to prevent authorities from learning she was wanted for Elisabeth's presumed murder in Oregon. An autopsy supported Karen's story, revealing heart disease but no signs of foul play.
Karen claimed insanity at her trial for her daughter's murder in February 2002. She told the court that she shot Elisabeth in the head on September 1, 1996, the day after she was last seen, after angels told her to entrust the child to their care.
Karen said she dismembered Elisabeth's body and threw the remains off of a boat into the Pacific Ocean some time afterwards. She claimed she disposed of the body in this manner because she didn't have money to pay for a funeral. She was unemployed at the time, and her house had gone into foreclosure.
Karen's attorney stated Karen was suffering from a brief psychotic disorder at the time of Elisabeth's murder, caused by extreme stress over her finances and her failed marriage, and murdered her daughter because she believed Elisabeth had inherited her mental illness. Karen's own mother had been severely mentally ill.
A psychologist testifying the for the defense theorized Karen planned to kill herself after Elisabeth's death, but couldn't go through with it. The prosecution, however, theorized Karen killed her daughter to get back at Michael.
Michael stated his wife was volatile, manipulative and prone to lashing out angrily at him and others, but he had never seen any indications of mental illness and thought she was a good mother and very protective of Elisabeth. The judge determined that Karen was sane at the time of the presumed murder and sentenced her to 25 years to life in prison for her daughter's homicide.
Elisabeth's remains have never been located.
- Washington County Sheriff's Office
Updated 1 time since October 12, 2004. Last updated January 21, 2010; medical conditions added, distinguishing characteristics and details of disappearance updated.