Details of Disappearance
Karen and her then-sister-in-law, Christy Spencer, were driving along Interstate 275 in Miami Township, Ohio on December 29, 1989. Karen was driving Christy's car, a black Buick Regal.
At approximately 3:00 a.m., the two women got into an argument regarding plans for Karen to move to Florida with her brother and Christy after she finished high school. Karen pulled over between the Montgomery Road and Ohio 28 exits and got out.
According to Christy, Karen began walking north after she left her sister-in-law's vehicle. Christy drove three miles to the nearest interchange, then turned around and went back looking for Karen, but didn't see her. She has not been heard from again.
A man in his early twenties, who was driving a red 1982 Datsun B-310, stopped after Christy pulled over, and asked the two women if they needed help. Christy claims she told him to go away and he did, and that she never saw him again.
Authorities said the man gave inconsistent statements in the case, and he also knew what Karen and Christy had been arguing about before they stopped their car. He had his Datsun cleaned twice on the day of Karen's disappearance, and it disappeared shortly thereafter. It's not clear what happened to the car; there's no record of it being sold, but the auto insurance for it was canceled and it has not been seen since.
The Datsun's owner did pass a polygraph, but FBI behavioral scientists who later reviewed the polygraph results stated they believe the man was manipulating the test. A friend of the man claims he spoke about Karen's disappearance before she was reported missing.
A woman driving the same night on Interstate 275 claimed that she offered a ride to a young woman fitting Karen's description sometime later in the early morning hours. According to the witness, the girl appeared to be cold and was walking along the road at a brisk pace and headed southbound. This would contradict Christy's statement, which said that Karen was walking in the opposite direction when she last saw her.
The witness said that she pulled over to offer assistance to the girl. At the same time, an unidentified young male in a red truck with Kentucky license plates pulled in front of the girl on the shoulder of the road. The girl seemed to recognize the driver and smiled. The witness then drove away, assuming the girl received a ride from the male.
It has not been established that the unidentified young woman was Karen. The witness did not come forward until 1990, when she saw Karen's photograph on television.
In 1993, a truck driver from Miami Township told police he had seen a man with a truck burying a woman's body near Lake Isabella in late December 1989. He recognized the dead woman as Karen when he saw a missing child poster for her. The truck driver led authorities to the alleged gravesite, but extensive searches turned up no evidence that anybody had been buried there.
The Spencer family dealt with a hoax regarding Karen's fate in 2000. A male caller claimed that Karen was buried in Kentucky; however, the story ended up being proven false and the man was charged with interfering with a police investigation. He was fined $500 and given a sentence of 45 days in jail. He had a history of making prank calls to the surviving relatives of crime and accident victims; investigators believe he had made harassing calls to over 100 families.
Karen has never been located. She is originally from Reading, Ohio. She was a high school senior at the time of her disappearance, and had no history of running away from home, although she wasn't getting along with her parents and had moved in with her brother and sister-in-law as a result. When she vanished she was carrying only $7 in cash. She left two paychecks behind from her serving job at the Kings Mills Frisch's restaurant in Mason, Ohio.
Foul play is suspected in her disappearance. Christy passed a polygraph in Karen's case and isn't considered a suspect. Investigators have a suspect in her case, but he has not been publicly identified. Her case remains unsolved.