Karen Denise Wells

Wells, circa 1994; Wells's rented 1993 Plymouth Acclaim; Scratches and mud on abandoned car

  • Missing Since 04/12/1994
  • Missing From Carlisle, Pennsylvania
  • Classification Endangered Missing
  • Sex Female
  • Race White
  • Date of Birth 09/22/1970 (53)
  • Age 23 years old
  • Height and Weight 5'6, 115 pounds
  • Associated Vehicle(s) White 1993 Plymouth Acclaim with Oklahoma license plates (accounted for)
  • Distinguishing Characteristics Caucasian female. Blonde hair, blue/green eyes. Wells goes by her middle name, Denise. She has a quarter-inch scar on her forearm and she wears eyeglasses.

Details of Disappearance

Wells was on a trip from Haskell, Oklahoma to visit a friend in Bergen, New Jersey when she disappeared in April 1994. She stopped at the Pike Motel in the 1100 block of Harrisburg Pike in Carlisle, Pennsylvania on April 12 and called her friend from there at 7:00 p.m. She said she was going to eat at a McDonald's restaurant, then would go to her motel room to take a nap.

The friend offered to meet her at the motel and said she would be there by around midnight. After speaking to her friend, at 8:00 p.m., Wells went to the front desk of the motel and asked the staff for directions to the nearest McDonald's. They saw her leave and get into her rental vehicle, a white 1993 Plymouth Acclaim with Oklahoma license plates.

This is the last time anyone saw Wells. Shortly after midnight on April 13, her friend went to the motel to meet her as planned, but there was no answer when she knocked on the door of her room. The friend summoned a clerk, they went into the room and the clerk let her in with the master key.

Wells wasn't in the room, and all her belongings were there, including her room key. Her suitcase was sitting open on the bed and some of her clothes were lying next to it, and there was a magazine and a pack of cigarettes on the bedside table, but the bed itself didn't appear to have been slept in and there was no sign of Wells.

At 5:30 a.m. that same day, Wells's rental car was found abandoned in a rural area on Route 274, in Perry County, Pennsylvania, near Tuscarora State Park. This was 35 miles from the motel. It appeared to have stopped in its tracks in the westbound lane.

The driver's and passenger side doors were wide open, the vehicle was out of gas, the hazard lights were switched on and the battery was dead. Some empty soda bottles, a pair of shoes, maps and some trash from a Hardee's fast food meal, including French fries, were inside the car. There was a small amount of marijuana in the car, as well as other unspecified "indications of criminal activity". Wells's change purse, containing a small amount of cash, was in a nearby ditch.

Authorities checked the odometer on the car and discovered it had been driven 600 to 700 miles that couldn't be accounted for. The car itself was mud-splattered and scratched, suggesting someone had driven it off-road. Photos of the car are posted with this case summary.

Around Thanksgiving in 1994, the wife of Wells's married boyfriend claimed she had heard from her. Wells allegedly called the woman and said she had gotten married and wouldn't be coming home. This story hasn't been confirmed, and police don't believe Wells actually made the telephone call.

Wells has a prior criminal conviction for forgery in South Dakota. She was unemployed and the single parent of a baby son in 1994. Her mother stated she was handling her life well and loved her child, who was subsequently raised by his grandparents.

It's uncharacteristic of Wells to leave without warning. Her family has had her declared legally dead. Police have not named any suspects in her case, but stated they believed some of the people they interviewed knew more than they disclosed. Foul play is suspected in her disappearance, which remains unsolved.

Investigating Agency

  • Pennsylvania State Police 717-249-2121

Updated 4 times since October 12, 2004. Last updated July 7, 2021; details of disappearance updated.