Details of Disappearance
Karen was last seen at 7:30 p.m. on January 15, 1991, when she dropped her two daughters off at the home of her former in-laws in Kingston, Tennessee. She was supposed to go to work the next day at the Shoney's restaurant in Lenoir City, Tennessee, but never showed up.
That day, someone identifying herself as Karen called a towing service, Colyer Wrecker Service, and gave them directions so they could tow her car. Investigators believe the caller may not have really been Karen, however; the towing service employee who took the call listened to a recording of Karen's voice and said it wasn't the same person who called him. She has never been heard from again.
Karen's lawyer reported her missing on January 23 after she missed an appointment. When the lawyer and the police went to her apartment in Harriman, Tennessee, they found it undisturbed with no indications of forced entry or a struggle. Her purse, wallet and car keys were at the apartment. Her car was found near the Center Ferry Bridge at the Clinch River, less than a mile from Karen's former in-laws' home.
Prior to her disappearance, Karen was involved in a bitter custody battle with her ex-husband, Reece Beard. They had separated in California in 1985. Reece was given custody of their two daughters by default in 1987 after Karen failed to appear for a custody hearing. She later went to Tennessee to try and get the children back.
The two girls reportedly said they wanted to live with their mother. There were charges of alcoholism, adultery, drug abuse and drug dealing on both sides, and Karen was reportedly "mortally afraid" of Reece. She asked her sister to become her children's legal guardian if anything should happen to her.
Karen did have a history of cocaine and methamphetamine use and was hospitalized for her drug problem in California in 1985, but her sister stated she had gotten clean in order to be a better parent to her children. Her sister stated Reece was the father of Karen's unborn child, but Reece denied it. Karen's former mother-in-law described her as unstable and stated she had dropped out of sight before, once for nearly a year.
Authorities believe Karen was taken to a house in Kingston and killed, and her body disposed of. They viewed several of Reece's friends as suspects in Karen's disappearance. Years later, as one of them was dying of cancer, he asked to speak with investigators. By the time the police arrived at the hospital to interview him, however, he had died.
No one has ever been charged in Karen's disappearance, but foul play is strongly suspected. Her case remains unsolved.