Details of Disappearance
Stephanie was last seen after leaving a neighbor's house to meet carpet installers at her home in the 1300 block of Sanborn Drive in the Spinnaker Cove subdivision of Palatine, Illinois on October 25, 1977. She left at 9:15 a.m. to keep the 10:00 a.m. appointment. She was driving her blue 1975 station wagon at the time.
The carpet installers arrived at Stephanie's house on time, but she never showed up. That same day, her fifteen-year-old daughter, the oldest of Stephanie's four children, reported her missing.
When Edward J. Lyng, Stephanie's husband, returned home at 10:00 p.m. and was informed his wife had disappeared, he appeared unconcerned and said she would probably return shortly. A photograph of Edward is posted with this case summary. He later ordered his children to never mention their mother's name again.
Four days after Stephanie was last seen, her vehicle was found in a remote parking lot at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, Illinois. There were a few spots of blood splattered on the car; testing determined the blood was Stephanie's type.
The car also had some plant buds and seeds in it; a plant taxonomist determined the plants came from a wet, marshy area. There were no indications as to her whereabouts at the scene and no evidence that she had flown anywhere.
The Lyngs were very wealthy; Stephanie had been born into a wealthy and prominent family, and Edward owned a successful vending company, Lyng Canteen Service in Elgin, Illinois.
Their marriage was troubled, however. Edward was having an affair, he had a violent temper and he drank heavily. Stephanie told one of her friends that her husband physically abused her. She had filed for divorce shortly before her disappearance, and was engaged in a bitter dispute with her husband over their finances.
Edward is a Roman Catholic and refused to consent to the divorce due to his religious beliefs. Stephanie had told many people she was afraid Edward would murder her, and one of Edward's nephews later stated his uncle had offered him $50,000 to kill Stephanie.
Stephanie's disappearance was investigated by a grand jury in 1977 and 1982, but no indictments were issued until 1992, when her husband was charged with her murder.
Prosecutors theorized Edward planned Stephanie's murder and dug her grave several days in advance. His former secretary and girlfriend, Christina Rezba Knutson, had originally given him an alibi for the time Stephanie disappeared, but she later recanted. She stated she had lied earlier because Edward had threatened to kill her if she told the truth.
At Edward's trial, Knutson testified that she heard him confess Stephanie's murder. Edward allegedly stated he had beaten and stabbed her to death in their garage to prevent her from taking their assets and children in a divorce settlement. Under Illinois law at the time, Stephanie could have gotten up to 65% of Edward's business holdings.
Knutson admitted she helped him move Stephanie's car to the airport parking lot. She said Edward buried Stephanie's body in a damp area near a culvert, but returned to the gravesite later, dug up her corpse, and removed the teeth to prevent identification.
Edward maintained his innocence and accused Knutson of making up the story to get revenge on him for ending their relationship.
Edward was convicted of his wife's murder in 1994 and sentenced to 14 to 50 years in prison. After his murder conviction, he was convicted of solicitation to commit murder, and was sentenced to an additional 50 years' incarceration; Edward had attempted to hire people to kill Knutson and her new boyfriend.
In 1996, his daughters were awarded a $66.4 million judgement against their father for their mother's wrongful death. Edward's daughters described him as an emotionally abusive parent and stated they were afraid he would hire someone to harm them if he should retain his assets, estimated at $4 million.
He will not be eligible for parole until September 2026, and by then he will be 91 years old. He continues to insist he never harmed his wife. In a 1996 media interview, he said he thought Stephanie was still alive.
Another Spinnaker Cove resident, Catherine Runte, disappeared in 1979, two years after Stephanie. The two cases are not believed to be connected. Stephanie's remains may be somewhere in Lake County, Illinois. Foul play is suspected in her case due to the circumstances involved.