Details of Disappearance
Thomas was last seen in Dover Township, Pennsylvania sometime in late 2011. He lived with his wife, Virginia Hayden, in a condo in the 3000 block of Barley Circle at the time. He was seen by his doctor on September 27. He had another doctor's appointment scheduled for October 25, but Virginia canceled it, saying Thomas was no longer in the area.
He has never been heard from again. His disappearance was reported in January 2017, after his daughter, Kim Via, who lives in Louisiana, asked the police in Pennsylvania to find him.
Via thought Thomas was living with his wife Virginia in the Carlisle area, but she wasn't sure because she and her father had been estranged since October 2005. Whenever she tried to call him, Virginia told Via that Thomas didn't want to speak to her. At one point she claimed Thomas had called Via a "greedy bitch," which confused Via because she hadn't asked her father to give her anything.
Thomas's father died in 2014 and Thomas didn't attend the funeral, and Via became concerned. In 2016, she traveled to Maryland to visit relatives, and a man who knew her father told her Thomas was dead. When Via returned home to Louisiana, Virginia had left a message for her saying, "Your father wants to know why you're spreading lies back home."
When Via's son was born, she attempted to contact her father through Facebook to let him know, but got only a rude message in return. Via had even hired a private investigator to try to find her father, but the investigator's efforts were unsuccessful. In 2017, she got the police involved. A state trooper was dispatched to the possible address Via gave and spoke to Virginia's granddaughter. She said her grandmother had lived at that address, but Thomas had never lived there and she hadn't seen him at all in about seven years.
Police spoke to Virginia on the phone and she said she hadn't seen Thomas since 2011. She could not remember the date of Thomas's disappearance. She also gave two different accounts as to what happened. At one point she said he had taken $40,000 in cash when he left and that she had recently spoken to him on the phone, but she couldn't provide a phone number for him or the dates of their conversation.
When asked if she knew Thomas's whereabouts, Virginia told police, "maybe you ought to check the grave of my second husband for him." Her two previous husbands are both deceased. Authorities did check her second's husband grave in Maryland but found nothing unusual. He had died of a heart attack; Virginia's first husband had taken his own life shortly after their divorce.
Virginia told investigators that Thomas had been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease, a terminal neurological condition, had left to seek treatment.
She told the same story to her daughter, Carolyn Cooksey, and spoke to her several times, giving her the impression that she and Thomas were together and on their way to Mexico for ALS treatment. However, in an interview with a York Daily Record reporter, Virginia said Thomas gone to get treatment for a disease, but that she couldn't remember what disease he had. Virginia also told police that when Thomas left, his brother Spencer picked him up. Spencer denies this, however, and he and his brother Owen stated they have not seen or spoken to Thomas since October 2010, approximately one year prior to his disappearance.
Cooksey told authorities that the last time she saw Thomas was in the autumn months of 2011. She had a Christmas party at her Maryland home that year, but Thomas didn't attend. Cooksey had gotten a handwritten letter that was supposedly from him. The letter said Thomas was sick and that his family didn't care about him, and asked her to "be there for her mother."
Handwriting experts have concluded that the letter was in fact written by Virginia. Passport records showed that neither of the Haydens had ever been to Mexico, and when police checked Thomas's medical records, they learned he had never been diagnosed with ALS.
Thomas was receiving Social Security at the time of his disappearance, and the payments, which totaled over $115,000 over the years, continued to be deposited into the Haydens' joint account after his disappearance. There was only one debit card for that account and most of the account activity was in central Pennsylvania, where Virginia lives.
Police searched Virginia's residence and found a lockbox containing Thomas's driver's license, passport, and Social Security and Medicare cards. They found Virginia's 2011 day planner; for November 1, she wrote "Tom left for Mexico."
Virginia moved out of the condo she shared with Thomas after his disappearance; it was sold to someone else in 2014. The sale was to include some household furnishings, including a rubber mat covering the garage floor and a queen-sized bed, but both those items were gone when the new owner moved in. Virginia told her real estate agent who handled the condo sale that Thomas had traveled to Mexico for medical treatment and wound up dying there. The person who bought the condo also said Virginia had told him her husband was dead.
Virginia told the York Daily Record that she had told many people her husband was dead because "to me, he is" and because it was embarrassing to say she didn't know his whereabouts. She said Thomas was abusive, a claim backed up by Via, who described her father as a "wife/child beater" and said she was concerned for the safety of his grandchildren when they were around him.
When police reviewed the deed of sale for the condo, they noticed that one year to the day prior to the sale, Virginia had purchased Thomas's share of their jointly owned property for $1. When the house was sold, a Specialty Warranty Deed was used to remove Thomas's name from the property. Virginia had also sold Thomas's trailer for $135,000, telling the buyer her husband had been in a motorcycle wreck and no longer needed it.
Connie Lynn Pender, another of Virginia's children who is a notary public, had notarized the deed transfer for the house and the title for the trailer. A handwriting expert determined Thomas's signature on the paperwork for the deed transfer and the trailer sale had in fact been written by Virginia. Virginia stated she had regularly "signed everything" for him since early in their marriage.
In late 2017, after a criminal investigation into Thomas's disappearance lasting almost a year, Pender was charged with theft, forgery and tampering with public records, in connection with her notarizing Thomas's forged signatures. She was living in Texas at the time and was extradited to Pennsylvania to face the charges.
Photos of Pender and Virginia are posted with this case summary. In December 2018, Pender pleaded guilty to two counts each of conspiracy and tampering with public records. She was sentenced to two years' probation.
In January 2012, a few months after Thomas was last seen but years before he was reported missing, a bag containing hair, pieces of human scalp and bloodstained items, including a queen-size bedsheet, was found Conewago Road near the Conewago River in Dover Township. The items were sent to the state crime lab and a DNA profile from the hair and the bloody sheet was entered into a national database, but there were no matches at the time.
After Thomas's disappearance was reported, his brothers submitted their DNA and it was compared to the DNA extracted from the items in the bag. The results indicated the chances were 403 billion to 1 that the DNA came from a sibling of Spencer and Owen Hayden. Thomas is their only sibling. The bag was a plastic FoodSaver bag, and Virginia is known to have owned a FoodSaver system.
Cooksey and several of Virginia's grandchildren said she had talked to them about how to get rid of a body. She said a good way would be to feed the body to pigs, which would "eat everything but the skull." She also discussed a way to poison a person and make it look like they died of a heart attack. Her second husband had died of a heart attack during their marriage. Virginia told the York Daily Record that she and Thomas had often discussed these subjects and it was he, not she, who had spoken to her family about body disposal and murder.
Investigators learned that Virginia had bought a .357 caliber handgun on October 4, 2011, right around the time of Thomas's disappearance. She claims she later sold it, but there is no record of the sale.
When the police asked her asked about the FoodSaver bag with Thomas's scalp in it, Virginia said she would give a written confession and "write whatever you want me to write." They told her to write the truth, and she said she would admit to whatever Via and Cooksey wanted her to admit. She stated, "I put Thomas Hayden in there. So be happy. I give in. So leave me alone. So there it is. That’s my confession."
In April 2019, over two years after Thomas was reported missing, Virginia was charged with criminal homicide in his case, as well as more than sixty counts related to theft, forgery and records tampering.
Police stated the piece of Thomas's scalp found in the FoodSaver bag would have covered the majority of the side of his skull, and that it was removed with "a knife-like object" using "considerable force". The amount of blood on the other items in the bag supported the conclusion that he had met a violent death. A forensic pathologist believed Thomas may have been shot, and that some caustic substance was used on the remains.
In September 2022, just hours before jury selection was to start in her murder trial, Virginia reached a plea agreement with the prosecution. She pleaded no contest to 66 counts brought against her, and was sentenced for two of them: six to twenty years in state prison, plus seven years of probation, for third-degree murder and evidence tampering.
Virginia was given credit for 1,227 days served in jail awaiting trial. In February 2023, the federal case against her for wire fraud and conversion of government funds in connection with $113,471 in benefits she got from Thomas's Social Security from 2011 to 2017 was also concluded with a plea deal. Virginia pleaded guilty to a single count of conversion of government funds; 14 other charges were dropped.
No other remains have ever been recovered, but foul play is suspected in Thomas's case due to the circumstances involved.