Details of Disappearance Wendy's mother and stepfather were out of town when she disappeared from her hometown of Naples, Florida on November 15, 1998. One of her stepfather's coworkers was staying at the house to watch her and her sixteen-year-old sister, and the girls had a female friend spending the night as well.
Wendy got a phone call at 11:00 p.m. on November 14. She sneaked out her bedroom window a short time afterwards to attend a party. She tried to convince her sister and their friend to join her, but they said no. She took her stepfather's pager with her and asked her sister to page her if there was any trouble. She promised that if she got a page, she would either go home or call her sister within ten minutes. She didn't take any clothes, makeup or other personal belongings, and she left a candle lit in the window. She never returned home and has never been heard from again.
Authorities determined Wendy went to the party with a 20-year-old friend, Ronald DePeppo, whom she'd met a month earlier. DePeppo had called Wendy's house shortly after he met her, and told her stepfather he was eighteen. Her stepfather told him Wendy was only fourteen and to leave her alone and never call the house again.
A photo of DePeppo is posted with this case summary. He didn't have a serious criminal record, but did have a known history of getting in relationships with underage girls.
He and Wendy left the party together between 2:00 and 2:30 a.m., driving his blue 1991 Mazda. When questioned by police, he said Wendy got a page and they stopped at a payphone at the corner of Airport Road and Davis Boulevard so she could make a call. He said afterward, she asked him to take her home because she planned to meet someone named "Jeff." He said the last time he saw her was when he dropped her off at her house, at about 2:45 a.m.
DePeppo says he spent the rest of the night with a friend, Johnny Walker, but Walker said DePeppo left at 11:00 p.m. on November 15, and didn't return until 9:00 a.m. the next morning. DePeppo's girlfriend also stated he had asked her to lie and say he had been with her on the night Wendy disappeared. On December 1, DePeppo's car was destroyed in a fire. Authorities concluded the blaze was an accident, caused by a dropped cigarette; this was DePeppo's explanation and a witness vouched for it. This witness was Walker.
DePeppo turned the charred vehicle over to authorities for forensic processing, but the analysis didn't turn up any evidence. DePeppo cooperated with authorities during the beginning of their investigation into Wendy's case, but he has since hired an attorney and refuses to answer further questions or take a polygraph.
Wendy's immediate family have all passed polygraphs and been ruled out as suspects. DePeppo was never identified as a suspect in Wendy's disappearance, although investigators said they were looking at several persons of interest. Walker, who is now a registered sex offender, is also considered a person of interest. In 1998 he told police he did not know Wendy and had never met her, but twenty years later in a media interview, he said he knew Wendy and that she and DePeppo were dating. This contradicted DePeppo's statement that prior to the night of her disappearance, he and Wendy had never gone out together.
Wendy was born in Toronto in Ontario, Canada. She and her family moved to Naples when she was in middle school. She was a freshman at Naples High School in 1998, an honor student who was enrolled in advanced classes. She was also a member of the local softball team.
Records show she hasn't applied for a driver's license or gotten a job since she went missing. She had run away once before, but only for about a day, and although authorities initially thought she'd left of her own accord when she disappeared in 1998, they now believe she could be deceased. On her 21st birthday, in 2005, her family had a memorial service for her in a Toronto church and placed a memorial marker in the city's Queen of Heaven Cemetery.
Wendy's mother died of cancer 2013, and Wendy was listed as a survivor in her obituary. Her sister and stepfather are still alive and hope she will be found. Her case remains unsolved.
- Collier County Sheriff's Office
Updated 8 times since October 12, 2004. Last updated November 14, 2020; age-progression updated.