Here we are, the final *new* case from ‘Unsolved Mysteries’. This one is different because, I think for the most part, we as an audience can ascertain who was/is responsible. This is the case of Liehnia May “Lena” Chapin’s disappearance.
This final episode opens up of a woman holding up her cell phone to the camera. On it, there’s a picture of two young blonde females, while the woman lets us know that the picture taken was just days before Lena went missing. The woman’s name is Brandi Petersen, and she’s Lena’s sister. She stares at her cell phone for a few more minutes, fondly reminiscing what Lena had said to her while that picture was being taken. Like any normal teenager, Lena had told her sister that she thought she looked horrible in the picture. Brandi told her that she didn’t, and had thanked her sister for being in the picture with her. “Obviously, no one would’ve known what my mom was capable of doing.” Brandi pauses after she makes her bold opening statement, and continues on that she misses her sister. “I miss her so much it kills me.” Que the infamous ‘Unsolved Mysteries’ opening credits.
This is the first time in the rebooted series that after the opening credits, and before anyone offers up details into what actually happened, a white intertitle appears, “The following accounts are based on court records and law enforcement documents.” Afterwards, we’re brought to the Ozark Mountains in Missouri. Brandi informs us that her sister, Lena, went missing in 2006. At the time, Lena was living in her own apartment with her boyfriend Jason. A camera pans into view an apartment door, and captions it that it’s Valentine’s Day of 2006 in Steelville, Missouri. Lena’s other sister, Robin Shoemake explains that one day she showed up, kind of out-of-the-blue to her sister’s apartment, but didn’t find her there. To Robin’s dismay, Jason explains that Lena apparently took off to Florida with another guy. Robin is confused, as any person would be. She knows that it doesn’t make sense, and asks how would Lena leave? Why would Lena leave like that? Jason doesn’t have much more to say, other than that he was told that Lena had left from Lena’s mother. Robin notes that it all seemed too crazy, due to the fact that Lena just seemingly vanished into thin air. She didn’t take any of her clothes, any of her photos- Lena had a ton of photos, it was *her thing*, and Robin notes that Lena left behind her son, something that was completely out of character for Lena to do. Lena’s son, Colter is shown- a hunky & chubby little boy, maybe around 18 months at the time of the photograph. Robin then notes that the moment that she heard that her mother was involved, was the minute that she knew something was seriously wrong.
Rick Letchworth, a detective from the Dent County Sheriff’s Office explains that Lena was reported missing. He further goes into detail that apparently, Lena’s “stuff” sat out on the back porch (I’m presuming that it was the back porch of the home she was living at), long enough for it all to become damaged in one way or another. When he learned that Lena had a young son, he deduced that there was more to the story. He tells us that in most cases, young mothers just don’t move to Florida on a whim without grabbing any personal possessions or telling at least one person, especially in Missouri. At this point in his investigating, Rick reached out to Brandi. Brandi tells Rick about her childhood, and what it was like growing up. She also, apparently, told Rick her theory on what had happened to Lena.
We’re taken to a very rural town while Brandi voices over, “We were poor all our lives. We really had to struggle, and mom was always the one that worked. She never let us go without food. Our whole childhood, ya know, she’s like ‘We gotta stick together and we’ll get through it.’” Brandi explains that her mother was a good mother as she was growing up. She was very straight-laced. She apparently never dabbled into drugs, or even smoked a cigarette or drank alcohol. And every single night she told her daughters, “God bless you and love you.” Brandi tears up as she remarks that her mother said those words every night. “That’s the mom that I remember. And I miss that mom. So much.” While a picture of six little girls are shown, Brandi notes who the girls are. They’re all her sisters, and that their names are Lena, Robin, Jeanne, Rachel and Rosey. Brandi details that she was the oldest, while Lena was the second-oldest. Brandi was the good one, while Lena was the mouthy, scrapper-type.
Josh Delmain, Lena’s friend, remarks that Lena was bubbly and fun. She had a real positive attitude, and “talked really fast.” Lena was out-spoken and always let people know what was on her mind. Brandi fills us in, that Lena would tend to get into trouble and that they would occasionally fight. (I mean, what sisters don’t?) Robin remembers that there were more hard days than easy days back in her childhood. Robin thinks that the hardest part of her childhood was not knowing what was going to happen next, like where would they be living. Apparently, they moved around a lot.
(This is when I feel like the documentary starts to take a turn- a sinister turn.) Robin notes that her mother was involved with a number of men. She’d meet a guy, date them for a little bit, then meet someone else, sneak around then eventually move on- and this would go on endlessly. Brandi agrees that her mother used her sexual appeal to get ahead in life. Brandi further details that her mother was never in one relationship longer than two years, and more often than not, her mom went after married men- or men that had brothers.
Enter: Albert McCullough, Sandy’s 2nd husband. He notes that even though he’s been divorced and single for a while, he remembers that he went on a few dates with Sandy. Albert mentions that Sandy was really good at telling people what they wanted to hear. Brandi helps us when it comes to the timeline; by letting us know that she was 10 at the time her mom and Albert began seeing each other. Albert and Sandy got married on November 17th, 1994. She tells us that Albert was a really good dude, a really great step-father. During that time, Sandy was going to school to be a nurse (so that meant that she was never home, furthering that Albert raised them) and Robin details that Albert was the fun, laid-back type. Albert made sure the girls were involved in after-school activities like gymnastics or playing sports. Albert continues that he got close to the girls during his marriage to Sandy, and that the first two years weren’t all bad. But, Sandy eventually began her vicious cycle of stepping out, and began a relationship with none other than Gary- Albert’s brother. (At this point, you can still see pain of rejection and loss on Albert’s face during his interview.) Albert lets us in on how a fist-fight broke out between Gary and himself over Sandy, and how each brother “beat the tar” out of each other. In the end, Albert took himself out of the messy triangle, but told his brother that Sandy “was nothing but trouble.”
By May 22nd, 1996, Sandy officially left Albert for Gary. And on December 21st, 1996, Sandy and Gary were married. Robin and Brandi both note that things drastically changed for all of them once they moved in with Gary. They all had to chip in, meaning that Gary lived on a farm- so the girls had to help. Jeff Allen, Gary’s friend, fills us in that Gary made sure that each of the girls were involved in one way or another on the farm. Each girl had a chore, or chores to do. But, after a day’s hard work, he treated the girls to ice cream in town. Brandi says that during the three years that he was in her life, he taught her things that she has never forgotten. Because of Gary, she’s disciplined, doesn’t depend on a man- values that she takes pride in. Like Albert, Gary was a good and decent guy. “He just got mixed up with the wrong person, and that’s it.”
Andrew Sheelety, a reporter for The Salem News, reiterates that Sandy would jump from relationship to relationship- from guy to guy. “So Gary and Sandy are living a life, and then after a few years, the cycle begins again..” a cycle where she’s married to Gary, and then she notices somebody named Kris Klemp- a person much younger, and thought of as more handsome. Kris’ family allegedly, also had more money. Eventually, it becomes very clear that Sandy is no longer interested in a life with Gary, and she begins an affair with Kris in March of 1999.
When Robin met Kris, her immediate thought was that Gary was gonna “whoop his little butt.” In fact, during her interview, she laughs about it. She explains that Kris was “a twig”, while Gary was “the whole tree”. Jeff Allen says that even though Gary was a country boy and a homebody, he wasn’t stupid. Jeff further details that Gary didn’t want any of Sandy’s games, but seemed to be more hurt than mad about the situation. Richard Anderson, Gary’s friend and attorney, explains that one day, Gary had phoned him and told him about Sandy’s affair, but also informed him that he had been arrested on March 24th, 1999 for his involvement of passing bad checks- but that Sandy was actually the one that was passing the checks. He told Richard on that phone call that he was going to have to file for divorce. “And then, the next thing I know of, was that Gary went missing.” (As a viewer, I was shook. I hadn’t seen that coming.)
On May 11th, 1999, Gary was officially declared missing. Some of Gary’s friends go on record to say that Gary was a hard worker, and when he hadn’t shown up for work, they knew something wasn’t right. They knew that Gary was a diligent and responsible, because he had to be, so he wouldn’t just not show up to work for unknown reasons. Jeff then notes that he knew in his gut that Gary had been killed, or ended up deceased in some way. He knows this, because some days before he went missing, Gary had brought over a gun, and mentioned about needing to hide it because Sandy had stuck it into his gut and pulled the trigger. When Jeff broke open the rifle to check it, he discovered that there was a shell inside it. Jeff questioned Gary about the active shell, while Gary went white from horror. Jeff says that this harrowing conversation was the last time that he saw, or spoke to Gary.
On May 13th, 1999, the police were notified about Gary. Brian Martin, an investigator from the Barry County Sheriff’s office details that Gary’s cousin was the one that told police about Gary’s disappearance. Brian ventured out to the house to check and see if Gary was there- but noticed that one of the cows had gotten loose. As he was in the process of getting the cow back into its enclosure, Sandy and Lena pulled up and asked him what he was doing on the property. Brian asked Sandy straight up if there was anything he needed to know in regards to her love life, to which Sandy remarks that yes- there was something, and that she had been meaning to telephone the authorities. She tells Brian that Gary had run off, and hadn’t been home for two days. Brian asked Sandy if she wanted to file a missing persons report, to which Sandy responded with a more or less of a response like, “sure.” She came off very… lackadaisical. That following week, Brain obtained a search warrant of the property. When he went back to the house, Sandy was not happy to see the authorities. Brian claimed that even though it was Gary’s house, there was nothing that gave them the indication that Gary ever lived there, or would ever be coming back. Mick Epperly, a retired sheriff from Barry County, Missouri, informs us that during the search, they found Kris Klemp’s checkbook, and that they found out that Kris ultimately moved in with Sandy. Mick asked Sandy to take a polygraph, to which Sandy told him that she would, but only if they ever found a body. Brian says that he wanted to interview Sandy’s daughters, and notes that Lena was especially hostile to him and the other officers that were involved in the investigation. Lena was defensive of her mother, and almost antagonistic towards the police. Brian deduced that it was clear that even though Sandy ruled the house, Lena was the enforcer. When Lena told the other girls to do something, they did it.
Robin remembers that she was brought into a conference room with her sisters. Lena had told Robin and the others to stay silent, and that they weren’t supposed to give any details about where Gary went, or why. Brandi admits that she lied for her mother more than once during her childhood. She remembers that on May 11th- when Gary disappeared, when she got home from school, she was met by her mother who was standing at the front door. Sandy tells the girls that there were kittens in the field, and to go get them. Brandi says that all the other girls went out to the field, but she didn’t go because she had work (chores) to do inside the house. Her mother wouldn’t let her in, so she stayed on the porch for a few minutes. After some time, she decided to get up and marched inside the house to grab her supplies to milk the cows. When she opened the door, Brandi remembers her mother on her hands and knees, scrubbing something off the floor using bleach water. She says that this is memorable because Sandy had her hair in a ponytail- a hairstyle that her mother never, ever put her hair in. That night, Sandy sat all her daughters around the kitchen table and told them what to say, and when to say it if asked by authorities. That same night, Robin remembers that Sandy made Lena put all the girls to bed. Robin says that Lena slept in front of the door, but that when she looked out the window of her bedroom, she witnessed her mother and Kris having trouble maneuvering something rolled up (probably in a tarp or a carpet) – she now is adamant that it was Gary. Lena scared her sisters into silence by telling them that if they were to say anything, they would all be taken away and placed into different foster care systems. Robin states that Gary went “missing” in May, and by August they had all moved to St Louis- and it was in St Louis that Sandy and Kris were married. And, by the time August of 2000 rolled around, they had moved again to Sligo. While in Sligo, Lena began working a few different jobs while still living at home. But, it was also around this time that Lena became more distant, more on edge.
Josh, Lena’s friend, remembers that at first, Lena wouldn’t use drugs or drink alcohol, but after a while, changed direction and began using drugs and partying heavily. “You can tell there was something that pulled her that way, you know what I mean?” Robin says that for a point in time, Lena had lost herself. Anytime she would see her sister, Lena would be found staring off into space, or always seemingly wiping back tears. Brandi is adamant that Lena was/or looked lonely. Brandi thinks that Lena got to a point in her life that she felt like she needed to open up to somebody. Richard remarks that Lena finally confided to a boyfriend, who told her that she needed to tell her family members about what she knew. Lena apparently told him that yes, she would, and that she’d call Albert because he was someone she really liked.
On June 26th, 2003, Lena met with Albert. When she met with her ex step-father, she was only 17 at the time. Albert had brought along a recorder, and after some time, he asked her what exactly happened to Gary. During the documentary, the recording of Albert and Lena’s conversation is played out. When Albert asked Lena who killed Gary, Lena hesitated for a split second, then said, “Mom. Okay. He was sitting on the couch eating scrambled eggs. She walked out and shot him three times in the head. Two, maybe three times. It was there on the couch. And she couldn’t hack it until we got home. And then she wrapped him up with paper. Um, plastic. Plastic stuff. And uhh… hay. Hay strings. And, this is the bedroom floor.” Albert shockingly questions, “The bedroom floor?” Lena then, continues on, “She dragged him to the bedroom. And then she locked the door and everything, and we got home, mom made me stay in the bedroom. She didn’t want me to see him, but I already seen him. ‘Cause I looked through the door, I didn’t believe it and I wanted to see. And she took him, she put him in the truck, and she left.” The camera immediately switches to Albert, and he looks… torn. He voices that he knew that Lena was telling him the truth. He claims that when Lena was confiding in him about Gary’s murder, she was trembling and shaking. More of the tape is played while a fire rages on, and Albert asks Lena how he could he go about getting any kind of evidence as to what she was claiming. Lena adamantly states, “There’s nothing. There’s nothing whatsoever left. There isn’t. He was burned. Completely burned. And everything… everything that was, you know, left at the burn pile was put in buckets and spread all over. So I don’t remember where they’re at… I was there. I am the only one that knows. I am the only one that knows exactly what happened. But there is nothing left… there is nothing. I burned my fingers… I burned the tips of my fingers picking up ashes and bones. I know this makes me sound like a bad person… but what was I supposed to do?” Albert answers for her, telling Lena that she was just a kid, and that she was only doing what her mother had instructed.
Albert states that Sandy trusted Lena more than she trusted the other girls. Richard says that when he learned of the taped recording, he was hopeful that some sort of justice would come out of it. “It was a good feeling to know that we had this.” Albert had since handed the taped recording over to the police department and Sheriff’s office. The next day, after the taped confession was handed over, Sandy lawyered up. (Further proving to investigators that she had something to do with Gary’s disappearance.) Albert even admits that when he learned that Sandy had retained lawyer, he believed with his whole heart that Sandy was guilty. But, the lawyer that Sandy hired, managed to convince Lena to retract her statement. It turned into a he-said-she-said situation.
Brian claims that Gary’s case has kept him up at night, and has kind of driven him a little crazy. Through the years, he’s managed to get a good grip on the facts, and claims to have knowledge into what happened. He thinks he knows who did it, why they did it, and how they managed to get rid of his body. But, he says that there’s nothing he can do about it- that knowing, but proving are two totally different things. (That’s why you always hear, “It’s what you can prove in court.”) Even though Lena had come forward, Gary’s case remained cold.
Brandi notes that for most of her life, she didn’t think that her mother could hurt a fly. But, once Lena’s confession was handed over, Brandi immediately began to question everything she ever knew. “Is she capable of murder?” Eventually, Lena confided to Brandi, just like she had done with Albert. It was the same story- Sandy, Gary, scrambled eggs, the couch, then the gunshots. But this time, Lena lets Brandi know that after Gary’s body was cremated, Lena threw his ashes out of the window as her mother (or someone else) drove the truck. Brandi was gutted to the core- she was numb. The following day, Brandi got in a fight with her mother. But, it was during this fight that Brandi threatened Sandy by telling her that she’d call the police. All Sandy replied, was for Brandi to get in the truck. Brandi remembers that she had listened to her mother, and climbed in the back of the truck. Her mother was in the front passenger seat, while Kris was driving. Kris suddenly stopped the truck in the middle of the road, and quickly pulled out a gun and pointed it in Brandi’s direction. Brandi claims that this was the scariest moment of her life, and all she could think to do was climb out and run in front of the truck. Brandi began screaming for help, trying to get her mother’s attention- but Sandy didn’t budge. “She looked like she was dead to the world.” Brandi had no idea where she was, and figured that if she ran, she would have been shot. So, she attempted to open the passenger side door, and luckily, found it unlocked. She climbed in next to Sandy, and wrapped herself around her mother, begging Sandy to tell Kris to leave her alone. After a brief pause, Sandy tells Kris “Don’t hurt my baby.” After Sandy told Kris to stand down, Kris got back behind the wheel, and drove the three of them home. “Before that night, I never thought she could have hurt anybody. After that moment, I never said nothing, because I didn’t want to risk my life. And that’s what Lena did. After she made the confession, she never said anything again.”
On November 3rd, 2003, Lena gave birth to her son, Colter. Robin notes that after Colter was born, that was a wrap- Lena wanted to give her son the best. After her son was born, she stopped talking about what happened to Gary- and didn’t want to bring it up again. All she wanted to do was work, and provide for her son. So, to do that, Lena took on more jobs that she could handle, leaving Colter to Sandy while she worked. For a while, Lena was doing very well, and succeeded at being a mom.
By the time 2006 had rolled around, Lena was preparing to settle down and marry her longtime boyfriend. She had finally met someone that could be a role model for her son, and was beginning to become financially independent from Sandy. But, ultimately, Lena’s independence was Sandy’s biggest threat. Because, if Lena was fully independent of Sandy, then Lena can say what she knows. Which led to tension between Sandy and Lena. The tension was at a peak when a lawsuit was filed.
Seeing as how there were no hopes of a criminal case ever being filed, Richard Anderson, Gary’s attorney, filed a civil case on behalf of the McCullough family on June 26th, 2006. “It was the only thing we could do.” Richard alleges through the civil case that Sandy and Kris Klemp were involved in Gary’s wrongful death, and that Lena was an accessory- that she conspired to help get rid of the body. Richard was confident that Lena would get immunity if she testified against Sandy and Kris. “That was the hope, but as it turns out, it didn’t work out that way.”
When deputies delivered the court summons to Sandy and Kris, it was noted that Lena could not be found. The deputies asked Sandy where they could find Lena. Sandy (using the same old song and dance story) tells the deputies that Lena had run off with a boy to Florida. (Now remember, Lena had actually been missing since Valentine’s Day of 2006.) Brandi alleges that during the time that Lena had disappeared, the two sisters had been spending a lot of time together. Brandi claims that she knew who Lena was seeing- or not seeing. Brandi admits that there wasn’t any guy from Florida that Lena was seeing or talking to. Then suddenly, Sandy tells her other daughters that Lena was throwing her whole family under the bus. But, the girls, even though panicked that they haven’t heard from their sister, didn’t believe Sandy’s claims. However, as more time pressed on, and the more time that passed since anyone heard from Lena, Brandi began to speculate that maybe, just maybe, Sandy was involved. When Albert was informed that Lena had gone missing, his immediate thought was that his ex-wife had something to do with it. He based this theory on the fact that Lena held all the cards in whether or not Sandy went to jail, or remained free. “Lena could have busted the whole thing wide open.”
Like Brandi and Albert, Robin also believed that Sandy was at fault in Lena’s disappearance. Robin began posting missing persons posters of her sister all over town. But, she learned after a little while that Sandy was paying Robin’s little sister five dollars a piece to take all the signs down. “Why would someone pay to have their daughter’s missing persons posters taken down?” When Robin found out about the betrayal, she called Sandy. Robin allegedly told Sandy that she messed up this time- that she knew that she had something to do with Lena, and that she’d find the evidence she needed to put her away, whether it was about Gary or Lena, Robin would find it. Robin says that her mother put on her “fake voice” and questioned her daughter why she would say things like that. Sandy even pulled out the, “I’m your mother, and don’t talk to me that way” response. Robin told Sandy that she wasn’t a part of her life, or her family anymore. She had completely written Sandy out of her life.
Brandi tells the police that they needed to look into Sandy’s whereabouts on the days leading up to, and after Lena had gone missing, and told them that Sandy would have had enough motive to kill Lena. Even though Sandy had convinced Lena to recant her confession, Brandi says that it’s been years since then, and that Lena was older and more financially stable; who knows if she would have been willing to confess about Gary’s murder. “Mom knew that if Lena was gone, she’d get what she wanted. By not being exposed of the murder of her ex husband, and she would get her (Lena’s) son.”
Brandi and Robin also believe that another reason why Sandy would be willing to kill her own daughter was because she wanted custody of Colter. By all accounts, Sandy would tell Colter that he needed to call her, ‘Mom”. Robin says that once Sandy knew that Lena was having a boy, she changed and became obsessive- and possessive of Colter. Robin says that since Sandy only had girls, she viewed Colter as her own- finally a boy. Robin admits that Sandy had convinced herself that she was actually Colter’s mom. Brandi says that almost immediately after Lena went missing, Sandy filed abandonment charges against Lena. Because Lena wasn’t there to defend herself, the court granted custody to Sandy.
In July of 2013, Judge Carr Woods heard the wrongful death lawsuit brought against Sandy and Kris Klemp for the murder of Gary, but Lena’s confession tape wasn’t allowed to be used as evidence. However, the jury did see that Sandy’s own children took the stand against her and implicated their mother of being involved in a murder plot. Brandi’s testimony was particularly powerful. Brandi had stood in court for two hours, answers questions and telling her story about the night that Kris Klemp and Sandy had *almost* killed her. At first, Brandi didn’t think that she was going to be strong enough to go against her mother, but when she did, she felt good about it because she knew that she was doing the right thing. Ultimately, the jury found that Sandy and Kris were in fact liable in taking the life of Gary. Sandy and Kris were ordered to pay $7 million to Gary’s daughters. However, at the time of the documentary, the family had not yet received any compensation.
Although Sandy and Kris got divorced in 2014, Sandy remarried and retains custody of Colter. Brandi admits that she hasn’t seen Colter since he was in kindergarten. Brandi believes that a big reason why Sandy has since pulled Colter out of public school, and now home-schools him is because she doesn’t want Colter to find out what has happened to Lena. But, Brandi is adamant that once Colter gets a little older, they’re gonna tell him the truth about his biological mother, and Sandy. Brandi is unable to get over that fact that Sandy gets to wake up every morning to a smiling and happy boy, and is able to parent Colter, while Lena is unable to do that. Brandi vows that since Lena is gone, it’s her sole job to get Sandy put behind bars for what she has done. She also will spend every day trying to find her sister.
It’s revealed that Kris and Sandy had access to two pieces of property- a Sligo property, and an 80 acre ranch just north of Salem. Brandi and Robin were given permission by the current owners to search the farms where Sandy and Kris once lived. At this point, Brandi walks on the Sligo property that is labeled as the former Klemp Farm, and that Kris and Sandy lived there from August 2000-March of 2006. It’s where Kris and Sandy lived when Lena went missing. Brandi admits that her mother isn’t stupid, so wherever Lena is, is going to be very hard to get to. While walking the property, Brandi claims that a well that used to be on the property has since been removed. She doesn’t understand why it would have been taken out- unless it’s where Lena’s body was hidden. Brandi deduces that Sandy filled in the well and covered it up before moving so that Lena’s body would never be found.
The next place we’re taken to, is the former Klemp farm in Salem, Missouri where Kris and Sandy lived from March 2006 to November 2014. Robin takes us on a tour of this property, and informs us that Sandy moved there just a few months after Lena had gone missing. On a walk from the pond one day, Sandy tells Robin that she buried her dog between the four trees in front of the house. Robin couldn’t make sense of it because she was under the impression that the dog was buried at the old house. Robin thought to herself that maybe Sandy might have buried Lena near the four trees- and not the dog. During the documentary, Brandi and Robin bring the camera crew, along with an investigator and someone that used a ground-scan tool to search the area between the four trees. The girls were informed that they wouldn’t know for certain if Lena was buried there, but were told that it was a good place to start. However, after a day of searching, no remains were found.
As old pictures of the girls are shown, Robin says that it’s hard not having Lena, or her mother around. But, as tears began to well up and fall, she says that all she wants is for Lena to know how much she’s loved. And that she’s so proud of her sister who tried to keep her family together. Brandi says that there’s not a day that goes by that she doesn’t think about her sister, and that she misses Lena so much. Brandi says that if Lena was there, she’d tell her that she loves her and that she would never forget her.
White intertitle rolling past a sunset states that neither Sandy or Kris Klemp responded to requests to be interviewed for the documentary. Then it goes on to say “If you have any information regarding the disappearance of Lena Chapin, please contact the Dent County, Missouri Sheriff’s Office at 573-729-3241, or go to unsolved.com”
If you enjoyed these ‘Unsolved Mysteries’ recaps and analyses, then be prepared to check back in October, as six new episodes will be dropped starting October 19th on Netflix.