Elgin woman's disappearance haunts family

Elgin woman's disappearance haunts family

April 13, 2008
The Courier News, IL

ELGIN -- Karen Schepers was 23 years old. She had no credit card debt, a car that was recently paid off and money in the bank. She had a boyfriend and a job she enjoyed as a programmer at First Chicago Bankcard in Elgin.

"She had everything going on," according to Elgin police Detective Brian Gorcowski.

Then she disappeared.

In many ways, the Elgin woman's disappearance isn't much different from the nationally publicized recent disappearances of suburban moms Lisa Stebic of Plainfield and Stacy Peterson of Bolingbrook. She was young and pretty and vanished without a trace.

"It's different only in the sense that, one, it is a very old case, and, two, it's a very old case that hasn't had a lot of attention," said Barbara Lamacki, Illinois area director of the Doe Network, which assists law enforcement agencies in solving cold cases involving unexplained disappearances.

Schepers last was seen on an early Saturday morning inside Carpentersville bar P.M. Bentley's, celebrating a promotion with about 20 co-workers. No one recalls seeing her leave. Her Social Security number, credit cards and bank account never have been used, nor has her car been spotted since that April 16 night 25 years ago.

Schepers' family and Elgin police are marking the sad anniversary this week with a renewed investigation into her disappearance, one of 3,178 missing persons cases that remain unsolved in the state of Illinois. Nationwide, that number is 104,892, according to Lamacki.

It was revisited once before, in the late 1990s when Elgin police teamed with the Illinois State Police to review about a half-dozen local cases in the state's cold case initiative. Last fall Gorcowski joined the investigation at the request of Schepers' family.

"We just feel that it's a missing person and it's getting to be a cold case, and there are a lot of cold cases that are being solved," said Elizabeth Paulson, Schepers' mother. "We have never had any closure."

Paulson lives in the Sycamore home where she raised her nine children. Schepers was the oldest girl and "a little mother-type person," she says.

A different time

At the time of her daughter's disappearance, Paulson was living in Texas and Schepers' father, Loren Schepers, was living in Elgin.

He rented a plane and conducted aerial searches for her bright yellow 1980 Toyota Celica lift-back after his daughter went missing. The family consulted famous psychic Irene Hughes and distributed missing posters across the country that netted tips from as far away as California.

But as Gorcowski noted, "It's not like Peterson or Stebic where you have huge numbers of people searching. This was a different time."

Investigations are different now now, too, he said. Police can track people's whereabouts using signals from cell phones, I-PASS transponders and GPS devices and computers' IP addresses.

Gorcowski still is amassing all the case files from both the Elgin Police Department and Illinois State Police and plans to re-interview everyone police spoke with at the time of Schepers' disappearance. He's added her DNA to the President's DNA Initiative, a DNA database for missing people, and teamed with Lamacki and the DOE Network to appear on radio shows and podcasts such as Missing Pieces.

Already he's made one loosely connected discovery. Thomas Urlacher, suspected in the 1976 disappearance of 14-year-old Barbara Glueckert from Huntley, was a previous tenant of Schepers' Elgin apartment at 311 Lovell St. Urlacher was shot to death in April 2004 in Colorado, and Glueckert never has been found.

Raising awareness

With the renewed investigation, Paulson said, "We, as a family, have the feeling somebody cares and is working for us, and that's important."

Stebic family spokeswoman Melanie Greenberg said she thinks high-profile cases of missing persons such as Natalee Holloway, Laci Peterson and Stebic, who is the cousin of her husband, Mark Greenberg, have raised awareness of similar cases since 1983. Stebic will be missing one year on April 30, and Greenberg said simply not knowing what happened to her has been the hardest part for her family.

"It's hard. It's hard to keep going," Greenberg said. "I can't imagine 25 years."

Gorcowski said he hopes the renewed investigation will turn up overlooked information, uncover information using new technology or encourage anyone with information about Schepers' who might have been afraid to step forward in 1983 to contact the Elgin Police Department.

"People have their attention on current events, but here's a family that hasn't had closure in 25 years," Gorcowski said. "We hope there's some local, national awareness there are more missing persons out there and at least one person out of Elgin."

On the Net

The DOE Network:


Missing Pieces: