Disappeared, without a trace

Disappeared, without a trace

April 15, 2008
The Daily Herald
By Harry Hitzeman

Disappeared, without a trace

Family seeks answers on woman missing 25 years Over the years, Liz Paulson has sold off most of her 75-acre farm in rural Sycamore.

Over the years, Liz Paulson has sold off most of her 75-acre farm in rural Sycamore.

But she still keeps five acres and the six-bedroom home where her daughter Karen Schepers and her eight siblings grew up.

And Paulson won't sell the house anytime soon.

Karen, a vibrant 23-year-old with a good job and bright future, disappeared without a trace 25 years ago.

But if by some miracle she comes back, Paulson wants her daughter to see, feel, hear and smell the familiar surroundings where she spent her childhood.

"I'm the girl's mother, and I can't let go. You don't totally let go," Paulson said. "I have to keep this (house) so she has somewhere to come to."

Without a trace

Karen Schepers had every reason to be happy on April 15, 1983.

She just received her $1,200 tax return, which she put in the bank. The Elgin woman had recently paid off her car, a canary yellow 1980 Toyota Celica, meaning she had virtually no debt.

And she just earned a promotion as a computer programmer.

So Karen and about 20 of her co-workers at Visa in Elgin went out that Friday night at P.M. Bentley's, a bar in Carpentersville.

During the evening, she called her fiance, 29-year-old Terry Schultz, to come join the party. But he refused because he had to work early the next morning.

They snapped at each other, but she didn't let that ruin her night.

Gradually, her co-workers departed and she was the only one left. Karen was last seen at the bar about 1:30 a.m., but no one remembers seeing her leave or get into her car, police said.

Her body and car have never been found. Her bank accounts were untouched; no one tried to use her Social Security number.

"Nobody knows (what happened) because she was the last person to leave," said Karen's younger sister Susan Trainer.

Always 'what if'

In the 25 years since Karen's disappearance, her relatives have been plagued with unanswered questions.

What happened to Karen? Where is she now? And what if she were here with us now?

Her family's milestones are marked, in part, by Karen not being there and wondering what her life would be like.

"We're going through all these different stages of life. It makes you wonder. We don't know what these stages would be like for her," Trainer said. "Without any resolution, your mind goes to all different possibilities when you start thinking about it."

Dale Schepers, her younger brother, is still angry that the initial Elgin police response was that Karen left because she "needed space" -- not that she could have been a victim of foul play, he said.

"Even if you found the worst, at least it's factual," he said. "Now, 25 years later, it's speculation at best. We're still at the same place we were the first day."

Barbara Lamacki is the Illinois area director of the Doe Network, which helps law enforcement publicize unsolved missing persons cases, including Karen's.

Lamacki says Karen's family and others never had closure, which eventually leads to healing.

"This is the most heartbreaking part," Lamacki said. "For these families, that hasn't happened and never will until she is located. We want to give (Karen's) family that chance to heal by providing some measure of closure, some kind of answer."

Reopening the case

The case went cold in 1984 when leads dried up, suspects were ruled out, and aerial and underwater searches came up empty.

Authorities reopened it in the late 1990s with no results.

Elgin police detective Brian Gorcowski was assigned the case last fall when family members submitted some of Karen's hair from an old brush for a DNA sample. He is reviewing all notes from Karen's case and plans to re-interview everyone involved.

Gorcowski also plans to meet with an Idaho-based firm about bodies of water in the area to search with technology that goes beyond what scuba divers could see in the 1980s.

"She's still a missing person," Gorcowski said. "Do we know for sure that she (has been a victim of foul play)? The answer is no. Do we suspect it? Absolutely."

Gorcowski partnered with the Doe Network to help get the word out.

Together, they hope to get Karen's picture on some Chicago-area billboards, similar to efforts to find Lisa Stebic, a Plainfield mom who has been missing for nearly a year.

The Doe Network plans to compile a video of Karen's case to post on You Tube, along with an Internet podcast on the Web site www.missingpieces.info.

The hope is exposure will jog the memory of someone who can provide the next clue.

"Someone knows something. People don't live in a vacuum," Lamacki said. "Whoever was the last person to see Karen, I think they told someone else. That's human nature. It's hard for people to keep secrets like that."

Holding on to hope

Although Karen is missing, her spirit lives on.

Family members describe Aunt Karen to their children as a bright young woman who enjoyed sewing and knitting, even making some of her own clothes.

Karen also was an excellent piano player; one of her favorite pieces was Mozart's "Piano Sonata No. 15 in C Major," which Trainer and her 10-year-old son both learned.

The family has sent out her old piano to be re-tuned.

Soon it will return to its place in the cozy home in Sycamore, where her family hopes she will return as well.

"You've got to try to cover all the possibilities," Dale Schepers said. "If you discount one, it might be the one that's true or real. As slim a possibility as it is, we're not going to overlook it. We'll stay and see what we can do with it."

Paulson agreed.

"One of the last things that would have been familiar to her is right here, same spot, same road," she said. "You just wonder where she might be."