On July 8, 2014 Lynn Messer disappeared from her country home in Ste. Genevieve County off State Route DD.
Her husband, Kerry Messer, told authorities he woke up in the early morning hours only to discover his wife was not in the bed with him.
Kerry said he got up and looked around the house for her. Unable to locate her, he then went on to search the common areas around their 250-acre farm where she would normally be found.
When Kerry still couldn’t locate her he became increasingly concerned and a call to 911 was placed to have the Ste. Genevieve County Sheriff’s Department come out to help assist. His property soon turned into a command post where the St. Louis Regional Command Post, Eureka Search and Rescue, along with K-9 teams, local fire departments and citizen volunteers converged to search full force for Lynn.
As days turned into weeks, and the weeks turned into months the search parties slowly dwindled down and fewer people were volunteering their time. Over the next two years searches had been conducted on approximately 5,000 acres surrounding the rural farm. During the initial search by law enforcement they focused on approximately 400 acres including and surrounding the Messer farm.
Flyers of Lynn could be seen in storefronts all over Ste. Genevieve County, in surrounding areas and beyond. A Facebook page titled “Find Lynn Messer” was set up and has received more than 6,400 likes. In the years since Lynn's disappearance Kerry posted his thoughts, feelings and pleas for the world to read.
The Ste. Genevieve County Sheriff’s Department worked endless hours on the case in hopes of finding an answer to Lynn’s disappearance.
Not long after the two-year anniversary of Lynn’s disappearance, on Nov. 1 a set of human remains were found on the most southern end of the Messer farm by a family member while scouting for hunting locations.
The sheriff’s department was immediately called back to the farm and according to Ste. Genevieve County Sheriff Gary Stolzer they quickly verified it was, in fact, human remains and called the FBI to come to the scene.
A perimeter was set up and watched closely until FBI agents arrived early the next morning. An extensive search of the area around the remains ensued and they carefully and methodically processed the scene, removing each layer of fallen leaf debris in hopes of finding anything that might help provide clues.
The evening the remains were found, maybe even at the moment Aaron Messer and his two daughters were walking by and observed a skull, Stolzer ironically was on the phone discussing what few things he could openly discuss about the unsolved case.
“A case like this, you don’t know until you know and everything is a possibility,” said Stolzer. “She could have walked off, she could have ran away, she could have committed suicide, (or) somebody could have caused her death ... we don’t know.”
He stressed the possibilities are so broad in a case like this and they must interview everyone like they are a suspect.
“That doesn’t necessarily mean they are one, but maybe they are, we don’t know,” said Stolzer. “You are pulled in 10 directions because you don’t know. We looked at a lot of stuff, and because it is an open case we won’t discuss all of that. Everything was looked at thoroughly by us. The FBI has assisted us, and the Missouri State Highway Patrol has assisted us.”
Stolzer said they had quite a bit of help looking at everything, processing the scene, vehicles and cell phone records.
“You talk about the search of the property. The first 24 hours we had that strike force down here from St. Louis and after that first 24 hours ... we were about 98 percent sure we weren’t going to find her on that 260 acres of their farm,” explained Stolzer. “Because GPS was used on people who were walking and on dogs, so we had a grid pattern on a computer. We could tell what had been searched and what had not, and once it was searched we searched that entire thing again.”
Stolzer said they weren’t guessing about where they were walking, they had it mapped and divided out and knew they walked there because of where the GPS signal registered. He said he could actually sit in the command center and look and see where the searchers were walking.
“We had a print out of that afterwards,” said Stolzer. “All the searching done afterwards was kind of expanded from our initial search. Our initial search was approximately 400 acres, not just the 260 (acres) of the farm. Loved ones and family kept searching and searching the same area we searched and in broader distances, but we were confident she was not in that area to be found.”
Stolzer explained the problem is if you go over an area, it doesn’t mean you step on every square inch. Considering where the remains were eventually found it’s a good possibility it would have taken a dog to find her ... unless a searcher stepped directly on top of her. And, he adds, that would have been unlikely because of where she was located in a thicket.
“That area was searched, just like the whole rest of the farm,” said Stolzer. “Less than five percent of the searchers were law enforcement. The rest were professional searchers, fire departments and volunteers. We have to rely on everyone else in helping with something like that.” Stolzer feels they just didn’t get lucky. He stressed if you search for anybody in the woods there is a certain degree of luck in finding them.
“When we put all that manpower toward it the first time we were looking for someone alive,” said Stolzer. “We were not looking for a body those first few days. We were looking for a live person and I think people need to understand that, too.”
He added he doesn’t know if people really get why law enforcement pulls out of a search like that at some point.
“Searching the same spot over and over, after we had gridded it out and have maps of what we did exactly search, is not logical for us to spend our time on that anymore,” Stolzer explained. “But in this case, even after we did that the area was searched and searched again.”
Stolzer spoke of another case he is very familiar with where a young boy had gone missing and they searched everywhere. He said they searched the woods, called in specialists to use sonar on the lake and couldn’t find him. Eventually the boy was found and had drowned in the lake.
“It’s a case of we searched and he was found right where we had been searching all along,” said Stolzer. “It happens and is more common than you would think. I feel horrible we did not find her body, but I know we did everything we could have possibly done.”
He said when you go to a recovery mission it’s just totally different than looking for a live person. After a few days in a missing person case, it becomes a recovery mission and that’s why everybody pulls out because they were there to find a live person.
“They aren’t there to find the body. That is why after the initial few days that’s when blood hounds and different things are brought in,” said Stolzer. “But there was nothing to be found at that time.”
Forensic evidence recovered from where the remains, eventually confirmed to be those of Lynn, were found was been sent to a couple different labs for analysis. Now the sheriff’s department will wait until that evidence is processed and results are available.
The case is still far from over. Her remains may have been found, but now the question of what happened to her rests in the hands of investigators and forensic experts. Stolzer is quick to remind that this is an ongoing open investigation and is far from being closed.
Renee Bronaugh is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-518-3617 or email@example.com
“A case like this, you don’t know until you know and everything is a possibility. She could have walked off, she could have ran away, she could have committed suicide, (or) somebody could have caused her death ... we don’t know.” - Sheriff Gary Stolzer, Ste. Genevieve County
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