The Disappearance of Kortne Stouffer

In my last post, I discussed the strange death of Robert Wone. This time I will be discussing a  different, lesser known case involving a missing person. The Robert Wone case took place in a wealthy neighborhood of Washington D.C, and most of the principles involved were respected professionals with no criminal history. By contrast, this case involves no less then three calls to the police, a very irate drunk woman and her equally irate neighbors, and the person who would normally be the prime suspect has an alibi by being in jail the whole time. So, different atmosphere.

In the summer of 2012, Kortne Stouffer was a 21-year old working as a dog groomer and living with her boyfriend, Bradley Herr,  in an apartment in Palmyra, Pennsylvania. Sometime in the early hours of July 29th, 2012, between the hours of 3:45 am and 7:00 am, Kortne vanished and has not been seen or heard from since.

Kortne’s case interests me for a number of reasons. For one, while its fairly well known in the region of Pennsylvania where it happened, it’s not one of the most frequently discussed cases in true crime circles. Also, several things happened shortly before the disappearance which may or may not be related to it, and there are multiple persons of interest who have no known connections to each other.  Also, Kortne strikes me as an interesting figure–a lively animal-lover who also had some real flaws which came to the forefront the night she vanished This, I think is an important point in and of itself. I’ve had some episodes of my life that I’m not exactly proud of, either, and if I happened to be murdered or abducted during one of them I would kind of like to think that someone would still care.

Kortne had grown up on a farm in the area, and was still close to her parents and siblings. At the time of her disappearance, her parents were divorced but still in frequent contact with on another. She had always been free-spirited, and had a love for all things 1960s–many pictures of her show her dressed in tie-dye and hippie-style headbands. Even those who cared about her most admitted that Kortne had a temper and could be abrasive. During the night of July 28th and early morning of July 29th, Kortne was drinking with friends and had several altercations with neighbors and acquaintances, making it difficult to guess what actually happened to her.

Kortne and Bradley had been renting an apartment in a divided, 2-story duplex since earlier that year. A couple referred to as Janice and Rich were renting the apartment below them, and there was another neighbor, a 45-year old single man named Todd, renting the apartment that shared a wall with Kortne’s.  According to her friends and family, Kortne and Todd had never gotten along after she and Bradley moved in. In fact, the week before she vanished, Kortne had called her mother to claim that he was “videotaping” her. At around 9:00 pm on July 28th, Kortne and Bradley had several friends over for a party when the police showed up, saying there had been a noise complaint from the neighbors (this has been attributed to Janice and Rich). It would probably have ended how this situation usually does, with the young people turning down the music until the cop car pulls out of the driveway, except that the police noticed Bradley with alcohol. At the time, he was on probation for a DUI, and so he was arrested and taken to jail, where he would remain for the next few days. This infuriated Kortne, who blamed the downstairs neighbors for calling the police. At 9:50 pm, she called her mother, who said that Kortne was upset by the incident and worried that Bradley would be going to jail for a long time .

Accounts get a little contradictory around this point. When I first read about this case, I was under the impression that an agitated Kortne had started yelling at the neighbors, and that the other people at the party had suggested going to a bar in nearby Harrisburg in an attempt to diffuse this situation. I was under the impression that Cody Pruett (who will become critical to the case) was among this group. However, the Disappeared episode that covered the story implied that Pruett was not at the party, but that Kortne had called him and arranged to meet him at a nearby gas station. Then the two of them, along with a few other friends, then made the 25 mile trip to Harrisburg. If the latter scenario is the case, then we’ll have to assume that everyone else at the party just left at that point, or at least had parted ways with Kortne before the next major events of the night happened.

Regardless, Kortne ended up at the Harrisburg bar with Pruett and some other friends, including a man named Milton Rodriguez Jr. Pruett was  a 29-year old  friend of both Bradley and Kortne’s, and according to some sources it was no secret that he had a crush on Kortne. While she was there, another conflict erupted, this time between Kortne and a man out with his girlfriend. The only time I have seen or heard this man  called by name was in the Vanished podcast episode, which referred to him as “Arverd”, so I am not certain if the spelling is correct. Kortne and Bradley knew him, and she claimed that he had previously broken into her apartment and stolen money. The fight escalated, and Kortne was kicked out of the bar. She waited outside until the rest of the group came out, then went with Pruett and Rodriguez Jr. to pick up her car at the gas station.

After leaving Harrisburg, Kortne returned to Palmyra, followed by  Cody Pruett and Milton Rodriguez Jr. Pruett dropped Milton off at his home on the way, and then continued with Kortne to her apartment “to make sure she got home okay”. Once they got there, it became clear that Kortne’s problems with her neighbors were not over. At 3:15 am, police received the second call from the apartments, this one from Todd. When they arrived, the verbal argument between Kortne and Todd had almost become physical. The police separated them and told everyone to go back to their respective apartments. They left at around 3:45 am, but at 4:12 am they received the third and last call from the apartments. The neighbors (Janice and Rich this time, as I understand it) claimed that Kortne was yelling at them and banging on walls from her apartment. I have not found documentation as to the exact time that police arrived for the last time, but it seems to have been around 4:30 am.

This time, however, everything was quiet. There was no noise or visible lights coming from either apartment, and the police left. The rest of what we know about that night and morning comes from Cody Pruett’s version of events.

According to Cody Pruett, Kortne had in fact started harassing Janice and Rich once more as reported, but he had managed to calm her. Kortne went to go lie down in one room, and Pruett had gone to sleep in another. He claims not to have heard the police knocking or been aware they had showed up again. He woke up around 7:00 am and left the apartment, believing Kortne was still sleeping in another room. He went to a nearby convenience store to get something to drink (video surveillance supports this) and sent Kortne a text, but she did not respond. He also sent a message to Rodriguez Jr., since Pruett was still driving Rodriguez’s car.

On the morning of July 30th, Kortne’s mother went to the apartment to check on her, because the family had been unable to reach her all the following day, even though she and her brother had plans in the afternoon. She found Kortne’s keys and shoes near the door, where she always left them, and her phone was plugged in next to her bed. The TV and air conditioner were both turned on. There was no sign of a disturbance, and no sign of Kortne. Here I have to wonder what exactly her mother’s–and law enforcement’s–definition of “disturbance” was. After all, there had been a raucous party in that same apartment a few hours before Kortne disappeared, and no one would have cleaned it up. It’s probably best if we interpret this as “no obvious signs of a struggle.” Kortne and Bradley both had dogs, who were inside t and had evidently not been let outside in a while. Her car was still in the driveway with its windows down.

 

The Investigation

From quite early in the investigation, police treated the case as an abduction, and I’ll be working based on this theory for the rest of this article. I suppose it is possible that Kortne wandered away from her apartment and met with some kind of accident, but this seems unlikely. Among the individuals investigated were Cody Pruett, Milton Rodriguez Jr., Arverd, and Kortne’s neighbor Todd. Janice and Rich were questioned, but I have not learned that they were investigated heavily. Pruett was described as being very cooperative, and submitted DNA. Searches were conducted in his home, Rodriguez’s home, and the car that Pruett had borrowed from Rodriguez. Nothing suspicious turned up at any point. I have read differing accounts of Todd’s behavior–one source described him as cooperative while another called him “evasive”–but there was nothing in his apartment or car to link him to Kortne’s disappearance, either. More ominously, he had called the landlady who owned the apartments to complain about Kortne’s loudness and conduct. He left a message saying that if the landlady wouldn’t deal with the situation, then he would. This was brought up in the Disappeared episode about the case, but it is unclear to me when exactly that call took place.

As for Arverd, he claimed that he and his girlfriend had left the bar and Harrisburg and spent the night at his parents house, and alibi that was supported by his family. It should be noted that, a few months later, in October of 2012, he was part of a group of men arrested and ultimately convicted of breaking and entering and armed robbery.

At one point, a rumor surfaced that Kortne had been murdered and disposed of in a nearby lake, but two separate searches of the lake revealed nothing and the rumor is now regarded to be bogus.  One private investigator links the case with several other missing or murdered young women with some physical similarities to Kortne, implying they are victims of the same serial killer. These cases cover several states, and while it is possible that Kortne was the victim of some type of serial predator, there is nothing definitive to link her case to the others across such a wide geographic region.

There has been a lot of suspicion on Cody Pruett from the outset, and his name comes up frequently in discussions about the case. There is good reason for this–after all, he was the last known person to see Kortne and he claims to have slept through whatever caused her to disappear that night. There is even a possible motive if he was attracted to her, and was then rejected by her. This definitely warrants investigation and Pruett still remains a person of interest in my book. However, I’m little less suspicious of him than the majority of people who study the case. One theory that gets brought up a lot is that the yelling and floor stamping that prompted the last police call by the neighbors was actually Kortne being attacked by Pruett. It has also been suggested that Pruett was afraid of being arrested if police were called again, and accidentally hurt Kortne trying to keep her quiet. These area great thoughts, and I’m glad they were put out there, but there are things that don’t sit right with me about this theory. First of all, most accounts indicate that Janice and Rich could hear what Kortne was yelling, and that she really was screaming at them and not an attacker. Secondly, if Pruett was involved in what happened to Kortne, he would have had to take her somewhere in Rodriguez’s car. If he talked her into going someplace with him and attacked her there, it seems unlikely she would leave all of her things behind. Why would he then return to the area near the apartment the next morning, when he went to the store? Wouldn’t it be better for him to have driven home and say that he left when Kortne went to bed? His narrative puts him at the apartment the whole night, and it seems like he would be trying to distance himself from it if he was guilty of something. Some people have suggested that he went to the store and sent Kortne text messages to establish an alibi, but this seems more complex than someone in his position would think of at a time like that.

The neighbors are also brought up, especially Todd. I’m skeptical of Rich and/or Janice being involved in the disappearance, because they were the ones that summoned law enforcement in the third and final call of the night. Both levels of the duplex were quiet when police arrived, so there was no remaining reason for the couple to confront Kortne. And I really doubt they did anything prior to that point, because why would anyone commit a crime when they already knew police were coming soon? Todd is a bit more of a conundrum. There seemed to be real hostility between him and Kortne, and according to Kortne’s account to her mother, perhaps something even more sinister on his part. And he did make a blatant threat against her in the phone call to the landlady. Also, when Kortne and Pruett returned, it sounds like Kortne almost immediately started arguing with him, meaning he was likely awake and outside at 3:00 am.

The possibility that Arverd was involved in Kortne’s disappearance also intrigues me. On one hand, it’s an eerie coincidence that he had an angry confrontation with Kortne that evening, and then later that same year he was involved in an incident that apparently involved breaking and entering while armed, apparently with the intent of robbery. Earlier, Kortne had a conversation with her mother in which she accused him of breaking into their apartment, and, as irate as she was at the bar, she almost certainly accused him  directly, too. Now, I think we have reason to think that Kortne could be a bit of a drama queen, which is something I keep in mind with her accusations of Todd videotaping her as well. However, I have to admit that the puzzles pieces fit together a little too neatly to dismiss this theory. There are problems too–Arverd did have an alibi for that night, if a somewhat weak one. His girlfriend who was with him at the bar supports it, as well as his parents. However, it was already late when he encountered Kortne, and were his parents really awake when he returned in what would have been the small hours of the morning? And, keep in mind, if he went to Kortne’s apartment that night, he would have had to make the same 25 mile drive to do so. If he was involved, he had to have believed it was important enough to deal with as soon as possible.

There’s a tangential theory that Arverd was not directly involved, but that someone else in the same circle of acquaintances as Kortne, Bradley, and Arverd may have been. The idea is that word of Bradley’s arrest had gotten around, and someone thought that the apartment would be easy pickings for money (and possibly drugs) with him gone. To me this is a little vague, but not implausible. In the Disappeared episode, Kortne’s parents express that they had concerns about some of Kortne’s friends, and thought she was getting involved with a somewhat rough crowd. In  Arverd’s case, his later behavior seems to support this. So I have to take into consideration that Bradley’s arrest triggered some kind of chain reaction of which Kortne’s disappearance was an unintended result.

It’s also possible that Kortne was abducted by someone she knew who has not been mentioned–or by someone she didn’t know. This is entirely possible–maybe she had acquired a stalker at some point, or stepped outside and interrupted some kind of illegal activity in the area around her apartment. However, there’s not really a lot of evidence pointing in this direction. The place where Kortne and her neighbors lived are often described as “apartments”, but more detailed descriptions make it out to be a duplex divided into three parts with Janice and Rich occupying the lower floor of one half, Kortne occupying the upper floor, and Todd living on the upper and lower floors of the remaining third. This was not, as I understand it, a large apartment complex with a big parking lot and several other people living nearby. I’m far from an expert in these matters, but if you’re a serial predator looking for a victim or someone looking to make drug deals, I can point you to several better locations. So I tend towards the theory that what happened to Kortne was in some way directed at specifically at her or her living place.

 

Conclusions (such as they are).

I’m not committed to this idea, but I think a lot of issues with this story–the lack of evidence in the apartment itself, the fact that no one heard anything out of a woman who had done almost  nothing but make noise for the past few hours–are resolved if Kortne stepped outside her apartment on her own, and whatever happened to her happened after that. Kortne may have quieted down by the time Cody Pruett went to sleep, but she could still have been too restless to stay in her bed and so stepped outside. It’s possible she heard someone on the stairs outside her door and went to investigate (I’m not 100% certain, but descriptions make me think there was an exterior door leading to a flight of stairs and then another door to the actual rooms of the apartment). She could have let the dogs outside, encountered someone, and put the dogs back inside to talk to them. If Todd was outside again, she could have spotted him and been ready for round two of the Neighbor Wars. However it happened, I think that Kortne left her apartment with the intention of being outside for only a short period of time. At this point, she encountered the person or persons who abducted and presumably murdered her. One thing I am almost entirely undecided on is if all this happened in the brief interval before the police returned at 4:30 am, or during the longer interval between 4:30 and 7:00 am (although odds favor the latter). I really hope this case will be solved in the near future, and I don’t think it’s a total long shot that it will be. There are plenty of cases that I highly doubt will be solved, and I still intend to write about them if they interest me, but I would not put this one in that category yet. It will be six years this summer, and it seems likely that there are people who know exactly what happened that night still living around Palmyra. I’ll be watching for any developments, and report them if they happen.

Meanwhile, I would love to hear anyone else’s thoughts!

–L.R.

 

 

 

 

References

https://crimewatchdaily.com/2016/04/25/woman-21-vanishes-from-apartment-after-3-police-visits-in-one-night/

http://crimefeed.com/2016/02/what-could-have-happened-to-21-year-old-kortne-stouffer/

http://bringkortnehome.com/ A website maintained by the family, which includes a lot of details about Kortne’s life and the case.

http://www.thevanishedpodcast.com/episodes/2017/3/24/episode-70-kortne-stouffer An excellent, succinct podcast episode covering the case

https://www.reddit.com/r/UnresolvedMysteries/comments/7o19cv/the_disappearance_of_kortne_stouffer/

Investigation Discovery’s Disappeared: Season 8, Episode 4 “Spirited Away” This episode was extremely helpful in filling in some of the information gaps, especially with regards to which of Kortne’s neighbors were doing what.