Vanished 

Why did Jan Stavros mysteriously disappear without a trace?

In photos, the petite 42-year-old woman with brown hair and a knowing smile looks accessible and friendly—the kind of person strangers might talk to while waiting in line at the grocery store. The word ‘accessible’ describes her well, says daughter Meghan Laudie, who adds that she’s never talked to anyone who didn’t like her mom. Jan, as she liked to be called, enjoyed making friends with people who needed friends, to help them be the best they could be, says Meghan. “Most of the time it worked for her.”

Ten months after Jan Stavros’ disappearance, Meghan continues to seek answers to the mystery she fears is the aftermath of murder. She has sought out psychics and asked for help looking for clues over the Internet. But there are few clues and investigators have little evidence as to what happened to the East Millcreek woman.

Meghan was living alone in Lakewood, Colo., when she felt the urge to move home to Salt Lake City in late August 2000, less than five months before her mother’s disappearance. She didn’t know why, exactly, even though she’d always felt that something might happen to her mom. She thinks her mother somehow sensed her fate, too. “Mom was very intuitive. She had lots of books about death and dying, about afterlife and transitions and changing. It was like both of our subconscious minds were speaking to us.”

The last time Meghan saw her mother was Jan. 2. The night before she disappeared, Jan, her boyfriend Bobby Butcher and Meghan had dinner at the home of Mike Stavros, Jan’s ex-husband. In the middle of the night, Meghan became uneasy and began to get concerned for her mother. Feeling a continuing sense of urgency the next morning, she encouraged Mike Stavros to visit the home he and her mother once shared at 3215 S. 2910 East in Salt Lake County.

“It was eerie,” Mike remembers. “Her cell phone was on the desk, her puppy was in the back yard and her new truck was in the driveway.”

He looked everywhere, even inspecting the snow outside for signs of a struggle or any kind of clue. But the scene appeared as if Jan had done nothing more drastic than take a walk around the block. It was like she somehow left her everyday life behind—an action Meghan insists her mother wouldn’t make. Meghan recalls Jan as a dedicated mother who, when they were younger, made sure her children were fed and always had clean clothes. Now she fears that not only has she lost her mother, but also her best friend. “That’s how I know she’s dead. The connection between us that was so strong was suddenly gone.”

Mike Stavros, who was married to Jan for 10 years until their amicable separation a year and half ago, describes his former wife as a kind, caring and loyal person. After building a construction supply business together, the pair decided they were better co-workers than spouses. “We divided everything up between the two of us with a pencil and a notepad,” he said. After a year of being divorced they were on closer terms than they had been in a couple of years. Still, despite that closeness, he didn’t feel he was in a position to criticize Jan’s relationship with other men. “I tried to be a good friend and accept her choices.” He does say, however, that she was perhaps too trusting. “Before Bobby, she got burned a couple of times when guys took advantage of her financially.”

Jan Stavros is not the only Utahn whose whereabouts are unknown. She is one of about 60 people from Salt Lake County who are listed as missing persons, according to Maria Kinghorn, a Salt Lake County missing persons investigator. People who disappear are often running away from an event in their lives, financial problems, bad relationships, legal or drug problems. Some say they just need to get away. But most come back within 48 hours or someone hears something from them, or there is a withdrawal at the bank, says Kinghorn. “Jan’s case is unusual in that she completely disappeared. Most people take a car and have access to their bank account. I don’t think she is living.”

Doubt whether someone is alive is obviously very disruptive to a family, Kinghorn notes. “In Meghan’s case, where she hasn’t heard from her mother, it is like a death. Yet until you actually have a body or some sort of concrete evidence of a death, there is always an element of hope.”

Kinghorn commends Meghan for her persistence in seeking to resolve her mother’s disappearance. Sensing that something was horribly wrong after Mike visited the house and found her mother missing, Meghan called the police. She refused to be transferred to voice mail and demanded to speak personally with investigators. “I talked very loud. I screamed and was angry. It felt like I called back 50 times,” she remembers.

Because most missing persons return within two days, disappearances don’t immediately set off red flags with law enforcement. “But Meghan was very insistent, and after two days I saw that she was absolutely right to express concern,” says Kinghorn.

Meghan’s persistence led Kinghorn to do a lot of checking and investigating. Her suspicions continued to grow as she discovered that Jan was a kind, loving person who would never leave that puppy alone.

In addition to contacting Kinghorn, Meghan organized search parties, sought help on the Internet and continually followed up with news media. “People don’t generally do anything at her young age of 21. They often throw up their hands,” says Kinghorn, who noted that Meghan has kept a full-time job as an administrative assistant at a property management firm and a full-time schedule at the University of Utah, while also seeking answers to her mother’s disappearance. “I’ve never seen her out of control. She is very together.”

Both Meghan and Mike say that Jan wouldn’t miss her daughter’s 21st birthday, which came and went a week after Jan disappeared. Jan showed no signs of depression or despondency that can accompany suicide. Meghan had travel plans with her mother and notes that Jan also was remodeling her home. Meghan describes Jan as very spontaneous, yet responsible—a driven person who accomplished whatever she set out to pursue, from bodybuilding to owning a landscaping business. She collected antique hats and loved animals, once owning 25 pet birds.

Along with law enforcement, as many as six psychics have expressed to Meghan that they believe her mother was murdered. Meghan says that common threads emerged from the psychics’ visions. Some said that Jan was injured around the neck or head. Several psychics mentioned a tool that looks like a spade or a sharp garden object. “Mom had lots of garden tools. Some psychics say she wasn’t dead when she was buried. They’ve got her seeing the tops of the mountains. Maybe she was finished off with the garden tools.”

Sue Christopher, a Salt Lake County missing persons investigator visited Pepper Gregory, a local psychic and author who conducts readings. Gregory was able to state first names of detectives on the case along with describing Jan’s car and workplace. She agreed to help law enforcement and Meghan find answers to Jan’s disappearance. In psychic readings with Meghan, Gregory envisioned a final argument between Jan and a man. She saw a man hit a woman on the chin to subdue her, then put her in a truck. She also perceived objects dropping from the woman’s hands, and visualized the floor plan of Jan’s house. She also envisioned a single object falling near the door. Later, a birdcage-shaped earring, bent out of shape, was found on the floor near the living room couch. It was one of a pair Jan wore the night of Jan. 2. Sometimes, Gregory says, she’ll walk through a house, and hear past conversations. In Jan’s house, Gregory heard arguing on the stairs, followed by a vision of a man pushing Jan down the stairs.

Jan’s live-in boyfriend, Bobby Butcher, 31, says he was as surprised as anyone to find that Jan wasn’t home when he arrived after work that day some 10 months ago. When he left for work early the morning of Jan. 3, he recalls she was still in bed. When he arrived home late that afternoon, she wasn’t around.

Butcher describes their relationship as a happy one. “I lie awake at night and wonder what happened.” Butcher surmises that Jan may have traveled out of state with an acquaintance no one knows about.

According to authorities, following Jan’s disappearance, Butcher’s parole was revoked when investigators found a .22-caliber rifle in the house. Butcher had earlier been convicted of felony auto theft and according to conditions of his parole was not allowed to be in contact with firearms. It was actually Jan who had purchased the rifle sometime before her disappearance. Investigators found it in a closet when searching the house for clues to her whereabouts. Butcher is back on parole and continues to work as a welder.

Although police have impounded Jan’s new pickup truck, there is apparently little physical evidence in the case. Nelson, the homicide detective, confirms that police have no suspects in the disappearance of Jan Stavros. Although it is officially classified as a missing person case, police believe foul play may have been involved. As such, it is being treated like a homicide.

“There are still many unknowns. We will take each one and try to make it a known to reach a conclusion.” Nonetheless, in Jan’s case there just isn’t anything new. The case may be open but it appears to be going nowhere fast.

And that’s the way it has been since a week or so after she disappeared, says Mike Stavros. “It’s really frustrating. We hit dead ends the first week and it’s stayed that way,” he notes. “It won’t move forward and it won’t go away.”

Mike and Meghan now know firsthand the suffering that many families feel when a loved one simply vanishes. “We are not the only people who have someone missing in their lives,” says Mike “For families who have lost someone like this, it never goes away. Until we do know what happened to her, there will be no resolution. You just can’t stop thinking about it.”

Along with Kinghorn and the psychics, Meghan feels sure that her mother is no longer alive. She suspects, as do psychics including Gregory, that her mother’s body may be buried or hidden in Millcreek Canyon, not far from where she lived.

“Psychics have suggested canyons, deserts and other locations, but a lot of the information is obscure, and hasn’t led to a conclusion,” says Nelson. Several people phoned Meghan when bones were recently found in Millcreek Canyon. But the remains proved to be from an unknown male who had been buried there longer than Jan has been missing.

Meghan says she has felt her mother’s presence since her disappearance. “When I’m driving, I get a calm feeling that my mom is a lot happier and feels safe now. I feel her walking around my bed.”

If, by chance, Jan did return, Meghan said she’d ask her why she left, and what her disappearance was all about. “I’d be very confused about why she left and came back.” Meghan also would ask her mother to carry on where the two of them left off before Jan. 2. “I’d make her have my 21st birthday again.” Meghan says Jan had a lot of party plans that were never carried out. “My cousin was going to fly out from New York, and friends were coming from Colorado.” While she has no illusions that the party will happen, she knows it would have been festive and celebratory.

Although she’s had no grief counseling, Meghan continues to cope. She still gives media interviews, hoping that vital information will come to light. And though she and her mother can’t proceed with their relationship, Meghan is forging ahead, at school and work. With courage, she’s trying moving on although it continues to be difficult.

Anyone with information on the disappearance of Jan Stavros can call Salt Lake County Detective Cortney Nelson at 743-5876.

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