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‘Have you heard of Lauren Spierer?’

A decade after Lauren Spierer vanished from a Bloomington street, this anniversary passes with sadness, loss and still no answers.

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A decade after Lauren Spierer vanished from a Bloomington street, this anniversary passes with sadness, loss and still no answers.

Published Updated

It’s been 10 years since Charlene Spierer last saw her youngest daughter.

Ten Mother’s Days, if you want to measure the passage of time and the loss of a child that way.

Lauren Spierer flew home to New York to surprise her mom their last Mother's Day together, May 8, 2011. Charlene Spierer remembers well a family dinner that included Lauren and her older sister.

Twenty-six days later, the Indiana University student disappeared after a night of partying in downtown Bloomington. She hasn’t been seen since.

“I could never have possibly known as I gave Lauren a hug and a kiss and waved goodbye, that it would be the last time,” her mom said as she recalled seeing her daughter off at the airport after that Mother's Day visit.

‘Have you heard of Lauren Spierer?’

For some, Lauren Spierer’s story has been lost to time.

Years after Spierer would have graduated with a fashion merchandising degree, a lot of people in Bloomington don't know the 20-year-old's name. They are unfamiliar with details of the case, how she disappeared at 4:30 a.m. in the heart of a quaint university town.

Many IU students, often in Bloomington four years before moving on, are unaware that Lauren Spierer is gone.

Natalie Gabor is 20, the same age Spierer was when she went missing. Walking downtown on a recent afternoon, the IU journalism major paused near the corner of 11th Street and College Avenue, where Spierer reportedly was last seen.

Gabor didn’t know the story or who Spierer was. “The name sounds familiar, but I’m just not sure who she is,” Gabor, and another five women on campus, said when asked about Lauren Spierer.

IU student Natalie Gabor stands outside an apartment complex at the downtown Bloomington intersection where Lauren Spierer was last seen in June 2011. Gabor was 10 years old when Spierer disappeared.
IU student Natalie Gabor stands outside an apartment complex at the downtown Bloomington intersection where Lauren Spierer was last seen in June 2011. Gabor was 10 years old when Spierer disappeared.
Laura Lane, Herald-Times

“I am not surprised that young women at IU don’t know about Lauren probably as they don’t know about Jill Behrman or Hannah Wilson,” Charlene Spierer said in a recent message. Behrman and Wilson both were abducted and killed. “I know there are others, but all these girls share the common thread of being IU students.”

Allison Comp is a 21-year-old IU senior who aspires to be a schoolteacher. “I do not know that name,” she said when asked about Lauren Spierer.

But after hearing a few details of the case, her eyes brightened. “Oh yeah, I know who you’re talking about. Isn’t she the girl that lived at Smallwood and disappeared?” 

Comp would have been a fifth grader in Yorktown when Spierer was last seen.

Given how much time has gone by, it’s not surprising that memories have faded. The thousands of color posters featuring a photo, Spierer’s description and details about where she was last seen, have not hung in coffee houses, on utility poles and taped to grocery store windows for years.

Spierer’s parents printed the flyers at a local shop, and volunteers posted them all over town. They were everywhere, covering city facades like wallpaper.

They have mostly disappeared, although Bloomington Police Department Deputy Chief Joe Qualters has kept one taped to the back of his office door all this time. And there’s an assortment in a file cabinet drawer in Capt. Ryan Pedigo’s office.

Bloomington Police Department Deputy Chief Joe Qualters has kept a poster on the back of his door since Lauren Spierer disappeared in 2011.
Bloomington Police Department Deputy Chief Joe Qualters has kept a poster on the back of his door since Lauren Spierer disappeared in 2011.
Laura Lane, Herald-Times

The "Find Lauren" billboards of a decade ago? Gone. There hasn’t been a police press conference in the highly publicized case in years. Being featured on "20/20," HLN's "Real Life Nightmare" and the "Crime Junkie" podcast resulted in neither an arrest nor a resolution.

Annual June 3 updates by media outlets about the Spierer case have faded from major news stories to rewrites of previous coverage.

‘These things really do happen’

Twenty-two-year-old Natalie Jacobi’s mother tried to talk her out of attending IU because of what happened to Spierer. “My mom was really hesitant because we had watched a documentary on Lauren Spierer a few years ago.”

But Jacobi was drawn to the Kelley School of Business, IU’s beautiful campus and the quaint feel of Kirkwood Avenue. “It took me awhile, but I convinced her,” said Jacobi, who got her degree this spring.

Brittany Tucker, 26, was a student at Bloomington High School North when Spierer disappeared. “I remember everyone in town was looking for her, and it was all over the national news,” she said.

“And my family, we were remembering back to Jill Behrman. It makes you so aware that these things really do happen.”

Bloomington Police Department Deputy Chief Joe Qualters indicates on a map where Lauren Spierer was last seen.
Bloomington Police Department Deputy Chief Joe Qualters indicates on a map where Lauren Spierer was last seen.
Courtesy photo

So many leads, and no progress

Ten years and 3,600 tips later, the case remains open. Police in Bloomington have remained tight lipped and won’t answer questions from the media about an investigation they say will not be closed until it is solved.

On June 5, 2011, 100 people gathered outside the apartment complex in the 400 block of North College Avenue where Spierer lived on the fifth floor.

She had been missing two days, and a search was organized. Among the volunteers was then-IU men’s basketball coach Tom Crean. Also helping was Eric Behrman, who had experience with this kind of search. A decade earlier, his daughter Jill, an IU student, disappeared and later was found murdered.

They set out in groups of five, looking for clues of any kind. 

One, two, three years

One year after Spierer disappeared, her mother was reluctant to acknowledge the first anniversary of that awful day. “The only date that I want to know is the date that they find Lauren. Any other date is not really significant,” Charlene Spierer said.

Her family thought about her all day, as they did every day back then. Nineteen boxes packed with her belongings from Bloomington were stacked in her bedroom at home. “The nightmare is still with us,” Rob Spierer told a local reporter back then. “You just can’t step out of the nightmare.”

Back in Bloomington, 25 people gathered at IU’s Hillel Center to remember Spierer. “This battle is not over, and we will not give up,” said Don Cranfill, who coordinated searches for the missing student. “We will continue to do what is necessary to bring closure to this unthinkable situation. It will never be over until Lauren is back with her family.”

On the second anniversary of Spierer's disappearance, her parents hoped someone would come forward with information that would lead to Lauren.

“There’s a sense that someday, some week, things will change for us. That someone will have the strength, the crisis of conscience, to come forward,” Rob Spierer said. “You just have to believe it will happen, or it will be ...”

“Devastating,” his wife interjected. “A life without hope,” he said.

A group of Bloomington firefighters built 20 giant wood-framed signs with donated materials that year to replace weathered billboards so no one would forget Spierer still was missing and her family was praying for the one lead that would solve the case.

Bloomington Fire Department Capt. Nick Teeters, left, and Sgt. Aaron Butcher place a Lauren Spierer sign on the lawn in front of the Showers Building in Bloomington on April 23, 2013.
Bloomington Fire Department Capt. Nick Teeters, left, and Sgt. Aaron Butcher place a Lauren Spierer sign on the lawn in front of the Showers Building in Bloomington on April 23, 2013.
Jeremy Hogan/Herald-Times

As the third anniversary approached, Rob Spierer's sense of loss had not subsided. “It’s still something that takes up a significant part of our consciousness and emotions, an unresolved tragedy that we’re still dealing with,” he said in a 2014 phone interview.

His wife got on the line. “If somebody doesn’t come forward, I don’t know that we’re ever going to get the answers we need,” Charlene Spierer said.

Bloomington police continued following up on leads as they came in. “Our commitment to the case is unwavering. We remain hopeful that someone with knowledge of the circumstances surrounding Lauren's disappearance will do the right thing by stepping up,” a BPD news release said.

Four, five, six years

On June 3, 2015, four years after Spierer went missing, The Herald-Times had this headline: “Lauren Spierer vanished 4 years ago today: Has she been forgotten?”

Students who were freshmen when Spierer disappeared now were graduating. Would the IU community forget about her?

Charlene Spierer acknowledged then a concern that many IU students may have done just that, and many new to campus didn’t know her daughter’s story.

“There’ll be a tragedy, and it will affect people for a few days or a few months and then … it’s terrible and sad and tragic.”

Charlene and Rob Spierer listen at a news conference in June 2011 about the disappearance of their daughter Lauren.
Charlene and Rob Spierer listen at a news conference in June 2011 about the disappearance of their daughter Lauren.
Courtesy photo

As year five came around, BPD reiterated its commitment to uncover what happened to Spierer and repeated that details from the investigation would not be released to the media. More than 3,500 tips had been received, the department said, and officers worked 2,500 hours of overtime on the case.

“The commitment to determine what happened to Lauren was made to Lauren's family, the citizens of Bloomington and the Indiana University community,” a BPD news release said. “BPD has simply adopted a position of not providing specific details about its ongoing efforts.”

On the sixth anniversary of Lauren’s disappearance, Rob and Charlene Spierer were distracted from their grief by their daughter Rebecca and her husband’s child. “The birth of their precious baby boy has brought us joy we never thought we would experience again,” Charlene Spierer said.

Seven, eight, nine years

Seven years later, the local newspaper published a short story and ran a big picture of the missing woman. It included this sentence, which appeared in some form in nearly every story about Spierer.

“She reportedly turned a corner at 11th Street and College Avenue at about 4:30 a.m. on June 3, 2011, and disappeared.”

On the eighth anniversary, in 2019, Charlene Spierer posted a Facebook message pleading for someone to come forward with the truth about what happened to her daughter. There’s a picture with the post of Lauren smiling at a playground when she was a toddler.

“As every June 3rd approaches, I am faced with the dread of reliving all the horrific minutes of that day and the days which followed. I now know of course, despite how desperately I wanted to believe the words, 'We will find her,' it just wasn’t meant to be. Our timeline has no end.”

And last year, on June 3, this direct Facebook post from the Spierer family.

“For those responsible, how lucky you have been. Nine years of dead ends for our family. Nine years of freedom for you. It will not always be that way. I hope that someday, someone will have a crisis of conscience and speak the truth. If not, well you got away with it. Or did you?”

Cops remain silent

Now, a decade later, police still won’t reveal any details about the investigation. BPD Chief Mike Diekhoff issued a statement.

“Over the course of the last 10 years, the Bloomington Police Department has received thousands of tips, interviewed hundreds of people, obtained a multitude of court orders, and executed innumerable search warrants,” he said.

“In the last three to four years, investigators have executed at least 10 search warrants and received approximately 800 tips. Of those tips, over 100 of them required additional follow-up once they were vetted and it was determined that they were not repeats of information that had been provided previously.”

Bloomington Police Department Deputy Chief Joe Qualters at a news conference at police headquarters in June 2011.
Bloomington Police Department Deputy Chief Joe Qualters at a news conference at police headquarters in June 2011.
Courtesy photo

‘They may never know what happened’

Lillie Matavuli was 9 years old when Lauren Spierer disappeared.

“She vanished when I was a little girl, and I remember it being mysterious and there being all of these billboards and posters with her face on them. I’ll never forget that. The whole community was upset, and looking for her,” the 19-year-old Bloomington native recalled.

“It’s scary to think about still. And I kept thinking about her parents, and how they may never know what happened. And how awful that would be.”

Charlene Spierer lives that reality every day. “Not knowing where Lauren is and not being able to mourn her loss is the ultimate challenge,” she said. “Not knowing is brutal.”

Anyone with information about Lauren Spierer’s disappearance can call the Bloomington Police Department, 812-339-4471; Beau Dietl & Associates, 800-777-9366; or send mail to Find Lauren, P.O. Box 1226, Bloomington, IN 47402.

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