For the families of victims ki*lled in unsolved mu*rders, life has been at a standstill for a long time, even before the pandemic arrived.
Over the next several weeks, The Enquirer will highlight a series of cold cases, summarized and analyzed by the journalists whose careers largely focus on unsolved mu*rders: the creators of Cincinnati.com’s Ac*cused podcast. If you have any information on any unsolved case, please reach out to the appropriate law enforcement agency. Suggestions for cases to highlight can be sent to email@example.com.
Joey LaBute Jr. would much rather be relaxing alone in his Columbus apartment on any given Friday than going out to bars in the college town. But on March 5, 2016, he made an exception.
No one saw him alive after that day.
LaBute, who was born in Cincinnati in 1990, went to the Union Café with his cousin Stacey Reigle and her husband in Columbus’s Short North neighborhood. The three people met up with family and friends at the busy bar. It was even busier than usual because the Arnold Sports Festival was in town.
That event, which is held in Columbus for some reason and is named after Arnold Schwarzenegger, has amateur and professional strength events with names like “Ninja Warrior” and “Arnold’s Strongest Teen.” About 22,000 athletes from 80 countries compete.
“They lost track of each other late at night,” said Wendy Rider in an email. She is Reigle’s mother and LaBute’s aunt. The call to LaBute’s cell phone went through, but there was no answer, which wasn’t a surprise since the bar was loud and full of people. She texted too, but didn’t hear back.
She didn’t really think about it though. Why would she do that? LaBute was 26 years old and had lived in Columbus for a while. He went to the bar by himself, so he could surely get home by himself.
But he was still missing on Saturday. Or on Sunday.
“By Monday, the police and the local news were there,” Rider said. After weeks, LaBute’s body was finally found in the Scioto River.
LaBute was seen leaving Union Cafe by himself on surveillance video around 12:30 a.m. There is some graininess to the video, but it’s clear enough to see LaBute, who is wearing a checkered shirt, shimmy past a bald man who is walking the other way.
That was caught on film right before Saturday began. His family looked for his car on Sunday and found it where he had parked it two days before. This is a bad sign in the case of a missing person. Rider said that his family and friends looked for him nonstop, handing out flyers and talking to reporters to keep his story in the news.
When his body was found on March 31, it didn’t seem to answer many questions. To begin, the body was found in a place that had already been searched many times. Also, he didn’t drown because there was no water in his lungs when he was buried. The cause of death has not been found, but it has been determined that the person was killed.
If this case makes you think of something else, you’re not the only one. Ten years earlier, in 2006, a man in his mid-20s with brown hair and a kind heart went missing after being seen on security video leaving a Columbus bar. But no body has ever been found for Brian Shaffer. (Shaffer’s case was the first one we talked about here, almost four months ago.)
It’s scary how much the cases are alike, but ten years have passed and there’s no evidence that links them.
To add to the frustration, Rider said, “Our questions to the detective assigned go unanswered.” It’s hard to deal with families who are grieving, but we’ve always found that talking to them helps a lot. Since nothing has happened in four years, Rider said that the family would like the case to be declared “cold” so that it can be looked at again. This seems like a reasonable next step.
Do you have any ideas? Call 614-645-8477 if you know anything that could be useful.
According to Enquirer reporters Amber Hunt and Amanda Rossmann, Ac*cused is an award-winning podcast that looks into cold cases. It has three seasons and can be found on Apple Podcasts and at www.acc*usedpodcast.com.