Michelle Rust seemed to be living an idyllic life as a young, spiritual mother and wife. Her spirituality stemmed from her childhood, as she and her family had a significant presence within their church. Michelle’s parents–Ray and Gwen Lins–were popular among the congregation and the blue-eyed, fiery-haired Michelle only added to their appeal.
Reverend Joe Gadden, who had known Michelle since childhood, described her devotion. “She was likable, cute as a button, and liked kids,” he told Marcia Ames from the Baltimore Messenger, “..she just had a passion and a heart for people.”
As Michelle got older, her faith in God grew to be more substantial, and it wasn’t long before she was also a respected churchgoer. However, her involvement was more profound than her popularity. She was a member of the choir and volunteered for the youth programs. Even as a teenager, Michelle loved caring for children, and the parents at her church had no issue trusting her to look after their own. She worked to make her church a welcoming environment.
During her first year of high school, Michelle formed a quick bond with one of her classmates, D.J. Rust. The pair realized they wanted to be more than friends and snatched the grade’s title of high school sweethearts. Their relationship also brought their families together; the chemistry clearly stretched beyond the young couple. D.J.’s family was deeply religious, too, so they seemed like a heavenly match.
After graduation in 1995, D.J. popped the question to Michelle, who accepted. The Linses and Rusts celebrated the engagement and happily attended the wedding in 1997. After that, they were officially family, but always acknowledged each other as so. Sometime later, there was more good news–Michelle was pregnant with her and D.J.’s first child. On July 20, 1999, their son was born. Michelle, who already loved working with children at the church, wholeheartedly embraced motherhood.
To make ends meet, D.J. worked alongside his father, Dwight, for the same company. The father and son installed appliances and air conditioning units in buildings around town. Meanwhile, Michelle took a job at the local daycare center.
Everything seemed fine as the years passed, and the couple soon celebrated their sixth anniversary. However, in the months leading up to their son’s third birthday, Michelle received life-changing news when she was diagnosed with a severe form of Diabetes that required frequent insulin shots. As a result, the now 24-year-old had to carry her medicine in a bulky backpack almost anywhere she went.
Michelle’s health problems did not interfere with her devotion to her family. Her son’s third birthday was still coming, and Michelle wanted to host a party for the extended family.
On July 19, 2002, Michelle, DJ, and other family members made party favors for the birthday party. Tomorrow was also the birthday of Michelle’s grandmother. Her son’s party was the primary focus, but she planned on giving a present to her grandmother sometime the following day.
They completed the final preparations the following day. However, Michelle still needed her grandmother’s gift and additional groceries for the party. So at 9:30 a.m., she left the house and headed to her green Dodge minivan to run her errands. D.J., who was also home, expected her to return within half an hour.
Thirty minutes passed, and Michelle had not returned. A concerned D.J. called Gwen Lins to ask where her daughter was.
“Dwight called me, and he said, ‘do you know where Michelle is?’ and I said no, I thought she was home, and he said she went to the store,” Gwen recalled to a local newspaper.
As more minutes passed, relatives and friends began to show up at the house for the party, but without Michelle, the festivities could not begin. Her absence drew immediate concern. In the case that she had missed an insulin dose, they expected that she might be unconscious somewhere, so they needed to act as soon as possible.
Gwen and Ray headed to area Walmarts to ask if anyone had seen Michelle shopping. They requested footage from the stores’ surveillance cameras but did not spot their daughter at any locations. Other family members searched the neighborhood and kept an eye out for her minivan.
“We canceled the party. We knew [Michelle] was missing, and everybody was just frantically looking for her. And [D.J.’s] father, everybody was looking, his family and our family,” Lins said, “[Dwight] ended up being the one that found the van.”Michelle’s abandoned minivan, found a few minutes away from her house.
At 11:00 a.m., roughly two hours after Michelle was last seen, Dwight Rust discovered her car, but Michelle was not inside. It had been parked a few miles away from her home–in front of a row of houses.
When Gwen and Ray saw, they knew something terrible had happened. Aside from the slightly lowered driver’s side window, somebody had broken off the key in the door’s lock. The circumstances suggested something more sinister than a medical emergency.
Scared and confused, the family called the police. Investigators arrived and examined the car. They took particular notice of the key. The rest of the key chain was missing, and Michelle’s purse–including her medicine–was not in the car either. The street residents had nothing to offer. No one saw Michelle or the vehicle driving or parking on their street.
Days went by without any sign of Michelle. In contrast to most missing persons’ families, the Linses and Rusts assumed the worst within hours. In Gwen’s view, if her daughter were abducted, the perpetrator would not give her insulin. Without her insulin, Michelle would not survive.
By July 24–four days after Michelle went missing–the family announced their assumption that she was d*ead. However, that did not mean they would quit searching for her body. On July 27, which would have been Michelle’s 25th birthday, the local church organized a group search party. Over 250 people showed up and spent the entire day distributing thousands of fliers throughout the community.
The families appreciated the support. “People were bringing meals, to the point where we couldn’t eat it all,” Gwen said, “so many people joined the search for Michelle–people we’ve never met.”
Despite the turnout, the searchers found nothing relating to Michelle. What happened to her remained a mystery. As a result, D.J. had to start raising his son on his own, and despite a $10,000 reward promoted by both families, no one came forward.Michelle’s parents–Ray and Gwen Lins–speak to the Baltimore Sun about their missing daughter.
Interviews with friends and family led nowhere. Most of Michelle’s immediate family underwent polygraph tests, and her parents–Ray and Gwen–remain the only ones ruled out.
Months passed without any signs of the missing mother, solidifying all feelings of dread. Investigators were baffled and only ruled out two people–Ray and Gwen–in Michelle’s disappearance. Finally, they did confirm that despite previous reports, no one witnessed Michelle leaving the house that day. However, D.J., her husband, stood by his account and said he did see Michelle exit the house.
One year after Michelle disappeared, police revealed their suspicions surrounding D.J. Rust, her husband. Despite a good reputation, the couple had secrets. D.J. had affairs with other women throughout the marriage–something Michelle knew. Friends and relatives recounted Michelle saying that if something happened to her, one of the women D.J. cheated with would be responsible. The identities of these women, as well as the extent of their relationships with the couple, are undisclosed.
D.J. did not shy away from the allegations. “I made mistakes in the past, but they don’t have anything to do with Michelle’s disappearance,” he told reporters, “..just know, she didn’t leave on her own.” He, along with his parents, continued to raise their son.“[Michelle’s disappearance] affected the family a great deal…[Our son] asks about her a lot … and we don’t know what to say.”
The months turned to years, but Michelle’s memory did not fade. Her church continued to advocate for their missing member. To deal with their grief, the Rusts and the Linses turned to God and found comfort in their faith. Although Ray and Gwen believed their daughter was de*ad, they hoped to see her again, and that she would finally provide them with all the answers. The investigation continued, but there were no substantial developments. Meanwhile, police kept tabs on D.J. Rust.As of 2024, Michelle Lee Rust has been missing for nearly 22 years.
In 2007, D.J. filed for divorce. Under Maryland law, when a couple has been living apart for more than two consecutive years without a reasonable expectation of reconciliation, both partners have grounds for divorce. The police department sent a detective to observe the proceedings.
D.J. told the court he had not seen Michelle in five years and had “no hope” of ever seeing her again, let alone reconciling. The judge granted the divorce and gave D.J. sole custody of his son, now 7. The family still lived in the house where Michelle was last seen.
In 2010, police stated they believed Michelle was abducted seconds after leaving her house–before reaching her car. They also think her abductor forced her into the minivan and drove away.
Since then, no developments regarding Michelle’s disappearance have been made public. In 2022, the local news station WMAR-2 interviewed the Linses, and they stated that they viewed her disappearance the same as if she had died. They’ve found closure through their faith but hope for concrete answers. D.J. declined an interview with the same station but said he appreciated the renewed attention to his ex-wife’s case.
To date, only Ray and Gwen have been definitively ruled out. Their prayers will continue until they receive answers.
If you have any information about Michelle’s disappearance, please contact the Baltimore County Police at Baltimore County Police at 410–307–2020 or 410–887–3943.