When 5-year-old LeeAnna Warner arrived home from a day out with her family, the first thing she wanted to do was visit her best friend and tell her all about her day. Her mother, Kaelin, tried to convince her to come inside and take a nap, but LeeAnna was persistent. She pleaded to be allowed to go down the street to her friend’s house, and Kaelin relented. She told her daughter to be home by 5:00 pm and watched as she skipped off down the street. It was 4:30 pm on Saturday, June 14, 2003, and it was the last time Kaelin would see her daughter.
LeeAnna was an outgoing, fearless, and extremely energetic little girl, and she was well-known in their Chisholm, Minnesota neighborhood. Chisholm was a small town of 5,000 residents, and it was thought of as a quiet and safe place to raise a family. LeeAnna was best friends with a child who lived down the street from the Warners, and she would walk to her house to visit her on a daily basis. Chris and Kaelin Warner were comfortable letting their daughter go by herself; the walk took less than two minutes and didn’t require crossing any streets. LeeAnna was the kind of child who liked to frequently check in with her mother; she was constantly running back and forth between her home and her friend’s house.
Kaelin was busy doing a few things around the house, so it was 5:30 pm before she realized that LeeAnna hadn’t returned home yet. She walked down to LeeAnna’s friend’s house to see if she was still there, and was startled to learn that they hadn’t seen her all day. The family had just returned from a shopping trip; they weren’t home when LeeAnna attempted to visit. Several neighbors had seen LeeAnna knock on the front door, but she had left once she realized no one was home. She then headed back in the direction of her own house, and the neighbors assumed she was going home.
Fighting panic, Kaelin began searching the neighborhood. No one knew where LeeAnna was, and the number of people looking for her grew with each home Kaelin visited. Soon, most of the neighborhood was out searching for the missing child. Everyone expected to find her at any minute, but by 8:30 pm it was clear that something was seriously wrong. Kaelin called the Chisholm Police Department and reported her daughter missing.
Although there was no evidence that foul play had taken place, the fact that LeeAnna was so young was a concern to police. They immediately launched an intensive search of the area, and the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Investigation sent out a statewide alert that a young child was missing. They did not issue an Amber Alert because there was nothing leading them to believe an abduction had occurred. The search continued overnight, but investigators were unable to find anything to help them locate LeeAnna.
On Father’s Day, Sunday, there wasn’t much to do in Chisholm. Hundreds of police officers and volunteers kept looking for the girl who had gone missing. Her family quickly printed out flyers and started handing them out all over the area. Six different police departments sent officers to help with the search, and an elementary school in the area was turned into a makeshift command center.
In the four miles around where LeeAnna was last seen, searchers went through every building, yard, garage, and shed. They looked in trash cans, under porches, and inside parked cars. They made sure to look in every place a small child could fit. LeeAnna might have been scared by all the people looking for her and tried to hide from them. Even though they looked everywhere, they couldn’t find the little girl.
Bloodhounds were called in and were able to follow LeeAnna’s scent from her house to a shallow lake two blocks away. People searched the lake and the marshland around it because they thought she might have fallen in. The St. Louis County Sheriff’s Office sent search crews out on hovercraft to help look for bodies in the water, and volunteers on ATVs could be heard riding around near the lake. There was no sign that LeeAnne was at the lake, and it looked like the bloodhounds may have found an earlier trail. The day before she went missing, LeeAnna and a friend went to the lake. The girl’s mother told police that she had walked with them to the lake so they could put some turtles back into the water. After some time, the police said they were sure LeeAnna would not be found in the water.
The police still didn’t know what had happened to LeeAnna on Monday morning. Detectives had interviewed people in the neighborhood door-to-door and asked them if they remembered seeing anything strange on the day LeeAnna went missing, but they still didn’t have solid proof of foul play. No one had heard or seen anything that made them think the child had been taken, and there was no crime scene for the police to look into. They told the media that the case was still being looked into as a missing child, but they made it clear that they couldn’t rule out the possibility of a kidnapping. There was nothing they were going to rule out until they had more information.
Chris and Kaelin went to a press conference on Monday and begged for their daughter’s return through tears. They said they would keep looking for LeeAnna until they found her because they thought she had been taken. The police told the media that they had gotten more than 300 tips in the first few days of the investigation, but they still didn’t have any solid leads.
On Tuesday, the search area was made bigger, and police were hopeful that LeeAnne was still alive. The temperature had been mild and there had been no rain in the nearly 72 hours she had been missing. Even if she got lost outside, she could still live in these conditions, but they needed to find her quickly. Along with searchers on foot and ATVs, several helicopter crews were sent to look for the body from above. LeeAnna had never been too far from home before, but volunteers expanded their search to include areas outside of Chisholm city limits in case the 5-year-old got lost farther than they thought. Once more, the little girl was not seen or heard from by the end of the day.
Police said on Tuesday that they were no closer to finding LeeAnna than they were the night she went missing. They were upset that the case wasn’t moving forward and knew that she probably wouldn’t have survived if she had been lost outside. Even though search teams would keep looking for LeeAnna in the area, detectives started to think that she might have been killed. They talked to anyone who had recently been in touch with the child and started to check up on all the registered sex offenders in the area.
When LeeAnna was last seen, there was a jazz festival in Chisholm, and around the same time, several groups of bikers arrived to go to a big motorcycle rally. Detectives weren’t sure that anyone from these events had anything to do with LeeAnna’s disappearance, but they weren’t willing to take a chance either. They got guest lists from motels for the weekend and names of people who had been staying in a nearby campground. They looked through surveillance tapes from nearby businesses for clues that could help them find the missing girl. The process took a long time and was boring, and they couldn’t find any proof that helped their case.
As the second week of the investigation began, police hinted that LeeAnna had probably been taken away. They told the media that a little girl would not be able to stay hidden for that long without help from an adult, and they thought she was probably not in the Chisholm area. The detectives said that they had thought from the start that someone had taken her, but they wanted to fully look into the possibility that she had gotten lost. That idea was thrown out when a thorough search showed that she was no longer in the area.
In a neighborhood that big, with lots of people around on the day LeeAnna went missing, it was hard for police to believe that no one had seen anything. They said there would be a $10,000 reward for information that led to LeeAnna’s safe return because they were sure that someone in the area knew something about what happened. They also told people to keep an eye out for anyone they knew whose behavior changed quickly in ways that could mean they were involved with the crime. Some signs to look out for were increased drug or alcohol abuse, big changes in how they look, and taking time off work without reason.
Matthew James Curtis, a 24-year-old Chisholm resident, was arrested in August 2003 for having child pornography on him. Police questioned him several times, even though there was no evidence linking him to LeeAnna. He said he had nothing to do with her disappearance. Investigators looked through his house and did forensic tests on his car, but they couldn’t find any evidence that LeeAnna had ever been there. Later, he was found dead in what looked like a suicide, just one day before he was due in court on child pornography charges. The police told the media that his de*ath had no effect on their investigation because they had thrown him out as a suspect after getting the results of the forensic tests. They don’t think LeeAnna had anything to do with his de*ath.
In the first 50 days of the investigation, police looked into 1,300 tips but didn’t find any solid leads. Officers with a lot of experience said they had never seen a case with so little information. It was like LeeAnna had just disappeared. They didn’t have any proof at all. They had talked to all of her family members, neighbors, and friends in great detail. Everyone they looked for had nothing to do with LeeAnna’s disappearance, so they thought she had been taken by a stranger.
Thank goodness that stranger abductions don’t happen very often. They are notoriously hard to investigate, and most of the time, someone who knows something about the crime has to come forward and tell the police what they know. With this in mind, the police asked for help again in public.
Several people came forward early in the investigation to say that they had seen strange cars in the area on the day LeeAnna disappeared. The police looked into all the reports, but none of them led them to the missing girl. They saw that there were a lot of events going on at the same time, so it’s likely that the strange cars belonged to people who were going to one of those events.
Chris and Kaelin had thought from the start that LeeAnna had been taken, so it came as a surprise when the police confirmed their worst fears. Even though they knew it was rare to successfully find someone who had been kidnapped by a stranger, the fact that LeeAnna’s body had not been found made them feel better. Their hope that she was still alive stayed strong, and they were ready to do anything to find her.
Some people were very angry that Kaelin didn’t call the police until LeeAnna had been missing for more than three hours in the early stages of the investigation. Even though Kaelin said she wished she had called sooner, she stood by what she did that night. Like most people who live in Chisholm, she had always thought she was safe, which is normal for people who don’t face any danger. People there thought that crime only happened in cities and not in their neighborhood. Due to her large group of friends, Kaelin was always afraid that her daughter would be behind the next door she knocked on. Many hours had passed by the time she realized LeeAnna really wasn’t there. She still couldn’t believe the little girl was gone even after she called the police.
The day after LeeAnna went missing a year ago, Chris and Kaelin made another public plea. They were sure she was still alive and hoped that the person who had taken her would feel bad about what he did and either bring her back home or call them to let them know she was okay. They said that her disappearance had been very sad for them and for LeeAnna’s whole extended family. Chris, a firefighter, had taken a six-month leave of absence from work when his daughter first went missing. Some days it was still hard for him to get out of bed. That he wasn’t able to protect his little girl made him feel sick with guilt.
In July 2004, Chris, Kaelin, a private investigator, and 200 volunteers searched for LeeAnna in a way that had not been seen in almost a year. A famous private investigator named Bob Heales said that they were going to look in a 12 square mile area around where LeeAnna was last seen. As the volunteers looked at pictures of human bones, they were told that they were no longer looking for the LeeAnna in the pictures. These were not the places where they would find the child if she were still alive. The search for her body was going on. Hearing this was hard for her parents, but they were there because they wanted to find closure in some way.
Volunteers looked for anything that had to do with LeeAnna for two days in the woods. They looked for bits and pieces of her denim dress, her orange underwear, and maybe even the gold heart necklace she had been wearing. They looked for any odd mounds or areas where the ground had been moved that could mean a grave. Together with the other people in the search party, Chris and Kaelin prayed for answers because they didn’t want to believe that LeeAnna was d*ead. They finally couldn’t find any sign of the little girl.
Volunteers kept searching randomly in the Chisholm area, but they couldn’t find anything that would help them get closer to LeeAnna. When it was time to hunt deer, hunters were told to keep an eye out for anything strange in the woods. They also couldn’t find anything. Even though no one wanted to say it, LeeAnna’s case was becoming less alive.
The disappearance of LeeAnna made the front page of the Chisholm newspaper, but it didn’t come up in the national news. Chris and Kaelin went on “Maury” in 2006 to get the word out about the case. They said LeeAnna had been acting a little strange in the weeks before she went missing. She came home from playing with friends one day carrying a doll case. A lot of Barbie dolls and doll clothes were inside that Chris and Kaelin had never seen before. LeeAnna told them that the things she had given them came from an old lady when they asked her where they came from. They told the police about these things after LeeAnna went missing, but the police didn’t think they were related to the case.
About two weeks before she disappeared, Kaelin went to wake LeeAnna up one morning but she wasn’t in bed. Her daughter was asleep on the floor in her closet, she found her. LeeAnna told her parents that she was going into hiding because there were scary things outside her bedroom window. Her parents looked outside the window to see if there were any tracks under it, but nothing seemed to have been moved. They told LeeAnna that the monsters would not be able to get her the next time she brought it up.
A week before she went missing, LeeAnna made a comment that disturbed her parents. She had packed some of her things in a small suitcase, and then announced that she wanted to go live with her new family. Unsure what she was talking about, they asked her about this new family, but LeeAnna offered no further details and didn’t bring the subject up again.
Police were aware of these incidents, but it was hard to tell if they were related to her disappearance or if they were just random thoughts from the mind of a 5-year-old. They were unable to come up with any evidence that someone had been giving LeeAnna gifts in an attempt to groom her in some way, and finally concluded that it was unlikely. No one in the neighborhood could recall seeing LeeAnna talking to anyone unfamiliar.
LeeAnna has been missing for over 18 years now, and investigators still have no idea what happened to the little girl on her walk home that summer afternoon. They do believe there are people out there that can shed some light on this mystery and provide them with the information they need to finally solve this case. Chris and Kaelin have never stopped searching for their daughter, and want nothing more than to finally be able to bring her home.
LeeAnna Warner was 5 years old when she went missing in 2003. She has dark brown eyes and brown hair, and at the time of her disappearance she was 3 feet 2 inches tall and weighed 48 pounds. She has a dimple on the back of her left shoulder and a wart above her left ankle. She was last seen wearing a sleeveless blue denim dress with an attached belt, bright orange Hanes panties, and a red garnet earring shaped like a flower. Both of her ears are pierced, but she was only wearing an earring in her right ear on the day she disappeared. She was not wearing any shoes or socks. If you have any information about LeeAnna, please call the Chisholm Police Department at 218–254–7915.