The Strange Vanishing of Bryce Laspisa

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Bryce Laspisa came into the world on April 30, 1994, born to parents Karen and Michael Laspisa. [1] In 2012, Bryce graduated from Naperville High School in Naperville, Illinois.

There isn’t much information available about Bryce’s childhood, but it’s assumed his youth was uneventful and he was showered with love and support as an only-child.

In 2013, the Laspisa family’s world was turned upside-down when Bryce vanished after days of odd behavior. The entire family had moved to Laguna Niguel, California, but Bryce moved to Chico, some 450 miles away, to attend Sierra College, where he was about to start his sophomore year.

From what everyone could tell, life was good for Bryce. He had done well in school the previous year and he had a girlfriend who he seemingly adored, a beautiful blond named Kim Sly.

On August 26, 2013, there didn’t appear to be anything amiss in Bryce’s life. He spoke to his mother that day, who reported he seemed happy and that they had a normal conversation. However, friends say Bryce did a good bit of drinking and drugging during the two weeks before he vanished.

Things started to unravel on August 27. The events of that day are confusing, dumbfounding, and bizarre to say the least. More than six years later, no one knows what happened to Bryce, a young man who had so much going for him and who had seemed so happy and focused just 24 hours earlier.

August 27

On August 27, the day after Bryce started the new semester, Kim Sly, quite possibly the person closest to and most familiar with Bryce at the time, noticed a strange shift in her boyfriend’s behavior and became concerned. [2] It’s not clear exactly what Bryce was doing that concerned his girlfriend so much, but he admitted to her that he had taken an ADHD pill that was not prescribed to him.

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Bryce and his girlfriend Kim Sly — Source: Daily Mail

Bryce’s roommate, Sean Dixon, claimed that Bryce had taken the drug Vyvanse to help him stay awake to play video games all night and that he had also been drinking hard alcohol throughout the day. [1]

Bryce reportedly downed a bottle of hard liquor every weekend.

That same day, Bryce’s behavior grew even more concerning when he gave away some of his belongings to friends, including a pair of diamond earrings that were a gift from his mother.

August 28

By the time August 28 rolled around, those who knew Bryce Laspisa had become deeply concerned about his disturbing behavior.

Sean called Bryce’s mother to express his concerns, and there were many. He told Karen Laspisa that Bryce was acting out of character and that he had broken up with Kim via text the previous night [3], telling her that “she would be better off without him.” [1]

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(From left) Karen Laspisa, Bryce Laspisa, and Michael Laspisa — Source: Los Angeles Times

Bryce, Sean said, had indicated that something was bothering him but never explained what that “something” was. [3]

A couple of hours later, Bryce himself called his mom. Despite dumping Kim the night before, he had driven to her home in Chico, about a 90-mile drive. Bryce insisted that he was OK, but Kim got on the phone and told Karen that Bryce wasn’t acting like himself and she didn’t think he should be driving.

Karen offered to visit Bryce the next day, on the 29th. He told her that, yes, he wanted to speak with her, but urged her not to make the drive to meet him. Again, he did not specify what he wanted to talk about. After their conversation, Kim got back on the phone and Karen told her to give Bryce’s keys back to him, but only if Bryce promised to call her in the morning.

Bryce left Kim’s house around 11:30 p.m.

August 29

At 1 a.m. on August 29, the phone rang in the Laspisa house. [1] Karen missed the call and didn’t think much of it, as she believed her son had driven back to his apartment and he was calling to tell her he had made it safely. Later on, phone records would indicate that Bryce made the call when he was in a desolate area about an hour away from his apartment in Rocklin.

August 30

The life of Bryce Laspisa went from a simmer to a boil on August 30. At around 11 a.m. that morning, Karen and Michael Laspisa received a voicemail from Bryce informing them that he had used their roadside assistance plan at 9 a.m. after running out of gas in an area west of Bakersfield. It was a 350-mile trek.

A man named Christian who worked for Castro Tire and Gas delivered three gallons of gasoline to Bryce as he waited in his car. Bryce charged the $20 worth of fuel to his parents’ credit card.

Charge records show Bryce was in Buttonwillow, and due to the town’s location and short distance from Chico, Karen and Michael assumed their son was on his way to visit them. Had Bryce stayed on that path, he would have made it home in less than three hours.

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Source: Wikipedia

Concerned, Karen and Michael both tried to phone their son, but he wouldn’t answer any of their calls.

Hours later, Bryce had still not arrived and his parents were now pacing the floor with worry. Desperate, they called Castro Tire and Gas and asked Christian to go back to check on Bryce. When Christian arrived, he found Bryce still sitting in his car in the exact same spot where he left him.

When Christian asked Bryce what he was doing, he simply replied, “Nothing.” Christian informed Karen that Bryce seemed OK, though his eyes were a bit red.

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Source: Stories Of The Unsolved

Karen finally spoke with her son around 12:30 p.m. that afternoon. The Laspisas were expecting their son to arrive home around 3 p.m., but once again, the hour came and went with no sign of Bryce. For the next six hours, Bryce inexplicably ignored his parents’ phone calls.

When Karen and Michael tracked their son’s cellphone, they discovered that he had only traveled eight miles over the course of nine hours. It’s not known why Bryce didn’t answer the phone during this time.

By 9 p.m., the Laspisas were terrified and frantic. With little else to do, they contacted the California Highway Patrol, who searched for Bryce and found him in his vehicle on Lagoon Drive, still in Buttonwillow. The police searched his car for drugs but found none. The officers spent 20 minutes with Bryce and conducted a field sobriety test, which he passed.

Bryce, at 19 years old, was a legal adult. And since he was neither inebriated nor transporting drugs, the police couldn’t do much aside from telling him to call his mother and continue on his journey home. But Bryce was incredibly reluctant to call home, so the police physically dialed the number for him and made him talk to his mom around 10 p.m. [1] She asked him what he was doing he peculiarly replied that he was going to hang out with friends later. [3]

At 11 p.m., Bryce stopped at a gas station in Buttonwillow and purchased a drink for $1.71. He told his mother he was on the I-5 South, but wouldn’t give her any other information. At some point in the night, Bryce reportedly stopped at a Valero gas station and purchased $39 worth of gas.

During the night, Bryce once again used his parents’ roadside assistance, and once again, Bryce was found to still be in Buttonwillow. He had been in that area for approximately 13 hours with no explanation.

This time, roadside assistance followed Bryce onto the interstate to make sure he got there safely and was headed in the right direction. According to Bryce’s GPS, he should have arrived in Laguna Niguel at 3:25 a.m.

At 1:50 a.m. on August 31, Bryce again called his mother, this time to tell her that he had gotten off the I-5, but he had gotten back on it.

At 2:08 a.m., Karen spoke with her son for the very last time. He called to tell her he had gotten off the I-5 again and planned to sleep in his car. At that point, Bryce had been awake for almost 48 hours, so Karen didn’t argue with Bryce’s decision to get some sleep.

Off the Radar

Bryce, however, didn’t pull over for a snooze. He continued driving for another 90 minutes to Castaic Lake.

At 8 a.m. on August 31, a California Highway Patrol officer knocked on the Laspisa’s door. The news wasn’t good.

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Karen and Michael Laspisa — Source: Chicago Tribune

The officer asked Karen and Michael if they owned a 2003 beige Toyota Highlander. After confirming that they did own such a vehicle, the officer informed them that at 5:30 that morning, the vehicle had been found abandoned at Castaic Lake off an access road to the State Recreation Area, just two hours from the Laspisa home. The vehicle had crashed and was found on its side at the bottom of a 25' embankment, adjacent to the lake’s main boat access road.

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Bryce Laspisa’s abandoned vehicle — Source: LOLWOT.com

The back window of the vehicle had been broken out, the officer said, but Bryce was nowhere to be found. The police assumed he was in the vehicle when it crashed and he escaped by breaking out the back window. There was some blood on the passenger headrest and on the backseat, but not enough to lead investigators that Bryce had been seriously injured.

Inside the vehicle lay Bryce’s laptop, cellphone, and wallet. A duffle bag was found in the back of the vehicle and it was unzipped, leading investigators to surmise he had removed something from it when he broke out the back window and escaped the crash.

CCTV footage showed that Bryce made three separate trips to where the vehicle was found between the time he left Buttonwillow and 3 a.m. [1] One camera caught the Toyota Highlander driving along Lake Hughes Road near Castaic Lake at 2:15 a.m., just minutes after he last spoke with his mother. The same camera captured him driving up the road once again at 4:29 a.m.

Tire tracks were visible at the top of the embankment and they led down the bank towards Castaic Lake. Based on the track pattern, law enforcement could tell that Bryce descended the embankment at a fairly high rate of speed and made no effort to use the brakes.

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A map view of where Bryce’s vehicle was located — Source: WebSleuths.com

The logical conclusion among investigators was that Bryce tried to drive into the lake in an attempt to take his own life.

The Search

Naturally, search parties immediately swarmed the area where Bryce’s vehicle was found. Castaic Lake was searched by divers for several days with no luck; a search of nearby campgrounds yielded no further signs of the missing college student.

In the midst of the search, Los Angeles County firefighters responded to the area to tackle a brushfire in the area surrounding the lake. To everyone’s horror, the cause of the blaze was determined to be a burning body. Fortunately for the Laspisas, the body turned out not to be Bryce’s.

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Source: Yahoo! News

The body was determined to be that of 35-year-old Lamondre Deon Miles. The South Los Angeles man’s corpse had been “riddled with bullets” during a fight over his failure to pay a debt before being dumped and set ablaze. [4]

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Lamondre Miles — Source: NBC News Los Angeles

Though the facts pointed to a deliberate effort on Bryce’s part to either harm himself or stage his own death (more on that later), Karen and Michael Laspisa, along with investigators, now had to wonder whether or not their son may have stumbled upon something he wasn’t supposed to see and became a murder victim himself.

And, as if the Laspisa family wasn’t suffering enough, Michael’s car got broken into as he aided in the search for his son.

Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Joshua Dubin said at the time:

“It’s tragic. I can’t imagine having a missing child, and, on top of that, have your vehicle broken into.”

Friends, family, and volunteers posted fliers and hiked remote trails in search of Bryce, while the police took to the skies to scour the area from above. [5] On the ninth day of the search, police utilized the help of bloodhounds, which successfully tracked Bryce’s scent from the vehicle to a roadway that crosses a dam all the way out to a truck stop. Disappointingly, that’s where the clues ended. [6]

With no new leads and no sign of the 19-year-old redhead, the search was officially called off after three weeks, though volunteers continued to donate their time to look for Bryce and police continued to carry out patrols of the area. [5]

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Kim Sly and Bryce Laspisa — Source: Creeping It Real

At the same time that investigators were looking for any trace of Bryce, they were also interviewing those closest to him to gain insight into his frame of mind, which was clearly out of sorts. This is when they learned that in addition to giving away the diamond earrings his mother gave him, he also gave away his Xbox. [6] They were also rattle when they learned that on the same night that Bryce left, he texted his roommate, Sean, the following message:

“I love you bro seriously. You’re the best person I’ve ever met, and you saved my soul.”

People who are contemplating suicide often give away their belongings and write heartfelt letters to the important people in their lives, but Sean said he didn’t get the impression that Bryce wanted to die or that he never planned on coming back. Sean told investigators he thought Bryce just went off on his own to find himself and that he expected him to be back by Labor Day.

But Bryce never returned, and six years later, no one knows what happened to Bryce Laspisa.

Theories

A Psychotic Break And/Or a Head Injury

Months after Bryce’s disappearance, Karen and Michael hired a private investigator who kindly offered to take the case pro-bono. [3] Denise Savastano, who specializes in missing persons cases, believes Bryce intended to return home to Laguna Niguel and bases this theory on Bryce’s GPS coordinates.

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Source: Ashwood Recovery

Savastano theorizes that Bryce’s drug use may have led him to have a psychotic break, and this would explain his erratic behavior. She also realized, however, that Bryce may have sustained a head injury when he crashed his vehicle and became disoriented and wandered off.

Or, Bryce might have suffered a double-whammy: He was in the middle of a psychotic break when he crashed, and a head injury — likely a concussion — compounded his mental illness.

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Source: UC Health

Savastano and the Laspisa family hired a sonar specialist to search the depths of Government Cove (an area of Castaic Lake) with the assumption that if Bryce had taken his own life, he would surely be at the bottom of the lake. After searching 12 hours a day for two days, it was clear that Government Cove was not Bryce’s final resting place.

It’s important to note that everyone who spoke with Bryce on the phone over the several days leading up to his disappearance has stated that he sounded lucid. [7]

He Left Willingly

Karen and Michael Laspisa have gone on the record to say they don’t believe their son would have left willingly, and if he did, he wouldn’t have flown under the radar for more than six years — he would have reached out to someone eventually. (His family doesn’t believe he would have committed suicide, either.)

But this theory seems to be the most logical one, based on the little evidence available. Consider the following:

  • Bryce said he had something important to discuss with his parents, but he never told them what it was.
  • Bryce gave away several personal items of value, which could indicate he was suicidal, but it could also indicate he planned to build a new life for himself and start over.
  • In the hours leading up to his disappearance, Bryce wandered the area of Buttonwillow for hours and spent time sitting in his car for inexplicable reasons. This could suggest a number of things. First, he could have been debating what he wanted to do — go home, commit suicide, or make a break for it. Or, he could have been waiting for a ride that never showed up. Was someone secretly picking him up to whisk him away to his new existence? Did Bryce spend so much time in Buttonwillow because he was waiting on a drug dealer? No drugs were found in his vehicle when the California Highway Patrol searched it, nor when it was found abandoned.
  • He appears to have deliberately crashed his vehicle, but he was able to break out the back window and escape. Either his body is well-hidden or in a remote location that somebody missed, or he walked away from the crash.
  • Bloodhounds tracked Bryce’s scent to a truck stop, so it’s possible he hitched a ride with a trucker.

He Committed Suicide

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Source: Beyond Blue

This theory is supported by most of the same evidence supporting the theory that he left of his own accord.

Mental illness often manifests itself during the teen/early adult years, and Bryce’s drinking and drug use could have been the trigger that brought these issues to the surface.

Bryce’s cellphone and wallet were found in his vehicle. If he took his own life, he knew he wouldn’t need them anymore. If he left to start a new life, he may have left the items behind so he couldn’t be tracked.

In the fall of 2013, months after Bryce vanished, there were multiple sightings of the troubled teen in Oregon, but the police were unable to confirm any of them.

He Left Willingly but Met With Foul Play

The Laspisas believe Bryce met with foul play. Not to downplay their theory, but in nearly every missing person case I’ve covered, the family is reluctant to believe their loved one committed suicide or left of their own accord. I suppose in some ways it’s easier to accept that something happened to a loved one than it is to believe they would deliberately leave you guessing about their whereabouts.

There are two rather obvious scenarios here. First, Bryce might have stumbled across the murder of Lamondre Miles and paid the ultimate price for being at the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s certainly unnerving that a vicious murder took place at around the same time Bryce was driving around the area of Castaic Lake.

It’s also possible that Bryce hitched a ride with an insidious truck driver. At some point, he may have been dropped off and opted to hitch-hike the rest of the way to wherever he was going and was murdered. Really, the truckstop opens the door to the possibility that Bryce’s body could be anywhere in the United States. If Bryce was picked up by a truck driver, however, no one has come forward to identify themself.

It’s a known fact that Bryce Laspisa was a heavy drinker who used drugs recreationally (at least). His mother insists her only son was a good boy, and I’m sure he was, but at least one Redditor disagrees with Karen’s assessment that his downward spiral and disappearance was completely unexpected. We’ll leave it at that. I don’t want to spread rumors, but you’re free to read what this supposed “insider” had to say.

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The Laspisa family — Source: The Orange County Register

I must admit that some of Karen and Michael’s actions make little sense to me. If Bryce’s girlfriend felt that Bryce was acting strangely and was in no shape to drive, why did Karen tell her to give him back his keys? Why didn’t Karen and/or Michael drive to their son’s location to pick him up, especially after finding out he’d only traveled a few miles over the course of several hours and learning that he had been sitting in his car pretty much all day?

I’m not blaming them for anything, I just think it’s…odd. Then again, if they were in denial about his substance use and mental health, that could easily explain why the Laspisas stayed put. Maybe the Laspisas knew their son was in a fragile state and didn’t want to seem overbearing. Sometimes parents want to fix things but accidentally end up making them worse by not giving their kids space. We don’t know what was said between Bryce and his mother. We don’t even know the tone of their phone calls.

Maybe Bryce knew he had a serious drug problem and that’s what he wanted to tell his parents. At 19, every problem seems like the end of the world. Perhaps he felt that leaving or committing suicide was preferable to confessing to his parents. Maybe Bryce wanted to drop out of college and move away or pursue another path and he knew his parents would be unhappy with him.

I hope Bryce is out there somewhere, and that he is happy and sober. And if he is alive, I hope he will reach out to someone to let them know. He was Karen and Michael’s only child, and he had a loving girlfriend and a large circle of friends, all of whom have struggled with immense heartache since Bryce fell off the map.

Got any theories of your own? I’d love to hear them.

Sources:

  1. True Crime Society
  2. The Santa Clarita Valley Signal
  3. Stories of the Unsolved
  4. International Business Times
  5. Daily Mail
  6. Katie’s Crime Research
  7. Investigation Discovery

Written by

My name is Julie Fidler. I’m a writer, author, wife, and animal lover. I shed light on unsolved mysteries and shocking crimes.

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