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Crime News

‘Everybody Deserves To Be Found’: Possible Human Bone Found In Sunken SUV, Owned By Mom Who Vanished 20 Years Ago With Her Kids

Forensic investigators are now attempting to “determine the origin” of the bone found in the green Nissan Pathfinder, which police confirmed belonged to Stephanie Van Nguyen, who vanished with her two children nearly two decades ago and allegedly penned a suicide note.

By Dorian Geiger
Forensic Evidence Tells Crime Scene Stories

A possible human bone, fished out of an SUV that was submerged in a river for years, may help police shed light on the unsolved 2002 disappearance of an Ohio mother and the suspected kidnapping of her two children.

On Oct. 14, authorities retrieved a 1997 Nissan Pathfinder from the Ohio River, near Aurora, Indiana. Indiana State Police confirmed the vehicle belonged to 26-year-old Stephanie Van Nguyen

The Ohio mother vanished on April 6, 2002 with her 4-year-old daughter Kristina Nguyen and 3-year-old son John Nguyen. She was last seen in her green Nissan Pathfinder with Ohio plates, according to officials. 

Sonar scan technology, as well as divers, were used to locate the sunken vehicle last week. The Nissan, which had plunged to a depth of more than 50 feet beneath the river’s surface, was located roughly 300 feet from the riverbank, police said. It was ultimately extracted using a tow truck. 

Authorities, who confirmed the vehicle belonged to Nguyen, said the SUV’s registration plates matched the missing woman’s Nissan. 

"Just years of being underwater, it was in bad shape,” Delhi Township Police Lt. Joe Macaluso told WLWT this week. “So, it's going to take a lot of time to determine if anyone was in there." 

Crime News 1997 Nissan Pathfinder Pd

Investigators ultimately found a bone in the crumpled, rusted-out vehicle. University of Indianapolis anthropologists, who analyzed the bone, believe it’s human. 

“A bone was found in the remains of the vehicle which anthropologists have identified as likely being a human bone,” Sgt. Stephen Wheeles of the Indiana State Police told Oxygen.com on Wednesday. “No further information is available on who the bone came from. Further testing on the bone will take time to see if it tells us anything further about the missing persons.”

Authorities haven’t speculated whether the remains could belong to Nguyen or one of her children.

“After almost 20 years, we simply aren’t sure whether testing will definitively give us the answers to this investigation that began years ago,” Wheeles added. “Unfortunately, the length of time the vehicle was under the Ohio River has made it extremely difficult to collect much more evidence from it. We are hoping that the steps that are being taken by investigators will work to provide this family answer to the questions they have had about what happened to their loved ones almost two decades ago.”

Crime News Search For Pathfinder Pd

Detectives said the 26-year-old mother left a possible suicide note before vanishing, indicating she intended to steer her car into the Ohio River.

"In this note, it said, 'Use this money and jewelry to pay for the funeral for me and the children' and 'I'm going to drive into the Ohio River down by Grand Victoria,'" retired Delhi Sgt. Bob Schwaeble, who was assigned to the case in 2002, told WLWT.

For years, police had combed the Ohio River looking for any sign of Nguyen’s Nissan. Authorities also investigated the possibility that the note was a hoax. 

"The more time elapses sometimes the farther you get from being able to find a resolution and the answers that you want," Delhi Township Officer Heather Taylor told KAKE. "You're not only looking for a needle in a haystack — you're looking for a needle in a haystack in a field of haystacks.

Investigators credited advancements in sonar technology with helping locate Nguyen’s vehicle months ahead of the 20th anniversary of the woman’s disappearance.

“I wanted to see if with the improvements in technology and with things like that, if we could beat the clock to the 20th anniversary because everybody deserves to come home,” Taylor added. "Everybody deserves to be found.”

Delhi Township Chief of Police Jim Howarth didn’t immediately respond to Oxygen.com’s request for comment regarding the open case on Wednesday.