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Orange County Man Confesses to Choking, Burying College Student 9 Years After He Did It
When reviewing Lynsie Ekelund's cold case, an investigator was struck by how one suspect referred to her in the past tense.
The disappearance of 20-year-old college student Lynsie Ekelund shattered the serenity of peaceful Placentia, California.
She left home on February 16, 2001 and said she was spending the night with Andrea, a friend from school. A young man named Chris McAmis picked up Lynsie, who didn’t drive.
On February 19, 2001, her mother, Nancy Ekelund, reported to police that Lynsie was missing. “I really got worried because Lynsie was always reliable,” her mom told The Real Murders of Orange County, airing Fridays at 9/8c on Oxygen.
As they worked the case, investigators learned that Lynsie was a tough young woman. She had suffered a head injury in a car accident when she was five that left her partially paralyzed. Then, a year after the accident, her parents divorced and her brothers moved to Texas with their father.
Despite her challenges, Lynsie was compassionate and determined, according to those in her close circle. "She was such a trusting person, to the point of being naïve. She trusted everybody, that was her personality," Lynsie's former teacher Francine Bless said.
Lynsie Ekelund reported missing
Investigators canvassed the area and spoke to Lynsie’s fellow classmates at Fullerton College. “We needed to just get the word out,” said Corinne Loomis, a retired detective with Placentia Police Department.
Detectives learned that Lynsie had lied to her mother about her plans for Friday night. Lynsie had actually gone to San Diego, along with friends Andrea and Amy, as well as Chris, the young man who’d picked her up. The four headed back to Placentia around midnight, according to Andrea. Lynsie would be the last one to be dropped off by Chris.
Detectives reached out to Chris for an interview, during which he said that, at around 4:30 a.m. on February 17, he dropped Lynsie off near her house, said former Los Angeles Times reporter Geoff Boucher.
The last person to see Lynsie Ekelund alive
Chris claimed that he didn’t drop her off at her home at Lynsie’s request. He said that she didn’t want her mom knowing that she returned during the middle of the night. While that story seemed odd to police, Lynsie's friends said that she had done the same thing in the past to avoid disturbing her mother.
While Chris’ account matched ones by Amy and Andrea, police needed to confirm his version of the events. He okayed their request to search his truck. However, the search yielded no incriminating evidence.
Five days passed without a sign of Lynsie, so detectives turned to phone records and found that she’d made a 2 a.m. call to Matt, a student she had gone out with a few times. They had recently broken up but were on good terms.
Detectives were still suspicious and questioned him about his whereabouts, later learning that he'd been home with his parents on the night in question. "Investigators found him to be credible," Boucher said.
A twist in the Lynsie Ekelund case
Just over a week after Lynsie disappeared the case took an unexpected twist. A middle-aged man named Marty approached Nancy Ekelund at her work. He said he had an envelope with $250 that belonged to Lynsie.
Nancy told investigators about the encounter and they brought him in for interrogation, during which they learned that Marty was married and he didn’t think his wife would like it that he was hanging out with a young woman. He explained that he first met Lynsie when he saw her on the sidewalk struggling to carry flower pots and offered her a lift.
"Marty said he had met Lynsie and felt bad for her and started to drive her around," Deputy District Attorney Michael Michelena said.
None of Lynsie's friends were aware of her friendship with Marty, but her old teacher Bless said that it wasn't "odd" to her because Lynsie had "friends of all ages."
Regardless, the scenario raised red flags for investigators. And while Marty agreed to a polygraph test initially, he later became frustrated by the police's request. "He became very defensive," Michelena remembered.
Despite the suspicious circumstances, Marty had an airtight alibi and was cleared as a suspect.
Back at square one, investigators again decided to speak to Chris, who described the route he traveled to go home. Investigators used surveillance footage from a bank ATM camera to confirm that his white truck had passed through the area around 4:15 a.m.
The Lynsie Ekelund cases goes cold
Chris was essentially off the table as far as suspects and the case went cold for years. Throughout that time, Lynsie’s mom posted flyers about her beloved daughter. “I had to keep my hope alive,” she said.
Seven years after Lynsie vanished, Larry Montgomery, a new investigator for the Orange County DA’s Office, breathed life into the case.
Montgomery began by meticulously combing through notes, videos and transcript of interviews by police with Marty, Matt, and Chris. What struck him about Marty and Matt was their genuine concern about Lynsie.
A clue cracks Lynsie Ekelund case open
Chris, on the other hand, appeared dodgy and evasive. He frequently put his hand over his mouth when responding to a question and, more telling, was that he spoke about Lynsie in the past tense. “That was a big red flag. I started looking very closely at Chris,” said Montgomery, who’s now retired from his post at the Orange County DA’s Office.
Montgomery scrutinized the ATM bank camera footage and observed a difference in Chris’ truck from the one captured on tape. He realized it wasn't even Chris' truck in the footage. "Basically, Chris' story wasn't confirmable," Montgomery said.
To get a better idea of Chris’ actions around the time of Lynsie’s disappearance, detectives subpoenaed his bank records. Chris said that he was home all day at the time Lynsie went missing. But records showed that he bought gas in Santa Clarita, where Chris was helping his father with a construction job — which meant he had access to tractors and earth-moving equipment.
Investigators, with the aid of the cadaver dogs, searched the area for months without success. So, the team decided to “chum the waters,” said Loomis.
In October 2010, an undercover officer posed as a journalist and told Chris that she’d gotten a tip that Lynsie’s body had been found. Police covertly staked out Chris’ residence to see how he reacted.
Around 3 a.m. Chris got in his car and police followed him in unmarked cars. Despite their efforts, Chris caught on to the fact that he was being tailed and he drove to a police station in Fullerton. He reported that he was being followed – but he didn’t know by whom.
What happened to Lynsie Ekelund?
At this point, investigators “went for broke,” Loomis said. On October 27, 2010, they obtained a Ramey warrant, an arrest warrant filed before formal charges are made.
Detectives knew they needed Chris to confess or he would go free, according to The Real Murders of Orange County. Although it appeared that Chris was going to lawyer up right away, he started to talk, revealing that he and Lynsie went to his place. He said that he tried to kiss her and she resisted. After drinking vodka, he tried once again to initiate sex with her. Lynsie resisted and tried calling the police. In response, he threw her to the bed and gripped her in a headlock, causing her to die. Later, he buried her in Santa Clarita.
Chris accompanied police to the construction site. The area had changed in nine years, but he pointed them to the general location where he put Lynsie in the ground.
“We spent one full day digging and then one scoop brought up a bright blue shoe,” said Montgomery. “In it were the bones of a foot. I knew we found her.”
Police reached out to Nancy Ekelund, who always held out hope that her daughter would be found alive. "I felt that everything was just gone. Nothing mattered anymore," Nancy remembered.
A plea deal was negotiated. Chris pleaded guilty to second degree murder for 15 years to life in prison.
Lynsie was laid to rest in December 2010. The investigators and friends attended the funeral. "I think that we had been embedded with the family and embedded with this case for so long. I remember how emotional it was, even for me," Loomis said.
To learn more about the case, watch The Real Murders of Orange County, airing Fridays at 9/8c on Oxygen.