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032 - The Disappearance of Steven Koecher

[Case Evidence]

                Steven Thell Koecher was born November 1st, 1979 to parents Deanne and Rolf Koecher, in Bountiful, Utah.  Rolf became the editor of the Davis County Clipper, a newspaper published on Thursdays that circulated in southern Davis County, in the 1990’s.  Bountiful is a large city in Davis County with a population of just over 40,000 residents located just fifteen miles north of Salt Lake City.  Steven was born into a large family, having three brothers and a sister, and was raised as a member of the Latter Day Saints, a Christian group which typically adheres to mormonistic properties, although some follow a more traditional Protestant theology. 

                Koecher was described by friends and family alike as a devout man in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and through the church he developed many friendships and found a community that accepted him and did its best to support him during his hours of need.  Steven was described as being a causasian male, standing 5’10”-5’11” tall and weighing approximately 180 pounds.  He has blond hair and blue eyes.  Steven has a surgical scar behind each ear and a series of birthmarks on his abdomen forming a shape similar to the Nike swoosh.  When last seen Steven was wearing a hooded sweatshirt over a white dress shirt with blue pants, either jeans or dockers, and white sneakers.

                Steven was known as a fun loving guy who liked to change things up.  His cousin, KC Naegle described him as “A great guy who has always been spontaneous.  It was normal for him to just out of the blue drive somewhere like Vegas to visit friends or go to a party or church ward activity.”  Steven was also said to have loved board games, hiking and spending time with his family.  Steven’s mother, Deanne, said that he was “devout to his church and liked water sports, always taking advantage of an opportunity to go boating.”  Deanne also stated that Steven was not known to get into trouble and stayed on the straight and narrow, saying that he “didn’t have issues or addictions or anything that could have led this to happen.”

                Background on Steven’s life is somewhat sparse, with most information revolving around his disappearance.  Steven graduated from high school in Amarillo, Texas and then served on a mission in Brazil for the Church of Ladder Day Saints.  Spreading the word was one of his passions, and following completion of his mission, Steven returned to the United States and attended Ricks College, now known as Brigham Young University – Idaho, located in Rexburg.  Steven received an Associate in Arts and, eventually, would attend to the University of Utah from which he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in communications in 2005.  During his time at the University of Utah, from 2003 to 2004, Steven worked as an intern to the Utah Governor’s Press Secretary.  From 2005 to 2007, he worked as a stringer for the Davis County Clipper, the paper his father worked for, and also appeared in print from time to time, under the name Steven Thell. 

                From March of 2007 to July of 2008 Steven worked for the Salt Lake Tribune’s online department.  Though he enjoyed the job, his mother has said in the past that he wasn’t very excited by his hours, where he worked mostly overnight for the tribune.  According to his friend, Greg Webb, though Steven enjoyed his job he wanted something full time where he felt he was going to be able to ascend higher.  During his time there, Webb stated that Steven was actively looking for a full time job and had sent his resume out to a large number of job prospects.  According to many friends, Steven wasn’t a big fan of the Salt Lake City area, and had wanted to move but his shaky job situation often inhibited this.  Then, after being laid off from the Tribune, he took a job working sales for Matchbin.com in October of 2008.  Just six months later, in March of 2009, Steven finally got the opportunity to move away from the wintery aspects he disliked in Salt Lake City and found himself in St. George, approximately three hundred miles south.  About the move, Deanne would say “Last winter really got to him so he took the opportunity to move to St. George.”  While the move did not impact his ability to work for Matchbin.com, he was let go from the company just a month later when his sales figures weren’t meeting expectation.

                Steven struggled to find work, and his move to St. George actually hurt him more than helped.  Being so far away from friends and family, he didn’t have the supportive community he was used to and had to find a way to make it on his own.  He worked various jobs and in December of 2009 was hired on at Travis’ Window and Blind Cleaning for whom he handed out fliers.  As his money began to dwindle, the isolation of St. George began to weigh heavier on him and friends and family did notice that he seemed to be depressed.  He took a second job, hanging Christmas decorations, but still wasn’t cutting it financially. 

                Steven was renting a room, where he lived alone, and his financial difficulties were only growing.  According to Deanne, contact was made by the power company who explained that Steven was behind on payments and there was a possibility that they were going to shut off his electricity.  The power bill has been debated, as Steven was only renting a room and it’s been argued that payment of the power bill was the landlords responsibility and not Steven’s.  In October of 2009, Steven received a check from his grandmother but it was never cashed.  According to Deanne, the last time she spoke to Steven “we talked about finances and I felt he was in control of things and I offered to help with his rent, saying that’s what families did for each other.  I transferred some money into his account, but it was never used.”

                There has been a lot of speculation about Steven’s state of mind in the days and weeks leading up to his disappearance.  The argument has been made that due to his struggles to find a job and his mounting financial difficulties, he was suffering from depression and feeling desperate.  He was a member of a large family where most of his siblings had secure jobs and were building families, and it has been suggested that Steven may have felt that he was letting them down by failing to achieve as highly as they had.  In Early December, his financial difficulties seem to increase as his landlord, unable to reach Steven, contacted his parents who were listed as his emergency contacts.  Reportedly, he had fallen three months behind on rent but was alleged to have been working on a plan with his father to catch up on it. 

                December of 2009 is an incredibly important month in Steven’s life, and thankfully, there are several places that have worked out an extensive timeline following his comings and goings.  I am going to follow this timeline in order to establish a map of Steven’s travels and behavior during this time.  On Monday, December 7th, Steven attends a church Christmas dinner.  According to all reports, nothing here is out of the ordinary and Steven doesn’t appear to be stressed or exhibiting any troubling behavior.  There is also a report that during this Christmas dinner, Steven made plans to homeschool a friend which was arranged to take place on December 13th.

                The next day, Steven sees his boss at the Window washing job, and is given $100.  On Wednesday, December 9th, Steven spoke to his sister but it was a fairly normal conversation without any hints that he had plans of going anywhere.  He would go on to attend church in St. George from approximately 6:30pm to 8:30pm.  Later that evening, around 10:47pm, Steven spoke to his father on the phone where they discuss his rent problems.  According to all reports, Steven dismisses the troubles and downplays the whole situation.  Steven says, during the call, that he is buying groceries and allegedly becomes frustrated later that his landlord involved his parents in his problems.  According to reports of the time, Steven hangs up on his father.

                At some point either Wednesday night, or early Thursday morning, Steven gets in his car and begins driving.  At 6:45am, Steven stops to buy gas in Salt Lake City, leaving a trackable paper trail.  This means that Steven had driven over three hundred miles since the phone call with his father.  The next confirmed location is West Wendover, Nevada where again he stops for gas at 9:45am.  His trip now totals approximately 429 miles.  Steven is confirmed to be in Ruby Valley, Nevada at 2pm.  Inexplicably, and without calling ahead, he stops at the home of his ex-girlfriend’s parents and is informed that she isn’t home.  Steven visits with them for a few hours and explains that he is in the area because he driving to Sacramento to visit family, though he has no family in Sacramento.  Why he stopped there and why he lied is unknown, but Ruby Valley makes his trip a total of approximately 543 miles.

                At 3:44pm, Steven places a call to his sister.  The two speak for a short while and he makes no mention of the fact that he has been driving hundreds of miles for the past several hours.  At 4:40pm he stops for gas again in Salt Lake City, now heading back home.  By 5:25 he has driven over 800 miles and stops in Springville, Utah.  A little over an hour later at 6:56pm, Steven speaks to his mother in what will be their final phone call.  They discuss his financial issues and she explains that she has transferred money into his account, though he will never use the money.  At 7:24, according to a receipt Steven stops in Nephi, Nevada.  By 11:13pm, he arrives home in St. George.  Steven has driven nearly 1100 miles in the past twenty hours and no one in his life had any idea where he had been, or why.

                On Friday, December 11th, Steven is back at work handing out fliers for Travis’ window and blind cleaning.  A later check of Steven’s cell phone would show that at approximately 3pm he placed a call to a woman.  When her husband was asked about this, he denied any knowledge of Steven nor why he would be calling his wife.  During this time, his daughter came forward and explained that while Steven was handing out fliers, he found the man’s two daughters locked out of their home.  He offered to help them look for a key, and when one couldn’t be found, he used his cell phone to call their mother.  She failed to answer, and Steven offered to take the girls to a neighbors house so that they could stay warm as it was a chilly December day.  Around this time, someone arrived at the house and gave the girls entry and Steven went along on his way. 

                Steven’s comings and goings will now become even more enigmatic and during the course of the investigation they will be pondered over thoroughly.  On Saturday, December 12th at 9:19am, Steven’s cell phone pings off a wireless tower near Overton, NV, approximately an hour and a half away from St. George.  By 5:04pm, Steven stops in Mesquite, NV, picking up some snacks and filling his gas tank.  According to the route, this would have him heading back towards St. George from Overton, with Mesquite being approximately fifty minutes away.  Around 7:58pm, Steven is back in St. George and purchases several Christmas gifts at K-Mart.  During the time from 10 to 10:30pm, several neighbors report that Steven arrived home, and stayed there for twenty to thirty minutes before heading back out.  There has been a lot of debate about Steven’s whereabouts in the two to two and a half hours between his K-Mart purchase and his arrival home though nothing conclusive has been discovered. 

                On Sunday, December 13th, Greg Webb placed a call to Steven’s phone at approximately 7:52am.  Webb was doing some work at the church and asked if Steven could come in and cover for him around 11am.  At this point, Steven explained that he was out of town.  According to Webb “He said he was in Las Vegas, but would go back to St. George if I needed him to.  I was also in Vegas so I decided to go back myself.  I told him  just to do whatever it was he had to do and I’d see him later.  That’s it.  I wish I would have asked him to go back to St. George.”  Las Vegas is approximately two hours from St. George and Webb had called because he wasn’t sure he would make it back in time, but since Steven was also in Vegas, and Webb had already left, he knew he would arrive before Steven could.

                At 10:53am, Clerk Seth Abboud calls and asked Steven to announce the start date to the ward’s church baseball season.  Apparently, Steven was scheduled to officiate the church’s 1pm service, but it’s at this point that he explains he is in Las Vegas and won’t be able to make it.  Around 11:15am, Steven receives another call from his church asking if he can fill in for Webb who still hasn’t arrived.  Again, Steven explains that he is in Las Vegas and is unable to attend.  This is the last confirmed conversation that Steven has with anyone as far as we are aware.

                At 12:54pm, the cameras of a home security system catch sight of Steven Koecher.  The camera videos his 2003 Chevy Cavalier driving west on Savannah Springs Avenue, in the Overlook Village are of Sun City Anthem.  The car comes to a stop and at 1pm, a male figure presumed to be Steven is seen walking east, crossing to walk north on Evening Lights Street.  The security footage has been exhaustively researched and a different angle, shot from another camera, appears to show Steven walking further down the street.  It is difficult to know for sure as he is seen in the reflection of the window of a minivan but the time and direction match up with the previous camera footage of Steven.  This is the last confirmed sighting as Steven is never seen nor in contact with anyone again.  On Monday, December 14th at 7:04am, Steven’s voicemail is checked.  This is the last activity on his phone.  It pings somewhere in the Las Vegas area.  According to the pings, his phone left the area of his abandoned car and traveled in a north east direction.

                On Tuesday, the Home Owners Association takes notice of Steven’s abandoned car and tries to locate the owner.  When they look into the vehicle they see the fliers for Travis’ Window and Blind cleaning which are stacked up in the car.  Someone placed a call to that number and reach Steven’s boss who in turn gives them Steven’s cell phone number.  They call Steven but there is no answer and they leave a message for him.  The next day, when they receive no answer and the car is still there, they placed a call to Steven’s mother, though she didn’t answer and again, they left a message.  Deanne listens to her voicemail on Thursday the 17th, and learns about the abandoned car. 

                Pings on Steven’s phone were hit off a cell tower near Arroyo Grande Boulevard and American Pacific Drive, approximately five hours after he was seen on surveillance footage.  This tower was located just over two miles from his car.  Two hours later, there was another ping which placed his phone in a subdivision near Sunset Drive and Stephanie Street.  The last known ping came from the intersection of US-95 and Russell Road where it remained for two days before the signal was lost, possible due to his phone battery dying..  While his car was abandoned in an affluent neighborhood, the last pings of his phone place him in a lower income area with many apartment complexes.  Some have suggested that this particular area of apartments is known as an area most people do not visit unless they are looking to score drugs.

                Upon hearing the voicemail, Deanne immediately contacted the police to report Steven missing while Rolf and Steven’s brothers headed out to Nevada to begin searching for him.  They checked Las Vegas as well as the area of Henderson, posting missing person’s fliers and checking in at every hospital, restaurant and jail.  Grimly, they also placed calls to several morgues and yet there was no sign of Steven anywhere.  They visited the location of his abandoned car and found themselves perplexed.  The neighborhood in which he left it was not easy to locate and required traversing several side roads.  As far as anyone was aware, Steven had no knowledge of the area nor did he know anyone there.  The vehicle had a half a tank of gas and started without a problem, indicating that it wasn’t abandoned due to any problems.  When asked about the location of the vehicle, Rolf stated “We were wondering why it was here – some clue as to why it was here.  That’s a hard place to get to and so it had to be a destination of some sort.” 

                They weren’t wrong about the location.  The car was parked against the only curbside area that isn’t directly in front of a home, and the location was described as being a hard to find spot, behind a soundwall.  It certainly didn’t appear to be the kind of place someone finds by accident.  Police searched through Steven’s car, looking for any answers or indications of where he may have gone.  Inside they found fliers from his job, miscellaneous receipts, snack food, Christmas presents, a shaving kit, coats, pillows and a blanket.  It should be noted, his vehicle was never swept for DNA which could have indicated whether or not anyone else had been in the car with him that day.

                While officers were combing over his car, other investigators gained entry to his rented room.  Inside they found freshly purchased groceries, thought to be those he purchased while talking to his father on the phone.  In addition to this, they located his guitar, computer, cell phone charger and unmailed job applications.  Sweeps of his computer didn’t show any unusual activity, and it was also discovered that there was no internet connection in the room he was renting.  Later information suggested Steven often went to the library to use the internet, but again no records were found to show any kind of illegal or strange activities.  Noted as missing from both his car and home were his cell phone, wallet, keys and driver’s license.  None of these items have ever been recovered.  Initially his passport was considered missing but was later found elsewhere amongst his belongings.  The Henderson Police Department in conjunction with the Nevada Center for Missing Loved Ones canvassed the neighborhood in which Steven’s car was found, but were unable to locate and signs or indications that he had even been there.  Search and rescue conducted searches in the surrounding desert using helicoptors and riding on all terrain vehicles.  Every home which had a car containing a Utah License Plate was also investigated and the homeowners questioned about Steven, but again, no information or leads were found.  Over the course of the next two weeks, police continued desert searches as well as handing out missing persons fliers with Steven’s vital information on them.

                The St. George Police joined with the Henderson Police Department, and in a joint effort, began searching through all available information in hopes of tracking down leads about where Steven may have went, and whether or not he was the victim of foul play.  Early on, investigators felt they had no reason to suspect foul play.  It was considered probable that he had gone off on his own, though there was some speculation that he may have gotten involved with drugs or some other illegal activity which could have led to his disappearance.  St. George police Lieutenant James Van Fleet was frustrated by the lack of evidence, and the dead ends they continued to run into.  When asked about the progress of the investigation he stated that the case was open and “We’ve put out feelers hoping it will generate something but have no further evidence.  We’re just hoping he checks in.”  Interestingly, a new theory would emerge in early 2010, not long after Steven’s disappearance, which would allege that not only had Steven chosen to run away, but that he hadn’t gone alone.

                On December 6th, 2009, just six days before Steven was last spotted, twenty-eight year old wife and mother of two Susan Powell mysteriously vanished.  On the morning of her disappearance, Susan and her two sons attended church services at the Hunter 36th Ladder Day Saints Ward.  They were later visited by a neighbor, at home, at approximately 5pm.  Susan, her two sons and her husband, Josh Powell, were all reported missing the next day when the children failed to arrive at school and no one could reach either parent.  Police arrived at the home and broke down the door, fearing the possibility of carbon monoxide poison.  They found the home empty, and oddly, a wet spot on the carpet which had two fans blowing on it.  The next day, on December 7th, Susan failed to arrive at her job at Wells Fargo Financial.  During their initial search, investigators found her purse, wallet and vehicle at her home. 
                Later on the 7th, Josh arrived back in town with both of the children.  He was immediately taken in by investigators and questioned about Susan’s whereabouts.  Josh alleged that he had left the home to take the boys on a camping trip and when he last saw Susan she was in their bed, sleeping.  Investigators were suspicious of the story and marked her disappearance as suspicious.  They searched the home and removed several items, and during the process of their search, they located Susan’s blood on the floor, a life insurance policy that insured her for 1.5 million dollars as well as a letter, hand written by Susan, in which she described a difficult marriage and a fear for her own life.

                Josh’s behavior in the weeks after Susan’s disappearance did much to raise the suspicion of investigators, whereas within ten days of her disappearance he liquidated her retirement accounts, cancelled her future chiropractic sessions and withdrew the children from daycare.  Several co-workers of his also informed police that he had mentioned that you could easily hide a body in an abandoned mine shaft in the Utah desert.  Police found him uncooperative and unconcerned about his missing wife, showing frustration that he was even being questioned about it.  Police called Josh back in for questioning, along with his eldest son, Charlie.  Charlie confirmed that the camping trip had taken place, but in contradiction to Josh’s story, alleged that Susan had gone with them.  Several weeks later, a daycare teacher informed police that Charlie had told her his mother was dead.  The youngest child, Braden, had also drawn a picture of a van with three people in it and stated “Mommy was in the trunk.” 

                Josh retained an attorney at this point, and left town with the boys to visit his father in Washington state.  On January 6th, he returned to pack up the house and indicated that he was permanently moving to Washington.  Police officially declared him a person of interest in Susan’s disappearance.  In early 2010, a website appeared at the web address SusanPowell.org and was listed as the “Official Website of Susan Powell.”  The site, which contained anonymous entries, described Josh as a loving husband and father who had been the target of a smear campaign by Susan’s family and the Ladder Day Saints.  In addition to this, the site alleged that Susan had been suffering from mental illness and had abandoned her family to run off with another man.  That man was purported to be Steven Koecher.  According to the site, Susan and Steven had run off to Brazil, where Steven had previously done mission work.  It alleged that the two met in the church and initiated a torrid affair together.

                Over the course of the next few years, Josh would have multiple run ins with the law including when cartoon style drawings were found on his computer depicting incest, child pornography and bestiality.  Since the images were drawn, and only simulated these acts, possession of them was not illegal though it gave authorities cause for concern.  Eventually, Josh had the children removed from his custody.  On February 5th, 2012, a social worker called 911 after bringing Braden and Charlie on a supervised visit to Josh’s home in South Hill, Washington.  According to the social worker, Josh had pulled the boys into the home and locked her outside.  Soon after, the home exploded in what police later ruled a double-murder suicide, saying that the explosion appeared to have been purposefully caused. 

                One year later in February of 2013, Josh’s brother Michael committed suicide by jumping off the roof of a parking structure.  The suicide came not long after police questioned him for the last time about the fact that he had abandoned his car in an Oregon junkyard just weeks after Susan’s disappearance.  In the time since, Utah authorities have stated that they believe Michael and Josh were accomplices in Susan’s murder.  Though Susan remains a missing person, it is largely believed that she was murdered, this argument was given much credence after Josh took the lives of his two sons, and himself, followed a year later by his brother’s suicide.  For police, though it was eerily timed, they do not believe there is a connection between Susan Powell’s disappearance, and that of Steven Koecher.

                With no leads and no new evidence, investigators were at a loss.  While they felt that something was wrong, they also had to consider the possibility that Steven had chosen to leave.  The Koecher family disagreed, and began taking matters into their own hands.  Led primarily by Rolf, they hired a Salt Lake City Police Drug dog to sniff the vehicle for the presence of narcotics, but no trace was found.  They eventually hired a private investigator to canvass the neighborhood in which the vehicle was found, but again they came up with no real answers.  They even tracked down the owner of an SUV seen driving by in the surveillance footage, but found no answers there either as it was a real estate agent who had been showing a house in the area.  The family visited the area multiple times after Steven’s disappearance, frustrated and lost for answers.  Rolf would later say “Late at night, when you can’t think of anything else to do, that’s when it becomes very difficult.”

                In the time since his disappearance there have been a few unsubstantiated sightings of Steven.  A man reported seeing him at a Best Buy, in the parking lot, a month after he vanished.  The man and his wife spoke to Steven’s parents who agreed it sounded like him, but no further information was available.  Employees at an IHOP located in Flamingo claimed Steven had visited multiple times, appeared to be living on the streets and seemed to be confused.  The Koecher family staked out the IHOP but never saw any signs or trace of Steven.  Several witnesses reported seeing him riding on buses in Las Vegas, though none of these claims have ever been verified. There was a Craigslist entry which many believe could be connected to the disappearance.  On Craigslist there is a section known as missed connections in which people often post about encounters they had with someone that they enjoyed.  They write about the interaction and express an interest in seeing that person again.  The following was posted on January 5th, 2010.  It is titled “I am looking for Mr. Steven – xxx – Black Jack Expert” and reads as follows:

                “We met at Excalibur in Las Vegas on 12th of December.  We were two Hungarian girls who asked your help to learn playing Black Jack.  And you were very kind and didn’t give it up teaching us as long as we needed… we had a really great time: laughing a lot next to the table.  There was only one thing: you were sad about something – even though you won.  I hope everything is fine with you.  Actually I was smiling at you and that was it… as I was not brave enough to step forward, I was the one who didn’t play.  But here is the New Year, so I decided to try and find you and tell you that you impressed me a lot.  More than anyone else ever.  When shall I say it if not this time?  Happy new year, when all your dreams come true.  Truly yours, xxx, the Hungarian girl.” 

                Las Vegas is a very busy area, and it can’t be known for sure whether or not the Steven mentioned in this posting could have been Steven Koecher but it does draw a lot of attention from those who have investigated this case as the twelfth is listed as the official date that Steven went missing.  Many believe he could easily have been the man in the Excalibur that day with the Hungarian girls, though casios are infamous for their security camera systems.  If indeed Steven were there, you’d have to imagine surveillance footage would show him.  Whether or not those recordings were ever checked is unknown, and there has been no evidence provided to substantiate the craigslist posting.

                Sadly on February 10th, 2011, Steven’s father Rolf passed away.  According to friends and family, he had felt ill for several days and missed a day of work, hoping to return the next day.  The next day came and Deanne placed a call to the David County Clipper, where Rolf had worked since the mid 90’s, and informed them that Rolf had been taken to the hospital.  Doctors discovered a depleted white blood cell count and a bacterial infection.  His kidneys had shut down, followed by his heart.  Rolf was a huge voice in the search for Steven, and dedicated his life to trying to find his son.  He expressed frustration with the official investigation, feeling they weren’t pushing hard enough.  Rolf never believed that Steven would have run away and believed that if his son could have returned home, he would have.  Sadly, he passed away without ever knowing what happened to Steven.

                The case went quiet for several years, with tips trickling in but never really leading anywhere.  Then six years later, in May of 2015, there was a renewed search effort.  Red Rock Search and Rescue developed a new theory about where they believe Steven may have been heading when he disappeared.  Public Information Officer Olivia Niziolek said that the case was a top priority for them.  Niziolek stated “The theory that we have this time as we start our search is the subject decided to go high and go a little bit higher into the mountains.  We’re going to be sending out five different teams and we’re going to follow the wash.”  The search employed 40 to 50 volunteers with the target of searching twenty-five square miles of mountains within the vicinity of where Steven’s car was found.  David Cummings of Red Rock Search and Rescue said “We don’t really have any leads on this case, per se.  We’re just looking at it a little differently.”

                For Cummings, the search had somewhat darker possibilities.  He explained that he and his team were operating under the belief that Steven traveled from St. George to the Las Vegas area to do harm to himself.  They planned out their search to be for someone they believe may have gone up into the mountains to commit suicide.  Cummings believed that Steven may have been in a very bad state of mind at the time and was concerned about how much time had passed since his disappearance.  He explained it would be difficult to find his remains in the rough terrain, and they had to be able to distinguish between human and animal bones.  When asked about the Koecher family, Cummings said “They’re pleased to have us involved and hopefully we can find something tomorrow.”  Ultimately the search took place, but no signs or traces of Steven were found.

                So what became of Steven Koecher?  A bright, family oriented and devout young man drove his car into an affluent neighborhood where he had no known connections and mysteriously vanished.  All that could be used to track him were cell phone pings which proceeded further away from his car before ceasing all together.  In a case such as this where the evidence is so thin and the case so confusing, many theories have come to popularity in the years since.  While the Koecher family has struggled to come to terms with Steven’s disappearance, they cannot help but hold out hope for his safe return someday.  Despite their sincere hope, they do also have to consider the possibility that they may never see Steven alive again. 

                The first theory about Steven’s disappearance is that he simply chose to run off.  Many people point to his frustration with his financial and employment situation as indicators that he was looking to get away and, hopefully start something new.  Whether or not he planned to stay gone is debated, but theorists believe his long trip the week before he vanished was actually his plan to scout out some areas to go to in hopes of having a new beginning.  In conjunction with this theory is the chance that Steven didn’t choose to run off at all, but decided to take a hike up into the mountains and became injured or died in some kind of an accident.  Many have argued that it’s possible that his disappearance was, ultimately, a complete accident.

                The second theory also follows the thought process that Steven left of his own volition, though in this case, many believe it was not to start a new life, but instead to end his own life.  Many of Steven’s friends and family members noted his downtrodden emotional state in the days and weeks before he went missing.  He was struggling to get his life together and feeling highly vulnerable.  Many proponents of this theory also argue that, considering the successful lives of his siblings, Steven may have felt like he was failing those he loved and simply couldn’t live with himself anymore.  On the other hand, there are those who believe Steven may have gotten himself involved in something of which he was ashamed and that this could have led to plans of suicide.

                The third theory explores what trouble Steven may have gotten himself into.  In his desperation for money, it has been considered possible that Steven may have gotten involved in some kind of illegal scheme in order to earn some quick money.  Some believe he ended up involved in selling drugs, while others have argued he could have been going to Vegas with others who had some kind of plan to scam a casino.  It’s argued that Steven may have tangled up with dangerous people on one of these ventures and found himself the target of violence.  Many people point to the final locations of his cell phone pings as indicators that he was going into a bad area for one of the aforementioned reasons.

                The fourth theory is that Steven may have turned to drugs as a solution to his depression and found himself in over his head.  His shortness of cash and apparent inability to pay his rent has made many theorize that he may have owed money to dangerous people and could have been murdered when he failed to pay.  Some believe he went out on his final trip to meet with someone from whom he owed a debt, possibly to buy himself more time, and found himself unable to talk himself out of his troubles. 

                The final theory is that Steven may not have had any plans of disappearing, nor any involvement in illegal activities, but instead, found himself the victim of a random act of violence.  Though we do not know the reason he ended up in the area where his car was found, we do know that his phone passed through an area known for crime.  If indeed Steven was walking through this area, a clean cut guy in a bad part of town, some believe he may have drawn attention to himself and could possibly have been murdered during an attempted robbery.  Knowing his kind and helpful nature, it wouldn’t have been difficult for someone to lure him into a bad situation and to have taken advantage of his kindness.  Some have even suggested that Steven may have been handing out fliers for his job when he knocked on the wrong door and met with a violent person.

                The disappearance of Steven Koecher is one of the most mysterious cases out there.  A young man who seemingly had a good head on his shoulders and is very involved with his family, church and community, drives his car to a quiet neighborhood, steps out and simply walks off into nothingness.  He left behind a family who loved him dearly, including a father who searched endlessly and tirelessly for his missing son.  Steven’s travels in the week before his disappearance only add fuel to a fire of utter mystery and speculation about what may have happened to him, and whether or not it was by his own choice.  In the eight years since he vanished, there have only been dead ends and more questions, with nothing even resembling an answer.  It’s a case that has perplexed many for years, and continues to be one of those talked about disappearances amongst online detectives and true crime enthusiasts.

 

[Thoughts & Theories]

 

                The disappearance of Steven Koecher has been a highly requested case since early on in the podcast.  It’s a case I have looked into in the past and made myself familiar with over the years.  From the get go it grabs your attention and is incredibly haunting.  Disappearances in general touch us on a visceral level, the idea that someone can simply vanish without a trace reminds us that we don’t live in a safe world.  It makes us wonder about ourselves, and our loved ones, and how we would respond if someone we cared about just disappeared without a trace.  Steven’s case is especially disturbing considering the type of life we believe he led, and the week or so before he went missing brings up a large quantity of questions for which everyone continues seeking the answers.  Steven appeared to be a straight laced, devout member of his church with strong ties to the community and a great love for his family.  He doesn’t exactly fit the profile of someone who got tangled up in something bad, but often times, people can live a double life or be involved in things that not even their closest friends know about.  Is that what happened here?  Some believe so while others argue that Steven’s disappearance is unrelated to any untoward activity on his part.

                There is a lot of speculation around this case, and I am going to jump into some of that when we I discuss the theories in a moment.  Before moving into them, I wanted to address the Susan Powell connection.  For a few years, this was a theory that a lot of people latched onto, and for some, a theory they still adhere to.  People aren’t generally a fan of coincidences and our minds like to try and make connections, even if those connections have to be stretched to make sense.  In the case of Susan and Steven’s disappearances, it wasn’t that far of a stretch in the early stages.  They didn’t live far from one another and went missing within days of each other.  For many, that was enough to suggest that they were likely together or had fallen victim to the same person or persons. 

                The investigation into Susan’s disappearance was riddled with hints of her husband since early on.  His alibi didn’t make a lot of sense, his children contradicted the story and almost everyone around him had some suspicion that he knew exactly what had happened to his wife.  The life insurance policy and the liquidation of her assets so quickly after she disappeared was also incredibly suspicious.  Though I examined this possibility for a time, early on, the more information came out about her case, the less likely there seemed to be any probable connection to Steven Koecher.  Susan’s story is terribly tragic, and the horror of what happened to her didn’t end with her likely murder, but followed into the double murder suicide committed by her husband.  Though we can never know for sure, due to her husbands actions, almost every law enforcement officer involved in the case fully believes she was murdered by her husband.  They also dismiss any probable connection to Steven’s case.

                For many, the possibility of a connection to Susan’s case gave them some semblance of hope.  It was the first information that had appeared which may have led to some answers.  In the aftermath of what happened, Steven’s family and law enforcement were put back to square one where all they had was a map of Steven’s travels, his abandoned vehicle and cell phone pings that show movement, but not enough to lead investigators to any clues.  There is simultaneously a lot of information about Steven’s movements in the days leading up to his disappearance, and almost nothing about where he may have been going or why.  It’s frustrating, and in the absence of solid evidence, theories have to attempt to fill in the gaps.  When it comes to this case, we have a few theories, all of which attempt to provide answers, though none of which can truly answer the ultimate question:  what happened to Steven Koecher?

                The first theory is that Steven chose to disappear.  This is a very common theory amongst investigators when an adult vanishes, and for the most part, it seems like an idea put forward when there isn’t evidence of a crime happening.  For me, a lot of times, this comes across more as an answer that is provided when they simply can’t figure out anything else.  It can never be fully ruled out, though often times it seems unlikely.  In Steven’s case, it’s much harder to say.  We are not dealing with someone who was having a great time, in fact, he was struggling and facing financial difficulties.  Though we can’t know depths of the relationship he had with his family, or moreso, the way he personally believed his family saw him, many believe that Steven felt that he was letting them down and failing to live up to a high standard set by those he loved.

                One aspect I found interesting, when it goes to Steven’s state of mind, is the fact that he moved away from Salt Lake City because of the weather.  We don’t get a lot of depth on this, though his mother did say in an interview that the winter was hard on him.  Far be it from me to psychoanalyze him, but it does seem like the winter weather had a negative impact on him in what is often referred to as the winter blues, or more diagnostically, seasonal effective disorder.  That is absolute speculation, but if winter is a hard time for him, it’s important to note that he disappeared just a week before winter officially started again.  Factor that in with financial difficulties, which can be truly overwhelming, and a sense of failure and you could easily have a recipe for disaster.

                It’s been proposed that Steven may have left, for one of many reasons.  One of the most popular beliefs is that, considering his travel in the week before, he may have been out scouting for jobs, or new locations.  Somewhere he believed he could start fresh and prove himself, reset the board and get back on his feet.  This isn’t unheard of, and people often move to start new lives, but they typically don’t cut off their entire family to do so.  In order to believe that Steven left of his own volition, you have to accept that he planned to go and purposefully told no one in his life about his plans.  It doesn’t make a great deal of sense.  In addition to that, he left his clothing and possessions behind, and had recently purchased groceries and made plans to tutor someone.  These don’t seem like the behaviors of someone who knows he’s going away.

                Though I believe it’s possible Steven had considered going away, and may indeed have been out looking for new places, I don’t think that is what happened here.  If moving were in the cards, I think he would have spoken to his family about it and moved officially.  What never made sense to me is that someone who was looking to start over would leave behind his car, which is going to make the journey all that more difficult and needlessly worry those who love him.  It’s certainly possible that running away was in the cards, but considering its been nearly nine years and no one has ever been confirmed to have seen him, nor has his social security number or bank account popped up, it seems incredibly unlikely.

                There is a split off to this theory, which is that whatever happened may have been accidental.  We may never know why Steven parked where he did, but it gave him access to the surrounding desert and some mountainous areas.  Some have argued that Steven may have been through the area before, and have hiked, and wanted to do so again.  Maybe to take some time to think, to be alone and to find some inner peace.  For those who follow this belief structure, it’s very possible that he could have wandered off into the wilderness and either have gotten lost, been injured or even died.  There are wild animals out there, coyotes for instance, that have been known to attack.  The terrain is rigid and unforgiving, there are abandoned mine shafts and all manner of pitfalls into which someone could stumble and never be found.

                It’s not something that can be entirely ruled out.  I could absolutely see Steven wandering off into the desert and something terrible happened.  The problem comes in when you follow his cell phone.  At no point does its pings lead investigators to believe he could have gone out that way, and instead it seemed more than likely that he worked his way into the surrounding city area.  Either way, I do consider it possible this could have happened to him.  I think the idea of an accident is more likely than a firm decision to run off without explanation or assistance. 

                The second theory takes the idea of Steven going off on his own and applies a much darker filter to it.  For many, with all of his problem adding up, the winter settling in and his frustration mounting, there is a belief that Steven may have gone off on his own but that his intention was to take his own life.  Feeling ashamed by his failure, and crumbling under the pressure that life can often just continually pile on, this certainly has to be considered a possibility.  It’s nearly impossible to imagine yourself in a suicidal mindset, unless you’ve been there before, but the sense of hopeless that can come creeping in can easily override logic and make everything feel like an impossible task to accomplish.

                We have no way of knowing for sure exactly what Steven was experiencing at the time he disappeared and while we’d like to believe that his familial connection and the unity he felt in his church and with his community would have been enough to keep him off the edge, there have been numerous instances when apparently happy and healthy people have made the choice to take their own lives.  We’ve seen it in the recent past with a few well known singers, both of whom there is video footage showing just hours before their suicides and they seemed happy and content.  If indeed Steven fell into a dark place, it isn’t hard to imagine he may have made a poor choice during that time.

                There has been a massive amount of speculation about Steven’s private life, and whether or not certain things came into play for which he felt ashamed.  Some have suggested he may have been involved in elicit drugs, and not wanting to bring shame to his family he chose to end his own life.  Other theory revolves around his sexuality, speculating that Steven may have been a closeted gay man and feared the truth was going to be revealed, or struggled so much with his own sexuality that he made the decision to end his life.  This is fairly flagrant speculation, and though it all goes towards state of mind, there is  no evidenciary basis for these theories.  I did want to address them, in order to conduct a more thorough examination, but without much to go on, they are little more than rumors.

                On the other hand, there are pieces of information which seemed to exist in direct contrast to the suicide theory.  In his car, among various items that were found, were Christmas gifts he had purchased.  He made future plans, he was being offered help from his family and his options were not entirely closed out.  Though his situation may not have been going well, it certainly wasn’t rock bottom.  It’s always curious when someone locks in plans and then is presumed to have committed suicide. Sure, it’s happened before, but it’s often strange.  Suicide is not typically a spur of the moment decision, and if that is the case here, why did he select to leave his car where he did and walk to whatever destination he would have taken his life?  Obviously these are questions we may never have the answers to, and while it is possible that suicide was the intention here, I don’t think it’s the most likely scenario.  If he had wanted to take his own life, he had plenty of opportunity during his long trip the previous week, and even at home.  Driving to a spot where he allegedly knew no one, that was hard to find, is suspicious in and of itself.

                The third theory goes a different direction, and raises the possibility that in his desperation for financial stability, Steven may have become involved in some kind of criminal activities.  The possibilities there are fairly unlimited with options such as drug running, illegal gambling, trying to work the system in a casino, or something along those lines.  Whether or not this happened, again, is purely speculative but it’s a line of thought which should be followed.  Many people believe that Steven’s arrival in the neighborhood that day was not accidental, and that he may have had an appointment that day.  Some have gone farther to explore the possibility that this appointment was related to some illegal activity and that the reason Steven parked where he did was because he didn’t want to leave his car unattended in the dangerous part of town he knew he was going into. 

                If Steven had gotten himself involved in something illegal, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he could have been in over his head.  His trips to Las Vegas certainly make some suspicious as a man who can’t afford to pay his rent is either visiting Las Vegas hoping to earn the money to do so, which is incredibly unlikely, or he is involved in something else for which he is hoping to make some money.  Vegas has a dark underbelly, and when you wander away from the glow of the strip, you can easily end up in some twisted places.  The possibility has to be considered that his Vegas trip was not a leisurely activity, but perhaps a planned business meeting.  We can never know for certain on this, but in general the vegas trip doesn’t make a lot of sense.

                Another thing which I’ve been suspicious of is the drive Steven made the week before he vanished.  In just over twenty hours Steven made a 1,091 mile trip.  According to google, that trip would take just over fourteen hours without stopping.  So, essentially, there are only six hours during that time where he could have slept, but we also know he spent a few hours at the home of his ex-girlfriend’s parents which eats into that time.  For someone to drive that far, for that long, on very little sleep could be indicative of some kind of drug you, likely amphetamine related.  Is it possible that Steven found himself involved with drug use?  Absolutely, it’s not a rare thing for a straight laced person to stumble into that world when depression starts knocking.  There are several possibilities here including that Steven could have owed someone money for drugs, or been involved with some bad people selling drugs.  Purely speculative, but what if Steven wandered off into the desert because he was out of it on drugs? 

                The family brought in a drug sniffing dog to sweet his car, and there were no traces found, but I am not sure that’s a complete indicator that drugs weren’t involved in some way.  It’s simply a question that keeps unraveling further and further, but never seems to end.  Ultimately, whether Steven was involved in drugs, or some other kind of illegal activity, it isn’t hard to imagine that someone in his desperate position may have been willing to cut a few corners to get to where he wanted to be.  Unfortunately, those shortcuts can often lead to terrible places.  His last known area, based on the pings of his phone, was near some apartment complexes known for drugs and other illegal activities.  Even if he weren’t involved, he found himself in a dangerous part of town, all alone, which leads us to the final theory.

                The final theory is that Steven Koecher may have fallen victim to a random act of violence.  As part of his job, Steven put fliers on car windshields and went door to door with business cards hoping to garner business for the window washing company.  The neighborhood in which his car was found may have simply been a place he found on a map and considered a likely target for work.  Of course, no fliers were found in the days after his disappearance and no one reported seeing him in that area.  Also, it should be noted, that businesses were not allowed to pass out fliers in that particular neighborhood.  The fliers were found in his car, though on surveillance footage it doesn’t appear as though he has any with him.  There has been some debate that he may have had something under his arm in the footage, but it’s difficult to tell.

                Either way, lets presume for a moment that Steven ends up in this area for some reason and begins walking around.  A short while later he finds himself in the not so great part of town, and from there on out, anything is possible.  A clean cut young man who is well dressed and walking around a bad neighborhood is going to draw some attention.  It’s not out of the realm of possibility to easily imagine a mugging gone wrong, or simply somebody out looking for some trouble.  The circumstances which may have unfolded bear a myriad of possibilities, all of which have negative implications towards Steven.  While many argue that he must have known the area he was in, that doesn’t mean that he knew it well enough to know what or who to avoid. 

                I do believe it’s entirely possible that Steven could have become the victim of a random act of violence.  Someone living in that area who had a violent predisposition is unlikely to pass up an opportunity, and if indeed they are the type to commit murder, there’s also the chance they know of some places in the desert where a victim can be easily hidden away.  Again, we have no way of knowing, but its certainly something that is considered likely.  Investigators worked hard canvassing the area, hoping for some information, but no one reported seeing Steven that day.  Of course, if you’re living in a bad area and you know who the people are to avoid, you’re probably not going to do a lot of talking about them either.  Some have gone so far as to believe that Steven may have been lured to the area with some kind of a job proposition, though I think that is a less likely scenario.  Also, some have argued he could have been hanging out fliers and knocked on the wrong door, but were this the case, there would have likely been evidence of fliers in the surrounding area.

                As somewhat of a split off of this, there is the possibility that Steven could have been victimized by someone he knew and trusted.  Though it has been said he didn’t know anyone in that area, there must have been some reason he chose that place to park.  One curious connection is that of Greg Webb, Steven’s friend who called him about covering for him at the church.  Some have speculation that there is an air of suspicion about the fact that Webb was also in the Vegas area at the time, and arrived late for his assigned duties.  While no evidence has ever been unearthed to make any possible connection and any involvement from Webb is extremely speculative, there are those that feel there could have been opportunity.  This, though, may once more be a case of the way coincidences lead us to want to make connections.  I cannot rule out the possibility that Steven may have been taken or murdered by someone he knew, but unless further evidence is presented, it’s just a theory like all of the rest.

                The Disappearance of Steven Koecher is dark, perplexing and tragic.  A young man with the possibility of a bright future fell on some low times and mysteriously vanished before having the opportunity to pull himself out.  His family, church and community were shocked by his disappearance and find themselves, to this very day, searching for answers.  Steven’s father, Rolff, lost his life without ever knowing the truth about his son.  He fought long and hard to try and find any scrap of evidence, and was unable to.  Since the day Steven disappeared there have been no new leads, no breaks in a case that has grown increasingly cold.  His family still holds out hope that someday they will find the truth, but until then, the disappearance of Steven Koecher remains open and unsolved.