Wednesday, November 11, 2020

LeeAnna "Beaner" Warner: Missing Since June 14, 2003

LeeAnna was last seen walking home from a friend's house, which was a block and a half from her own residence. She had gone to play with the friend at 4:30 p.m., but no one was home at her friend's residence. She was last seen walking on southwest Second or Third Street, westbound, between 5:00 and 5:15 p.m.

LeeAnna's mother, Tiffany Kaelin Whittaker, more commonly known as Kaelin Warner, began looking for her at 5:30 p.m., enlisting neighborhood children to help. When the search turned up no sign of LeeAnna's whereabouts, Kaelin called the police between 8:40 and 9:00 p.m.

An extensive search by authorities, which lasted several days and included helicopters and bloodhounds, failed to locate LeeAnna. While there is no evidence that she was kidnapped, authorities have been leaning towards that view, feeling they would have found her quickly had she merely wandered off. Tracker dogs traced her scent to the roadside edge but lost it after that.

An unidentified man in his mid-thirties was seen on foot in the neighborhood at about the time of LeeAnna's disappearance. He was approximately 5'10 tall and 155 pounds, with a dark-colored tattoo of a star or sun on his right arm.

A maroon and blue two-door Cadillac driven by an African-American man in his twenties or thirties with a bald or shaven head, and an older model rusty brown pickup truck driven by a Caucasian man with black curly hair were also seen in the area.

Neither the vehicles or their drivers have been identified. It is unknown whether any of them had to do with LeeAnna's apparent abduction.

Matthew James Curtis, 24, was arrested in Chisholm in August 2003 for possession of child pornography charges which were unrelated to LeeAnna's case. He was interrogated several times about a possible connection to LeeAnna, however, due to the nature of his alleged crime.

Curtis was found dead September 2003, the day before he was supposed to appear in court on the child pornography charge. Police say he suffocated himself with a plastic bag and his body was found in a gravel pit eight or nine miles outside of Chisholm. The investigation into his death has been closed and ruled a suicide.

There has been speculation that Curtis did not commit suicide and was in fact murdered in a possible revenge or gangland-style killing, and his remains were then staged to make it look like he took his own life. There is no evidence to support this theory, however.

Authorities initially suspected that Curtis was involved in LeeAnna's disappearance, and they processed his pickup truck for DNA samples. They could not find any evidence that the child had ever been in the vehicle, and it was decided that Curtis was not connected to LeeAnna's apparent abduction.

Police suspect foul play in LeeAnna's disappearance. LeeAnna's parents were not asked to take lie detector tests and are not suspects in their daughter's apparent abduction.

They have both been previously divorced and LeeAnna's father, Christopher, had domestic problems with his ex-wife; they both sought mutual restraining orders and he alleged that she had threatened Kaelin and LeeAnna. These difficulties occurred several years before LeeAnna's disappearance, however, and are not thought to be related to it.

The Warners moved to Chisholm just a few months prior to LeeAnna's disappearance.

After LeeAnna vanished, a child's footprints were found near Longyear Lake, a shallow lake near where she was last seen. Investigators pumped some of the water out of the lake in late October 2003 to search for evidence relating to her case, but they found nothing important and had to stop pumping because the lake was freezing over.

They began a new search of Chisholm in the summer of 2004, looking for the child's remains, but to no result. No further searches are scheduled for the foreseeable future. LeeAnna's parents believe she is still alive and was possibly abducted for the purposes of black-market adoption.

LeeAnna enjoys playing with dolls and riding her bicycle, and is described as an outgoing, precocious, and fearless child. She has been known to wander, and her survival instincts are said to be quite advanced for her age. Her case remains unsolved.

http://charleyproject.org/case/leeanna-susan-marie-warner

Missing Leeanna: A Family Endures While Authorities Struggle For Answers

Jill Burcum, Star Tribune

CHISHOLM, MINN. -- By all accounts, it was just another lazy spring Saturday on the Iron Range when 5-year-old LeeAnna Warner happily skipped off to see two small chums with a mountainous stash of toys in their living room. Late in the afternoon on June 14, the little girl, nicknamed "Beaner," arrived barefoot at her friends' house around the corner only to find that the family had gone to Wal-Mart. Then she headed back the way she came. She never made it home. Authorities pursued theories that the little girl might have wandered into a nearby lake or got lost on the rugged Range. But after nearly two months of dead ends, investigators now believe something sinister and rare happened on the quiet tree-lined street near LeeAnna's home. The family said law enforcement told them for the first time last week, at a meeting in Hibbing, that officials believe Leanna was likely the victim of the rarest and most serious type of kidnapping -- a stranger abduction. "We knew it in our hearts. But it's not an easy word to hear," said LeeAnna's father, Chris Warner, 31. About 115 children out of the approximately 800,000 reported missing each year in the United States are considered to have been kidnapped by a stranger or slight acquaintance who intends to harm them or hold them permanently, according to a landmark study of missing children. LeeAnna's mother, 29-year-old Kaelin Warner, said she struggled to breathe as she listened to investigators Tuesday. Images of her child in fear or pain flashed through her mind. "My first question was, what are the odds of bringing her home alive?" she said. "They said, 'Don't you ever lose hope.' " In a three-hour interview at their home last week, the Warners said hope and faith will have to sustain the family. In the 50 days since LeeAnna disappeared, investigators and family members have sorted through more than 1,300 leads and extensively searched the area. Yet there's precious little information about what happened to the tiny, brown-haired, brown-eyed chatterbox after two neighbors saw her leave her friends' house. 'It's like she disappeared into thin air or someone zapped her somewhere with a laser. Or that she was abducted by aliens," Kaelin Warner said. "Just vanished. Gone."

Law Enforcement People Share Her Frustration.

"We're really grasping right now," said Dave Bjerga, special agent in charge of northern Minnesota for the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. One agent with 30 years’ experience told Bjerga there's never been a case "where there's so little to go on." Even compared with Jacob Wetterling or Corrine Erstad -- two Minnesota kids whose disappearances garnered headlines and stymied investigators -- authorities in LeeAnna's disappearance say they have less information to work with. With the Wetterling case, at least, two young companions reported seeing someone snatch the boy. With LeeAnna, investigators didn't even have that as a starting point.

Strategy Of Exclusion

St. Louis County Sheriff Ross Litman just shook his head last week when asked whether there's any possible link between LeeAnna's disappearance and that of other missing children in Minnesota or nationally. "We don't have enough information to make that determination," he said. "We can't find her. That's the only similarity." At this point, Litman and Bjerga say, investigators are pursuing a strategy of exclusion. Family, people, places and things are checked out and checked off. And that process of elimination has led authorities to the conclusion that LeeAnna was mostly likely kidnapped by someone with little or no connection to the Warners. "What we don't know tells us something," Litman said. From the moment she was last seen by two neighbors leaving her friend's house, ". . . We know nothing, and that's significant." The rarity of stranger abductions is one reason authorities pursued the theory that LeeAnna had wandered off and why they didn't issue a nationwide AMBER Alert to law enforcement agencies and the media of a child abduction. Authorities continue to stand by that decision but say they are confident that they've done the legwork to support the conclusion that LeeAnna was abducted.

Since LeeAnna disappeared, divers have searched the clear waters of nearby Longyear Lake more than a dozen times. Searchers have trudged multiple times on foot through the countryside in a circle whose outside edge is about 5 1/2 miles from the Warners' gray stucco duplex. Neighbors also were interviewed multiple times, and in some cases, had their houses and vehicles searched. Tips about suspicious cars and people seen in the area have been checked and, for the most part, ruled out. Officers have talked to area sex offenders and heard mostly alibis. Names of those visiting the area for a concert and charity-fundraiser motorcycle rally the weekend LeeAnna disappeared were culled from the records of gas stations, hotels and campgrounds. That work has so far yielded nothing substantial.

"Not everyone can be eliminated," Bjerga said, noting that people don't go around making sure they have alibis. But of the small group yet to be cleared, there's no information that makes anyone a suspect. Investigators have also apparently completed the sensitive task of checking out LeeAnna's parents and family. "At this point, we're comfortable with what the family is telling us," Bjerga said.

Litman added, "They're not the focus of our investigation." Goodwill between law enforcement and the Warner family was obvious last week after the meeting at the Hibbing Police Department. LeeAnna's parents and paternal grandparents lingered outside talking with investigators. The handshakes were long and seemed heartfelt.

Uncomfortable Scrutiny

Chris and Kaelin Warner said they have been interviewed numerous times by law enforcement officers and were told that they are "cleared." They said officers told them that's why the couple has not been asked to undergo lie-detector tests. Authorities said they don't comment on anything involving lie-detector tests. As part of the investigation, officers dug up parts of Chris and Kaelin Warner's pasts that the couple said they'd rather forget. Both have been divorced. According to court records, Chris and his ex-wife came to blows in Hibbing in October 1998 -- the year LeeAnna was born. Chris Warner notified police of the incident. The couple sought mutual restraining orders. In her petition for a restraining order, Chris's ex-wife claimed that he had an "uncontrollable" temper, even around kids. In his petition for a restraining order, Chris Warner claimed that his ex-wife had threatened Kaelin, her two daughters from a previous marriage and LeeAnna. Bjerga and Litman said that authorities are aware of the situation but that many people have domestic problems. The incident, Litman said, "has not raised any red flags." Chris and Kaelin Warner said they understood the need for authorities to go through this incident and look at their pasts. "We'd be angry if they hadn't," said Kaelin Warner, who has managed a Chisholm convenience store but is no longer working. "We're not perfect," said Chris Warner, a heavy-equipment mechanic at the nearby taconite mine. "But we have nothing to hide." Last week, the Warners told the Star Tribune that a county social worker once asked them about a complaint from someone concerned about LeeAnna. According to the couple, someone told social services that the girl had been tied up. But the Warners said they told the social workers that neighborhood kids had been playing with LeeAnna and used her as a Maypole of sorts while they wrapped a jump rope around her. The Warners said the social worker accepted their version of events. Officials for northern St. Louis County's child protection services did not return calls Friday, but they typically do not comment on such matters. Still, the scrutiny from law enforcement, the media and the people of Chisholm has been intense and painful, the couple said. "It's like living your life under a microscope in a pressure cooker," Chris Warner said.

Holding Out Hope

There's no room in the couple's home in which they aren't reminded of LeeAnna (whose name is often misspelled on posters and in news bulletins). Dozens of studio photos and pictures taken with the family's point-and-shoot camera decorate the walls and shelves. They show a child who loved frilly dresses and family pets. Halloweens when LeeAnna and her half-sisters Karlee and Whitney Chandler happily mugged in costumes. Wintry evenings when LeeAnna snuggled with her mom and dad on the couch. Gleeful family wrestling matches where LeeAnna mixed it up with her dad and her half-brother, Anthony Warner. Chris and Kaelin Warner say they're well aware that many have questioned why they didn't call 911 sooner. The couple realized around 5:15 p.m. that LeeAnna wasn't where she said she'd be. When initial searches turned up nothing, neighbors were mobilized and went house to house. The call to 911 went out shortly before 9 p.m. In a small town like Chisholm, Chris Warner said, you don't believe anything like this can happen. And LeeAnna, a kid who never met anyone she didn't like, had many friends and places to go around the neighborhood, he said. The couple said they did what they thought was best at the time, not wanting to believe the worst or having any reason to. "It's such a different way of life up here," Kaelin Warner said. "Until you live up here . . . you can't understand. And you can't pass judgment." The Warners are keeping LeeAnna's pink bedroom just as it was. The neighborhood kids have converted an old shed into the "Find Beaner Kids Clubhouse" and decorated it with LeeAnna's favorite toys and colors. The Warners, who have set up booths at nearby festivals to publicize their search, say they'll continue to do whatever it takes until LeeAnna comes home.

"As a parent, you'd feel it in your heart if she'd passed on," Chris Warner said. "We haven't felt that yet. We'll continue to hold that hope until they can show us otherwise."

Jill Burcum is at jburcum@startribune.com.

Third man is interviewed in Leanna Warner case
By BRIAN K. ANDERSON
The Daily Tribune
Last Updated: Thursday, July 10th, 2003 10:18:29 AM

CHISHOLM- Investigators working the Leanna Warner case realize they are walking a fine line when releasing names of people they want to talk to about the case and that scenario played out Wednesday when Shawn Raymond Brtek of Hibbing was arrested in the Twin Cities. Just because we want to talk to someone doesnt mean they are a suspect, said Minnesota BCA Special Agent Jerry Koneczny. Some people are having a hard time distinguishing that. And because Brtek had outstanding warrants that resulted in his arrest, Koneczny said people get the false impression that he had something to do with the disappearance of Warner, who was last seen in Chisholm on Saturday, June 14. Adding more fuel to Brteks arrest is the fact that his past includes an offense that classifies him as a sex offender. But Koneczny was quick to point out that investigators interest in Brtek had nothing to do with his past. Our agents questioned him in the Twin Cites and were satisfied with what he told them, said Koneczny Wednesday evening from the command center in Hibbing. Thats not to say we wont reinterview him, but hes being treated more as a witness in this case who may have seen something. Hes no different than any other person weve questioned in this case. Now that the three men wanted for questioning in the case have been interviewed, Koneczny said investigators will continue to look for the publics help in locating three yet to be identified individuals who may know something about Warners disappearance. Those individuals include: A black man, with a shaved or bald head, in his 20s or early 30s who drives a navy blue, two-door Cadillac. A white male with curly black hair, who drives an older, rusty brown pickup with a topper. A white male in his mid-30s, with bleached blonde hair feathered just over his ears. This man who is 59 or 510 was seen walking in the Warner neighborhood on June 14. He was wearing a white T-shirt and blue jeans when he was last seen. He has a dark tattoo of a star or sun shape on his right arm. Those are still people we need to get in contact with because they may have the information we need, said Koneczny. Koneczny said the game plan for investigators will be to continue following up any new leads that come in, as well as revisiting leads that might still shed some light on the case. We need to find out what happened to Leanna and where she is, said Koneczny.

Many to be questioned in search for Chisholm girl
Allen Powell II, Star Tribune
Published July 9, 2003 

Law enforcement officials said Tuesday they expect to question more than 130 convicted sex offenders who live in northeastern Minnesota in the search for Leanna Warner, 5, of Chisholm, who disappeared more than three weeks ago. Those targeted for interviews were not called suspects in the girl's disappearance but "persons of interest" in Hibbing, Virginia, Mountain Iron and Buhl, said St. Louis County Sheriff Ross Litman. He said he does not know how many have already been questioned.
Leanna was last seen about 5:15 p.m. June 14 as she knocked on the door of a friend's house a block and a half from her home. She was wearing a sleeveless denim dress and was barefoot. A reward and pleas from her parents have generated hundreds of tips. In another development Tuesday, investigators asked the public for help in finding three men who "may have information that would be helpful in this investigation." It was not immediately clear what information they could provide.

Leanna Warner

Authorities identified the men as Shawn Raymond Brtek and Jason Wayne Smith of Hibbing, Minn., and Justin Michael Jenkins of Chisholm. The Sheriff's Office also asked for the public's help in finding an unidentified white man in his mid-30s, about 5 feet 10 inches and 155 pounds, with a dark tattoo of a star or sun on his right arm. He was seen on foot in the Warners' neighborhood on June 14. Authorities also were looking for a navy blue two-door Cadillac driven by a black man in his 20s or 30s with a bald or shaven head, and an older rusty brown pickup with a topper driven by a white man with curly black hair. Meanwhile, authorities moved to downplay a television report identifying a 23-year-old convicted sex offender as a suspect in the investigation. Litman and Chisholm Police Chief Scott Erickson, the lead official on the case, said no past offender has been identified as a more viable suspect than others. "The individual being discussed in the media is in custody on an unrelated charge," Erickson's office said in a news release. "He is no more a suspect in the Warner case than any of hundreds of other leads." The 23-year-old Meadowlands man was arrested on suspicion of stealing a vehicle and driving with a revoked license. The man came to authorities' attention because he allegedly stole the vehicle on the same day Leanna disappeared and he had been convicted of third-degree criminal sexual conduct in 2000, said Special Agent Dave Bjerga, of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. Lois Warner, Leanna's grandmother, said the family had been told that there are several "persons of interest" authorities are questioning. "What we're doing is basically sitting back and letting the investigators do their jobs. Sooner or later someone has to open their mouth." In regard to questioning sex offenders, Litman said investigators will concentrate on offenders who have shown a proclivity for young children based on their previous convictions, and will question Level I, Level II and Level III offenders. Law enforcement officials also are investigating hundreds of other leads. Litman said the large number of events that took place in Chisholm around the time Leanna disappeared have increased the number of possible suspects, but he said the person responsible probably is from the Chisholm area.
Allen Powell II is at apowell@startribune.com.

Police explore apparent suicide

ST. LOUIS COUNTY: The Sheriff's Department is investigating whether the man's death is related to a Chisholm girl's disappearance.
BY MARK STODGHILL
NEWS TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER

A Chisholm man accused of being in possession of child pornography, and who was questioned in the disappearance of 5-year-old Leanna Warner, was found dead of an apparent suicide in a gravel pit about eight miles north of his home. The body of Matthew James Curtis, 24, was discovered about 2 p.m. Friday by three men who were practicing archery at the pit off State Highway 73 on National Forest Land. An autopsy conducted by St. Louis County Medical Examiner Thomas Uncini on Saturday indicated that Curtis died of asphyxia, according to St. Louis County Sheriff Ross Litman, who attended the autopsy. Litman said there was no indication of foul play in the death. One of the men who found the body said Saturday that Curtis had a plastic bag over his head. The Sheriff's Department is investigating whether there is any connection between Curtis' death and the Chisholm girl's disappearance. Curtis sometimes stayed at a house about a block from Leanna Warner's home, Litman said. The girl has been missing since June 14. She was last seen knocking on the door of a friend's house a block and a half from her home. Chris Warner, Leanna's father, said Saturday that he knew Curtis lived nearby and that the man was a suspect in his daughter's disappearance, but he also said there were other suspects. Warner said he didn't point out Curtis to authorities as someone who should be investigated. Litman said Curtis was scheduled to appear in St. Louis County District Court in Hibbing Friday on a charge of "pictorial representation of a minor," but didn't appear. He was free on bail. Litman confirmed Saturday that Curtis had been questioned about the girl's disappearance. But he declined to publicly comment on how strong a suspect he believed Curtis was. He said the dead man was never confirmed as a suspect or cleared as one and that many people have been questioned. Soon after Curtis' body was found Friday, the Sheriff's Department set up a command post at the gravel pit and asked the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension for assistance, both unusual actions for a routine death investigation. Sheriff's deputies, the St. Louis County Sheriff's Rescue Squad and the bureau searched the area surrounding the death scene Friday and Saturday for the possibility that Leanna's body was in the area. No sign of her was found. A search warrant was executed at Curtis' home Friday and nothing was found to link him to Leanna, Litman said. The sheriff said the investigation into Curtis' death and the disappearance of the girl are continuing.

Mother Of Missing Chisholm Girl Charged In Hit-And-Run

The mother of missing Chisholm 5-year-old LeeAnna "Beaner" Warner was arrested and charged after allegedly hitting her husband with a car on Saturday after an argument. He was not seriously hurt.
On Monday, Kaelin Warner, legally known as Tiffany Kaelin Whittaker, 29, of Chisholm, was released from the St. Louis County jail in Hibbing after posting $5,000 bail. She was charged earlier with one count of criminal vehicular operation causing bodily harm and one count of hit and run, both gross misdemeanors. Tuesday was the four-month anniversary of LeeAnna's disappearance. It was not clear what sparked the argument or if it was in any way related to the disappearance of the girl. The Hibbing Police Department said in a criminal complaint that they received a call about 9:30 p.m. Saturday that a man had been hit by a car. When police arrived, they found Christopher Warner with fresh scrapes on his left calf and knee. Warner refused medical attention. Warner told police that he had been arguing with his wife in a red Cavalier parked near a convenience store when he decided to get out and start walking. He claimed Whittaker drove the car across a sidewalk and yard in an attempt to hit him. Fearing for his life, he told police he jumped out of the way but was hit on the left leg and arm. He said watched Whittaker drive away and called 911. Police caught up with Whittaker in Chisholm. According to the report, she told them during questioning that she had difficulty putting the car into gear, which resulted in her driving the car through the yard. She said she didn't hit Warner. Officers found car tracks running the length of the yard and black tire burn marks on the sidewalk, according to the police report. The Chisholm Police Department also interviewed the couple for a possible domestic dispute earlier that night in their Chisholm home. LeeAnna has been missing since June 14. She was last seen by her parents at 5:30 p.m. when she went to a friend's home roughly one block away from their home.

Officials Get Heat In Warner Case
Brian Anderson
Mesabi Daily News

CHISHOLM For the first time since the investigation of Leanna Warner started, law enforcement officials are coming under fire for their handling of the case. The boiling point came Monday when Chisholm Police Department Chief Scott Erickson said the lowering of Longyear Lake was officially called off due to inclimate weather. However, the real damage was done when investigators failed to notify the family that a search was already done last Thursday night. No one even called us to let us know what was going on, said Kaelin Warner, who is the mother of Leanna, during a phone interview Monday night. Were just totally shocked that they did the search without even letting us know about it. Theres a lot of people here in Chisholm that are upset by all of this. Warner said she hadnt heard from investigators until Erickson left a voice mail for her family Monday afternoon. He just left us a message saying he wanted to talk about the case, said Warner. I didnt know they searched the lake until I watched the news tonight. Erickson said members of the St. Louis County Rescue squad, along with some bloodhounds, conducted a search of a portion of the shoreline last Thursday evening. We did a search of the area we needed to look at and were pretty confident that shes not in there, said Erickson of the five-year-old Leanna Warner, who has been missing since June 14. The news that a search was already conducted caught Kaelin Warner by total surprise. Warner said she had actually received calls from several friends last Thursday night letting her know of some activity by the lake, but she didnt really think much of it. They said there were some people were walking around the shoreline, so I went to check it out, said Warner. I saw some people, but I assumed they were just checking out the draining process I never imaged they would be searching for Leanna at night it just doesnt make sense. Why wouldnt you do it during the day? While people may question the ability to do a thorough search at night, Erickson stood behind the operation conducted. The squad wasnt available until then, but with the dogs they were using, it doesnt matter if its day or night they will still find what they are looking for, said Erickson, who added that doing the search at night helped keep curious onlookers away. When the case of Warner first surfaced this past June, bloodhounds had picked up a scent of the girl on the shoreline of Longyear Lake. A subsequent search of the area was conducted, but nothing ever surfaced. Even so, investigators wanted to make sure that they didnt miss anything and thus the reason the project was approved by the Chisholm City Council last month. During the 10-day operation, the lake was taken down over a foot, but it was a far cry from the original intent of dropping the lake level four feet. However, Erickson made it sound as though investigators didnt have any need to resume the project next spring. They checked the area that needed to be checked and they didnt find anything out of the ordinary, said Erickson. Erickson said the decision to call off the project wasnt an easy one, but it was one that needed to be made. He said a Monday morning meeting with Chisholm City Administrator Dave Carlstrom and Benchmark Engineering's Marty Halverson solidified the decision. It just got to be too late in the year to continue, said Erickson. Yes, it would have been nice to start this project sooner, but we had to follow rules and regulations. Those rules and regulations included getting the proper permits to go ahead with the project, as well as coming up with a game plan to pull the project off. There was a lot of planning that went into this and it’s unfortunate that we had to call it off, said Erickson. It would have been nice to see the project through, but obviously that didnt happen. Carlstrom echoed those sentiments. It was a tough decision, said Carlstrom Monday evening. It was disappointing from the standpoint that we didnt get to the level we wanted to, but we did get to the level that satisfied the law enforcement agencies investigating the Warner case. While that may be the case for investigators, it wasnt good enough for Leannas mother. I just can’t believe they called this off, said Warner. We thought this process would tell us one way or the other what happened to Leanna, but we don't think that was accomplished here. Warner added that she found it upsetting that so much money, especially donations and the time people put in, was essentially wasted. To go through all the things weve had to go through and then hear they arent going to continue really hurts, said Warner. Warner said that had the process been allowed to continue, there might have been some type of conclusion to the case. We dont want her gone, period, but if she died, then at least she died by an accident and not by something someone had done to her, said Warner, alluding to the fact that Leanna might have drowned. That would have put us at peace, but now we’re just going to play the waiting game again and were tired of that.

Brian K. Anderson is editor of the Chisholm Tribune Press, a Murphy McGinnis Newspaper.


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