Mother-of-three Patty Vaughan disappeared on Christmas Day 1996 in La Vernia, Texas
For the last 24 years,
Patty, who was 32 at the time, vanished after a blowout argument with her estranged husband J.R. Vaughan on December 25, 1996 in her home in
A devout Christian, Patty would have never abandoned her three children, then aged five, seven, and nine, on Christmas Day, her family has said.
J.R. claimed she stormed out of the house, never to be seen again — but for years she has been presumed dead, and her family are still searching for answers in the case.
Blood in Patty’s van, which was found abandoned on the side of a country road, and a love triangle involving her new boyfriend Gary all led investigators to suspect murder. But decades later, no charges have been brought in the case, and Patty’s body has never been found.
Patty is seen with her husband J.R. and their three children. Police have long said J.R. is considered a suspect in her disappearance, but that there isn’t enough evidence to charge
A devout Christian, Patty would have never abandoned her three children, then aged five, seven, and nine, on Christmas Day, her family has said
Investigators have repeatedly said, most recently to
The tragic case unfolded against the backdrop of the Christmas season of 1996, in the quiet, close-knit community in South Texas.
Patty and J.R. had been married for 11 years with three young children, two boys and a girl. But in the fall of 1996, the couple had had a falling out, and he had moved out of the family home to an apartment in San Antonio.
With her marriage on the rocks, stay-at-home mom Patty returned to working, as a secretary at Quinney Electric. She also reconnected with an old boyfriend, Gary, after learning he had recently divorced, according to an Investigation Discovery episode on the case.
On Christmas Eve, Patty and Gary attended a dinner with her family, and she introduced him as her new boyfriend for the first time. By all reports, Patty’s family welcomed Gary and everyone got along, in high spirits for the holiday.
On Christmas Day, J.R. planned to come over to Patty’s house and spend the day with the kids, before she dropped them off with an aunt to go on a date with Gary that evening.
On Christmas Day, J.R. planned to come over to Patty’s house (above) and spend the day with the kids, before she dropped them off with an aunt to go on a date with Gary that evening
J.R. told police that he and Patty got into an argument about the state of their marriage, and she stormed out of the house, never to be seen again
Things did not go as planned, however. According to J.R.’s statements to police, he and Patty got into an argument about the state of their marriage, and whether it was appropriate for her to be dating Gary.
When family members stopped by to see Patty, J.R. waved them off, telling them that she was in the bedroom and not feeling well. Patty’s younger sister Jeannie Iiams, then 18 and living in Georgia, did speak with her on the phone that day to wish her a merry Christmas.
Iiams said that J.R. picked up the phone and then handed it to Patty, who sounded distraught, as if she’d been crying. It would be the last time anyone aside from J.R. spoke to the young mother.
According to J.R.’s statements to investigators, the argument boiled over, and Patty grabbed her keys and purse, driving off in her minivan, a blue 1991 Dodge Caravan.
Patty’s keys and purse were never found — but her minivan was. On December 26, one of Patty’s co-workers at Quinney Electric spotted the van on the shoulder of Loop 1604 in South Bexar County, a few miles from her work and about 15 miles from her home.
The co-worker recognized the van as Patty’s and noted it had a flat tire. Unable to reach her, the co-worker called J.R. to get a copy of the van’s keys.
On December 26, one of Patty’s co-workers at Quinney Electric spotted Patty’s van (above) on the shoulder of a country road. A tire appeared to have been intentionally deflated
J.R. dropped off the keys on his way to file for a divorce from Patty — an ultimatum, he told police, that he hoped would force her to reconcile with him.
Patty’s co-workers put a spare tire on the van and drove it to the office. Investigators later discovered that the flat tire was not punctured and still had air, and appeared to have been intentionally deflated by letting the air out.
Even more disturbingly, they found blood in the van. More traces of blood were found in her bedroom, bathroom and closet. DNA testing later showed the blood was Patty’s.
Days of searches in the area surrounding Patty’s home and the location where her van was abandoned proved fruitless.
Police investigated Patty’s boyfriend Gary, who said he had not seen her since Christmas Eve. Gary provided an alibi for Christmas Day and cooperated with the investigation, passing a lie detector test, investigators say. He later died in a car crash, and investigators say he was not considered a viable suspect.
Patty (right) is seen in a family photo. Her family is still searching for answers 24 years after she disappeared from her home on Christmas Day, leaving three children behind
J.R. also submitted to a police interview, but as police began to focus their suspicions on him, he hired an attorney, who advised him not to speak further on the matter.
He has consistently denied any wrongdoing in the case, and said that any foul play that Patty met with must have happened after she stormed out of the house.
Patty’s family has long pointed the finger at J.R., accusing him of involvement in her disappearance.
In February 1997, two months after she disappeared, Patty’s mother Patsy Wallace was charged with breaking into J.R.’s home and beating him with a baseball bat. The charges were dropped 16 years later, in 2013, when court officials realized the case had never been prosecuted.
With each passing Christmas, Patty’s family holds out hope for answers
J.R. later moved out of the state, taking the three children with him and reportedly changing his name. He could not be reached for comment by DailyMail.com.
In the years since Patty disappeared, new tips have offered fresh hope of resolving the case, but none have panned out.
In May 1997, Texas Rangers searched the construction site of an elementary school in Pleasanton, where J.R. worked as a construction supervisor pouring concrete. Cadaver dogs and ground penetrating radar failed to turn up anything conclusive.
Searches have also been made on the grounds near Patty’s home, also failing to reveal new evidence.
In 2005, J.R. had Patty declared legally dead, seeking to recover payment from her life insurance.
Patty’s family quickly filed a civil wrongful death suit, and a judge ruled that the insurance money would be held in trust for her children, but denied any claims against J.R.
With each passing Christmas, Patty’s family holds out hope for answers in the case.
‘We need to find Patty so we can lay her to rest,’ Patty’s sister Jeannie told Dateline last year.
‘We just want this nightmare to be over. And even more than justice, we just want to be able to lay her to rest. We want to be at peace.’
Anyone with information about the disappearance of Patty Vaughan is urged to contact the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office at 210-335-TIPS.