In Columbus Ohio, Joey LaBute had been missing for almost a month. He vanished on March 5th 2017. He’d been spending the evening with a cousin, Kyle Reigle and his cousin’s wife in the Union Cafe, in the Short North part of Columbus. He left the table they were sitting at, saying that he was going to the Bar to get a drink. He never came back to the table.
When he disappeared, many people in the area were instantly reminded of Brian Shaffer, who also disappeared in the same way, in the same month, but almost ten years ago. He vanished while inside a Club/Bar, just like Joey LaBute did. He even looked quite like Joey.
Though both the CCTV in the Bar Joey was drinking in, and in the Club where Brian was drinking were both scrutinized, neither man was seen leaving. Joey was 26 years old and held down a responsible job at Morgan Stanley. He was a graduate of Ohio State University. On the night he disappeared, he had parked his car nearby beside some residential apartments called Thruber Gate and walked with his cousin and cousin’s wife to the Bar.
Just after midnight, his cousin Kyle decided they wanted to go home, but he couldn’t find Joey. They waited for ten minutes or so, then began to text him to find out where he was. Joey didn’t answer the texts and they didn’t hear back from him.
H never returned to his table. His female cousin who was also there, called him after none of them could understand where he’d got to. He answered his phone and he told her he was driving. Perhaps that’s not so strange; maybe he had a disagreement with one of them, maybe he needed some air, or some space.
The thing was, after he vanished into thin air, the police found his car still parked in the same spot he’d left it in when they he’d gone to the bar. If he was driving; he wasn’t in his own car. He’d also sent a text message to a member of his family, while also apparently in a car, but the message “didn’t make any sense,” said his cousin.
Later, when it became abundantly clear that their cousin had vanished, the text message was released to the media. All it said was “Jnhstioj.”
Nearly a month later, his body was found in a river search. This was after the police got hold of all of the available surveillance footage from the Bar. They went through 12 hours’ worth of footage, from 14 different cameras inside the Bar. It was not the best quality but, despite scrutinizing every person seen in the recordings, they could not find the moment that Joey left the Bar. They could see people coming and going all night, but they couldn’t spot him leave. It seemed impossible, but the exact time he left and whether he left on his own, or with anyone else, could not be determined. The police had nothing to go on from this evidence.
His family spoke to the media, stressing how out of character it would be for Joey to just get up and leave and not come back. He held down a responsible job, was devoted to his family, and had shown no signs to any of them that there was anything whatsoever in his personal life that could have caused him to take such drastic steps as to walk out of a Bar, leave his life behind and never come back. He had his whole life in front of him.
His family created fliers and along with friends and volunteers, everyone handed them out across town, desperate for any news on where he was. They couldn’t understand his text message, they couldn’t understand why he’d said he was driving, and they couldn’t understand where he was now.
In hindsight, though many would not have openly said it, the most logical explanation was that he was in someone’s car and was being taken somewhere against his will. The person, or people who were taking him, most likely told him to answer his phone when it rang, to give them the time to do what they wanted to do to him without arousing any more suspicion.
They probably wanted him to let his family know he was o.k., and yet, just by the fact that he hardly spoke and then sent a strange text message, would surely seem to imply he was being forced to do something; forced to answer the phone and appear as normal as possible to ensure that his family did not immediately call the police. It bought his killer/s time.
One can only imagine the terror that had to be going through his mind at the time, knowing that he could not say what was happening to him, hoping that his captors would free him if he went along with what they told him to do; knowing he had no choice. On the other hand, his mind may not have been functioning at all. The reason he could not text properly, may have been because the drug slipped into his drink or injected into him had kicked in….
When a body was found in the Scioto River, on March 29th, spokesman for the police, Sgt. David Sicilian said that it was a male in his 20’s and that he believed it was a suspicious death. “I can’t tell you the extent of that suspiciousness, but we have a male in his ‘20’s and we don’t know why he died. We made a preliminary examination of the body with the coroner and the body has now been taken to the county coroner for autopsy. We are treating it as a suspicious death.”
“My understanding of it is the dive team came out early this morning. As part of the special victims’ unit, they were checking into missing persons and they wanted to check the bodies of water. My understanding is that the dive team came out late morning to do a systematic search of this particular body of water. It didn’t seem like the body was too decomposed. It seemed in relatively good condition. I can’t comment on any wounds, but like I said, we believe it’s a suspicious death. We could not make a positive i.d.” He would not be drawn on whether the man’s wallet and i.d. were still on him. The river is just South of Downtown Columbus.”
Theodore Decker, for The Columbus Dispatch reported the next day that there is a “high probability” that he was already dead when he entered the river, and according to the Franklin County Coroner, Anahi Ortiz, it was the body of Joey.
‘The coroner said there was no water found in LaBute’s lungs, which could mean he was dead before he went into the river,’ reported Fox28 Columbus, on April 1st, 2016. Franklin County Coroner, Dr. Anahi Ortiz, said an autopsy found no signs of external injuries.
Toxicology results will take weeks, but according to the report, these may not prove conclusive because it appears that his body had been in the water for a significant while. His death is now in the hands of the Homicide Unit in Columbus.
The Coroner said, “We cannot determine with 100% accuracy; however, it does appear there is a very high probability that he was dead prior to going into the water.”
For the family of this young man, perhaps there is some comfort in the fact that unlike the overwhelming majority of the other 300 cases just like this one, the police this time are at least prepared to accept that something is not right here and are officially treating this case as suspicious. Of course, the primary factor in this will be because Joey does not appear to have accidently drowned, which is most often the official cause of death in all the other cases. He did not die in the water; he died before.
He was killed elsewhere, and then placed in the water, just like some of the very early cases, such as Chris Jenkins, Patrick O’Neal, and Todd Geib….Dan Zamlen, and so many more…. one boy’s parents were taunted with a telephone call on the anniversary of their son’s death; when they returned from visiting his grave and were greeted with an ansaphone message of their son crying for his Mom, the police said there was nothing suspicious about his drowning; even though he had been drugged, abducted, held and tortured, and then dumped in the river after he had been killed. Even when a severed owl’s head was placed on their doorstep; even when another boy was found in Owl-head bay…