Missouri's Lena Chapin who helped killer mom burn stepfather's body vanished 3 years later, never to be found

While Chapin went missing in 2006, an official missing person’s report wasn’t made for her until almost three years after she disappeared

                            Missouri's Lena Chapin who helped killer mom burn stepfather's body vanished 3 years later, never to be found
Lena Chapin (Crawford County Sheriff's Office)

DENT COUNTY, MISSOURI:  A 20-year-old woman disappeared under mysterious circumstances in February 2006, three years after confessing that she had helped cover up the remains of her stepfather after he was killed by her mother. 

The cold case of Liehnia May Chapin, aka Lena Chapin will be reviewed in one of the episodes titled 'Missing Witness' as part of Netflix's crime documentary 'Unsolved Mysteries' which premieres on July 1. Although Lena went missing in 2006, an official missing person’s report wasn’t made for her until almost three years after she disappeared and the Dent County Sheriff's Office didn't actually begin investigating her case until 2012, six years after she was last seen.

Lena's disappearance

On the morning of Valentine's Day 2006, Lena was last seen at her apartment outside Steelville in Dent County, kissing her fiancé Jason Bryant goodbye as he left for the day. Bryant told the authorities that he never saw his fiancee again and when he returned in the evening, Lena's mother, Sandra Klemp was cleaning out her daughter's stuff from her bedroom. When enquired, Sandra stated that Lena had gone to Florida with another man in a black 2000 Chevrolet Cavalier. Beyond that, both Sandra and her then-husband Kristopher Klemp, refused to cooperate with the authorities regarding her daughter's disappearance. 

Lena left behind a young son, Colter, whom Sandra has since adopted. Years before she disappeared, Lena got involved with the wrong kind of crowd and a result, started abusing drugs. As a result, Sandra had wanted legal guardianship over Lena's son. However, Lena refused to consent, saying it would happen "over my dead body". She also planned to move away with her son to Arkansas.

Nikki Guffey of Salem, a friend of the missing woman and Country Mart co-worker, said that Lena was determined to change for the better for the sake of Colter, whom she conceived before hitting legal age, after dropping out of high school. “Lena loved that boy more than anything,” Guffey said. “She had her share of troubles, but Lena was a good mother, and she was working to overcome her problems for Colter. She wanted to be the best person she could for him.”

Gary McCullough's disappearance

Lena's stepfather Gary McCullough disappeared from his Barry County ranch outside of Cassville in 1999 when Lena was just thirteen years old. He had married Lena’s mother, Sandra a few years ago. He was Sandra's third husband. Sandra did not report Gary missing until two days after he disappeared and that too because some deputies had shown up at the ranch for a cattle call. “We first heard Gary was missing when a couple (of) deputies went to respond to a cattle call,” Barry County Sheriff Mick Epperly told Salen News. “A couple of cows got loose out where the McCullough family lived. While the two deputies were there, his wife Sandy (Sandra) came up and said, ‘Well, I guess while you’re here I should go ahead and report Gary missing.'"

At the time Sandra told the police that her husband left the house on May 11, 1999, to go buy a fighting rooster from a Mexican in the nearby town of Diamond and never returned. “The further we got into that, the more we didn’t believe it,” Epperly says. “I think that was a made-up story.” Even the local residents said there was more to the story as the couple's marriage was a troubled one and Gary was even planning to leave Sandra as he began to move his belongings to a friend's house prior to his disappearance. He was also allegedly aware of the fact that his wife was having an affair with Kristopher.

Within a week of Gary’s disappearance, Epperly said, Sandra and Kristopher had moved in with one another. “He (Kris) was there living with them while we were working the case. He moved right in,” Epperly says. “That’s another flag. If Gary was coming back he wouldn’t have been there because he would have known he was getting his butt kicked, so that’s another indication we have a homicide on our hands.”

In June 1999, authorities charged Kristopher Klemp with conspiracy to commit murder after it was revealed that he tried to hire someone to kill Gary. Stephen Turner, an acquaintance of Kris, said he had offered to pay him if he killed Gary. The charge was dropped for lack of evidence in August 1999, however.

Gary McCullough was officially declared dead on March 1, 2005, at the request of his surviving family members.

Lena's confession

Three years before her disappearance, Lena confessed to her uncle Albert as well as one of her sisters that Sandra had shot Gary three times in the head and then made her help clean up the crime scene.

“One night after I came back from being in a foster home for half a year Lena and I were hanging out together and catching up at the house in Sligo,” Lena's sister Brandi Petersen told Salem News. “We were having a conversation, and then she broke down and started crying," Petersen said. She added that Sandra confessed to killing Gary to Lena when she came back from school and also showed her his body. She then made her cut up Gary’s body and burn it on a brush pile.

Lena also had to clean up the blood, pull up the carpets and bleach the floor. “After she told me, she made me pinky swear to never tell anyone,” Petersen said. However, when Lena confessed about Gary being murdered by her mother to Albert, he secretly recorded their conversation. 

Wrongful death suit

Leads in the investigation of Gary’s disappearance dried up. Authorities also could not discover enough physical evidence of foul play to warrant charges against Sandra and Kristopher after searching their property.

Epperly said that Sandra also refused to undergo a polygraph test. “She looked me straight in the eye and said she’d take a polygraph... if a body was ever discovered,” Epperly said. Although the investigation continued, murder charges were never filed against Sandra or Kristopher. “We felt you have to have more than circumstantial evidence to file a criminal case,” Epperly said. “There was no body or murder weapon found. We hoped that one day this case was going to come out by the children talking. I thought that was what was going to happen with Lena."

In 2012, Gary's two daughters filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Lena, Sandra and Kristopher, as well as Kristopher's former wife, Jennifer Lee Brattin-Klemp. Summons issued for Lena to testify in the civil trial was never delivered as she had already gone missing. Also, her recorded confession was never played before the jury. The civil jury unanimously awarded $7 million in damages to Gary's daughters in the summer of 2013, as part of the suit.

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