After Ryan Zike and Claire Vanlandingham broke up last fall, the former naturalist tracked down the promising, compassionate Navy dentist and gunned her down outside a local Dunkin’ Donuts.
That’s the prevailing theory of police after both Zike and Vanlandingham were discovered on the sidewalk dead from gunshot wounds.
The slaying occurred on January 3, 2018 in a parking lot in the Chicago-area suburb of Lake Forest, Illinois. Distraught and shocked friends described Claire Vandlandingham as a kind person who was involved in community service efforts. “Claire VanLandingham was so full of light. She was an incredible friend with a gigantic heart. She made me feel so loved, and was one of the most supportive people you could ever meet. There will never be another like her. It makes no sense that she’s not here anymore and my heart is completely broken,” wrote one friend on Facebook. Other friends echoed those sentiments.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Vanlandingham & Zike Were Discovered Shot to Death in the Donut Shop Parking Lot
Zike and Vanlandingham had once dated, although it’s not clear for how long, and the Lake Forest coroner says he likely murdered her.
“Investigators believe the 27-year-old woman was killed by Ryan Zike, 33, a man she had dated the previous year,” reported Patch.
Vanlandingham “was found shot several times in a parking lot beside a Dunkin’ Donuts across from the Lake Forest Metra station around 7:15 a.m., according to witnesses,” Patch reported, adding that it’s believed that Ryan Zike then shot himself in the head.
Workers at the Dunkin’ Donuts remained shaken. “Two days later, the cashier who was on duty at the time of the incident found it hard to talk about what happened,” reported Daily North Shore, which quoted the employee as saying, “It’s so tragic. She looked like such a nice person.”
The pair’s relationship ended in September or October of 2017, the site reported, adding that Zike’s body was also found in the parking lot.
2. Vanlandingham Was Remembered for Her Compassion for People & She Once Taught Religious Classes
After the murder, Vanlandingham’s friends spoke out, and they remembered her as a shy but caring person with a rising career who once taught religious classes at a Louisville, Kentucky church. According to Patch, she “was an active-duty sailor and worked beside Naval Station Great Lakes. Both began new jobs in the North Shore in 2017, VanLandingham at the Lovell Federal Health Care Center in North Chicago and Zike with the Park District of Highland Park.”
“She may have come off as a little bit shy or quiet,” Linette Lowe told The Chicago Tribune. Lowe knew Vanlandingham through a Louisville church. “But her compassion for people overwhelmed that in pretty short order. She was able to reach out.”
Lowe also told the Tribune that “VanLandingham provided dental care at a local clinic for low-income residents,” adding, “She did such a wonderful job of showing how one ordinary person can make such a huge difference in the world, if they choose to do that.”
Another friend wrote on Facebook, “I am in shock. Claire was one of the sweetest humans alive. Her passion for serving the underprivileged shined through in every step of her life during and after dental school. She had an impact on so many lives and truly changed lives. One of the most genuine souls I have ever met.”
3. Vanlandingham Studied at the Louisville School of Dentistry
Claire Vanlandingham wrote on Facebook that she studied at University of Louisville School of Dentistry and studied Noprofit Management at Indiana University (Bloomington). Her Facebook page still said she lived in Louisville, Kentucky. A second Facebook page in her name said that she lived in Lake Forest, Illinois.
In May 2017, she posted a photo in a graduation robe and wrote, “Introducing Dr. VanLandingham,” to which friends offered a slew of congratulations. In January 2017, she wrote of her looming graduation, “Only 107 more days! Thank you to my friends, family, classmates, teachers, patients, and all the U.S. taxpayers out there who have carried me to this point.”
She also posted about helping feed the hungry and attending a Take Back the Night charity event. A friend wrote on Facebook, “I only got to know Claire recently, but I was very moved by Claire’s constant warmth, interest in others, and willingness to serve others. (She was never reluctant to help clean-up at our church.) You mentioned her desire to help those who couldn’t afford dental school and start a non-profit.”
4. Zike Worked as a Naturalist Ranger But Didn’t Last Long in the Job
Ryan Zike’s Facebook page says he was a “former Interpretive Naturalist Ranger at Grand Teton National Park” who “studied Outdoor Recreation and Park Administration at Eastern Kentucky University.” He went to Trinity High School and was from Louisville, Kentucky.
When the Park District of Highland Park, Illinois announced Zike’s hiring in September 2017, the press release described him as a nature center’s new naturalist. “Zike’s responsibilities will include overseeing public programs, teams course, scout and custom programs, camps and the Honey Bee program,” the press release said. Daily North Shore reported that Zike “voluntarily resigned” the position after just a month, although it’s not clear why.
Before joining the Park District, Zike was a naturalist and recreation supervisor for the Jefferson Memorial Forest in Kentucky for seven years, where he “supervised team building programs, public programs, after school programs and camps. He had a bachelor of science in recreation and park administration with a concentration in natural resources and outdoor education from Eastern Kentucky University,” and he was described as being interested in rock climbing, mountain biking and aeronautics.
In March 2017, he posted on Facebook that he was in a relationship with Claire Vanlandingham. His Facebook page is filled with photos of the outdoors and hanging out with friends.
5. Friends Expressed Shock on Social Media, Describing Claire as a ‘Bright & Living Soul’
Another friend wrote a lengthy tribute to Claire Vanlandingham on Facebook. It describes her as “such a bright and living soul” and described him as “at a loss for words right now.” He wrote: “You were a selfless individual and went above and beyond to help those in need. The type of person to become a big sister for the big brother/big sister program throughout dental school. The type of person whose life’s goal was to help those that couldn’t have access to dental care and who had dreams to start up non profit organizations to better the community. It’s tough to see someone with so much potential be taken away so soon from us.”
He concluded, “I hope to spread that light of compassion, community service and selflessness to not only my patients and those in need but to everyone I meet as well. Love ya CV, praying for you. I hope you’re working on your dance skills because we’re battling each other in just dance when we meet again. Rest in paradise.”
Yet another friend wrote, “I am still in shock and disbelief.. i wish our class could be together during this time.. we’ve always fought through tough times together but this… this is by far just an unbelievable tragedy.. i know each and everyone of our hearts dropped from our chest when we heard this news because EVERY single persons that has ever met Claire has loved her soul.. it’s impossible to not love her.. I’ve always thought there is a reason for everything to happen but when bad things happen to SUCH good people.. that could never make sense to me. But you are right, we will see her bright beautiful loving spirit again.?”