Jayme Closs had seemingly vanished into thin air. In what was one of the most perplexing cases in recent memory, the 13-year-old teenager from Barron, Wisconsin disappeared after her parents, James and Denise Closs, were found shot to death in their modest, rural home.
Update: On January 10, 2019, the Barron County Sheriff’s Department revealed amazing news: Jayme Closs had been located in Wisconsin, and she is alive. They have a suspect in custody.
The Douglas County Sheriff’s Department says that Jayme was found in the Town of Gordon, a community of 645 people. Jayme was found at 4:43 p.m. on January 10, and a suspect was taken into custody at 4:54 p.m. in the same township.
KTSP-TV reported through a source that Jayne “walked up to a woman walking her dog in Douglas County Thursday afternoon, screaming that a man had murdered her parents. Authorities have not yet confirmed that account. The television station reported that she was at hospital in Duluth getting checked out and quoted her grandfather as saying, “Everybody is so happy. We can’t believe it.”
Here’s the full statement:
Jayme Closs has been located
On Thursday evening the Barron County Sheriff’s Department was notified by the Douglas CO WI Sheriff’s Department that they had located Jayme Closs alive.
Shortly after this a suspect was taken into custody in regards to this case. We do not any other details at this time as this is a very fluid and active investigation. We will not be answering any questions or taking calls on this tonight.
We are planning a press briefing approximately 10 am tomorrow at the Sheriff’s Department in Barron. We are receiving support from the FBI and WI DCI agents as this investigation continues.
We want to thank the Douglas Co Sheriff’s Department and agencies assisting them tonight. We also want to thank all the Law Enforcement agencies across the state and county that have assisted us in this case. We also could not have endured this case without the support of the public and I want to thank them for all the support and help.
Finally we want to especially thank the family for their support and patience while this case was ongoing. We promised to bring Jayme home and tonight we get to fulfill that promise. From the bottom of my heart THANK YOU!
This case has been very trying on the family so please respect their privacy and we reunite them later tonight.
Barron is a town of about 3,300 people located in a small community dominated by a turkey plant where both of the Closs parents worked. The family lived in a home nestled in a wooded area a short ways outside of the Barron city limits. Barron is located in northwestern Wisconsin, and the family lived along Highway 8, a fairly busy thoroughfare in the country community.
The Closs disappearance was baffling in several respects, starting with the local sheriff’s somewhat unusual admittance early on that authorities had basically no leads. “Our deputies …they’re frustrated,” said Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald in an early news conference. “…It’s just a different scene for us. We don’t have a suspect. We don’t have any leads right now. We’re working very diligently right now to get those leads. We’re working with other agencies.” Authorities have since released photos of vehicles of interest in the case, which you can see pictures of below.
Before Jayme’s escape, only a few pieces of fact-based information dribbled out. Authorities stopped holding their twice-daily news conferences in favor of vague press releases that generally take the form of exhortations to the public to keep an eye out for clues, such as someone’s changing behavior. The FBI came to town.
As members of the community expressed fear, amateur sleuths all over the Internet took their hand at walking through the possible theories in the case. If authorities had a working theory in the case early on, they weren’t saying it.
Here are some of the theories that were discussed in the case before Jayme was found, and how they contrasted with the publicly known facts:
Could Jayme Closs Have Killed Her Parents?
It was easy to find people speculating that maybe the teenager had killed her parents and then run away in the days after she disappeared. However, a leaked 911 dispatch record has cast severe doubt on the possibility that Denise and James Closs could have died at their daughter’s hand: The front door to the family’s house was kicked in.
It’s pretty tough to develop a scenario in which Jayme would have kicked in the door just before 1 a.m., so this theory seems increasingly implausible. If you drive by the home, you can clearly see that the door is missing. Furthermore, Jayme Closs only stands 5 foot tall, weighing 100 pounds, according to her missing poster. It’s hard to see how she could kick in a door and outmatch much larger parents – two of them – and equally implausible that she would shoot her own dad in the doorway. The details that have come out in the case make this theory seem unlikely.
In addition, Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald was asked early on whether Jayme Closs was a suspect, and he said that she was not. Authorities are considering her an endangered missing person at this time, he said. No one has publicly alleged that any problems existed between Jayme and her parents, and she has been described as particularly close to her mom, even “inseparable.”
The sheriff said of Jayme: “Right now, she’s missing and endangered. She’s not listed as a suspect. And as of now, we are just focused on finding a 13-year-old scared girl.”
Some people on social media believe the 911 dispatch records on the door being kicked in are slightly ambiguous, and they wonder if law enforcement kicked the door in upon arrival or if the killer(s) did. That would obviously change the equation, and authorities have not clarified this point. The 911 dispatch records, per CNN, say, “REQUESTED ERT BE PAGED OUT. ADVISED THE DOOR HAS BEEN KICKED IN. ADVISED THAT THE MALE WHO IS DOWN HAD ANSWERED THE DOOR. UNKNOWN IF ANYONE IS MISSING.”
Authorities on October 22, 2018 revealed that they have vehicles of interest in the case, which, if they point to a suspect, also throws cold water on the “Jayme could have done it” theory. The vehicles were spotted on surveillance video from businesses and homes around the time frame in question, in the area in question. There are three vehicles because authorities think the model of one of them could be either a Ford Edge or Acura MDX.
The vehicles are:
A 2006-2010 black Ford Edge
A 2004-2010 black Acura MDX
A 2008-2014 red or orange Dodge Challenger (update: authorities have now excluded this vehicle)
“These are three images of the two vehicles of interest that we determined were in the area of the Closs home at the time of the incident regarding the disappearance of missing and endangered 13 year old Jayme Closs. Again, these are ONLY vehicles of interest,” the Barron County Sheriff’s Department said on Facebook. “If anyone sees or has seen either of these vehicles in or around Barron County over the past two weeks they are asked to call our tip line 1-855-744-3879 with the time they observed it, location observed and plate number. Again we are only taking tips based on the below information, no other makes or models will be followed up on.”
Could the Killer(s) Have Hit the Wrong House?
This theory is circulating among some who live near Barron because authorities released a cryptic statement in which they said they had uncovered serious criminal activity in the area, but they said it was not related to the Closs case.
The area where the Closses lived has one of the worst methamphetamine problems in the state of Wisconsin. This theory has some things going for it; the modus operandi of kicking in the door would seem to fit the actions of, say, a drug dealer breaking into a home to confront, kill, or rob another drug dealer – and possibly getting the address wrong.
However, there are problems with this theory; namely, why would they then take Jayme? Why kill both parents? Why did they spend more than 20 minutes inside the house? (That presumes the neighbor’s timeline is correct; the next-door neighbor reported hearing two strong gunshots around 12:31 a.m. A 911 call with yelling in the background but no one talking was placed at 12:53 a.m., and authorities arrived four minutes later.)
Of course, if this theory is correct, it’s possible the killer(s) needed to take Jayme because she was a witness. However, they had already killed two people, so why would they hesitate to simply kill a third person at the scene? Unless they couldn’t bear to harm a child or thought they didn’t have time because someone had called 911. Maybe, one variation of this theory holds, they took her because they wanted a hostage in case law enforcement was closing in because they discovered she had already called 911.
Authorities did launch a search of the ditches on miles of roadway heading toward Turtle Lake on Highway 8. They said they found nothing of value to the case.
Did the Killer Slay the Parents to Abduct Jayme for a Sexually Deviant Reason?
This is, sadly, possible because Jayme is missing. Thus, it’s possible she was the target all along. She was visible in the community because she was involved in dance and sports. However, wouldn’t some sexual or serial killing deviant choose instead to snatch Jayme when she was on her own? It seems pretty daring and excessive to murder both parents and kick down their door in the middle of the night. There are easier ways to abduct someone, surely.
Still, it’s been known to happen. Some people on Reddit have brought up the unrelated case of Joseph Duncan as an example of a sexually deviant stalking type killer who had a somewhat similar MO. He invaded a family’s home, and murdered a mother, her boyfriend, and child, and then kidnapped two other children, eventually murdering one of them. Duncan was a serial killer; 8-year-old Shasta Groene was eventually recovered alive after an Amber alert was issued.
A variation of this theory holds that Jayme met someone online who showed up to abduct her or that someone she knew did so (versus some deviant stranger like the Groene case). The same problems would hold true in that scenario. Why go to this degree of trouble? Wouldn’t there be easier ways? Furthermore, don’t online predators lure their victims to them? If the Closses knew the assailant, why would the person need to kick the door in?
Could One of the Parents Have Killed the Other in a Murder Suicide?
This theory holds that either James or Denise Closs killed the other parent and 1) also killed Jayme first somewhere else or 2) Jayme witnessed the violent act between the parents and fled in severe trauma into the woods or cornfields near the home, where she is hiding today.
This theory has been debunked by law enforcement, however. The sheriff revealed that autopsies determined that both parents were murder victims.
“Her parents died from gunshot wounds. That’s why we are ruling this a homicide. There was no gun found on the scene,” Fitzgerald said. “We believe Jayme was home based on the evidence in our case. Some of it from that 911 call and some of it is part of the active investigation, and we’re not able to comment on why we believe that.”
The 911 dispatch records do show the death of James Closs was initially reported as a possible suicide, but, within minutes, the body of Denise Closs was also found and the call was changed to homicide. No gun was found at the scene, also negating the possibility of suicide. Furthermore, the passage of time makes it far less likely that Jayme could be cowering in some wooded area due to trauma. A 911 call from the house was placed on Denise Closs’s phone, but authorities say they don’t know who made it because they could hear only yelling on the other end. Furthermore, the 911 records obtained by CNN indicate authorities did not find the Closs bodies lying next to each other, as it took a couple minutes for them to reveal they’d found a second body at the scene.
Furthermore, authorities used drones and infrared technology around the home and came up with no sign of Jayme. The other oddity in the case is that the killer(s) had only four minutes after the 911 call was placed to flee the scene with the girl.
Could Jayme Have an Older Boyfriend?
Another popular theory holds that maybe Jayme had an older boyfriend and either conspired with him or was abducted by him. This theory holds that the unidentified boyfriend would kill Jayme’s parents to either run off with her or protect her from some kind of problems in the home.
There are many flaws to this theory, though, and no evidence for it that is publicly revealed. The sheriff was asked at a news conference if Jayme had a boyfriend, and he said he didn’t know. One would think that, if she had a boyfriend, she would have told a friend, and this would have leaked to the news media by this point. However, no one close to the 13-year-old has alleged she had a boyfriend. Furthermore, wouldn’t someone notice that the boyfriend was also missing?
The family’s dog was alone in the house, unharmed, when authorities arrived, the 911 call revealed. Would Jayme have agreed to leave the pet unattended and alone? Furthermore, Jayme has been described as a sweet and shy youth; no one has said anything bad about her, describing her as involved in cross country and caring about the poor.
Did One or Both of the Parents Have a Vice or Secret That Made Them Targets?
Denise Closs has been described as a kind and warm individual close to her daughter. Her husband comes across as a more reclusive persona. One theory holds that a parent could have been targeted due to some kind of vice.
As noted, the area has a severe meth problem, but no one has alleged any ties between the parents and it. An Indian casino is located only about 10 minutes down the road in Turtle Lake (St. Croix), and the 911 call indicates that authorities almost immediately sought to contact security at it. However, that might have been to see if there was video, especially pointing toward Highway 8. Authorities have not explained the reference to the casino.
Denise Closs did have a $14,000 money judgment against her in the past, but it dates to 2011 and was satisfied, Wisconsin court records show.
Why would such a person take Jayme, though? Why kill both parents?
James Closs was divorced but that broken relationship dated back to 1998, according to Wisconsin court records. Neither parent had a criminal history. If they were involved in some major vice that led to their deaths, it seems to have been fairly well hidden. But you never know. Certainly, due to the remoteness of the house, especially in the dark of night in the country, it’s hard to imagine the home was chosen randomly.
Denise Closs has been described as religious and kind.
Could One or Both of the Parents Have Had a Beef With Someone at Work?
Both parents worked at the Jennie-O turkey plant in Barron. Could they have gotten into it with a co-worker? While that’s theoretically possible, those who worked with the parents have yet to publicly indicate any hint of trouble at work, saying positive things about the parents instead.
Furthermore, why kill them this way and at this time and place (around 1 a.m. on an early Monday)? Workplace violence deaths often happen at…the workplace. Also: Why take Jayme?
Could This Have Been a Burglary?
In a heavy meth area, this is always possible, but killing two people and kidnapping a third seems to be a pretty dramatic escalation of a burglary, and the 911 call indicates that James Closs was killed right at the door and had answered it. Furthermore, the house was hardly upper scale (there are higher-value targets around), and with the parents both employed, wouldn’t a burglar have waited until someone wasn’t home? Would a burglar kick a door in and open fire immediately? Doesn’t seem to fit.
Was Jayme the Victim of Sex Trafficking?
There have been some sex trafficking cases in the area, leading this to become a popular theory. However, would sex traffickers really draw this degree of heat onto their operation? It seems that sex traffickers often lure vulnerable teens into their traps or target them in places where they are vulnerable (inside home with parents present hardly qualifies as that). It’s hard to imagine that a sex trafficker would take the risk of committing double murder and sparking FBI intervention and an Amber alert to grab a single kid when there are softer targets. Sex traffickers seem to prefer working in the shadows.
The sheriff has said there is no credible information pointing to sex trafficking as a motive in this case. Furthermore, how could Jayme be trafficked when she is now so well-known?
The baffling part of this case is that there are so many possible theories, yet so little evidence pointing to any of them (at least what is publicly known so far). In addition, each possibility has flaws, making the truth elusive. Let us know in the comment thread what you think happened to Jayme Closs.
Reddit has threads with theories about Jayme Closs’s disappearance. You can find that subreddit here.