Christopher Woitel is a San Francisco man who was reported missing after he returned home and vanished. A search of his apartment by a private investigator turned up nothing, but the family announced his body was found during another search more than a month later.
The San Francisco Police Department said no foul play was suspected. His remains were found in a three-foot crawl space above his bathroom, which was hidden from view. Police believe he accessed the crawl space from his roof, and not from his apartment. His cause of death was still pending autopsy at the time of the announcement Wednesday, February 17, 2021.
Police served a search warrant at the apartment February 12 to locate evidence of a crime scene, and found none, including no signs of forced entry. They served a second search warrant February 15 and located Woitel’s remains.
San Francisco Police said:
In furtherance of the investigation on February 15, 2021 SVU investigators, along with investigators from Crime Scene Investigations (CSI), served a second search warrant at Mr. Woitel’s residence. Investigators searched a small, approximately three-foot-tall, crawl space above the bathroom in the home and located Mr. Woitel’s body, which was hidden from plain view. Personnel from the San Francisco Fire Department arrived and needed to cut a hole in the ceiling in order to retrieve Mr. Woitel’s remains. Investigators determined that Mr. Woitel likely accessed the crawl space from the roof of the building and not from inside his apartment.
The mysterious case was made stranger with social media posts leading up to his disappearance, a transient man claiming psychic abilities showed him Woitel was murdered, and the surveillance footage which seemed to conflict with facts. Woitel was a computer programmer and longtime Mission District resident who was remembered by family and neighbors for his acts of kindness, they told Mission Local.
The San Francisco Police Missing Persons Unit began a search for Woitel after his mother reported him missing, January 13, 2021, police said. He last contacted his mom on social media January 9. The police department sought help from the public in finding the 50-year-old man days before his body was found.
Meanwhile, his family hired a private investigator to conduct a search. Scott Williams of Brisbane told SFGate he searched Woitel’s apartment and found it undisturbed. San Francisco Police conducted another search of the building, and found Woitel dead inside, the news outlet reported.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Woitel Had a Longtime Friendship With a Man Living in a Nearby Tent Encampment Who Claimed He Had a Vision in Which Woitel Was Murdered
Woitel had a deep affection for a man named “Bood” who lived at a tent encampment in Emeryville. While Woitel had romantic interest in Bood, Bood did not reciprocate. Still, Woitel often allowed Bood to stay at his apartment, according to Mission Local. Bood was seen on surveillance footage entering Woitel’s apartment January 7, about 48 hours before his disappearance, and leaving early the next morning. He was not seen again on video coming in or out, according to Scott Williams, the family’s private investigator. Communication between Woitel and family members did not stop until January 9, and Woitel was seen alive on surveillance footage later in the day January 8.
Bood wrote on Facebook in January that Woitel was dead, saying he was “jumped for his computers,” shot and dumped in the bay. Williams interviewed Bood in February, about two weeks before Woitel’s body was found. He said he had strong psychic abilities that allowed him to see the murder in a vision. It was not immediately determined how Woitel died. Bood was found with Woitel’s cellphone, and he claimed Woitel sold it to him, according to a statement from Woitel’s family.
The night before Woitel disappeared, he sent an angry message to Bood, who was using his account to write messages on Facebook to people he knew.
“You f****** a******! DONE. THAT’S IT. ENOUGH. You are on your own,” Woitel wrote to Bood, according to Mission Local. “You are far too much trouble. Phone number? Get your own. I’m not paying for you to harass people. You are an a******. Don’t ever come here again!”
Before Woitel vanished, he sent text messages and wrote on social media about the storm of the U.S. Capitol and said he wanted to escape to the mountains, Mission Local reported.
Jose Reyes told the news outlet he was concerned about the relationship between Woitel and Bood. He said he thought Woitel went “too far,” spending money to pay Bood’s bills.
“I just got this vibe from him,” Reyes said. “He would freak out when Chris didn’t get him what he wanted.”
Still, he said, it was unlikely Bood could have harmed Woitel alone or moved his body because Bood had a leg injury and “could barely walk.”
2. Security Footage Showed Woitel Entering His Apartment & Never Leaving But His Body Was Not Found During an Early Search
Scott Williams, the Woitel family’s private investigator, reviewed surveillance footage that showed him entering his apartment and never leaving, according to SFGate. The only way out of the apartment was through the back door, Williams said in a statement, and there was no evidence of him leaving. The security camera is triggered by motion at night.
You can watch the footage here, published by KPIX 5. It shows Woitel entering his apartment through a stairwell January 8, 2021. He was wearing a mask, and the news outlet reported he was carrying a bottle of wine. The footage continued to show him walking down a hallway.
Woitel’s body was found by San Francisco Police during another search of the building. They did not specify where in the building his body was found. Police, the building manager and Williams had searched his apartment looking for him, Mission Local reported.
The San Francisco Police Department released information on Woitel in hopes of finding him just days before his body was found. The release said:
Investigators from the San Francisco Police Department’s Missing Persons Unit are seeking the public’s assistance in locating Christopher Woitel who was reported missing by his mother on January 13, 2021. Christopher last contacted his mother via social media on January 9, 2021 and has not been heard from since. Christopher resides on the unit block of Guerrero Street in San Francisco’s Mission District and is known to frequent Emeryville and Sonora Ca.
Christopher is described as a white male, age 50, 5’-10”, 200 Lbs. with brown hair and brown eyes.
His photo accompanies this news release.
Anyone who sees Christopher should contact their local law enforcement agency. Please be prepared to provide his current location and clothing description.
Anyone with information regarding this investigation is asked to call the SFPD 24-hour tip line at 1-415-575-4444 or Text a Tip to TIP411 and begin the text message with SFPD.
A Facebook page, Find Chris Woitel! shared a statement from the family confirming his body was found Monday, February 15, 2021. The page was started in hopes of finding Woitel alive. The family’s statement said an autopsy would determine his cause of death. It did not note whether there were any signs of foul play.
The post said:
The body of Christopher Woitel was found today. Christopher, 50, went missing 1/9/21.
The Woitel family has released a statement tonight:
“Today, the San Francisco Police Department and the Medical Examiner notified us that they have located Chris. It is with a heavy heart that we must inform you of Chris’ passing. Please help us by preserving Chris’ legacy in your memories. Thank you for your love and caring support through these very difficult times.”
The autopsy is still pending. Because of that, the family has no further comment. The family asks for the media’s sensitivity in its coverage.
3. Woitel Suffered From Depression After His Longtime Partner Died & He Dedicated His Life to Helping Others Including a Neighbor Who Said Woitel Saved His Life
Woitel struggled with depression at times, his sister, Lara Haben, told Mission Local. Woitel was the fourth child in a family of six children. Much of his family, including his parents, live in the Chicago area. Woitel moved to San Francisco to pursue “new dreams,” Haben told the news outlet.
Woitel attended college and learned many computer languages, but never earned his formal degree. He no longer had steady work and lived on disability income for depression, his sister said. His longtime partner died 10 years ago, and he coped with his grief by “taking care of people,” with a special desire to help homeless people.
A neighbor, Hargan Nelson, credited Woitel with saving his life. He told Mission Local that shortly before the coronavirus lockdown, Woitel rode in the ambulance with Nelson and stayed with him at the hospital when he suddenly entered kidney failure.
“I would have died if it weren’t for him,” Nelson said. “I owe him my life.”
4. Woitel Began Behaving Strangely in the Days Leading Up to His Disappearance & Made Unusual Posts Online
Woitel sent texts to family and friends shortly before his disappearance that they described as strange and paranoid in interviews with Mission Local. They said he became fixated on the riots at the U.S. Capitol and said that he felt unsafe at his home, saying he thought violence may spread to his community. He asked for money and said he wanted to hide away in the mountains.
He told his sister, Lara Haben, over text that he heard explosions outside his apartment. He said a man on a loudspeaker drove by his building, telling residents to “get out now.” The texts came shortly before his family lost contact with Woitel. All activity on his bank account also ceased.
The full statement from the family said:
FAMILY OF SAN FRANCISCO MAN MISSING SINCE JAN. 9 PUSHES FOR SFPD INVESTIGATION INTO MYSTERIOUS DISAPPEARANCE
Private investigation reveals homeless man appears to have knowledge of violent attack on missing man, trail of video, social media evidence
February 7, 2020 — The Chicago family of Christopher J. Woitel, 50, a San Francisco resident since 1988, is asking the San Francisco Police Department to open an active investigation into Woitel’s mysterious disappearance in early January.
Communication from Woitel, a computer programmer living alone in the city’s Mission District, ceased Jan. 9. His bank accounts and credit cards are untouched, as is his apartment.
Private Investigator Scott Williams of inVision, hired by the Woitel family on Jan. 29, led to the profession of a homeless man living in a tent encampment in Emeryville who said Woitel was murdered, his body deposited in the bay at the end of Mariposa St. Woitel had befriended the homeless man years earlier in an effort to help him off the street. The man was in possession of Woitel’s cell phone when Williams interviewed him on Feb. 2. The investigation also revealed the man is allegedly wanted for aggravated assault charges in Pennsylvania.
Further evidence is a trail of social media and text messages that show Woitel’s frantic state of mind regarding the homeless man’s possession of his phone and anxiety over the recent U.S. Capitol insurrection in Washington. Surveillance video shows the homeless man coming and going from Woitel’s apartment.
In his report, Williams concluded: ‘I would recommend to the family that a detective from the SFPD make contact with [the homeless man] and follow-up statements he has made pertaining to Christopher’s disappearance. The fact that Christopher’s bank activity has completely ceased since 01/08/21 and neither any of his family or friends have seen or heard from him since 01/09/21 warrants additional investigation by the police in my opinion.’
A brother of Chris Woitel, a CPD Homicide Detective, is confident that SFPD will work diligently and investigate this case. The family still holds out hope that Christopher is alive but may have been subject to violence which may have impacted his memory.
Christopher Woitel is white, approximately 6-feet-tall, and weighs 170 pounds. He has brown eyes and dark brown, full, slightly-wavy hair. He wears a gray-brown beard and wears glasses.
5. Woitel Was a Computer Programmer Who Lived in San Francisco for Decades & Friends of Woitel Described Him as a ‘Sweetheart’ With a ‘Shy Smile’
Woitel was a computer programmer who lived in the same San Francisco apartment for about two decades, according to a statement from his family. He was living alone at the time of his disappearance.
Mike Guarino was a childhood friend of Woitel who served as the family’s spokesman. He told Mission Local Woitel had a tender heart.
“He was inquisitive, adventuresome, and, as a voracious reader, very smart,” he said. “At a very young age, he showed compassion for the vulnerable, including animals, and it was a quality that continued into adulthood. He was a gentle soul with a very big heart. Everyone who knew him remembers him fondly. He will be missed.”
Friends and family members rallied together to find Woitel after he seemed to vanish after returning home. His two older sisters travelled from out of state to help locate Woitel, and passed out missing persons fliers seeking information on his whereabouts, his family said in a statement.
The story of the search for Woitel played out on social media and on a Facebook page, Find Chris Woitel!, which shared news in the case. A post Monday, February 15 announced the tragic outcome of the search. Friends and members of the public commented on the post, sharing condolences and stories about his life. Some wrote that they did not know Woitel, but were following the news on his disappearance. Others wrote about seeking justice. Some shared memories of their friend.
“My heart goes out to the Woitel family. My memories of Chris are all happy ones, I was hoping so much for a different outcome,” one person wrote.
“I hear your voice, your laugh and see your smile, Chris, always in my heart and mind. We all love you,” another person commented.
“I have such a vivid memory of Chris’s shy smile. Such a sweetheart,” another person wrote. “Love to all his family and friends.”
Another person said Woitel was “like a father” to him.
“I don’t even know how to feel right now chris was like a father too me when I needed to run away from all the bulls*** life throws at you he always housed me and fed me,” the comment said. “He loved art in all forms loved that I played music and supported my graffiti in everyway! He fought for the rights of black and brown and the lgbtq!!”