An Abandoned Car Made Police Believe the Driver Was Dead — Until She Turned Up 18 Years Later

Hundreds of thousands of people are reported missing every year in the United States. More than 20,000 are never found, their searches becoming cold cases. Sometimes, abandoned cars lead to investigations to find lost loved ones. But in weird car news, a Washington state woman was presumed murdered until she turned up alive 18 years after police discovered her abandoned car.

An abandoned car led to the search of a mother of 2 young children

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An abandoned car | Jim Steinfeldt/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

In 1993, Judith “Yudith” Bello vanished from Stanwood, Washington. The married mother of two was last seen leaving work with a friend and never showed up to pick up her 3-year-old son from daycare.

The Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office later discovered the 28-year-old’s abandoned car at the Stanwood Post Office. According to the Seattle Post Intelligencer, “Detectives from the Major Crimes Unit were assigned the investigation and have been looking for Bello since that time.”

Officials ruled the case a murder. But leads dried up, leaving authorities with no clue as to what had happened to the young mother.

Nearly 20 years later, she turned up alive

In 2011, officials finally closed the case after they found Bello alive and well.

The Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office investigators had developed an innovative way to track down missing people. They used a deck of playing cards to draw attention to 52 unsolved mysteries in the region. Bello’s image was featured on the eight of hearts.

According to HeraldNet, “A woman claiming to be the missing mother left a telephone message for sheriff’s detective Kelly Willoth.” The caller saw the deck of cards on the police website and identified herself as the missing Stanwood woman.

An alleged victim of domestic abuse, Bello left her family for a fresh start. She changed her identity and for 18 years lived in Fontana, California, eventually remarrying and having three more kids.

According to CBS Los Angeles, the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office did not charge Bello with a crime. “She’s done nothing wrong,” the department said. “We’re just happy that she’s alive and well. And we’ll move on from here.”

Bello was the first missing person from the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office’s deck of playing cards to be found alive and well.

Other strange disappearances involving abandoned cars

Bello’s case is not the only strange instance of a missing person traced back to an abandoned car.

The long-running TV series Unsolved Mysteries featured an episode in season 11 involving the disappearance of college student Leah Roberts. Her story inspired a nationwide “On the Road to Remember” tour to raise awareness for people lost under mysterious circumstances.

In 2000, right before graduating from college, Roberts embarked on a spontaneous road trip. The 23-year-old was inspired by her favorite author, Jack Kerouac, and wanted to see Desolation Peak in the northern Cascade Mountains. Sadly, her 1993 Jeep Cherokee was later discovered at the bottom of a steep embankment near Mount Baker. Her body was never found, and her whereabouts remain unknown.

Another story dates back to 1987, when an abandoned car belonging to Gabriel Nagy was found on the side of the road. The father of two remained missing for 23 years until an investigator discovered through a Medicare record that he was still alive. Nagy claims to have had amnesia and no recollection of his past life. He was living on the street until a church group took him in and enrolled him in government records under a name he eventually remembered.

Tales like those are more common than you might think, but fortunately for Bello’s family, she is back in Washington state and reunited with her loved ones.

How to get help: In the U.S., call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or text START to 88788.

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