Monday, June 16, 2008

Help Find Missing Cottonwood Heights, Utah Woman Michelle Erickson - Gone Since June 9th, But Foul Play Dismissed By Cops

Update: June 22nd - Michelle Erickson has been found dead in Idaho, apparent suicide. Click HERE for updated post.

Update #2: June 23rd - Doubts about whether or not it was a suicide are escalating. Click HERE for updated post.

Stories published by the Deseret News (HERE and HERE), the Salt Lake Tribune, and aired by KTVX Channel 4 with video. Michelle Erickson was last heard from on Monday June 9th. A store receipt shows she bought groceries at a Wal-Mart in the Ft. Union area about 7:20 P.M., said her cousin, Travis Godfrey. By 8 P.M., she was on the phone talking to her former stepson, making arrangements to cut her hair at a later date. And that is the last time anyone heard from Erickson. And according to family members, it was also the last time there has been any recorded use of her cell phone and credit cards.

When family members entered her apartment near the Cottonwood Mall a few days later, they found the perishable groceries in the refrigerator, but the dry goods were still in the grocery bags on the floor. Her receipts showed she had also gone to a Rite-Aid that day, Godfrey said. But she did not buy anything out of the ordinary.

Erickson was supposed to be taking care of her parents' dog and bird while they spent an annual week's vacation on Lake Powell. Erickson's son and daughter, ages 12 and 13, were staying with her parents.

Godfrey and other family members started to think that something was wrong when Erickson, who has her own home cleaning business, failed to show up to an appointment on June 11th. That was followed by a call from her ex-husband, whom she is still on good terms with, who said she failed to show up for his son's haircut appointment.

On June 12th, family members along with a landlord entered Erickson's Cottonwood Heights apartment and shortly after called the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office to file a missing person's report. But a full-blown investigation wasn't launched because family members weren't sure if Erickson decided at the last minute to go to Lake Powell to join her parents and children. But when her parents returned to Salt Lake City and Erickson wasn't with them, an investigation went into full swing.

There were no signs of forced entry into Erickson's apartment, said Salt Lake County Sheriff's Lt. Paul Jaroscak. As of Monday, there were no evidence to suggest Erickson's disappearance was the result of foul play, he said. Erickson battled with depression about seven years ago, according to Godfrey. But he was not aware of any problems recently, and noted that she lived for her children.

Erickson is 5 feet 3 inches tall, 135 pounds with hazel eyes. Godfrey said she changed her hair color a lot, but was last seen with chin-length hair with red and blonde highlights.

Erickson's car has also been missing. She was driving a 2001 red Pontiac Grand Am 4-door with Utah license plate 209 NKU. There was a pink sparkly Superman sticker on the rear window of the driver's side. Anyone with information on Erickson or her car can call the sheriff's office at 743-7000.

Update: On Thursday June 19th, the Deseret News reports that one of Michelle Erickson's credit cards was used at a gas station in Downey, Idaho, early on June 10th. A $34 purchase was made just before 5 a.m. It is unknown whether the purchase was for gas or something else. The gas station is not equipped with a surveillance camera, so the sheriff's office is still attempting to determine if Erickson was the one who used her card or if it was another person.

In addition, on June 18th, KUTV Channel 2 reported that just 48 hours prior to Erickson's disappearance, another resident of the same apartment complex noticed an unfamiliar man lurking in the entrance. It is the same complex from which Erickson vanished. The resident in question stated that the man attempted to grab the door handle of her vehicle, so she locked her doors and goosed her vehicle out of there.

Analysis: Although foul play is not suspected, I question whether a woman would just up and disappear like this, leaving non-perishable groceries on the floor.

While I wish everyone involved the best possible outcome, it smells like a carjacking and a possible kidnapping. Or it could be a tragic accident; perhaps she took a drive up one of the canyons and ran off the road in a thickly-wooded area difficult to see from the road (remember the Camille Cleverley case from 2007). The lack of cell phone and credit card activity also suggest the possibility of an accident. I'm surprised the cops are ruling out foul play or an accident so definitively and early in the process. Cottonwood Heights is not a bad neighborhood, but opportunistic crime can happen throughout much of the Salt Lake Valley, particularly once you get north of 9000 South.

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