Hannibal, Missouri, sits alongside the Mississippi River, 30 miles south of Quincy, Illinois, one of my favorite towns in my home state. It is the boyhood home of Samuel Clemens, famously known as Mark Twain.
For a town of only 17,000 residents, there are several attractions worth visiting, such as the Mark Twain Cave Complex and Mark Twain Riverboat.
I explored the Mark Twain Cave in Hannibal, Missouri, during a school field trip as a child. It is one of my fondest childhood memories, and I have often thought about returning and exploring more of Hannibal, a town that appears to be the epitome of small-town America.
But in 2009, a new young mother disappeared after a night out with friends, in a case with multiple theories but no solid evidence.
Who is Christina Whittaker?
Christina Maxine Whittaker was born on March 28, 1988, and lived with her mother, Cindy Young, in the 1700 block of Ruby Avenue in Hannibal. She gave birth to a daughter, Alexandria, in 2009.
Whether there was a relationship with Alexandria’s father, Dustin Johnston, is unclear. However, by the fall of 2009, Christina, 21, was dating Travis Blackwell.
Christina had fibromyalgia and mental illness, both of which required daily medication. Being a new mother and dealing with her own battles could not have been easy. So, when she had an opportunity to get a break and hang out with friends, she took it.
Around 8:45 p.m. on Friday, November 13, 2009, Blackwell dropped Christina off at Rookie’s Sports Bar, 611 Broadway. He offered to babysit Alexandria while her mother enjoyed a night out.
While at Rookie’s, Christina became intoxicated and harassed other bar patrons. The bartender asked her to leave at 11:45 p.m. She begged her friends and strangers for a ride home, but they refused. One friend, Bree Anna, later said, “I didn’t need to go to jail.”
Christina then walked to River City Billiard’s, 603 Broadway, now the Rialto Banquet Hall, and then to Sportsman’s Bar, around the corner on Seventh Street, where a family friend of Christina’s was bartending.
Vanessa Swank said Christina arrived at the bar near closing time. She was on her cell phone arguing with someone. A couple of minutes later, Swank turned around to see a sobbing Christina run out the back entrance of the bar and disappear into oblivion.
Christina was not dressed for the cool November weather. She wore only a pink tank top under a three-quarter sleeve white v-neck top, blue jeans, and new Nike shoes.
Blackwell stayed at Young’s house with Alexandria while Christina was out. Young was out of town at the time. Records show Blackwell received a call from Christina at 10:30 p.m.
According to Blackwell, Christina said she had a ride home and would be home around midnight. She told him she would pick up food for him at a local restaurant.
When Christina never came home, Blackwell contacted Young the following day and stayed with Alexandria until another family member could watch her. Young immediately returned home and reported her daughter missing on Sunday, November 15, 2009.
Hannibal police were not initially concerned because Christina was an adult; maybe she needed to step away for a day or two. The longer she was gone, the more police realized they needed to investigate.
Authorities later recovered Christina’s cell phone south of Sportsman’s, near the corner of Seventh and Lyons.
About two weeks after Christina vanished, an informant contacted the Hannibal Police Department claiming a group of men had trafficked Christina to Peoria, Illinois, and forced her into sex work.
Interestingly, there were a few sightings of Christina in and around the Peoria area. A Creve Coeur waitress believed she saw the missing woman a few days after Christina disappeared. At the time, the woman worked at Raedene’s Country Cafe, 101 N. Highland. Creve Coeur is about a five-minute drive from East Peoria.
Another woman said she spent time with Christina in a local mental hospital. Christina allegedly told the woman about her life as a forced sex worker.
Young traveled to Peoria with a private investigator. They questioned locals about Christina’s whereabouts and searched for her missing daughter. However, they never found Christina.
Peoria police officer Doug Burgess told KHQA’s Rajah Maples in May 2011 that investigators with the department’s narcotics unit believed they might have seen Christina in February 2010.
Burgess: “In talking with our guys, they recalled an incident where a female looking similar to Christina Whittaker ran from them after they initiated contact with her. There’s absolutely no way to confirm whether it was her or not, but they did say that the picture looked like the girl who ran. We can’t say that yes, it was her or no, it wasn’t.”
Hannibal authorities interviewed more than 200 people throughout the Whittaker investigation. However, they have never arrested anyone for her disappearance.
The Steve Wilkos Show Appearance
Christina’s family and friends appeared on an episode of “The Steve Wilkos Show,” formerly recorded in Chicago and now in Stamford, Connecticut. Wilkos was a security guard on “The Jerry Springer Show.”
The show flew Blackwell and Johnston to Connecticut in January 2010 for the taping, and the episode aired in February 2010. Wilkos interviewed each man separately. Quincy’s Herald-Whig reported, “He later pointed out that Blackwell had failed the two polygraph tests administered by the show’s expert.” Blackwell appeared nervous but denied having anything to do with Christina’s disappearance.
At the show’s end, Wilkos brought the men out along with Christina’s mother and stepfather.
According to Grunge, Young accused Blackwell of being unconcerned and emotionless after Christina disappeared and that the 10:30 p.m. call between Blackwell and Christina likely became a heated argument.
Young checked her caller ID, which showed her daughter had called twice. Christina’s brother and his girlfriend heard the phone ring the second time. However, Blackwell refused to answer.
Wilkos interviewed Bree Anna, who corroborated the heated argument. She claimed the bartender asked Christina to leave because she was yelling over the phone. Bree Anna continued to say that Christina’s relationship with Blackwell had a history of domestic violence.
The show’s polygraph expert administered two lie detector tests to Blackwell and Johnston. The former failed both and appeared nervous when Wilkos called him out. However, he denied involvement in Christina’s disappearance.
In an interview with Herald-Whig following the show’s airing, Young changed her tune and said Blackwell would never hurt Christina.
“I know he would never do anything to hurt her,” Young said. “He was here that night Christina disappeared. My son and his girlfriend were right across the hall. He was here.”
She also claimed he had passed a lie detector test administered by the Hannibal Police Department.
Christina’s disappearance has several theories floating around on the internet and in Hannibal. She fell in the Mississippi River, Christina was killed over something involving the police department, she was trafficked, etc.
And while the Peoria sightings seem convincing, Christina’s description could be that of any young female. And if she were trafficked, her captors would have changed her appearance so no one would recognize her. It also stands to reason that she would not have been able to escape and seek help at a mental hospital.
In 2021, a six-part docuseries on Christina’s disappearance by Christina Fontana called “Relentless” aired on Discovery Plus. According to sources, Fontana spent more than a decade investigating the case and collected over 400 hours of footage. It is unclear if the police received any leads after the airing.
Christina’s family’s DNA is registered through the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs).
Christina had a warrant out for her arrest when she missed a court date on December 18, 2009. Police had arrested her for driving on a revoked license before she vanished.
Young and her husband, Alex Young, still live in Hannibal. Alexandria is now 13 years old.
True Crime Diva’s Thoughts
I don’t believe Christina was in Peoria or that she was trafficked. Young claims on her FB page that she has spoken to people who talked to her daughter. A woman resembling Christina supposedly mentioned that her captors wouldn’t let her return to Hannibal to see her baby. I have read that victims rarely tell someone else about their situation, and many do not acknowledge being victims.
When my son disappeared (he ran away, but we did not know it for several days, long story), I had people contacting me all across Illinois (and beyond) with sightings of my son. Every single one of them was not him. People see what they want to see.
Another reason I don’t believe the trafficking theory is the sightings of her in the Peoria area. She was never seen with any men; she was by herself. Traffickers would likely have kept her drugged, so she could not run away, and they would not let her come and go.
But let’s say that was her in the mental hospital. Christina wasn’t with her captors, and she knew who she was, so why didn’t she contact her mother or tell anyone she needed help?
I’d also like to know about the mental hospital because Zellers closed its doors in 2002 and is now Cedar Hall of Illinois Community College. Peoria medical hospitals, like OSF St. Francis, have psychiatric wards, but there is no stand-alone mental hospital in Peoria anymore, and there wasn’t one in 2009, either. So, what mental hospital did she allegedly stay at?
What pisses me off is that Christina begged people to give her a ride, which NOT ONE PERSON did. Her friends were not her friends. Let’s be honest. I can see why strangers would not do it, but at the same time, I bet they wish now they had.
There are a few taxi services in Hannibal, and they were probably there in 2009. Why didn’t she call a cab? She had her cell phone. Did she spend all her money at the bar?
Now, Bree Anna told Wilkos Christina got kicked out of Rookie’s for yelling over the phone. Yet, reports say Christina was drunk and harassing other bar patrons. Well, which is it?
When the bartender kicked her out, why didn’t any of her friends go with her? They LET HER LEAVE ALONE, knowing she was drunk and did not have a way home.
Christina’s home was too far to walk after a night of drinking. It would have taken her 56 minutes, according to Google. Seriously, how much of an asshole are you for not giving this vulnerable young woman a ride home?
She arrived at the bar just before 9 p.m. and was kicked out about 3 hours later. She called Blackwell at 10:30 p.m., saying she had a ride home. With who? Bree Anna?
There are no reports about what went on inside Rookie’s before Christina was asked to leave, other than she was drunk and harassed patrons. But what led to her actions? What was going on before this occurred? What were her friends like that night? Did they argue with Christina?
So between 10:30 and 11:45 p.m., something happened to her ride, or Blackwell lied. If someone was going to give her a ride home, why didn’t they leave the bar with her?
Bree Anna’s “I didn’t want to go to jail” is interesting. She obviously had her car that night. If she was also drunk, then I understand not wanting to drive. But if Bree Anna had her car and was drunk, how did she get home if she “didn’t want to go to jail?”
Young said on the talk show that Christina had called Blackwell twice that night, the first call at 10:30. Blackwell allegedly refused to answer the phone the second time, but why didn’t Christina’s BROTHER answer? It’s another thing that makes zero sense.
Young also said in 2017: “Her daughter tried calling family members for a ride home but couldn’t reach anybody.” (Herald-Whig)
There is no doubt someone here is not telling the truth.
Swank said Christina showed up at Sportsman’s Bar near closing time. The bar currently has a closing time of 1:30 a.m. So if it was 1:30 in 2009, we know Swank was the last to see Christina. Christina must have been at River City Billiards from 11:45 to around 1 a.m., let’s say. Why aren’t there more reports about Christina’s actions inside River City?
Why didn’t she ask Swank for a ride home?
Swank said Christina was arguing with someone on her cell phone at Sportsman’s Bar. Young said Christina had made a second call to Blackwell. He said he didn’t answer, but she was talking to someone. If it wasn’t Blackwell, then who was it?
I believe someone known to Christina killed her on November 13, 2009. I do not think she is alive after all this time. Whoever Christina last spoke with on her cell phone probably knows more than they are telling.