I-275 Vanishing: What happened to 17-year-old Karen Spencer?

Published: Updated: 10 comments

Karen Spencer was a typical teen girl of the 80s. She wore her hair short and feathered on top and long in the back and on the sides—kind of like a mullet, only cuter. 

Karen was a senior in high school and worked a waitress job at the Kings Mills Frisch’s restaurant (now Frisch’s Big Boy) in Mason, Ohio. She had previously lived with her father, Richard Spencer, then-48 years old, and stepmother, Diana Spencer. Richard was employed at the Ford Motor Co., and he and his wife lived on Dorian Drive in Cincinnati. 

Karen’s family has described her as “spunky” and “stubborn,” but a “real sweetheart.” However, she drank too much and wanted to leave home. Her father had enrolled her in an alcohol treatment program, but she quit. Richard permitted Karen to move out of his house. She had plans to relocate to Florida with her older brother, Curtiss Spencer, and his wife, Christy Spencer, in January 1990. 

At the end of 1989, Karen, 17, stayed with her brother and sister-in-law at their Milford apartment, helping them pack boxes in preparation for the out-of-state move.

Around 3 a.m. on December 29, 1989, Karen and Christy drove along Interstate-275 and got into a heated argument. Christy said she was leaving Curtiss and did not plan to move to Florida.

Karen was driving Christy’s Buick Regal. She pulled the car onto the interstate’s shoulder somewhere between the Montgomery Road and State Route 28 exits in Clermont County’s Miami Township. According to Christy, Karen got out of the vehicle and started walking north toward the Loveland-Indian Hill exit, several hundred yards away. 

A Hamilton County man told investigators that he was driving on I-275 when he saw Karen walking along the road’s side. He thought the car had broken down, so he pulled over to offer assistance. Christy walked over to his car, told him about the fight with Karen, and asked if he would take Karen home. The man claimed he looked for the teen but could not find her in the fog and drove off 10 minutes later.

Christy told a different version. She said the man asked if they needed help. She told him, no, and the man drove away. The man and Christy both passed polygraph tests.

A woman who lived near the Loveland-Indian Hill exit said she was out walking her dog when she heard a woman’s screams around the time Karen disappeared.

A woman driving the same night on Interstate 275 claimed that she offered a ride to a young woman fitting Karen’s description sometime later in the early morning hours. According to the witness, the girl appeared cold and was walking along the road at a brisk pace and headed southbound, which contradicted Christy’s statement that Karen was walking in the opposite direction when she last saw her. The witness said that she pulled over to offer assistance to the girl.

An unidentified young male in a red vehicle with Kentucky license plates pulled in front of the girl on the shoulder of the road. The girl seemed to recognize the driver and smiled. The witness then drove away, assuming the girl received a ride from the male. It has not been established that the unidentified young woman was Karen. The woman did not come forward until 1990 when she saw Karen’s photograph on television.

Meaghan Good, The Charley Project.

Richard Spencer told authorities Christy arrived at his home around 3:30 a.m. to pick up her infant son. She was crying hysterically, and Richard asked where Karen was. Christy told him she was “at the apartment.” He telephoned the apartment, but no one answered. 

Karen Spencer: family photo

Another witness claimed he saw a man in a red car burying a body at Loveland’s Lake Isabella shortly after Karen disappeared. Police searched the woods surrounding the lake and received authorization to excavate. However, they found nothing and learned the man had lied about his occupation and gave inconsistencies in his statement. In other words, the whole thing was a cruel hoax.

Sheila McLaughlin, a journalist for the Cincinnati Enquirer, reported in August 1990, “a police test showed two blotchy, saucer-sized spots of blood on the front seat of Christy Spencer’s car.”

Detective Bill Paul said he did not have the blood tested because Karen’s blood type was unknown. Furthermore, he theorized that “if she had been killed in the car, the blood would have splattered. No other blood was found in the car.”

But that would depend on how she was killed. If she were hit first and later strangled, there would not be much blood in the car.

According to McLaughlin, “the police returned the Buick Regal to Milford Auto Sales, which had repossessed it for non-payment.”

The police and Karen’s family and friends do not believe she ran away. She had a first-class ticket to Florida, a stereo system, and a car. Two paychecks were waiting for her, totaling almost $24. She left home with only the clothes on her back and $7 in her wallet. Karen “had no history of being the runaway type or the flighty type,” Paul said.

In 2017, the police told WCPO’s Julie O’ Neill they know who killed Karen Spencer but do not have enough evidence to arrest the unidentified male suspect. All evidence in the case is “circumstantial.” The man was in his early 20s in 1989 and recently discharged from the military. The suspect has a clean criminal record.

Paul, who is now retired, seemed to believe in Christy’s innocence, saying, “she remained truthful about what she saw (and didn’t see) that night.”

Curtiss and Christy Spencer’s marriage ultimately ended in divorce. 

If anyone has any information regarding this case, please call 513-248-3721.

True Crime Diva’s Thoughts

Detective Paul might believe Christy’s innocent, but I’m not convinced. She lied to Richard about Karen’s whereabouts and was hysterically crying when she arrived at his home. And let’s not forget about the blood spots on the drivers’ seat of her car, where Karen had been sitting, which means she had been hurt somehow. Christy never mentioned the blood, as far as I can tell.

But the two blood spots were saucer-sized. That is a decent amount of blood, in my opinion.

At the very least, I think Christy hit Karen during their argument, and Karen bled. I don’t think she killed her because of the time frame. The girls started fighting around 3 a.m., and Christy was at Richard’s house 30 minutes later. That did not leave time to dispose of the body unless she had help.

Who the hell is the guy in the red Datsun? Did it have Kentucky plates, and if so, did Karen know him? Is he the prime suspect police believe had killed her? Did Christy know him?

If the woman’s sighting (the one who offered assistance to Karen) is accurate, I highly doubt Karen knew the man in the red car. How did he know she would be there at that particular time? We’re talking about the Cincinnati area, so too big to happen to be there at the same time. 

Christy had plans to divorce Karen’s brother. She and the man in the red car gave different versions of what happened that night on the interstate. Maybe he was her lover. I know it’s a stretch, but you never know.

I believe the guy in the red Datsun might have killed Karen in a moment of opportunity. But I refuse to rule out Christy (as if I’m a cop, LOL). Her actions that night are highly suspect. As far as I can tell, she has never given a public interview. I tried to find her on the internet but had zero luck.

10 comments

The Emperor February 11, 2021 - 9:55 PM

SO much about this case makes no sense whatsoever!

1. Christy and her husband are literally packing to move away, but then Christy reveals to Karen that in reality, Christy is leaving her husband (Karen’s brother). WHY go through F—ING motions of relocating when you’re not really gonna do it!? And then WHY reveal to a teenage girl what your real plans are against her brother!? YEAH…that makes perfect sense!

2. A passing motorist stops to offer assistance. Either Christy told him about the fight or told him that his assistance was not needed. They both passed polygraph tests, but I have to wonder something: Even if you’re having a heated argument with somebody, WHO the hell asks a total stranger who drives by the highway at three o’clock in morning to take a cute teenage girl home!? Yeah…THAT’S a BRILLIANT IDEA!

3. Don’t even get me started on the cops not taking blood samples.

My thoughts: while I don’t believe that Christy necessarily murdered Karen, I think that Christy knows a helluva’ lot more than she’s revealing.

Reply
truecrimediva February 12, 2021 - 9:44 AM

I agree with everything you said! I love what you said in question #1. Yeah, why did Christy start the moving process if she knew she wasn’t going to Florida? You’re right, that makes no sense at all.

Reply
Alex C. February 10, 2021 - 9:41 PM

If Christy had nothing to hide then why did she lie? She passed the polygraph test but I’m not convinced either. Maybe she was scared Karen was going to reveal something to her brother and hurt her by accident? The screams the witness heard and that red car seem too coincidental. Also, sometimes they get lucky with circumstantial evidence, why not give the family some closure and try? However, if they can’t get a conviction then they won’t be able to do anything again. Sad story but hopefully it gets resolved soon. I’m a firm believer in cold cases being solved years later!!

Reply
truecrimediva February 11, 2021 - 8:37 AM

Yeah, that’s the bad part. If they don’t get a conviction, then game over, basically. I don’t like the double jeopardy law, but that’s the way it is, unfortunately.

Reply
Alex C. February 11, 2021 - 10:46 AM

After everything I have been through these last few days …I really despise how certain laws and the system works. It either puts the victims at risk or let’s the offender get away free.

Reply
truecrimediva February 11, 2021 - 11:36 AM

I agree!

Reply
Jacy February 10, 2021 - 4:22 PM

First off I just started reading your blog a couple of months ago. I love the way you write them. Very easy to read and attention to detail. I get on here and read almost everyday. I also love that you include your thoughts on the case at the end. You can tell you put in a lot of work to write your blogs.
This is my first time reading about this case. It is very interesting. I have sooooo many questions surrounding this case though. My biggest question is how could the detectives just be okay with not testing the blood found in the car?? How could they possibly feel like they’ve done everything they could to solve this case? The reasoning (or excuse) for not testing it makes no sense. Why not just test it and make sure it’s not Karen’s? The fact that Christy and Karen were arguing and there was blood found on the drivers seat and it wasn’t looked into more just baffles me. There just seems to be a good many reasons to have looked into Christy more and that whole situation. So crazy and sad that her body has never been found and this case isn’t solved yet. I hope one day Karen and her family get the justice they deserve.

Reply
truecrimediva February 11, 2021 - 8:37 AM

Aww, thank you so much, Jacy! I’m so glad you like my blog!

Yeah, I’m with you on the blood testing. I think there were many questionable things surrounding the investigation.

Reply
TrueCrimeAddict February 10, 2021 - 1:21 PM

Just found your posts today and am binge reading at work. Great way to keep these unsolved cases in the spotlight! I sincerely hope that these families get closure one day and the perpetrators get caught.
I too find this story highly suspicious. But I always try to remember that even the best witnesses can forget details and possible say something on the spur of the moment that they are not sure of. After reading this I believe she did not know the the person who picked her up. Possibly she smiled not from recognition but because the driver was attractive and pulled over and said something along the lines of “hey beautiful, need a lift?” I mean given her age and the fact that she seems like a very outgoing individual who was the life of the party, she would probably respond the way most young women would, with a smile and accept the ride thinking she was either about to get a ride from a handsome stranger or possibly meet a new boyfriend/lover. I find the behavior of Christy, though strange, could possibly be explained. Maybe she said Karen was at the apartment because that is where Karen said she was headed when she got out of the car. And if they were in an altercation that was bad enough that Karen was bleeding, I’m sure that would upset her. As far as the man who claimed she asked him to give Karen a ride, maybe they both were confused about what was said that night but believe what they said to be the truth. In any case I feel poor Karen meet with an unfortunate fate that night… May she rest in piece and hopefully justice will be done.

Reply
truecrimediva February 11, 2021 - 8:37 AM

Thank you so much, and I do, too!

Reply

Leave a Comment

About Me

True Crime Diva

True Crime Diva

I've blogged true crime since 2010, happily taking up only a tiny corner of the internet. I'm not here for attention; I'm here to tell you their stories.

You cannot copy the content of this page!

Skip to content