New evidence in missing woman Kendra Nystrom’s case leads police to believe she drowned in a creek behind her parents’ house, a Maize police detective said Friday.
Maize police Detective Jeff Piper said the two pieces of physical evidence discovered by the Kansas Chapter of Texas EquuSearch lead his department to a “working theory” that 30-year-old Kendra waded into the flooded Cowskin Creek the day she went missing and drowned. She has been missing for 15 months.
“While we still hope to one day bring Kendra home to her family,” Piper said. “We now have a working theory based on physical evidence to answer some of the questions that have troubled law enforcement and tormented Kendra’s family for over a year.”
The Kansas Chapter of Texas EquuSearch, which formed to help search for Lucas Hernandez, 5, in February, has been searching for Kendra since July 7.
Two days into the search, the group found a pair of pants and another small item that had her DNA on it “entangled in the tree limbs” at the high water mark where the water would have been on the day she went missing. The pants are similar to the pair she was wearing when she disappeared, Piper said.
He would not say what the other item was, because Maize police “don’t want anyone taking the information that we give today and essentially creating a new story for us to follow-up on.”
Piper said Maize police have followed tips about Kendra’s whereabouts as far away as Mexico, and the case is still open. Most tips have included some sort of foul play. A tipster in May said Kendra was being held in Iowa. A video surfaced later that month of a homeless woman in Mexico named Kendra. In total, Piper said Maize police dealt with nine different tips all involving foul play.
But he said the new discoveries, along with the “totality of the circumstances” surrounding Kendra’s disappearance, lead police to believe it’s “highly probable that Kendra went into the flooded creek on May 4 and likely drowned.”
“However,” Piper said, “because we can neither prove nor disprove this theory due to the lack of human remains, Kendra is still considered a missing person and her case remains open.”
Kendra’s parents, who have been vocal in seeking help finding their missing daughter, did not attend the announcement after just learning about the new information.
The last time Kendra’s parents saw her was on footage from their home’s video surveillance system more than a year ago.
Kendra, who was 30 at the time, stopped by her parents’ house to do laundry on the morning of May 4, 2017.
She came with a friend, who waited outside by the car while Kendra went inside.
Kendra set off the alarm at the house. The alarm drew police.
Kendra, who might have been high, waited inside. She watched while police handcuffed her friend, who had some meth on her.
Then, the footage shows Kendra carrying her Chihuahua, Frankie, to the back porch. Walking south, she followed the Cowskin Creek out of the camera’s view. She left behind her cell phone, wallet, car and clothing.
That’s the last time Judith and Bruce Nystrom saw their daughter, who they say struggled with addiction and had been hanging around a group of people that didn’t have her best interests at heart.
On the one-year anniversary of Kendra’s disappearance, police said it’s highly probable that her disappearance was not voluntary and she is likely dead.
Police have searched the creek with cadaver dogs multiple times. In September, the dogs showed interest in an area near where the pants and other item were found, but no human remains were found.
Police have checked abandoned buildings and chased leads that led to dead ends. Earlier this month, a private search party formed to search again. EquuSearch retraced Kendra’s steps, Piper said.
The two discoveries were made in “close proximity” to the Nystroms’ home along the creek, Piper said. Kendra’s dog that she was carrying when she disappeared has not been found.
Piper said the flow rate of the Cowskin Creek could have carried Kendra as far as 20 miles away. EquuSearch will continue searching the creek, Kansas Chapter EquuSearch organizer Sheila Medlam said, but it will take a long time to cover that distance.
“The Cowskin twists and turns through much of the area we are searching,” Medlam said. “It has taken us 20 days to clear a half of a mile, and there are nearly 10 miles of creek left to be searched before it turns into the Wichita/Valley Center Floodway.”
“Even though we were there for the entire Lucas (Hernandez) search, we missed out on that particular moment (when he was found). And so this was kind of a sense of closure for us,” Medlam said. After months of searches by Wichita police and EquuSearch for Lucas Hernandez, his body was not discovered until his father’s live-in girlfriend, Emily Glass, led a private investigator to his remains under a bridge.
Medlam described her team’s find of items related to Nystrom as “a miracle.”
“It was a miracle it was found,” Medlam said of the item that had Nystrom’s DNA on it. “It was very small and very easily overlooked, and we just happened to be in the right place when the water was low enough to reveal evidence.”
No law enforcement officers were involved in the search that discovered the new evidence, Piper said. The private search party generally does not touch evidence, said Julie La Force, a member of the Kansas Chapter of Texas EquuSearch.