• Kym L. Pasqualini

21-years since the disappearance of NC student Kristen Modafferi

It has been 21-years since Kristen Modafferi has been seen.

Kristen, 18, an honor roll design student at North Carolina State University (NCSU) had planned to spend her summer in San Francisco studying photography at U.C. Berkeley. With a scholarship from NCSU, classes were scheduled to begin on June 24, 1997.

That year, she waved goodbye to her parents on June 1, her birthday, and boarded the plane to San Francisco to pursue her dreams. It was the first time Kristen had been on her own, and the last time her parents Bob and Deborah Modafferi would see their daughter.

Kristen quickly found employment at Spinelli’s Coffee Shop in the Crocker Galleria, working there during the week, and weekends at the Café Museo, located inside the Museum of Modern Art in downtown San Francisco. The adventurous young lady was in her element.

On June 23, the day before classes were to begin, Kristen asked a coworker at Spinelli’s for directions to Baker Beach, next to the popular Land’s End Beach, west of the city. She proceeded to clock out at 3 p.m. and was last seen by a coworker at approximately 3:45 p.m. on the second floor of the Crocker Galleria with an unidentified blonde woman. The coworker thought it strange because Kristen normally left the mall immediately after shift’s end. That was the last time Kristen anyone saw Kristen. She never returned for her $400 paycheck at the coffee shop.

Upon learning of Kristen’s disappearance, her parents immediately flew to San Francisco to meet with police.

Kristen’s scent would be tracked by bloodhounds from the Crocker Galleria to a nearby bus stop that leads to Baker Beach. Bloodhounds picked up her scent again at the beach but lost it in the area of a cliff. Police had feared she may have fallen to her death at the beach.

While searching Kristen's personal belongings, a personal ad was found that read, “Friends: Female seeking friends to share activities, who enjoy music, photography, working out, walks, coffee, or simply the beach, and exploring the Bay area. Interested, call me.” Authorities believed Kristen had responded to or placed the ad in the local paper.

Authorities suspected the person who answered or placed the ad may have been the unidentified blonde seen at the mall with Kristen and somehow, she may be involved in Kristen’s disappearance.

On July 10, 1997, local news station KGO-7 TV, an ABC affiliate, received an anonymous phone call from a man who claimed two lesbians that worked at the Presidio YMCA, had kidnapped Kristen, murdered her and dumped her body under a bridge at Point Reyes in Marin County. Police were later able to determine who had made the call.

When police interviewed the two women, they told detectives a friend of theirs named Jon Onuma was angry with them, possibly spurring the phone call. When interviewed, Onuma initially denied making the calls to the news station and claimed he had learned about the case from television.

Shortly thereafter, three women came forward claiming Onuma liked to abuse and torture women and often targeted women using personal ads while using other women to lure his victims.

One of the women who came forward told police Onuma had mentioned Kristen by name, threatening her, “the same thing that happened to her could happen to you.”

Despite Onuma's denial that he knew Kristen or anything regarding her disappearance, there was a connection to Onuma.

It was learned Onuma was living with a young woman named Jill Lampo who had broken up with a man named Matthew Luque to begin dating Onuma.

Luque's close friend Kelley Stratham worked with Kristen prior to her disappearance and Luque was hired at Spinelli's shortly after Kristen disappeared. Though Luque was cleared of being a suspect in the disappearance of Kristen, suspicion continued to surround Onuma.

Sometime later, Onuma fled California, landing in Kaneohe, Hawaii, staying in a seaside $1.4 million dollar home. He had met up Daniel Dubie, a shady character who told people he was Jesus and had a cult of wealthy followers. They paired up and traveled the world scamming people out of millions. FBI Agent Dan McLaughlin would later say Dubie was, "A David Koresh type figure, I would describe him as a classic fraudster, swindler with an uncanny ability to capture the minds of individuals who weren't as strong as he was."

Eventually Onuma was evicted from the multi-million dollar residence. Investigators would later find out Onuma called the property manager seeking permission to enter the home and retrieve a briefcase he had hidden in the attic but the property manager refuses, later retrieving the brief-case and looking inside. It was filled with news articles about Kristen's disappearance.

Police suspected he was living off the grid and in 1999 and turned to America's Most Wanted who aired Kristen's story. When they found Onuma he was living in Honolulu

Though they polygraphed Onuma, there was never enough evidence to make an arrest and he was released.

Dubie was formerly married to Geri Cvitanovich, the co-founder of Herbalife and worth millions. Dubie was murdered in 2006, by one of his followers Maggie Crane, while living Chaing Mai, Thailand.

In 2012, a private investigator received a call from a relative of Jill Campo, who also went by the name of Jill Lazzaro, telling the investigator that Jill had an emotional breakdown and discloses that she had been dating a controlling man who had coerced her to assist in an unspeakable kidnap and murder of a young woman.

To date, no arrests have been made.

Other leads have been followed. In 2017, private investigators investigated a theory Kristen was murdered in the basement of her residence though there has never been any information or DNA evidence to substantiate those claims.

21 years later, Kristen remains missing.

Anyone with information regarding the disappearance of Kristen Modafferi should call San Francisco Police Department at 415-558-5508 or 415-553-0123.

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