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Karen Denise Wells was driving cross country from her home in Haskell, Oklahoma to to visit a childhood friend Melissa Shepard, in New Bergen, New Jersey. Karen hired a rental car to make the trip and made it to Carlisle, Pennsylvania where she checked into the Pike Motel. Karen called her friend and told her she was not going to eat at a McDonald's and go to bed, Melissa agreed to meet Karen at the Pike Motel the next day.

Karen's rental car was found abandoned the next day on Route 274 near New Germantown, PA, approximately 35 miles north of Carlisle with a unaccounted 600 to 700 miles on it.

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Denise Wells, from Haskell, Oklahoma, was traveling cross-country in April 1994 to to visit with a childhood friend in New Jersey. She dropped off her son at her parents' home April 10 before she left on the trip. She reportedly checked into the Pike Motel in Middlesex Township, outside Carlisle, and asked for directions to McDonald's, at about 8 p.m. The last time anyone heard from Ms. Wells was when she called her friend in New Jersey about 7:30 p.m. April 12. Wells' disappearance was discovered when her friend arrived at the Pike Motel early on April 13 to meet Denise as they'd planned. The friend immediately filed a missing person report with Middlesex Township police. Her white, Plymouth Acclaim, rented in Tulsa, was found abandoned in a rural part of Perry County, near New Germantown, along Route 274, early in the morning of April 13. State Route 274 runs through the Tuscarora State Forest near New Germantown in the western end of Toboyne Township, Perry County.


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Missing Since: 04/12/1994
Missing From: Carlisle, Pennsylvania
Classification: Endangered Missing
Sex: Female
Race: White
Date of Birth: 09/22/1970 (49)
Age: 23 years old
Height and Weight: 5'6, 115 pounds
Distinguishing Characteristics: Caucasian female. Blonde hair, blue/green eyes. Wells goes by her middle name, Denise. She has a quarter-inch scar on her forearm and she wears eyeglasses.

Details of Disappearance

Wells was on a trip from Haskell, Oklahoma to visit a friend in Bergen, New Jersey when she disappeared in April 1994. She stopped at the Pike Motel in the 1100 block of Harrisburg Pike in Carlisle, Pennsylvania on April 12 and called her friend from there at 7:00 p.m. She said she was going to eat at a McDonald's restaurant, then would go to bed.

This is the last time anyone heard from Wells. Shortly after midnight on April 13, her friend went to the motel to meet her as planned and there was no answer when she knocked on the door of her room.

The friend summoned a clerk and they went into the room. Wells's room key, clothing and other belongings were inside. The bed didn't appear to have been slept in. There was no sign of Wells.

That same morning, Wells's rented 1993 Plymouth Acclaim with Oklahoma license plates was found abandoned in a rural area on Route 274, 35 miles from the motel. It appeared to have stopped in its tracks in the westbound lane.

The driver's and passenger's side doors were wide open, the vehicle was scratched and mud-splattered, it was out of gas and the battery was dead. Some empty soda bottles, a pair of shoes, maps and some french fries were inside the car.

There were indications of criminal activity, including a small quantity of marijuana. Wells's change purse, containing a small amount of cash, was in a nearby ditch. Authorities checked the odometer on the car and discovered it had been driven 600 to 700 miles that couldn't be accounted for.

Around Thanksgiving in 1994, the wife of Wells's married boyfriend claimed she had heard from her. Wells allegedly called the woman and said she had gotten married and wouldn't be coming home. This story hasn't been confirmed, and police don't believe Wells actually made the telephone call.

Wells has a prior criminal conviction for forgery in South Dakota. She was unemployed and the single parent of a baby son in 1994. Her mother stated she was handling her life well and loved her child.

It's uncharacteristic of Wells to leave without warning. Her family has had her declared legally dead. Foul play is suspected in her disappearance, which remains unsolved.


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Evidence sparse in 15-year-old disappearance of Denise Wells
Updated Mar 23, 2019; Posted Apr 15, 2009
By Matt Miller |

A mud-spattered rental car with 700 unexplained miles on its odometer, abandoned on a Perry County highway. An untouched motel room in Middlesex Township, and a missed reunion with an old friend.

Such are the pieces of the 15-year-old puzzle regarding the disappearance of Karen Denise Wells, a 24-year-old single mother who vanished during a visit to the midstate in mid-April 1994.

Is the Oklahoma woman dead or alive?
Investigators have their suspicions, but don't really know. The evidence is frustratingly sparse.

The only tangible thing Wells left behind, aside from a few belongings at the motel and a change purse found beside her car, is her now 16-year-old son, William, who didn't accompany her on the trip.
For Wells' mother, Deorma Wells, not knowing what happened has been an unending agony.

"I have always hoped that someday she will return, although I do feel something has happened to her," Deorma Wells said Tuesday in an e-mail interview. "I know there is no way on earth that she wouldn't have contacted her son that she so adores or the many people that love her. "I am sure that only a handful of people know what happened and I can't point the finger at any one person."

Investigators face the same dilemma. No substantial new evidence has been gained since 1994, Cumberland County Chief Detective Les Freehling said. Wells, who was known by her middle name, is still listed as a missing person, Freehling said, although her family convinced the courts to declare her dead years ago.

"My own professional opinion is that she's not alive," Freehling said. "She came here to meet a friend and something went bad." There is a theory that illegal drug trafficking was involved, but no one is sure of that, District Attorney David Freed said.

The first hint of trouble came early on April 13, 1994 when Melissa Shepard, a club dancer from New Jersey and a childhood friend of Wells, told police Wells wasn't at a motel where they'd arranged to meet.

Police said Shepard claimed Wells had driven from Haskell, Okla., to see her. Shepard said she and Wells had last spoken on the phone when Wells arrived at the Pike Motel on Harrisburg Pike around 7:30 p.m. April 12. Others later told police that Wells was visiting Shepard to help her friend deal with some kind of trouble.

Shepard later stopped talking to police, Freehling said, and her current whereabouts are unknown. Wells' belongings were in her motel room, but neither they nor the bed had been disturbed. There were no signs of struggle.

At 5:30 a.m. April 13, Wells' rental car was found out of gas and abandoned in the middle of Route 274 near New Germantown, 35 miles from the motel. The passenger and driver's doors were open. Wells' change purse was on the ground by the car, money still inside. Investigation showed Wells had driven 700 miles farther than the distance from Oklahoma to Carlisle and had gone as far east as Bernville in Berks County before doubling back.
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By Heather Stauffer, Sentinel Reporter, April 16, 2009

Seeking a break in Wells case


The family of an Oklahoma woman last seen in Middlesex Township in 1994 is joining investigators in urging people to come forward if they know anything at all about the disappearance of Karen Denise Wells.
“I don’t know if they’ll ever find her,” said Joanne Wells of her cousin’s daughter, who was known as “Denise.” But, she said Wednesday, she hopes that getting people talking about the case again will unearth turn up a piece of information that will allow investigators to finish the puzzle so the family can finally have get some closure.

“There’s some inconsistencies in there,” she said Wednesday of a timeline she has assembled using publicly reported information about the case. “But if you look at it close enough, the answer may be there.” “I know and feel in my heart, as a mother, that there is someone out there that knows something,” Denise’s mother, Deorma Wells, said in an e-mail to The Sentinel. She wants that person to know that she can forgive a past inability to come forward, she said, but still pleads for the information.

“Please come forward for Denise’s son, William, and yourself, so you do not have to live with the guilt any longer,” Deorma Well said. “This young boy needs a hero, even if you have made a mistake.”
Investigators held a press conference Wednesday to remind the public that it has been 15 years since the disappearance of Denise Wells, who was then 23 and the single mother of a young child. She may still be alive, they said, but they consider that unlikely, as does Wells’ family.

“Locally there have been persons of interest” in the case, state police spokesman Trooper Karl Schmidhamer said. Out-of-state people have been scrutinized as well, he said, but there isn’t enough information to identify anyone as a suspect.

Wells had been driving from her home to New Bergen, N.J., to visit Melissa Shepard, a long-time friend of hers who was working as an exotic dancer and according to Wells’ family was having “personal problems.” Cumberland County District Attorney David Freed said investigators have repeatedly interviewed people “who we believe know more than they’ve told us.”

Getting a break from the physical evidence available is “a long shot,” Freed said. Police have chased down every lead they had over the years, he said, and even went so far as to use ground-penetrative radar at the Pike Motel, where Wells was last seen.

However, he said, over the past few years local law enforcement officials have solved several cases at least as old as Wells’. “What is consistent is that law enforcement continued to work on these cases,” Freed said, crediting a state police policy of checking in on even long-dormant cases every 60 or 90 days. “We never give up.”

Investigators don’t necessarily need to find Wells or her body to crack the case, Freed said, but they do need more information than they currently have. For instance, Freed said, police believe there were indications of criminal activity in Wells’ rental car, a white 1993 Plymouth Acclaim that was discovered abandoned and out of gas more than an hour away on a remote stretch of Route 274 near Tuscarora State Park in Perry County before 6 a.m. that day.

Freed declined to specify what those indications were, but police have said in the past that they discovered a small amount of marijuana in the car. That’s where the time that has passed since Wells’ disappearance may help investigators, Schmidhamer said.

The statute of limitations has expired on smaller crimes that may have been involved in what happened, such as theft of a vehicle, he said, and police hope that knowing that may inspire people who have previously been afraid to come forward with information to do so now.

As for the inconsistencies Joanne Wells noted, police have long puzzled over them. They include the following:

• Someone called Melissa Shepard from a pay phone at the Sheetz market in Middlesex and spoke to her voicemail about 17 hours before Wells is believed to have arrived in the area.

• Before she checked into the hotel that day, Wells was seen in Scheafferstown, which is about an hour closer to New Jersey than Middlesex is, and then traveling the opposite direction in Bernville a few hours later.

After telling Shepard that she got lost several times that day, Wells checked into the motel and made arrangements for Shepard to come meet her there. Shepard reported arriving with a boyfriend, but police said she actually showed up with two men she met at a bar where she worked and “went ballistic” before it was even clear her friend was missing.

Wells’ car had logged about 700 miles more than it should have during the trip.

Wells had been dating a married man, and about six months after she disappeared his wife reported receiving a call from a person who claimed to be Wells and said, “Tell Mike I’m not coming home. I’m
already married.” Investigators do not believe Wells made the call.

Police have said one of the reasons they do not believe Wells is still alive is that her son William, whom she left with her parents and who is now 16, has not had any contact from her.

“Denise had a beautiful, heartwarming smile, her laughter and her ability to make people feel loved and comfortable,” Deorma Wells said. “She loved her son so much and was truly devoted. She was devoted to her family and friends as she proved in this trip to save her friend, Melissa.”

Deorma Wells said she has no idea what could have happened to her daughter but that the family still feel helpless not knowing.

“I don’t think it ever gets easier,” she said. “The wide range of emotions is unbelievable and sometimes hard to bear, but the only thing we have to concentrate on is our wonderful grandson and his future, making sure he finds his path in life.”

Police ask anyone with information about Wells to call Crime Stoppers at 866-898-8477.
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Midstate Mystery: The disappearance of Karen Denise Wells

by: Ali Lanyon Posted: Apr 30, 2018 / 11:00 PM EDT / Updated: May 1, 2018 / 05:30 AM EDT

For 24 years, Deorma Wells has never known what really happened to her daughter, Karen Denise. “Something bad happened to her and that’s all I can tell anyone,” Wells said.

It was 1994. Denise, as her family called her, was driving across the country from Oklahoma to New Jersey to help a friend in need. The 23-year-old hard-working single mother made it as far as the Pike Motel in Middlesex Township, Cumberland County.

When it was discovered she was missing, searches of that area came up empty. Her rental car was found abandoned on State Route 274 in a remote section of Perry County. Trooper John Boardman is now investigating the case and says he has many questions about that car.

Why was it left in that location, of all places? What caused the visible damage to it? And why was it covered in mud, as if it had been driven off-road?

“The damage to the vehicle is strange,” Boardman said.

Also strange: Denise left most of her belongings inside the hotel room. Boardman says that can only lead investigators to believe that she planned to return. “Clothing on the floor, luggage on the bed,” Boardman said. “A magazine was there. Cigarettes were in the room.”

Police believe Karen Denise Wells is dead. Boardman says the circumstances surrounding her disappearance are simply too dangerous.

“She’s an attractive female,” Boardman said. “She’s a single mother. She’s nowhere close to home, she’s tired. It’s reported she had been lost several times.”

And what about the friend she was supposed to meet in New Jersey? Melissa Shepard drove to Carlisle and reported Denise missing. She gave a tearful interview to abc27 back in 1994.

“She has a baby who’s a year-and-a-half old,” Shepard said at the time. “You’re talking about a child that’s not going to have a mother.”

Boardman says although Shepard said she had no connection to the Midstate, she did receive a call from the Carlisle area 17 hours before Denise ever arrived there. What does Boardman make of that? “It’s a good question,” he said. “She hasn’t been able to answer that question.

Adding to the mystery of this case, Denise’s rental car had 700 unexplained miles on it and it’s believed she may have been closer to New Jersey at one point, then doubled back to Cumberland County.

Boardman is still searching for those answers and more. “Someone absolutely knows what happened to Denise,” he said, “and we’ll get to that eventually.”

Deorma is grateful the search for her daughter continues; if not for her, then for her grandson William, who is now 25 and about to be married.

“For him not to ever know what happened to his mom is hard,” she said.

Anyone with information about the disappearance of Karen Denise Wells is asked to contact the Pennsylvania State Police at 717-249-2121.
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Police photos of Karen Wells’ rental car Photos: ABC27




Karen's rental car was found abandoned near New Germantown, along Route 274 on the morning of April 13, 1994.
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The Pike Motel in Carlisle, PA where Karen Wells checked into on April 12, 1994. She called her friend Melissa Shepard at 7:30 p.m to ask for directions to a local McDonald's.


Pike Motel
Address: 1121 Harrisburg Pike, Carlisle, PA 17013, United States
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Unsolved in PA | The case of Karen Denise Well
by Ryan Eldredge Friday, September 11th 2020

PERRY COUNTY — A mother, an Oklahoman, gone at the age of 23. The only trace of her left in the dark, lonely woods of Perry County.

This is the story of Karen Denise Wells, who to this day remains missing, after an ill-fated trip to New Jersey back in 1994.

It was April 1994. The car was rented by Karen Denise Wells, a 23-year-old mother of one from Haskell, Oklahoma.

“We knew that she had been driving for days,” Pennsylvania State Police Trooper John Boardman said. “That there was some drug use involved, that she hasn't slept by any account and that she ran out of gas.”

Investigators say Wells was headed from Tulsa to New Jersey before she got turned around several times and ended up in Carlisle, checking in at the Pike Motel on the night she disappeared.

From there she is said to have left the motel to grab food, and while there was trash from a Hardee's scattered around her car, investigators could never really say she made it or how she ended up miles away outside of Blain.

"Did she come there and her vehicle died and somebody stopped to help her? And then maybe something bad happened or was she followed to that scene or did somebody drop that?" Trooper Boardman said. "Those are all things that we've had to ask ourselves. She definitely hung around with not the greatest crowd, but by all accounts she was a good friend, she was a good person, she was a good mother."

Pennsylvania State Trooper John Boardman now leads the investigation.

On top of sorting through the countless theories that exist and the work that's been done , he's tasked with finding any missteps that could have hindered the investigation.

"I take it personal that we can't find her," Boardman said. "I take it personal when I read the report and see some missteps that were maybe made or focus on things that we probably shouldn't have been focused on or that we let some things go in the investigation."

Jail house confessions, serial killers, intoxicated drivers, Boardman has heard it all, and yet he thinks the answer will likely be found near the woods of Perry County or the motel in Carlisle.

"In an investigation that we've chased things so far out of the scene for so long lends me to believe that we missed something early on that's probably close to home," Boardman said. "Somebody out there knows more than they've given us."

Could someone living among us know where Karen Denise Wells is? Know where her body could be?

Boardman is banking on it, or hoping that new searches and new investigative means will provide the answers they need to solve the mystery.

"Cumberland County lab has a thing called VMD, it's a vacuum metal deposition, and it basically can get fingerprints and things like that off of cloth," Boardman said. "It's my understanding that we do have fingerprints off of a lot of the things that we are submitting we are just waiting for those fingerprints to be tested as well. I think that there is a good chance that it could go unsolved for a really long time, but I also know that it takes such a small, small thing to break it open."

Trooper Boardman says the one thing that would help to crack the case is the body of Karen, but there have been plenty of hurdles there. Not only the terrain but also missteps by initial search teams who neglected trails in and around the area where her car was found.

Boardman says he has led small searches but would need new evidence to conduct a larger search. CBS 21 News reached out to the family of Karen Denise Wells for this story.

Her mother Deorma did not want to go on camera, but provided us with this statement:
Denise was my angel and for 26 years, we've missed her. We've missed not watching her grow into her role as a mother or raising our grandchild. We're thankful investigators have kept her case alive and we’re hoping, as we have always, for answers.


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Karen Well's ill-fated cross country trip from Tulsa, OK to New Bergen, NJ which ended in Carlisle, PA.


Map of Karen's last known location to the area where her rental car was found abandoned 35 miles away near New Germantown, PA.


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