La Vernia, TX

25 years ago, a mom vanished on Christmas Day after an argument with her estranged husband. Where is Patty Vaughan?

Fatim Hemraj
Patty Vaughan with her former husband, J.R. Vaughan and their three childrenDaily Mail

Patty Vaughan lived in La Vernia, Texas, with her husband Jerry Ray “J.R.” Vaughan and their three young children. The 32-year-old was a stay-at-home mom while J.R. worked as a building contractor.

In October 1996, Patty and J.R. separated. She was fed up with his abusive and controlling nature; he banned Patty from working and she often showed up to family events covered in bruises. J.R. moved into an apartment in nearby San Antonio while Patty stayed in the family home with their children and found work as a secretary at Quinney Electric.
Patty VaughanDaily Mail

In December, Patty reconnected with an old flame named Gary. She invited him to Christmas Eve dinner with her family and while they were ecstatic Patty had found someone caring and kind, not everyone was happy for her. J.R. was particularly upset his soon-to-be ex-wife had moved on so quickly.

When Patty’s younger sister Jeannie called her the next day to wish her a Merry Christmas, Patty appeared to be distraught. According to The Daily Mail, Jeannie could hear J.R. in the background, screaming at her to get off the phone. Unbeknownst to Jeannie, she would never get another chance to hear her sister’s voice. Patty was never seen or heard from again.

“We spoke on the phone earlier that morning. She sounded like she had been crying. She told me she and J.R. had gotten into an argument and he made her cry but that wasn’t anything unusual. He made her cry every holiday.” — Jeannie Iiams

Patty’s family dropped by later that evening but J.R. told them she was asleep in the master bedroom and wasn’t feeling well. They reported her missing on December 26 after she failed to attend their annual Christmas Day gathering.

J.R. told authorities Patty stormed off during an argument over her new boyfriend. He claimed she grabbed her purse and keys at 6:30 pm, got into her light blue 91' Dodge Caravan and sped off, leaving her children, ages 6, 7 and 9 behind — something Patty’s loved ones insist she would never do.

Patty’s boss spotted the Dodge Caravan abandoned on Loop 1604 just 15 miles from Patty’s home the very next day. According to NBC News, one tire had been intentionally deflated and the carpet was still wet from having been shampooed. In the backseat was a red workman’s jumpsuit with the letters JM embroidered on the back in white. Also found in the car was Patty’s blood.
Patty’s car was found abandoned on the highwayDaily Mail

Patty’s blood was also found in the master bedroom, the bathroom, inside a closet and on a mop. A large-scale search was initiated but she was nowhere to be found. Patty’s purse and keys have also never been recovered.

J.R. refused to cooperate with the investigation, help search for Patty, or submit a sample of his DNA. On the same day her car was found, he hired a lawyer, moved back into their family home and filed for divorce.

In 2005, J.R. had Patty declared legally dead in an effort to cash in on her life insurance policy. In response, Patty’s mother filed a wrongful death suit and the presiding Judge declared the money would sit in a trust for their three children instead. J.R. later changed his name and moved to Colorado. He continues to maintain his innocence and insists Patty left voluntarily.

In 2012, improved DNA testing discovered the presence of an unknown female in Patty’s vehicle. According to KSAT News, authorities are confident they know who the DNA belongs to but without probable cause, they cannot make an arrest.

Patty’s boyfriend Gary fully cooperated with the investigation. He was ruled out as a suspect after he provided an alibi and passed a polygraph test.

“We didn’t really know him (Gary). We really only got to know him while we were searching for Patty. He was out there searching with the rest of us. Except J.R. He never came out to help look for his own wife.” —Jeannie Iiams

On Christmas Eve, Patty told her mother Barbara she was going to file a restraining order against J.R. Barbara is confident her daughter is hidden under concrete. At the time of Patty’s disappearance, J.R. was working on the construction of two elementary schools. According to NBC News, multiple searches were conducted at the schools but no evidence was recovered.
Patty with her childrenDaily Mail

This Christmas will mark 25 years since Patty’s disappearance. She was 5'6" and 120 pounds with curly blonde hair and green eyes. According to The Charley Project, Patty was last seen wearing a cream-coloured blouse, black dress pants and a significant amount of jewelry including a gold watch and ring, a necklace with a heart-shaped pendant and diamond stud earrings. She has a small mole on her chin and an appendectomy scar on her abdomen. If alive, Patty would be 57 today.

If you have any information regarding the disappearance of Patty Inez Brightwell Vaughan, contact the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office at (210)-335-6000 or (210)-335-TIPS.

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