Kristen Modafferi grew up in beautiful Charlotte, North Carolina. She was raised by her parents, Bob and Debbie, alongside her three sisters. She graduated high school with honors and received a full scholarship to North Carolina State University where she studied engineering. Kristen was hard-working, motivated, and incredibly bright. She finished her freshman year before she even turned 18 and while working at a pizza parlor part-time. Kristen loved photography, art, and anything creative.
When Kristen learned she could spend a summer out of state and still earn credits toward her degree, she jumped at the opportunity. She decided on sunny San Francisco and enrolled in a photography class at the University of California, Berkeley. Kristen went on Craigslist and found a $500 room for rent in nearby Oakland. The Modaferris weren’t exactly thrilled that Kristen would have four male roommates but they trusted her to make the right choices.
Kristen arrived in San Francisco on June 1, 1997 — her 18th birthday. The very next day, she found a job at Spinelli, a coffee shop inside Crocker Galleria Mall in the San Francisco financial district. Kristen spent the next three weeks sightseeing and immersing herself in all the city had to offer. She called her parents and told them she was having the time of her life.
Then, one day, the calls stopped coming.
On June 23, 1997, Kristen worked the morning shift at Spinelli. She told her co-workers it was her last day of freedom before classes started and asked for recommendations, ultimately stating she might visit the Sutro Baths, a tourist attraction. Kristen asked her colleagues for bus directions and left shortly after her 3 pm shift ended. At 3:45, two co-workers saw Kristen on the upper level of the mall with a blonde-haired woman. Kristen was never seen or heard from again and to this day, the mysterious blonde-haired woman has never been identified or come forward.
The Modaferris tried to call Kristen the next day but there was no answer. On June 27th, they grew concerned and left her a voicemail on her landline asking her to call them back. Kristen’s roommates heard the message and informed Bob and Debbie that they hadn’t seen Kristen in four days. The couple reported their daughter missing that very day and booked a flight.
Since Kristen was legally an adult, Oakland PD refused to take a report, insisting she would return on her own. They only started to take her case seriously after she missed the first day of her photography class on June 30th — the entire reason she was in San Francisco in the first place. Kristen was very excited about the class and she paid the $1,000 tuition with her own money. She also failed to pick up her last paycheck of $400. All signs pointed to foul play.
Scent-sniffing dogs tracked Kristen’s scent to a bus stop just outside the Crocker Galleria Mall all the way to Sutro Heights Park where the Sutro Baths are located. From there, they lost her scent.
The Modaferris searched Kristen’s room for clues and found a Bay Guardian newspaper stuffed into her trashcan. Circled was a personal ad looking for friends. Investigators believe Kristen placed the ad but Bay Guardian didn’t store any records to confirm whether she placed it or whether someone else placed it and Kristen merely responded to it.
On July 10, 1997, two and a half weeks after Kristen disappeared, a man called a San Francisco news station claiming that two women who worked at a local YMCA were responsible for Kristen's disappearance. Authorities spoke to the two women. They denied the allegations, insisting that a deranged man named Jon Onuma was likely trying to frame them because they had fired his girlfriend, Jill Lampo. The women claimed that Jon had been harassing them for weeks.
Investigators ultimately concluded that the two women were not involved and brought Jon in for questioning. He admitted making the story up because he wanted vengeance for Jill.
After Jon was named a POI in the case, he moved to Hawaii. Shortly after, he told his former landlord he had left a briefcase hidden in the attic and desperately needed to retrieve it. Instead, the authorities seized the briefcase, and inside was a stack of papers regarding Kristen’s case.
Kristen lived at 278 Jayne Avenue with four male roommates, all of whom were interviewed and cleared. None of them really knew Kristen well since she had only lived with them for 3 weeks and was rarely ever home. Unfortunately, the house wasn’t in the safest area and Kristen walked 1 mile home from work at 11 pm most nights. Next door is 274 Jayne Avenue which at the time was a halfway house for youth offenders. In 2015, scent-sniffing dogs alerted to the alley between both homes. DNA testing revealed it matched samples provided by the Modaferris.
The search for Kristen Modafferi continues 25 years later.
“The city of Charlotte has (been) wonderful support for us. Our friends at work and our friends at school and our church and just people. Strangers, coming up and giving us hugs many years later and reminding us that we still remember. We still remember, and we still pray for your family…I tell people often, ‘Don’t feel bad bringing her up. We love talking about Kristen…I just want to say thank you for keeping us in your prayers and in your thoughts. We have felt it over the years.” — The Modafferi family
Kristen was last seen wearing a black Spinelli t-shirt with a blue plaid shirt, tan pants, and sneakers, carrying a green backpack. Today, she would be 43. If you have any information, submit an anonymous tip at Find Kristen or call PI Dennis Mahon at 914-483-7214.
A $50,000 reward is available.
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