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SUV pulled from Ohio River linked to mother, 2 children missing since 2002; all presumed dead

Published: Oct. 15, 2021 at 7:35 AM CDT|Updated: Oct. 15, 2021 at 4:33 PM CDT
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AURORA, Ind. (WXIX/Gray News) - Police have ruled out any kind of foul play from a third party in a 19-year-old missing person investigation related to an SUV that was pulled from the Ohio River Thursday night, WXIX reported.

The Delhi Township Police Department began looking into the disappearance of Stephanie Van Nguyen, 26, and her two children, 4-year-old Kristina and 3-year-old John in April 2002.

Police believe the mother deliberately drove the car into the water killing herself and her children.

“Her and the children perished in the vehicle,” retired Delhi Police Detective Bob Schwaeble said.

Van Nguyen was last known to be driving her 1997 Nissan Pathfinder, state police said.

Schwaeble says there is little doubt in his mind because of a letter that Van Nguyen left for her parents after she went to a bank and drew out some money.

“Her parents returned from an overseas trip and found a note with that money, or a majority of that money. A large amount of jewelry and in the note, it said, ‘use this money and the jewelry to pay for the funeral for me and the children. I’m going to drive into the Ohio River down by Grand Victoria,’” he said.

Schwaeble says Van Nguyen was a dealer at the old Argosy casino. He says she was having marital problems and didn’t want her husband to have the kids.

The SUV removed from the Ohio River on Thursday that police say is connected to a 2002 missing...
The SUV removed from the Ohio River on Thursday that police say is connected to a 2002 missing persons case involving a mother and her two children.(Indiana State Police)

Delhi police relied on sonar technology to spot the car 300 feet from the bank and in 50 feet of water Thursday night.

“Without sonar, we would have been... there’s no way we would have found this vehicle,” Lt. Macaluso said.

Macaluso says Officer Heather Taylor, who was just 16 years old when Van Nguyen and the kids went missing, took it upon herself to reopen the cold case investigation.

“We were coming up on the 20-year anniversary, and we wanted to bring closure for this family,” he said.

Police say Van Nguyen acted solely on her own.

Indiana State Police Investigators are examining the SUV to determine if Nguyen or her two children were inside.

“You know, we’re looking at 19 years so, you know, a lot can happen in that time frame of a vehicle being in the water. Hopefully, we’ll provide answers at some point, you know, especially to that family who’s been without their loved ones for so many years without knowing those answers,” Sgt. Stephen Wheeles of the Indiana State Police said.

Macaluso said he recently spoke to the family.

“Right now, I think they were in probably a little bit of shock to the fact that the vehicle is found. I’m sure they’re going through a range of emotions as far as maybe some relief and maybe some sadness as a result of knowing their loved ones are gone,” he said.

The vehicle itself is in the custody of Dearborn County Emergency management and the coroner’s office.

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