Finding Lynsie Ekelund

How the search for a missing Fullerton College student began with Chris McAmis, the last man who saw her alive

Finding Lynsie Ekelund

Chris McAmis wasn't officially a murderer back in January 2009. But as I sat in my car outside his Fullerton home, waiting for him to return from work, this fact failed to bring calm to my buzzing nerves. After all, McAmis was the last person known to have seen Lynsie Ekelund, a 20-year-old Fullerton College student who had mysteriously disappeared on Feb. 16, 2001, and I was pretty sure he'd killed her.

In the eight years since Ekelund had vanished, McAmis maintained he'd dropped her off on her quiet north Placentia street after returning from a trip with several friends to San Diego. But nobody had seen Ekelund since. Over the years, her image had been beamed from television screens and plastered across the pages of newspapers including The Orange County Register and the Los Angeles Times. But McAmis had largely avoided speaking to the press about Ekelund.

The mystery intrigued me. In 2009, when I was student journalist for Fullerton College's Torch Magazine, I pitched an in-depth article about the girl's disappearance to my adviser, Jay Seidel. He told me to go with it.

Nancy Ekelund and OC District Attorney investigator Larry Montgomery at a victims'-rights rally in 2012
R. Scott Moxley
Nancy Ekelund and OC District Attorney investigator Larry Montgomery at a victims'-rights rally in 2012

I didn't know how McAmis would react when I ambushed him at his home. He had been married and divorced since Ekelund's disappearance, and his second wife was a Cambodian immigrant named Kim who was raising a daughter with McAmis; she also had children from a previous relationship. The evening sun cast an orange glow on the tree-lined suburban street as a small group of youngsters played in the driveway. When his large pickup truck pulled in, the kids ran to greet him, climbing into the bed of the vehicle and crowding around him.

I stepped from my car and approached McAmis, identifying myself as a reporter, and asked if he had any information about Ekelund.

"Oh," he said. "Nothing's happened with that for a long time."

Nonetheless, McAmis agreed to speak with me. We stood on the sidewalk and chatted about the night he went to San Diego with Ekelund and some friends. Baby-faced and slightly paunchy with receding red hair, he seemed eager to help me. He threw out the names of the people he recalled as having joined them that night: Andrea Meyers, Michael Plotnik, a woman from Denmark named Christianne Sarona. He told me they visited Lara Bollinger, who lived on campus at the University of San Diego.

"We just hung out for a little bit and talked about stuff and life— stuff like that," McAmis said.

After returning from the trip south, McAmis continued, he dropped Ekelund off at the corner of Rose Drive and Valparaiso Way in Placentia, mere yards from Yorba Linda's southern border. It was 2 or 3 in the morning, and Ekelund was worried about waking her mother, who expected her daughter to stay the night at Meyers' house. Instead of taking her to the door, at her request, he dropped Ekelund off two houses from her mom's. McAmis said he remembered making a U-turn on the street to exit the neighborhood as Ekelund waved goodbye from the corner. He said he didn't watch her walk to her front door.

Though he wasn't named publicly as a suspect, soon after she disappeared, McAmis said, police searched his truck and apartment for evidence of a crime. "Because I was the last person—they say I'm not a suspect," he stammered. "But I was the last person to see her, so they wanted to investigate my stuff, and they didn't find anything."

I asked what he did for a living. "Construction," he said. "Heavy equipment."

Before I left, McAmis's daughter, then about 1 year old, tottered over, her arms outstretched. He scooped her up. Butterflies were perched on a nearby hedge; she reached for them.

* * *

I first learned about Ekelund's disappearance while working in a copy center at Cal State Fullerton in 2001. On Feb. 27 of that year, 10 days after she went missing, The Daily Titan featured her in a front-page story with a yearbook photo of a pretty girl with brown hair cut in a bob, soft hazel eyes and a slightly crooked smile. It described a severe auto accident the girl suffered as a child; it left her with limited use of her left side and a tracheotomy scar.

Matthew Reynolds, police-services manager for the Placentia Police Department, told the Titan that police suspected foul play because Ekelund had vanished so suddenly and there was no activity on her bank account. "She had just whatever money she had on her," Reynolds said. "[It] doesn't appear that she had scads of money in her purse or something."

Questions of what could have happened to Ekelund lingered for a decade: Did someone snatch her from her mother's doorstep? Did the young woman, at the threshold of adulthood, skip town and start a new life? Did McAmis kill her? If so, where did he dispose of her body?

Years after the disappearance, while driving south on Rose Drive, I noticed a sedan in the lane next to me. There was a phone number plastered across the back windshield in large print along with a physical description of Ekelund. The vanity license plate read, "LL N ME." I later realized the woman driving the car was Ekelund's mother, Nancy; the LL stood for "Lynsie Leigh."

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