Finding Lynsie Ekelund

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

I met Nancy Ekelund in 2009. By then, she'd sold the Placentia home she had shared with her daughter and moved to Fullerton. Now living alone, she worked as a switchboard operator for an insurance company. In her free time, she tirelessly continued to keep her daughter's memory in the public consciousness. While writing for the Torch, I received a voice mail from her. After introducing herself, she counted off how many thousands of days it had been since her daughter disappeared. I don't remember the exact number, but it would have been close to 2,900. She kept track of every day her daughter had been missing with a pad of Post-it notes.

We met at a Burger King in Brea. She held more than a passing resemblance to Mary Tyler Moore, and she spoke in a high-pitched, almost girlish voice, her jaw clenched tightly together so that the corners of her mouth turned down in a perpetual frown. She explained how she spent years calling police to check on the progress of the case and speaking to any media outlet that would listen, including The John Walsh Show and self-proclaimed psychic James Van Praagh.

The extremely close relationship mother and daughter shared had been forged by a car accident in which 5-year-old Lynsie had been thrown from the vehicle. Nancy spent more than a year by her daughter's side as she endured lengthy hospital stays and multiple surgeries. Later, they took classes together at Fullerton College, worked at the same cleaning company and volunteered at Placentia-Linda Hospital.

McAmis' booking photo
Orange County Sheriff’s Department
McAmis' booking photo
The corner where McAmis claimed he left Lynsie
Brandon Ferguson
The corner where McAmis claimed he left Lynsie

The last evening she saw her daughter alive was a bit out of the ordinary. "Every single Friday like clockwork, we would go out to dinner together," Nancy recalled. "She called me at work and said, 'Mom, I have a chance to stay over at a girlfriend's house.'"

That friend was Meyers, whom McAmis had mentioned to me when I interviewed him. Amy Krier was supposed to join them that evening, as well as McAmis, who picked Ekelund up around 6 p.m. Friday.

"Chris came to the door; he was very personable," said Nancy. "He had a white, king-cab pickup. I walked out with both of them. That was the last time I saw her."

The following morning, Lynsie was supposed to tutor a couple of girls from the neighborhood. She never showed up. "In the afternoon, I really started to wonder," Nancy said. "I didn't know Andrea's number. I couldn't call her."

As panic began to set in, Nancy phoned hospitals, police, even McAmis, who insisted he had dropped her off by her home at 11:30 Friday night.

"He said he left her at the corner, but our house was two doors down from the corner," Nancy recalled. "Any gentleman would walk a lady to the door."

Nancy said police had revealed little about what they knew. After meeting with her, I visited the Placentia Police Department and spoke with Detective James McElhinney. He wasn't keen on giving me many details, either.

With the kind of hard-eyed poker face cops are notorious for, McElhinney offered only a bare-bones summary of the case: There were no formal suspects, Ekelund had gone to San Diego with one male and two females, and her disappearance was classified as a "no-body homicide." He couldn't say anything beyond that. When I mentioned that McAmis had claimed there were two males and several females present that night, McElhinney snickered."Yeah," he said. "He's told us a lot of things over the years."

Although McElhinney wouldn't elaborate, years later, when I reviewed interview tapes, I discovered police had been aggressively chasing down leads, and McAmis was only one of the many people they had questioned. Also of particular interest to officers was an elderly Brea resident named Martin Pregenzer who had been spending time with Ekelund before her disappearance.

"He used to take her everywhere as her dad," Nancy told me. "He took her to dinner; he'd buy her clothes. All of a sudden, she turned up with a beautiful leather jacket. And I said, 'Whoa, my clothes aren't even like this.'"

I visited Pregenzer at his house one afternoon, just as his wife returned from a trip to the grocery store. Standing on his front porch, I asked if he would answer some questions about his relationship with Ekelund. He seemed reluctant to talk, but he answered my questions, explaining he was driving around town one day when he saw Ekelund crossing the street and struggling with a bag she was carrying. He offered her a ride, the two became friends, and the next thing he knew, perhaps because Ekelund didn't have a car and he had nothing better to do, he'd become something akin to her chauffeur. After she vanished, he said, the police brought him in.

"They raided the house and scared the crap out of my wife," Pregrenzer said, adding that police took him to the station and questioned him for hours. In particular, they wanted to know his whereabouts the night Ekelund had vanished. Pregenzer pointed to his leg. "I got replaced knees; I got a replaced hip," he said. "I was in bed."

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