BUTLER COUNTY, Ohio (FOX19) - The Katelyn Markham case has captured the attention of people all over the world, but nine years after the Fairfield woman disappeared, her killer has not been caught.
As time goes by, the unsolved case continues to deeply impact Katelyn’s family members and friends. Dave Markham, Katelyn’s father, often visits Creekside Park in Fairfield where there is a tree planted in his daughter’s honor.
Dave Markham describes Katelyn as a light in a sometimes dark world - a young woman who radiated warmth and compassion. Those who knew Katelyn best say she was never afraid to spread kindness through something as simple as a smile.
“I think everybody knows by now that she was very bubbly. She was just very warm, outgoing, positive, energetic, always wanted people to be happy," Dave Markham said. “She’s not forgotten, and she won’t be forgotten.”
Katelyn was known to be dedicated and passionate. Art was her future, and she knew it, even at the age of 21.
When she disappeared from her Fairfield condo nine years ago, seemingly leaving all of her future plans behind, it was not just uncharacteristic, it was suspicious.
According to early reports, Katelyn’s purse, keys and dog were all at her condo, but she was not there.
“Katelyn was supposed to report to work. She was a student,” retired Butler County Detective Frank Smith said. “She had never done anything like this in her life, and from the get go, the moment she was reported missing, foul play was suspected.”
Investigators say the last person to see Katelyn alive on Aug. 13, 2011 was John Carter, her fiancé at the time. He called 911 to report her missing:
911 Operator: “Where was she at midnight last night when you last saw her?”
John Carter: “She was at her house, going to bed, she wasn’t going out to do anything, she would have been in her bed, I mean I’ve been with her for six years she’s not deceiving.”
911 Operator: “And you guys didn’t have an argument or anything?”
John Carter: "Not at all.”
In the days after Katelyn’s disappearance, hundreds of volunteers flooded the Fairfield community, searching for any sign of Katelyn.
“I just want people to know that I feel she’s still alive, and people are telling me that she’s still around, so I want to keep that faith, I want to keep my spirits up and everything,” Carter said in 2011.
A glimmer of hope lingered for years but vanished in April 2013, when Katelyn’s remains were found at a dumpsite in Cedar Grove, Indiana, about 33 miles from Fairfield.
Katelyn’s death is now considered a homicide.
“A couple police officers knocked on the door, and I knew what they were there to tell me,” Dave Markham said.
Texas EquuSearch teams helped the Franklin County, Indiana coroner collect what they could find of Katelyn’s remains. Ohio Chapter Director Dave Rader said it was especially emotional because Katelyn’s father was there too.
“That was gut-wrenching to sit there and just watch a man take scoops of dirt and try to find pieces of what was left of his daughter,” Rader said. “We don’t normally do that, but he insisted on it, and how can you tell a father no?”
The discovery, although devastating, gave investigators new evidence.
In 2016 they announced they had a person of interest, someone who has never been named publicly.
Smith believes Katelyn knew her killer and probably called that person a friend.
“You have to look at the circle of either relatives or friends that possibly could be the suspect," Smith said.
As the case caught the eye of national news outlets and became the focus of a private investigator’s podcast, rumors started flying and tips started coming in.
Smith said those closest to Katelyn have been examined and questioned repeatedly, including her relatives and her then fiancé, Carter.
“Anytime that you have a person who disappears or a person who is a victim of a homicide, the immediate family, the immediate friends, are always looked at, and Mr. John Carter was scrutinized very heavily during this case,” Smith said.
Katelyn’s cause of death is currently unclear. Smith said one thing is certain - whoever dumped her body in Indiana knew the area quite well.
“Somebody had to have known that that was there," Rader said. "You couldn’t even see it from the road.”
Dave Markham said even if Katelyn’s death was accidental, the way her body was handled was horrific.
“If her death was an accident, that’s one thing. To take her body and drive it to Indiana and throw it off the side of the road... It’s not so accidental anymore,” Markham said.
Seven years into the investigation, another person popped up on the radar: convicted killer Michael Strouse.
Strouse is responsible for the 2018 death of West Chester woman Ellie Weik. He shares mutual friends with Carter.
“That individual was in Katelyn’s circle, so law enforcement is absolutely going to rip him apart and find out if there’s any connection between him and her demise," Smith said.
Strouse reportedly confessed to a fellow inmate that he killed a second woman named Shelly and left her body by a creek.
So far, investigators have not said whether they have connected him to Katelyn’s case in any way, but Fairfield police and West Chester police have had meetings.
A private investigator who looked into Katelyn’s case, J. Ryan Green, has pointed to Strouse as a solid suspect and potential lead.
“He might not be connected to it, but I can tell you that it sure looks promising," Green said in 2019.
Despite what has felt like potential breaks in the case, no one is facing charges connected to Katelyn’s death. The not-knowing haunts both Markham and Katelyn’s sister, Ally, yet the trauma has not stopped Dave from helping others in Katelyn’s name.
For years, he aided Texas EquuSearch in searches for the missing.
“Everybody else did it for me. Everybody else did it for Katelyn, so I can do it for somebody else," Dave Markham said.
Markham has since taken a step back from that. He said the pain of it all became too much to bear.
Now all he can do is wait and have faith that maybe in time, his broken heart will heal.
“I’ll never give up, never. She deserves it, and we all deserve it. The community wants answers,” Markham said. “I do believe that in time, when it’s the right time, we will know. We will have answers, and hopefully we will have justice.”
Carter declined an on-camera interview, but shared a statement regarding Katelyn and her case:
“I have never forgotten Katelyn, nor have I forgotten the lives she has affected. I ask God for justice in the understanding of her disappearance every day and hope that a light will be shed, and she and those affected can finally know the full truth. I also hope that anyone who knows anything about her disappearance will come forward and let us know what happened to her. She was a beautiful woman inside and out, that was taken from us too soon.”
Smith says Katelyn’s killer is likely still somewhere in the area. He would not say if he believes he knows who did it.
Several law enforcement agencies have helped with the case, including the Butler County Sheriff’s Office, but as of now, Fairfield police are leading the investigation.
To be clear, investigators have not said if Strouse is a suspect in Katelyn’s case, and investigators have not identified the 2016 person of interest.
Anyone with information on Katelyn’s unsolved murder is asked to call Fairfield Police at 513-867-6094, Crime Stoppers at 513-352-3040 or the Butler County Sheriff’s Office at (513) 785-1000.
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