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The Disappearance of Jenna Van Gelderen

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The Disappearance of Jenna Van Gelderen

 Case File Overview

In August of 2017, 25-year-old Jenna Van Gelderen was housesitting/petsitting for her parents in the Druid Hills neighbourhood of Atlanta, Georgia while they were vacationing in Canada.

It’s believed that Jenna vanished during the early morning hours of August 19th shortly after talking and texting with a friend.

Jenna had plans to meet a friend at her parents’ home later in the day on the 19th. But when the friend arrived, Jenna and her vehicle, a dark blue, 2010 Mazda 6 sedan, were missing.

When Jenna’s brother Will arrived at the home on the 19th to check on his sister, he discovered the door to the house was locked and the TV and lights had been left on. Jenna was nowhere to be found.

After 24 hours had passed, and no one had heard from Jenna, her brother reported her missing.

On September 5th, the police located Jenna’s vehicle parked along Defoor Place off Chattahoochee Avenue in northwest Atlanta. A witness had contacted the police when she recognized the car on her way to the gym after seeing information about the case on Facebook. Jenna’s car was almost out of gas, and her suitcase was found inside.

The police have not made public the condition of the car or if any other evidence was located inside or around the vehicle. Jenna’s father has mentioned to the media that police reviewed video footage from a camera placed on a recording studio near where Jenna’s car was located. The content of the footage has yet to be shared.

Jenna Van Gelderen

Photo of missing person Jenna Van Gelderen
Image source: Help Find Jenna Van Gelderen Facebook page 

Jenna is 4-foot-11 (150 cm), weighs 140 lbs (64 kg), and has dark brown hair and brown eyes. She also has high-functioning autism.

Jenna remains missing.

Case File Theories

Jenna ran off to start a new life

Did Jenna run off to escape her family and enjoy the freedom of a new life? This theory is often discussed in most missing person cases. Even though Jenna has high-functioning autism, she works hard to be independent. She earned an Office Administration certificate from Gwinnett Technical College. Also, Jenna moved out of the family home during the spring of 2017 and refused to share her new address with her family. When Jenna realized that her cell phone attached to the family account was monitored, she sourced a second cell phone to ensure her privacy. Jenna is a young, vibrant woman, and it appears as though it’s important for her to feel independent.

Regardless of her desire for independence, though, Jenna was typically in daily contact with her parents or brother. Moreover, as a result of her high-functioning autism, she has developmental disabilities that affect her social interactions, making it unlikely that she would be able to fend for herself too long without contacting her loved ones for support. Could Jenna have orchestrated an elaborate plan to escape what she may have perceived as an overprotective family? I don’t think so. Even more, she was an active social media user and texter with a large social circle. After her communication with her friend during the early morning hours of August 19th, Jenna’s digital footprint, like Jenna herself, disappeared. I find it very unlikely that Jenna would cut off all contact with friends and family and be able to maintain this silence for such an extended period of time.

Also, although Jenna’s suitcase and two cell phones were missing from her parents’ house (with the suitcase being found later in her car), her phone chargers, shoes, and cosmetics were left behind, all items that she would likely take with her if she planned on being away for long. This leads me to believe that the suitcase was planted in her car to make it appear as though she left of her own volition.

Although I’d love to believe that Jenna is off living a happy, carefree life under an assumed name, I doubt this is the case. Jenna’s father, Leon, told the media, “There was no reason to believe she would leave unexpectedly.” Until I get proof otherwise, I trust his parental instincts.

Jenna was abducted or killed by a stranger

Did a stranger abduct and/or murder Jenna from her parents’ home? To me, this is more likely than the suggestion that Jenna decided to run off and begin a new life. However, I think this theory is almost as improbable. Jenna could have been stalked by someone, I suppose. Or maybe a burglar had noticed her family leaving for holidays, seized the opportunity to break into the home, and happened upon Jenna. Strangely, a World War II tapestry was missing from the home; it had been carefully cut out of a frame on the wall. This is especially odd, as it was worth only a few hundred dollars and other items of more obvious value were left behind. If a burglar had been interrupted during a robbery attempt by Jenna, why not just flee the home? Why abduct and/or kill Jenna? And why take the time to cut an inexpensive tapestry from its frame? There has been little suggestion that Jenna was abducted or killed by a stranger. Unless evidence surfaces that supports this theory, I’m putting it aside.

Jenna was abducted or killed by someone she knew

Was Jenna abducted and/or killed by someone that she knew? This is the most likely theory. Jenna’s father has explained that the police have three main suspects in Jenna’s disappearance, but little about these suspects is being made public. This isn’t surprising, seeing as this is an active, ongoing investigation.


The list of possible suspects could include Jenna’s roommate. When Jenna moved out of the family home, she rented a room from a friend. This roommate apparently told both Jenna’s father and the police that Jenna was behind on her rent and that he was going to throw her stuff outside. He also didn’t let the police search the apartment, and the authorities didn’t have enough evidence to get a search warrant seeing as by all accounts Jenna had disappeared from her parents’ house. I question her roommate’s actions and lack of concern for Jenna. Does it indicate guilt? I’m not sure. He could just be an inconsiderate and thoughtless ass.

Criminal friend(s)

Another possible suspect could be the “friend” who apparently extorted Jenna into stealing money from a pet store that she had worked at for years. As a result of this theft, Jenna was charged with a misdemeanour and lost her job. Jenna’s father explained that due to her high-functioning autism, Jenna was “very impressionable” and had “been taken advantage of by a lot of people.” Could this so-called friend have also talked Jenna into another scheme that led to her disappearance? Perhaps. Jenna’s father also reported that Jenna is “very gullible, susceptible, enticed very easily and she doesn’t perceive danger the same way the rest of us do.” Taking this into consideration, the suspect pool widens dramatically; Jenna could have been lured into a dangerous situation by an old “friend” or by someone she had just met seeing as Jenna trusts people quickly and easily.


No doubt a strong suspect in Jenna’s disappearance is her unnamed ex-boyfriend. He told the police that Jenna stopped by his house on the evening of the 18th. While she was there, he stated that he broke up with her. And he was the last person to see Jenna. Incredibly, he told the police that Jenna was a prostitute and a drug addict. This misinformation was believed by the police, attributed to Jenna’s brother Will and shared in media reports, and, ultimately, it led to a heartbreaking misidentification. The police reportedly mistakenly informed Jenna’s family that Jenna had been found, when in fact they had merely picked up a prostitute for solicitation who happened to be named Jenna. Is Jenna’s boyfriend involved in her disappearance? Considering that most women who are killed are murdered by someone they are in a relationship with or know well, it’s a strong possibility.

Overall, this theory brings with it more than an ample number of possible suspects. Therefore, I believe that it’s highly probable that Jenna met with foul play at the hands of someone she knew.

What do you think happened to Jenna?

Jenna’s loved ones will never stop searching for her, and they deserve answers. A very active Facebook page is maintained by Jenna’s family to help find Jenna. Be sure to check out the Help Find Jenna Van Gelderen Facebook page, and like the page to stay updated on developments in the case.

Jenna Van Gelderen

Photo of Jenna Van Gelderen missing person flyer
Image source:
Help Find Jenna Van Gelderen Facebook page

Jenna’s father recently stated on Facebook, “Someone knows something,” and it’s time for that someone to come forward.

If you have any information about Jenna’s disappearance, please contact Crime Stoppers at 404-577-TIPS or the DeKalb County Police Department at 770-724-7600. There is a $25,000 reward in this case.

Related Reading and Listening

Help Find Jenna Van Gelderen – Facebook page

Jenna Van GelderenThe Vanished Podcast episode

“Jenna Van Gelderen’s car is found in Georgia, but she remains missing”NBC News article

“Family fears missing 25-year-old woman was taken against her will” – The Atlanta Journal Constitution article

“New reward offered to help find missing woman”WSB TV Atlanta article

“Family slams police report allegedly calls their missing daughter a prostitute” article

Interested in missing person cases? Check out the disappearance of Asha Degree and mysterious vanishing of DA Ray Gricar.

Liked it? Take a second to support Christine on Patreon!
Published inMissing Person FilesTrue Crime



  1. Todd Todd

    This is a very interesting case to me. My son graduated from Georgia Tech last year in Atlanta and works in Atlanta and my daughter got her LHD from Mizzou and does research on Autisum and autistic children.. I’m going to show her this interesting article and get her opinion… I’m leaning boyfriend or roomate.. I hope she’s safe and shows up soon! Keep up the great work Christine!

    • Christine Christine

      Hi Todd. First off, you have some amazingly brilliant children and must be proud! I’d love to hear your daughter’s take on this case. Like you, I am thinking it was the boyfriend (or maybe the roommate). I really want Jenna to show up one day and have it turn out that she just needed some time away. I’m really sad to say that I have a bad feeling that won’t be the case. I hope I’m wrong. Anyways, her family deserves some answers. And if you read about the case online, it appears that the police may have bungled the case quite a bit, especially in the beginning. I really feel for the family.

  2. Todd Todd

    Phd not LHD.. I’m not very good with technology

    • Christine Christine

      Ha ha! I recently finished my PhD in English, and I also can’t get the spelling right, so no worries! 🙂

  3. Did the cops do a check to see what ex convicts live nearby? Ones especially who were rapists? Was there any video footage of her in nearby stores or restaurants? Maybe it was the befriend! Maybe she was pregnant? Did anyone talk to her doctors?

    • Christine Christine

      Hi Lorraine. Thanks for reading and for taking the time to comment. All good questions that unfortunately the police are not releasing answers to at the moment. In the post it does mention that there was surveillance where her car was found, but it hasn’t been made public what, if anything, was usual on the footage. And, as I suggested, her boyfriend (or ex, as he said he just broke up with Jenna) is likely one the three suspects that aren’t being publicly discussed. Was she pregnant? This info hasn’t been released either. Great idea to check the area for registered sex offenders though, and I sure hope the police did. Thanks again for your insights!

  4. Prodigal Daughter? Prodigal Daughter?

    I think she wanted to disappear. She had stolen thousands in cash from her employer and had been arrested for it in March 2017. She disappeared in August, which is very soon thereafter. She was released on a $3000 cash / signature bond and was facing upcoming criminal court proceedings and consequences that her parents would not be able to shield her from. We know, based on her handling of life, her fraught relationships with family (who did not even know where she lived) and friends (sleeping on friend’s couch, behind in rent to him, on verge of being asked to leave), that was was not adept at managing her problems. Perhaps she was struggling with a substance abuse problem, and that’s where the money went. She seems to be connected to some very questionable people. She probably wanted to avoid court and who knows if she met a terrible fate or not. The family insisted she was taken from her home and frightened the community. The truth was very different. They discount any negatives that are said about her — her boyfriend said she was abusing drugs and prostituting — they say he is disgruntled. Yet she was trying to unify with him. The police say that the brother confirmed the boyfriend’s statement, but the parents deny. This is all very strange. Hope she is ok and comes home. Soon.

    • Christine Christine

      Hi – Thanks for reading and for taking the time to comment. You make some good points. I have no doubt that Jenna made some mistakes and got mixed up with the wrong people, which her family admits in interviews. Given the turmoil in her life, I suppose it’s possible that she decided to run off. However, I believe that the theft charge was only a misdemeanor, so maybe not something worth running off for. Also, as my article suggests, given her high-functioning autism and near-obsessive social media use, I find it hard to swallow that she could manage to disappear and stay hidden for this long. Like you, though, I do find it odd that she distanced herself from her family to such an extent. But, I imagine that as a young woman with special needs, it must have been difficult trying to navigate wanting independence while also requiring support from an overprotective family. On the prostitution issue, I really do think that it was the boyfriend and not the brother who suggested that to the police. And I think it was misinformation. But it’s impossible to know for sure. I have feeling it’s just a red herring in the case. Anyways, I agree with you that it’s all strange. I also hope more than anything that you are right and Jenna took off on her own and might be home soon. Sadly, however, I deeply worry that isn’t the case. ~ Christine

  5. Chloe Chloe

    Having read of a similar case of a woman who seemed by all mean to be a devoted and loving mother, daughter, and friend who made a similar mistake (stealing money from her job and facing a misdemeanor chart) and disappeared, only to finally be found years later having entirely abandoned her previous life to avoid that charge, I am inclined to believe that this is likely be a voluntary disappearance. Given her autism, however, it also appears that she was assisted in her plan. Nothing gives indication of foul play. Even the takkng of the tapestry appears to be more personally motivated than anything else. This is still only a year old. I cannot say for certain, obviously, that she is alive and well; but all the information presented indicates that she disappeared voluntarily with someone else’s assistancs, perhaps even persuaded to do so by that person using the criminal charge as leverage. Who assisted her and to what end remains rather convoluted, if this theory is accurate; but since this case is still only a year old, I truly believe that there is a good chance that she will eventually resurface alive and well. Her own skills should not be underestimated. She managed to rent an apartment, move, and live there entirely without assistance and keep the entire process from her family.

    • Christine Christine

      Hi Chloe. Thanks for sharing your great insights. You are right; Jenna may have decided to leave (although as you pointed out I think she would have needed assistance to pull off a successful disappearance). But I find it hard to believe she still would not have contacted her loved ones who she was very close with. But you never know. I love this optimistic theory and sincerely hope that it is true and that Jenna is alive and well. I am sure many of our readers would love to check out the similar case you mentioned at the beginning of your comments, so if you get a chance please share the case name. Thanks again for taking the time to share your thoughts; we really appreciate it!

      • Chloe Chloe

        It may be difficult to fathom how someone could just walk away from their loved ones, but everyone reacts differently when faced with challenges. The woman of whom I speak is Michelle McMullen, and she walked away from loving parents and a young son. This article has a link to the full “Disappeared” episode in which her story was featured and that ultimately led to her recovery.

        • Christine Christine

          Thanks for the link to the case, Chloe. After reading the article, I think I do recall the Disappeared episode.

  6. Joe Kulik Joe Kulik

    Whatever the particular circumstances of a missing person case, if there is no sign of foul play then a rational possibility must be that the person voluntarily disappeared. The job of police is to investigate crime, but in a missing person case with no sign of foul play there is no evidence of a crime. Hence, beyond an initial search, any further efforts by police are a big waste of police resources and tax payer money. To go further, police must look for a crime that is not substantiated by evidence. They are wasting money and resources on a crime that very well may have never happened. If the family of the disappeared person can’t understand this then they need professional psychiatric services to help them cope with reality, not more wasted police resources. Of course the parents always say that the person Would NEVER disappear voluntarily, but what do you expect people who Have Been DUMPED by their own child to say ? That this woman had s residence that was unknown to her family gave her plenty of opportunity to prepare to disappear voluntarily. Many people who disappear voluntarily do so in a way that is sudden and suggests foul play because they want to spare their family the truth — That They DUMPED Them. The job of police is not to carry on a family’s personal Soap Opera but to investigate crime. No sign of foul play = Nothing much for the police to do for me. I say this as a tax payer who has some right to say how his tax dollars should be spent.

    • Christine Christine

      HiJoe. Thanks for reading and for taking the time to reply. I agree it’s important to be cognizant of police resources, but given all of the potential suspects in this case noted in the article, I’m not ready to rule out foul play. Yes, people do sometimes leave to start a new life, but it’s actually really rare and they often do eventually contact a friend, loved one, use social media, use their ID, etc. Whenever I start cringing at the amount of money spent on any case, I think about what if my son went missing. I wouldn’t want any expense spared. I may not agree with your view, but thank you for sharing it and contributing. Take care and thanks again.

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