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Twenty years after a 35-year-old Kingston mother’s disappearance from Roane County, the case still runs cold.
Karen Beard hasn’t been seen since Jan. 15, 1991.
Her car was abandoned near Center's Ferry Bridge, and personal items that someone would be expected to travel with were left in her Harriman home.
She was seven-and-a-half months pregnant with her third child and in the middle of a custody battle with her ex-husband, Reece Beard, over their then 8- and 5-year-old daughters.
She disappeared right before the court hearing.
“I knew from Day 1 that she didn’t run away,” said Beard’s stepfather, Thomas Schrzan of Shawnee, Okla. “My gut feeling was that she was abducted and murdered.”
A cold-case detective working on the matter tends to agree.
“We’re considering it a homicide investigation,” Detective Steven White said. “We’re working on it actively ... We have a promising lead and a witness or two possibly involved with the incident.”
It’s been a long road for Beard’s family.
Schrzan, Beard’s sister, Linda Farmer, who lives in California, and Beard’s two daughters, Sherrill and Sherrie, simply want her body to be found.
“We’re only interested right now in finding her remains,” Schrzan added. “We want to bury our daughter with the rest of the family in our family plot, and if the police can find out somebody and arrest somebody, that’s frosting on the cake, I guess.”
Schrzan is convinced that Beard’s body was placed in a metal box and thrown into the river.
White and James Robertson are leading the investigation out of the Roane County Sheriff’s Office Cold Case Unit. Both are retired officers from Florida who now live here and are volunteering their time.
In an e-mail to Schrzan Dec. 15, the day after a news release was sent out to East Tennessee media, White said, “We received a very good tip today which will take some work to put forth but will be done.”
Getting the case going strong again seems to have pulled Karen Beard’s family back together.
After her daughters found Beard’s sister — their aunt — Farmer, on Facebook, they were able to get in touch with Schrzan.
“They called me when this story started breaking,” Schrzan said.
“I just picked up the phone one day and a female voice says, ‘Grandpa Tom, is that you?’ I says, ‘It sure is.’
“I knew right away who it was, although I haven’t seen her since she was 5 years old,” he said.
Schrzan said Farmer wants them to all get together, have a sit-down and talk everything out.
“It would do the whole family some good, especially her daughters after they find out,” he said. “You know, they haven’t got all the facts yet.”
But there are worries.
“We have to sit down and talk to them, and that’s what Linda and I are worried about … After we tell them everything that happened, and what we believe happened, plus what we can substantiate, they might go into some kind of a trauma.
“I says, ‘Well they’re old enough now. They should be told the truth. It’s been kept from them for 20 years.”
Anyone with information regarding Beard’s disappearance is urged to contact the Roane County Sheriff’s Cold Case Unit at 376-5582.
Detectives White and Robertson can be reached at 399-1315 and 399-1366, respectfully.