Youtuber finds a car underwater that disappeared 21 years ago 0:48
(WABNEWS) — When Margaret “Jan” Shupe Smith59, disappeared near Lakeland, Florida last year, leaving his family and police baffled.
He was due to pick up his daughter, Marley Shupe, after work on April 2, 2021, and was last seen driving a moss green Kia Soul. It was unusual for her mother not to show up, Shupe said. Smith was a feisty woman and she loved spending time with her grandchildren.RELATED
“She had a big heart, she was very kind and caring,” Shupe said. “She would give you the shirt if you needed it.”
Michelle Sanders, one of Smith’s relatives, told WABNEWS that she had been a big fan of a YouTube channel called Adventures with Purpose (AWP), which documented the work of a dive team.
AWP has made it its mission to help families find their missing loved ones across the country, and has helped solve 19 cold cases since 2019. Their YouTube channel It has almost 1.8 million subscribers and 15 million views a month, according to Jared Leisek, founder of AWP.
After Smith disappeared, Sanders said he presented the details of his case over the summer to AWP, knowing it might be a long shot. AWP agreed to take the case, and WABNEWS joined.
looking for answers
The group, which includes a diver and two cameramen as well as Leisek, set up a motor home and trailer last month. According to Leisek, they undertook a 45-day journey through the southeast, starting in Oklahoma, passing through Texas and reaching Florida.
“This trip stays a little further south,” Leisek told WABNEWS. “And we’ve never been to Florida for any other case. So this will be our first time in Florida, and we hope to be successful as well.”
The group didn’t start out solving cold cases, Leisek started the canal three years ago to document his diving trip with the goal of picking up 2,000 pounds of trash littering waterways in three months.
The mission evolved into the search for submerged vehicles.
“It didn’t take long, and it only took me two or three weeks to hit that target,” Leisek told WABNEWS.
“And in the process of doing this, I fast-forwarded about nine months finding cell phones and sunglasses and, you know, soda cans and just general trash. I accidentally collided with a vehicle that was 40 feet underwater in Portland.” , Oregon.”
The YouTube channel grew in popularity as viewers saw what it uncovered in the murky waters.
The group’s diving skills eventually caught the attention of Nathan Ashby’s family in Warren County, Missouri. Ashby, 22, went missing on July 31, 2019. He was last seen leaving for work in the early hours of the morning driving a van.
In August, authorities using sonar discovered a submerged pickup truck in the Missouri River, but river conditions deemed it unsafe for a recovery team to submerge in the water, according to a news release from the Missouri River. Warren County Sheriff’s Department.
On December 29, 2019, one day after Ashby’s birthday, AWP was able to successfully dive into the river and confirm that the van was his. Ashby’s remains were found in the vehicle.
Since then, the group has helped resolve 19 unsolved missing persons cases. Currently, they have a resolution rate of about 20%, according to Leisek. Last fall, during the group’s last tour, they went out to solve 27 cold cases in search of 36 missing people, according to the data from your website. They helped recover 11 people.
“We are so fortunate that these families have allowed us to share their stories with something so intimate and personal to them, with the understanding and appreciation that they have been able to find us because the families that came before them shared their stories,” Leisek said.
The divers do not charge families or the police for their services and are funded entirely through their social media channels and donations.
The group only handles cases where a crime is not suspected. Leisek adds that the older the case, the more speculation and rumors accumulate about what might have happened. He adds that many police departments may not have the resources on hand or the equipment that AWP has to search the water.
A last minute clue leads to a discovery
Last Tuesday, the AWP began searching bodies of water around the area where Smith was believed to have last been seen. After exploring various locations and finding two unrelated submerged vehicles, the group received a tip from the Polk County Sheriff’s Office. Smith was in a minor traffic accident the night she disappeared, deputies said, in a different area than the one they were looking for.
Before putting their case on hold, they decided to try one more time.
The next morning, they headed to a retention pond in a newly built neighborhood. According to Sanders, it was night when Smith disappeared and she couldn’t see well at night. Also, the neighborhood was under construction, which could have caused her to blend in with her surroundings and accidentally fall into the water.
WABNEWS was on the scene documenting the group’s efforts, when in the middle of the pond, just 18 inches below the surface of the water, the group’s sonar equipment picked up a vehicle that looked like a Kia Soul, the type of car in the one in which Smith was last seen.
One of the divers went under to check the license plate. It matched Smith’s.
The Polk County Sheriff’s Office was called to the scene. They pulled the car out of the water and the body of a woman was recovered inside. according to a press release. The remains have yet to be positively matched before it can be confirmed to be Smith, according to authorities.
“This was a tragic accident, and our prayers are with the family,” Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said. in the statement. “We are grateful to Adventures with Purpose for assisting us in locating the vehicle.”
Sanders added that the family has the closure it needs, and can now begin the grieving process.
“I have mixed emotions. I’m very happy and excited,” Sanders said. “On the other hand, my heart breaks for Marley, at least now he knows it was an accident.”
When the scene cleared, AWP packed up his gear and headed off to find a laundromat and a place to shower as his life on the road continues until his next case.
“I hope to keep doing this for the next five, 10, 15 years,” Leisek said. “I’ll do it while I can because, again, it’s in…human nature to help others.”
Leisek’s goal for the group is to do two tours a year, each 45 days long, across the United States.
“It is thanks to you, the viewers who watch, like, subscribe and share our videos and spread the word, that we are able and share it,” Leisek said. “So the next family can also find us in the same way.”
One of the items they sell through their website is an emergency window breaker and seat belt cutter, an item Sanders believes would have helped Smith escape.
“If more people had something like this, we wouldn’t have cases like Jan’s today,” he said.