On July 17th, 2018, 24-year-old Danniella Vian went out to celebrate a major life milestone with some friends. They began hitting up some bars in Mobile, Alabama, and as the night unfolded, Danniella would go missing. For close to a year, investigators and loved ones would wonder what had happened to Danniella and her vehicle…
Danniella Nickole Vian was born into a military family in Roswell, New Mexico.
Her parents later divorced, splintering their small family, and Danniella would spend her formative years growing up in the state of Kansas. There, not much is known about her personal life. But as a young adult, she began attending Kansas State University, which was where she met a young man named Tyler Thomas.
Thomas was a soldier who was stationed at a nearby military base, and - soon enough - the two had started dating.
In December of 2013, the two welcomed a child into this world: a daughter named Cora, who - from birth - would be raised primarily by Tyler's mother, Julie Dykes Thomas. Danniella and Tyler would remain close with Cora and with Julie - their child's grandmother - but seemed to be young adults that were struggling to get their own lives together. They were in no fit state to raise a child on their own.
Eventually, Tyler left the military, and both Danniella and he moved closer to Tyler's family in Mobile, Alabama. Danniella was not close with her own family, and seems to have grown pretty estranged from them. Moving to Mobile was a major change for her, and a chance to hit the restart button on life.
In 2016, Danniella and Tyler moved into an apartment together near Mobile's Medal of Honor Park. However, at this point, their relationship seems to have splintered somewhat, despite them dating for several years. The year prior - 2015 - had seen an unsuccessful effort by Tyler to file for custody of Cora, which accused Danniella of smoking weed around their daughter. This claim never went anywhere, but seemed to draw a line in the sand between the couple.
Their romantic relationship seemed doomed, but the two would apparently remain close to one another: not only continuing to live together for a while, but remaining friends.
In January of 2018, Danniella discovered that she was pregnant with her second child.
Because she was a 24-year-old that was still struggling to get her life on-track, she did not plan on keeping this child: who, she later found out, was a boy. She made plans for the child to be adopted out over the next several months, hoping that the boy's future family would do a better job raising him than she could at the time.
Tyler was not (believed to have been) the father of this child, as the relationship between Danniella and Tyler had soured by this point. At this point, Tyler had developed a dependency issue - which would continue to play out over the next several months - but he and Danniella remained close as friends.
The same month that Danniella had discovered she was pregnant - January of 2018 - she had also started working at P.F. Chang's, a popular Chinese-American restaurant chain where she worked as a server. This job seemed to be Danniella's stepping stone to a better life for herself and Cora, her daughter; with whom she wanted to prove herself to and eventually become a more involved, caring mother for. She was hoping to buying a car of her own - no longer having to rely on other people for transportation - and seemed to be making plans to do so before summer.
In June of 2018, Danniella was dropped off at the hospital by a friend of hers, where she had previously scheduled an appointment to be induced. She soon began delivering her second child, and was met at the hospital by Tyler, who wanted to show his support for Danniella. In the early morning hours of June 6th, 2018, she gave birth to a baby boy, who was eventually handed off to another family.
Later in the day, it was reported that Tyler Thomas - Danniella's ex-boyfriend - was arrested for a probation violation. It was a non-violent crime - likely related to drug use - but which resulted in him being locked up for the foreseeable future.
At this point, Danniella Vian was a 24-year old that was just trying to figure out her path in life. She had finally started to get momentum working in her favor - having a solid job, a two-room apartment of her own, and hopefully a vehicle of her own in the near-future.
On June 17th, 2018, Danniella wrote a list of goals for herself in her journal. These were not only major milestones she wanted to get passed, but personal goals she was hoping to achieve in the coming weeks and months.
This page of her journal can be viewed online, but Danniella labeled that page: "What is the next step after getting a car?"
Under "Things id like to do," Danniella listed:
- Get Cora's bedroom completely together
- Pay $200 towards a Capital One credit card
- Start school
- Pay Regions (likely some kind of debt owed to the aptly-named Regions regional bank)
- And, finally, pay library fee
Under "Personal goals," Danniella wrote:
- "Take Cora to school every day"
- "Make sure Cora is attempting a sport/dance"
- "Cora sleeping over 80% of the time"
Danniella Vian seemed to be working hard to build a better life for not only herself, but her daughter, Cora - who was now four years old. Not only was she looking to build a stronger relationship with Cora, but - within weeks of that journal entry - Danniella seemed poised to file for at least partial custody of Cora.
Unfortunately, she would never get the chance to.
On July 17th, 2018 - a Tuesday - Danniella was dropped off at a Pearls Motor car dealership in Mobile, Alabama.
Julie Thomas - the mother of Danniella's ex-boyfriend, Tyler, who was also the guardian of Danniella's daughter, Cora - was like a mother figure to Danniella. Even though the relationship between Tyler and Danniella had soured, these two remained close. On this day, Julie was the one driving to the car dealership, which was an exciting day for Danniella.
Speaking to reporters with Dateline months later, Julie recalled:
"I pulled up to the dealership. She went inside, got the keys, and got her car. She was all excited. I assumed she was going back to her apartment to get ready for work."
Danniella had financed her purchase of a 2014 Chevy Cruze, which was dark blue to the point of almost looking purple. The car had temporary plates on, and when Danniella drove away from the dealership lot - at around 1:00 PM - that was the last time that Julie would recall seeing her.
The next couple of hours are pretty scattered, with some reports indicating that Danniella headed in to work briefly, and even stopping by a nearby mall to pick up school supplies for Cora. However, other reports indicate that Danniella went home and slept for a few hours, waking up at around 5:00 PM - which, if you know anyone that's ever worked in the service industry, is not an unusual time to wake up.
We do know for a fact, though, that Danniella eventually made it to an establishment named Heroes Sports Bar & Grille, where an old friend of Danniella's was working. Randy Capps, one of Danniella's friends - whom she had not seen in a while - was working as the bartender, and Danniella decided to pay him and his group of friends a visit.
Reports indicate that Danniella arrived at the bar shortly after 5:00 PM, and met with Randy and a group of friends. This group of friends included a man and a woman who Danniella seemed to not really know ahead of time, named Denson White and Mallory Kenworthy, respectively. Like I said, Danniella wasn't exactly friends with these people, but seemed friendly enough to outsiders. They all visited for a bit - with Danniella's friend, Randy, working behind the bar - and stayed to watch the MLB All-Star Game.
They stuck around at Heroes for a bit, with Danniella celebrating her milestone of buying her own car. A few hours later, though - at around 9:00 PM - they all decided to head to another bar nearby. They were waiting for Randy to get off of work, and with an hour or so to kill, decided to meet up with him once he finished his shift.
In the meantime, this group of old and new friends headed to a bar named The Dublin Irish Pub and Eatery, which was located on Old Shell Road - near the University of South Alabama campus. They hung out at this bar - Dublin's - for a little over an hour, with Danniella texting and calling one of her girlfriends in the hopes of luring her out for a few hours. Unfortunately, her friend was working, and was unable to meet her.
At The Dublin Irish Pub, Randy eventually texted the group of friends, asking them to meet him at a third location they had previously talked about: Ollie's Mediterranean Grill, a restaurant and hookah bar that was just a few blocks away from Danniella's apartment. The three friends - Danniella, Denson White, and Mallory Kenworthy - set out from the bar in separate vehicles at around 10:45 PM.
This is where things began to grow complicated.
On the way from the 2nd location (Dublin's) to the third location (Ollie's) Danniella began flashing her lights at the car in front of her, which was driven by a man named Denson White. Both Denson and Danniella pulled over into a Shell gas station near Interstate 65 and Government Boulevard, which was closed at this hour.
There, Danniella told Denson that she had lost her phone, and might have left it behind at the bar they had just left, Dublin's. Taking this as a cue to go back and look for the phone, Denson got back into his car, and began heading back to Dublin's. He assumed that Danniella would be following him back, and when he last saw her, she was getting back into her car - presumably to follow him. However, by the time he made it back to the Irish-themed pub, Denson discovered that Danniella was no longer driving behind him.
According to reports, Denson was able to find Danniella's phone at The Dublin Pub & Eatery, and claimed to have waited for her to arrive for approximately 20 minutes. It has been reported that Denson then continued on to the third bar - Ollie's - where he met up with the rest of their friends. However, other reports indicate that he went home after dropping off the rental car he had been driving, about an hour later (at around 1:00 AM).
Randy Capps, Danniella's bartender friend, had texted Danniella and told her that he was off-work and headed out to Ollie's Mediterranean Grill, but claimed to have received no response from Danniella. He met up with their group of friends at Ollie's a little before 11:00 that night, and never saw Danniella again.
The following morning - Wednesday, July 18th - the grandmother and guardian of Danniella's daughter, Julie Thomas, received a phone call at around 7:30.
On the other end of the phone was Denson White, Danniella's friend from the night prior, who was looking to get Danniella's phone back to her. He told Julie that he had found it in a parking lot, and was looking to get it back to Danniella.
Julie told Denson to drop the phone off at Danniella's workplace, P.F. Chang's, where she was later expected to be at-work. Denson agreed, and Julie wrote off this phone call as a coincidence; she claims that it wasn't unusual for Danniella to lose or misplace her phone, so it wasn't a big deal.
However, over the next couple of days, Julie would have a hard time getting a hold of Danniella. She tried reaching her to let her know about her cell phone, eventually having Danniella's landlord put a note on the door of her apartment. Hours later, though, the note remained untouched, and it didn't appear like Danniella was at-home.
Julie expected Danniella to surface the next day - Thursday, July 19th - because Danniella had plans to visit with her daughter, 4-year old Cora. Danniella had many struggles in her life, but the one thing she didn't mess around with was time with her daughter. Once several hours passed without Danniella showing up, Julie began to suspect that something was terribly wrong.
On Friday morning - July 20th, nearly three days after Danniella had last been seen - Julie received another phone call from Denson White. He claimed that he still had Danniella's cell phone, and had not dropped it off at Danniella's workplace. He had continued trying to get it back to Danniella herself, and was hoping to hand it off to Julie and be done with it.
Julie told Denson that she was actually going to report Danniella missing that morning, and any information he had to offer would be appreciated. She had learned that Danniella had not shown up to work since at least Tuesday, and was now asking Denson to meet her at the police station to help fill in any time gaps she was unaware of. Thankfully, he did - arriving at the police station ahead of Julie and speaking to investigators for a few hours - telling police what had transpired on Tuesday night and when he had last seen Danniella.
Julie also spoke to police, providing a statement about her attempts to contact Danniella in the days prior.
That day - Friday, July 20th, 2018 - Danniella Vian was officially reported as a missing person.
The investigation to find missing 24-year old Danniella Vian was headed by the Mobile Police Department, who - at its inception - had six detectives working on the case.
Almost immediately, it seemed like this investigation was stalling, as police were unable to recover Danniella's belongings from the night she disappeared. Other than her cell phone, they were unable to recover either her car - the 2014 Chevy Cruze she had purchased on the day she went missing - nor any of the items she had with her. After stopping at the Shell gas station on Tuesday night, she seemed to have fallen off the face of the planet, and investigators would find it nearly-impossible to determine where the night had taken her.
There had been a GPS tracking device in Danniella's vehicle, which had been installed by the dealer - who maintained similar devices on all vehicles that were finances (just in-case the buyer decided to stop making payments). However, this GPS device had seemingly been shut off at or around the Shell gas station on the evening of July 17th, 2018. This indicated that - whatever had happened - was likely a premeditated act.
The loved ones of Danniella had indicated that the GPS was intentionally disabled, having been turned off at the gas station and never turned on again. However, it is possible that it was a device that only ever pinged when the car was started, which would mean that the last time the engine turned over was at the gas station. If so, that would mean the engine was never reignited after that, perhaps having been disabled before then at a separate location - wherever that might have been.
Reports have been pretty scattered about the extent of this GPS device, but it has been widely reported that information about this device came directly from the dealership where Danniella bought the vehicle. According to this claim, the vehicle last pinged at the Shell gas station where Danniella had pulled over to look for her lost cell phone, and where she was last seen.
Police were able to obtain surveillance footage from this gas station, which was a Shell station near Government Boulevard. This footage apparently shows two vehicles - likely Danniella's Chevy Cruze and Denson White's rental car - pulled in at around 11:05 PM on the night that Danniella disappeared (Tuesday, July 17th). The footage then shows Denson's rental car leaving just a couple of minutes later - at around 11:07 PM - which seems to validate what he had told police (about going back to retrieve Danniella's cell phone at the bar they had left minutes beforehand).
However, it seems like Danniella did not leave with Denson. She decided to stick around in the Shell gas station parking lot, likely looking for her phone inside her vehicle.
Moments after Denson left - at around 11:08 PM - security footage shows a third vehicle enter the parking lot. It is unknown if this was Denson returning, or an unknown third individual, but they seemed to stick around for several minutes. They would not leave for more than 15 minutes, leaving at the same time as Danniella's vehicle.
At around 11:24 PM, both Danniella's vehicle and this unknown third vehicle left the gas station parking lot, splitting up and heading in different directions. The unknown individual's vehicle headed in the direction that Danniella had arrived from - back towards the bar they had just left - and Danniella's car headed off in the opposite direction, towards a larger population center.
By the time her car left the gas station, the GPS device had already been turned off. It is unknown if Danniella was behind the wheel, with police only ever stating that she was last seen "occupying" her vehicle at the gas station.
Roughly one week after Danniella was reported missing - on July 26th, 2018 - this surveillance footage was released to the public by a local news station, but almost immediately, was taken down at the request of the Mobile Police Department. This was presumably done to maintain the integrity of the investigation, but police never disclosed why they did not want the footage to be made public, so... we can only assume.
It is possible that the security footage was so poor that police didn't want to tip their hand to the culprit just how vague their evidence was. Based on one frame from this video - which is all that's still publicly available from the footage - I consider this unfortunately likely. The image seems incredibly dark and shadowy, and it's hard to really make out any figures from it. If the rest of the footage is similarly shot, then it might not show much - and reveal why police have been so skeptic about their findings from this video.
It is unknown if police were able to pull security footage from other establishments in the area, such as a Waffle House that was across the street - or any of the other businesses that were just down the road. The location of this gas station is wedged in-between a commercial and residential area, so I can only assume that other companies along Government Boulevard had security footage facing the street, which might provide more information about the cars seen driving in-and-out of the gas station parking lot that night.
Denson White - one of the last known people to see Danniella Vian on the night she disappeared - has been an obvious target for speculation in the months since this story began unfolding.
Denson was hanging out with Danniella on the night in-question, and pulled into a gas station parking lot just minutes after leaving a bar with a group of friends. The two were seemingly alone in the parking lot for a minute or two, before Denson pulled out and returned to the Dublin Pub they had just left.
He then returned to the bar and found Danniella's cell phone, and his path from there seems a bit scattered. Some reports indicate that he met up with the rest of their friends at Ollie's Mediterranean Grill - a restaurant and hookah bar they had all planned to meet at - while other reports indicate that he dropped off his rental car and returned home at about 1:00 AM. It's possible he did both, but - other than a statement made to the police (which has not been publicly released) - Denson had not spoken publicly about the night in-question, and has remained pretty secretive about his friendship with Danniella.
The following morning, Denson still had possession of Danniella's cell phone, and through it, received a call from Danniella's on-again/off-again boyfriend, Tyler Thomas. Denson told Tyler that he had found the cell phone in a parking lot, and Tyler gave Denson the phone number for his mother, Julie Thomas (who was the grandmother and guardian of Danniella's daughter, Cora). This then led to Denson calling Julie, and follow-up conversation that ultimately led to Danniella being reported missing.
Denson seems to have been pretty open with police about his encounters with Danniella, and handed over Danniella's cell phone to her loved ones. As far as I know or (really) anyone know, he's done nothing but tell the truth and made numerous attempts to return Danniella's property to her. It doesn't seem like he had a sketchy history of any kind, so please don't take my inclusion of him in this story as anything other than a coincidence.
Police have stated that they've looked into all of Danniella's family and friends, and with Denson being perhaps the last known person to speak to Danniella before she went missing, has likely endured a fair share of skepticism by police. But - as of this moment - he has not been charged or even publicly suspected of any wrongdoing.
On July 25th, 2018, it was announced that investigation to find out what had happened to Danniella Vian - a missing persons investigation - was being handed over to homicide detectives. The stated cause was that police were hoping to lighten the workload for Mobile's missing persons investigators, and they claimed that there had been no information suggesting that Danniella had been killed.
This move, which wasn't necessarily unusual, is definitely intriguing, especially considering that the next day - July 26th, 2018 - Mobile Police Chief Lawrence Battiste insisted that there was no evidence of foul-play in Danniella's disappearance.
Nonetheless, the way that this case began to take shape suggested that something terrible had happened to Danniella, especially since her disappearance was so sudden. She had gone from having a successful, momentous day... to just being gone. No contact had been made with any of her friends or family, and she had made no attempt to get in-touch with her daughter, Cora - which, everyone insists, would have been her main priority had she still been alive and/or able.
More than two weeks after Danniella's disappearance - on August 2nd, 2018 - the Mobile Police Department published information about Danniella; not only in a press announcement, but in a detail-scarce blog online, which allowed members of the public to submit any information or tips they may have in the case.
The information circulated by Mobile P.D. stated that Danniella had last been seen on the 3500 block of Government Boulevard, at a Shell gas station just off of Interstate 65, in her blue 2014 Chevy Cruze (which still had temporary Pearl Motors license plates). At the time of her disappearance, she had been wearing a black and yellow Mellow Mushroom t-shirt, which is a regional pizza chain known primarily in the southeast, where Danniella had used to work. She was also reportedly wearing a pink baseball cap, black leggings (which might have been dark jeans), black Converse sneakers, and a blue/gray-colored button-up shirt, which was tied around her waist.
At a press conference held later that day, Police Chief Lawrence Battiste made a plea to the public to submit any information that they may have about Danniella's disappearance. He also announced a $2,000 reward for information - which would be more than doubled to a $5,000 reward a short time later.
In the wake of Danniella's disappearance, her loved ones banded together to organize a candlelight vigil, which was held at Medal of Honor Park, near where her apartment had been. This first vigil was held on July 27th, 2018 - exactly one week after she had been reported missing - and a second vigil would follow in October of 2018 (roughly three months after her disappearance).
In the interim period of time, these loved ones had helped keep Danniella's alive in the press - namely, by sharing her story on social media - and by making and handing out flyers with Danniella's information around locations in Mobile, as well as creating t-shirts with Danniella's face and name.
Tyler Thomas - Danniella's long-time boyfriend - was in police custody at the time of Danniella's disappearance. Roughly one week after she went missing - towards the end of July - he was let out of jail and checked into rehab. According to his mother, Julie - who remained the guardian of his and Danniella's daughter - he felt guilty about not being able to protect the mother of his child. Speaking to reporters from NBC's Dateline, Julie later stated:
"He has guilt of not being there with her to protect her when she went missing. So, of course, he is very mad. He's dealing with every emotion. He is worried that Cora's not going to have a mom. He is going to have to be the mom and the dad."
As for Cora - Danniella's daughter, who was just four years old at the time of her disappearance - she seemed to know pretty early on that something was wrong. Speaking to the same reporters from Dateline, Julie said about Cora:
"In the beginning, she just knew that Mommy was missing. But now, three months later, she has overheard more. As careful as you are, she's going to hear."
"[Cora] asked me if her mommy had passed on. I don't even know how she learned that language. I told her I don't know if she has passed on. I just wish I knew how to handle this with Cora."
Later that year - in December - Cora celebrated her fifth birthday, which was the first birthday she had celebrated without her mother present.
In September of 2018 - roughly two months after Danniella's disappearance - a man that lived in Theodore, Alabama was arrested.
This arrest had followed a police search on a property along Wigfield Road in Theodore - about 15 miles southwest of Mobile. The search - which had been preempted by a dramatic raid on the property - was believed to have some kind of connection to Danniella Vian's disappearance.
K-9 units, police recruits, and other officials were out there to conduct a search warrant, which took place over a large stretch of rural land. Police did not seem to find any evidence pertaining to their search, packing things up later that afternoon, but three people were held in custody following this search: including 36-year old Jason Corey Dykes, who was the cousin of Danniella's ex-boyfriend, Tyler Thomas. He was also the nephew of Julie Dykes Thomas, who was the guardian of Danniella's daughter, Cora.
Following this search, Jason Dykes was charged with unlawful imprisonment, domestic violence assault, and domestic violence strangulation; all of which were crimes that had been alleged by Dykes' long-time girlfriend. She told police that Dykes had been incredibly abusive, and had even imprisoned her in a room on numerous occasions (with a lock on the outside of the door).
Police would not state how this search and arrest pertained to the missing persons investigation of Danniella Vian, only that the two were loosely-connected in some obscure way. It has since been alleged that the victim - the ex-girlfriend of Jason Dykes - told police about threatening comments Dykes had made about Danniella in the past. This then made them take her own complaints much more seriously, and eventually led to the search of the property and the arrest of Dykes.
Some have pointed to the personal connection between Jason Dykes and Danniella Vian, as Danniella had dated Dykes' cousin, Tyler Thomas, for some time. In addition, Dykes is alleged to have been close with Cora, Danniella's daughter, who was raised by Dykes' aunt, Julie Thomas. Danniella and Jason were even Facebook friends, and it is believed that she had been to the searched property on at least one occasion, for a family gathering of sorts.
Dykes later pleaded not guilty to the charges leveled against him, and police have since refused to speak publicly about what involvement - if any - they believe Dykes had in Danniella's disappearance. He is presumed innocent of any charges, and only time will tell what led police to search the property he lived on in their quest to find Danniella Vian.
Months later, the search for Danniella Vian continued.
Danniella - who would have turned 25 - had not been seen or heard from since pulling into the Shell gas station on July 17th, 2018. Surveillance footage seemed to show her driving away from the location roughly 20 minutes later, but it was unknown if Danniella had been the person behind the wheel.
Police remained hesitant to label her disappearance the result of foul-play, which seemed to indicate that she might have run away or left of her own accord. To her loved ones, this just wasn't a possibility. Police would soon state that her disappearance did not seem to be voluntary, and that seemed to conflict with their earlier statements about there being no evidence of foul-play.
It was reported that Danniella had never used debit or credit cards, paying for everything with cash. After her disappearance, cash had been discovered in her apartment, indicating that she had not run away. After all, if she was to run away in her brand-new car, why would she have left behind money before doing so?
Other loved ones of Danniella pointed to her long list of goals as an indication that she had not - and would not - run away. She had just purchased a car, which was the first major milestone towards bigger and better things, and - in so many words - was a sign to her friends and family that she had finally gotten her shit together. It made no sense for her to have run away - at least, not anymore.
Another theory that loved ones had to try and publicly reject was the notion that Danniella had been involved in some kind of drug activity, which may or may not have played a part in her disappearance. This theory seemed to be tied into the legal issues faced by Tyler, her ex-boyfriend, who had gotten out of jail after Danniella's disappearance and checked into rehab. Many seemed to project his issues onto Danniella, and looked at her having possibly smoked weed in the past - as well as her using cash to pay for things, which is a legal tender - as some kind of indication to her living some kind of illicit lifestyle.
There seems to be no evidence whatsoever that Danniella was involved in any kind of drug activity, and this seems to have just been baseless speculation from people online.
The search for Danniella Vian would continue for several months, with each discovery of a submerged vehicle in a nearby body of water - or unidentified female remains - leading to hopes that answers would be close at-hand. However, it wasn't until May of 2019 - potentially just days or weeks ago, depending on when you listen to this - that some answers were finally found in this ongoing investigation.
In April of 2019, an off-duty police sergeant was out on a boat on the Bayou Sara: a long, sprawling river that extends out of the Mobile River towards the towns of Saraland and Satsuma.
The location he was at - roughly 15 miles away from the Shell gas station Danniella Vian had last been at - was located just off of a boat landing in a residential area, which is a public park visited by many in the area for some quiet boating, fishing, or swimming.
The sergeant was looking to map areas around the Bayou Sara for future dive training, which was being coordinated as a project between the Mobile and Saraland P.D.'s. As he explored the area, he picked up a figure on his GPS, which looked similar to a submerged vehicle. He had made a similar find in the past, which was determined to be a stolen car - so he suspected this would be the same thing. He marked the location on his GPS for later exploration, and planned to bring the dive team out to look at it later.
A week or so later, officials with the Mobile Police Department were conducted a training exercise in the Bayou Sara, along with officials from the Saraland Police Department. In particular, they were checking out locations previously noted by the sergeant, which included the odd object underwater that he wanted to check out.
On May 2nd, 2019, these dive teams discovered a blue Chevy Cruze, which - upon checking the tags - appeared to be a recently-bought or stolen vehicle. It still had its temporary license plates on, showing that it had once belonged to a local car dealership named Pearl Motors. Soon, it was theorized that this might be one of the area's high-profile missing vehicles, which police had been searching for for close to a year.
Later in the day, it was confirmed that the vehicle had indeed belonged to Danniella Vian, and it was the Chevy Cruze she had purchased on the day she went missing: July 17th, 2018.
Dive teams continued to examine the vehicle, with sources later telling news outlets that it seemed like the vehicle had been submerged for some time. According to insurance adjusters (who were familiar with water damage to vehicles), it seemed like the car had been submerged for around a year.
However, that wasn't the most surprising revelation of the discovery. Inside the vehicle were what appeared to be human remains, which were believed to be that of an adult woman... likely Danniella herself.
Mobile Police Chief Lawrence Battiste met with reporters, and spoke about what this discovery meant for Danniella and her still-unsolved disappearance - which was now being investigated as a homicide.
Tow trucks soon arrived at the scene, and began what was a lengthy process to pull the vehicle out of the water. Police did not want to destroy whatever crime scene might have been left behind inside of the vehicle, and did not pull the vehicle out of the water until Friday, May 3rd - the day after the Chevy Cruze was discovered by dive teams. The car was finally pulled from around the river at around 2:00 PM that day, and the human remains were taken away to a forensic lab for further testing.
Mobile Police Chief Lawrence Battiste was at the scene to speak to reporters, talking about the discovery and what it meant for the Danniella Vian investigation - which was now being officially labeled a homicide until further notice.
At the moment, it is not believed that Danniella's death is being considered an accident. For her to arrive at this boat landing, she would have needed to taken a route that would have taken her completely out of her way, and it was likely not an area that she was familiar with. It also would have required her to have purposefully disabled her vehicle's GPS tracking device at the last known location she was spotted at - before careening off into a body of water in a residential area roughly 15 miles away - creating a series of events that is wildly improbable, at the very least.
The discovery of Danniella's vehicle earlier this month has helped provide her loved ones with an idea of what happened to her - and helped quiet some of the more conflicting stories and theories - but has done very little to provide any actual closure.
Julie Thomas - the guardian of Danniella's daughter, Cora - spoke to local news station WKRG, and talked about what this discovery meant for her and other loved ones:
"It's just a numbing realization that she's really gone. You know, as much as I knew... that was just... it was numbing.
"You know and that's what you've been working for for so long and striving for and begging for and praying for. When you finally get that, it's not closure."
Police have announced that they are transitioning Danniella's case from a missing persons investigation to a homicide investigation, although many think that this is a way for police to simply cover all of their bases. If they later determine Danniella's death to be due to an accident of some sort, they can easily change it; however, moving in the opposite direction is much tougher, and would make any future trial an uphill battle.
Many details about this case remain unknown, including the identity of the remains found in Danniella's submerged vehicle. As of this episode's recording, police have yet to confirm the remains as Danniella's through DNA testing, even though it is believed by most that the remains are, indeed, Danniella's.
A candlelight vigil is being planned for Friday, May 10th, at the Bayou Sara boat landing where Danniella's vehicle was found. By the time you're listening to this, this vigil has undoubtedly already come-and-gone, but I hope that it helps provide those in-attendance with some kind of closure after all of these months.
While several questions remain unanswered - such as what happened, who was involved, etc. - at least this most basic question of what happened to Danniella has been answered.
If you have any information, you are encouraged to contact either Mobile Police Department at (251) 208-1700 or Crime Stoppers of South West Alabama at (251) 208-7000. At the latter, you can remain anonymous, and should your tip help led to an arrest, you may be eligible for the $5,000 reward - which still stands today.
Because this case is ongoing, I anticipate there being many more details to be released in the near-future. Should that happen, I promise to keep you all informed of any developments. But, as of this moment, the story of Danniella Vian remains unresolved.
Written, hosted, and produced by Micheal Whelan
Producers: Ben Krokum, Quil Carter, Laura Hannan, Astrid Kneier, Katherine Vatalaro, Damion Moore, Amy Hampton Miller, Timothy Stratton, Scott Meesey, Steven Wilson, Sara Willemsen, and Scott Patzold
Published on May 12th, 2019
Borrtex - "Fog in the Street"
Rest You Sleeping Giant - "Dead Waters"
PC III - "Write Hear Right Now"
Kai Engel - "Modum"
ROZKOL - "Opening Credits"
Kai Engel - "Brand New World"
Other music created and composed by Ailsa Traves