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Patty Vaughan case could take new turn
Patty Vaughan was a member of the singing group, “Prism,” which formed in the 1990s in the La Vernia United Methodist Church.
It has been 16 years since Patty Inez Brightwell Vaughan was reported missing from her home on Oak Park Road in Adkins. And while the probe into the then-32-year-old’s disappearance has generated more questions than answers over the years, the investigation could be headed in a new direction.
Sheriff’s offices from both Bexar and Wilson counties, along with the Texas Rangers, continue to consider Vaughan’s case as an “open” investigation. Wilson County Sheriff Joe D. Tackitt Jr. said his office has not received a new lead in the probe in quite some time.
But across the border in Bexar County, where the case is one of a handful of cold cases being handled by sheriff’s investigators Adrian Ramirez and Louis Antu, deputies will be obtaining warrants for DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) samples from three women that Antu calls “persons of interest.”
“With new technology called mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), we were able to find foreign DNA of a female in the van,” Antu said. “It is not a match to Patty.”
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s website, mtDNA analysis allows forensic scientists to obtain information from small pieces of evidence that contain little biological material. The maternal inheritance of mtDNA allows scientists to compare the mtDNA profile from the evidence, such as hairs or bones, to that of reference samples from the individual. A person’s mother, siblings, or any other maternally related family member will have the same mtDNA.
Antu would not elaborate on the nature of the sample, which he said was extracted from Vaughan’s Dodge Caravan “within the last month.” The investigator also would not reveal the location within the van from where the sample was obtained. But Antu confirmed that it will be entered into the Combined DNA Indexing System -- often called “CODIS,” which contains DNA profiles of individuals who have been convicted of certain crimes -- to determine if a match exists there.
The Dodge Caravan was found abandoned on South Loop 1604 in Bexar County on Dec. 26, 1996, approximately 5 miles from Vaughan’s workplace, Quinney Electric. In addition to the van’s driver’s side tire being deflated, investigators at the time reported that its interior was wet, as if someone tried to clean it. Despite this, traces of Vaughan’s blood were found inside.
The van was found after a family member called authorities after becoming concerned that Vaughan had not dropped off her children -- then ages 5, 7, and 9 -- at their home in San Antonio. Also on that day, Vaughan’s husband, Jerry Ray “J.R.” Vaughan, filed for divorce.
Over the years, investigators have conducted exhaustive searches throughout South Central Texas for clues that could lead them to the truth about what happened to Vaughan. Her case has been the subject of countless news stories and even piqued the interest of the Investigation Discovery TV series “Disappeared,” which featured it in a 2011 episode, titled “Silent Night.”
“I want her to be at rest,” said Pascalle Bippert of La Vernia, a friend of Vaughan’s.
Bippert and Vaughan were part of the singing group, “Prism,” which began in the La Vernia United Methodist Church. Bippert still holds fond remembrances of the singing voice that belonged to someone she considers “an angel.”
“She was just an angelic, gentle soul; a beautiful, caring mother who blessed us with her song and she loved her family unconditionally,” Bippert said.
Vaughan was described as a white female with blonde hair and green eyes. She stood 5 feet, 5 inches tall and weighed 120 pounds. She was last seen wearing dark-colored pants and a cream-colored blouse.
Anyone with information about Vaughan’s case is asked to contact:
•Bexar County Sheriff’s Office Cold Case Division, Investigator Adrian Ramirez, 210-335-6041; or Investigator Louis Antu, 210-335-6034.
•Wilson County Sheriff’s Office, Chief Deputy Johnie Deagen, 830-393-2535.
•Crime Stoppers of Wilson County, 830-393-INFO (4636) or bit.ly/NDrIut.
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