The strange case of missing strip club hostess Toni Anderson

By Marnie O'Neill

Sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction and sometimes it's mindblowingly banal.

The case of Toni Anderson falls somewhere in between.

Two months ago, the 20-year-old strip club hostess and dancer vanished in truly haunting circumstances.

Ms Anderson had finished up at Chrome, an adult entertainment venue in the heart of Kansas City, Missouri, about 4am on January 15, and was driving to meet friends when she was pulled over by highway patrol.

An SMS sent to her friend Roxanne Townsend at 4.42am became known as Ms Anderson's "chilling last text".

It said "Omg just just (sic) pulled over again".

A short time later, her mother Liz Anderson would report, her "cell phone went dark and her GPS stopped". Her daughter, it seemed, had disappeared off the face of the earth.

The story took another sinister turn when the Kansas City Police Department (KCPD) initially denied Ms Anderson had been stopped by one of its officers.

Speculation that she had been kidnapped and murdered by police, or somebody impersonating a police officer, quickly followed.

Then a highway patrol officer came forward to say that he had in fact pulled over Ms Anderson's black 2014 Ford Focus on the 9-Highway after she made an "improper lane change".

The young college student had been driving to meet with friends. Photo / Facebook
The young college student had been driving to meet with friends. Photo / Facebook

KCPD spokesman Darin Snapp told media that Ms Anderson had told the officer that she was "almost out of gas" and that he had directed her to a QuikTrip gas station nearby.

Police initially denied contact with Ms Anderson because the incident wasn't logged and she had only been given a verbal warning.

"So the officer just told her, you know, 'there's a gas station right there', gave her a warning for the violation, and watched her actually go to the QuikTrip and that's the last we have seen of her," he said.

Mr Snapp added that her ATM card was used and that her GPS system in car stopped working shortly after she arrived at the QuikTrip.

A massive land and water search of a nearby river failed to turn up any trace of Ms Anderson or her car.

As the days and weeks passed with no sign of her daughter, Liz Anderson told reporters she feared Toni had been kidnapped by a ring of sexual predators.

"I believe she's been taken, and I believe it's human trafficking," Mrs Anderson told the Kansas City Star in February.

The officer stopped her for an improper lane change, but gave her a warning. Photo / Fox 4
The officer stopped her for an improper lane change, but gave her a warning. Photo / Fox 4

"They can't find her. The Kansas City detectives have been amazing, but they're perplexed."

Ms Anderson's boyfriend of two years, Pete Sanchez, started a GoFundMe campaign to raise money to hire a private investigator.

When the fund hit more than US$5000, amateur sleuths started "investigating" Mr Sanchez, digging up an old police warrant for drug possession and ultimately accusing him of trying to profit from his girlfriend's disappearance.

Others were convinced Ms Anderson had staged the whole thing in a bid to become famous and make money. Someone started a Facebook page called "Toni Anderson Missing Scam" where people from all over the country posted hateful and outlandish theories about the missing young woman. The page has since been deleted.

A social media crusader calling himself KC Crimefighter started "sleuthing" Ms Anderson's family and accused her father of trying to "embezzle" funds raised by people donating money to help find her.

Some believe the boat ramp was icy and Anderson's car slid into the river. Photo / Google
Some believe the boat ramp was icy and Anderson's car slid into the river. Photo / Google

Last Friday, 54 days of intense speculation came to an end when Ms Anderson's black Ford Focus was pulled from the river at Platte Landing Park, not far from the QuikTrip gas station where she was last seen.

The body of a young woman was trapped inside. It was Toni Anderson. A preliminary post mortem examination revealed no trauma to her body apart from a bruise on her left knee.

Detectives now believe her death was a tragic accident, a conclusion accepted by her family, who identified her body from the clothes she was last seen wearing.

Mrs Anderson said she believes that her daughter was upset after getting pulled over and became confused and lost in the early morning hours before ending up at the boat ramp in the park.

"She got freaked out," she said on Monday.

"She got lost and she got confused, or whatever. It was still dark. She was on the boat ramp and tried to back out. The ramp was icy and she slid into the river."

Mrs Anderson revealed the window of the car was open and her daughter's seatbelt unbuckled when the vehicle was recovered.

"She was fully clothed," she said. "It must have happened so quick. It was so cold. She must have instantly gone into shock. I can see how it could happen."

As for the bruised knee found on her daughter's body, Mrs Anderson believes it was sustained by knocking off a GPS device mounted below the dashboard as the car impacted the water.

"There was no foul play. I'm so grateful for that."

Earlier today, a "celebration of life" was held at the Risen Saviour Lutheran Church in Wichita to lay Ms Anderson to rest and hundreds of white balloons released into the sky in her honour.

While Ms Anderson's family are satisfied she was the victim of a tragic accident, others remain convinced the young woman was murdered.

Just hours after the 20-year-old was laid to rest today, speculation about the "real story" resumed on a Facebook page called "Justice for Toni Anderson" and KC Crimefighter stepped up his misguided quest for the truth.

- news.com.au

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