Alison Thresher, a 45-year-old woman from Bethesda, Maryland, vanished without a trace on the evening of May 23, 2000.
Her disappearance shocked her family and community, leaving them desperate for answers.
Despite extensive investigations, Alison’s whereabouts remain unknown, and her case has since been reclassified as a presumed homicide.
The Last Known Moments
Alison Thresher had dinner with her parents on the evening of May 23, 2000, in her hometown of Bethesda, Maryland. Later that night, she returned to her residence at Sumner Highlands Apartments on Sangamore Road.
Alison’s excitement was palpable, as she was scheduled to begin a new position as a copyeditor for the Washington Post’s website the following day.
However, she never showed up for her first day of work, raising immediate concerns among her loved ones.
The Abandoned Vehicle
One day after her disappearance, Alison’s copper-colored 1997 Volvo station wagon was found abandoned. The vehicle was located on the corner of Ridge Drive and Broad Street, near the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal (C&O Canal) in the Glen Echo area, several miles away from her apartment.
Notably, her wallet and keys were missing from the car, suggesting that she had them in her possession when she disappeared.
This discovery prompted a meticulous search of the surrounding areas, but no significant leads emerged.
Foul Play Suspicions
As the investigation progressed, evidence related to Alison’s disappearance pointed towards foul play. One crucial piece of information emerged from her downstairs neighbor, who was awakened in the early hours of May 24 by the sound of a woman sobbing.
The intense crying emanated from Alison’s apartment, accompanied by footsteps moving between the bedroom and bathroom. This account raised suspicions of a potential struggle or altercation within Alison’s residence.
The Composite Image
Investigators released a composite image of an unidentified man seen near Thresher’s apartment complex during March and April 2000.
The individual, described as possibly of Hispanic descent and approximately 48-50 years old at the time, was observed walking with Alison, holding hands and kissing her. Although he has not been named as a suspect, authorities are keen to identify and question him regarding Alison’s case. Neighbors’ accounts of seeing them together provided valuable information for the investigation.
Person of Interest: Fernando Asturizaga
In April 2018, a person of interest emerged in Alison’s disappearance: Fernando Asturizaga. Asturizaga worked as a Spanish teacher at Friends Community School, where Alison’s daughter also attended.
Additionally, he had been a babysitter for Alison and her former husband after their separation in 1997. However, disturbing details came to light as investigators delved deeper into Asturizaga’s involvement with Alison’s family.
Inappropriate Relationship and Suspicions
Asturizaga’s relationship with Alison’s daughter, Hannah, began when she was just ten years old and in the fourth grade. Alison grew concerned about the excessive emotional attachment between her daughter and Asturizaga.
Despite Alison’s explicit instructions to cease spending time alone with Hannah, Asturizaga continued to look after her and her brother when they were in the care of their father, James. This ongoing contact with Hannah became a significant factor in the custody battle between Alison and James.
Accusations and Legal Proceedings
Alison took several steps to address her suspicions regarding Asturizaga’s behavior. In June 1999, she wrote him a letter explicitly instructing him to stop spending time alone with Hannah.
Letter from Alison Thresher to Fernando Asturizaga (April 28, 1999):
I write to you as someone who’s been a friend and great help to me and my family the last couple years. Several times over the last several months I have expressed my concern to you that my daughter, Hannah, has formed an excessive emotional bond with you. When I made it clear that I did not want the two of you to be alone together, you assured me that you would, in fact, no longer babysit for Hannah and Sam. That was not true. And this lead me to wonder whether this unnatural attachment is a mutual one. Frankly, I am disappointed. I would hope as an employee of an educational institution you would be more sensitive to these concerns. If you know of any reason that you cannot meet this requirement, please advise me at once.
She also notified Friends Community School about her concerns and eventually withdrew her daughter from the school. However, less than a year after these actions, Alison disappeared under mysterious circumstances.
Letter from Alison Thresher to Friends Community School (June 9, 1999):
This is to reiterate:
- I continue to be very concerned about the inappropriate relationship that Fernando ASTURIZAGA has allowed to continue between him and Hannah THRESHER.
- I will continue to actively withhold my permission for Hannah to attend Friends Community School in the 1999-2000 school year.
- I am not and will not be responsible for any financial obligation incurred by James THRESHER with Friends Community School.
- I will not bring Hannah to work at Friends Community School summer camps in 1999, because of Fernando ASTURIZAGA’s relationship with Hannah. I do not give my permission for James THRESHER to bring Hannah to work at Friends Community School summer camps. In addition, for an 11-year-old to be so employed is a violation of Maryland child labor laws.
I find it amazing and reckless that you, Friends Community School Board members and Fernando ASTURIZAGA would side with James THRESHER in a court battle in which he seeks to take Hannah and Sam THRESHER away from their mother. That you and the school and the school board would forgive Mr. THRESHER’s longstanding past debt is evidence that you and the board have taken sides in what is becoming an ever more public battle.
Asturizaga’s relationship with Hannah continued until 2001. In 2003, he faced charges of sexual abuse but was found not guilty.
However, in 2010, he was charged with multiple counts of rape, sex offenses, and child abuse, with Hannah as the victim. Asturizaga was ultimately found guilty on all counts and sentenced to 168 years in prison.
Suspicion and Grief
Hannah, the victim of Asturizaga’s abuse, revealed chilling details about his behavior following her mother’s disappearance. She recalled that he did not seem upset about Alison’s vanishing and even suggested that life would be easier without her.
Hannah also mentioned that Asturizaga had “groomed” her, urging her not to disclose the abuse to her mother. These revelations cast a dark shadow over Asturizaga’s involvement in Alison’s disappearance.
The Investigation Continues
Detectives continued to investigate the circumstances surrounding Thresher’s disappearance and on April 12, 2018, the Police Department, in a press conference named Fernando Asturizaga, age 51, as a person of interest in Thresher’s murder.
At the time of this announcement, Asturizaga was incarcerated and serving an over 100-year sentence at the Western Correctional Institution in Cumberland, Maryland, for the sexual victimization of Alison Thresher’s daughter, Hannah, that had occurred from approximately 1999 to 2001.
At approximately 8:45 p.m. on April 12, the day that the Police Department announced that Asturizaga was a person of interest in Thresher’s murder, Asturizaga was found unresponsive in his jail cell by a correctional officer and was pronounced deceased.
Asturizaga’s death was ruled a suicide.
Investigators believe that Alison was likely murdered in her apartment, and her body was subsequently disposed of at an undisclosed location.
Since Asturizaga’s death, detectives have continued to investigate this case and have received credible information that Asturizaga murdered Thresher and buried her remains somewhere in the area of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) – Beltsville Agricultural Research Center located on Baltimore Avenue in Beltsville.
Detectives have searched over 300 acres in that area and have not located any human remains. As this area is frequented by hikers, investigators are asking anyone who may have been in this area, and who may have discovered or noted anything unusual in the area that may pertain to this case, to please call them at 240-773-5070.
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