The Missing: Hang Lee

          This month’s missing persons case brings us to Minnesota. Hang Lee got into a car with someone who was supposed to be her friend – and was never seen again. What happened on the night of October 9, 1975, and where is Hang? Let’s Explore.

Who Is Hang?

           Hang Lee was born on October 9, 1975. She was a first-generation American, as her parents were both refugees from Laos. The family lived in St. Paul, Minnesota. Not much is known about Hang’s childhood, but her parents believed that she began to hang out with bad influences in high school – this concept is not largely elaborated on, but it is hinted that Hang’s friends may have been involved in drugs and other unsavory and illegal acts. Hang was described in contemporary media as being sweet and a bit naïve, which may have led to her trusting these bad influences. However, Hang’s parents believed that she was doing better just prior to her disappearance – she had gotten a job, and was hanging around with more stable people. After graduating high school she wanted to attend the University of Minnesota to study writing. At the time of her disappearance, Hang stood at five feet tall and only weighed 90 lbs. She had black hair with the bangs dyed red, and brown eyes. Hang can speak English and Hmong fluently.

(A recent school photo of Hang.
via ABC 5 KSTP)

The Disappearance

           On the night of January 12, 1993, Hang Lee called into work. She told her boss that she had an interview for a new job. That night, she was last seen leaving her home with her friend Nikki Lee. (Note – though the two share a last name, Hang and Nikki are not related.) She allegedly told her brother “if I don’t come back, then come and look for me” just prior to leaving home. While Nikki returned home later that night, Hang never did. After a few days with no word from Hang, her parents reported her missing. It was clear from the outset that this was not a runaway case – Hang left all of her money and belongings behind.

The Disappearance

          The first step in the investigation was to question Nikki, who claimed that Hang had gotten into a car with some unidentified men and drove off, leaving Nikki alone. The insinuation with that theory was that Hang left of her own accord. That is, until Nikki’s story changed. She eventually admitted to introducing Hang to her boss, Mark Wallace. Wallace had apparently asked Nikki if she knew of anyone who would be looking for a job, as he was looking to hire. She told Hang about the opportunity, and arranged the meeting. She claimed she had originally told the story about Hang getting in a car because Wallace told her to lie.
          According to Nikki, Wallace showed up to meet the pair in a light-colored 1988 Chevy Cavalier. She took note of this because it was different from his usual white pickup truck. He then drove away with Hang riding in the passenger seat. When questioned about this, Wallace claimed he dropped Hang off near her workplace, despite the original plan to drop her off at home. It is unclear why the drop-off point changed. Mark Wallace’s car is the last place Hang was seen.

(A 1988 Chevy Cavalier similar to the one Hang was last seen in.
via Hemmings)

          There was not enough information to charge Mark Wallace with Hang’s disappearance and murder, but he remains the main suspect to this day. And that’s not just because he’s the last person she was seen with. Let’s take a look at his criminal record. He was convicted of two violent sexual assaults in 1987 – and he lured one of his victims in by claiming he wanted to interview her for a job. Nothing came of his connection to the case until 2009, when police obtained a warrant to search his house. Holes were drilled into the concrete garage floor to see if it was poured to hide anything, but nothing was found. From there, the case went cold.
          Until 2016, when Mark Wallace kidnapped a young woman and held her against her will in a hotel room. The young woman was a friend of his daughter, who had been living with the family. He kidnapped her and held her against her will in the hotel room, abusing her and threatening her life. She also told investigators that he mentioned that had killed a woman who “went into his business but never came out.” It is believed that he was alluding to Hang, but he never mentioned her name.

Theories

           Unfortunately, this is not a case in which the runaway or Left-To-Start-A-New-Life theories seem remotely likely. Hang was a senior in high school. She had a bright future. She had goals. She had dreams. She had gotten her life together in the recent months. There were no warning signs here – she wasn’t showing signs of mental illness, she wasn’t running towards dangerous people and situations, she wasn’t acting despondent or defensive when asked about her future. It just doesn’t fit for me.
          The other theories we’re going to discuss here center around Nikki and Wallace – but a reminder here that no one has faced charges for anything in this case, and everyone is innocent until proven guilty. Everything here is either reporting facts or my opinion based on those facts. We know that Nikki’s story changed in the weeks after Hang’s disappearance. We also know that Wallace has harmed women in the years before and since Hang’s appearance. He even alluded to having murdered a woman in St. Paul, MN – where Hang allegedly met up with him and subsequently went missing from.
          The first possibility is that there was some sort of emotionally heated moment with someone and that individual killed her in response. This could have been anything from an argument to a spurned romantic or sexual advance to a perceived slight. Literally anything could have been the spark that led to an irreversible action. That is not to say that makes this scenario any more okay, of course, just that in this scenario, the event was not planned.
          The second theory is that this was a premeditated attack. This does not necessarily mean that Hang was a specific target, but we know that Wallace lured other women under the guise of job interviews. This would mean that Wallacewas ready to strike when he found someone he wanted to attack. This would make Nikki an accomplice, unknowing or not, since she introduced Hang to Wallace. This could also explain her rapidly changing stories and reluctance to cooperate with the investigation. Of course, it’s also possible that she became uncooperative after so many fingers were pointed her way and she realized she needed to protect herself – there’s no way of knowing, but those scenarios are two sides of the same coin.
          The third possibility is that Hang was the victim of an accident that night. A couple of scenarios fit into this theory, so let’s break it down further. First, there is the ever-present idea that someone died of an overdose and they were hidden to hide others’ involvement. There is no evidence that Hang was using drugs around the time of her disappearance, or at any point before it. The only real point in favor of this theory is that Hang was hanging out with a rough crowd prior to her disappearance, though we know that she was seemingly distancing herself from those friends. Another thread of the accident theory could be a pedestrian-vehicle accident – in which Hang got out of the vehicle to get away from someone, and that person or a passerby accidentally hit Hang as she was trying to get away from the situation.
        Based on the available facts, it does seem likely that Mark Wallace had some sort of involvement in Hang’s disappearance. The accident theories seem very unlikely to me – Hang had no history of drug use and neither did her friends, regardless of how troublesome her friends may have seemed. Additionally, hit and runs in which the victim is hidden are exceedingly rare. With everything that Mark Wallace has done, along with what his victim claims he said about the woman he killed in St. Paul, all signs currently point towards that theory. Hopefully more evidence will surface and charges will be brought if this is the case.

Investigating Agencies

           If you or anyone you know has any information about the disappearance of Hang Lee, please contact the appropriate authorities. Hang has been missing for nearly thirty years. She deserves answers. She deserves a resting place. The St. Paul Police Department can be contacted at 612-291-1111 in reference to case number 93007298. The Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office can be reached at 651-266-9333.

Sources

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