Our next post in the Runaway Train series takes us back to 1982 and to the state of Iowa. Or does it? This is a very confusing case with two tales reported by reputable sources. Today, we will cover both Let’s explore.
Who Is Kimberly?
There unfortunately is not a lot of information online regarding who Kimberly was before she went missing. All that we really know is that she was unhappy with her living situation in Houston, TX, where she was living with her mother. She also was possibly in a relationship at the time of her disappearance. Beyond that, I don’t know much about her personality. She was born on February 2, 1966. At the time of her disappearance, she stood around 5’2” tall and weighed around 125 lbs. She has brown hair and brown eyes. She has a noticeable gap between her top front teeth.
Here is where the discrepancies come in. According to NamUs, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Iowa’s missing person clearinghouse, and the Charley Project report that Kimberly was reported missing on September 1, 1982 from Houston, TX, where she lived with her mother. Three weeks later, on September 27, she was seen at a Greyhound station in Davenport, Iowa. It doesn’t appear that this sighting was confirmed without a doubt, but it is believed that Kimberly traveled alone from her mother’s house in Houston to Davenport, in order to get to her father’s house – however, she never arrived at her destination.
And then, a second account came into play. According to a 1984 article printed in a Davenport newspaper called the Quad-City Times and the Doe Network, Kim actually went missing in 1980, not 1982. According to this account, Kim was last seen on March 24, 1980. She was last seen at her boyfriend’s house, which she left after getting into a fight with him. Later that same night, she called her boyfriend and told him she was in Ridgeview, Texas with someone named Debbie. But no one – her boyfriend, friends, or family – knew Kimberly to have any friends named Debbie. It is unknown who Debbie is. In this version of events, this phone call was the last point of contact with Kimberly, making her boyfriend the last person to speak with her.
It seems that the 1984 article was the source of this discrepancy, but I have not been able to find their source for it. It has been reported in multiple sources that Kim had run away before, so it is possible that the 1980 telling of events is an instance of her running away. I want to emphasize that I don’t have anything to back up this hunch – it’s just speculation. For the purposes of this blog, I’m operating under the assumption that Kim ran away from home in 1980, and then disappeared from Davenport in 1982, as this line of information has been reported by more reputable sources. It is, however, possible that all of these resources are referencing each other, and repeating the incorrect information. Keep this in mind as we consider the case.
With these two competing timelines, it is difficult to discuss the investigation, but we can surmise that she was reported missing by her mother in Houston, as the Texas Department of Public Safety has worked on this case in the past. They believe that Kimberly was traveling to visit her father in Davenport, but never arrived. With such a long distance between the two cities, and such a long time period between her being reported missing and the last sighting of her, the investigation seemingly was doomed to stall out early.
There was one big break in the case in 1984, in yet a third location. A young sex worker in Los Angeles, CA was noticed by a man named Don Austen. Austen is the founder of a Los Angeles nonprofit called Thursday’s Child, which aims to help youth with a wide array of issues. Austen reported that the woman, while taller than Kimberly was reported to have been at the time of her disappearance, strongly resembled her. He most significantly noted the gap between the young woman’s front teeth, which matched the gap in Kimberly’s teeth. The young woman also went by the name Kimberly Kathleen Gardner. Unfortunately, when Austen went to follow up, she was nowhere to be found, likely moved by her abuser when questions were being asked.
Based on both of the versions of events, the idea that Kimberly voluntarily ran away from home is obviously a popular one. In the first version of events, she literally was running away from her mother’s home to get to her father’s. In the second version, this theory fits in that she may have been staying away to start over at 18 as a result of her unhappiness in Houston and the fight with her boyfriend. The runaway story fits, for the initial disappearance at least.
But runaways don’t stay away for over thirty years, typically. It seems that Kimberly may have been the victim of a crime of opportunity – be that a sex trafficking or homicide. Unfortunately, both seem likely in this case – possibly both. When we consider the fact that Kimberly was alone on the road for possibly weeks, or possibly looking for a way out of her life, or even just looking for a way to blow off steam after a fight with her boyfriend, it is easy to see how she may have been taken advantage of by a stranger. Add in the sighting of the sex worker in Los Angeles, and this theory is unfortunately strengthened.
The Davenport Police Department is investigating the disappearance of Kimberly – if you know anything, no matter how small, please get in contact with them. The DPD’s phone number is 563-328-6749, and the case number is 82-46115. The NamUs case number for this case is MP2919, the National Crime Information Center case number is M184196973, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children case number is 601057.