To Lose One Child May Be Regarded as a Misfortune: the Disappearance of Scott and Amy Lee Fandel

Posted: August 9, 2011 in Uncategorized

When I was 11 years old my cat disappeared.  Her name was Frosty Chestnut and I was
devastated by her loss.  I was bitterly
offended when family members, employing a popular euphemism of the time, asserted
that Frosty Chestnut had “run away.”  My
kitty didn’t pack a rucksack and take off for territories unknown; Frosty
Chestnut had a superb feline life, steeped in love, festooned with a veritable
flock of squeaky mice and tasty treats galore.
Unaware at the time of animal torture as a backwoods hobby and
masturbatory aid, my first thought was that Frosty Chestnut had somehow gotten
lost.  I’d been lost in the woods myself
once, and I well remembered the terrified, unmoored feeling—unsure if every
step was taking me closer or farther from home, the once-pleasant ambient forest
sounds devolving into a sinister cacophony. The image of a disoriented Frosty
Chestnut scared, starving, desperate to come home seared itself onto my
pre-pubescent brain.  I was in agony.

As the days passed and Frosty Chestnut failed to reappear my
mind began to conjure grimmer scenarios—I pictured my beloved pet bleeding
by the side of the road, mowed down by a cat-hating motorist too evil to stop
and render aid.  I was tormented by the
idea that an injured Frosty Chestnut’s life was slowly ebbing away while I did
useless things like eating, sleeping, and (occasionally) attending school.

My search for Frosty Chestnut was epic in ‘tween scope—I
spent the better part of a year scouring the woods, knocking on neighbors’
doors, harassing workers at the local animal shelter.  Every day at bedtime when I realized another
day had passed without my beloved pussycat I would dissolve into tears—my
anguish at Frosty Chestnut’s disappearance knew no bounds.  My acute period of grieving lasted until the onset of puberty, and for years afterward whenever I spotted a  stray calico kitty my heart would skip a beat—had
Frosty Chestnut come home to me?

When I see the parents of missing children in the media I
always think of my heart-rending grief at the loss of Frosty Chestnut.  I don’t have children, but I’m told that
parental love is an unbreakable bond, the most profound and eternal type of love
that exists. The pain of losing a pet nearly unhinged me; how can the parents
of missing children possibly bear their unthinkable loss?  How can they ever again enjoy a single torment-free
moment whilst unaware of the ultimate fate of their children?  Are his bones moldering in those woods, they
must wonder?  Is she shackled in a
pervert’s yard like Jaycee Dugard?  Did
the weirdo across the street rape and murder my baby?  Or was it the stranger at the memorial service
with the shifty eyes and knowing smile?
The possibilities are both endless and endlessly horrifying. The only
thing of which the parents of missing children can be certain is that their
children are in dire peril; as Magdalene Bish, mother of once-missing teenager
Molly Bish said regarding the motive of her daughter’s abductor: “We know he’s not taking her
for ice cream.”

There’s only one thing in the world I can think of that
would be more painful than having a missing child.  And that would be having two missing children.

Scott Fandel, age 12, and his sister Amy, 8, were reported
missing on the afternoon of September 6th, 1978. Scott was a
high-spirited prankster who was known to entertain his classmates by eating
flies for a dollar; Amy was an adorable, flaxen-haired imp whose smile was as big
as the state of Alaska, the place she and Scott called home.  The Fandel children lived in a 2-room log
cabin in the town of Sterling with their mother Margaret, a petite beauty
employed as a waitress at the Italian Gardens restaurant.  Scott and Amy’s father, Roger Fandel, had recently
decamped to Arizona; after a tempestuous, decade-long marriage to Margaret he’d
moved out of the home in January.

Margaret did not
flourish in Roger’s absence; forced to work long hours to provide for her
children and set adrift by her husband’s departure, Margaret soon began to
crack under the pressure—although a good and loving mother, Margaret was
known to tipple.  Her loneliness also led
her to befriend some rather unsavory characters, and on at least one occasion Margaret
allowed traveling carnies to spend the night at the home she shared with her
children.

On January 5th Margaret’s sister Kathy Schoenfelder
arrived from Illinois; Kathy planned to live with the Fandels and obtain
employment with Margaret at the Italian Gardens restaurant.  Scott noted Kathy’s arrival in a journal he
kept at school: “Today at 3:30 an aunt of mine is coming to live with us…..
She’s going to live with us for the rest of her life.”  In retrospect there’s something poignant about
Scott’s use of the phrase “for the rest of her life.”   Aunt Kathy may have intended to stay in
Alaska for the rest of her life, but her niece and nephew would spend less than
one full day in her presence.

After Kathy’s arrival the family visited an establishment
called Good Time Charlie’s, a local saloon-cum-videogame arcade.  After a pleasant and uneventful evening
Margaret drove Scott and Amy home around 10:30pm; she and Kathy planned to
visit a friend at a hotel in Kenai, a town located approximately 30 minutes
from Sterling.  As Margaret watched her
children enter the cabin she couldn’t possibly fathom that this would be the
last time she would see them.  How many times
has she replayed this scenario in her mind, trying to force herself to get out
of the car and follow Scott and Amy into the house, willing the outcome to be
different?

Although Sterling Alaska was sparsely populated in 1978 the
Fandels had fairly close neighbors; the Lupton family and their 5 children
resided in a Quonset hut a mere 200 yards away. The Fandel and Lupton children
were fast friends; the steady stream of children’s feet traveling from one house
to the other had beaten a well-worn path between the two dwellings.  After Margaret deposited the children at the
cabin Scott and Amy ambled over to the Lupton’s for a late-night visit. Unfortunately
the children’s roughhousing eventually became too rough; when the beds were converted
into trampolines Mrs. Lupton suggested that the time had come for the Fandel children
to return home. And this is where the known history of Scott and Amy ends; they
departed the Lupton’s Quonset hut and were swallowed up by the great unknown.

Margaret and Kathy returned home between 2 and 3AM; they
never found their friend in Kenai and had instead spent the remainder of the
evening at two local watering holes. When they entered the cabin Scott and Amy
weren’t there, but a pot of water was boiling on the stove and the makings of a
spaghetti dinner lay on the kitchen counter—plagued by the bottomless
appetite of adolescence, Scott often cooked himself a second dinner before
bedtime.  Margaret and Kathy were not
troubled by Scott and Amy’s absence; they assumed the children were spending
the night with the Lupton family as they had done so many nights before.  Although this laissez-faire attitude may seem
reckless in hindsight, crime wasn’t of much concern in Sterling in 1978—the
front door of the cabin lacked a working lock.

Margaret awoke at 8:30AM and departed for her shift at the
Italian Gardens still untroubled by Scott and Amy’s absence—she assumed that they’d
left for school directly from the Lupton’s.  Margaret’s first inkling of trouble afoot
occurred when she wasn’t able to reach Amy via the school’s telephone; at this
point Margaret attempted to leave work to investigate but her boss
insisted she stay and finish her
shift.

After school the Lupton children arrived at the Fandel cabin
looking for Scott and Amy.  Upon learning
that the Luptons hadn’t seen her niece and nephew since the previous evening Kathy
immediately contacted Margaret, who was still at work, and relayed the alarming
news.  Her worst fears confirmed, a
panic-stricken Margaret then phoned the police from the restaurant to report
her children missing. The search for Scott and Amy had begun.

The 15 hours which had elapsed since the last known sighting
of the Fandel children was the first hurdle faced by law enforcement; unfortunately,
the delay in filing a missing persons report was far from the last obstacle encountered.  The troopers investigating the case were also
faced with a contaminated crime scene—several people had entered and exited the
cabin in the hours before Scott and Amy were reported missing.  Although the detectives assigned to the case
had likely investigated previous missing persons cases—Alaska has the
highest missing person rate in the US— the disappearance of Scott and Amy was
both perplexing and unique.  As one of
the detectives on the case later commented, the disappearance just didn’t make
sense—the children were too young to get far as runaways, and too old to be
held against their will without substantial restraints.

Police soon deemed it unlikely that Scott had run away with
Amy in tow.  Although he was known to be
unhappy about his father’s departure and vexed by his mother’s drinking, Scott had
recently completed a wilderness survival course—he understood the
implications of taking his baby sister, of whom he was said to be very
protective, out into the Alaskan wilderness sans adequate gear or provisions.  In addition, Margaret believed that Scott
would never have left his beloved Yamaha motorcycle behind. The bike cost three
thousand dollars, a substantial sum in 1978, and Margaret claimed it was Scott’s
most cherished possession.  Scott never
walked anywhere if he could ride, she told the detectives.

The lack of any evidence of a struggle in the cabin also
puzzled police. Scott, a streetwise youth with a cocky attitude, would likely
have fought if a stranger had attempted to forcibly remove him and his little
sister from the home; thus detectives surmised that Scott and Amy had likely
been abducted by someone they knew.
Following this this assumption to its logical conclusion, the initial
investigators postulated that Roger Fandel, Scott and Amy’s father, was somehow
involved in his children’s disappearance.

Roger Fandel is a rough, tough Harley Davidson-enthusiast
with a brusque manner and an imposing physique.
He was antagonized by the detectives’ dogged queries and their repeated accusations
that he’d engineered the abduction of his children.  Roger’s animosity towards law enforcement
caused him to stonewall investigators, which spurred further suspicion on the
part of detectives.  As the years passed and
continued investigation failed to disclose any evidence of his involvement,
however, the police eventually began to believe that Roger was in no way responsible
for Scott and Amy’s disappearance.

Scott and Amy hadn’t run away or been kidnapped in a
parental abduction, detectives decided; so where were they?  The police were stymied.  One by one leads flickered briefly, bright
sparks in the darkness which quickly petered out.  Someone had seen a black sedan speeding out
of the neighborhood on the night in question; the car resembled the automobile
used by Margaret’s carnie friends, but their alibis appeared sound.  At one of the bars Margaret and Kathy had visited
after dropping off the children they’d been introduced to Alaska’s most
infamous adult entertainment purveyor; to police this meeting seemed an unlikely
coincidence, but detectives were ultimately unable to find any evidence to
support the flesh peddler’s involvement in Scott and Amy’s abduction.  Rumors circulated around town that the
children had been snatched for sacrifice by Satanists, or “rescued” by
do-gooders offended by Margaret’s slipshod parenting and licentious lifestyle. The
police, increasingly desperate, never found any evidence to substantiate any
of these scenarios; in fact, the police never found any evidence at all.

And as the years turned to decades and the new century
dawned, the people who loved Scott and Amy worried and wondered, buoyed by each
new lead the police received and crushed anew when it eventually came to
naught.  So where are the Fandel children,
you ask?  I have no idea.  But when I picture them in my mind’s eye I
see them together, still children— Scott with his shaggy 70’s hair, Amy with
her impish grin—and I envision Frosty Chestnut with them, curled up Amy’s
lap. If you are loved, if someone remembers you, you are never alone.

Comments
  1. [...] infested with rampaging carnivorous beasts and insects the size of Matchbox cars. More ominously, Alaska is a place where people disappear. The Alaskan missing persons rate is twice the national average—the huge swaths of wilderness [...]

  2. Pat Cline says:

    I know of two cases in my state where a brother and sister were both murdered in separate cases years apart. The brothers were law enforcement officers. The sisters were sexually assaulted by men they knew before being murdered. If you are interested in further details, please let me know via email.

  3. jennnie ball says:

    Its an awful,sad story but your wrote it beautifully. You are very talented, and this sad event is truly horrific, my heart goes out to their family…GOD BLESS.

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