Play Episode 6 of the Dateline: Missing in America Podcast below and click here to follow.
Read the transcript here:
28-year-old Rikkell Bock walked into her mom's house with her family ready to sit down and enjoy their weekly Sunday breakfast together.
Except that when they arrived, Rikkell's mom, 52-year-old Dee Ann Warner, was nowhere in sight.
Neither was her husband, Dale, or their daughter, Angelina.
It was Sunday, April 25th, 2021. It was just after 9 a.m.
Rikkell Bock: “On Sundays, my mom and I would always go grocery shopping. So we would usually go over there, we'd have breakfast, my boyfriend would go back to our house -- right around the corner from hers -- and work on our house. And my mom and I would take my kids and Angelina and we'd all go grocery shopping. And this was no different.”
Without thinking too much about it, the doting daughter went ahead and took the reins -- popping slices of bread into the toaster and cooking the family's meal.
Soon enough, the sizzle of eggs in the frying pan drowned out any worry, at least for the moment.
Getting together as a family -- this was what they did on Sundays.
It was their tradition.
This time, without Dee there, something felt off.
Rikkell Bock: “I saw her one vehicle in the garage, parked. But her other vehicle was parked down at her office -- which is like 100 feet away. So we kind of made breakfast and we drove to my house. And I texted her. She didn't answer. I called her. Her phone went straight to voicemail, which never has happened. There was just something in my gut that told me something was really wrong.”
Rikkell checked Dee's office, which is on the same property as the house. She wasn't there.
And Rikkell wasn't getting any sort of response when she reached out to Dee.
Rikkell Bock: “I didn't know what could have happened, but I knew it probably wasn't -- wasn't good.”
This is not your typical missing persons case.
Dee Warner's story is different.
That's because at least one investigator is examining her disappearance as a potential murder and her family also isn't so sure they're going to find Dee alive. That said, they're still searching. Searching for what is missing.
And what's missing in Dee's story isn't just a beloved mother.
For her family, what's also missing are answers and perhaps justice.
Dee’s brother, Gregg Hardy, is determined to find out what happened to her.
Gregg Hardy: “I can tell you that one thing about me: I don't stop. Whatever it takes, we will get the truth out.”
I'm Josh Mankiewicz and this is Missing In America, a podcast from Dateline.
Please listen closely to this story because it might remind you of something you know -- something you've already heard -- something that could be the key to unlocking the mystery of what really happened to Dee Ann Warner.
In her life, Dee Warner wore many hats: Wife, sister, grandmother, businesswoman.
To Rikkell Bock, she was really just Mom.
Rikkell remembers life with a tough and fearless mother. They were always on the move together, always laughing, always having fun.
Rikkell Bock: “Growing up with my mom was always eventful. She always had something going on. My mom was a huge shopper and we would go shopping often.”
Dee’s family members live within just miles of each other. In fact, her family has made a rural farming community, Franklin Township in Lenawee, Michigan, their home for five generations.
With an 18 year age difference, Gregg says his little sister Dee looked up to him and may even have learned a thing or two from him -- specifically on the business side of things.
Gregg Hardy: “She wanted to be the person who could handle whatever life threw at her. I've always been a problem solver, and I'm not the person who goes to someone for support or help. I analyze it and fix it. And I believe she had that same personality and maybe she followed some of that of mine. Maybe -- it's not always a good trait, by the way, I'm not -- I'm not bragging about it.”
Josh Mankiewicz: “But she wouldn't have told you because maybe she would have been embarrassed or maybe it's like admitting, ‘There's a problem I can't handle.’”
Gregg Hardy: “That's exactly correct. No question about her personality being that way.”
Gregg says entrepreneurship was in her blood.
In fact, he says both their aunt and their grandmother were strong businesswomen.
Eventually, Dee followed in the family footsteps and started what became her own empire in trucking and agriculture.
Rikkell Bock: “She definitely lived in a man's world. She was a farmer's wife and a business owner of multiple businesses -- and a trucking company at that.”
Her trucking business was doing well. Perhaps that was because she didn't let anyone stand in her way.
Rikkell Bock: “She was very, very tough. She was somebody that you didn't want on your bad side. Because she would rip anybody to shreds if she needed to.”
As fierce as Dee could be in the business world, Rikkell says her mom was personally outgoing and loved being around people. And, she says, everyone loved being around Dee and her energy.
Rikkell Bock: “She was full of life. She was always the life of the party, very spunky, very caring about anybody that she came across, always wanting to help anybody she could. She was a great mom and even better grandma.”
Dee is described as a social butterfly and hit it off with pretty much everyone she met -- truly the life of any party, whether it was a night out with friends or Taco Tuesday with family.
Now that butterfly was missing, and members of her family were looking for her and calling around.
That Sunday morning Gregg's phone rang.
Gregg Hardy: “My wife called and said, ‘Have you seen Dee?’ I said, ‘Well, no.’ And so after my wife said that they were looking for her, I didn't think a lot of it at the time, but I then immediately called and texted her and -- to see. Yeah, no answer. And one thing about it -- it wouldn't be unusual for her not to take someone's call if she were busy and didn't want to talk to them. But I don't think there's ever a time she didn't take my call, even to say, ‘Hey, I'm tied up. I'll call you back.’ So no answer was a surprise to me.”
Josh Mankiewicz: “So they're looking for her and you're not really worried... But on the other hand, she doesn't get back to you.”
Gregg Hardy: “When my wife called back at the second time and said they couldn't find her anywhere and that they were making a concerted effort at looking for her, she said, ‘Do you think we should call the police?’ I said, ‘Absolutely.’ I said, ‘This is totally out of character for her.’ She's a person -- if she were in any kind of difficulty, she would talk to either my wife or one of her daughters or her son, and she just did not do that. And if there was something in business that was traumatic or dramatic, she would have likely called me for some kind of advice.”
A few hours into her search for her mom on that cool, spring morning, Rikkell says she heard from her stepfather, Dale Warner.
Rikkell Bock: “He called me probably a couple of hours later and asked me, ‘Have you heard from your mom? She's not answering my phone calls.’ And the conversation was very short and I asked -- one of my main concerns was where Angelina was. And she was with a family member, and it was a huge red flag to me that if my mom left, she would have taken my little sister. Any time my mom has ever left, she's always taken her. And when I was younger, she always took me. She never left us.”
Concerned that Dee wasn't answering his calls either, brother Gregg reached out to Dale, as well.
Gregg Hardy: “It was obviously getting clear that there was something dramatically wrong, and I then approached Dale and asked him, well, to quote myself, I said, ‘What the hell is going on here, Dale?’”
Gregg recalls Dale telling him that Dee left with her purse, her travel bag, her phone, and her curling iron.
Gregg Hardy: “I said, ‘OK. Well, how did she go anywhere? The Hummer’s in the driveway, her Escalade’s in the garage. My sister didn't walk anywhere -- how did she go?’ He said, ‘Well, somebody must have picked her up.’ And so my first response to that was ‘OK. Who would have picked her up?’ Right?”
Gregg had known Dale for a long time; he and Dee had been married 15 years.
Gregg Hardy: “It was the second marriage for both of them. They were both working at a local company in the agricultural sales business and, honestly, I wasn't aware of the situation taking place until after it took place, but it was obvious that they had developed a camaraderie when they were working at that company.”
Josh Mankiewicz: “She was crazy about him? She talked about him like that?”
Gregg Hardy: “General impression was not that she was crazy about him. I never saw that kind of romance in their relationship. If it was there, I didn't see it.”
Gregg recalls their wedding day in 2006. It was elegant and fancy but, he says, not especially romantic.
Gregg Hardy: “It was a beautiful wedding. It was an outdoor wedding. It was at a very nice area in a town called Saline, Michigan. There was a lot of -- a fair amount of pomp and circumstance. It was a pretty wedding with properly prepared everything. His family are people that I've known a long time. If I were to analyze Dale’s demeanor towards her, it was not one of those puppy love kind of things that you see sometimes in weddings.”
After they married and blended their families -- both had children from their first marriages -- the couple welcomed their own child together, a daughter, Angelina.
When her mother married Dale, Rikkell was not much older than 10-year-old Angelina is now.
Rikkell lived in their home with them and saw that relationship up close.
Rikkell Bock: “Their marriage consisted of their businesses. That's what kept them together for so long.”
For years, Dee and Dale made it work there on the sprawling property, with enough space for both their home and their businesses, including the trucking company Rikkell says Dee owned outright.
At the same time, Rikkell says, the business that kept them together, also increasingly drove them apart.
Rikkell Bock: “They were always fighting about work and it was never pretty, and I had a conversation with her the day before she went missing and she was going to leave him. She -- she truly had enough. I even said to her, ‘Do you think that if you sold your trucking company, that it would fix your marriage or make it better?’ And she responded with, ‘My marriage is already over. You can't go back from this.’ So that was -- that was what she wanted to do. And she seemed more sure than I've ever heard her be about divorcing him.”
It felt like a significant mother-daughter talk.
Before Rikkell could continue it, Dee was gone.
On that Sunday, as they launched their search for Dee, family members took it upon themselves to look at video from several security cameras on the property, hoping to spot some kind of clue about where she might have gone.
Rikkell Bock: “We watched, like, that morning to see if there was any vehicles that drove by that could have picked her up or anything. And there was nothing.”
Soon after realizing that Dee had vanished and wasn't responding to calls from anyone, Rikkell and her siblings made a decision.
Rikkell Bock: “We spoke to Dale and we said, ‘We think that it's time that you should report her missing.’ And he said, ‘I'll do it in the morning after I take Angelina to school.’ And so we decided that wasn't enough for us. So we left. We went to my brother's house and called and reported her missing.”
As soon as Dee's family filed their report, the Lenawee County Sheriff's Office began investigating her missing persons case.
Deputies determined the last people to see Dee before her disappearance, were the family friend who had picked up Angelina for the night and then Dale, Dee’s husband.
The sheriff's office declined to share the missing persons report with us, saying it's an open investigation.
The more Gregg dwelled on the “what-ifs” surrounding his sister's disappearance, the more some gut-wrenching possibilities began to creep into his thoughts.
Gregg Hardy: “I became very concerned because I knew how distraught she was and the arguments that had taken place. I was concerned that perhaps she considered taking her own life.”
Josh Mankiewicz: “Do you still think that's possible?”
Gregg Hardy: “Oh, no. Not at all. I investigated that beginning Sunday night and going into the next several days, including a land search, including talking to people who are familiar with people who do commit suicide -- to understand what might have been the mannerisms or what would take place for someone to do that, where they would do that, et cetera.”
Josh Mankiewicz: “What did you think it happened?”
Gregg Hardy: “I think it had been an ongoing argument. It had been a toxic relationship for a long time -- so toxic, particularly between she and her husband. Got to the end of that process and had enough and wanted to get away from that.”
Josh Mankiewicz: “You think she told Dale this is the end?”
Gregg Hardy: “Yeah, I would be sure of that.”
Billy Little: “She had told everybody. In fact, she had told a friend that she was going to divorce him.”
Billy Little is a nationally recognized defense attorney and private investigator who joined the family’s fight for answers after they reached out to him.
Based in Missouri, he's tried capital murder cases and is a former investigator for the U.S. Navy.
He told me he has one singular goal:
Billy Little: “I genuinely want to help people. That makes me feel good about myself when I help people. And I do it for no money, for a lot of reasons, but one is: I'm not driven by money, and I also don't want to be tainted by that.”
Billy Little hit the ground investigating Dee’s disappearance in March of this year.
He's been pounding the pavement in Michigan and says he's interviewed at least 100 witnesses to date, including those who Dee allegedly spoke with in the days leading up to her disappearance.
Little says he's confirmed that on the day before she disappeared, Dee was apparently so fed up with her marriage that she had decided to tell her husband it was over.
And, he says, she did not keep that decision a secret.
Billy Little: “This was going to be the final straw. And so the friend said, ‘Well, so that your child doesn't have to see it, let me come and pick up the 9-year-old little girl and take her to my house. So you and Dale can have this out, just the two of you.’”
Little says Dee was so upset about having to have that conversation with Dale, that she was throwing up that Saturday and crying so hard that the woman doing Dee’s eyelashes had trouble affixing them to her eyelids.
Billy Little: “She told me when I interviewed her that she can't really do eyelashes when your eyes are so swollen. So she had to get her to calm down and keep her eyes closed and stop crying so she could put her eyelashes on. So during the appointment the phone would ring and Dee would ask the girl to look and see who was calling. And Dale actually tried to call during the appointment and Dee didn't want to answer it because she would just be getting upset again. So she was able to keep her calm enough to get the eyelashes on. They made two future appointments and Dee never made those appointments, obviously.”
We also spoke with that woman who recalled that when she saw a call from Dale come in on Dee's phone that day, she asked Dee if she wanted to take the call.
She says Dee told her quote, “That's a big f------ nope.”
Was it possible Dee decided to completely avoid the divorce conversation and simply leave home on her own -- or have someone pick her up to get away from it all?
It is certainly possible that Dee left on her own, but her family says they saw no evidence of that on the home security video.
And Lenawee County Sheriff Troy Bevier, in an interview with Dateline earlier this year, said investigators had also reviewed the security footage before sending it on to the FBI.
However, after his office's initial review of the video, the sheriff described it as quote, “Nothing that jumped out at us, as far as being able to definitively prove anything one way or the other.”
One of the first things Little did as he looked into the case, was to try to learn what Dale had to say about the last time he'd seen his wife.
He says Dale told family members what had gone on from that Saturday night into Sunday morning.
Billy Little: “Dale's initial story was that they had the worst fight of their life that Saturday night -- on the 24th of April. He later changes that story to: well, they had a fight but it wasn't that bad -- that after the disagreement -- the argument -- he gave her a massage on the living room floor. She fell asleep, he lifted her up and put her on the couch, which is where she stayed the entire night. He went to the bedroom. He fell asleep. He got up the next morning and when he left the house at 6:00 a.m., he walked by and saw her in the living room asleep and snoring on the couch at 6:00 a.m. And that's the last he saw of her.”
In January, Sheriff Bevier told Dateline there had been an argument involving Dee, her husband, and one or two of her employees the evening before she disappeared, and that investigators were following up on it.
Little says family members ask Dale what he thought had happened to Dee.
Billy Little: “He said, ‘Well, she's probably in Mexico or Jamaica.’ He also said at one point that she must have run off with a guy who had more money than him, because she was so into the money thing, but no suggestion about who that might be. He also said that she might run off with this man -- this unknown man who had more money -- with her, and gone to Australia.”
Josh Mankiewicz: “No evidence that Dee ever went to Jamaica or Mexico -- or Australia, for that matter? Because she would have had to use her passport -- and she did not.”
Billy Little: “Correct.”
So where on earth could Dee have gone?
The investigation into that was about to ramp up.
Spring turned to summer, with no sign of Dee.
Summer was one of her favorite times of the year.
And it included the Annual Lenawee County Fair. That was a tradition she and her daughter Rikkell just loved.
Together, they showed animals, shared funnel cakes, and made some treasured memories.
Rikkell Bock: “She loved the fair. She became one of the group leaders and she loved it. And she would always beg us to come to the fair every day and come see her and hang out -- and she was always a good time.”
And then it was fall.
Crunchy, colorful foliage drifted down from the nearly-barren trees and gently rolled across the rural fields and lakes nestled in Lenawee County.
Six months had passed since Dee Warner had been seen or heard from -- and a chill washed over the vast farmland and the local orchards.
For the most part, people here were looking forward to their autumn favorites: Sipping on hot apple cider, gathering around bonfires to toast up sticky-sweet s'mores, and getting a costume ready to pretend to be someone else for just one night.
Halloween was fast approaching. For Dee Warner's family, a real life horror story was unfolding.
Now summer was a memory and maybe Dee was, too.
In late October 2021, investigators conducted multiple searches of Dee and Dale’s several acre property but were unable to locate Dee.
In March of this year, the Lenawee County Sheriff's Office announced the formation of a task force for Dee's case which included the assistance of the Michigan State Police and the FBI.
With that, more searches followed.
Those were done by helicopter and on foot, canine and cadaver dog searches, drone searches, ground penetrating radar, forensic searches. And beyond the scope of the physical boots on the ground and in the air, the sheriff told Dateline that there were also searches into these medical records, her finances and her social media.
The only thing unearthed in all of those search efforts, according to the sheriff, was a set of her keys.
They could not find Dee.
Billy Little has conducted his own searches and he's come to one conclusion.
Josh Mankiewicz: “You don't think Dee’s going to come walking back in the door. In fact, you don't think her body is ever going to be found?”
Billy Little: “No. No, I don't. I don't believe that either one of those will happen. Now that being said, I have conducted high-tech drone searches of thousands of acres of property. I have conducted some -- I don't want to say too much -- but let's -- let's just say there may or may not be cadaver dogs that I have access to. There's farmland that covers up to 4,000 acres, but the property where they have the office and the businesses and the trucking company and fertilizer company -- that's probably a quarter-mile square.”
Josh Mankiewicz: “That area has been searched by multiple law enforcement agencies, including the FBI and nothing's been found. So if she was killed there -- which is what you think -- where is she?”
Billy Little: “I don't know where she is. Again, I don't think we're ever going to find her, but I haven't given up looking because the family wants to find her body so she can get a proper funeral.”
As she looks back on it all, Rikkell remembers her mother telling her something about her stepdad, something that has stayed with her ever since.
Rikkell Bock: “One of the last things my mom said to me was that she watches Dateline, like, every night and ‘He could do something like that to me.’”
When Dateline asked Lenawee County Sheriff Troy Bevier, back in January 2022, if he had any person of interest in his sights for Dee’s disappearance, he said, quote, “Really, we haven't ruled anything out. We're trying to keep an open mind and not rule anybody out and not focus on anyone in particular, but kind of focus on everyone in particular.”
Then in April, Sheriff Bevier said this to our NBC affiliate WDIV...
Sheriff Bevier: “We have not completely ruled anyone out. And I can also say that the husband, Dale Warner, is well aware that he is the primary person of interest in this. And yes, we have -- we have interviewed him numerous times.”
We reached out to Sheriff Bevier again recently, who agreed to speak with us for this podcast.
But at the last minute he canceled our scheduled interview.
Dale Warner did not respond to Dateline's multiple requests for an interview, however, his attorney did provide a statement to local media back in May addressing the mystery surrounding Dee’s whereabouts.
In part, it said that Dale misses his wife and had nothing to do with her disappearance.
It also stated that Dale has fully cooperated with law enforcement, including participating in interviews and having his property searched.
The statement concluded with Dale's eagerness to hear from Dee -- alive and well.
Rikkell doesn't believe that's going to happen.
Josh Mankiewicz: “You don't think your mom's still alive anymore?”
Rikkell Bock: “No.”
Then, as we were producing this episode, news broke about the case.
As I said, Sheriff Troy Bevier canceled our scheduled interview, and now we know why.
The day he was going to discuss where their investigation stood, was the same day he made a big decision in the case.
The sheriff requested that the Michigan State Police, already assisting on this case, take over the lead in the investigation.
The sheriff told Dateline why he took that step. Quote, “I did the right thing at the right time for the right reason -- to help the family and move the case forward.”
As of August 2nd, the Michigan State Police is actively reviewing the Lenawee County Sheriff's request that they take the lead on Dee's case.
They have also declined to speak with Dateline for this podcast.
Dee Warner's missing persons case is still an open and active investigation with the Lenawee County Sheriff's Office, at least for now.
No suspects have been named in the case, and with no sign of Dee -- alive or dead -- her family continues to demand answers.
Rikkell Bock: “I want somebody to be held responsible. I definitely want to be able to have the closure of her, because at this point I can't even explain to my kids where's Nana because I can't -- I don't have any proof that she's 100% gone. So we need that closure for us, and we need it for our kids, and we need it for our little sister -- so that we can all move forward and start the grieving process.”
Through his own investigation, Billy Little says there's been no proof of life and because of that, Gregg also believes his sister is gone forever.
Josh Mankiewicz: “Where do you think she is?”
Gregg Hardy: “Well, she's dead, for one thing. Where her remains are -- I don't know. I have -- I've spent a lot of effort looking for that. I've offered a major cash reward for that. I have some continuing leads and ideas that I'm pursuing and continue to pursue. But as we sit here today, I don't know.”
And Dee’s protective big brother Gregg is more determined than ever.
Gregg Hardy: “One thing about me: I don't stop. Whatever it takes, we will get the truth out.”
Josh Mankiewicz: “You think you're eventually gonna know?”
Gregg Hardy: “Absolutely.”
This is where you can help bring Dee Warner home -- to Angelina, to Rikkell, to Gregg and to those who miss her.
Dee is 5'4" and weighs approximately 135 lbs.
She has brown hair with blonde highlights.
If you know anything about her disappearance or her whereabouts, call the Lenawee County Sheriff's Office at (517) 263-0524 or the Michigan State Police at (855) 642-4847.
Thanks for listening. To see pictures of Dee, and learn more about other people we've covered in our Missing in America series, go to DatelineMissingInAmerica.com. There, you'll be able to submit cases you think we should cover in the future.