No arrests in four-year-old missing persons case of Virginia woman Janet Renee Field

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By Bianca Hillier

Like clockwork on June 30, 2014, Janet Renee Field called her parents from the Scottsville, Virginia home she shared with her husband, Lewis Edwin Field. It was a weekly routine, and Renee, as family called her, never missed their Monday date.

Janet Renee FieldFluvanna County Sheriff's Office

“She seemed OK then. She didn’t seem to be upset,” Renee’s father Ivan Branch told Dateline. “Everything was normal.”

The next phone call from the Field home to Renee’s parents in Lexington, Virginia came only three days later -- on July 2. It wasn’t yet time for their weekly call. And it wasn’t Renee calling.

“[Renee’s husband] Lewis called me at 11:30 that night and wanted to know if Renee was at our house,” Ivan told Dateline. “I told him that she wasn’t. That’s when he told me Renee had left around 1:00 p.m. in her car, on her own, and hadn’t come home since.”

After getting off the phone with Lewis, Ivan says he tried calling his daughter’s phone himself. It was ringing, but she didn’t pick up. Nobody could reach Renee.

Captain David Wells with the Fluvanna County Sheriff’s Office told Dateline Renee’s husband Lewis came to the Sheriff’s office the next day to file a missing persons report. He said he last saw his wife the day before, July 2, when she left home after the couple “had a small argument.”

“The way it was initially reported, it didn’t sound anything extraordinary,” Captain Wells told Dateline, explaining that “it’s not uncommon for husbands and wives to get into fights” and need a day or two apart. “But the original deputy who took the report ended up calling me fairly quickly because something didn’t seem right. Something didn’t click.”

Captain Wells said an investigation began immediately, but the circumstances of the case gave them few avenues to explore.

“She was a fairly isolated person. We talked to her neighbors, but [Renee] lived on a 22-acre piece of land, so it’s not like you can canvas the neighborhood and ask if neighbors saw or heard anything. There weren’t a lot of possible witnesses to interview,” he said.

Captain Wells said Renee, 49 at the time of her disappearance, didn’t have any social media accounts, which placed her even further off the grid.

“We started doing the usual things to try to track people – tracking her cell phone, credit card, etcetera,” he told Dateline. “We didn’t find anything of significance. Nothing that was helpful to locate her.”

Renee’s second cousin Bridget Cooper-Whorley, who had grown up with Renee in Lexington, told Dateline she knew there was “no possibility she left on her own.”

“She was always was a very private person. She only talked to a few people. She didn’t leave the house a whole lot,” Bridget said. “I just cannot see her up and leaving and not letting her family know what was going on.”

Janet Renee Field and her husband, Lewis Edwin Field.Fluvanna County Sheriff's Office

“She is extremely fond of her cats. Everybody says she would never leave those cats unattended because they were her children,” Captain Wells told Dateline. “It goes to disprove the theory that she met some guy and moved away of her own volition.”

But a break – which police would learn to be rare in this case – came just the next day.

“On July 4th, we were checking the area for cars and parking lots, and her car was found probably 20 miles from her house, just over the county line,” Captain Wells said. A news release says her car, a 2010 burgundy Subaru Forrester (VA registration WNP2591) was found at a park & ride in nearby Zion's Crossroads, Virginia.

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Authorities found Janet's 2010 burgundy Subaru Forrester, picture here, at the Zion's Crossroads Park & Ride two days after she disappeared.Fluvanna County Sheriff's Office

“There was nothing out of the ordinary with the car,” Captain Wells added. “No broken windows, no blood stains. It just looked like someone parked their car there.”

Renee’s second cousin Bridget told Dateline that since Renee didn’t work, or have any friends in the area the car was found, the car’s location didn’t make any sense.

“To me, with Renee being such a private person, I can’t even understand why her car would have been at that park & ride where her car was found,” she said.

Captain Wells told Dateline that, to protect the integrity of the investigation, he wasn’t able to comment on specific items that were or were not found in the car. However, he told Dateline, since it was Renee’s car, “her DNA is going to be all over it regardless of if she drove it that day, or days earlier.”

“And your significant other probably rides with you a bunch, so their DNA is going to be in the car. So the presence or absence doesn’t really tell us anything,” he added.

Captain Wells said authorities brought in bloodhounds and cadaver dogs to search the woods surrounding the park & ride, but nothing of significance was recovered. Although the park & ride area was “semi-busy,” Captain Wells said there weren’t a lot of surveillance cameras to check.

“Even the surveillance cameras that are in the area aren’t aimed directly at the park & ride,” he told Dateline. “We checked as best we could, but did not see her car driving into the park & ride. I have no way of knowing who put that car there.”

Renee’s father Ivan, who lives about 90 minutes away, in Renee’s hometown of Lexington, Virginia, says he and his wife Irene drove to Scottsville after their daughter went missing. That’s when, he told Dateline, he found out about some marital problems that Renee’s husband Lewis had mentioned to police.

“I never knew they were having problems until any of this happened,” Ivan said. “I would have told her to just let him go. She probably didn’t want me to be worried. Well, what do you think I’m doing now?”

Captain Wells confirmed that authorities became aware of the alleged marital problems during their interviews with Renee’s husband Lewis.

“Obviously, in any case where a wife goes missing, statistically people always look at the husband first,” Captain Wells said. “We have interviewed the husband at-depth on some things, and are not 100% satisfied with some of his answers. He’s a very flat person, so he’s difficult to get a read on.”

Captain Wells told Dateline that while Field initially cooperated with authorities, results of a polygraph test showed “indicators of deception.”

Police and Renee’s family said Lewis Field has since sold his and Renee’s home and moved to Texas.

Field did not reply to Dateline’s repeated requests for comment.

“During the course of the investigation, I got enough probable cause to execute a search warrant on the [Field] dwelling, with the help of the state police,” Captain Wells told Dateline. “Cadaver dogs also searched the 22 acres,” he added, but did not find anything leading to Renee.

Captain Wells said authorities have tracked down every lead they’ve received over the past four years to try to locate Renee.

“One of the neighbors said they saw Lewis with a refrigerator in the back of his truck after she went missing,” he recalled. “So we went to the dump and found the fridge but there was nothing suspicious.”

Renee’s mother died from ongoing health issues on November 7, 2014, less than five months after her daughter disappeared. She was 82 years old.

Janet Renee Field with her husband Lewis Edwin Field, her father Ivan Branch, and her mother Irene Branch (from left to right).Fluvanna County Sheriff's Office

“She grieved herself to death,” Ivan told Dateline about his wife. “So I lost my wife and my daughter within months of each other. It hasn’t been easy.”

“I feel so bad for Ivan, he’s such a nice fellow,” Captain Wells told Dateline. Now widowed, Ivan feels even more compelled to find justice for his daughter.

“I’d like to have some closure. I’d like to know how she was killed and where her body was dumped,” Ivan told Dateline. “I think she is dead, and the investigators seem to think so, too. I hate to think that.”

“I hope someday she’ll be back. But I don’t think my hope is going to come true,” Ivan added.

Bridget told Dateline that she, too, believes Renee is no longer alive.

“I guess you get to that point where you wonder what else can you do? Where else can you go?” she said. “I still try to post things on the Facebook page.”

Captain Wells told Dateline that Renee’s case is still considered an active missing persons investigation at the Fluvanna County Sheriff’s Office.

“It’s definitely one of the weirdest cases I’ve ever worked. There’s been a lot of late nights trying to think of something to do,” he told Dateline. “It’s one of those cases where the more you look, the more questions you have.”

“When I describe this case to people, I use the word ‘odd’ over 57 times,” he added. “But that’s what it is: odd.”

Captain Wells says he hopes that authorities can one day make an arrest in Renee’s case. Whether that day comes sooner or later, Ivan said he will always remember his daughter as the “nice,” “intelligent,” and “artistic” woman she was.

“I never dreamed any of this would ever happen to me. I wish none of it had ever happened. But you can’t go back in time,” he said.

Janet Renee Field is described as being 5’7” and weighing 130 lbs. at the time of her disappearance. She has short blonde hair and blue eyes. If you have any information on details surrounding Renee’s disappearance, please call the Fluvanna County Sheriff's Office at 434-589-8211.

If you have a missing friend or family member, send a private message to Dateline NBC on our Facebook page and tell us your story. We may feature the person’s case in our Missing in America or Cold Case Spotlight series.