On Saturday, April 28, 2012, a security camera in Manhattan’s Port Authority Bus Terminal captured Stevie Danielle Bates at around 9 AM. The 19-year-old with bleach-blonde dreadlocks looked somewhat confused after stepping off an escalator, seemingly unsure of in which direction to go next. At 1:10 into the clip released by the Yonkers Police Department, Bates is seen wandering a bit before walking towards the security camera and out of its view. This was the last confirmed sighting of Stevie Bates.
The 19-year-old graduated from Bronx High School of Science, where she was a National Achievement Scholar and a cheerleader. Bates attended Hunter College in Fall 2011, where she majored in studio art, according to her Facebook. She measured five-feet-six-inches tall, was around 115 pounds, and had nose, tongue, and belly-button piercings. Her last known address was in Brooklyn, where she lived with her older sister, Sherina Bates, while her mother and stepfather’s new home in Yonkers was being renovated.
Bates had recently seen tragedy that sparked a personality change, according to her mother, Vivian Jones. After the sudden deaths of two friends—one to suicide, one to an accidental overdose, according to Patrick Hilsman of The Influence—she’d reportedly bleached and dreadlocked her hair, neglected personal hygiene, and grew distant from her family. None of this seems like particularly surprising behavior for a grieving teenage, but it was understandably concerning, nonetheless. Jones thought her daughter seemed to be on the up-and-up after starting college. Structure can be critical in finding one’s new normal.
According to Whereabouts Still Unknown, Bates began attending Occupy Wall Street protests as part of an assignment in 2011. Bates reportedly became so caught up in the movement that she took up residence in the tent city erected by demonstrators in Zuccotti Park before Bloomberg ordered its take-down in November 2011. In fact, a Wall Street Journal photographer snapped photo of a Bates distraught in the wake of the encampment’s take-down on November 15, 2011.
Bates seemed to make a gaggle of new friends through the protests, including Brandon Klosterman, an Ohio native 10-years her senior. At some point Klosterman and she became an item, with whom she began a relationship at some point. When the pair began dating us unclear, but their relationship had dissolved by late March 2012.
Bates decided against enrolling in classes for the Spring 2012 semester, according to The Charley Project. In April, she and three Occupy Wall Street friends planned a road-trip to Northern California. On the 19th, she called her mother from Virginia. She’d lost her cell somewhere—presumably between California and Virginia, although whether they actually made it to California is unclear—and was therefore using a friend’s phone to keep in contact.
Around April 23, Bates told her mother their car broke down in North Carolina, and they would be taking a bus to Arkansas. On April 26, she boarded a Manhattan-bound Greyhound in Hot Springs, Arkansas. On the evening of the 27th, she called her mother for the last time from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, during the bus’s final layover before reaching New York.
Jones offered to pick her daughter up from Port Authority the following day, but Bates declined. She’d arranged to go directly from Port Authority to Klosterman’s place in Brooklyn to pick up some of her belongings. From there, she would go to her family’s newly-purchased home in Yonkers.
Jones described her last contact with her daughter on a website dedicated to the case:
“When I last spoke with Stevie on 4/27 she specifically told me that when she arrived in NYC she would stop in Brooklyn to meet up with her ex boyfriend, Brandon Klosterman, and come to the house the next day. I have not heard from or seen her since. None of her friends have seen her. She’s had no activity on Facebook since April 26, 2012 (when she had a Facebook conversation with her ex boyfriend Brandon Klosterman, who she would be meeting up with in Brooklyn as soon as she arrived in NYC ). Her other conversations on Facebook were with her best friend (whom she made plans to meet up with for spring break), and a few other high school friends. The friend she was to meet up with, Brandon Klosterman, claimed he hadn’t seen her since before she left NYC on April 19, 2012 to begin her travels. She has not had any activity on her card since April 26, 2012. Stevie NEVER goes without calling me.”
When she couldn’t get in contact with Bates and no one could track her down, Jones decided to call the authorities. However, reporting Bates missing proved to be somewhat of a distaster, according to Jones’s account:
Since I myself became a new resident of Yonkers in April of 2012, NYPD would not take the missing persons report because:
NYPD said she was 19 and could go as she pleased, (regardless of the fact that I told them my daughter Stevie never ever goes without calling me). They also said that since I didn’t have any proof that she even made it to NYC (because when I last spoke with her she was at a layover stop in PA), that I should contact NYC Port Authority.
NYC Port Authority redirected me to PA Port Authority.
PA Port Authority redirected me to Arkansas where she first boarded the greyhound bus to NYC, (even though I told them I spoke with her while she was in PA at the layover).
Arkansas verified that she boarded the bus and redirected me back to PA Port Authority.
PA Port Authority redirected me the PA Police Department.
The PA Police Department verified via video surveillance that Stevie re-boarded the bus in PA heading to NYC and, they redirected me back to NY Port Authority.
NYC Port Authority then redirected me back to NYPD.
NYPD then redirected me to Yonkers, because I told them I had just become a Yonkers resident (even though I told them Stevie lived in NYC with her sister).
By this time I was frantic and frustrated with the run around I was receiving, so I finally filed the Missing Persons Report in Yonkers.
Many articles state Bates’s mother didn’t file a missing persons report with Yonkers police until May 9, 2012. While technically true, this statement fails to convey that Jones wholeheartedly tried to file a report nearly from the get-go.
It’s unclear where Klosterman lived in Brooklyn; however, a flyer on Jones’s website recommends searching for Bates in the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn, “near E 26th st and Cortelyou [Rd].” This leads me to believe Klosterman may have been living in that area.
If she headed to Flatbush, Bates would’ve had a few options for public transit. However, we can’t know which option she chose—if she even embarked to Brooklyn at all. Both Port Authority and MTA subway stations are fitted with security cameras, but footage is erased after 30 days. Because of the investigatory run-around, that footage wasn’t reviewed before it was taped over, according to Jones:
Two weeks [after reporting Bates missing] when Yonkers finally got around to going down to NYC to check the video footage, we verified that she did make it into NYC. I then made several attempts via phone calls to precincts and walk-ins to precincts, to get the case transferred to NYC. NYC said they couldn’t duplicate the Missing Persons Report and that Yonkers had to follow up on the case. Due to Yonkers limited resources and a lack of effort, many crucial opportunities were missed (like crucial video surveillance up and down 8th Ave and the subway stations) which could have helped us track her steps and follow any leads that may have shed light on what happened to her and where she went after leaving Port Authority on 4/28/12.
Investigators would continue to frustrate Bates’s family. It wasn’t a secret that Bates had planned to see Klosterman following her arrival at Port Authority; however, investigators seemed uninterested in pursuing Klosterman. Per Hilsman’s reporting, he wasn’t questioned until late May, over a month since Bates was last seen.
Later, cops would reportedly tell Jones that Klosterman was cagey during interrogation. He said he hadn’t seen or spoke to his ex-girlfriend since April 19, before she’d embarked on her cross-country travels. He’d also deleted all of his Facebook messages to and from Bates. While this sounds admittedly suspicious, it’s important to remember Klosterman and Bates had recently broken up. Maybe it’s just me, but I’m the type of crazy that deletes every email, text, Facebook post, or tweet that even reminds me of someone with whom I’ve just broken up. If we knew whether Klosterman deleted those messages before or after Bates’s disappearance, this might be a more substantial lead. But
Regardless, police were so confident after their short interview with Bates’s ex-boyfriend that they stated, “Brandon Klosterman is not a person of interest in this case.”
A Google-search for ‘Stevie Bates’ yields pages of rumors about Klosterman’s potential involvement in Bates’s disappearance. Lots of that speculation seems to revolve around Klosterman’s struggles with substance abuse at the time of Bates’s disappearance.
In general, I find it difficult to take the suggestions of at face value or give them any weight. For one, “drug use” is such a non-specific term that can refer to anything from recreational pot-smoking, to exams-season Adderall use, or to a full-blown, crippling addiction. And, because I’m roughly same age as Stevie Bates and her crew and was a college kid in Manhattan around the same time, I know that recreational drug use is pretty standard, even for the highest-performing students. Don’t get me wrong: addiction is a terrible disease. I lost my father to an overdose as a teenager. But, drug use does not always mean drug addict.
However, in researching this case, I stumbled upon an archived article by Patrick Hilsman of The Influence (for some reason, the original is no longer available on The Influence‘s website). Hilsman wrote that, in 2011, he’d met a then-28-year-old Klosterman at Bellevue Hospital’s methadone clinic:
“In late 2011, I was a patient at the Bellevue methadone clinic in Manhattan, at the tail-end of a four-year heroin addiction.
“Brandon had also been addicted to heroin, and was now another Bellevue methadone patient. He was living in a Brooklyn squat. I got to know his face starting in the summer of 2011, when he was 28, and in the months that followed we shared moments of small talk in the long lines of clients waiting to get dosed.
“I also knew him for his reputation for stealing and fighting, for being a little bit crazier and less pleasant than the rest of us.
“A couple of months in, he began showing up at the clinic with his new girlfriend—a beautiful, intelligent young woman—which brought her into my life, too. It was Stevie Bates…Stevie had no problems with drugs, according her parents and the friends who knew her best. She wasn’t straight edge, but neither did any possible drug use, legal or illegal, figure prominently in her life. Right through into April 2012, Stevie spent a lot of time with people who, like Brandon, were addicted to drugs—but she wasn’t.”
I feel it’s important to stress that addiction is a disease, not a moral failing: someone’s addictive personality is not indicative of their potential for violent behavior. That being said, Klosterman does, in fact, have a criminal record, according to a cursory search of public records. There’s an assault charge stemming from a 2009 incident in Ohio; however, the remainder of arrests relate to drug possession, public intoxication/disorderly conduct, and trespassing.
From here, it seems law enforcement’s investigation into Stevie Bates’s disappearance came to a de facto end. But her family persevered. Vivian Jones continued searching and distributing flyers to area hospitals, according to a June 2012 website post:
“I’ve gone to Bellvue and Beth Israel in Manhattan, Kings County, Wykoff and Woodhull in Brooklyn, Jacobi, Bronx Lebanon, Lincoln, Montefiore and North Central in the Bronx. The hospital police have agreed to post flyers in the office, ERs, and some wards. Admissions in all have checked using her name, DOB, social, unknown and looked at admittance of females around her age and description in last 6 weeks, nothing.”
It’s hard to accept that someone could vanish from midtown Manhattan in the digital age. I don’t think it’s presumptuous to say that this city is one of the most populated and heavily-surveilled places on this planet.
While that may lead one to think finding Stevie Bates should be easier, there’s a comfortable anonymity that comes with living in such a densely-packed city. Personal space is so scarce here that it only takes one rush-hour trip on a delayed A train for one to learn how to block out the world in public places. I often say that, in New York, we’re all alone together.
Over 200,000 people pass through Port Authority on a given weekday, according to a 2013 press release. As historian and author Sean Munger noted in a 2013 write-up of Bates’s case, “While at the same time it seems impossible that not one of those millions saw Stevie Bates after 8:51 AM, the sheer numbers we’re dealing with make finding witnesses all the more difficult.”
Despite my seemingly nonstop—and, to be honest, probably unsustainable—exposure to crime and criminal justice in both my professional and personal time, there are some cases that really stick with me. They’re often missing persons who were artistic, fiercely independent, and likely struggling with something—whether it be mental health, grief, or simply finding one’s place in the world. They often remind me of myself. It’s solipsistic, but when I feel I can so strongly empathize, I see how easy it can be for someone to seemingly fall off the face of the earth, and it’s horrifying.
Stevie Bates is one of those cases. She’s the kind of person who’d fit right in with my eclectic social circle. And I can’t imagine how bat-shit insane I would be after six years of not knowing what happened to someone I loved. Six years!
And yet, here we are.