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Special Report: Where is Karen Wright?

A missing persons case turned homicide investigation.
In law enforcement, unsolved cases are often referred to as a "cold case". Investigators in Merced County have a very twisted cold cases and they hope they can catch a break. It's the story of a 50-year-old woman who disappeared in 2009.

Karen Wright vanished in Mexico while with her estranged husband. The story of her disappearance is like something out of a movie. In some ways, it can be compared to the Natalee Holloway case because both involved American women who vanished on foreign soil.

Sergeant Chuck Hale of the Merced County Sheriff's Department was the lead detective on the Wright case when it broke in February 2009. "This is by far the most complex case this agency has ever seen or been involved with," said Hale.

The case was originally considered a missing persons case, but today is classified as a homicide. Deputies say they have a suspect, but making an arrest is not that simple.

Investigators say it all started when Karen Wright took a road trip by herself. She left Merced and eventually arrived in San Felipe, Mexico on February 9th, 2009. Her vacation home there is where she and her hummer were last seen. According to her estranged husband, Randal Wright, the two had an argument and Karen walked away and never returned.

Merced County Sheriff Mark Pazin says that Randy waited until he was back in Merced, three days later, before reporting Karen missing. "Absent the body itself to do any forensics or check to see if there's evidence really puts us behind the 8 ball," said Sheriff Pazin.

Karen's sister, Kimberly Stewart, has told police that she does not believe Randy's story. "That's not like her. She wouldn't have left her dogs, she wouldn't have walked away from a situation and she wouldn't have done this to her family," said Kimberly.

Karen and randy were married for eleven years. "In the beginning it was rocky, but then it was happy and then it got rocky at the end," said Kimberly.

In 2008, Karen filed for divorce. During proceedings, a judge ordered that the couple halt construction on their new home in Mexico. Karen found out that that Randy was still working the home and traveled to San Felipe to investigate. "She wanted to see what she could find out by taking pictures and going down by herself before she went back to court," said Kimberly.

Stewart believes her sister made a dangerous mistake by choosing to ignore a threat Randy had made. "He had told her that if she went to Mexico again, she wouldn't come back alive," said Kimberly.

Deputies tell CBS47 that they have taken a half dozen trips to Mexico and say they suspect Randy Wright is involved in his wife's death, but they have no evidence to arrest him. "Our hands are tied because we have to follow the law," said Deputy Hale. "He is our suspect, but now we have to build that case and hopefully someone will come forward and say I know this and this is why," said Sheriff Pazin.

CBS47 contacted Randy Wright's attorney, Thomas Gillis out of Modesto, but he chose not to comment. Meanwhile, the sheriff's major crimes unit remains committed to this cold case, frequently reviewing the facts in order to stay fresh. "If you read a case so many times, you begin to learn about that case a lot more. And something may click or just pop into your head at anytime," said Hale.

Kimberly Stewart is still hoping there will be an arrest. Justice is the one thing that would bring Stewart and her family closure. She is still calling on the public to help provide them the comfort they desire. "I urge anyone to come forward that has any information," said Kimberly.

If you have any information on the case, you're asked to contact the Merced Country Sheriff's Department. 


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