Patty Vaughan: What Happened to Her? Has She Been Found?

When Patty Vaughan, a mother of three, failed to show up at the family gathering on Christmas Day in 1996, her family felt it was very unlikely of her. But her loved ones knew something was seriously wrong when her minivan was found abandoned with a flat tire the following day. Investigation Discovery’s ‘Disappeared: Silent Night’ and the episode titled ‘Missing: Patty Vaughn’ of ‘Crime Junkie Podcast’ cover Patty’s disappearance case by providing all the intricate details, including the events that led to the vanishing and the decades of search that followed.

Patty Vaughan Vanished From Her La Vernia Residence

Patty Vaughan (née Inez Brightwell) or Vaughn was brought into the world by Patsy Wallace and Billy Brightwell on August 17, 1964. Growing up in the loving company of her parents and sister Jeannie Liams, the Bexar County woman was a caring and deeply religious human being, so much so that she even started a band of her own at the church. In June 1982, she completed her schooling and graduated from Kubasaki High School in Okinawa. Just a few years down the line, on May 18, 1985, she tied the knot with Jerry Ray Vaughan AKA JR in San Antonio, Texas. In the next 6-7 years, the married couple moved to different cities, including Portland, Maine; Athens, Georgia; and Stafford, Virginia.

Image Credit: FoxSanAntonio

The two gave birth to three children — daughter Brittany, son Ray, and son Tyler. After several years of moving across the country, Patty and JR finally settled down in La Vernia, Texas, where the dedicated mother became a homemaker while JR worked as a building contractor. She also used her singing talents by joining her church choir. However, after more than 11 years of staying in wedlock, the marriage had deteriorated over time, and in October 1996, their six-month separation trial began following JR’s alleged oppressive and violent behavior towards her.

While JR moved into an apartment in San Antonio, Patty stayed with her children at the couple’s house on Oak Park Road in La Vernia, Texas, and took a secretary job at Quinney Electric. Amidst all this, she found comfort in her former boyfriend, Gary, leading to the rekindling of their relationship. On Christmas Eve of 1996, Patty brought her new boyfriend, Gary, along with her children to the family gathering and introduced him to the family. The next day, she planned to give JR some time with the kids to celebrate Christmas. Later, she was supposed to drop off the kids at her cousin’s in San Antonio, Texas, and go out with Gary.

Image Credit: JR Vaughan/Facebook

However, Patty and JR reportedly got into a heated argument, and the latter claimed that she got angry and upset, and stormed off their house at 152 Oak Park Road in La Vernia, Texas, in her Dodge Caravan around 6:30 pm in the evening. When she failed to show up at the family’s Christmas gathering, her concerned loved ones went straight to her house, but they were met by JR, who claimed that she was not doing fine, and that’s why she couldn’t join the gathering. Patty even failed to show up for work the next day, which caused concern among her family, friends, and coworkers.

Worried about her well-being and whereabouts, her family reported her missing to the police on December 26, 1996. On the same day, her light blue 1991 Dodge Caravan was found abandoned near 1604 and Spanish Grant with a flat tire by her employer, but Patty was nowhere to be seen. While inspecting the minivan for clues, the authorities found traces of her blood and indications of a hasty cleanup. They even found some of Patty’s blood on the walls and floor of her bedroom and on a mop inside the house.

JR’s reaction to the search for Patty was somewhat suspicious as he did not cooperate with the police at all. Instead, he began divorce proceedings and moved back into the La Vernia house with the children. Although the police as well as Patty’s close ones suspected JR of having something to do with her sudden disappearance, enough evidence was not found against him for the arrest. When it came to Gary, he fully cooperated with the detectives and wasn’t considered a suspect at all.

Patty Vaughan is Presumed Dead as Family Still Tries to Locate Her Remains

Nearly a decade following Patty Vaughan’s disappearance, her estranged husband Jerry Ray Vaughan AKA JR added a layer of dense perplexity to the case. In 2005, he moved to the court with a presumption of death petition in relation to the mother of his children. However, her family alleged that JR’s actions were motivated by the need to benefit from the insurance. Countering his plea, they reportedly filed a civil wrongful death suit, and the court announced the insurance funds to be secured in a trust for their children’s future. In the subsequent year, the authorities scoured through a few areas after receiving a tip on the case, but nothing bore fruit.

Image Credit: FoxSanAntonio

By then, JR had left his life in Texas behind and moved to Colorado to start afresh with the kids. As per reports, he also changed his identity. While the 10th anniversary of Patty’s case was marked by her family and loved ones reminiscing about her strong personality and warm nature, the absence of her kids rendered the event bittersweet. Nevertheless, they all celebrated her life with the expression of collective love for her by sharing stories, relishing a feast in her name, and releasing balloons to mark her free spirit.

In 2012, technological advancement enabled the officials to send the traces of the DNA found in Patty’s vehicle for testing. To the surprise of the authorities, it belonged to a woman who wasn’t Patty. In a statement following the discovery, Deputy Adrian Ramirez said a woman “could have assisted with her disappearance and was in the van at one time.” Although the authorities didn’t reveal the identity of the woman, they confirmed they knew about it but were restricted by the insufficient evidence for arrest. They reiterated their suspicions about JR’s alleged involvement in the crime but confirmed that they had no reason to suspect Patty’s boyfriend, Gary, of any wrongdoing.

In 2019, Patty’s younger sister, Jeannie (who was a teen when the former went missing), told Dateline: “We need to find Patty so we can lay her to rest.”She further stated that their then-76-year-old mother is fighting her battle with cancer, and they are hopeful she could find some peace in knowing what happened to her daughter. In a November 2023 episode of Bexar County True Crimes Podcast, co-host Sheriff Javier Salazar talked about the continuous influx of tips in Patty’s case. “As time passes and some people are getting older, they are coming forward,” he said.

As of writing, Patty Vaughan’s family is still hopeful to find the remains of the 32-year-old mother of three, who is presumed dead. The authorities believe that as people in their prime around Patty’s disappearance are growing older, there is always a possibility of them receiving new leads. They continue to urge the public to reach out with any information that could help locate Patty’s remains and give her family some semblance of peace. Meanwhile, it appears that JR has moved back to Texas and is a resident of Victoria, running a business under the name Noble Construction. It has been reported that Patty’s kids are not in contact with her side of the family.

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