Endangered

The Disappearance of Karen McGovern

Karen McGovern

Few things bother me or even surprise me when it comes to crime, that includes violent crime. Yes, really. One thing most of us would probably agree on— just how disgusting and cruel the violence can really be. Aside from child molestation, there is only one other type of predator that sickens me, makes me physically ill.

For me there is nothing more revolting, disgusting or disturbing than domestic violence.

Despite our greatest fears, be it a serial predator breaking into homes in the middle of night or disturbed classmate entering your child’s school with daddy’s rifle, truth is, those are a small fraction of not only homicides, but crime overall. Over half of all women murdered in the United States, don’t involve spree shooters, gangbangers, serial killers, terrorists or obsessed stalkers. No, it won’t be thrill killers waiting for a perfect opportunity. In fact, with over half of all women murdered each year, all of the above combined won’t kill as many women— worldwide. Simply put, majority of women murdered in the United States will be by the hands of their “partner”. Domestic violence is an issue that seems to be least addressed when violence in America comes up, be it in political debates involving topics like gun control, illegal immigration or even sexual assault, a weapon often employed by abusers, which many argue is impossible during a ‘relationship’.

Domestic violence is rarely a focus even in the true crime world.

Year after year, it’s the leading problem, not only of women being senselessly murdered, but violence involving women overall. Yes, majority of violence women experience is by the very hands of men that are supposed to love and protect them. Men they once expected to keep them safe and warm.

I cannot speak for everyone, besides I’m guilty of it myself. In the dozens of articles I’ve written, I’ve covered it just once when it should be half if I were treating all violent crimes fair. Over five years ago I made a commitment, that I’d no longer pretend it doesn’t exist or none of my business. Since then, I’ve refused to associate with perpetrators and those who enable or support perpetrators of domestic violence. Yes, abusers— and it has caused some riffs with close friends and family. Why? I refuse to let those who choose to sit on the sidelines, make excuses for abusers or even try to help support abusers. There absolutely is no excuse. While it is true that most are excellent manipulators, those who will go so far as to wear you down and give in, they’re not good enough to me.

Now if you’re like me, you’ve listened to these podcasts and watched these shows and let me be 100% honest before I piss someone off, I think there are many folks who put their heart and souls into this. I don’t question their heart or reasons why they’re in it. I do believe that most have a genuine concern for victims and their families, our society in general and wants to get the information out there. Take any true crime medium, it you haven’t noticed already, the vast majority of victims covered are indeed women. It’s strange that majority of the women covered in true crime stories are either random or convenient victims for predatory killers.

Honestly, I don’t think this is intentional or a reflection on true crime writers who some might feel that the subject lacks interest.

Truthfully, I believe the subject of domestic violence hits close to home.

For a true crime storyteller to cover a story of domestic violence, they know the subject all too well. You recognize the behaviors of both the abuser and victim. The personal pain. Fear. Anger. Rage. Frustration. It’s raw emotion you experience again & again. You know a victim. You know an abuser. Perhaps they may feel their opinions or emotions on the subject may show, a victim, a survivor or even an abuser may read it, take it as a commentary on them. It’s often the same story, so close yet so different.

It takes me back to a vulnerable place. All throughout my life, domestic violence has affected me. I’ve spent countless hours waiting by the phone, sometimes days and weeks waiting to hear from a loved one. I’ve begged and pleaded for them to leave. Spent countless hours in courtrooms, police stations, hospitals or law offices filling out forms. Countless orders of protection filled out. Dozens of police reports. Listen to victims evade questions and shift blame, make excuses. It is defeat— over and over again and again. Despair. You feel so helpless and stupid. Powerless. Just when you think you’re loved one has the strength to leave or realizes her abuser will never change, she goes back. Forgives. Then they disappear for weeks, months… years? Then all of a sudden, something horrible happens.

It’s not just a cycle for the victim, but for friends and family of the victim.

Sadly, I’ve known far too many survivors of domestic violence. I’ve known too many victims who didn’t survive. 

The following statistics is nothing new. I guaranteed you’ve heard them before in one iteration or another.

From the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence

1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have experienced some form of physical violence by an intimate partner. Sadly, many of these acts of physical violence would not be considered “domestic violence” in most states, i.e. slapping, shoving & pushing. 

1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men have been victims of severe physical violence by an intimate partner— severe beatings, strangulation, burning, use of weapons, hospitalizing , etc.

The presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation increases the risk of homicide by 500%.

Only 34% of people who are injured by intimate partners receive medical care for their injuries.

1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men in the United States has been raped in their lifetime.

Almost half of female (46.7%) and male (44.9%) victims of rape in the United States were raped by an acquaintance. Of these, 45.4% of female rape victims and 29% of male rape victims were raped by an intimate partner

19.3 million women and 5.1 million men in the United States have been stalked in their lifetime. 60.8% of female stalking victims and 43.5% men reported being stalked by a current or former intimate partner

A study of intimate partner homicides found that 20% of victims were not the intimate partners themselves, but family members, friends, neighbors, and others persons who intervened, such as law enforcement, first responders, or bystanders.

72% of all murder-suicides involve an intimate partner; 94% of the victims of these murder suicides are female

Most alarming of them all? Half of all women murdered in the United States is by an intimate partner.

Sometimes it can be appalling to listen to political pundits and organizations that feed off of fears. School shootings, serial killers and other horrible crimes are terrible, yet only a tiny fraction of the deaths. You want it to stop, enact laws that will protect our kids and friends, yet for most, the danger doesn’t lie in the shadows, it is in the comfort and safety of their own homes.

It’s not just the violence that is disgusting, scary and revolting— the worse part  is the psychology behind it. How abusers get victims to comply, get victims to accept blame and do their best to be a better person, for their abuser? It’s been the subject of many TV shows and specials, about abusers changing and fixing the problem, yet I’ve yet to find a single one. It is almost as if we ourselves, those who are not abused have become so desperate to bullshit ourselves that one day our loved ones abuser will change because we’ve given up hope she’ll ever leave. They always come to the same conclusions, anyone can change if they “really want to”. 

Abusers are so fractured and shallow as human beings that it is much easier to lie and put up a facade of happy family and wonderful boyfriend and husband. How do I know, just look at the recidivism rate. Of course, two people can get into it and cause a big scene, but have you really looked domestic violence in the eyes? This is not complex adult issues where relationships bring the best and worst out of us. Abusers continue. Their victim list grows and in time the abuse only gets worse, never better. Truth is, this is normal for them. This is how they deal with love and emotions. Hate and love are deep and can bring out a lot of different emotions, sometimes people just don’t know the difference. The very few that have changed? The damage and pain they’ve caused has left scars not even they could imagine.

One thing I’ve heard numerous victims say that I never understood until a few years ago, “I wish he would just kill me”. How desperate must one become, how scared and much terror must one feel before death seems like the only way out? We’ve failed these victims— women, men and children of domestic violence. We’ve told ourselves it’s far too complex and not our issue. Something must change.

I’ve made a commitment to cover a case or two a month which domestic violence is believed to be the cause or reason behind an unsolved murder or disappearance.

This is the story of Karen McGovern.

“She was good with crafts. She used to make me things. I miss that. I miss her. It really bothers me around the holidays when everyone’s here, but her. I’m going to be 79. I hope they arrest him before I’m gone”

—Barb Kurecki, mother of Karen McGovern said in an October, 2017, interview with The Times

Background Information

Ottawa, Illinois, is a “big little town”, also the county seat of LaSalle County. LaSalle County has the distinction of being Illinois largest county. About eighty miles west of Chicago, the county seems to be nothing but vast farmland as far as the eye could see. If you’re unfamiliar with the area and were just passing through, that’s all it would be. If you’d stay just for a spell, there is something majestic about LaSalle County. Like a town from another time. Two major rivers in northern Illinois converge in Ottawa, the Fox and the Illinois River. Along both rivers are small river towns, which every single one has their own pace and personality. If they had one similarity, they all seem like a place partially frozen in the early 1900s, turn-of-the-century. Where the past meets the present.

As a child, when I pictured Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer along the Mississippi River hundreds of miles from there, those times and the scenery along the Illinois River is what I’d picture. If you’ve been there or ever see it, you’d know exactly what I mean. 

Marseilles is one of those river towns, about eight miles east of Ottawa if you traveled on the Illinois River. Instead, U.S. Route 6 runs east and west along the Illinois River for quite a few miles, connecting Ottawa to Marseilles. Further east along US-6 is Seneca, another river town surrounded by cornfields. U.S. Route 6 is known as Bluff Street in Marseilles and is the main drag.

Domestic violence was a reality in Karen McGovern’s life. It was also a reality for those who knew and love her. On the surface everything was supposed to be fine, she’d put on a smile and tell you she was okay. Then she would disappear for weeks at a time. Her story isn’t unfamiliar to those who have endured a loved one suffering abuse at the hands of their intimate partner. In many ways, it seems to always be the same story. Neighbors, coworkers and distant relatives pretend they don’t know. Parents, siblings and close friends worry and are in constant state of fear until they themselves explode with anger and preach, beg and scream for hours on end for them to leave. Get out. This isn’t love. What is wrong with them?

Abusers are very good at using isolation in their favor, at least concerning their victim. In time, the victim will go out to see her family and friends, but those few hours they can get out and away from the abuse and horror at home often turn into nightmare for the victim again. Mothers and fathers demand to know that is going on, why this? Why that? Why haven’t you called? Much like the abuser makes the abuse all about them, the victim’s family make the isolation all about them. Do you know what you’re putting me through?

Abusers love to accuse their victim’s family & friends of ‘brainwashing’ and ‘ruining our relationship by putting these ideas in your head’. While it’s hard to imagine how a victim of domestic violence couldn’t see through the eyes of her family what they’ve been through, what the family don’t realize is that the victim won’t assign blame to her abuser, she’ll assign blame to herself. Just like the abuser, you begin to make them feel guilty, ashamed and hurt. While your intentions may be out of genuine concern and love, her abuser claims the abuse comes from that very same place.

It seems like a cycle you just can’t get ahead and get her out.

Karen McGovern’s Disappearance 

The marriage between Karen and Michael was described by even those who knew them casually as “turbulent” and “explosive”. It was well known by most— that Michael McGovern was abusive towards women and had been his entire life. A predator without a conscience, with numerous orders of protections filed against him, including two by Karen and multiple divorce filings between the two that were never followed through.

Like most abusers, Michael repeatedly told Karen he’d “kill her”. For most, that only seemed like a threat he’d use to keep Karen afraid, a way to control her. Deep in the back of Karen’s mother, Barb’s mind, he’d kill her if she stayed. If she left, maybe she had a chance.  

The evening of Sunday, September 26, 2010, Karen McGovern, just 53, attended a party at 695 E. Bluff Street in Marseilles, Illinois. She had drove her and Michael’s van there and planned to stay “only a little while”. Some at the party reported that while Karen would never admit it, it was quite obvious Michael McGovern wasn’t happy she was there. He was calling her off the hook and showed no signs of letting his foot off the gas. Even though she was embarrassed by his obvious controlling behavior, Karen, like many victims of domestic violence— was good at playing it off. As time went on, it was apparent she was not in a rush to return home.

Why would she be? Her husband was irate that she was at the party and going ballistic. Like most folks at the party, and Karen’s friends and family, we could only begin to imagine what it must have felt like knowing you’re going to go home to that eventually, the raging inferno exploding on the other end of the phone was waiting for you, that rage you heard a thousand times before and the eruption just building for when you got home, when you were suppose to be in your safest space. There is no doubt she dreaded the moment he heard her open the door.

We can only imagine today. Karen knew what she faced. We may never know “why” should would do it, but she had more courage than I could ever have.

At some point it was time for Karen to go home. It was late Sunday, September 26th or early Monday, September 27th. When she went outside, her van was gone. For most, this would be a surprise. For Karen, she knew Michael McGovern was playing another one of his games. She said her goodbyes, and then prepared for the long journey home to 111 S. Cash Street in Seneca. It was as five-and-a-half mile walk that would have taken about an hour-and-a-half to two hours. She dare not get a ride home out of fear of what Michael would interpret it as. Paranoia and accusations is all part of the abuse. Karen quickly learned to do what she could to at least minimize what would be used against her.

When I first read into the case, I presumed that Karen’s journey would have taken her straight down US-6 for four-and-a-half miles and then to Main Street in Seneca or perhaps a series of side streets once she got into downtown Seneca. After speaking with several people I’ve known for years that grew up in the area, they’re certain that she would have taken the Illinois and Michigan Canal Trail, which kinda runs along the Illinois River between Marseilles and Seneca. This route would have been slightly shorter and you would have avoided talking down an unlit road in the middle of a late summer evening or morning. A good portion of U.S. Route 6 would have been pitch black, but so would the trail. At least the trail you didn’t have to worry about cars travelling at sixty miles-per-hour or more.

As Karen McGovern walked off into the cool early morning hours, nobody would ever see her again. Like she vanished without a trace.

It was about 55 degrees that evening into early morning hours. Visibility was for 10 miles and there was no precipitation. While it was chilly that night, certainly nothing one would succumb to.

Now for some, at first glance this would definitely be a scary walk and anyone could have snatched her. After walking the route myself in the dark, while anything could happen, it was rather safe. Safer than the road. We already know better.

Authorities do believe Karen made it home that night or in the early morning hours.

Unfortunately, details of that particular night are not exactly clear. People do remember her leaving by foot from 695 E. Bluff Street that night because they thought it was unusual that her van was missing, yet she didn’t call the police and decided to walk home. Obviously, it wasn’t unusual to her and probably a lot less shameful and embarrassing to walk it off. Besides, she probably didn’t want to explain to Michael a couple hundred times who gave her a ride, why and what happened during those ten minutes. For Karen, it was just easier to walk and avoid conflict.

Karen’s mother Barb Kurecki reported her missing on Wednesday, November 5, 2010. Now for most, the delay in anyone reporting her absence might appear to be alarming. Well, that was because Karen had gone missing before. It’s not uncommon for victims of domestic violence to not be heard from for long periods of time. This often occurs out of times when an abuser isolates them, perhaps the victim feels shame or they avoid family members to avoid having to explain abuse & isolation and the conflict that may arise from those topics. Karen always contacted her mother during those absences to let her know she was okay, however, during this absence, Karen never did. This also caused issues with the investigation. Since police were not involved from day one, that night was a little less clear for witnesses. They were being asked to recall a specific night over a month later.

What else was odd? Michael McGovern, now 65, has never reported that his wife didn’t make it home that night or any other night. In fact to this very day, Michael McGovern has not cooperated with investigators, never gave an official statement and has absolutely refused to speak with Karen’s family or the local newspaper, The Times about his wife’s disappearance. It has stunned both the community and law enforcement that he wouldn’t even pretend to care— never once passed out flyers, spoke at a single function about her disappearance or show one bit of sadness or concern.

Immediately after Karen vanished, Michael sold the contents of the home they shared with their daughter and their daughter’s boyfriend. He either sold or had thrown out all of Karen’s belongings prior to Barb filing the missing persons report on November 5, 2010. According to investigators, Michael had a girlfriend at the time of Karen’s disappearance and currently lives with her in Yorkville, Illinois, which is about twenty or thirty minutes northeast of Marseilles.

Police managed to seize the van that Karen drove to the party that evening, however, it was much later. In 2012, Michael McGovern, then 59, spent a brief time in the Kendall County Jail in Yorkville, Illinois, for driving while intoxicated after crashing into a semi-tractor trailer in 2011. While free on bond, Michael was caught driving the van on a suspended license in Seneca and arrested. Investigators then seized the van, but has yet to release any further information.

Michael J. McGovern is 65 years-old today.

About Karen McGovern

“She was good with crafts. She used to make me things. I miss that. I miss her. It really bothers me around the holidays when everyone’s here, but her. I’m going to be 79. I hope they arrest him before I’m gone,” Kurecki told The Times in an interview about this time last year.

The “him” she wants arrested? Obviously it’s her former son-in-law, Michael McGovern.

Karen lived with her husband, daughter and the daughter’s boyfriend at the time. To date, her daughter and/or the daughter’s boyfriend has yet to say anything public about Karen. That’s troubling. I know many will argue that abusers are master manipulators that do a tremendous job on the children, but somethings not right. This goes beyond “mom’s side” and “dad’s side”.

Seneca Police Department and the Illinois State Police have been investigating her disappearance since, with the presumption that Michael murdered and disposed of Karen that night or shortly after. Her cellphone was last used in the Marseilles area the night of her disappearance. Michael McGovern’s family has not reported any contact with Karen, and has been no activity on her credit card or her bank accounts. Authorities searched for Karen and interviewed numerous witnesses, but nothing has turned up. ISP had put up billboards along I-80 & I-55 to and from Joliet, Illinois, the nearest major town that Karen had ties in.

Foul play is suspected.

At the time of her disappearance, Karen stood 5 feet, 5 inches tall and weighed about 150 pounds. She has brown hair and brown eyes. She has been known to go by the name Karen Kurecki, her maiden name. She was 53 when she vanished and would be 61 years-old today. Anyone with information should call the Seneca Police Department at 815-357-8726 or Illinois State Police Special Agent Chris Novotney at 815-224-1171, ext. 139.

Novotney said the McGovern case remains a top priority for the ISP. Investigators are interested in any information, regardless of how insignificant it may be. 

In a recent interview Barb Kurecki said, “I pray and pray I’m going to get a phone call about her, but the calls I get are usually someone selling something”

Contact Information: If you have any information regarding this case, please contact Illinois State Police Zone 3 Investigations at (815) 726-6377 or call 1-800-U HELP ME (1-800-843-5763).

Seneca Police Department at 1-815-357-1616, Case#: 16010040

Further Reading

http://charleyproject.org/case/karen-f-mcgovern

http://www.isp.state.il.us/crime/missingdetails.cfm?ID=77

https://www.mywebtimes.com/articles/tn/2017/10/10/74243de41f585782afc053f698f5d85e/index.xml

http://www.1430wcmy.com/2018/02/28/seneca-police-chief-ray-meglan-retiring-in-april/

https://www.mywebtimes.com/articles/tn/2012/09/24/ae0fdf2369c950209c7bb72b9747f75b/index.xml

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