It was around 4AM on the 12th of July, 2007, when an emergency call came in to the fire department in Sykesville, Pennsylvania.1 There was a report of a burning building on Dr. Fugate Drive.
The fire had consumed a large portion of the home, and once the fire was extinguished, the firemen were horrified to discover the burned remains of an infant boy inside a bathtub. Further examination revealed that the fire had been set intentionally with some kind of accelerant. An autopsy could not confirm the infant’s cause of death, but it determined he had been killed before the fire was set.
Investigators quickly got to work. They determined that the home was being rented by 33-year-old Joey Lynn Offutt. However, she was nowhere to be seen.
Just six weeks earlier, Joey had given birth to a baby boy, Alexis Alfred Brolin, III. She had always wanted a family of her own, especially after being traumatised by her own parents’ divorce when she was just 3-years-old. Growing up, Joey was shy and socially insecure. Her mother, Sherry Hallett, said that she had an almost childlike innocence.2
Joey had studied journalism for a year at Shepherd University in West Virginia, but after receiving poor grades, she opted to drop out. She bounced from job to job, and gave birth to two children who were now two and nine-years-old. Unfortunately for Joey, the relationship she had with the father of her oldest child was volatile, and it wasn’t to last.
Joey eventually moved to Sykesville, where she gave birth to Alexis. The man who she had Alexis with was something of an on and off again boyfriend. His name was Alexis Brolin, and he was also the father of Joey’s middle child. Joey’s mother recalled: “She was happy there and loved her children.”
At the time of the fire, Joey’s other two children were stating with relatives.
Investigators asked the public to keep an eye out for Joey. They were unsure whether she was the one to set the fire, or whether both she and her son were victim to somebody else, somebody who had potentially abducted her or killed her and then disposed of her body elsewhere. Joey’s car was absent from the home and investigators described it as a red 1994 Saturn coupe with Virginia license plates and visible damage to the hood.
On the 16th of July, investigators finally fond Joey’s car, but Joey was nowhere to be seen. Her car was found parked outside an apartment in State College, around 70 miles east of the home she rented in Sykesville. Bizarrely, the car was parked outside an apartment where Joey used to live with Alexis, the father of her son. The couple had lived here for a couple of years before Joey moved to Sykesville.3
In a statement, investigators announced they were looking for Lynn “out of concern for her welfare.”4 Joey’s family immediately said that Joey must not have been driving the car. It was parked immaculately and as her family said, Joey was not a good driver, nor was she a good parker. Alexis said he had no clue how the car ended up parked outside the apartment.
When the gruesome discovery was made, the initial theory was that Joey had killed her son and then set her house on fire and fled. However, other theories quickly began to emerge as the investigation continued. Another theory that investigators were working on was whether Joey had been abducted or killed. State Police Trooper Bruce A. Morris announced: “It’s almost like she’s fallen off the face of the planet. I’m confident this case is going to be resolved. She’s the key to this whole thing.”5
Joey was described in missing person flyers as a white woman standing around 5 feet 3 inches tall. She was of slim build and had brown hair and brown eyes. She may have been wearing glasses when she disappeared.
The days gradually turned into months and Joey could not be found. In an attempt to generate some much needed tips, her family set up a website. On the website, they shared their belief that they had reason to believe that Joey may have been missing since the day before the fire.6
The reason they believed Joey had vanished earlier was because a bag of rotting hamburger meat was found inside her fridge. Moreover, the last time that Joey was last seen was on the 5th of July. She was spotted walking on the sidewalk near SR 119 in Sykesville.
A couple of days after Christmas, skeletal remains were discovered in Somerset, Pennsylvania. The remains belonged to a petite, brown-haired woman aged between 30 and 40-years-old. She had died at some point during the summer, and evidence found at the scene suggested she spent time in Raleigh, North Carolina, and Interstate 80. The description of the body bore similarities to Joey, and investigators working on her disappearance immediately contacted Somerset authorities.7 Just a couple of weeks later, however, the body was ruled out as being Joey.
In July of 2008, it was the one year anniversary to Alexis’ death and Joey’s disappearance. Her family put forward a reward of $15,000 for information that could lead them to Joey.8 The family also implemented a toll-free tip line, but they received absolutely no tips. It was if Joey had just vanished off the face of the earth.
Her nephew, Jason Hungerford, commented in the media: “Each of us is bracing for the news that she is dead.” The family always suspected that something sinister had happened to Joey. She wasn’t the type to just up and leave without telling anybody where she was going, and she would never have harmed her own children or abandoned them. Jason pleaded for information, stating: “If anyone knows anything, or saw anything — even if they didn’t think at the time that it meant anything — please call the Pennsylvania State Police or the tip line: 1-877-440-5639.”9
In November, the family reached out to America’s Most Wanted. They were desperate for leads and the show had a massive platform.
While the family were still clinging onto hope that Joey was alive somewhere, they were realists and knew deep down that it was highly unlikely. Her mother, Sherry, announced she believed somebody somewhere knew what had happened to her daughter, and believes that somebody must have seen her somewhere before she vanished. She stated: “I believe that someone in that little town knows what happened. It’s taken me more than a year to run it through my mind, but I believe it’s somebody that she knew.”
When the case aired on America’s Most Wanted, a tip came in from Decatur in Alabama. A man had called and was adamant that he had been speaking to Joey in a store in Decatur on the 15th of November.10 Investigators embarked on the Alabama town but they could find no sign of Joey.
As the two year anniversary rolled around, the reward fund for information was increased to $20,000. By now, they had accepted it was unlikely that Joey was ever coming home, and that they were most likely looking for a body. Jason commented: “I think that we’re at this point working on the assumption that she was the victim of a crime and most likely that she’s dead. So we’re looking for a body. That’s very difficult for us to say, but we can’t fathom any other possibility. She certainly would not have run off on her own, leaving her other children behind.”11
To this day, the whereabouts of Joey Lynn Offutt remains a mystery. Investigators have announced that nobody has been ruled out as a suspect. As for Alexis Breslin, Joey’s family have said that he has helped and cooperated in every way possible with he investigation.
- Associated Press, 13 July, 2007 – “Police Discover Infant Remains at Burned PA. Home”
- Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 15 November, 2008 – “Jefferson County Mom Believes Missing Daughter is Dead”
- Centre Daily Times, 13 July, 2010 – “Little News and Little Hope”
- Associated Press, 17 July, 2007 – “Car Found of Woman Missing Since Fire”
- Centre Daily Times, 18 July, 2007 – “Autopsy to Tell Whether Baby is Missing Womans”
- Associated Press, 14 August, 2007 – “Family Creates Web Site for Former Va. Woman”
- The Cumberland Times-News, 29 December, 2007 – “Body Found May be Tied to Fatal Fire”
- Associated Press, 10 July, 2008 – “Family of Missing Woman Seek Leads”
- The Daily American, 11 July, 2008 – “Nephew Asks for Help Locating Missing Relative”
- The Decatur Daily, 26 November, 2008 – “Missing Woman Allegedly Spotted in Decatur Store”
- Centre Daily Times, 13 July, 2010 – “Woman Still Missing After 3 Years”