The last time that 40-year-old Diane Augat was seen was on the 10th of April, 1998. She had been at her sister’s home in Hudson, Florida, when her sister went to a doctor’s appointment. When she arrived back home, Diane was gone.
Later that day, Diane was seen at the Hay Loft tavern at Little Road and State Road 52. The barman told Diane that he wouldn’t serve her because she was walking in circles and was presumably intoxicated.1
Diane was reported missing by her mother, Mildred, and investigators launched a search for her. Mildred told investigators that her daughter had a bad habit of trusting strangers, and she had suffered from mental illnesses. Mildred feared that somebody had taken advantage of her daughter’s trusting nature.
Diane had been missing from almost a week when Mildred’s phone began to ring. At the time, Mildred hadn’t been home, but the caller had left a voicemail. When Mildred clicked play, she was stunned to hear her daughter’s voice. She fear in Diane’s voice was audible as she screamed: “Help – let me out!” There was then a scuffling sound as though somebody was grabbing the phone from Diane’s hands. The line then went dead.
The number on the Caller ID box said that the call had come from something called Starlight. Mildred attempted to call the number back but nobody ever picked up. “I think she knew who she was with,” Mildred said.
Less than 24 hours later, somebody was walking along the side of U.S. 19 near New York Avenue when they spotted something on the floor. Looking closer, they recoiled in horror to see that it was a human’s finger, with a red painted nail. The finger was identified via fingerprints as belonging to Diane.
With tears in her eyes, Mildred said: “She is in trouble. Big trouble. They’re probably torturing her.” She said that she feared that whoever had cut off her daughter’s finger was going to continue harming her until she was dead. “I’m hoping that she’s still alive, that they haven’t killed her yet…” she said.
The gruesome find meant that investigators had a specific area to focus their search on. The Pasco County Sheriff’s Office called in a helicopter which scanned the area, but there was no other evidence of Diane. Sheriff’s spokesman Jon Powers stated: “Our case has to include the possibility of foul play.” He then added that they were considering other scenarios as well in which Diane could have somehow lost her finger accidentally and was still alive.
Investigators appealed to the public, and asked everybody to keep a look out for Diane, and if they knew anything about her whereabouts to get in contact.
For years, Diane’s life had been in a downward spiral. Years beforehand, her life had focused on her three children and her husband, Frederic Augat, who ran an assisted living facility in Land O’Lakes. Her sister, Denise, recollected: “She had $100 pocketbooks. She was pretty. There could be 1,000 people in the room, and you’d notice her.”
Diane liked to keep her house clean, and she loved camping, fishing and listening to music. The family enjoyed spending weekends at campgrounds, and even boating. But then in the late 1980s, Diane was diagnosed with manic depression.
She was on medication, but still, Diane struggled. In 1998, prosecutors had filed child abuse charges against Diane. She was eventually acquitted of the charges, but further complaints were lodged against her by the Department of Children and Families.
Eventually, Diane lost custody of her children. Child protective services believed that Diane was suffering from Munchausen by proxy syndrome, which led her to seek excessive and unnecessary medical treatment for one of her children.
In 1991, Diane and Frederic divorced, and he was granted full custody of their three children. Diane was left distraught, and her life began to unravel rapidly. Her mother recollected: “The crux of her whole mental health issue was losing the children. She put pictures of them on her refrigerator and would look at them and stand there and just cry and cry.”
As a coping mechanism, Diane turned to alcohol. She tried to find company at the local bar, and Mildred feared that she had struck up a conversation with somebody who had nefarious motivations. Diane did not drive, so she either walked, hitchhiked or got rides from friends. This led to fears that Diane could have been abducted.
Diane had also stopped taking her medication, and had spent some time in a psychiatric facility. She had been taken into custody under the state’s Barker Act at least 32 times. Under the Barker Act, a judge, police officer or doctor decides whether a person is mentally ill enough to require involuntary confinement.2
Mildred commented: “She hangs out with whoever wants to be her friend. She’s sick. You can’t deal with her when she’s as manic as she is. She gets in your face and doesn’t stop.”3
Less than a week later, convenience store manager Patricia Sblendorio noticed something tucked into the store’s outdoor freezer case. It was a bag of neatly folded clothes. Diane was a frequent patron of the store, so Patricia got in contact with her sister, Deborah Cronin. Deborah identified the bag of clothing as belonging to her sister as she had gifted her some of them.
Investigators were dispatched to the convenience store to recover the bag of clothing and enter it into evidence. Sheriff’s spokesman Kevin Doll said that the clothing could have been placed there by a group of juveniles that often hung out with Diane at her home on Chesapeake Drive in Odessa. Since her disappearance, the group of youths were accused of looting her home.4
Eventually, the days turned to weeks, the weeks turned to months and then the months turned to years. Investigators spoke with more than 100 people and followed several leads, but each lead only led to a dead end. Mildred said in 2000: “A part of me is gone. I never accepted she was dead.”
In November of that year, Terry Wilson walked into the Circle K convenience store at 15837 U.S. 19 to purchase some items. She saw a clear, zip-lock plastic bag on top of the lotter corner and decided to pick it up. She walked outside and once inside her car, she examined the bag. The name “Diane” was written in black marker on the bag.
Terry’s heart skipped a beat. Terry was the girlfriend of Diane’s brother. Mildred identified the items in the bag as items her daughter would have owned: black eyeliner, Taboo perfume, and a tube of bright pink lipstick. The discovery offered the family a glimmer of hope that Diane could still be alive.5 Once again, however, the discovery only led to another dead end.
Over 24 years have passed since Diane Augat was last seen alive. Despite an extensive search, Diane still remains missing today.
- Tampa Bay Times, 18 April, 1998 – “Discovery Heightens Fear for Missing Woman”
- Tampa Bay Times, 24 November, 2000 – “Mother Clings to Hope for Missing Daughter”
- The Tampa Tribune, 18 April, 1998 – “Police Seek Missing Woman”
- Tampa Bay Times, 23 April, 1998 – “Missing Woman’s Clothes Found”
- Tampa Bay Times, 27 November, 2000 – “Bag’s Discovery Revives Family’s Hopes”