The untold truth of Patrice Endres' mysterious disappearance

With the rise of reality TV (such as Unsolved Mysteries, which featured this very case on their 2020 Netflix reboot), viewing audiences became fascinated by cold cases — investigations that were unsolved but happened so long ago that finding new leads is very difficult or even impossible. Often, these cases aren't even touched by investigators anymore, and third-party innocence projects, true crime fans, and journalists are the ones who find new information.

While many long-standing cold cases can now be solved with newer technology, there are some that are downright baffling, even when you have all of the information in front of you, like a box of puzzle pieces that don't even seem to be part of the same whole.

The disappearance of Patrice Endres from her Georgia hair salon in 2004 is one such case. Its many twists and turns all ended up being dead ends, and nearly 20 years later, no one is any closer to finding out the truth.

A regular April morning

On April 15, 2004, Patrice Endres' day began like any other. It was a typical Thursday. She had several appointments at her hair salon, Tamber's Trim 'n' Tan in Cumming, GA, a small town about 45 minutes northeast of Atlanta. She had just finished up one of these appointments at around 11:30 A.M. and had gotten ready to heat up her lunch in the salon's microwave, according to Forsyth County News.

Endres was a well-known member of the community, and her shop had stood for several years already (she named it after her own maiden name, Tamber). As far as anyone knew, she didn't have any enemies. No one seemed to particularly dislike her, and her shop was never the site of any kind of trouble or crime.

So it's very odd that, sometime between one client leaving at 11:30 A.M. and her next appointment showing up at noon, Patrice Endres disappeared in broad daylight. No one reported any kind of a struggle, and indeed, there appeared to be no evidence of one at the shop. Endres' noon client couldn't find her anywhere on the premises, so they called the police, who came out and also couldn't locate her anywhere in or around the hair salon. This was just the tip of what would turn out to be a very weird and confounding iceberg.

The Patrice Endres case started to get weird

When the local police were also unable to find Patrice Endres, they started investigating the salon, her last known whereabouts. They very quickly discovered her lunch by the store's microwave — Endres was preparing to heat it up but hadn't touched it or even opened the microwave door.

They then discovered Endres' purse. This had clearly been rifled through, but nothing appeared to be missing, not even the cash she had been carrying. And yet, the salon's register was completely empty, according to Forsyth County News. It seemed unlikely that someone would miss her personal cash, especially when they definitely went through her purse. Was someone trying to make things look like a robbery? Unfortunately, the salon didn't have any security cameras, which would have been far less common in 2004 than they are today, especially for a small, self-owned business.

Odder still, Endres' car keys were left behind, and yet it seemed that her car had been moved from its regular parking spot, where Endres had parked it every day that she was working. Did someone move the car, maybe even abduct her in it, then bring it and the keys back? If so, it's strange that they'd park it in a different spot. Or did Patrice Endres herself park in a different spot than usual? If so, why?

A complete lack of evidence surrounding Patrice Endres' mysterious disappearance

Police found no physical evidence anywhere at the crime scene. No footprints, fingerprints, fibers, bits of trash, or other potential clues were left behind. It was as though Patrice Endres simply disappeared into thin air in the middle of the day at a busy salon in the center of town.

There was hair at the scene, but since it was a salon, that wasn't unexpected. Numerous hair samples could be found basically anywhere in the shop, and there was no practical way to figure out what hair samples belonged to whom. They might have belonged to a client a day or a week ago, they might have come from someone who just popped into the store, or any other number of places. Unfortunately, hair evidence was completely off the table. It was just too difficult to keep it all separated.

Police did find one unexpected thing, a set of fingerprints on Endres' car, according to Forsyth County News. However, this also turned out to be a dead end — they belonged to a mechanic that had changed the oil in the car just a few days before her disappearance, and police quickly ruled him out as a suspect. No other physical evidence was found on or around the vehicle. Police had no leads. Patrice Endres was simply gone.

They found Patrice Endres in the woods behind the church

This is where the case effectively stayed for months. Police had looked into a few potential leads, but they had all fizzled out, leaving Patrice Endres' family heartbroken and the cops completely stumped. Then, in December of 2005, a gathering at nearby Lebanon Baptist Church to celebrate the building of a new fellowship hall was interrupted by a grim discovery, according to Blood Lust, a true crime book about serial killer Jeremy Bryan Jones.

Seeing vultures circling around a spot in the forest near the gathering, Elbert Clark, a parishioner, decided to go check it out, assuming that a deer or some other large creature had died there. This did turn out to be the case, but when he turned back to return to the church, he discovered a skull by the trailside. Recent heavy rains had washed out a large pile of leaves, revealing the bones underneath.

Police determined these skeletal remains belonged to Patrice Endres. It had been nearly two years since her disappearance, and the body was found only 10 miles away from the salon, according to Forsyth County News. Due to the circumstances of her disappearance, police immediately suspected homicide. After a thorough combing of the area, searchers found more bones that were also identified as belonging to Patrice Endres. Police collected the remains and set about seeing what they could discover from examining them.

Everything goes quiet

Within a few weeks, despite damage due to the bones being outdoors, police were able to determine a cause of death for Patrice Endres. However, whatever they found was determined to be a major part of the investigation. Thus, it has never been revealed to the public. We still don't know to this day how she died.

Police and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) also conducted several in-depth interviews with Endres' friends and acquaintances, reaching back several years through her history. As far as police have said, nothing ever came of these interviews. Authorities also placed an alert on Endres' bank account, but it seems this also led nowhere, according to Forsyth County News.

The only piece of information that police have released since Patrice Endres' remains were found came in 2010, when they announced that they had narrowed down the time of her disappearance to a 12 to 13 minute window somewhere in the half hour period where she didn't have any appointments, according to Forsyth County News. They weren't more specific than that, and so the actual time frame was unknown until 2020's Unsolved Mysteries reboot on Netflix, which revealed that the period of time police had been looking at was 11:37 a.m. to 11:50 a.m., when she got her last call and the following call she didn't answer. The case remains active and open with the GBI, and has been for over 15 years.

The witness who wasn't

There were some other possible leads that police followed up. One was an eyewitness who claimed that, on the morning of Patrice Endres' disappearance, she saw a white van parked outside of Tamber's Trim 'n' Tan, and she also spotted an unknown male, to boot. Police brought her in for questioning.

She described the man and his van in great detail, and she even worked with a police sketch artist to come up with a composite sketch. The authorities had their first suspect, and began distributing flyers and other materials with the sketch. They even had it aired on the news, in case anyone who knew him might be watching.

Then, something entirely unexpected happened: The witness completely recanted her testimony and said she made the whole thing up. Investigators were naturally frustrated that they had spent so much time and money on what seemed to be a dead-end lead. The witness was subsequently charged with providing false statements, according to Forsyth County News. These events raise a lot of questions. Why did the witness make up this story, and how did it go so far? According to Netflix's Unsolved Mysteries, two other witnesses also saw a vehicle outside of the shop (a car, not a van). How did these compare to the false testimony? Some internet sleuths wonder if the witness was telling the truth, but someone or something forced her to recant her testimony and claim she lied.

Was Patrice Endres death the work of a serial killer?

Before Patrice Endres' remains were found, a serial killer named Jeremy Bryan Jones, who had been active in Oklahoma, Kansas, Alabama, and Georgia, was caught after raping and murdering Lisa Nicholas in Turnerville, Alabama. Then he began confessing to numerous other crimes.

Authorities were skeptical of Jones' various claims. He was a meth addict who didn't seem to have the strongest grip on reality, but they heard him out anyway. According to Jones, he got lost driving in Cumming, GA on April 15, 2004. He decided to stop and ask for directions and a jump to his car at none other than Tamber's Trim 'n' Tan, where he encountered Patrice Endres. Since Jones targeted women of her age, he claimed that he took advantage of the situation and kidnapped, raped, and murdered her, according to Netflix's Unsolved Mysteries. He even gave police a location where he dumped the body.

The GBI and other local authorities found Jones' story at least somewhat credible, so they set to searching the location Jones named. After numerous lost work hours and money, though, they turned up no remains. When Patrice Endres' body was discovered, it was nearly 70 miles away from where Jones had said, according to Forsyth County News. Authorities called the lead a dead end when they determined that Jones hadn't given them any other info besides that which was publicly available.

Lurking in the woods

Jeremy Bryan Jones wasn't the only serial killer on the radar of authorities. Gary Michael Hilton, also known as the "National Forest Serial Killer," had committed a string of murders in North Carolina, Florida, and, yes, Georgia, according to Strange Outdoors. All of these acts took place in national forests, hence the moniker.

An outdoorsman, Hilton was a consultant on a 1995 film called Deadly Run, which revolves around a serial killer who stalks his victims in the woods. According to producer Samuel Rael, the whole plot was actually Hilton's idea. Rael, also a lawyer, had Hilton as a client and acquaintance, and when Rael mentioned that he wanted to make a serial killer movie, Hilton brought up the idea of the killer using a large forest as his hunting ground, according to CNN. It wasn't until Hilton's capture in 2008 that Rael realized that Hilton's idea wasn't just a story, but a hint to what he planned to do.

Police had good reason to suspect Hilton. He had murdered Meredith Emerson, a woman hiking with her dog, in the Chattahoochee National Forest in 2008 and dumped her body there. The woods where Patrice Endres' body was found were part of this same national forest, about 50 miles away. However, this, too, turned out to be another dead end. Police couldn't find anything definitive connecting Hilton to the disappearance and murder of Patrice Endres, according to Forsyth County News.

Patrice Endres' missing ring

While authorities have kept pretty quiet on many of the details in Patrice Endres' disappearance, one key piece of evidence that they expected to find, but haven't, is Patrice's wedding ring, which was not found in the salon or with her remains. Since her purse was rifled through, but left behind, and no other personal effects were noted to have been missing, it seems the ring might have had some particular significance to her killer.

Patrice's husband, Rob Endres, had given her a custom, one-of-a-kind wedding ring to seal their nuptials. The GBI described it thusly: "The ring consists of two bands soldered together with a marquis diamond center stone." Since the ring didn't turn up during the investigation, authorities have suspected that Patrice Endres' killer took it with them, presumably as a trophy.

Unfortunately, the ring has still not been found as of 2020. Since authorities have been very reluctant to come to the public with information about the case, it seems likely that, were this ring to emerge, it would be a very big clue in the search for Patrice Endres' murderer. Since the case has been open for over 15 years and counting, Patrice's wedding ring may be one of the last solid pieces of physical evidence that authorities could use to finally bring her killer to justice.

Another cold case

Patrice Endres' disappearance and murder isn't the only long-unsolved cold case in the area. In 1997, an 11-year-old boy named Levi Frady also went missing, and his remains were found in the same woods where Patrice Endres and Meredith Emerson, victim of Gary Michael Hilton, were found.

On October 22, 1997, Levi Frady went to a friend's house after school. He never came home. After visiting with one friend, Levi headed to another friend's house from there to eat dinner. He tried to call home to tell his family of his new plans, but his mother was in the bath and couldn't answer. He was supposed to be home by 6:30 P.M., and when he didn't arrive, his mother and twin sister went out looking for him, according to LeviFrady.com. They found his bike on the side of the road but assumed he had left it there and continued on foot, planning to grab it later. 

The following morning, Levi still hadn't come home. Later in the day, hunters found human remains in a forest in Dawson County, GA, 19 miles away from where Levi disappeared, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He had been shot twice in the chest and once in the head, then left for dead. It is unknown if the case is linked in any way to Patrice Endres', and police haven't ever indicated it is, but the similarities are worth noting.

Always check out the spouse

As seen in the Netflix Unsolved Mysteries reboot, Patrice Endres' son, Pistol Black, and the rest of her family have been very vocal that they suspect her husband, Rob Endres, of being involved in Patrice's disappearance and murder. Rob had an extremely tense relationship with Pistol, even plainly remarking that he "didn't like him" on the show, which is a pretty intense thing to say about your own stepson.

Patrice's family has, on a number of occasions, said that her marriage to Rob was not as good as some might have thought, and sensed that Rob and Pistol were often at odds, because Patrice would never vacation with both of them at the same time, according to Blood Lust. In fact, the day after Patrice's disappearance, Rob changed the locks on the family home, saying on Unsolved Mysteries that it was a safety precaution as well as being done specifically to keep Pistol out. Pistol instead went to live with his biological father, and has had little to no contact with Rob since.

According to Pistol and Patrice's family, Patrice had planned on divorcing Rob, though Rob has denied this. He has even admitted to keeping Patrice's ashes solely so her son and family can't have them. While Rob Endres sounds like a definite possibility, police have said he did have an alibi for the day of Patrice's disappearance and is not considered a suspect.

There are still no credible suspects in Patrice Endres' murder

As of 2020, the only people the police have publicly acknowledged as still being suspects in the case of Patrice Endres' disappearance and murder are serial killers Jeremy Bryan Jones and Gary Michael Hilton. While Jones gave police an incorrect location for Endres' remains, had no strong corroborating information, and has openly bragged in the past that he made his story up to receive better treatment (according to Blood Lust), investigators haven't ruled him out completely, according to WIS 10 News. It's not impossible he murdered Patrice, then lied and withheld information to intentionally waste police time and resources.

While investigators haven't yet found any direct ties between Gary Michael Hilton and Patrice Endres, they haven't given up looking. In the Unsolved Mysteries reboot on Netflix, authorities did acknowledge that they haven't ruled out Hilton's involvement, especially since his modus operandi is so similar to Endres' case. 

Besides those two, if there are any other suspects, police have kept mum about them, much like many other details in the case. While both men seem like very plausible suspects, police have never officially accused either one of them. Both Jones and Hilton are currently serving life sentences for murders for which they were definitively convicted. Nearly two decades later, Rob Endres, Pistol Black, and Patrice Endres' family are still awaiting closure on the case.