For many years, the friends and family of a young woman from Wisconsin were heartbroken and worried about what could have happened to her after one fateful night.
However, as the years passed, it seemed less and less likely that they would ever learn the truth. That was until one chance encounter changed the course of her seemingly doomed fate…
Connie was born and raised in Wausau, Wisconsin, a city with a population of less than 40,000 and not a whole lot to do. Born in 1988, Connie was lucky to have her sister, Jeanine, and younger brother, Morris, to keep her company.
Unfortunately, when Connie was just five years old, she was subjected to a tragic loss that would change her life forever. Connie’s father died after a long battle with cancer, leaving his wife, Cindy, to care for their three young children. She would learn being a single parent was no easy task…
Mary Marohl, a neighbor and family friend who knew the McCallister children when they were growing up later recalled that Cindy was known to be a poor parent to her three kids. “The town pretty much took care of them,” she told Daily Mail.
As Connie grew older, her difficult home life hardened her a bit, making her feel much more mature than she really was. Connie was a good student, who always made honor-roll at her Athens, WI, high school, but she was making some rather poor choices in her spare time. Meanwhile, her mother was usually nowhere to be found…
Around this time, Cindy McCallister had a string of boyfriends that she would spend days on end with, leaving her kids to fend for themselves. And other times, she would have her male companions live with her and her family. This sent Connie looking for someone to take care of her.
When Connie was just 15, it became well known that she was dating a 22-year-old local man named Freddie Ruiz. Connie’s older beau would often take her to parties, but one night in 2004, they went too far. The couple was attending a party in Milwaukee, 200 miles away from home, when Jeanine McCallister received an alarming message from her sister…
“He won’t bring me back,” Jeanine recalled Connie saying to her in a phone call on August 15, 2004, just before school was about to start again. But little did she know that night that it was the last contact anyone would have with Connie for a very long time.
Connie never returned home with Freddie after the party and no one knew where either of them had vanished too. While many people who knew Connie believed she had run away with her older boyfriend to escape her troubled home life, Cindy McCallister and her two other children insisted that Freddie had kidnapped her…
After much investigation, Wausau police concluded that Connie left voluntarily. They believed Connie even contacted her mother, Cindy, a few days after she was “kidnapped” to tell her she was “fine” and to stop looking for her. Connie also apparently told her mom she was not going to reveal where she was going.
That’s when Cindy apparently told the local police that she believed her daughter and older boyfriend were probably going to flee to Mexico. Maybe Freddie had some family connections there? Despite Connie’s family insisting that she was trapped in an abusive relationship, investigators gave up the search for the troubled teen after some time…
If she had escaped to another country on purpose, she certainly didn’t want to be found. Jeanine, Morris and the rest of the McCallisters’ family and friends were heartbroken by Connie’s disappearance. Over time, they started to give up hope that she would ever contact them again or be found alive.
Then, nearly a decade after her disappearance, in 2013, a church missionary group was traveling in Mexico when someone believed they recognized the missing young woman. The eagle-eyed missionaries reported seeing Connie to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children who relayed this new information to Wausau police. However, they never expected it could actually be her…
Three months later, in September 2013, Wausau investigators were shocked to discover that they had finally found Connie. “We have confirmed, through conversations on Skype, that this is really Connie, and she did ask for help in getting home,” Wausau Police Capt. Greg Hagenbucher said in 2003. Yet a lot had happened in the past nine years and Connie had some secrets to share.
“We asked her about the information being reported… that Connie told officers that in 2004 she left Wausau voluntarily with Freddie and ended up at a party somewhere in the Milwaukee / Chicago area,” said an official police statement. However, she had some trouble remembering what happened next. “She said while at the party she thinks someone may have drugged her as the next day she woke up in Mexico.” Unfortunately, she couldn’t give a straight explanation about why she stayed for so long…
Just A Child
“Freddie was a sexual predator and Connie was kidnapped. People ask why she didn’t escape sooner considering she was in three different relationships and escaped Freddie, then another abusive man, but no one knows the real situation,” said Karen Zubke of Trinity Lutheran Church in Athens. When the Lutheran church heard the news of Connie’s reappearance, they started a fundraiser to finally bring her back home.
“We all warned her about Freddie, but he was older and was probably telling her everything a 15-year-old girl wanted to hear,” Karen continued. “But the authorities should have stopped it. When social services got involved they told the family to move half an hour away to Wausau,” she said of Connie’s older boyfriend. “She was only a child when she was kidnapped and after years of mental and physical abuse, maybe she didn’t have the strength to try to get away.”
Furthermore, Karen told Daily Mail that Connie contacted police five years earlier, but they dismissed her cries for help as a hoax. “I don’t know what the circumstances were. Maybe the man she was with found out and pressured her into not going through with it.” However, by this time, Connie hadn’t been in contact with Ruiz for years.
Shortly after arriving in Mexico, Connie broke off her mentally and physically abusive relationship with her older boyfriend. Yet she didn’t stay single for long. Young and naive, instead of contacting her family to come home, Connie decided to find work as a field hand and start a relationship with a new man in Mexico. Unfortunately, that relationship turned out to be an abusive one as well.
Connie went on to marry and have three young children with her new Mexican lover, but by the third child she had had enough. She had the common sense to get help in the hospital with her youngest child and soon changed her identity. However, Connie has not revealed why she never contacted anyone to get help to bring she and her children back home to the U.S. At least, until now.
“I never gave up any hope of her,” said Florence Volzka, Connie’s aunt. “I always thought she would find a way home. She is very close knit with the family.” When Connie was found, Cindy McCallister had relocated to Florida and had no contact with her daughter. However, Connie was excited for a fresh start back in Wisconsin with her siblings and small children. “She’s excited and she’s cautious and she knows it’s going to be whole new world again and she’s afraid,” Volzka said. “There are a lot of adjustments.” Police have not been able to locate Freddie Ruiz since Connie’s disappearance in 2004 and believe he is living in Mexico under a false identity.