This is one of Michigan’s most puzzling cold cases…the 2005 disappearance of attorney Chuck Rutherford and death of his girlfriend Lana Ann Stempien. Was it due to carelessness, murder, drowning…or something else?

On August 10, they set out for a little trip on Lake Huron, leaving from Lana’s parents’ home in Canada.

The next day, Lana’s family started to worry because the two were supposed to meet family up on Mackinac Island…..and they were late. When they failed to arrive, the family called the Coast Guard to search for Chuck & Lana.

Their boat, the Sea’s Life, was found, but way off-course and with no one aboard. The engine & radio were still on, lights off, and swim ladder up. Almost all the couple’s belongings were still on board – including cell phones, life preservers, wallets full of money, and shoes, but no sign of the two. No evidence of foul play, no blood, no signs of a scuffle. The Coast Guard searched 1,600 square miles of Lake Huron for the couple but with no luck.

Did Chuck & Lana go swimming and drown? Not likely, as the water was too frigid, the anchor was up, and the swim ladder hadn’t been used.

Two weeks later, Lana’s body was found, nude, washed up on a beach a few miles from where the boat was found. All she had on was some jewelry: gold necklace, ring, and Omega watch. She had no bodily injuries, bruises, or any signs of a struggle.

An autopsy found a massive amount of carbon monoxide in her bloodstream.

Questions were asked: why would she skinny-dip while wearing expensive jewelry and a non-waterproof watch, especially in freezing water? Were the two drunk and therefore lacking good judgement? But where was Chuck? Was he still alive or did he drown and lie at the bottom of the lake?

Were they attacked by lake pirates?
Probably not – nothing was stolen.

Lana’s family pointed to foul play, that the two may have met their fate at the hands of someone who had a vengeance toward them…both being attorneys, that seemed like a plausible theory. They even speculated that Chuck himself did away with Lana. Chuck has never been found – dead or alive.

Later it was discovered that Lana had left voicemail on the phone of an ex-boyfriend just before the couple began missing…leading to further speculation that Chuck may have found out about the call, which may have caused a heated argument.

Accident? Carelessness? Murder? What happened out on Lake Huron? Since the incident, male human remains have been discovered in the waters: a torso and foot among them, that eventually were determined not to belong to Rutherford.

Chuck Rutherford has been legally declared dead…..or is he out there under a new name, with a new life? This Michigan Great Lakes Mystery may never be solved.


99.1 WFMK logo
Enter your number to get our free mobile app


The Bra Trees of Michigan

Abandoned Community

Haunted Oak Parks: Charlotte & Lansing

NBC News

More From 99.1 WFMK