By Ethan Colbert
Authorities say they are hoping that someone will come forward with information regarding the circumstances that led to the death of Rafaella Maria Stroik, 23, of St. Louis.
Stroik’s body was found along the southern shoreline of Mark Twain Lake near Florida, Mo., on Wednesday morning around 9:40. Authorities with the Missouri State Highway Patrol, the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, the Missouri Department of Conservation, the Monroe City Fire Department, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Monroe City Ambulance District, as well as a large number of volunteers, had been searching for Stroik since she was reported missing Tuesday evening.
According to Sergeant Eric Brown, a Public Information Officer with the Missouri State Highway Patrol, a Park Ranger found Stroik’s vehicle on Monday afternoon. The vehicle was parked unattended in the parking lot of Boat Ramp 107, which is located between Florida and Stoutsville.
“The Park Ranger found it somewhere around 3 o’clock in the afternoon,” Brown said in a press conference Wednesday afternoon. “The Park Ranger checked the vehicle, the license plates and found nothing suspicious at that time. The following morning, a Missouri State Highway Patrol officer and Park Ranger returned and the vehicle was still here.”
According to Brown, authorities viewed it as “abnormal” for a vehicle to be left unattended for so long.
“An investigation began at that time,” Brown told the assembled group of reporters.
According to the highway patrol spokesperson, multiple search and rescue teams began scouring the area using a grid method on Tuesday morning. There were additional search and rescue teams combing the waters of the 18,000-acre Mark Twain Lake using boats and other watercraft from the Missouri State Highway Patrol and other agencies.
Additionally, helicopter pilots with the Missouri State Highway Patrol searched the area from the air on Tuesday.
“The search was unsuccessful that day and we had to cancel it due to darkness,” Brown said. Search teams resumed their work Wednesday at 9 a.m.
Stroik’s body was spotted 40 minutes later by a private pilot who was circling the area assisting in the search.
“He then contacted the Missouri State Highway Patrol, who then using the department’s watercraft, were able to locate the deceased in the water,” Brown said. According to Brown, Stroik’s remains were then taken to the scene and transported to the Boone County Medical Examiner’s office, where an autopsy was expected to be completed on Thursday.
Results from the autopsy will not be available for sometime, according to Brown.
In the meantime, the highway patrol spokesperson said it remains vitally important that anyone in the Bowling Green, Eolia, or Frankford communities who might have seen Stroik or her 2012 Volkswagon Jetta driving through the area on Monday to come forward.
“This is an open investigation and the Missouri State High Patrol and the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department are continuing to follow-up on leads,” Brown said.
Those who believe they may have seen Stroik or her vehicle are encouraged to call (660) 385-2132 and to speak with law enforcement.
While foul play has been ruled out, Brown said investigators remain focused on determining what circumstances led to the St. Louis woman’s death.
“We are going to continue to investigate and to determine the exact circumstances that led to her death,” Stroik told the Times in a follow-up interview after the press conference, which was attended by reporters from St. Louis, Monroe City, Hannibal, Quincy and Bowling Green.
Brown declined to comment on whether or not law enforcement officials had contacted Bowling Green area businesses to review their security camera footage.
“Investigators are doing everything that they normally would do, and it would be inappropriate for me to comment on the techniques that they use,” Brown said.