Former Hollister resident Karen Wright drove from Merced to a
Mexican vacation home Feb. 9 to settle some matters with her
estranged husband, Randal Wright. Three days later, he reported her
missing in San Felipe. Since that time, there have been no signs of
the 51-year-old woman who spent about 15 years as a juvenile and
young adult in Hollister, and Merced County authorities in the
meantime have charged the husband with unrelated felonies for
suspected car theft and perjury.
Former Hollister resident Karen Wright drove from Merced to a Mexican vacation home Feb. 9 to settle some matters with her estranged husband, Randal Wright. Three days later, he reported her missing in San Felipe.
Since that time, there have been no signs of the 51-year-old woman who spent about 15 years as a juvenile and young adult in Hollister, and Merced County authorities in the meantime have charged the husband with unrelated felonies for suspected car theft and perjury.
Authorities are treating the investigation over the wife’s disappearance as a missing person’s case, and there are no suspects to this point, said Deputy Tom MacKenzie, a spokesman with the Merced County Sheriff’s Office. Family members and friends, meanwhile, are merely hoping for the best.
“That wasn’t her,” said Kathy Stewart, an aunt in Hollister. She noted how no one has heard from Wright, whose maiden name also was Stewart, since she left. “She didn’t do that. We just are really hoping and praying for the best. So much time has gone by, so we just don’t know.”
Wright always had a close tie with family, said her mother Sonja Barnes. She also noted how her daughter still has many friends in the San Benito County area.
She recalled to the Free Lance how the family moved to Hollister around 1968 and how her three daughters and son attended some grade school here and then San Benito High School. Wright moved away to Sacramento in 1983. That was about four years after her father, and Barnes’ first husband, was killed in an automobile accident.
Barnes, who now lives in Oroville, said she has had a particularly emotional time in recent days because her daughter’s 51st birthday was Sunday, Mother’s Day.
“To this day,” Barnes said, “we don’t know why she went alone.”
Probe continues; extradition efforts stumped
She was headed to San Felipe because the Wrights own one vacation home there and had been building another one, Barnes said. The mother said she went to Mexico to take pictures of the second home and to see whether her husband had been continuing to build onto it.
Barnes said the husband told authorities Wright went missing in San Felipe after she had walked away from their car, also leaving behind two basset hounds. Upon returning from Mexico days later, Randal Wright filed a missing person’s report in Merced as well.
While they stress the husband has not been named as a suspect or person of interest in his wife’s case, Merced County authorities have charged him since he has been back on suspicion of perjury and vehicle theft. He has pleaded innocent to all the related charges and will be back in court this week. He has been released because he met his $400,000 bail obligation.
Randal Wright could not be reached because a message on his phone says he is not accepting calls at this time.
After returning from Mexico, the husband reported to the California Highway Patrol that his Ford Explorer was stolen “when in fact,” the deputy said, “he knew it wasn’t stolen.” A Merced detective became suspicious when he reviewed a report on it, and prosecutors charged him on suspicion of perjury for that, the deputy said.
The Merced sheriff’s office also arrested him suspecting that in December he had driven a $106,000 Mercedes Benz he had owned – but stopped making payments on months earlier – off of a dealership lot where it had been left for engine repairs. In that case, prosecutors charged him on suspicion of vehicle theft, the spokesman said.
That matter came about because Mexican authorities recently discovered the Mercedes in the San Felipe garage of a friend of his named Teresa Hutt, the Merced sheriff’s spokesman said. They arrested her in early April and intended to extradite her to the United States for prosecution in Merced because authorities there developed a warrant for her arrest alleging conspiracy to commit theft, MacKenzie said.
It turns out, however, she is a Canadian citizen. Due to extradition laws, Mexican authorities were forced to simply free her at the border, MacKenzie said, because the suspected crime occurred in Merced. He noted how a $500,000 warrant will remain for her arrest if she comes into California “or anywhere close.”
The cooperative missing person’s investigation between Mexican authorities and the Merced County Sheriff’s Office will continue on, the spokesman said.
As for the current charges against the husband, MacKenzie stressed that all of the accusations are “legitimate” and that authorities there would treat any other allegations against someone else the same.
He also confirmed that Merced investigators also worked on the missing person’s case while in Mexico probing the stolen vehicle matter.
“They took every opportunity they had when they were down in Mexico,” the spokesman said.