Cold Case Explorations

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The Vanishing of the Fandel Children in the Last Frontier

This case has remained unsolved for 44 years, 3 months, and 3 days.

In the late hours of September 4, 1978 to the early hours of the next morning, two children went missing from the cabin they shared with their mother, Margaret, in Sterling, Alaska. Their bodies have never been found, nor has any trace of them been located.

Circumstances surrounding the case are murky at best and, over forty years later, we still have no answers. Did they sneak out in the middle of the night, end up lost, and succumb to the elements? Did an Alaskan predator like a bear get into the cabin and scare them out? Or perhaps a predator of another kind attacked the children, snatching them in the middle of the night and leaving no evidence behind.

Despite all the time that has passed since then, we still know very little about what happened to the two Fandel children, Scott (aged 13 at the time) and Amy (8).

Table of Contents

About the Fandel Children

Scott Fandel was born on January 23, 1965. Not much is known about Scott’s biological father, but his mother Margaret married a man named Roger Fandel early on in Scott’s life. His little sister Amy was born a little while later on August 25, 1970.

Scott (left) and Amy (right) Fandell.
Scott (left) and Amy (right) Fandel.

There isn’t a ton of information about the lives of the children, but there are some rumors that the Fandel marriage wasn’t a great one. Margaret and Roger reportedly had a troubled relationship, with Roger leaving the family home before the disappearance of the children; he is said to have moved to Arizona in January 1978.

Unfortunately, as far as the children go, there is little to no information regarding them aside from their physical characteristics at the time of the disappearance.

Scott Fandel

Scott is reported to have been 4’11, a bit short for his age, so perhaps he looked younger than he actually was. He was described by teachers as a bit of a prankster, but also smart and a staunch defender of his little sister. That is, if someone had tried to take Amy against her will, he would have defended her.

Amy Fandel

Amy was 4’0 and described as sweet and beautiful. A 1988 article in the Anchorage Daily News by Sheila Toomey describes how her mother spoke well of her: “Kind to animals, kind to people. She loved dolls… she loved pretty clothes and pretty shoes.”

At the time of the disappearance, the children were living with their mother Margaret just south of Sterling, AK. The three lived in a two-bedroom cabin in a rural and forested area and, according to some sources, the front door lock was broken.

The Night of the Disappearance

On the evening of September 4, 1978, the family of three along with Margaret’s sister, Cathy Schonfelder, were eating at Good Time Charlies, a bar and restaurant in Sterling. At around 10 PM, the children were returned to the cabin. After dropping the children off, the adults returned to the bar.

Nearby neighbors, the Luptons, reported that the Fandel children came over from about 10 PM until 11:45 PM. The Luptons had five children themselves and the kids all enjoyed playing together. They also walked to the bus stop with them each morning, making the children close friends.

Fandel Children Sent Home

Around 11:45 PM, the children were deemed to be making too much noise and it was time for everyone to get ready for bed, so the Luptons sent the Fandel children back home.

Around 2 or 3 AM the next morning, Margaret and Cathy returned home from the bar. On the stove, there was a pot of boiling water along with some pasta and tomatoes. Scott reportedly liked to have late-night pasta snacks, so it wasn’t out of the ordinary to find these items in the kitchen.

What was more out of the ordinary was the fact that all of the cabin’s lights were turned off. Scott and Amy were afraid of the dark and often left all the cabin lights on. However, when the two women returned, no lights were on.

There is debate on whether Margaret and Cathy checked on the children or not. Some sources report that they didn’t while others report that they did. Either way, they went to sleep, perhaps assuming that the children were spending the night at the Lupton’s home.

Why Were They Left Alone and Not Checked On?

It’s possible that alcohol played a role in the adults not checking in on the children. After all, they got home very late after spending more time at a bar.

Some also criticize Margaret for leaving her children home alone, but I think it’s important to remember that Scott was 13 at the time, old enough to be starting high school the next year.

Additionally, Scott was described as very mature for his age and a suitable babysitter for Amy: “Scott was 13, an unusually mature 13 by most accounts and a competent babysitter for his younger sister” (Toomey, 1988). It’s not uncommon for children to be left home alone as young teens, and it’s important to remember that the standards of 1978 aren’t the same as they are today.

The Next Morning

On September 5, Margaret left the home around 8:30 AM for work. She looked around for the children prior to leaving but assumed that they had left for school already and that was why she couldn’t find them. At some point in the day, she called the school to speak with Amy and was informed that the child never arrived. Although she was worried, her boss didn’t allow her to leave work.

Later in the day, Cathy awoke around 12 PM. The children were still nowhere to be found, but she thought they were at school so she didn’t raise any alarms.

It was only later in the day after school when the Lupton children stopped by to ask about Scott and Amy that Cathy learned neither child had gone to school that day. At that point, she contacted Margaret who then called the police to report the missing children.

The Investigation

Police came out to the home to start the investigation, but little to no evidence was found. Some bullet casings were located outside of the cabin but it was impossible to tell how long they’d been there, or if they were even related to the disappearance.

Search dogs were also brought in and sent to comb the surrounding area for clues. Local ferries were checked too with police alerting the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) to be on the lookout for anyone trying to cross the border with children fitting either Scott or Amy’s description. Unfortunately, no trace of the children was found.

“Quirks and spider web leads… Leads that don’t go anywhere.”

Fmr. Alaska State Trooper (Source: Toomey, 1988)

A Black Sedan

One witness claimed to have seen a black sedan speeding on the road near the Fandel cabin on the night of the disappearance. An Alaskan trooper followed up the lead. It was learned that the sedan belonged to two carnival workers whom Margaret allowed to sleep over at her cabin for a night in August.

However, they claimed that they were in the area to pick up their checks after working at the Alaska State Fair. To this day, no evidence revealed publicly has pointed to the carnival workers being involved.

The Blame Game

In many cases of children going missing, the family or someone close to the family is to blame. Indeed, only 28 percent of kidnappings are committed by strangers. Other studies suggest that 90 percent of kidnappings are carried out by parents. Statistically speaking, it was likely that one of the parents carried out the kidnapping (or someone else close to the family) and it didn’t take long for Roger and Margaret to start blaming one another and their families.

Roger Fandel blamed his uncle, Herman Fandel, for the abduction of the two children. According to some news articles, Roger and Herman hated one another and both accused the other of kidnapping and killing the children (Toomey, 1988). Investigators actually went so far as to dig up Herman’s yard in search of the children’s bodies, but nothing was found.

Soon after the disappearance, a tap was put on Margaret’s phone to listen in and see if she made any incriminating statements (Toomey, 1988). This also lead nowhere. Questions have also been asked as to why Margaret took the children to Good Time Charlies, which is apparently a strip club. It’s not clear if it was a strip club back in the late ’70s, but it is today.

An old photograph of Good Time Charlies.
An old photograph of Good Time Charlies.

Theories on the Missing Children

Theories abound with this case and though I mention some of them below, know that this is by no means an exhaustive list. Some additional theories include alien abduction and devil worshippers taking and sacrificing the children.

The Children Ran Away

Some think that the children ran away on that chilly night in September 1978, but there is little evidence to support that idea. Despite the break up of their family (with their father leaving in January of that year), both Scott and Amy were described as happy and well-adjusted children who loved their mother.

Search dogs had been deployed around the cabin and surrounding areas to try and locate the children, but no trace of them surfaced.

Additionally, with how young the children were (13 and 8), they wouldn’t have been able to make it very far by themselves, even with a 15-hour head start. At age 8, Amy wouldn’t be able to walk for more than a few hours and Scott wasn’t strong enough to carry her when she would inevitably stop.

Scott also had a passion for motorcycles and owned a Yamaha YZ80, worth about $3,000 at the time of his disappearance (Toomey, 1988). If he wanted to leave, certainly he would have taken his most prized possession. Scott also had taken and passed a wilderness survival course; he knew what it took to survive out in the wilds of the Last Frontier state. Certainly, he would have packed a bag with survival gear if he planned on fleeing.

Margaret Fandel Kidnapped the Children

The idea that Margaret kidnapped the children has been put out there, but not many people believe that she would have done something to them. Despite the tough divorce and being “in a bad place in her life,” there were no complaints about Margaret being a bad mother to Scott and Amy (Toomey, 1988). She also would have had to recruit her sister, Cathy, to participate in the crime given that Cathy was visiting at the time. It seems unlikely that she would have included her sister in a plot to kidnap her children, but it is possible.

Roger Fandel Kidnapped The Children

Other true crime sleuths believe that Roger either kidnapped the children himself or had someone kidnap them. Remember that Roger had moved to Arizona earlier in the year, making the theory that he did it himself either improbable or impossible. It is reported was in Arizona at the time of the abduction and he flew from there to Alaska shortly after the abduction to help with the search (Toomey, 1988).

Of course, just because Roger couldn’t have abducted the children himself doesn’t mean he didn’t get someone else to do it. In June 2020, Terry Schonfelder (Roger’s former brother-in-law) gave an interview to the Crime over Coffee podcast. In this interview, he claimed that Roger didn’t help in the investigation and that he had confronted Margaret with a gun saying, “They’re after me, not you.” Terry also believes that the children went missing because of a drug deal gone bad.

Terry has believed that Roger was involved since the very start. “Terry believes Amy is alive but will not come forward because she is protecting her father from prosecution” (Toomey, 1988). Aside from suspicions and accusations however, there is little to no evidence pointing at Roger as the perpetrator.

A Friend Abducted the Children

Some people suggest that a friend or acquaintance of Margaret might’ve abducted the children. Due to the divorce, Margaret was reportedly drinking and partying more than she had in the past, perhaps leading her to associate with an unsavory lot.

It’s theorized that one of her associates (or even someone seated somewhere near her in the bar) overheard her saying that it was time for the children to head home. They somehow figured out that the children would be alone and used the opportunity to abduct them.

A Stranger Abducted the Children

Stranger abductions are statistically rare, but they do happen. In this case, there is little to no evidence supporting the stranger abduction theory. Then again, there is little to no evidence supporting any theory.

Even though Scott was small for his age, he still would have fought an attacker or intruder and there would be signs of a struggle in the house. However, it’s possible that a stranger came in with a gun or other weapon and forced the children to leave without incident.

Another stranger abduction theory suggested that the children were kidnapped by a religious organization to be “saved” because the organization didn’t approve of Margaret’s lifestyle. This theory doesn’t exactly hold water though as it has been stated many times that Scott wouldn’t have gone without a fight, nor would he have let his little sister be taken — unless, again, the children were threatened into submission by a gun or other weapon.

A Wild Animal Scared the Children

An odd but not impossible theory is that some sort of wild animal (like a wolf or a bear) managed to get into the home and frightened the Fandel children out, causing them to run off into the woods. It seems unlikely that a large predator could have gotten into the cabin, but it is possible. Even if this did happen though, wouldn’t the children have come back once the bear or wolf left the home? And why were all the lights turned off when the children were afraid of the dark?

What Do I Think Happened?

The case of the missing Fandel children is such a difficult one because, although all of the theories are improbable, one of them has to be true. Something happened to Scott and Amy and, because they haven’t been seen or heard from since, it’s very likely that they are dead — and have been for a long time. Whether this is due to family or stranger abduction though is more difficult to say.

Even though parental kidnapping is statistically the most likely across all cases, I don’t think it’s the answer for the Fandel children. Roger was in Arizona at the time, making it impossible for him to have committed the crime himself. Although it’s possible for him to have hired someone to do it, it’s well known that he wasn’t on good terms with his family that lived in Alaska. He would have had to find someone who would not only carry out the abduction and murders but also someone who stayed quiet about it for over four decades.

How Would Margaret Elude Authorities?

As for Margaret, why would she go to a bar and drink the night she planned to do something sinister? Furthermore, she chose a night when her sister was in town — which some might say was to have someone else to help in the crime, but it’s one more person who has to keep quiet for all this time. And, if they did kidnap the children, where did they take them and how were they able to elude law enforcement when such an intensive search effort was deployed after the disappearance?

If a stranger tried to abduct the children, I believe there would have been more signs of a struggle in the home. Also, because Scott was said to be so protective of his little sister, I think there would have been more of a disturbance (yelling, sounds of fighting) that the neighbors would’ve overheard.

My Theory

My theory is that someone at the bar overheard Margaret talking to the children and discussing how she was going to take them home, then head back out. The predator would have known that the children were going to be home alone and they took the chance to follow the family home, then waited for a few hours while the children went to the Lupton’s and played.

When the children returned, Scott started making his nightly pasta snack when the intruder interrupted them (hence why there was still a pot of boiling water on the stove). The attacker might’ve either used a gun to force the children to leave without a fuss, or said something like, “Your mother sent me here to get you because she was in an accident. You were just at Good Time Charlies, right? Come with me! I’ll take you to her.” The children then left with the attacker and were never seen again.

Whatever really happened to the Fandel children, we may never know. It’s another unsolved true crime case where the perpetrators have never been brought to justice, and likely won’t be unless more information comes out. Someone out there knows something about the disappearance and law enforcement is still trying to solve the mystery over four decades later. Scott, Amy, and all the families affected by their disappearance deserve justice. If you know something, say something.

Case Updates

Despite the over four decades of time that have passed since the Fandel children went missing, we still have very little information about what might’ve happened to them. Updates have been few and far between, and most are dead ends.

1979: Bodies of Children Found in Mendocino, CA

The bodies of two children were found in woods near Mendocino, CA in 1979. At first, the bodies were thought to be from a young girl and a teenaged boy — a description that would match Amy (8) and Scott (13). Foul play was suspected in the case, also fitting the narrative of the missing Fandel children.

Ultimately, DNA testing proved that the two bodies were not those of the Fandel children but instead of two girls who’d gone missing in December 1978 from Forestville, CA. Unfortunately, the case of those girls also remains unsolved.

~1980: The Fandel Cabin Burns Down

Although there is no exact date, it is said that the Fandel cabin burned down several years after the disappearance of the children (Toomey, 1988). How or why it burned down isn’t clear, nor was it stated if Margaret was still living there at the time.

1984: The Children Found?

In 1984, Chuck Hagen (a retired Alaska State Trooper who’d worked on the case) got information that someone who’d lived in Haines, AK just moved to Page, AZ with two children who matched the descriptions of Scott and Amy. Hagen flew to Arizona to investigate the claims.

Haines, AK is about 890 miles from Sterling, AK.
Haines, AK is about 890 miles from Sterling, AK (Google Maps).

When Hagen got to Arizona, he dug deeper and tried to determine if the children were missing Scott and Amy. Unfortunately, he soon came to the conclusion that they weren’t the Fandel children. After that, Hagen lost hope. “Hagen thinks Scott and Amy are dead” (Toomey, 1988).

The Search Goes On

Despite the amount of time that has passed, many people are still very invested in figuring out what’s happened to the Fandel children. The popular crime discussion board WebSleuths has several threads on the case, all with varying and interesting information.

A missing advertisement for Scott and Amy posted on Facebook.
A missing advertisement for Scott and Amy posted on Facebook.

However, because these posts usually don’t provide sources for their information, I haven’t used any of them when writing this article. Rumors and finger-pointing abound and it’s impossible to discern truth from fiction on such boards.

Officially, the case has never been closed and law enforcement still is seeking information. The disappearance of the Fandel children is one of the oldest unsolved child kidnapping cases in Alaska history.

Do You Have Information?

Do you have any information about the missing Fandel children? Scott was 13 at the time and last seen wearing a striped t-shirt and jeans. Amy was 8 and last seen wearing a sweater with a red and blue vest and striped jeans. If you have information, contact the Alaska State Troopers at (907) 262–4453.

Age progressed photos of Scott (left) and Amy (right).
Age progressed photos of Scott (left) and Amy (right).

Cold Case Questions

  • What do you think happened to the Fandel children? Which theory is the most plausible to you?
  • Do you think the Fandel children are still alive out there?
  • Will this case ever be solved?

Let me know by commenting below!

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One thought on “The Vanishing of the Fandel Children in the Last Frontier

  1. I believe it was the carnival workers. A person could have overheard the mom talking to her kids but it would have been pure luck to lure them outside and that also would have caused some type of struggle inside. The workers knew the front door didn’t lock because they had just been in the home. It would have been easier to get both of them outside by simply telling them they were going to another city and can’t take all the toys with them so they could grab a few, which is why the water was left boiling and the lights were on and then off.

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