Part 9 - Finding Another Case


To understand how the next case came about we have to go back to June 2021, a week before we started searching for Jussi Peltola.

With the ROV ready, and still a week to go before my vacation and starting the search for Jussi, I had a lot of free time in my hands. It felt strange not to be spending my evenings on the ROV. So I decided to look into possible missing persons cases to work on.

I had read about Juha Laitinen’s case that winter but I couldn’t make any sense of it. Maybe it was the never ending daylight of the Finnish June nights, or maybe my concentration was better now that the ROV was ready, but the case seemed much more clear now.

The Disappearance of Juha Laitinen

When 37 year old Juha Laitinen went missing, he was working as a truck mechanic near Leppävirta, a small town in the east of Finland living with his girlfriend of a couple of years. Before meeting her, he had divorced his wife who he had a small child with.

Juha was diligent worker and it had been busy at work. Too busy, he haid said. He had recently become tense and he had become rather difficult to have conversation with as he wasn’t in the mood to talk.

It was Friday, the 25th of August 2006. Juha and his girlfriend had agreed to have dinner after he finished work. They would also go into town as the car’s gas tank was almost empty and he didn’t have much cash at hand.

Around 16:00, Juha Laitinen finished work and drove to Suonenjoki, a small town about 30km northwest from his workplace. From his bank statements we know that he only stopped off at Alko, the state owned liquor store.

Sometime before 18:00, he left his car by a dirt road leading to his mother’s cabin. From there he got a taxi to the nearest town of Leppävirta, that was some 20km south. When Juha got to Leppävirta, he went to a grocery store and for the second time to Alko. After, the taxi dropped him back at his car. The time was a bit after 18:00.

The taxi driver later said that there wasn’t anything unusual about Juha or his behavior. He just seemed to have sat in an uncomfortable manner, like he had hurt his back. He also said Juha might have been a bit tipsy.

Juha had two phones - one for work and one for personal use. It’s not unusual in Finland to have a separate work phone, especially if your employer doesn’t pay for private calls. At 19:30, both his mobile phones disconnected from the network.

At 20:00, his girlfriend started to worry, as he hadn’t shown up for dinner. She tried calling him, but both phones were switched off. She grew so worried that she started to drive around to search for him. She checked Juhahs mother’s cabin as he loved to spend time there. But he wasn’t there. Nor was he anywhere by the road.

Saturday come and went without any signs of Juha Laitinen.

Two days later, on Sunday at 19.30, Juha was seen at a local dive bar. He had a beer with an unknown blond man. The police identified Juha from surveillance cam footage but they didn’t save the material. Later police issued a notice for the blond man to come forward, but nobody did.

In the years to come, lots of searching for Juha was done but nothing was found. There was not a single trace of the man or his car. His phones remained turned off, there was no activity in his bank account, and his passport remained at home.

The case went cold.

11 years later in 2017, the police opened up the case again. The case was transferred to the National Bureau of Investigation (KRP) and they suspected Juha was murdered. The police didn’t say what the evidence was but they posted a photo of a white Mercedes-Benz. The car was connected to the case and the police was asking the public to come forward with any information they might have.

The Research

Over the next few days, I read everything I could find about the case and also watched an episode of Kadonneet (“Missing” made by YLE, the Finnish Public Broadcasting Company). In the episode, there weren’t any good clues about what might have happened to him, but there was a long list of strange things related to his disappearance.

First of all, Juha’s girlfriend started noticing suspicious nightly visitors at the house. They drove a Mercedes-Benz which they parked by the road. They would then snoop around the house only to leave as soon as they saw her dog. Second, there was a sighting of Juha at a bar with a blond man on a Sunday night. The seasonal workers in the area were also suspected to be involved in Juha’s disappearance.

And of course, there were the unsubstantiated rumours: “He has gone to Russia”, “he is living in Finland with another woman”, etc.

The documentary raised more questions and didn’t provide much information. Juha Laitinen’s mother was interviewed in the documentary. It was evident that his disappearance had caused her unbearable pain.

Looking at all the bits of information, the case seemed vague. However, when looking only at the verifiable bits, it was a different story.

Some of the verifiable bits of information were: Juha quit working for the day at 16:00; he visited the liquor store in Suonenjoki; he left his car and got a taxi, visited the grocery and liquor stores in Leppävirta; he was last seen after 18:00 by his car; and both of his phones switched off at 19:30.

That was it. There was no verifiable info of Juha after 19:30 on that Friday night. Well, one could assume that the bar sighting was a fact because it was after all, verified by the police. I saw it differently. The CCTV footage quality back in 2006 was bad and unfortunately the footage had not been saved. I thought it was easy to make an error identifying person from grainy footage.

We also had some other pieces of information which seemed as if they could be relevant. The fuel light turned on a couple of days before he went missing. He didn’t have any cash at hand and his bank statements didn’t show that he had bought gas. The car must have been running on empty by then, as he’d driven approx. 80km (to work, to Suonenjoki and back) on Friday alone.

Using only these pieces of information, I started to create a theory using the same questions I had asked in Jussi Peltola’s case.

1) Where was he going?

I could only think of his mother’s cabin. The spot where he was last seen with his car supported this. He didn’t have enough gas to go anywhere but to the cabin. Also, the store visits indicated he might have been going to a cabin.

2) What was his route?

Even though there is an extensive network of roads in that area, I could picture only one route - the direct route from where the taxi had dropped him off at his car to his mother’s cabin. This was an approximate 8 km drive.

3) How far did he get?

He couldn’t have had more gas in his car than to drive a few dozen kilometers. He should have had enough gas to get to his mother’s cabin but coming back from there, and getting to the nearest gas station would have been pretty much out of the question.

As Juha’s car hadn’t been found, this was a strong indicator it was in a body of water. The fact that his phones disconnected from the network almost at the same time was another reason to believe that the car was underwater. I started to believe that something had happened while he was on his way to his mother’s cabin.

Then there was the sighting of Juha in a bar the Sunday night. If it were indeed true, what was Juha Laitinen doing the whole weekend and what happend to him? Without this sighting, I had a simple and plausible theory. I chose not to believe the bar visit or the unsubstantiated rumours.

The Search Plan

I was certain that Juha would be found on the way to his mother’s cabin. The next thing to do was to study the maps of the area. I identified three possible places.

1) The maps showed a steep slope from the yard of the cabin to the lake.

2) A small, barely drivable road from the road leading to the cabin, to the lake. I could actually verify from the aerial pictures that the road lead all the way to the waterline.

3) A spot, where the road went just by the lake. It was a sketchy idea, because normally roads are don’t go that near the water. But I added the site to the list anyway.

I wrote down my thoughts and sent the material to my brother. He agreed, so we decided to search for Juha Laitinen too.