The SUV in which Stephanie Van Nguyen and her two children went missing almost 20 years ago has been found, in the Ohio River, after a six month search sparked by new improved technology.

In 2002 Stephanie Van Nguyen, her 4-year-old daughter Kristin,  and her 3-year-old son, John disappeared from their home in Delhi Township, Ohio, with the vehicle, a 1997 Nissan Pathfinder. 

The authorities in Delhi, part of Hamilton County, investigated at the time. Stephanie Van Nguyen had left a note saying that she was going to drive into the Ohio River. 

But neither the missing persons nor the vehicle was found in the initial investigation and the case went cold

Advances in side sonar scan inspired a new look at the bottom of the Ohio River in the area near Delhi Township, by Delhi Police. The new look turned up “three unique objects,” police said. One of them was the SUV registered to Stephanie Van Nguyen. 

“Side sonar scan” is a transducer array that sends out signals on both its sides that sweep a river or seabed like a flashlight with a fan-shaped beam. This allows for a mapping of the bottom.

Given the note Stephanie Nguyen left it is tempting to conclude that she followed through on the assertion she made in the note, and that the river is a double murder scene as well as a suicide. That inference is premature, though. It is not yet clear whether the missing family was in the SUV when it submerged.

On April 19, 2002, Nguyen and her children were seen alive in Cincinnati. A police officer pulled Nguyen over her failing to dim her headlights. This was near a boat ramp on the Ohio River.

The officer’s incident report said that two children were asleep in the back of the vehicle.

Indiana State Police Assisting

Stephanie Van Nguyen’s SUV was found Wednesday, Oct. 13, near Aurora, Indiana, roughly 24 miles west and downstream of Delhi.  

Indiana State Police are now assisting Delhi Police in determining whether Stephanie Van Nguyen and her children were inside the vehicle, which was pulled out of the river Thursday.

There have been other instances recently in which cold cases have been reopened, sometimes with important results, as a consequence of new technology.

Sonar itself is a venerable technique, the subject of experiments by Leonardo de Vinci. It has been in active use for more than a century, since the first world war.

The new sonar techniques, though, which were developed largely at the behest of the fishing industry, have proven to be very powerful for law enforcement.

The Foss Lake Identifications in 2013

The use of side sonar scans by local police authorities can be traced back at least eight years. In 2013, authorities in Oklahoma tested such a system on Foss Lake in western Custer County and found two old cars on the lake floor. Both cars were related to missing persons cases that went back to the period 1969-70.

Divers dispatched to recover the vehicles at the bottom of Foss Lake found six bodies.

More than a year later the bodies were identified.

The bodies pulled from one of the cars, a 1969 Chevy Camaro, were the remains three teenagers who had disappeared in 1970: Jimmy Allen Williams, 16, Leah Gail Johnson, 18, and Thomas Michael Rios, 18.

The other car was a 1952 Chevrolet, and the remains were those of three passengers who had vanished in 1969: Cleburn Hammack, 42, Nora Marie Duncan, 58, and John Alva Porter, 69. 

None of the bodies showed signs of trauma. The six deaths were ruled accidental.

What do you think happened to Stephanie Van Nguyen? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.