Christian family advocate searches for missing wife
In the halls of the Missouri Capitol, lobbyist Kerry Messer and his wife have been longtime fixtures, extolling the need to protect Christian values and pushing a pro-family, traditional marriage agenda.
But on Facebook, Kerry Messer's voice is far more personal and poignant these days.
There, amid a growing number of followers, he tells highly detailed stories about life with his wife of 35 years, Lynn Messer, whom he affectionately calls "Ma."
They are quirky and hardscrabble tales of their family farm off rural Highway DD south of Crystal City, Miisouri, nestled down in a hollow with dogs, chickens and cattle.
Like parables, Messer's meandering posts always return to three points: He passionately loves his wife and the traditional roles they live; he believes fully that Jesus Christ put her in his life and is with her even now; and he is in deep emotional anguish.
On July 8, on a rainy, dark morning, as Kerry Messer tells it, Lynn, 52, got out of bed sometime before 4 a.m. while he slept and then walked away from the family farmhouse. She left without her keys. She left without her wallet and cellphone, and the passport she used on regular church missions to Ecuador.
Lynn Messer hasn't been seen since.
She left behind seven grandchildren, two sons, dozens of church friends, four sewing machines lining her small living room, a box with seven gift-wrapped, handmade baby quilts, and many unanswered questions.
Primary among them is how she could disappear so suddenly after apparently leaving on foot.
To get to the blacktop highway, she would have had to traverse a field to a neighbor's house about a mile in the distance. Or climb up a utility egress. Or cross a dry creek bed and scale a limestone bluff — all on a moonless, slick night.
"Every day I look out the window and think I am going to see to her walking out from beyond the treeline," Messer said.
Earlier, Kerry Messer sat at his long kitchen table cluttered with photos, sheriff's documents and boxes filled with missing person fliers.
In meeting with a reporter, he broke a lifetime rule of keeping the media out of his family home that also functions as a base for the Missouri Family Network, his conservative lobbyist group. But he says he is desperate to get her story out and to find Lynn, provided no photos were taken inside the century-old farmhouse.
Nearby, a laptop computer was opened to Messer's painstakingly detailed Facebook page entitled "Find Lynn Messer."
There are stories of him as a high-schooler seeing Lynn for the first time through the window of a school bus, then, minutes later, walking with her hand-in-hand.
There is a deeply religious side to those posts, such as his struggles to sway Lynn to accept Jesus Christ as her personal Savior. He would not marry her otherwise.
"I can take you out to the hay field today," he tells readers. "To the very spot where I knelt under the stars in the middle of the night crying like a baby begging the Lord to tell me why? Why could I not share the Gospel of Jesus with my bride to be? But all He would seem to say was the same, 'not yet!' "
Lynn Messer did find Jesus Christ. She dropped out of high school so they could marry when she was 16. And thus began her transformation from "My Bride" to his beloved "Ma."
The farm, Messer said, was "Lynn's playground."
She bred and trained dogs. She chased cattle. She got charged by the family bull and ended up with stitches. She home schooled their two sons. She taught friends how to kill and pluck chickens and helped at home births.
For fun, she and Kerry slung cow patties at each, sometimes splashing each other with them from the knobby wheels of their all-terrain vehicles. And they made meals out of roadkill — things a city slicker just might not understand.
Messer said Lynn showed no reason to leave a place she truly loved. And he said he's left with only speculation about her disappearance.
He wonders — and this is a longshot — if she had an adverse reaction to new medicine she had taken for pain that had returned from a hip surgery two years ago.
Messer guesses Lynn might have met someone with ill intent out on the blacktop road that night. He doesn't rule out that he had political enemies, but that's just one of dozens of theories. He emphatically refutes early news reports that his wife was depressed.
Members of her church saw her the night before and found nothing amiss.
"She definitely wasn't in a depressed season of her life," said one of Lynn's close friends, Susan Vaughn, of Festus. "She was always on the go and doing things for people ... She left a lot of loose ends and a lot of unknowns. It was just not like her to leave things dangling like that."
On July 8, Kerry Messer said he woke around 4 a.m. and realized Lynn's head was not on the pillow next to him.
"I lay there in bed listening, and I'm thinking I'll hear a washing machine or I'll hear a sewing machine," he said.
Messer said he searched the house three times, first in the dark, then room by room, switching the lights on and off, and then in a panic throwing up all the switches so the house blazed. He did not find her in the outbuildings, or at his son Abram's home, about a half mile up a gravel road on the property.
By dawn, he was in his truck searching the paved roads and decided to call the police. He came home around 8 a.m. and learned his son had already made the call.
Soon the barnyard was filled with trucks and police.
Today, in an outbuilding of the farm harboring farm tools and a giant Todd Akin for Senate political sign, Messer keeps an aerial photo map of the farm and surrounding property. It's marked up in red and black, highlighting areas canvassed by volunteer search parties.
The Ste. Genevieve County sheriff's department is leading the ongoing investigation, with support from the FBI, the Missouri State Highway Patrol, the Eureka Search and Rescue and others. Together they have searched the 270-acre farm and miles of surrounding woods and properties.
Messer said there have been dozens of tips and leads that have not panned out. Bodies found in Missouri rivers — three of them within weeks after Lynn disappeared — have not been a match. Reported sightings at stores and accompanying security video footage also have led nowhere. Recently, he was told of efforts to dissect the contents of bags found at a local dump.
"I went from going to review a two-day-old security video in person to see if it was Lynn to wondering if parts in a plastic bag could be animal or human," Kerry Messer said. "That's our daily business."
Messer said he has been questioned like a suspect — scrutiny he welcomes from law enforcement who he says are just doing their jobs.
"I've tried to be transparent to a fault," he said.
He said a cybercrimes unit has searched all of the family electronics, and the FBI took Lynn's journals. Cadaver sniffing dogs were brought on the farm and found nothing, he said.
He notes that people — complete strangers — sometimes post awful accusations on the Facebook page.
"They say things like, 'Oh come on, Kerry. You know where the body is,' and other stuff like that and it's like ..." Messer stopped and sighed. "Law enforcement is very satisfied Lynn is not here."
Maj. Jason Schott of the St. Genevieve Sheriff's Department said the disappearance is considered suspicious due to the lack of evidence or a reason for the disappearance. When asked if Messer was a suspect, he responded, "at this point everyone is a suspect."
In September — two months after Lynn disappeared — Messer led the opening prayer for the Missouri Legislature at the start of its veto session that included overriding a vetoed 72-hour wait period for an abortion.
Messer said he decided to continue his work after so many people in Jefferson City — including opponents — came to the farm to help in the search.
"I owed a real debt of servitude to an awful lot of people at the Capitol," he said.
In Jefferson City, he is often accompanied by his son, Abram, a fellow lobbyist. Lynn often sat in the House or Senate galleries knitting or quilting with a hoop.
Together, they have testified that regulation of guns, parenting, home schooling and child care facilities is an intrusion on family rights. Last year, he joined a lawsuit against Gov. Jay Nixon over his move to allow same-sex partners to file combined state income tax returns.
By Messer's own admission, it has all been awkward in Jefferson City since the disappearance. So much so that he and Abram published an open letter in the Missouri Times, a Capitol newspaper, encouraging people to go ahead and ask questions.
"We would prefer to have an open conversation rather than leaving you feeling inhibited about expressing your thoughts," they wrote. "Do not be concerned about offending in any way. In the long run it would be better for us to talk openly rather than to pretend things are 'normal.' "
For now, Messer says he believes the Lord is with Lynn whether she is alive or dead, and that gives him some peace.
He does the best he can to keep up the farm without her while sticking with his lobbying mission. The chickens have been given away. The German shepherd is only partially trained and remains desperate to play.
In an old Ford Crown Victoria, he gives a reporter a tour. He steers around ruts, but aims the wheels over the cow patties.
He says the best dates with Lynn were nights on the farm sleeping under the moonlight. He drives near the former location of her favorite tree, felled a few years back, then on to the herd of about 40 grazing black heifers.
Messer said Lynn was hoping to learn to breed them and points to a heifer hours away from calving.
"Souk, souk," Messer cries, and the field of shadowy beasts begin to loudly yammer back, demanding their expected grain in this lean season.
The herd's lonely winter call rises over the colorless fields — long frozen over since the summer day Lynn Messer vanished from her verdant world without a trace.