From the outside, Teleka Patrick seemed to have it all together. An M.D. with a Ph.D. in biochemistry, the dark-haired beauty had won thousands of dollars in research grants last fall before taking a job as a psychiatry resident at the Western Michigan University School of Medicine in Kalamazoo, where she was a star. “She’s outstanding,” says Laura Eller, a school spokeswoman. “She’s very poised, very reliable. This is a very intelligent person.” A short marriage had ended in 2011, but Patrick began talking about a new love interest, a well-known gospel singer. In November she posted a video on YouTube for her unnamed man. “Hi, baby,” she cooed into the camera.”I want to tell you about my day. I had conferences, then I had a meeting with the clinical research committee.” Blowing a kiss, she added, “I love you.”
Less than a month later, Patrick, 30, disappeared, leaving investigators to piece together evidence of a life far more troubled than it appeared. Not only had the doctor been accused of stalking the man she claimed to love, but thousands of tweets attributed to her seemed to indicate a woman in the throes of a mental breakdown. The revelations have shocked her loved ones. “Her finances were in order,” says Jim Carlin, an investigator hired by her family. “She kept up with her class work. She was forward and engaged in her life.”
The details surrounding her disappearance are equally baffling. Video surveillance shows her trying to check in to a hotel on Dec. 5 before driving more than 100 miles into Indiana. Her gold Lexus – ID, credit cards and clothing inside – was found abandoned in a ditch by the interstate. Police dogs tracked her scent only a few feet, leading investigators to believe that she got into another car. “A million questions start from there,” says Undersheriff Pali Matyas of the Kalamazoo County Sheriff’s Office. Was she kidnapped? Is she hiding from someone? Did she hurt herself? “It’s like she evaporated,” says school spokeswoman Eller.
Investigators say that one thing is clear: The brilliant doctor was obsessed with Grammy-nominated gospel singer Marvin Sapp, 47, a widower, preacher and would-be reality star. (Networks rejected his 2013 pitch, a show called Single Dad, because “he was told to add some spice involving his love life,” says a law enforcement source close to the investigation.) In August Patrick was reportedly expelled from his church after Sapp, who fiercely maintains that the attraction was one-sided, claimed she had shown up at his house. “You’ve overstepped your boundaries,” he said from the pulpit. “How did you even know where I lived? Did you follow me?” He was later granted a protection order. “She claimed me as her husband,” he wrote in his application. “She joined my church, contacts my children and has been to my home. I have at least 400 pages of correspondence from her which I have never responded to.”
Authorities say Sapp is not a suspect but simply a victim of stalking. (Sapp did not return PEOPLE’s calls.)
Reeling from the accusations, Patrick’s friends and family are trying to reconcile the supposed stalker with the responsible, ambitious woman they know. “We talked regularly,” says her mother, Irene Patrick. “I’m a nurse, and if she had a mental problem, I would have picked up on it.” Yet the tweets on accounts suspected to be Patrick’s indicate that she herself may have wondered if she was losing touch with reality. On the day the judge signed the restraining order, she tweeted, “My mind started telling me it’s all a lie, it’s voices, and I’m crazy.” The tweets, which appear to be directed to Sapp but don’t mention him by name, became even more alarming the day before she vanished. “I can’t take much more,” she wrote. “When I say I love you, I am also saying I love you to a demon because that is how you made me fall for you.”
Although police say that Patrick was never diagnosed with mental illness, they know of two other times that she vanished. “In each case she checked in to a hotel but she came back a day or two later,” says Undersheriff Matyas. Meanwhile Patrick’s family continues to hope and pray for her safe return. “There are moments I get teary-eyed,” says her mother, “but I firmly believe God is going to bring her back alive.”