Murder of Indiana University Student and Lauren Spierer Mystery 'Eerily Similar,' Cops Say

The arrest of a suspect in the murder of Hannah Wilson last week could mean a break in the 2011 missing persons case

Photo: Haley Ward/The Herald-Times/AP

As a family and community recoil from the murder of an Indiana University student who was killed last week after a night out with friends, questions are being raised as to whether there’s any link to the unsolved disappearance four years ago of student Lauren Spierer.

An investigator noted “eerily similar” circumstances in the cases of Spierer and Hannah Wilson, 22, whose body was discovered Friday, hours after friends say Wilson was last seen early that morning outside the same Bloomington bar that Spierer visited before she went missing in June 2011, WTTV reports.

Police have arrested Daniel Messel, 49, of Bloomington on a preliminary charge of murder in Wilson’s death. The Brown County coroner said Wilson had been struck three to four times in the back of the head with an unknown object and died of blunt force trauma, according to RTV6.

In a brief court appearance via video on Monday, Messel pleaded not guilty, WTHR reports.

In a statement to PEOPLE, Bloomington Police Capt. Joe Qualters says: “Messel’s arrest has provided BPD detectives with an avenue of investigation into Lauren Spierer’s disappearance that will be diligently pursued, and, in fact, that investigation has already begun.”

He added: “BPD detectives provided assistance in the death investigation of Hannah Wilson, but an effort will be made to confer in more detail with Indiana State Police detectives to determine what, if any, similarities might exist in the two cases that may have not been released to the public. The information obtained from them and what is obtained independently by BPD detectives will determine the course of BPD’s investigation.”

A probable-cause affidavit cited by RTV6 said police found a black cell phone in a red case near Wilson’s body in a rural area outside of Bloomington, and they matched the phone number and call history to Messel. That document also said police recovered a Kia Sportage registered to Messel, in which they found blood splattered on the driver’s side and clumps of long, black hair on the console.

Wilson’s friends told investigators she had been partying in a hotel room of the Hilton Garden Inn last Thursday night before walking with friends to Kilroy’s Sports Bar in downtown Bloomington. According to the affidavit, witnesses said that after an intoxicated Wilson reached the bar, she got into a green-and-white cab alone, her fare was paid in full at the curb, and she gave the driver her address.

It was the last time her friends saw her.

Hundreds of students celebrated Wilson’s life on campus Saturday, where members of her Gamma Phi Beta sorority released green and purple balloons in memory of the senior from Fishers, Indiana, reports The Indianapolis Star.

“She was the kind of girl who made everybody feel special,” said Maggie Hadley, a fellow Indiana University student and one of Wilson’s former Indiana Elite Cheer Center teammates.

“She was the committed one, the focused one, but also the lighthearted one who made them laugh and brought them together,” said Bethe Beaver, a co-owner of the cheerleading gym.

The parallels between Wilson and Spierer caught the attention of many.

Spierer, 20, of Edgemont, New York, was a sophomore at Indiana when on June 3, 2011 – after a night of partying that included an early-morning stop at Kilroy’s Sports Bar – she left a friend’s off-campus apartment around 4:30 a.m. to walk home and then vanished.

Spierer’s determined parents, Charlene and Robert, have publicly battled with a group of young men who were with Lauren in her last hours, each of whom quickly acquired lawyers, and the Spierers have said they don’t believe Lauren’s disappearance was a random abduction. But Bloomington police have never identified anyone as suspects in their daughter’s case.

Meanwhile, after Messel’s arrest in Wilson’s murder, court records revealed he’s previously been arrested on charges of violence against women, CBS reports. Among those, he pleaded guilty to one of three battery charges against him in 1993, and in 1996 he was given an eight-year sentence on felony convictions of battery with a deadly weapon and battery resulting in serious bodily injury.

Messel’s stepfather, Gerald Messel, said the suspect recently had spoken of knowing a girl named “Hannah” from the bars that attract students from the nearby Indiana University campus, according to WTTV, and he was surprised when his stepson did not come home Thursday night after a regular outing of playing trivia games in those nightspots.

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