An HLN series revisits the mystery of the Indiana University student who went missing in 2011

By Jeff Truesdell
December 13, 2019 02:18 PM

In 2015, the horrifying discovery of an Indiana University student's dead body seemed like a break in the case of another student whose earlier disappearance had baffled investigators for years.

Hannah Wilson, 22, had been missing for mere hours when her body was discovered on April 24, 2015, in a grassy vacant lot about 10 miles from the Bloomington campus.

Almost immediately, authorities drew comparisons to Lauren Spierer, an outgoing 20-year-old fashion student at the university who vanished in the early hours of June 3, 2011.

Among the “eerily similar” circumstances cited by an investigator, Wilson's body turned up hours after her friends said they last saw her leaving Kilroy's Sports Bar, the same downtown Bloomington hangout visited by Spierer before Spierer disappeared.

But while a man, Daniel Messel, was later charged and convicted for Wilson's murder, the mystery of Spierer's fate continues to haunt her family, her friends and police who've never formally named a suspect and insist they've never backed off in their search for answers about what happened to her.

The Spierer case is reconsidered in “Night of No Return,” the season finale of the HLN series Real Life Nightmare, which premieres Saturday, December 14 (8 p.m. ET). A clip is above.

“Eight years after Lauren's disappearance and we are no closer to finding her or getting answers,” her mother, Charlene, wrote on the family's official Facebook page on the most recent anniversary last June. “The expression, ‘the more things change the more they stay the same' seems apropos. We continue living in the past and in the present.”

“No one escapes this life unscathed,” she wrote. “Everyone has struggles and somehow, we all survive but it is not without costs. As every June 3rd approaches, I am faced with the dread of reliving all the horrific minutes of that day and the days which followed. I now know of course, despite how desperately I wanted to believe the words ‘we will find her,' it just wasn't meant to be. Our timeline has no end.”

Lauren Spierer
| Credit: Official Lauren Spierer Updates from Her Family/Facebook

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

Wilson's friends told investigators she had been partying in a hotel room before walking with friends to Kilroy's. According to a criminal 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.

The coroner concluded that she had been struck three to four times in the back of the head and died from blunt force trauma. Prosecutors at Messel's trial said Wilson's blood and hair were found in his Kia Sportage, and his cell phone was recovered near her body. Prosecutor Ted Adams also noted Messel's eight prior convictions for violent behavior.

In September 2016, a judge sentenced Messel to 60 years in prison for Wilson's murder, plus 20 years as a habitual criminal offender.

Then, in April 2018, Messel was given an additional 15-year sentence after he pleaded guilty to battery resulting in bodily injury in an unrelated 2012 case involving another 22-year-old Indiana University student, who told police that Messel abducted, beat and sexually assaulted her.

In Spierer's still-unresolved case, her disappearance followed a night of partying that included an early-morning stop with friends at the sports bar. Afterward, she visited a friend's off-campus apartment but left around 4:30 a.m. to walk a short distance home. She never made it.

Her determined parents, Charlene and Robert, publicly battled with several young men who were with Lauren at various points in her last known hours, each of whom quickly acquired lawyers, and the Spierers have long maintained they don't believe Lauren's disappearance was a random abduction.

They also say that, despite the surface similarities, they were told by members of law enforcement that nothing linked Wilson's case to their daughter's.

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“The not knowing is almost unbearable,” Charlene Spierer wrote on Facebook last June. “Over the course of these last eight years we have tried our hardest to get answers but the brutal truth, the only truth, is that any resolution depends on someone willing to come forward with information.”

She added: “To those responsible, you've moved on, but we have not. We will never give up. There is always someone actively working to find you. SOMEONE IS ALWAYS LOOKING FOR YOU. How ironic, just as we are looking for Lauren, we are just as diligently looking for you. I have to believe that someday you will let your guard down. You will need to share your truth and it will just be too big for the person you've told to keep it to themselves. That is what we hope for.”

HLN's series Real Life Nightmare airs Saturday, December 14 (8 p.m. ET).

Anyone with information about Spierer is asked to contact Bloomington police at (812) 339-4477 or email