Over a Year Later, the Question Remains: What Happened to Chris Mauk?
Gillette volunteer investigators hit the ground to look for missing Laramie man
- Published In: Other News & Features
- Last Updated: Aug 16, 2023
By Jennifer Kocher
Special to the Wyoming Truth
LARAMIE, Wyo.—The thing about a missing person is that anything is possible. In the absence of concrete facts and clues, investigators are forced to rely on possible sightings, rumors and talk on the street. And in Laramie, people like to talk.
This is what Stacy Koester and Ashley Means were banking on as they stopped at a gas station in Laramie on Saturday morning after driving 3.5 hours from Gillette. As volunteer private investigators for the national nonprofit We Help the Missing (WHTM), they have been called in by the organization to investigate the mysterious disappearance of 40-year-old Christopher “Fid” Mauk.
“Let’s see what we can find out,” Koester said to Means, as the two exited her black Audi.
Already, the pair have collected an earful of stories based on earlier phone calls with locals and online research. They came to Laramie to meet some of those sources and scout for possible search areas.
Here’s what they know so far: Mauk was last seen on July 2, 2022, at the trailer he shared with his girlfriend, 42-year-old Nikki Gallegos, in Sunny Meadows Village off North McCue Street. According to Gallegos, Mauk woke her up at 5:30 a.m. that day. He cried as he said that he had secrets and wanted to talk as soon as he got out of the shower.
The couple never had that conversation, however, because Gallegos said she fell asleep. When she woke up, Mauk was gone. A few of his friends reportedly saw Mauk in the following 36 hours, after which he was never seen or heard from again.
Gallegos noted Mauk couldn’t have gone far on his own: he only has one leg. Mauk lost the lower half of his left leg in a fireworks accident in 2018. Without a prosthetic, he relied on crutches that he left in the trailer. He also left his wallet, eyeglasses and medications, though he did take his cell phone.
In the immediate months following his departure, two people claimed to have seen Mauk: one at a car show in Laramie and another in Cheyenne, according to Gallegos. Neither sighting was verified.
The Laramie Police Department has no new information to share about the case.
“We are still actively working on his disappearance and continue to work any leads or tips that we receive,” said Ryan Thompson, support services lieutenant.
Rumors and innuendo
Sorting out truths from rumors is the challenge for Koester and Means. Though stories vary, the one thing that everyone they speak to can agree on is that Mauk was using methamphetamines. This was confirmed by Gallegos, who told Koester that both she and Mauk struggled with addiction.
To what extent his drug use factored into Mauk’s disappearance depends on who is doing the talking.
At their first stop at a truck stop off I-80, Koester and Means got lucky. A cashier, who said she was well acquainted with Mauk, was eager to talk. The woman, who asked to remain anonymous out of fear for her safety, believes Mauk was murdered by an affiliate in the drug world, which Koester and Means mentally cataloged.
This tip, like all the others, will be shared with the Laramie police detective assigned to Mauk’s case. As private investigators, Koester and Means’ role is limited to feeding law enforcement any information or physical evidence they may gather.
And because they are not law enforcement, family members and other sources are often more comfortable sharing information with them, particularly when that source has a criminal record.
Both women work with the nonprofit at night and on weekends. Koester, 40, is an office manager for a tire company in Gillette, while Means, 29, is an employee for the city’s parks and recreation department. The two met during a ground search for a missing nursing student, Irene Gakwa, who disappeared in February 2022 from the Gillette home that she shared with her fiancé Nathan Hightman.
Koester headed up search efforts after reading about Gakwa’s disappearance on social media. She and a small group of local women printed yard signs, posters, T-shirts and stickers and led over a dozen local searches. It was Koester’s work on Gakwa’s case that caught the attention of leaders at We Help the Missing, and they recruited her to train and work other cases.
Koester also has formed connections in the search and rescue communities — both in Wyoming and neighboring states — to bring in manpower, cadaver dogs and search teams to direct on-the-ground searches for missing people like Mauk.
Putting together pieces
In Laramie, Koester and Means talked to Mauk’s father, Jerry Mauk, and his cousin, Fawn Jachetta, at a coffee shop. Both Jerry and Jachetta have heard many rumors about Mauk’s disappearance, one of which Jerry checked into himself to no avail. Like the rest of the family, they try to remain optimistic that maybe Mauk left on his own accord to escape pending legal trouble for a probation violation.
Both agree that despite struggling with addiction, Mauk is a caring person who is much loved by his family. Mauk and Jachetta were close as kids, and she became emotional when Koester presented possible scenarios.
“We just want answers,” she said. “We want to bring him home.”
Jerry nodded stoically. He misses “Fid,” he said, who he nicknamed “Floppy Footed Fid” as a child because he clomped around in footed pajamas. Jerry said he has no idea what might have happened to his son, but hopes that he will be found alive.
Koester and Means also met with Gallegos at a truck stop off of 1-80. Gallegos herself has been the target of much speculation from some of Mauk’s family and others about the role she might have played in his disappearance. Following Mauk’s disappearance, Laramie police searched her property with cadaver dogs, but found nothing, she said.
She told the Wyoming Truth on Saturday that she has fully cooperated with police and maintains her innocence.
Citing an ongoing investigation, Laramie police would not comment on the search or whether Gallegos or anyone else is a person of interest in Mauk’s disappearance.
When Koester pulled into the truck stop parking lot, Gallegos was seated at a picnic table outside with her bike propped against a wall. Since Mauk’s mysterious departure, Gallegos admitted she has fallen on hard times. Like Mauk, she has also struggled with addiction in the past and fell into it again after he left, leading to her arrest for possession of a controlled substance and a short stint in jail.
Sober now, Gallegos is trying to get back on her feet as she grapples with Mauk’s disappearance.
The two were childhood sweethearts, she said, and had dated on and off for years. Prior to Mauk’s departure, they’d been dating for three months.
“We were meant to be together,” she said, tearing up. “He’s everything to me.”
A call from Mauk’s mother, Rose, put the cap on Koester and Means’ efforts. Rose had been sick and unable to meet with the pair, but thanked them for their interest finding her son. Rose believes Mauk is deceased; she said he would have contacted her by now if here were still alive.
“It’s killing me inside,” she said about living without answers. “I don’t know how to explain it. It’s hard when you lose somebody as close as I was with my son. And not hearing anything from him or anything. It just hurts.”
Koester and Means nodded. This is why they do what they do. To help find answers and bring closure.
Mauk is described as a white male, approximately 6-foot-2 and 140 pounds, with blue eyes and red hair. He is known to wear glasses, but did not have them when he left. He has scars on his abdomen, left and right eyes, as well as tattoos on his hand, left and right shoulders, right calf and both upper arms. He also is missing his left leg.
Anyone with information or who has had contact with Mauk is asked to call the Laramie Police Department at (307) 721-2526 or Stacy Koester with WHTM at (307) 299-6710.