THE SEARCH FOR IRENE:  The Mysterious Life of Nathan Hightman (Part 3)

Former friend said Hightman and missing Kenyan excited for move to Wyoming

Pictured above is Nathan Hightman as a high school senior. Now 39, he dated Irene Gakwa for nearly a year in Idaho before the couple moved to Wyoming. (Courtesy photo from Las Plumas High School yearbook)

Special to the Wyoming Truth

GILLETTE, Wyo. – The blinds are drawn in the windows of the pale blue ranch house in northern Campbell County where Irene Gakwa once lived. The 33-year-old Kenyan moved to this single-story house in July 2021 with her fiancé, Nathan Hightman. She has since disappeared. Nobody has seen or heard from Gakwa since her last video call with her parents in late February.

Now, Hightman, 39, lives in the house, alone. He told authorities that Gakwa left of her own accord one evening after she came home from dinner, packed her belongings in two plastic bags and departed in a dark-colored SUV.

Hightman has been charged with five felonies in which he is accused of financial and intellectual property crimes against Gakwa. Police consider him a “person of interest” in her mysterious disappearance and say he has not cooperated with their investigation. He’s out on a $10,000 bond and awaiting a pretrial conference in early January.

Hightman and his attorney did not respond to the Wyoming Truth’s requests to be interviewed for this story.

But in an exclusive interview with the Wyoming Truth, Chala Gaipl said that she dated Hightman casually in Meridian, Idaho, where he lived before moving to Wyoming, and that he had a rich fantasy life.

Gaipl said the pair met in 2014 when they worked as customer services representatives for T-Mobile.

Gaipl noted that Hightman was highly intelligent and a great listener—attributes that drew her to him. She also described Hightman as an avid gamer, a practicing nudist and an intensely private homebody.

Gaipl said she cared about Hightman—so much so that she prepared and delivered  nutritious meals every week after he was diagnosed with diabetes. She said Hightman didn’t cook and had a penchant for fast food.

“I did that because I was his friend, and I didn’t want to see him die,” Gaipl said.

However, Gaipl stopped cooking for Hightman when she caught him buying milkshakes and double-cheeseburgers at a fast-food drivethrough. 

Hightman asked Gaipl to help him apply for jobs after he left his position at T-Mobile in 2019, she said. T-Mobile did not respond to a request to verify his employment.

Gaipl provided a copy of Hightman’s resume to the Wyoming Truth that he had shared with her then. The resume showed that Hightman earned a bachelor of science degree in economics from the University of North Carolina in 2006. The alumni association for UNC Chapel Hill does not list Hightman as a member. Four UNC sister universities—Pembroke, Greensboro, Wilmington and Asheville—do not list Hightman as an alumnus. And a spokesperson for UNC Charlotte said in an email to the Wyoming Truth that the school is not allowed to verify who had been a student.

His resume listed other jobs, including being a customer service representative for Xerox and co-owner of Advance Systems, a company that designed and sold computer systems to individuals and small businesses, from 2008 to 2013.

While living in Wyoming, Hightman worked for Direct TV. As of May 2022, he was unemployed, according to court records showing that he filed an affidavit of indigency to secure a court-appointed lawyer to represent him in connection to the charges of financial crimes alleged against Gakwa.

Fall out

Throughout their relationship, Gaipl said she didn’t care that Hightman dated other women because she wanted to keep it casual, but Hightman appeared to want something more serious as the months wore on. Gaipl said she ended things with Hightman in 2019 when he became possessive, insisting she answer his phone calls and accept invitations to come to his house.

She said the two remained friends and spoke by phone on occasion.

Gaipl said when Hightman and Gakwa began dating in the spring of 2020, he sent Gaipl a picture of Gakwa’s Facebook profile, a photo of a “itty-bitty foot in a huge high heel,” not a photo of her face.

“At first I thought it was a fake person,” Gaipl recalled.

About six months later, in the fall of 2020, Gaipl said Hightman told her that Gakwa had “crossed him.” Gaipl couldn’t recall what Hightman had reportedly said Gakwa had done.

Irene Gakwa mysteriously disappeared in late February after moving to Gillette with Nathan Hightman. (Courtesy photo from the Gakwa family)

At this point, Gaipl still didn’t believe that Gakwa was a real person; instead, she thought this was Hightman’s ploy to restart their intimate relationship.

Regardless, Gaipl advised Hightman to break up with Gakwa if he was unhappy with her.

Gaipl said she was surprised when she later met Gakwa, who was still in a relationship with Hightman. He had asked to meet Gaipl in person, because he was moving and wanted to say goodbye. Gaipl met the couple at Dairy Queen, and the three then drove to Gaipl’s house to visit.

Gaipl gathered that the two had reconciled, as Hightman talked about their plans to move to Wyoming, away from Gakwa’s brothers and their families who lived in Idaho.

Gaipl remembers Gakwa as the “sweetest girl” and “glowing with joy” as she described their new home in Gillette.

“Irene was really excited about the house,” Gaipl said. “She had picked out a lot of features and the location. It was perfect and was going to be her dream house.”

Gaipl said Hightman said they chose Gillette because houses there are larger and more affordable than those in Idaho. The couple’s 1,456-square-foot home in the Silver Spur Ranch development cost $217,171. Hightman raved about the location and it being a gated community.

Gaipl noted Hightman also had bought Gakwa a beautiful engagement ring. She congratulated the couple and praised the ring. The two, she recalled, seemed happy.

Stay tuned for part four coming to you soon.

Spread the love

Related Post