Missing Since: 08/28/96
Missing from: Blanchester, Ohio
Classification: Endangered Missing
Date Of Birth: 01/31/74
Age at disappearance: 22
Weight: 122 lbs.
Hair Color: Brown
Eye Color: Brown
Distinguishing Characteristics: Culberson’s ears are
pierced. She has a tattoo of a sun on her inner right calf and a
daisy on her right hip.
Details of Disappearance
Culberson dated Vincent “Vince” Doan from 1994 – 1996 in their hometown of Blanchester, Ohio. A photo of Doan is posted below this case summary. Their relationship was extremely volatile and abusive. Culberson informed authorities that Doan smashed her car’s windows while she sat inside the vehicle and also hit her in the lower abdomen, bruising her kidneys, in 1995 and 1996. Culberson filed a criminal complaint of misdemeanor assault against Doan during the summer of 1996 after he allegedly hit her on the head with a space heater, requiring Culberson to receive five surgical staples to close the wound. Culberson and Doan were scheduled to appear at a court hearing in early September 1996 regarding the complaint.
Culberson’s family told authorities that Doan abducted her and held her at gunpoint for five hours in on August 25, three days before she was last seen, before she convinced him to drive her home. They also stated that Doan was obsessed with Culberson and was very controlling.
Culberson was last seen at approximately 11:30 PM on August 28, 1996. She was dropped off at her residence after attending a volleyball game with two friends. One of her neighbors say she left the house in her car a few minutes after arriving. Culberson has never been heard from again and her red 1989 Honda CRX disappeared with her. She was missed at 6:00 a.m. the next morning when her mother noticed that her car was not in the driveway.
Doan had appeared at the volleyball game the night Culberson disappeared, angry with her because she would not accompany him to court where he had to appear on a traffic violation. He wanted to drive her home, but Culberson attempted to avoid being alone with him. She was seen shaking her head “no” to Doan numerous times, and told him she was the designated driver and had to see her friends home. Doan finally left the bar angrily and those inside could hear his tires squealing as he peeled out of the parking lot.
Culberson’s loved ones believe that she may have driven to Doan’s house during the early morning hours of August 29, after her friends dropped her off at home. Doan at first claimed he hadn’t seen her, but later changed his story and said that Culberson arrived at his home at 12:30 a.m. and honked, but he refused to speak to her. He told authorities that she appeared to be intoxicated at the time of the alleged incident, but Culberson’s friends say she had only one beer while she was with them and was not drunk. Doan changed his story a third time and says Culberson went to his house and he came out wrapped in a towel and told her he no longer loved her, and she sped away in her car. Doan was immediately considered the prime suspect in Culberson’s disappearance, in part because of the many conflicting accounts he gave to investigators about the time he last saw her.
Authorities began searching Doan’s family’s property in Blanchester five days following Culberson’s disappearance. Bloodhound evidence indicated the presence of human remains in a pile of dirt on the property of Lawrence Baker, Doan’s father, but a dig revealed only a buried freezer containing plastic bags, clothing, and decomposing animal flesh that had once been used to feed Baker’s pet lion.
The former police chief, Richard Payton, was a friend of Doan’s family and allegedly warned them that Doan was bound to become a prime suspect in Culberson’s case. Payton allowed the Doan family’s property to be left unattended overnight during the search for evidence. Footprints were discovered on the floor of a drained pond on the property the following morning. Search dogs had traced Culberson’s scent to the edge of the pond earlier in the investigation. It is believed that Doan and possibly several of his relatives removed Culberson’s body from the pond during the evening hours when the site was not secured.
Doan was charged and tried for Culberson’s kidnapping and murder in 1997. He was originally charged with kidnapping only, but two counts of aggravated murder, reflecting two separate police theories of the killing, were added to the indictment five days before Doan was to go to trial. The trial had to be postponed over one month as a result. Doan maintained his innocence throughout the trial and attempted to stage an appeal, but his request was denied. He refused to answer prosecutors’ questions regarding the whereabouts of Culberson’s remains and utilized his Fifth Amendment rights during the proceedings.
The prosecution presented evidence that Doan was a very violent, controlling man whose abuse on Culberson had escalated into murder. One of Doan’s neighbors testified that she had seen him assaulting Culberson in his front yard on the morning of her disappearance. The ex-wife of Doan’s brother Tracey Baker said he appeared at the house she and Tracey shared at 3:15 a.m. that day, disheveled and appearing distraught. Blood was smeared on his clothing. Doan and Tracey drove away at 4:30 a.m. after Doan showered. They took a gun and some garbage bags. When they returned at approximately 5:00 a.m., both men had blood on them.
A cellmate of Doan’s also testified. They had been incarcerated together while Doan was awaiting trial. Doan allegedly told his cellmate that he thought Culberson had been cheating on him and he had to make her pay. He said he lay awake at night thinking of a hundred different ways to kill her.
The defense said that Culberson was probably still alive. They pointed to a lack of physical evidence that would prove she was dead, and dozens of sightings of her and her car after her disappearance. They pointed out that many of the people testifying against Doan had criminal records or were known to be habitual liars. Doan’s father and stepmother both testified that they had visited his house between 1:30 and 2:00 a.m. the day of Culberson’s disappearance and found him asleep on his living room couch. The defense said this testimony proved he could not have killed Culberson.
During the trial a woman in Cincinnati, Ohio, called 911 claiming to be Culberson and said it was wrong to put an innocent man on trial. Culberson’s mother listened to a recording of the call and said the woman was not her daughter.
The jury reached a verdict after four days of deliberation on August 7, 1997. They found Doan guilty of one count of aggravated murder and three counts of kidnapping, determining that Doan kidnapped or tried to kidnap Culberson and she died as a result. They rejected the alternate prosecution theory that Doan killed Culberson to keep her from testifying against him in the assault case. Doan was sentenced to to life without parole for the murder and nine years for the kidnapping. He has always maintained his innocence in Culberson’s case and stated he was wrongfully accused.
The 12th District Court of Appeals upheld the Doan verdicts in February 2000. Payton was later released from his duty as police chief in Blanchester and was accused of assisting the Doan family cover up the murder scene in 1996. He was charged with obstruction of justice but pled guilty to two counts of dereliction of duty, recieving a year’s unsupervised probation, a $750 fine, and a ninety-day suspended jail sentence. Tracey Baker was found guilty of obstruction of justice in Culberson’s murder case and sentenced to eight years in prison; Lawrence Baker was tried but acquitted. Doan is currently incarcerated at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility, a maximum-security prison located in Titusville, Ohio. Tracey is serving his sentence at Ross Correctional Facility in Chillicothe, Ohio. He will be eligible for parole in 2006.
Culberson’s family won a $3.75 million wrongful death lawsuit against the city in 2001. They paid the Culberson family $2 million and pledged to establish a memorial to domestic violence victims and make sure law enforcement officers will be trained further in handling domestic violence complaints. They will also continue searching for Culberson’s body. A plaque with her picture on it will hang in Blanchester Police Department’s front lobby until her remains are discovered. She has not yet been located and neither has her car.
If you have any information concerning this case, please contact:
Brown County Sheriff’s Department
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