In the last two years, Van Dorn and his team had gotten many leads that amounted to nothing. But on this day, he had a gut feeling that it would be different. He was well aware that many cases like these ended badly, but it was a risk he was willing to take.
He shone his flashlight over the staircase, and that’s when he noticed something that made his heart race with fear. His eyebrows furrowed as he prayed and hoped for good news. Eventually, one of the stairs was wrenched open, and what he saw inside immediately tugged his emotions in a bunch of different directions.
Detective Erik Van Dorn
Detective Erik Van Dorn was an experienced police officer in one of the most famous cities in the world, and nothing seemed to faze him when it came to his job.
Van Dorn worked day and night in Saugerties in Ulster County, New York, it was a far cry from the city life of Manhattan, but that wasn’t all.
While working in Ulster County, Van Dorn encountered his fair share of disturbing cases, ones he would much rather forget. By the time 2021 rolled around, he had been a detective for many years.
But throughout his career, nothing could’ve prepared him for what he found under that one staircase. What he discovered was far more unnerving and eerie than anything he had seen in his previous years as a police officer in The Big Apple.
Trouble From The Start
This case in particular had been quite troubling from the very start. During the early days of the investigation, Van Dorn and his colleagues were hopeful that there would be a big breakthrough early on.
But they had no idea what they were getting themselves into. They didn’t know it at the time, but they were in for a long wait, which would later culminate into an unsettling discovery.
Time Was Passing
In these kinds of cases, time is of the essence. During the course of this case, days turned into weeks, and eventually, weeks turned into months without any answers. Van Dorn was losing all hope.
He didn’t want to admit it to himself or anyone else, but he began fearing the very worst. What if they never managed to find what they were looking for? What if this became one of those cases that would remain unsolved forever?
The Stakes Were High
Van Dorn knew the stakes were as high as they could ever possibly be in this case, but the most likely angles that he worked early on felt promising.
During those days, he would not let his head trail to the worst scenarios, he remained hopeful and determined. But in the back of his mind, those fears kept creeping up, and memories from a previous case haunted him. He couldn’t escape them.
It Happened Before
This wasn’t the first missing girl case he had worked on. The last one occurred while he was working as a police officer in Harlem, Manhattan. He remembered it all too well.
In his entire career, no other case had ever impacted him the way that one did. To that very day, even after so many years had passed, he could still feel the guilt and remorse torturing him. He could never escape it, no matter how hard he tried.
That period of time was one of the most intense times in Van Dorn’s life. It consumed his mind day and night, he couldn’t sleep as he went through every possible cue and all the variables the case had to offer.
The girl was a four-year-old orphan and she had disappeared from a foster care agency’s facilities in Harlem. It was like she vanished into thin air. There was no trace of her and very little evidence. But that wasn’t even the eeriest part of the story.
He questioned and interrogated all members of the agency’s staff, but they all gave him the exact same response: complete silence and obliviousness. He didn’t know whether it was genuine or simulated, and perhaps he didn’t want to know.
Before long, his mind began fostering a suspicion: was it possible that one of the agency’s workers was involved in the little girl’s disappearance? But there was a much scarier possibility that he had to consider.
He began wondering: what if it was the agency’s higher management that had orchestrated the four-year-old girl’s abduction and what if they terrorized the rest of the staff into keeping quiet, or else? The thought of it sent a shiver down his spine.
But the most unnerving detail of the entire case was yet to be revealed. Eventually, Van Dorn checked the agency’s facilities’ CCTV footage from the day the little girl went missing, and he instantly knew something was very wrong.
No Camera Footage
All the footage from that day was gone! No matter which of the multiple cameras in the facility Van Dorn checked, none of them had any records from that day, the previous one, or the one after.
At some point in the footage, the day before the girl disappeared, the screen just turned black and stayed like that until two days after the vanishing.
That was all the confirmation Van Dorn needed to know what he had been suspecting all along: someone in the foster care agency, probably someone in a higher-management position, had been involved in the girl’s disappearance.
However, Van Dorn didn’t know where to start. None of the staff members said a peep, so he was faced with one big problem.
That was one of those cases where the evidence that there was something wrong was, paradoxically, the absolute absence of any evidence. However, something was very clear to Van Dorn.
The police department would have a hard time building a case or finding the true culprit of the disappearance. But after weeks of being absorbed by this case, Van Dorn received some fateful news.
Transferred And Promoted
He was transferred to the town of Saugerties in Ulster County, New York. They didn’t give him any explanation at all for the change; however, Van Dorn had his own theories.
He feared that his investigations into the girl’s disappearance might have bothered the wrong people. He didn’t have any proof of that, but it was what his gut told him.
Deep inside, Van Dorn also suspected that, along with the move to Saugerties, they might have promoted him to detective to keep him happy, busy, and quiet.
Sometimes, when he caught himself fostering those kinds of doubts, he wondered whether he was being too paranoid. It’s not like he had any proof of a big conspiracy around the girl’s disappearance. But what if…?
He Almost Forgot
Eventually, he almost ended up forgetting about the case. Sometimes he felt guilty about it, but his thoughts quickly went back to the cases he had to handle in Saugerties. He had enough on his plate as it was to keep dwelling on the past.
However, this new case of a missing girl reignited his memories of that case in Harlem and his pain over having been unable to solve it.
Van Dorn promised himself to do right this time and solve the case, no matter what it took. So he went to work and began investigating.
All the evidence pointed in one direction. Van Dorn’s instincts told him the answers were there. Yet, each time the leads were followed nothing ever turned up. He began wondering if he could have missed something.
The Main Suspects
If someone had explained the facts of the case to Van Dorn in theory, it would have been an open-and-shut case to his mind. The chief suspects were clearly involved somehow—they had to be!
In reality, every time Van Dorn thought he had what he needed to solve the case, all leads against chief suspects Kirk Jr. and Kimberly would evaporate again. This led to the unsettling thought that maybe there was someone else involved.
Van Dorn’s training had taught him that remaining objective was vital. Human beings were all capable of personal biases. Having a case tainted with a phenomenon called “confirmation bias” could be disastrous.
It could result in objectivity being clouded and cause him to draw conclusions based on what they wanted the truth to be rather than what it actually was. On the other hand, Detective Van Dorn’s experience had also taught him that, more often than not, where there’s smoke, there’s fire.
It Was Personal
So many officers from the Saugerties PD could place themselves in the shoes of the affected family. This made it especially difficult not to take the case personally. It was everyone’s worst nightmare.
Everyone wished for a good outcome but now two whole years had passed without a breakthrough. The worst part was the hope constantly dangled in front of them by all the tips and leads over the years.
Over the years, several tips had been received. Despite the original scene of the crime being 180 miles away in Cayuga Heights, the leads kept pointing to a house in Saugerties.
The residents of the house had an undeniable tie to the case. But what exactly was the extent of their involvement? Or, in other words: how guilty were they?
However, Van Dorn and his men soon found an obstacle in the way of their investigation: comprehensive search warrants were hard to come by. The reason for this was that the tips were all based on hearsay evidence.
Every search of the property had turned up nothing, but Van Dorn was still convinced that something was being hidden.
These legal loopholes were extremely frustrating for Van Dorn and his men, as each search warrant only allowed for limited access to the house. Naturally, this posed a big difficulty for their investigations.
And to make things worse, police teams who combed the house for clues weren’t allowed into some parts of the house. But that wasn’t all.
They were also always on a time limit which prevented them from being able to search as thoroughly as they wanted to. It almost seemed like the system was trying to keep them from finding the truth about what really happened in that house.
However, these challenges only made Detective Van Dorn more determined to solve the case.
The Family Dynamic
Although the main suspects were the couple Kirk Jr. and Kimberly, the house belonged to the father, Kirk Sr. It wasn’t always apparent if he had anything to do with the case or was simply unaware of what was happening under his roof.
These dynamics compounded an investigation that had already proven to be complicated. That was until one final tip-off gave Detective Van Dorn and his colleagues the breakthrough they needed to finally solve the two-year case.
While official reports don’t provide many details about the tip-off that broke the case, it was revealed that this tip “was corroborated” and led to a new search warrant for the house being issued.
This time, Detective Van Dorn’s instincts proved correct. As he walked up the house’s main staircase, the light from his torch bouncing ahead, he noticed the light flicker against something between the stairs.
When Detective Van Dorn saw what looked like a blanket visible beneath a crack in the stairs, he immediately called his colleagues over. Detectives used a special tool to pry open some of the stairs. What they first noticed shocked them.
A makeshift little room had been hidden under the stairs all this time. Also visible was a pair of little feet. After all their previous searches, they had finally found the little girl that had gone missing two years ago.
Paisley Shultis was living with her custodial parents when she went missing in 2019 age 4. While Kirk Shultis Jr. and Kimberly Cooper were her biological parents, they had lost custody of her back then.
It now seemed that the concealed area was used to hide her during previous searches. The area clearly showed signs of being used before and contained blankets, a pillow, and stuffed toys. Paisley was treated and found to be unharmed and in good overall health.
Kirk Shultis Sr., together with Kirk Jr. and Kimberly (who had been found hiding under the stairs with Paisley) were all charged with a variety of offenses.
For detectives like Van Dorn, the safe return of little Paisley marked the end of one of the most grueling and heart-wrenching investigations of their entire careers.
A New Life
The dramatic but ultimately good ending to this case illustrated how vital it can be to never give up hope. The sterling work of Detective Van Dorn and the other police officers involved was a testament to this fact.
With so many similar cases ending tragically, the case has unsurprisingly received much media attention for its positive outcome. Paisley, now 6 years old, was said to be in good spirits after being reunited with her custodial family.
In order to protect the privacy of those depicted, some names, locations, and identifying characteristics have been changed and are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblances to actual events or places or persons, living or dead, are entirely coincidental.