HERMOSA BEACH, CA — On March 5, 2016, Michael Vanzandt was having a great night out, bar hopping with friends in the Waterfront Pier Plaza area of Hermosa Beach, California, when he made a fateful decision to go to find a bathroom. He never came back — and no trace of him has been seen since.
Michael, who lived in nearby Lancaster, California, was an incredible father to his three sons, according to his ex-wife, Krishain Vanzandt.
Earlier in the day, Michael had taken his kids to a basketball game at the local YMCA, and had lunch with them.After lunch ended at around 3 P.M., Michael dropped them off at their mother’s house. He had plans to watch UFC fights with Jamie Warfield, a friend from work, in Hermosa Beach, after that.
Friends and family say that Michael, who grew up in Pleasant Lake, Michigan, had no reason to disappear.
As a boy, Michael loved the military — so it was no surprise to friends and family that, in 1999, he enlisted after graduating high school. Michael did two tours in Iraq before getting a civilian job in the Air Force in 2011.He met Krishain in 2000 at a military base in Japan, and the couple later married. But by 2014, they were separated — and later divorced. However, Michael and Krishain remained friends and, according to Krishain, were in “constant contact” as co-parents to their children.
Another important person in Michael’s life was his friend Monique Nethercott. He had dated Monique in 2015, but after a few months together, the couple split. However, according to Monique, they too remained close friends.
In early 2016, Michael’s life was settling into a good place. He had learned that he was approved for a mortgage to purchase a home for himself and his children — and, according to friends, was excited about moving in in March.
On the night Michael disappeared, he’d called his brothers Tyler and Charles from the road and discussed his plans for the evening in Hermosa Beach. He also called Monique, who was in Las Vegas for the weekend.
Once he arrived in Hermosa Beach, Michael left his car in the parking garage of the Quality Inn motel, where Jamie and her friends had rented a room to share so that they did not have to drive back to Lancaster after an evening of drinking.At around 7 P.M., he took an Uber to a bar called The Underground to meet Jamie and her friends, Kyle, Mary, and Randall. When the UFC fight ended at around 10 P.M., the group decided to go bar hopping. They headed to a bar called American Junkie, and stood in line.
But according to Jamie, Michael soon grew impatient and told her that he was heading to the liquor store next door to use the restroom. His friends never saw him again.
Jamie and the others decided to leave the line they were standing in and go to a different bar. Jamie says she called Michael several times to let him know that they were next door, but her calls went straight to voicemail. At first, Jamie was not alarmed.
“I assumed he met a girl or ran into someone he knew,” Jamie said. When the bars closed at 2 A.M., the group headed back to the motel and saw Michael’s car still parked there — but he was nowhere to be found. “My heart sunk when we got home and he wasn’t there,” Jamie said.
On Sunday night, Jamie went to his apartment, but his car was not there and there was no answer at the door.
Monique and Michael’s brother Tyler were also trying to locate him. On Monday, Michael’s son was due to have oral surgery. When he failed to show up with the required insurance forms, Krishain called Monique and asked her to stop by Michael’s apartment. After Monique found no sign of Michael at his apartment, and learned that he had not shown up to work, Jamie reported Michael missing.
Monique drove to Hermosa Beach to look for Michael. She found his car — and saw his work access card inside — but there was no sign of Michael.According to Monique, detectives told her that they could not treat Michael’s disappearance as a missing persons case because he was an adult, and not enough time had lapsed.
But then Michael’s family and friends posted his story on social media, and within hours, the story was trending on Facebook. Police stepped up their investigation, and, according to Sergeant Robert Higgins of the Hermosa Beach Police Department, began re-tracing his steps from the night he went missing.
Investigators obtained his cell phone records, and were able to determine that his phone last pinged in the downtown Hermosa area at around 9:45 p.m. — and then went off.
Police got a break when they found an image of Michael on surveillance video from the liquor store. After reviewing the surveillance video, they constructed a timeline of his evening.
In the video, he can be seen talking to his friends in the line before walking in to the liquor store. He was unable to use the liquor store bathroom, and after that he walked southbound on Hermosa Avenue. Police believe that Michael was looking for a restroom to use.
At one point, Michael returned to a liquor store to buy a small bottle of whiskey. Detectives got another clue when they saw Michael, on the video, pull out his cell phone. Since it did not light up, detectives believe that the phone battery was dead at that point.
At 11:27 P.M., Michael could be seen on the video walking alone toward the beach. Police say that he missed his friends by seconds.
According to Michael’s family, he had gone swimming after drinking in the past — so they believe that it is possible that he may have gone into the ocean and accidentally drowned. But even if Michael did go into the water that night, his family says that they cannot believe that no body — or other signs of Michael — have ever been found.
They have not given up hope that he may be out there somewhere.
If anyone has any information about Michael Vanzandt, please contact Hermosa Beach Detective Joshua Droz at (310) 318-0334 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you are in search of a missing person, make sure to enter their information into the database of the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System.
For more on Michael Vanzandt, watch the “Just Out of Sight” episode of Investigation Discovery’s Disappeared on ID GO!
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Main photo: Michael Vanzandt [Investigation Discovery]